The Biggest Question Mark Remaining for All 32 Teams in Training Camp
One week into the 2012 NFL preseason schedule and we aren't that much closer to having answers to some of the big questions that plague teams around the league.
Of course, a few series of play by starters really isn't an indicator of what is happening and how each team is performing at this early point in the process.
While we did get answers to some questions, it seems that more arose than were actually cleared up in the four day NFL schedule.
Let's take a look at one glaring question for each NFL team heading into the second week of the preseason slate as training camps continue throughout the league.
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Is Peyton Manning back at full health?
The future Hall of Fame quarterback didn't seem to have the same zip on his balls like we had been accustomed to since he joined the league in 1998.
It could have been due to the play-calling and fact that Manning wasn't asked to air it out a great deal. He did have nice velocity on a pass to Eric Decker for 19 yards on a third and long. Manning also threw the ball behind Brandon Stokley in the end zone, which resulted in an interception.
We need to have a larger sample size before drawing a conclusion about Manning. After all, this is the first game he has played since January of 2011.
Kansas City Chiefs
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What is going on with Dontari Poe?
He needs to work on technique, he needs to work on understanding the system, he needs to get the calls correct all the time. He’s got a ways to go.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that various reports out of Chiefs camp have stated Poe is struggling a great deal.
The physical talent is there. Now it is up to Poe to put it together and become a contributor as a rookie entering the regular season.
Not sure if we're going to see that though.
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Who will be the primary backup to Darren McFadden?
Due to the fact that teams are required to put out a depth chart prior to their first preseason game, you shouldn't put much stock in this.
Jones, an impressive second-year athlete from Eastern Washington, can act like that change of pace back for Darren McFadden, while Goodson brings a much better all-around game with him from the Carolina Panthers.
If Goodson proves he is healthy, you can expect him to win this job.
San Diego Chargers
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Will the San Diego Chargers add a veteran running back with Ryan Mathews out?
The 2012 NFL preseason couldn't have started worse for the San Diego Chargers and their talented young running back.
This raises the question of San Diego possibly signing a veteran running back to help out. They acquired Ronnie Brown earlier in the offseason and have youngsters Curtis Brinkley and Edwin Baker on the roster.
Cedric Benson just recently signed with the Packers, leaving the Chargers without a ton of options on the free agent market. Interestingly enough, former Green Bay 1,000-yard rusher Ryan Grant is still looking for a job.
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Is it a forgone conclusion that John Skelton will be the Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback?
When your top two options at quarterback go a combined nine of 21 for 92 yards and two interceptions en route to a 16.5 quarterback rating in your first two preseason games, there are some issues.
This is the situation that the Arizona Cardinals find themselves in with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
In fact, Kolb was even worse in these first two outings than his counterpart.
Despite the fact that Arizona has a great deal invested in Kolb, it just makes sense for them to turn the page considering how much he has struggled since coming to the desert last August.
San Francisco 49ers
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Who will start at right guard?
Alex Boone, moving from tackle to guard, has been nothing short of extraordinary at his new position during training camp. This didn't change in the San Francisco 49ers' preseason opener on Friday night. Boone opened up gaping holes between the hashes and completely dominated the Minnesota Vikings in the trenches.
You still have to worry about him being able to do that on a consistent basis as someone that has played tackle since his first season at Ohio State.
San Francisco did bring Leonard Davis in to compete for the starting job. The veteran guard also played well in limited action. Rookie fourth-round pick Joe Looney seems to be out of the competition for the starting job after struggling on Friday.
I guess the bigger question here could be how Anthony Davis will perform at right tackle after laying an egg against the Vikings, but that is a conversation for another time.
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Can Russell Wilson actually win the starting quarterback job?
Needless to say, the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks were extremely impressive Saturday night. Wilson and his veteran counterpart Matt Flynn combined to complete 23 of 29 passes for 245 total yards, including a 32-yard touchdown scamper by the rookie from Wisconsin.
One surprising aspect of Saturday's game is the fact that Tarvaris Jackson didn't see any action.
This pretty much means that the starting quarterback competition is between Flynn and Wilson.
Flynn did a solid job in terms of managing the game and hitting receivers on target in the intermediate routes. He did throw a worrisome interception when the veteran failed to see Colin McCarthy in underneath coverage between the hashes.
Wilson, on the other hand, seemed to be pretty cool in the pocket and under pressure. He showed off tremendous athleticism and a strong, accurate arm.
