Which NFL Players Absolutely Must Impress in Week 3 Preseason Dress Rehearsal?
Make no bones about it, Week 3 of the preseason is by far the most important for NFL starters.
Cemented veterans can establish a rhythm that will carry over to the regular season. For instance, on-the-cusp teams like the Atlanta Falcons will use the time to get Matt Ryan in sync with his bounty of weapons.
Fringe contributors can find themselves permanently in the mix or permanently seated on the bench based on their performance.
The reasoning is that the third game of the preseason is where the starting lineup plays the most to make their final preparations for meaningful games. You want to prove you belong on the field, then you need to show up against those that will be there on Week 1.
As always, the most important goal for a preseason game is to make it through unscathed. But for the following players, there is more to be obtained.
Chris Johnson Needs to Keep Building Steam
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Remember when Chris Johnson was the consensus top pick in fantasy drafts? Where did that player go?
After his lengthy holdout and boastful pronouncements, Johnson left a lot on the table in 2011. He fell short of expectations and totaled eight less touchdowns than the year prior.
Now is the time for Johnson to start earning his hefty paycheck. He started out the preseason slowly, but flashed his explosiveness against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A big game would do wonders for his teammates' confidence, which would only serve to make them work harder to prepare for the regular season.
Which Would Definitely Help out New Starter Jake Locker
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"The future is now" will be a recurring theme throughout this slideshow. Since we started off with a Tennessee Titan, it made sense to keep the ball rolling with Jake Locker.
According to a report from ESPN, head coach Mike Munchak went on record declaring that Locker will be directing the offense this season, .
Just as Chris Johnson can provide a boost in morale for the entire squad, Locker needs to instill confidence that he can get the job done.
Nobody doubts his physical abilities. If he had come out a year earlier, he would have certainly been in the discussion as the top overall pick.
But now he needs to prove he understands the game, can recognize defenses and be accurate with his throws.
Tambi Hali Should Prove to His Boys That He's Contrite
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The Kansas City Chiefs are certainly not the only team to deal with Roger Goodell's punishments.
They do, however, have to endure one of the most high-profile suspensions of the 2012 season. Well, so far.
Tamba Hali is a game-changer who was handsomely rewarded for his on-the-field efforts. His absence for the first game of the season will not go unnoticed.
So his third game of the preseason won't be the dress rehearsal it is for other players. The contest will be more about proving to his teammates that he is still willing to work hard in the face of adversity.
To his credit, Hali has taken responsibility for his actions, and there is nothing to indicate that he won't put forth his best effort.
Mikel Leshoure Needs to Show the Detroit Lions Something...Anything
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The Detroit Lions made a somewhat bold move in drafting Mikel Leshoure in the second round. Now it's time to see if that gamble will pan out.
Leshoure has yet to make any positive impacts during his professional career. While an Achilles injury that robbed him of his rookie season is not his fault, the subsequent arrests that cost him two upcoming games are.
The second-year rookie needs to make an impression if he is able to play in this week's game. Mlive.com is reporting that he has participated in two consecutive practices, but his status against the Oakland Raiders is still unknown.
The Time Is Now for Ryan Tannehill Too
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Joe Philbin doesn't have a weak stomach. He's willing to throw his rookie quarterback to the wolves and see how things work out.
If Ryan Tannehill doesn't have a great year, nobody should shout that he'll never make it. Not all rookie quarterbacks are built to be starters in their debut season.
But it sure would go a long way towards easing the collective anxiety among Miami Dolphins fans. They've been waiting an awful long time for find a replacement for that Dan Marino guy.
A good step towards that goal would be to perform well this week.
There's a Scavenger Hunt in the Desert for a Quarterback
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Seriously, if anyone finds a quarterback in the desert, please let the Arizona Cardinals know. They're desperate for any passing oasis.
The position "competition" between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb has to be killing Larry Fitzgerald. He may be a professional, but he's still a receiver with needs. Like having the ball placed within 10 yards of him.
The Cardinals have some talent on both sides of the ball. However, none of it will matter if they don't find a signal-caller.
No player needs a better Week 3 performance than an Arizona quarterback.
Terrell Owens Needs to Catch Up
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He still has the speed and has always been in excellent physical shape. Owens just needs to elevate his mental game.
His debut did not go as planned. He failed to bring in any of his five targets and dropped a surefire touchdown.
There is no certainty that Owens will make the 53-man roster. His livelihood depends on his performance this week.
Cedric Benson Can Lock Up the Starting Job
The door is wide open for Cedric Benson to secure the top tailback position for the Green Bay Packers. Now, he just needs to cash in on his opportunity.
James Starks went down with an injury that all but ensures he won't be available for Week 1. The remaining competition is closer to being labeled as stiffs than being considered stiff competition.
