Has Your Favorite NFL Team Rectified Its Biggest 2011 Flaw?
Throughout the 2012 NFL offseason, each team has gone to great lengths to try to fix its biggest weakness from 2011.
Every team had different holes to fill, and every team went about filling those holes in different ways. Some looked to free agency while others relied on the NFL draft. Still others focused on changes to philosophy, personnel and staff.
As the preseason gets underway and the regular season inches closer and closer, teams will begin to see where they've made growth and where there is still work to be done.
This slideshow addresses every NFL team's biggest flaw from 2011 and whether or not they've done enough to fix it heading into 2012.
Arizona Cardinals: Offensive Line
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Many draft experts and NFL analysts pegged an offensive tackle going to Arizona in Round 1 of this year’s draft. But ultimately the Cardinals opted for a playmaker at wideout in Michael Floyd.
The Cards picked up right guard Adam Snyder from division rival San Francisco, which is an underrated move that should help the right side of the line right away.
They also drafted Bobby Massie, and though his ceiling is high, he might need some time to develop. He has all the tools to play tackle in the NFL, but he’s also a bit raw. Veteran Jeremy Bridges will likely get the early nod as the starting right tackle.
At left tackle, Arizona brought back Levi Brown after releasing him in the offseason, which was somewhat surprising considering his poor play in recent seasons. Ultimately, the Cards couldn’t find a better answer and decided to roll the dice on the 28-year-old.
Though Arizona did just re-sign Brown to a five-year deal, they didn’t exactly give him a ringing endorsement. According to thesidelineview.com, “The Cardinals can get out of Brown’s contract after this season without owing him anymore money, but he’ll earn at least $8 million this season in bonuses and base salary.”
Arizona’s offensive line still doesn’t look terribly strong, but the addition of Snyder should at least help.
Atlanta Falcons: Left Tackle
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE
There’s not much not to like out in Atlanta. Matt Ryan continues to progress, and he has some potent weapons on offense.
The spotlight in 2012, though, will be squarely on left tackle Sam Baker.
Baker struggled in 2011 because of a back injury, but now that he’s healthy, the “Falcons [are] expecting Baker to return to pre-2011 form,” per Pro Football Weekly.
If the 27-year-old can indeed regain his high level of play, things will look even brighter for Atlanta in 2012. The Falcons are expecting as much.
They really didn’t address the tackle position over the offseason. After taking center/guard Peter Konz in the second round of the draft, they scooped up tackle Lamar Holmes in Round 3. Holmes will probably play a swing role in his rookie year, and he at least serves as quality depth behind the veteran Baker.
The Falcons have a talented roster, but Baker’s performance will play a big part in how well they perform on offense.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
Wide receiver wasn’t the deepest or the most productive position for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. Veteran Lee Evans couldn’t fill his role, and long-time producer Anquan Boldin had a down year.
Fortunately for the Ravens, Torrey Smith rose to the occasion in his rookie season, providing the team with a much-needed spark as a deep threat. He played in all 16 games, catching 50 balls for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.
Baltimore expects Smith to build on that success in 2012. In addition, the team drafted another big target in Tommy Streeter, who also has some valuable speed. They also signed free agent Jacoby Jones.
Though the Ravens’ offense surely runs through Ray Rice, Joe Flacco takes a lot of pressure as the team’s quarterback. He’ll need Smith and Jones to produce and Boldin to bounce back to make the passing game a real threat.
Right now, it looks like those guys can do just that.
Buffalo Bills: Pass Rush
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
Though the Buffalo Bills had a difficult time stopping the run last season, it would be an understatement to acknowledge that they struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
In the offseason, the front office aggressively searched for answers, signing free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to bolster the defensive end position. With those two accomplished pass-rushers creating pressure off the edge, Pro Bowler Kyle Williams and second-year star Marcell Dareus will play inside at tackle.
The result should certainly help stop the run, but the pass rush, in particular, should glow with results. Shawne Merriman is finally at full strength, and any production from him would be viewed as a bonus by the team and its fans.
Additionally, veteran Chris Kelsay is back at his normal end position in the 4-3.
With newfound depth along the line, it looks like the Bills will be much improved on defense overall in 2012. Being able to pressure the quarterback would go a long way towards snapping their playoff drought.