It should be interesting to see how this unfolds in the next three weeks. My money is still on Flynn.
St. Louis Rams
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How will the St. Louis Rams wide receiver depth chart pan out?
Austin Pettis had the most impact of any Rams receiver in their preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts yesterday. He caught three passes on just as many targets.
This definitely doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things as Pettis will not be starting once the regular season opens in September.
Looking at the players that have a chance to actually start. Brian Quick has looked great in camp, but only had one reception on two targets. Steve Smith looked fluid in his route-running and did create separation down field, only to see Sam Bradford throw the ball out of bounds with pressure in his face.
There is a tremendous amount of unproven talent along this unit. It is just going to be up to the Rams coaching staff to start the two players that give Bradford the best options outside.
I am pretty sure they will.
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Can anyone step up opposite Andre Johnson?
Keshawn Martin, a rookie fourth-round pick from Michigan State, had a solid outing in his first game after being the surprise of Houston Texans camp. He recorded two catches for 24 yards on three targets.
Lester Jean also stepped up to the tune of two receptions for 50 yards.
Both of these players have shown a great deal of talent on the practice field. Having that translate to actual game-time situations is what's more important at this point.
Those two impressed me a great deal.
Also in the mix are DeVier Posey, Kevin Walter and Bryant Johnson.
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Will Maurice Jones-Drew be a Jaguar in hibernation come September?
This could get uglier before it is finally resolved. The Jacksonville Jaguars front office continues to maintain a stance against renegotiating the contract of their most talented player. All the while, Jones-Drew has remained steadfast in his desire for a new long-term contract.
Which side budges? Will it be resolved prior to the start of the season in September?
These are questions that I am pretty sure every Jaguars fan is asking themselves at this point.
If Jones-Drew doesn't miss any time during the regular season it is because he refused to cave. The Jaguars, led by Shahid Khan, just aren't willing to do anything with his contract.
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And for Andrew Luck's encore performance?
No one could have envisioned the type of success Luck had in his first preseason game as a NFL quarterback. The No. 1 overall pick from the 2012 NFL draft shined in every possible way.
Luck compiled 188 yards and two scores, while leading three first-half touchdown-scoring drives. To put this into perspective, the Colts averaged six less points per game last season than what Luck led them to in three possessions.
Outside of his stat line, Luck did some great things. He looked confident and poised prior to the snap, bringing back some memories of Peyton Manning before. Luck did an amazing job reading the defense, finding his secondary reads and stepping up in the pocket against pressure. They are indicators of success well known to Colts fans.
It is still important to note that Luck was playing against the St. Louis Rams in a preseason game. It is going to be an entirely different game come September when Indianapolis opens up against the Chicago Bears.
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This competition got pretty interesting in the Titans preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. Neither of these two quarterbacks impressed a great deal, but Locker seemed to have more success.
Let's not even look at Hasselbeck's opening interception. That was more of a fluke than anything else. The veteran quarterback did seem tentative at times and struggled progressing through his reads. This is something you don't expect from a veteran that has had a great amount of success in his career.
On the other hand, Locker looked more poised and seemed to be more accurate on the field. He had a few nice passes, looking through his reads pretty well.
If you read between the lines it seems that Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak might be leaning towards starting the young quarterback when the season starts in September.
I don’t know if there was a big gap... Obviously Jake doesn’t have the experience Matt has, so I think that gap you can never really close if you are a young quarterback. But I think overall, as the season progressed last year, we thought that Jake was coming on real strong. … So yeah, he has closed the gap and they are obviously both doing well. We are happy with both of them and at some point we’ll make a decision.
At the very least, Locker should get first-team reps in the next preseason game.
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Is Julio Jones really this good?
The Atlanta Falcons starters looked really good against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, none more so than second-year receiver Julio Jones. He recorded six receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown on just seven targets.
It remains to be seen if Jones or Roddy White is going to be the Falcons No. 1 receiver when camp breaks, but it really doesn't matter.
As a football fan, I just want to know how good Jones can be in his sophomore campaign with an improving Matt Ryan at quarterback in what promises to be a pass-first offense.
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Is a sophomore slump in the cards for Cam Newton?
Let's not even look at the Carolina Panthers opening preseason game this weekend. Cam Newton really didn't impress a great deal, but the sample size was incredibly small.
Instead, I want to look at the history of sophomore slumps as they relate to recent quarterbacks in the National Football League.
Is it an overblown media sensation?
