June AFC Team Dispatches
Colts fans, beware of the man who dropped these lines:
"I just thought things would go easier. I knew it was tough to score in this league. It's tough to move the ball in this league. But I just really felt like it would move easier, that the ball would get in the end zone."
He's your new offensive coordinator. Sure, Peyton Manning calls tons of his own plays, and maybe ex-coordinator Tom Moore returns. But that statement is a bit scary, no?
This and other tidbits AFC tidbits for your June consumption.
The Bills are taking a big gamble along their entire offensive line.
The club is counting on rookies Eric Wood (right) and Andy LeVitre (left) to start at guard. Combine that with the fact that Carolina-center import Geoff Hangartner has never been a full-time starter at center, and there is a lot of inexperience up the middle of the offense.
In addition, former right tackle Langston Walker will be playing left tackle full-time for the first time. The plan also includes former right guard Brad Butler kicking out and starting at right tackle.
There are a lot of moving pieces that could go wrong there.
Trent Edwards will need time to hit a talented group of wide receivers, or else you-know-who will make a big stink. Best wishes for a quiet 2009.
The 'Fins are gambling on center Jake Grove staying healthy, something he didn't do much in Oakland. Grove has had microfracture knee surgery and missed four games in 2008 and nine in 2007.
The full season he has started, 2006, was so impressive the Raiders added then-49ers center Jeremy Newberry the following offseason.
After swapping out 24-year-old Samson Satele for Grove, Miami was also left without a true backup center. Guards Ike Ndukwe and Joe Berger have taken limited reps there during their careers, but neither would provide much comfort at a position the Dolphins targeted for improvement.
If Grove winds up being the man out, Miami is worse off than when they had Satele.
Rookie wideout Patrick Turner could get serious playing time sooner rather than later. He has impressed in shorts and should find the field quickly. How much and how quickly will be guided by when Greg Camarillo returns from knee surgery.
Until then, only 2008 surprise Devon Bess (54-554-1) will likely be ahead of Turner in camp opposite Ted Ginn.
Good to know Tom Brady is healthy, especially with Kevin O'Connell (4-of-6, 23 yards in 2008) and Matt Gutierrez at backup quarterback.
But that's not a shocker. Who believed in backup Matt Cassel before last season? Or Brady when the then second-year man won the backup job behind Drew Bledsoe, for that matter?
The Pats have played plenty of two-tight end sets over the years, and there's competition dejour in 2009 with returnees Ben Watson and David Thomas, former Bucs starter Alex Smith, and former Jets starter Chris Baker.
Baker is a solid all-around guy. Smith never showcased the speed needed to stretch a defense down the middle of the field in Tampa. The Bucs had hoped he would take pressure off the wideouts when they took him out of Stanford in 2005, but he wound up losing most of his time to Jerramy Stevens in 2008.
Sometimes-fullback Heath Evans wasn't brought back and no replacement was signed, so two tight ends will be employed when three wideouts aren't.
Look up "stopgap" in the dictionary and you might see a picture of cornerback starters Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden. Bodden wasn't bad in Cleveland, but was brutal in the cover-two in Detroit in 2008. Springs has always been solid when healthy, which he normally is for half the season.
Youngsters Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, and Terrence Wheatley will pounce on the chance when Springs or Bodden are out.
Second-year tight end Dustin Keller needs to continue developing as a blocker and stay healthy for the Jets to have offensive success.
Recently re-signed backup Bubba Franks is not ready to practice yet and looks downright geriatric. That leaves only recently-converted defensive lineman Kareem Brown around to man the spot. The Jets will be taking the waiver wire seriously.
Special teamer Wallace Wright (six catches in 2008) was singled out by coach Rex Ryan as looking good in mini camp. Jericho Cotchery is the only experienced starter at wideout the Jets.
Chansi Stuckey (32-359-3) would be tough to beat out as the other starter, but Wright could make a move against No. 3 wideout Brad Smith (12-64-0) or David Clowney (one catch) for time in multiple wideout sets.
The Jets are not overpowering here, and they need someone like Wright to step up their game.
There will be good competition in camp for the third cornerback job between Dwight Lowery (who started 10 games as a rookie before Ty Law's signing), Drew Coleman, and ex-49er Donald Strickland, who has also played safety.
Willis McGahee is working his way back from another knee surgery. That leaves Ray Rice alone as the only proven halfback. That makes it even more curious as to why the Ravens are dedicated to Le'Ron McClain strictly as a fullback.
With Lorenzo Neal around in 2008, McClain was free to be the team's primary ball carrier for chunks of the season. But with Neal not brought back, there are no real alternatives outside of McClain at fullback.
Maybe the Ravens are talking tough with McClain showing up to mini camp overweight, but even so, there's no one on the roster to line up in front of him like Neal did last year.