Carolina Panthers: Run Defense
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
After ranking 28th in the NFL in team defense in 2011 and 25th against the run, the Carolina Panthers are expecting improvement in 2012.
Linebacker Jon Beason is reportedly back to full health and has been working as the team’s starting middle linebacker in camp, per the Charlotte Observer.
Meanwhile, rookie Luke Kuechly, who is widely considered as the best linebacker in this year’s draft class, has been “making a splash” in camp by routinely “making big plays,” per Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com.
The Panthers also get back a healthy Thomas Davis, while James Anderson is coming off a 145-tackle season.
And don’t forget about Charles Johnson. Johnson had nine sacks in 2011, and he’ll begin to mentor rookie defensive end Frank Alexander, whom Carolina selected in the third round of the draft.
The two biggest factors in the Panthers improving their run defense are health and Luke Kuechly. If the former happens, there’s no doubt Kuechly can be a star in this league.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Tackle
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Perhaps the biggest news for the Chicago Bears’ offensive line situation is that Mike Martz is out and Mike Tice is in as offensive coordinator.
The move means less seven-step drops for quarterback Jay Cutler, which should help protect him behind an average-at-best offensive line.
Second-year pro Gabe Carimi, the Bears’ 2011 first-round pick, is reportedly healthy, and his presence at right tackle should be a big help. Now the attention is on left tackle J’Marcus Webb.
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Tice already “[sent] a message” to Webb for his poor play in the team’s preseason opener, leaving him “on the field for 41 of 49 offensive snaps in the 31-3 loss to the Broncos at Soldier Field.”
The rest of the offensive line can improve too. At left guard, newly signed Chilo Rachal is expected to compete with Chris Spencer for a starting job. The team also re-signed center Roberto Garza to a two-year extension.
Ultimately, Chicago hopes that Tice is the biggest factor in improving the offensive line, especially the tackles in pass protection. If so, Cutler should have a great season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cornerback
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
After No. 1 corner Leon Hall tore his Achilles tendon last season, the spotlight got even brighter on the Cincinnati Bengals’ cornerback position.
Cincy featured Hall and Nate Clements in 2011, but outside of them the position wasn’t anything to brag about. Though the team’s defense was stingy overall last year, including against the pass, a lot of that had to do with the production up front.
The Bengals addressed this issue over the offseason, signing veteran free agents Jason Allen and Terence Newman. They also spent a first-round pick on rookie Dre Kirkpatrick and a fifth-round pick on both Shaun Prater and safety George Iloka.
Just like that, there’s a lot of depth and some exciting youth in the Cincinnati secondary.
Hall is reportedly fully cleared, and his health will be a primary focus for the Bengals and their fans throughout the preseason. If Kirkpatrick can get back to full health and contribute early on, there’s no reason that this defense can’t be even better in 2012 than it was in 2011.
Cleveland Browns: Offensive Skill Players
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
The Cleveland Browns had various holes on offense in 2011, which makes it difficult to pinpoint any one area.
An unexciting receiving corps and an ineffective running game did their best to support Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace at quarterback.
In an attempt to overhaul the entire offensive unit, Cleveland drafted this year’s top rookie running back, Trent Richardson. Richardson is an exceptional all-around back who should have immediate success in his first NFL season, as long as he can stay off the injury shelf.
Additionally, the Browns selected quarterback Brandon Weeden with their second first-round pick, and though he may very well be an upgrade to Colt McCoy, Weeden needs weapons too. Richardson should help.
At wide receiver, the Browns still have some question marks. They hope Greg Little can continue to grow. To complement him, they also landed Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, who has looked good so far in camp.
Cleveland has some work to do, but at the very least they have a core of young players they hope to develop together so they can compete in the AFC North.
Dallas Cowboys: Secondary
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
The Dallas Cowboys recognized they had a big problem in the secondary last season, and like the Cowboys always do under Jerry Jones, they went out and did something about it.
Dallas aggressively signed cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency. According to Joe Machota of the Dallas News, Carr has already established himself as the Cowboys’ top defensive back.
Then in the 2012 NFL draft, they traded up to select rookie Morris Claiborne, who was the unquestioned top corner of the draft. Despite Ed Werder reporting via Twitter that the Cowboys are “frustrated” with the rookie for the way he’s handled injuries thus far, it’s safe to say this shouldn’t be a big long-term problem.