Matt Ryan completed a lower percentage of passes, threw for less yards and had a lower quarterback rating in his second season for the Atlanta Falcons than he did during his rookie year. In the process, they missed the playoffs in 2009.
Joe Flacco progressed a great deal in terms of statistics during his sophomore season, but the Baltimore Ravens failed to make the postseason after winning 11 games the prior season.
Sam Bradford completely fell of the map after a solid rookie campaign in 2010. Every single major statistical category dropped for the St. Louis Rams quarterback in his second season.
I took a look at these three quarterbacks because they were among the most successful rookies in the recent history of the league.
That being said, it really is hard to compare Newton to any of those three. He succeeded beyond any previously set expectations for any rookie quarterback in the modern history of the NFL.
I simply don't see a sophomore slump coming.
New Orleans Saints
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How much will the suspensions of Sean Payton and Joe Vitt hurt?
It seems like common sense that Drew Brees and Co. would pickup where they left off last season. This is an offense that put up some staggering numbers in 2011.
That is just on the exterior.
New Orleans is going to be without offensive mastermind and head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, while interim head coach Joe Vitt will miss the first six games.
How much of a drop off are we going to see? Can New Orleans ride the proverbial storm back to the postseason?
In an ultra competitive NFC there is a chance that New Orleans misses the postseason altogether. It really is hard to discount the success that this franchise has had under Payton. Along with Brees, he is one of the primary reason that they have turned into perennial Super Bowl contenders.
You just have to believe him being suspended for the entire season will have some type of impact. It just remains to be seen how much.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Will Doug Martin's training camp success translate to the field?
Needless to say, Josh Freeman is going to need balance on offense in order to succeed. He isn't the type of quarterback that is going to be able to limit mistakes while putting the ball up 40-plus times in a game.
We saw this firsthand last season.
Freeman attempted 40 or more passes four separate times last season. Tampa Bay won just one of those outings with the talented quarterback throwing a total of eight interceptions. In total, Freeman averaged over 34 attempts per game in 2011.
Compare this to 2010, when Freeman threw a total of six interceptions while attempting an average of under 30 attempts per game.
Tampa Bay made a commitment to the run in 2010, while ignoring it a great deal last season. This is one of the primary reasons that they traded back up into the first round of April's draft to select Martin. He has had a solid camp and seems destined to start heading into September.
The Buccaneers success may rely a great deal on Martin taking pressure off Freeman and creating more balance on the offensive side of the ball.
With injuries piling up, can the Baltimore Ravens withstand the August storm?
The story has already been written on Terrell Suggs, who is going to miss a good part of the 2012 season due to an Achilles injury.
Now Baltimore is facing a series of other injury issues.
Dennis Pitta broke his right hand in late July and may not return in time for the season opener next month. The Ravens other tight end threat, Ed Dickson, suffered a shoulder injury in Baltimore's preseason opener, but should be good to go by the opener.
Torrey Smith also tweaked his ankle Thursday and Bryant McKinnie continues to struggle with injuries and the confidence of the Ravens coaching staff.
While none of these issues seem to have long-term effects, there has to be a growing amount of certainty in Owings Mills that Baltimore may be battling a force greater than the tough competition they're going up against in the AFC North this season.
Let's hope not.
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Starting middle linebacker position becoming a competition?
Rookie inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who many people had written off after a disastrous postseason performance this spring, was nearly flawless in his debut.
The enigmatic young linebacker seemed to play incredibly disciplined in coverage and was extremely solid reading the Jets plays prior to the snap. This was readily apparent with his interception on Tim Tebow.
Incumbent starter Rey Maualuga failed to impress as the Bengals starting middle linebacker last season and could be pushed by the talented Arizona State product.
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Can Brandon Weeden make himself a NFL-caliber starter in three weeks?
This is going to be a difficult task considering how bad the Oklahoma State product looked in his first NFL game Friday. Weeden completed just three and threw an interception while accumulating a paltry 19.0 quarterback rating.
I fully understand that we cannot expect every rookie quarterback to pull an Andrew Luck in his initial game, but this was bad.
The 2012 first-round pick had absolutely no timing with his receivers, seemed lost in the pocket and failed to get to his secondary reads a great deal of the time.
Needless to say, the learning curve is going to be huge at this point.
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Will Mike Wallace report to camp?
It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Wallace has to report to camp. After all, he is the one losing out on thousands of dollars on a daily basis. Besides, the Pittsburgh Steelers are fully prepared to move on without the talented receiver.