That doesn't mean that Benson will be handed the job. The young Alex Green will be hungry for the same spot, but his talent doesn't measure up to the newly acquired veteran.
Show up this week, and Benson will line himself up to be the main contributor in the backfield.
But the Packers Need Nick Perry Even More
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The Green Bay Packers have been doing just fine without much of a running game. The more necessary missing component is a consistent pass-rush outside of Clay Matthews III.
Enter Nick Perry. The Packers thought highly enough of the USC defensive end to grab him in the first round and move him to outside linebacker.
Cheeseheads are well-aware that their team needs more than an elite passing attack. It needs the ability to frustrate the opposing quarterback.
In short, they're counting on Perry to keep them from drowning their concerns with beers and brats. Not only can Perry help the team on the field, he may be able to elevate the health of an entire state.
Nobody Has More Pressure on Him Than Wayne Hunter
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The New York Jets are always one of the most scrutinized teams in the league, but it's usually their quarterback who is the center of attention.
Yes, Tim Tebow still receives the bulk of media attention because he's Tim Tebow.
However, teal football nerds are more focused on the starting—for now—right tackle.
Wayne Hunter has been having a rough go of things lately. The New York Giants destroyed him, racking up three sacks (one was nullified due to a penalty) and further dismantling the foundation his job was laid upon.
Hunter still feels confident, which is great. But it won't matter if he doesn't impress his coach with a respectable showing this week.
Maurice Jones-Drew Should Join the Party
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Maurice Jones-Drew received an invitation from the Jacksonville Jaguars to join them this offseason. He just didn't feel that he had enough incentive to show up.
His teammates have been working hard to give him a reason to crash the party.
Blaine Gabbert has been playing like a first-round quarterback. It might only be the preseason, but there are signs of progress from the second-year signal-caller.
And with competent quarterback play, the Jaguars have a chance to be sneaky good. Their defense looks determined to repeat their top-10 performance, and a balanced offense would go a long way towards achieving that goal.
There are also more personal reasons for MoJo to come back quickly. Backup Rashad Jennings has been turning heads and begun to garner a buzz of his own.
Obviously, it is highly unlikely that the longtime Jag could play this week. That doesn't mean he shouldn't.
Nate Solder Looks Like a Weak Link
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The most important job in the northeast is to protect Tom Brady.
Nate Solder, you've been put on notice.
Solder has not looked very impressive this preseason. Aside of being bowled over from a Trent Cole bull rush, he even has the professionally unproven Brandon Graham dishing that he allows opponents to "[get] up under him a lot."
The New England Patriots offense has a chance to be as prolific as the 2007 version. Solder would certainly hate to be the reason they fail to reach the mark.
Matt Kalil Could Use a Good Test Run
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The selection of Matt Kalil for this list has nothing to do with his prior performance. It's all about what's coming down the pipe.
The Minnesota Vikings, and specifically Kalil, will be knocking helmets with Julius Peppers, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Clay Matthews. And that's just the divisional opponents.
Other matchups will include Dwight Freeney, the Smith brothers (Justin and Aldon) and Robert Quinn.
The Vikings will be lucky to string together a few victories this year with such a murderers' row of opponents. However, it will be crucial that Christian Ponder take the next step in his development.
That can only happen if he is allowed to pass from a standing position, as opposed to tossing the ball while scurrying for his life.
Anyone Know What Michael Crabtree Is Up to These Days?
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Time is beginning to run short for Michael Crabtree. His new coach is a bit of a hardass who will undoubtedly pull the talented-yet-mercurial receiver off the field if he fails to produce.
To be fair, Crabtree did catch 72 balls last year for 874 yards. But he only found the end zone four times on a team that lacked another significant receiving threat save for the tight end.
The San Francisco 49ers aren't lacking for wideout depth like they have in years past. Unfortunately, Crabtree hasn't looked stunning so far with his two catches for a whopping seven yards.
We shouldn't look too intensely into preseason play. However, it's almost now-or-never time for the former first-rounder.
The Chicago Bears Plan to Use Gabe Carimi to Cover Up Their Weak Link
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The Chicago Bears are another team that have monstrous (of the Midway) expectations based on a retooled offense. Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush, Alshon Jeffery and 100 percent health for Jay Cutler and Matt Forte sounds like a great recipe.
Let the good times roll!
Oh, wait. There's that whole we-need-to-give-the-quarterback-more-than-1.5-seconds-to-throw thing.
But The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh has cracked offensive coordinator Mike Tice's code (or Gabe Carimi volunteered it. Details.) of how the line actually hinges on the right tackle.
If Carimi continues to play well in his recovery from a knee injury, that will allow Tice and Cutler to shift the protection toward the often-overwhelmed J'Marcus Webb.
Sounds simple enough so long as Carimi can handle his own on an island.