In addition to cornerback, Dallas also addressed the safety position by signing free agent Brodney Pool and selecting Matt Johnson in the fourth round of the draft.
After going for defense in the first four rounds of the draft this year, Dallas already looks to be much improved on that side of the ball heading into 2012.
Denver Broncos: Defensive Tackle
Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE
With such a dynamic edge rush in 2011, it’s easy to forget that Denver needed some consistency along the interior of the defensive line. But the Broncos didn’t forget, and they smartly drafted Derek Wolfe in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Denver ranked 22nd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (126.3). While not all of this falls on the defensive line, it will help to have a big run-stuffer like Wolfe in the middle.
The Broncos now have a proven veteran leader at quarterback who should transform the offense into an entirely different species. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos are hoping to become more complete.
Wolfe will help make that happen.
According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, Wolfe will reportedly line up at end in base packages but will also slide inside in the nickel. Because he offers such positional versatility, his presence should help Denver shore up the defensive line as a whole.
Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are great edge-rushers, but the team needed a bigger presence along the interior.
Wolfe will team up with Ty Warren and Co. to help fill that gap, and Denver hopes a more complete defensive line will catapult them in the AFC West.
Detroit Lions: Cornerback
Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE
But for as good as the Lions’ passing attack was in 2011, their pass defense was just as bad. Detroit gave up a lot of big plays through the air, which is why the team tried to address the secondary this offseason.
Detroit signed free agent corner Jacob Lacey, and he’ll try to fill the holes left behind by the release of Aaron Berry and departure of Eric Wright.
The rookie defensive backs bring some excitement too. The Lions tried to infuse some talented youth in the secondary through the draft. They chose Dwight Bentley in the third round, and he’s had a “consistently good camp thus far,” according to the Oakland Press.
In addition to Bentley, the Lions also drafted cornerbacks Chris Greenwood (Round 5) and Jonte Green (Round 6).
Due to their strong defensive line, the Lions hope some of these young corners can step up right away to avoid giving up more big plays in 2012.
And if Stafford performs like he did last year, it will only take some of the pressure off them.
Green Bay Packers: Pass Rush
Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
The biggest part of the problem for Green Bay was a lack of a pass rush. Opponents consistently double- and triple-teamed Clay Matthews off the edge, since the rest of the Packers’ front seven couldn’t do much to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
In the draft, the Pack spent a first-round pick on USC pass-rusher Nick Perry and also drafted 3-4 defensive end Jerel Worthy in the second round to help inside.
It’s no secret that the Packers are counting on these two rookies to contribute early and often. After coming off an early exit from the playoffs despite a 15-1 regular season record, saying they have a chip on their shoulder would be an understatement.
They also drafted defensive tackle Mike Daniels and outside linebacker Terrell Manning to add even more depth up front.
While the Packers may be able to move the ball at will on offense, they’ll need to do a better job of preventing offenses to do the same in 2012. As of now, it looks like they’re well on their way to doing just that.
Houston Texans: Wide Receiver
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
The Houston Texans have one of the game’s best wide receivers in Andre Johnson. Outside of him, though, they’ve had trouble providing him with a consistent complement.
Johnson has quietly been accumulating injuries the past few seasons. A few noteworthy items include his ankle surgery at the end of the 2010-11 season, his hamstring struggles, a knee scope he had in May, and his recent groin injury.
Though he’s had himself an extremely productive career, Johnson just turned 31 in July and needs some help now more than ever.
Currently, the No. 2 wideout on Houston’s roster is Kevin Walter, who hasn’t been able to take advantage of his opportunities the past few seasons despite routinely being pegged as a quality pass-catcher. After two good years in 2007 and 2008, Walter’s catches have gradually dropped in each of the last four seasons.
The team drafted DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin in this year’s draft, the latter of whom has reportedly been outstanding in camp.
Hopefully Martin can surprise and help take some of the pressure off of Johnson. Fortunately for the Texans, they also have one of the game's elite running backs in Arian Foster.
Indianapolis Colts: Quarterback
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Many will argue that there were other glaring holes outside of the quarterback position last year for Indianapolis, and that’s largely true.
But it’s also true that without Peyton Manning at the helm, the Colts’ quarterbacks were atrocious. And once the No. 1 spot in the draft was locked up, the quarterback position was still the top priority: Re-sign Manning, or draft Andrew Luck?
