Archive for May, 2013

The Falcons have dominated the NFC South the past two seasons with a high flying offense and power running game and look poised for more of the same in 2013. The New Orleans Saints welcome back Head Coach Sean Payton and bring in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to bring some life to a Saints squad that was found lacking last season. The Buccaneers introduce the world to Doug Martin last season and spent their offseason turning a weak secondary into (what looks like) one of the leagues top units.

So where does that leave the Carolina Panthers? The Panthers used their first two draft picks in this years draft on Defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. The two additions should make for a formidable front seven and a very tough team up the middle combined with last year’s defensive rookie of the year Luke Kuechley. But the offense still faces the same issues. The team has two talented running backs in John Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but they don’t really seem to compliment each other as much as negate each other…the skill sets just seem to overlap too much. But the far more pressing offensive issue is the passing game. Cam Newton is a big guy with a big arm, and so far the Panthers have failed to play to that strength. Steve Smith is an excellent #1 target, but Brandon LaFell just isn’t cutting it in the #2 spot. Maybe Ted Ginn can make something happen, but his speed and size tend to be better suited inside. Domenik Hixon is the other Free agent acquisition looking to capitalize on past success in an expanded role with the Panthers, but the fact is none of these guys scares me as a defensive coordinator, so I can just focus my gameplan on shutting down Steven Smith. But, the Panthers did finish much better than they started, and even in the games they lost they weren’t getting blown out, so it’s not crazy to think Carolina could be this division’s dark horse contender, but then you look at the secondary and you wonder just how competitive this team can be going up against Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice a year.

The Panthers are a bit of a mystery in what seems to be the later stages of a rebuild. There are still pieces that need to be put in place, but there is a fair amount of young talent on this team and they could surprise you at any moment. Their fate likely lies with their QB. Cam Newton has seen a rookie season where he came on like gangbusters, only to fizzle toward the end, following up with a sophomore season that started slow, but picked up quickly in the back half of the season. If he can find consistency as a pocket passer, and mature as a player and a person, the Panthers could be in for an excellent year, because as important as finding a successor for Steve Smith as a #1 WR is, it is even more important to find him a successor as the leader of the offense.

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We all know that the Broncos sit atop the AFC West. Heck, after their off season they may sit atop the entire AFC, but don’t write off the rest of the division just yet. The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off the NFL’s worst record in 2012 but following a strong offseason the Chiefs could be in position to worst to…fifth seed in the playoffs, just as the Colts did last year.
Brandon Albert gets to stay at LT, but the right side gets stronger with Eric Fisher. The weapons are there on offense, the defense boasts 5 pro bowlers and an improved D-Line and secondary. Not to mention the chip Alex Smith and Andy Reid are carrying on their shoulders after being ousted from their longtime homes. This is a team with a lot of talent and a lot to prove.

The Chargers are the awkward middle child of the AFC West’s non-Broncos teams. I’m really not sure how good or bad this team is. The offseason has been promising, a new head coach and QB guru to help Philip Rivers get his groove back, some talented rookies at key positions, including Manti Te’o at ILB, DJ Fluker at OT and Keenan Allen joins an already formidable (or at least very tall) group of WR’s (Robert Meachem and Allen are both 6’2, and last season’s starters Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd are both 6’5.) The Chargers also filled some holes in free agency, signing CB Derek Cox and bolstering the offensive line with the addition of OT King Dunlap (okay so this may be more of a lateral move, but they’re trying.) The offseason acquisition that really interests me though is RB Danny Woodhead. A fan favorite in New England I’d like to see Woodhead take on a bigger role in San Diego where he’ll be sharing the back field with Ryan Matthews, and Jackie Battle. I think the Chargers could really surprise some people this year, or they could fall apart the same as previous seasons.