That being said, it's hard to imagine Wallace caving in anytime soon.
While Pat Kirwan over at CBS has indicated that Wallace will report by mid-August, the silence surrounding negotiations between the two sides has to be alarming. Either they want to stay out of the public light, or nothing is happening at this point.
Either way, it has to be concluded that Wallace reports prior to the start of the season. If not, we could see him holdout until the 10th week of the year at which point he can still collect a check.
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Can the Chicago Bears offensive line hold up in front of Jay Cuter?
Needless to say, this didn't do the offense many favors. Chicago failed to convert a third down opportunity and finished with a total of eight first downs.
Of course preseason games are as meaningless as they come, but this still has to be somewhat troubling for the Bears.
Chicago's offensive line yielded 49 sacks last season and struggled to protect their quarterbacks on a consistent basis. This is one of the primary reasons that Cutler has been injury-riddled during his three-year stint in the Windy City. Despite only missing one game prior to last year, Cutler continually took a battering in the backfield.
The additions of both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to the receiving core in the offseason will do little good if their offensive line isn't able to give Cutler the necessary time to get the ball to the outside.
It really is that simple.
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Can any Detroit Lions running backs step up?
I have a hard time believing that Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are going to be able to lead the Lions to elite status without any help from the running game. Of course we have seen this to an extent with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the past, but it is rare.
I am also not ready to put Stafford on the same level of those two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.
One of the Lions running backs is going to have to step up in 2012 if this team is going to contend for a conference championship.
Mikel Leshoure would seem like the best bet to breakthrough, but things haven't necessarily gone as planned for the 2011 second-round pick since he joined the league. Additionally, the Illini product will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season after violating the substance abuse policy set forth by Roger Goodell and Co.
Jahvid Best has shown flashes of brilliance, but continues to be dogged by concussion concerns and might not be a reliable force on a weekly basis in Detroit.
That's definitely something to look at moving forward as either Keiland Williams or Joique Bell might step up.
Green Bay Packers
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Just how much is the loss of Desmond Bishop going to hurt the Green Bay Packers?
This hurts big time. Bishop, an up-and-coming linebacker, ruptured his right hamstring in the Packers first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers and is likely going to miss the 2012 season.
The CAL product has been a fast riser and seemed to be on an upward trajectory towards elite status.
Second-year linebacker D.J. Smith, who I thought would be challenging A.J. Hawk for the starting position next to Bishop, is going to take over the starting position.
Smith was extremely impressive in limited action as a rookie last season. He will be given a chance to play a whole lot more in 2012.
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When will Adrian Peterson be ready?
Some good news for Minnesota Vikings fans after their horrible preseason debut Friday night. Their best player is back in the fold after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP) on Sunday.
This means that Peterson cannot start the regular season on the inactive list and will be suiting up against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first week.
Talk about a relief.
Not much more to say here, but to thank the football gods for this. As a football fan, I want to see AP on the football field playing.
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What's happening at the wide receiver position?
I am definitely interested to see how this plays out. The Buffalo Bills have an open competition going for their No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Steve Johnson.
By no means is this etched in stone.
Veteran journeyman Derek Hagan has impressed a great deal in camp, but it is important to note that he was a standout in Oakland Raiders camp last season prior to fizzling out during the regular year.
Buffalo also has rookie third-round pick T.J. Graham, Marcus Easily and David Nelson competing for spots at wide receiver. It was reported that Graham took some first-team snaps during the earliest part of camp.
This should be fun. Nothing better than a five-man competition for one starting spot heading into the season.
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Should Ryan Tannehill start out of the gate?
It is hard to imagine me even typing this question last week. After all, the rookie first-round pick from Texas A&M was nothing more than No. 3 on the Miami Dolphins depth chart.
Then a couple of unforeseen circumstances arose.
Jay Glazer reports that David Garrard is going to miss two to four weeks after injuring his knee in camp last week. Despite rumors that the veteran quarterback was the favorite to land Miami's starting spot, other reports indicate he was having trouble grasping the playbook.
Matt Moore, who looked good as the Dolphins starter last season, struggled a great deal in the preseason opener. He completed seven of 12 passes with an interception, while failing to lead Miami to any points. Moore hasn't exactly impressed in camp and seems to be nothing more than a backup at this point.
