QUOTE: “Nothing is easier than to accumulate facts, nothing is so hard as to use them.” —Oscar Wilde
INJURIES AND THE NFL
Each year, the NFL Super Bowl champions win the war of attrition. They are typically a talented team, but for the most part, they avoid injuries or suffer injuries at positions where they have depth. Injuries play a significant role in how teams fare. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks were overwhelmed with injuries and their season went down the drain. This year, we’ve already seen the Eagles-Bradley-hears-a-pop.html" target="_blank">Eagles lose Stewart Bradley, their starting middle linebacker, and now the Panthers have lost starting defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, who sustained a torn right Achilles’ tendon Monday in practice. Both injuries are significant, and both players will be hard to replace, but the games go on and the expectations are never lowered. Injuries are no excuse for not winning.
The Panthers are the one team that was hamstrung all offseason with the decision to tag Julius Peppers, allocating a huge cap number to make him their franchise player. They were also tight against the cap, so they were limited in their activity in the free-agent market. Losing Kemoeatu will hurt, but there might be some wide bodies on the street who can help them. It will be critical to the Panthers to shore up their front, but don’t forget, this is a new system of defense with Ron Meeks now as coordinator.
Third-round pick Corvey Irvin from Georgia must step up now and give the Panthers some production. It will be interesting to watch him as the preseason unfolds. Free-agent Kevin Carter, the veteran defensive end, is not suited to play inside unless on third down, so he may not be an option. Needless to say, the Panthers will find someone to fill the role. It might be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
With the Bengals losing Reggie Kelly to an Achilles also, they must rely on Ben Utecht to be their on-the-line tight end. This is a critical position in the Bengals’ three-receiver formation as the on-the-line tight end is part pass protector, part run blocker and part wideout. If the Bengals want to get their run game going out of the spread formation, they must find a player who can run block and protect. Chase Coffman is the perfect move tight end, but losing Kelly (even though he did not play well last year) hurts their run game.
ANDREW WALTER AND PATS
The signing of Andrew Walter by the Patriots is an interesting move. The Bears and Jaguars were also in pursuit, and most thought that Jacksonville, whose offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, is a former head coach at Arizona State, would be the favorite. However, Walter needed to go to a team that can highlight his skill level as he rebuilds his career. What better team to do it with than the Patriots? It worked for Randy Moss, and it just might work for Walter. He has all the skills necessary to be a productive player: He can make all the throws with ease, as the ball comes off his hand very smoothly. In this offense, he is back to his college roots, throwing the ball down the field and outside the numbers. In 2004, Walter set the Pac-10 record for most career touchdowns, finishing with 85 and shattering the previous record held for 22 years by Stanford's John Elway. He has enough athletic skill to avoid the rush and make plays with his feet. He’s not a runner but is more of a mover in the pocket.
Walter must rebuild his confidence after the 2006 season took a devastating toll on his mental well-being. Rookies Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are two young quarterbacks who might start for their teams, but both are playing in contemporary systems that will be their offenses for years to come. Walter, who spent the past four seasons with the Raiders, was in a prehistoric offense that destroyed his confidence and the confidence of the coaches around him.
The move to the Patriots is good for both parties. The Pats get a young, talented player who needs to work into the right system, and Walter gets a chance to rebuild his career. This happens all the time in the NFL. Don’t forget, at one time Rich Gannon was benched in favor of Sean Salisbury in Minnesota. Once Gannon got into the right system, with the right coach, his career took off.
JUSTIN HARRELL IS BACK FROM HIS BACK…
Former first-round pick Justin Harrell is finally back on the practice field after spending the better part of two years dealing with a back injury. The Packers counted on Harrell to be ready when they traded Corey Williams to Cleveland. Harrell was drafted for the 4-3 defense, but can easily play the end in a 3-4, which, in the Dom Capers scheme, often reduces the front, allowing the end to play over the guard—which is where Harrell would be in a 4-3 defense. Harrell is a talent, but the question that comes to mind about him is not ability but rather durability. He must prove he can handle the volume of snaps and the physical play and remain healthy.
When players get injured often, teams don’t count on them for production, so whatever happens is an unexpected gift. Long-term injuries force coaches to forget about the player, placing no expectations on possible production. My sense is that the Packers have reached that point; they haven’t given up on Harrell, but they know his back might flare up at any time. This is a big year for him. If he can stay healthy for camp, the Packers may have an extra lineman for their defensive line rotation. If not, his career might be over.
JARVIS MOSS RETIRED?
When first-round picks don’t pan out right away, there is always concern. Jarvis Moss has not been the pass rusher the Broncos had hoped he would be when they made him their first-round pick in 2007. Now, with the team’s change of scheme, he’s struggling to make the move from defensive end to linebacker. It’s no secret that the Broncos have tried to trade Moss but found no takers.
Moss thought of retiring, but I’m sure once he heard that he would have to repay the Broncos their signing bonus, he changed his tune. Moss needs to just keep working hard to improve his game. He may never live up to the expectations of a first rounder, but he should be able to make a team and contribute. He needs to keep fighting.
CHIEFS LOOKING FOR A WIDEOUT?
On Monday, the Chiefs-working-out-veteran-WRs.html" target="_blank">Chiefs worked out three veteran wideouts, D.J. Hackett, Amani Toomer and David Terrell. This is never a good sign when you’re looking for skill players in camp. This is not looking for a younger camp receiver to rest the legs of the veterans; this is looking for someone to make the team and play. Yikes! Since trading Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs are a team that has me wondering who’s going to make plays. People tell me that Dwayne Bowe can be the guy, but Bowe was second in the NFL in dropped passes last year, he struggles to separate from bump coverage and he’s not an explosive down-the-field wideout. I like Bobby Engram, but only in his role as a third-down slot receiver. He has durability questions as well. Mark Bradley flashed talent and big-play ability, but he’s inconsistent and often injured.
Based on their talent level at wideout right now, the Chiefs will be looking over the waiver wire for any young receiver who flashes talent.
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