Finally we reach the Raiders, the darkest of dark horses. No one’s expecting much of the Raiders this year, and rightfully so, but they still deserves some recognition. This is a team that finally seems to be rebuilding the right way. They spent some money in free agency, they got their guy in the draft and picked up some extra piks in doing so and they should feel good about the direction the team is headed in. Carson Palmer is gone, replaced by 3 young QB’s who each bring a unique skill set to the table. The WR situation is unique in that Oakland seems to have a revolving door at the position, each years draft class replacing the last. Denarius Moore leads the pack, and I’m looking for last years undrafted free agent acquisition Rod Streater to step up into that #2 spot leaving Jacoby Ford and Juron Criner to round out the line up…I also wouldn’t rule out giving Brandon Lloyd a call to bolster the group and provide a veteran presence. Darren McFadden needs to return to form after a rough 2012, and theirs a lot of other pieces that need to fall in place for the Raiders to get anywhere this year, but I think this is a team that can feel good about it’s future, and just maybe that will inspire enough confidence for the Raiders to make some noise.

The bottom line is the AFC West may not be as strong as it’s NFC counter part, but I’m really looking forward to seeing these teams play this year, and that’s got to count for something.

I’ve been following this offseason a lot closer than I’ve followed any of the previous ones, and there have been a few teams that have caught my eye, the Buffalo Bills are one of them. The Bills made headlines last offseason after their splashy signing of Mario Williams. This season is was the draft where the Bills made their splash by making EJ Manuel the only QB taken in the first round.

While I don’t know that he was worth the first round pick, I was a big proponent of the Florida State QB as the most underrated passer in the draft; especially early in the process when his name got lost under the hype surrounding Geno Smith and Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib. Manuel has the size and arm strength to be a superstar. That said, I really hope he isn’t forced to be the week 1 starter. The way the 49ers brought along Colin Kaepernick should serve as the model here. Give him a year holding the clipboard and learning how to play in the NFL. Ideally you’d like a stronger mentor(s) than Kevin Kolb and Tavaris Jackson, but hey a poor man’s Colin Kaepernick is a heck of a lot better than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

My biggest concern with the Bills offensive is the offensive line. They still haven’t quite addressed the hole left at guard by Andy Levitre’s departure and they could still use another tackle to pair with Cordy Glenn, but as far as the skill positions are concerned I think the Bills have set themselves up nicely. I’m really looking forward to seeing this passing attack as Buffalo managed to grab 3 of my favorite prospects from this wide receiver class. I think Robert Woods is a great hands guy to compliment Stevie Johnson and Marquise Goodwin may need some coaching, but he’s already a great speed guy. Then they added Da’Rick Rogers shortly after the draft who, if he keeps his nose clean and stays out of trouble, will also be a key contributor. I’m not sure what Buffalo’s current cap situation is, but if they have the space, I still think they should look into the addition of LT Brandon Albert via trade, that the Chiefs have Eric Fisher. Or if the team’s comfortable with Cordy Glenn playing LT, adding free agent RT Eric Winston could be a cheaper option, reuniting him with former Texans teammate Mario Williams and keeping him off the rival Dolphins roster. Solidifying that line could make this offense very scary, very quickly.

On defense things also seem to be trending upwards. Kiko Alonso adds a big bodied presence to the middle of the field and I like the signing of Manny Lawson to play outside linebacker. I also think the team will benefit from the switch to a hybrid scheme. I’m disappointed the secondary wasn’t better addressed with such a deep class at cornerback, and really the whole back half of the draft leaves something to be desired, at least on paper, but the two safeties they drafted seem to have some fan support from their college careers and Dustin Hopkins could be this year’s Blair Walsh or Greg Zuerlein. Regardless, this is a Bills team that’s got a lot of promise, and while they’re probably still a year or two from challenging for the division title, if they get the line sorted, and some rookie and sophomore players come along quicker than expected, this is a team that could surprise some people.