The days of the Ravens being thin at corner are over. The signing of Domonique Foxworth from Atlanta, Chris Carr from Tennessee, the drafting of Ladarius Webb in the third round, combined with the return of starters Samari Rolle, Fabian Washington, and Frank Walker has things looking good.
It's hard to believe the Bengals drafted Andre Smith with the sixth pick of the draft to play him at right tackle. For now, that's where he is, with former guard Andrew Whitworth at left tackle.
Conventional thinking probably had Smith at left tackle and Anthony Collins, who started and played well at both tackle spots in 2008, at right tackle. Whitworth could then stay at left guard.
Using the combo of Nate Livings and Scott Kooistra at left guard for Whitworth, while Collins languishes on the bench—not at either tackle spot—doesn't seem to make much sense. Monitor this situation in camp.
Is there a fullback worth keeping around? The group of chronically-overweight Jeremi Johnson, seventh-rounder Fui Vakapuna, and incumbent Daniel Coats forms an unimpressive trio likely to compete into camp for the job.
The Bengals tried to nab Viking Naufahu Tahi as a restricted free agent, but the Vikes matched the offer.
Eric Mangini wants left guard Eric Steinbach to get bigger to benefit the run game, but that has never been Steinbach's game. Right guard Rex Hadnot and Floyd Womack have worked at both guard spots in camp to push him, but neither have done anything to warrant excitement.
Hadnot was chased away from Miami prior to the 2008 season despite starting his entire career. Womack was repeatedly passed over for younger talent during his career in Seattle.
If Mangini is serious about dumping Steinbach, maybe rookie Alex Mack gets a look there, if he's not starting over Hank Fraley at center. One of the game's better centers the past decade, Kevin Mawae, spent his rookie year in Seattle at guard next to veteran center Ray Donaldson.
There was a nice signing by Cleveland of 2008 Cards starting cornerback Roderick Hood. Cornerback Brandon McDonald was thrown to the wolves in 2008 after Daven Holly was lost prior to the season. The two will compete immediately.
Plus, at worst, Hood is an upgrade over either Hank Poteat or Corey Ivy as third corner.
With Lawrence Timmons' promotion and Larry Foote's release at inside linebacker, the Steelers could go for another body inside for depth.
Someone on a one-year deal from the Napolean Harris-mold would be a fit. Right now, all they have is special-teamer Keyaron Fox.
The Steelers did themselves a favor with a couple low-risk free agent additions: Shaun McDonald and Keiwan Ratliff. McDonald provides insurance for second-year wideout Limas Sweed as the third wide receiver.
Reports on Sweed are good, but he had cases of the dropsies as a rookie. McDonald is only one season removed from an impressive 2007 consisting of 79 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns for Detroit.
Ratliff is useful in nickel situations and spot starts. With William Gay taking over full-time for departed Bryant McFadden, Ratliff can compete with Deshea Townsend and rookie Keenan Lewis for nickel and dime duties. Ratliff also is working at safety a bit in camp.
Here's a projection: Despite being in a contract year, tackle Travis Johnson will lose his starting job to Deljuan Robinson.
Not much of a limb to go out on, considering Johnson has two sacks in his four season after being a No. 1 pick out of Florida State (where he also underachieved after being a super-recruit). Mini camp injuries aren't helping, either.
It also wouldn't be shocking to see weakside linebacker Xavier Adibi and rookie strongside starter Brian Cushing flip sides during the season. Cushing possesses more playmaking ability at the weakside spot.
FANTASY NOTE: When the top running back is mentioned in your league, please don't forget Steve Slaton. He's added bulk in the offseason and won't have to wait for injuries to Ahman Green to start, unlike in 2008. He's also a handy target out of the backfield.
Plus, Duane Brown should progress at left tackle, and rookie Antoine Caldwell will wind up starting at right guard, or perhaps center (center Chris Myers could move to guard).
The Colts look deeper than they have in a while at nearly every spot—with the exception of wideout.
The Colts have had the likes of Brandon Stokely and Anthony Gonzalez as their third wideouts. But, in 2009, the fight will be between Roy Hall (one catch in two season), fourth-rounder Austin Collie, and front-runner Pierre Garcon (four catches as a rookie).
With the return to health of O-lineman like 2007 starter Ryan Lilja and center Jeff Saturday, hopefully an enhanced run game can compensate. That, combined with the experience gained by 2008 rookies Steve Justice, Jamey Richard, and Mike Pollak should benefit the line play.
Perhaps Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown will have more room to wiggle to open things up.
The Jags' run game will be much more effective in 2009. For no other reason, the Jags could not have worse luck along the line than last season.
You have to feel a little bad for the Jags' line of 2008. They lost both guards (Mo Williams and Vince Manuwai) for the season after one game, plus center Brad Meester for six games. That left returnees Uche Nawaneri and Dennis Norman, as well as the likes of since-departed Milford Brown and Tutan Reyes, to start. The entire offense suffered.