If the team felt its other needs were of greater importance, it could have resigned Manning, traded the No. 1 pick for an unprecedented amount of ammunition and address all those other needs. But ultimately, resetting the clock with a new franchise quarterback was more important.
Andrew Luck will immediately help rectify the Colts’ passing game, and unlike Manning could have done, he can be their answer at quarterback for the next decade.
He has two quality rookie tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, along with a valuable veteran leader at wideout in Reggie Wayne.
Luck is ready go, and it will be exciting to watch how his rookie year unfolds.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback
Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE
It doesn’t matter who is playing wide receiver. If players have someone like Blaine Gabbert throwing them the ball like he was last year, nobody is going to look good.
Like the rest of the league, Gabbert had the misfortune of not having an NFL offseason. But he suffered more than most, as he proved that he wasn’t as NFL-ready as many of the other top draft prospects. Furthermore, he plays one of the more difficult positions on an offense without a lot of proven talent.
But rather than jumping ship on the 22-year-old signal-caller out of Missouri, Jacksonville decided to stay the course and build around him.
Despite flirting with Tim Tebow and signing Chad Henne, Gabbert enters 2012 as the Jags’ starting quarterback. He’ll also have two solid targets in receiver Justin Blackmon, for whom Jacksonville traded up to draft in Round 1, and newly signed Laurent Robinson.
Jacksonville insists that Gabbert has improved, and new head coach Mike Mularkey should benefit the young quarterback.
The problem, however, is that star running back Maurice Jones-Drew is holding out. Without him in the lineup, any progress that might be made with Gabbert’s experience in the offense and the additions of his new wideouts could be negated.
Jones-Drew is too crucial to the offense (and Gabbert) for it to work without him. No one will be happier when and if he returns than the second-year passer.
Kansas City Chiefs: Quarterback
Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs suffered a bad case of the injury bug last season, at key positions nonetheless.
But the Chiefs need a verifiable answer at quarterback if they’re to compete in the AFC West.
Is Matt Cassel still the answer?
Since joining the Chiefs, Cassel has yet to complete 60 percent of his passes or better in a season. While he made strides in 2010, his 2011 campaign was derailed.
Kansas City finished 25th in the league last year in passing yards per game. Again, it didn’t help that injuries ravished the roster, but Cassel wasn’t doing a lot of impressive work prior to the injury.
In nine games last year, he completed 59.5 percent of his passes, throwing 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
Like all quarterbacks, Cassel needs protection and healthy weapons at his disposal.
But he also has to step up and make plays on his own to prove he’s the long-term answer in Kansas City. If not, Chiefs fans can’t feel too comfortable believing that Brady Quinn is the answer behind him.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Though Miami has lacked a strong receiving corps the past few seasons, there was no bigger need in 2011 than at starting quarterback.
Chad Henne was average in the first few games of 2011 before going down in Week 4. And although Matt Moore fared pretty well in his absence, the organization still felt that addressing the position with a franchise-caliber player was a top priority.
So much so that the Dolphins spent the eighth overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
According to Si.com, Tannehill has reportedly looked good in training camp. He’s flashing his athleticism and is starting to demonstrate poise and good decision-making, per SI.com’s report.
Though he currently is not the front-runner for the starting gig, all signs are pointing up for the rookie signal-caller.
Miami hopes Tannehill is its long-term quarterback, but that may not be decided for at least a year or two. For now, he’ll continue to take advantage of as many reps as he can get.
Minnesota Vikings: Left Tackle
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Even though the Minnesota Vikings landed their potential quarterback of the future in last year’s NFL draft, they still needed someone to keep him on his feet.
Second-year signal-caller Christian Ponder hopes to get better protection in 2012 after the Vikings selected left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in the draft this year. Kalil is considered to be an elite left tackle prospect, and his presence should lead to immediate results on offense.
Minnesota gave up 49 sacks in 2011, bad enough for 27th in the NFL. The league-worst Rams in this category only yielded six more sacks than the Vikes, meaning Minnesota was just a bad game away from finishing worst in the league.
Kalil should certainly help the cause. He has all the tools teams look for in a blindside protector, and there is little doubt, if any, that he should be a Pro Bowler for many years.
New England Patriots: Pass Defense
Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
In 2011, the New England Patriots finished 31st in the NFL in total defense. They gave up nearly 300 yards passing per game and just about 117 yards rushing per game.
