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NFL Preseason: Kevin Kolb and 5 Veterans Who Need to Step Up

Jordan CalfeeCorrespondent IIIAugust 15, 2011

NFL Preseason: Kevin Kolb and 5 Veterans Who Need to Step Up

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    When a player is a rookie, fans and coaches will have a certain amount of patience with him, along with tempered expectations. When a player is a veteran, everyone expects immediate results.

    Whether the player has fallen off recently or never reached the level that was expected of them, there are many of them that need to produce in 2011, either to keep their jobs or prove they're worth the money.

    Here are five of the most notable ones.

Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

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    It goes without saying that the Alex Smith project has been a failure so far for the San Francisco 49ers. In five seasons, Smith has thrown 53 interceptions to only 51 touchdowns, as well as accrued a career quarterback rating of just 72.1

    This season will be Smith's last chance. With the addition of Braylon Edwards, he has the tools around him. Tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore are Pro Bowlers. Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. are solid targets at receiver.

    Smith will have to improve in the last three preseason games to keep new coach Jim Harbaugh from doing something drastic, like starting rookie Colin Kaepernick or signing Daunte Culpepper (was Roger Staubach not available?).

    If Smith doesn't seize his last opportunity in this next month he will find himself going the way of Matt Leinart.

Donovan McNabb, Minnesota Vikings

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    Donovan McNabb will not get many more chances in the NFL. After a very mediocre season with the Washington Redskins, the Favre-less Minnesota Vikings decided to take a chance on him.

    McNabb's numbers last season were very pedestrian. He had 15 interceptions to 14 touchdowns and a completion percentage below 60. More importantly, he played poorly in big games and lost the confidence of his coaches.

    McNabb is only two years removed from a Pro Bowl season with the Philadelphia Eagles, but after seeing what Michael Vick was able to do in that same offense, such a feat seems unimpressive.

    The Vikings are willing to let McNabb run the offense while Christian Ponder grows up a little bit, and this is an opportunity he must use to his advantage. A solid season could buy him a short-term contract elsewhere, while another poor season could spell the end of his career.

    With weapons like Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin at his disposal, McNabb has no excuse for failure. It will likely only take a few bad games before Leslie Frazier tries out Joe Webb or Ponder.

Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals put a lot on the line with the Kevin Kolb signing. Not only are they committing a lot of money to Kolb being their franchise quarterback, they gave up a second-round pick and a Pro Bowl cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to get him.

    Countless NFL analysts have discussed the risk in the deal, as Kolb is surprisingly unproven. In four NFL seasons he has only played in 19 games and thrown 319 passes. He has three more career interceptions than career touchdowns.

    He did alright in relief of Michael Vick last season for the Philadelphia Eagles. He played very well in wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, but struggled mightily against the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys.

    If the Eagles were willing to ship off Donovan McNabb to make Kevin Kolb their quarterback of the future, there's no reason to think the Cardinals made a poor decision.

    Still, the pressure is certainly on Kolb now. With running backs Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells, the addition of Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and one of the best receivers in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald, Kolb has the weapons to succeed. And succeed he must.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

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    With the recent contract DeAngelo Williams signed with the Carolina Panthers, the pressure is on for him to return to form in 2011.

    Williams was dynamite three years ago, rushing for 1515 yards and 18 touchdowns. He went to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2008 and 2009, when he rushed for 1117 yards and seven touchdowns despite only playing in 11 full games.

    Last season, a foot injury only allowed Williams to play in six games.

    The Panthers have committed a lot of money to a running back that has proven he is injury-prone. DeAngelo Williams will have to play very well in 2011 to show that he is worth the money they are paying him.

    If his performance doesn't return to its 2008 level or he again falls victim to injury, his starting job could be taken by fellow running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has not been as highly productive, but has shown himself to be more dependable.

Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens

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    Now entering his third season in the NFL, Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher must show improvement in his play.

    The former first-round pick and inspiration for The Blind Side struggled mightily in his second season with the Ravens, a year after coming in second in the voting for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    This preseason hasn't started well for Oher either, as he allowed two sacks in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The Ravens can only hope Oher will find consistency in 2011 as he did in 2009. With two full seasons under his belt, Oher has no excuse for poor play this season.

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