Much to the surprise of skeptics and experts alike, Tannehill came out and impressed against Tampa Bay. The inexperienced quarterback threw for 167 yards and a score, while completing 67 percent of his passes.
More than statistics can explain, the rookie looked poised in the pocket and seemed to have no issues getting into his second reads. In short, Tannehill couldn't have looked much better.
Is it time for the Dolphins to look towards the future and give him a shot out of the gate? This is the question we will be hearing a lot in the coming weeks.
New England Patriots
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Will the New England Patriots add another offensive weapon?
ESPN insider Adam Schefter reports that Plaxico Burress worked out for the Patriots on Sunday. This doesn't mean that the veteran receiver is going to sign with the defending AFC Champions. Instead, it indicates that they're interested in adding a veteran to go along with the deep group of players they already have at that position.
What could Burress add to a passing game that is already elite? Normally I would say he would be a solid red zone threat, but New England already has that in the forms of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Realistically, I just don't see Burress breaking through and making an impact should New England sign him. They already have the talent and depth at wide receiver to be dominating in the passing game.
But, far be it for me to question this organization.
New York Jets
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Is the New York Jets quarterback situation solvent at all?
This is bad, really bad. Okay, let's take a step back and understand that we are just getting done with the initial week of the 2012 preseason before jumping the gun.
Neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow looked good in the Jets opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The two combined to complete eight of 14 passes for just 48 yards and an interception. In fact, Greg McElroy seemed to look like the best Jets quarterback on the field Friday night.
Both made some questionable decisions in passing situations and struggled against the pressure that Cincinnati was able to bring on a consistent basis.
While many skeptics have concluded that the Jets are in for a season of horrendous quarterback play, I think it is best to reserve judgment at this point. Making a decision or proclamation about the ability of a football team after one preseason game is utterly foolish.
In short, Sanchez is still the starting quarterback and will be once the season starts in September. That did not change Friday and I have a hard time believing it will change moving forward into the regular year.
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Can Tony Romo rely on any of his receivers?
Miles Austin is going to miss tonight's preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders with yet another hamstring injury. This is the third time in a calendar year that Austin has had this type of issue and it caused him to struggle a great deal in 2011.
Dez Bryant, who keeps making the news for all the wrong reasons, strained his hamstring Saturday and is also unlikely to play tonight in Oakland.
This leaves Kevin Ogletree as the only fully healthy receiver on the Cowboys roster with any real-game NFL experience on the offensive side of the ball.
The good news is that Dallas has some time to get their two top wide receivers back in the fold. The bad news is that this seems to be a consistent issue for both Bryant and Austin.
New York Giants
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Will Mark Herzlich beat out Chase Blackburn?
Last month I made a prediction that Herzlich would win the New York Giants starting middle linebacker job when camp breaks. This doesn't seem like too much of a stretch at this point.
According to NFC East Lead Blogger Brad Gagnon, the Boston College product outplayed his counterpart in the Giants opener.
Chase Blackburn didn't really do anything good or bad in his limited time on the field Friday night, which is fine. The problem for Blackburn, though, is that backup Mark Herzlich continues to excel. The second-year linebacker was stout against the run and solid in pass coverage.
While this was one of the few games that I didn't view during the weekend, what I have seen from both Herzlich and Blackburn leads me to believe the former is a better bet to start once the season starts.
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Raise of hands here. How many Philadelphia Eagles fans held their breath once Vick went down with another injury, this time to his throwing thumb against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night?
This is becoming more of a trend than anything else.
Good news is that Vick was back at practice on Saturday and seems to be doing okay. The bad news is that you simply cannot rely on the talented quarterback to get through an entire season without missing a few games here and there.
That has to be cause for alarm for Philadelphia due to the competitive division and strong conference they play in.
It is just hard to imagine the Eagles making any noise if Trent Edwards, Mike Kafka or Nick Foles are forced to start multiple games.
They need Vick.
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Can Robert Griffin III continue great play?
Well, that was impressive. We can talk about his athleticism until we are blue in the face, but RGIII looked like an NFL-caliber quarterback in his preseason debut against the Buffalo Bills.
The Baylor product was poised in the pocket, stepped up against pressure consistently and showed a great combination of accuracy and arm strength that made him a top prospect.
There is no doubt in my mind that RGIII, much like every other rookie quarterback, will struggle to an extent in 2012. It will be all about him maintaining the confidence level we saw against Buffalo and dusting himself off because he is ready to be an impact performer immediately.
Couldn't have been more impressed.