Nevertheless, the Pats were still in the middle of the pack in points allowed (15th in the NFL), meaning they were opportunistic despite bending quite a bit in between the 20s.
To address their struggles in pass defense, they started up front by selecting defensive end Chandler Jones and inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL draft in Round 1. They also selected Tavon Wilson, a safety out of Illinois, in Round 2.
In an attempt to double-down at these positions, New England then drafted another defensive end, Jake Bequette, and another two defensive backs, Nate Ebner and Alfonzo Dennard, in Rounds 3, 6 and 7, respectively.
New England hopes an improved pass rush will help the secondary, and that a deeper secondary will help defend the pass.
Considering the Pats have such a dynamic offense, even a slight improvement on defense in 2012 would be beneficial.
New Orleans Saints: The Front Four
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
While Drew Brees made history last year with his record-breaking passing performance, the Saints’ defense kept opponents in games. And it started up front on the defensive line.
According to Guerry Smith of CBSSports.com, “The quartet of Sedrick Ellis, Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers and Tom Johnson had 1.5 sacks while opponents averaged 5.0 yards per carry” in 2011. Not great numbers for a talented team expected to be a perennial contender.
And while the secondary was another flawed area last year after giving up nearly 260 yards per game through the air, some of that has to do with the pressure at the line of scrimmage.
After losing both Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers during the offseason, the Saints signed free-agent defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and drafted defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who has a lot of size and strength to push the pocket.
The Saints hope that the tandem of Bunkley and Hicks is an upgrade over Franklin and Rogers. But other than this, the team did little to address the defensive line. To make matters worse, veteran Will Smith is suspended for the first four games of the season.
Fortunately, New Orleans was able to sign linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, who will try to alleviate the loss of Jonathan Vilma and serve as a security blanket behind the front four.
New York Giants: Offensive Line
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Surprisingly, the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants finished dead last in the NFL in rushing last year, averaging just 89.2 yards per game on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry.
The team released Brandon Jacobs in March and certainly found an upgrade to him in rookie David Wilson. According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram said of Wilson, “‘He is going to be an integral part of what we do this year somehow, some way.’”
Wilson should be a terrific complement to Ahmad Bradshaw, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him receive a heavy workload in his rookie year.
New York also signed free-agent tackle Sean Locklear to add depth to the offensive line, though he isn’t a lock to make the team. The bigger news is the additions of rookie offensive tackles Brandon Mosley and small-school prospect Matt McCants. With a little experience, the Giants hope both of these players can improve Eli Manning’s pass protection.
A full offseason should help these players along with David Diehl and Will Beatty. The line can only get better from last year.
New York Jets: Quarterback
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE
Despite Mark Sanchez putting up his best passing statistical numbers of his career in 2011, some of his flaws are hidden beneath the surface. As a result, the Jets’ starting quarterback is entering a make-or-break season.
ESPN Stats & Information details some of Sanchez’s notable struggles from a season ago. In 2011, he turned the ball over 26 times. He struggled mightily on downfield passes, and he “had a 2.1 Total QBR on plays when he was under duress or hit while throwing last season, worst in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.”
After failing to land Peyton Manning in free agency, the Jets offered Sanchez a lucrative contract extension (five years, $58.25 million). Then, they decided to trade for Tim Tebow.
They also plan to run a more smash-mouth offense. Both the offensive philosophy and the addition of Tebow suggest fewer throws from Sanchez, as Rex Ryan continues to search for ways to take the ball out of his starting quarterback’s hands.
The Jets have certainly addressed this weakness in an interesting way. It should come as no surprise, then, that the outcome of this situation relies on the effectiveness of none other than the always-hyped Tim Tebow.
Oakland Raiders: Linebackers
Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
Safety Tayvon Branch led the Oakland Raiders in tackles in 2011 with 109. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain finished second with 99. After that, there wasn’t a ton of defensive production.
The linebacker position was arguably the weakest link for Oakland heading into the offseason. They didn’t perform well last year and there still isn’t a ton of depth on the roster.
To make matters worse, McClain was found guilty on assault charges this offseason, and his availability in 2012 could be in jeopardy after he was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
Without many picks, the Raiders did their best in the NFL draft to fix this problem. They selected linebacker Miles Burris out of San Diego State in the fourth round, who has been seeing “valuable first team reps in camp” thus far, according to silverandblackpride.com.
