Five Players in the Spotlight Heading into Camp

Bryan DietzlerSenior Analyst IJuly 30, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers drops back to pass against the New York Jets during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Each team has a guy or two that have to perform well in order for the team to be hot right out of the gate. Guys like Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Drew Brees all need to start the new NFL season hot or else their teams could suffer and miss the playoffs as a result of a slow start. There are other guys in non-quarterback positions that could also play a vital role in getting their respective team started off on the right foot heading into the season.

I have identified five players that need to have a great start to the 2010 NFL season in order to get their teams in the right direction moving forward. Remember, it’s very important to have a great start to the season which helps set the tone for whether or not a team will make the playoffs when the season comes to an end in 2010.

1.  Drew Brees QB New Orleans Saints —Brees is a vital cog in the wheel that is known as the New Orleans Saints. The Saints would not be Super Bowl Champions without Brees and his ability to keep the offense moving and create plays is what will make or break this team. The Saints have a tough start to 2010 (with games against the Vikings, 49ers, Falcons and Panthers) and if they can come out of that stretch with at least a 3-1 record (with no losses to the two division rivals that they face) they should be in pretty good shape.

The Saints know how to win and they draw that inspiration and ability from their quarterback and head coach. The Saints now have tasted what it’s like to go to and win a Super Bowl and you can bet that they will be the most prepared team (to do that) heading into the 2010 season. Don’t be surprised if Brees leads them to another championship.

2.  Byron Leftwich/Dennis Dixon QBs Pittsburgh Steelers —I had to tie these two together because as of this writing, we don’t know which quarterback will start in place of the suspended Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the season. Leftwich has the most starting experience of the two while Dixon may have the better intangibles to start out with. Both are familiar with the Steeler’s offense but it’s not been decided who will start just yet.

It is imperative that the Steelers get through this period (without Roethlisberger) with no less than a .500 record because they can’t afford to fall behind anyone in their division. Everyone else aside from the Browns should be much better in 2010 and the Steelers will need to keep pace with them in order to win the division and make the playoffs.

While their defense can keep them in any game, it’s going to take a quarterback that holds onto the ball when he has to and makes plays when he has to. If they can get that out of one or even both of these guys for those four games, the Steelers can get a good start to the season and quite possibly make the playoffs at the end of the season.

3.  Phillip Rivers QB San Diego Chargers —The Chargers are notorious for starting out slow and then finishing seasons on a high note but this year it would be great (for them) if they could start out the season fast and finish fast. This, of course, depends on how well Rivers will be able to adapt to the absence of Vincent Jackson for three games.  Jackson has been his primary target for a while now and he will definitely be missed.  However, the Chargers have other weapons that Rivers can use to help them get through the period where Jackson won’t be available.

If the Chargers can get off to a fast start and then keep winning their games, which they should be able to do, then they have a chance to rule the AFC and finally get to a Super Bowl. That would be great for a franchise that has come so close during the past few years only to fall just a little bit short. Even with few new players, the Chargers should still be able to win a lot of games this season.

4.  Jay Cutler QB Chicago Bears —With a new offense and a new offensive coordinator, you would think that things in Chicago were about to get much better and it’s not out of the question that they will if this young team can pick up the new offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has traditionally used offenses that require a lots of passing so the Bears had better be ready to protect their quarterback and catch a lot of passes.

Chicago needs a great start to the season and they can get that as long as Cutler and his receivers are on the same page and he has time to throw then the Bears might get off to a hot start. Their first four games of the season (versus Detroit, at Dallas, versus Green Bay and at New York Giants) are going to be tough and with two division games wrapped up in there, the Bears will need to win. 

Cutler can lead them to the promised land if he can get used to his new system, if his receivers can catch the passes that he throws and if his offensive line can block. If all of that happens then the Bears, on offense, will be much better in 2010. It will certainly be an interesting team to watch.

5.  Matt Cassell QB Kansas City Chiefs —You would have thought that after such a good season in New England that Cassell would have had a much better one than he had to start out his career in Kansas City but that didn’t quite happen. Granted, he didn’t have the same kind of talent to work with that he did in New England but you would have thought that he would have fared much better than he did.

Now, in order for Cassell to keep his job well into the 2010 season, he not only has to put on a good show in training camp but he also has to get this team going during the first part of the new season. Things are getting better in Kansas City and now the Chiefs can take advantage of that. Hopefully Cassell will be up to the challenge (and will be talented enough to handle it) and will help be able to help get his team moving in the right direction.

If Cassell can’t do it (and do it early) then he might end up being replaced and eventually put out of the NFL. It’s do or die for him.