Combine healthy returns with the addition of tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton from the draft and the signing of former Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas, and the Jags appear to have learned from 2008. They're preparing for the worst.
Returning right tackle Tony Pashos might get a look inside (ala Williams) if Britton takes his job.
Troy Williamson is impressing in mini camp. Ever notice how disappointing players have nothing but good comments about them in camp? It's called a confidence booster. Don't believe the hype.
Bringing back Marlon McCree was a good idea. There was zero depth at safety.
The Titans lost a lot when solid reserve corners Chris Carr and Eric King fled as free agents. After failing to sign Packer Jarrett Bush (the Pack matched his offer sheet), the Titans will rely on greybeard DeMarcus Faggins and rookie Ryan Mouton in 2009. The pressure is on them after the solid play King and Carr contributed in 2008.
Dave Ball may wind up starting at defensive end and contributing heavily at tackle in 2009.
What a story he has become. After barely seeing the field for two seasons in San Diego, the former UCLA Bruin was cut after returning from a knee injury. He spent 2006 and 2007 largely invisible seasons with the Jets and was subsequently released.
The Titans signed him as a street free agent prior to 2008, and he produced 4.5 sacks, an interception return for a touchdown, and three starts. Underdog supporters, check him out.
What a mess the Broncos have with their front-seven, particularly the front-three.
One guy who notched zero sacks in 16 starts in 2008 (Marcus Thomas) is likely to start at one end, and another who wasn't good enough to start in a 4-3 (Kenny Peterson) will likely be the other.
But, then again, two camp bodies, Ryan McBean and Matthias Askew, who have barely played and bounced around the league for a few seasons, may start.
On top of that, nose man Ronald Fields has proven better at end in the 3-4.
Hopefully, inside linebackers D.J. Williams and Andra Davis like seeing guards up close and personal.
Also, on defense, who starts at outside linebacker opposite Elvis Dumervil? Right now, it would be Darrell Reid—a backup defensive tackle and special teamer his entire career in Indy. That's not a comforting thought.
Here's to someone from the inside linebacker group of Boss Bailey, Wesley Woodyard, Nick Griesen, or Mario Haggan getting a look (at least on run downs) at the outside spot.
Like the Broncos, the Chiefs are undergoing the transition to a 3-4.
Last year's top choice, Glenn Dorsey, is proving not to be a fit at end or nose tackle. He's behind Tank Tyler and Ron Edwards at nose tackle and rookie Alex Magee at end.
Once the club decided to go to the 3-4, it was too bad the rookie's salary didn't permit the Chiefs to dump Dorsey on someone who runs a 4-3. A club like New Orleans or Jacksonville is needy, and Dorsey could have played his natural under tackle spot. After an invisible season in 2009, they won't get a fifth-rounder for him.
Not even Warren Sapp, another true 4-3 tackle, could post numbers in a 3-4 when Oakland ran the defense.
If projected strongside starter Mike Vrabel doesn't show up soon, the Chiefs have the same issue as Denver—a hole at one outside spot.
Undersized Demorrio Williams would likely have to square off against former ends Turk McBride and Andy Studebaker if Vrabel's situation is prolonged into camp.
The Raiders will have healthy competition at offensive tackle. Former Jag starter Khalif Barnes is running behind Mario Henderson at left tackle.
Mediocre Cornell Green remains on the right side, but the loser of the left tackle battle will likely get a look there (especially if it's Henderson, who has started on the right side).
Former Bronco Erik Pears, who started on both sides in Denver before missing most of 2008, and tackle/guard Paul McQuistan will compete on the right side in camp.
The Raiders look determined to get No. 1 pick Darrius Heyward-Bey on the field at wideout, but the other side is muddled.
Javon Walker is trying to prove he is still relevant after nearly being cut. Youngsters Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens had their moment together late in 2008. Also aboard is rookie Louis Murphy, who some considered a first day talent out of Florida.
They'll all benefit from tight end Zach Miller. He was known for his hands at Arizona State and lived up to the hype as a rookie (56-778-1).
Two camp battles to look forward to: Ryan Bingham versus former starter Jacque Cesaire at left defensive end and Tim Dobbins/Kevin Burnett/maybe Matt Wilhelm at inside linebacker.
Dobbins, who took over for Wilhelm at midseason, is the safe bet on holding off newly signed Burnett—at least on running downs.
At the weakest spot of the defense, it would be nice if Steve Gregory or rookie Kevin Ellison could bump pedestrian strong safety Clinton Hart from the lineup. Hart just doesn't seem to offer much range from the spot. When was the last time the Chargers had two worry-free safeties?
It'll be a big year for wideout Buster Davis. After catching a disappointing 20 passes as a rookie in 2007, Davis was lost after four games in 2008. If the former first-rounder can't beat out third-wideout Malcolm Floyd and contribute seriously in 2009, he's a big draft miss for the Chargers.
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