Well, it’s official Tim Tebow has been released by the Jets, and is officially a free agent. If you thought any team was just waiting for their moment to pounce, this would be it. But here we sit and the most promising lead is an indoor football team called the Omaha Beef. There’s always the CFL though right? Well…the Montreal Alouettes, who hold Tebow’s rights aren’t exactly clamoring for the QB, though reportedly they would welcome him to the team…as a back up. And there in lies the issue.

Tim Tebow’s talent and name recognition are completely incongruent. Personally I’m still holding out hope for the former Florida passer, but if he wants to play in the NFL he needs to take a step back and take a good hard look in the mirror. Tebow is a gifted athlete. Even his worst detractors aren’t looking to argue that fact. The controversy is whether or not he throw the ball at the NFL level. Personally I think he’s a fine developmental prospect who never got the chance to develop. And what’s really unfortunate about Tebow’s story is if he never gets to play QB in the NFL again it will be in large part due to his supporters.

It all starts with draft day. I remember there being something like a 3rd round grade on Tebow, he had all te intangibles and if a coach was willing to work with him on mechanics it’d be worth it at that point. Instead of waiting til the 3rd round though, Tebow was taken when the Broncos traded back into the first to take him at 25. This immediately sets the bar high for a guy who projected as a developmental QB. Skip forward to Tebow’s second year when his fans buy a billboard insisting that the Broncos play him. (Truth be told, the way that season was going, Tebow may have saved John Fox from the seat.) It seems like all is at least relatively well, at least until Peyton Manning comes to town. Then Tebow hurts himself by choosing the Jets circus and their false promise of playing time and a special package over a return home to a shaky QB situation in Jacksonville. And really, it’s more the media to blame in New York than the fan base, but the circus surrounding the Jets featured Tebow as the main attraction and now no one can see past all the attention to the promising developmental prospect he was meant to be.

Basically no one wants to sign Tebow because they’re afraid of his fan base, and of his media presence. I think there are plenty of teams who would or at least should want to bring Tebow in as a back-up or project QB based solely on his skill set, but no back-up or project is worth the potential headache.

Right now, I think the ideal situation for Tebow is with either the Packers or the Patriots. Both are well respected organizations known for getting the most of out their players, and who tend to work well with QBs. There would be no controversy as to who the starter would be, and Tebow would be learning from one of the games greats. But I’ve realized the same fear of the fan base could grip these teams as well as Tebowmania was allowed to expand out of control in New York.

Say he does land with the Patriots, the team loses it’s first 3 games and Brady suffers a concussion taking him out for the 4th. First question, do you start Tebow or Ryan Mallett? You know who the media will be talking about. You choose Tebow (because God help you if you don’t) and you win the game. And now everyone is talking about how Tebow won the game and Brady couldn’t get it done and he’s too old and should New England just hand the reigns to Tebow? The answer is an obvious and resounding no, but the question will still be asked when it has no right to be asked. And then anything short of a Super Bowl victory feeds more flames to the Tebow fire. Could he have won the Superbowl when Brady failed? is it time for a change? Again ridiculous questions that should not even be posed, but they will be. This is the headache that is Tim Tebow.

It’s an obsession fueled by fantasy and it’s keeping a talented athlete from actually learning how to become a better quarterback. Tebow may never be as talented a passer as Brady or Manning, but I think he could develop into an average passer, and maybe even a solid starting QB with the running an intangibles he brings to the table, but he won’t be able to do it so long as people continue to believe he has already reached that point.

UPDATE:

Tebow fans sent a petition to the White House in hopes of getting Tebow into the Jaguars starting line-up. That predictably failed, and now one fan is running an add campaign in attempt to strong arm the Jaguars into signing the controversial QB. This is exactly the type of “circus” that every NFL team is afraid of. Tebow hasn’t even been signed and he’s creating a headache for the Jaguars.

My advice to Tebow: make an announcement, assure fans that this is just how the NFL works. He’ll stay diligent, work with whatever famed QB coach will have him and hope for a call once training camps kick up.