They also signed free-agent outside linebacker Philip Wheeler, who could potentially take over for the departed Kamerion Wimbley.
Considering McClain’s situation and the inexperience at the position, Oakland may still have its eyes open for help. Kicking the tires on free agent E.J. Henderson, for example, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.
At the same time, establishing some young talent under a new regime is a good start toward rectifying the problem.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebackers
Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
NFL.com’s Brian McIntyre described the Philadelphia Eagle’s 2011 linebacker situation as follows:
Last year, the team experimented with inexperienced, late-round linebackers -- 2011 fourth-round pick Casey Matthews opened as the starting middle linebacker. The results were disastrous, and the Eagles had to devote considerable resources to upgrading the position in the offseason.
One of those upgrades is rookie Mychal Kendricks, whom Philly selected in Round 2 of the 2012 NFL draft. Another is DeMeco Ryans, the former Houston Texan that the Eagles acquired via trade.
Kendricks, a promising rookie with loads of athleticism, and Ryans, a three-time Pro Bowler, figure to help Philadelphia’s linebacking corps leaps and bounds next season. The rookie is already slated as a starter outside, and Ryans will immediately plug in as the middle linebacker.
In addition, they’ll be playing behind a very strong defensive line and in front of a quality secondary.
Philly looks good on paper, and this year it hopes to turn that talent into results. As of now, there’s no reason the team can’t compete for the division title in 2012.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Line
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a tough guy, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty mobile for being so big. But even Big Ben needed some help in front of him, and the Steelers tried to get that for him this offseason.
There’s no question that the biggest strength along the offensive line last season was center Maurkice Pouncey. Since entering the league, he’s been an anchor in the middle. It’s the rest of the line that needed some improvement.
To fill in at left guard, the Steelers had David DeCastro fall in their laps in the first round. Widely considered the top guard prospect in the 2012 draft, he’ll likely be a mainstay for many years. Needless to say, this is a big upgrade.
Pittsburgh also drafted tackle Mike Adams in Round 2. Adams has some work to do, but if he reaches his potential, he could turn out to be a terrific value for where they got him.
Then in Round 7, they drafted another guard in Kelvin Beachum to establish some more depth along the interior.
The Steelers will be experimenting at running back this year with Rashard Mendenhall injured, but the hope is that DeCastro can help immediately solidify the interior and help keep Big Ben making big plays.
San Diego Chargers: The Front Seven
Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
Despite ranking fifth in the league in total offensive points scored, the San Diego Chargers finished last season with an 8-8 record, unable to separate themselves from the rest of their evenly matched division.
The reason for this .500 record is because, for as good as San Diego was on offense, they couldn’t establish any consistency on defense. The Bolts ranked 20th in the NFL in both passing yards and rushing yards allowed per game, making it difficult for the offense to keep pace.
After ranking 22nd in interceptions, 23rd in defensive sacks, and 22nd in total points allowed, the Chargers took action.
They drafted a pass-rushing weapon in Melvin Ingram as well as a promising young defensive tackle in Kendall Reyes. In addition, they signed a tough veteran linebacker in Jarrett Johnson, who will certainly help against the run. These guys alone should help the Chargers’ defense get back on track.
And if the defense can indeed catch up to the offense, the Chargers should be a tough opponent in an increasingly competitive AFC West.
San Francisco 49ers: Wide Receiver
Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
The San Francisco 49ers surprised a lot of folks last season with their 13-3 record and near-miss of a Super Bowl appearance. Much of that success was due to a stingy defense and a well-managed offense.
However, the Niners clearly could have used more weapons on offense, mainly at wideout.
To address this area, the front office pushed its chips in stacks. They signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and they spent a first-round pick on Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins.
And just like that, a previously barren wide receiver corps has plenty of mouths to feed.
The main question is whether or not there are too many big personalities now on that side of the ball. In addition to Moss and Manningham, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will still want their looks, and the team will certainly continue to run the ball, especially considering it has Frank Gore, LaMichael James, and Brandon Jacobs headlining the backfield.
San Fran absolutely addressed the wide receiver position, but whether or not these moves can catapult them to another NFC Championship showdown depends on how much they affect the offensive chemistry.
Fortunately, Jim Harbaugh is in charge to keep a close eye on things.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE
Though Seattle ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed in 2011, it still couldn’t do enough on offense to stay afloat, ranking 23rd in points scored.
Much of the struggles on offense had to do with a poor offensive line. Despite leaning heavily on Marshawn Lynch and the run game, Seattle gave up 50 sacks last year, bad enough for 29th in the league.
The offensive line improved a lot down the stretch, but Seattle made it a point to strengthen the entire unit during the offseason.
Focusing on veteran additions, they signed guard Deuce Lutui and tackles Alex Barron and Frank Omiyale in free agency. The hope is that these players along with a healthy Russell Okung can establish some form of consistency in 2012.
Seattle neglected to take any offensive linemen in the draft, so the team is banking on maintaining the progress it made down the stretch last year and the contributions their newest faces will make this year.
If the Hawks want to compete with the 49ers’ defense in 2012, those things will have to happen.
St. Louis Rams: Outside Linebacker
Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
There’s a case to be made for wide receiver here, but the St. Louis Rams haven’t had a strong, cohesive linebacking corps for a few years now.
Evan Silva of Pro Football Talk described the outside linebacker situation as follows:
The Rams have annually struggled to defend the run, and their attempts to find outside linebackers have failed miserably in recent seasons. St. Louis needs two starting outside linebackers. Newly acquired Jo-Lonn Dunbar is ideally suited for special teams, and middle man James Laurinaitis is the club’s only starting-caliber linebacker.
St. Louis finished 31st against the run in 2011, due in large part to their lack of depth at outside linebacker. The team selected linebacker Aaron Brown out of Hawaii in the NFL draft, but as an undersized seventh-round pick without much upside, the decision to address the position seemed too little too late.
In first-rounder Michael Brockers and the additions of corners Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan, the Rams hope they can indirectly help the linebacking group with stronger players all around.
But the fact still remains that St. Louis is young and thin at outside linebacker, which doesn’t bode well for their chances in 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Running Back
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
It was a disappointing season last year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They severely stumbled after a strong 2010, leading to the release of head coach Raheem Morris.
After pegging a new head coach in Greg Schiano, the Bucs had one of the best drafts in the league. One of the bright spots that will impact the offense right away is rookie running back Doug Martin.
Martin is fully expected to win the starting job at running back, which would put him ahead of LeGarrette Blount. Despite racking up nearly 2,000 yards rushing in his first two years in the league, Blount also has nine total fumbles.
Ball security is imperative in the NFL, and the Bucs hope that Martin can help avoid such costly turnovers.
It’s a new era of Bucs football, and Martin brings not only a well-rounded skill set to the position but also a great attitude to the offense as a whole.
If he can perform like he’s capable of, the Bucs could turn their 30th ranking in rushing offense closer to the better half of the league.
Tennessee Titans: Pass Rush
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
As Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith points out, “the Titans’ top three defensive ends last season, Dave Ball, Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones, combined for a total of just 9.5 sacks.”
While many factors lead to sacks on defense, there’s no question the Titans could use some more explosion off the edge.
They missed an opportunity to land a quality pass-rusher in Round 1 of the NFL draft, opting instead to take Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright. (Considering Kenny Britt’s current situation, that decision might have been a good one.)
Nevertheless, Tennessee landed pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley in free agency, who should add some pressure off the edge. The Titans also landed an ultra-athletic outside linebacker in Zach Brown, but he has some developing to do.
In Round 3, they added defensive tackle Mike Martin, who adds depth inside.
Ultimately, Tennessee waited until the seventh round to draft a defensive end, which was Scott Soloman. They did address the pass rush to some extent; it’s unclear, though, if these moves will be enough ignite the sack department.
Washington Redskins: Quarterback
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While offensive line was certainly a weakness at times last year, there’s no question that the Redskins were desperately in need of a new face of the franchise. They now have that.
Robert Griffin III is the unquestioned starter after Washington selected him second overall in the draft. He has arguably the most dynamic skill set of any player to ever play the position, and only time will tell how defenses are able to adapt to his abilities.
RG3’s transition to the NFL will be made easier with the veteran presence of Santana Moss, the addition of Pierre Garcon and the emergence of players like Fred Davis, Leonard Hankerson and whomever Mike Shanahan employs at running back.
The offensive line will need to keep him on his feet, but at least Griffin has the wheels to outrun defenders should he need to.
For now, the Redskins have their quarterback of the future. And that's been something this organization has lacked for a long time.