Monday, August 30, 2010

2010 NFL Breakouts & Busts - Running Backs

Shonn Greene and Ryan Mathews are going to be obvious picks for this kind of thing. Greene is getting the bulk of the work in a run-heavy Jets offense, and Mathews steps out of Fresno State and into the workhorse role of one of the league’s most high powered attacks. While those two should do well in 2010, I’ll mention some maybe not so obvious runners who should shine this season.

It sounds (at least early) like Marion Barber is going to be the #1 back in Dallas. Felix Jones is the best homerun threat in that backfield but never received more than 15 carries a game last year. Assuming he can stay healthy, I expect him to approach the number with regularity this season. If I’m Dallas, I’m going to try and run defenses deep often with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Roy Williams and slip Jones underneath to make those highlight plays he’s capable of. Fear of change by the coaching staff should be the only thing keeping Jones from owning the #1 job outright by midseason.

With the shaky Leinart taking over the Cardinals’ offense, Ken Whisenhunt figures to scale it back a bit and lean more heavily on the run. The primary beneficiary of that transition should be Beanie Wells. The second year runner finished his rookie campaign strong after being eased along (painfully slow at times) in ’09. He’s shown the ability to pick up the tough yards and punch it in from up close. Tim Hightower will still catch the bulk of the passes thrown to this position, but Wells should dominate carries. Again, the run should be featured much more this year, but teams are going to load the box early and often if Leinart can’t keep them honest. I think Wells establishes himself as a viable #1 back this season, but he’ll have trouble breaking out if Leinart struggles.

Oakland is where football careers go to die, but maybe just maybe Jason Campbell can give them the first bit of stability the Raiders have had at QB since Rich Gannon. With some stability (and a little less codeine) under center, maybe the Raider running game will produce a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time in 3 years. IMO, that runner will be Michael Bush. Even though he’s entering his 4th season as a pro, Bush has only carried the ball 218 times since leaving Louisville. He’s healthy and, to me, is the far more appealing backfield option for the Raiders. Justin Fargas is now with the Broncos, but overhyped sensation Darren McFadden is still there and sure to see touches that should go to Bush. Regardless, if the Raiders place the confidence in Bush to handle the rock as a #1 guy, I think he gets to 1,000 with at least a game to spare. He’s a far more tougher, decisive, committed, and powerful runner than McFadden. I think a breakout season is in store if the Raiders decide to make a smart decision and ride Bush.

The Saints won the Super Bowl last year, and it wasn’t all thanks to the arm of Drew Brees. Pierre Thomas is one of the more unappreciated runners in football. Want proof? Of all rushers with at least 100 carries, Thomas ranked 6th with 5.4 yards per carry. He’s also a very reliable receiver out of the backfield, but due to the abundance of offensive weapons on his team, he’s gone stretches where he’s ignored in that aspect of the game. Thomas also grabs me as a player who would excel in a consistent 20+ carry role. He seemed to struggle coming in and out last year while splitting carries with Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. The latter is still around but doesn’t figure to be a serious threat to his carries, and Thomas’ chances of picking up more short yardage totes increased when Lynell Hamilton tore his ACL in the preseason. The Saints still figure to throw the ball as much as anyone, but if left in a true #1 back role, I think Thomas will have a huge season.

Arian Foster waited until the final two games of the ’09 season to make his mark with the Texans, running for a combined 216 yards against the Dolphins and Patriots. Houston will continue to be (as they should) a pass-first offense with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson on the roster, but Foster took to the Texans’ zone running scheme perfectly and entered this year as the starter. Steve “oops I dropped it again” Slaton was in the doghouse often last year and enters this season as a 3rd down, change of pace option. The Texans weren’t completely satisfied with the Foster/Slaton attack and spent a draft pick on Ben Tate from Auburn, but Tate’s season ended before it started after suffering a severe ankle injury in his first bit of preseason action. The majority of the carries are Foster’s to lose, and although they throw a lot, he should get a lot of red zone touches and opportunities to put points on the board for Houston.


Once Kevin Smith returns from ACL surgery, the Lions figure to have a pretty, dare I say, dangerous backfield. Until he does suit up, the guy who figures to get the majority of the carries is rookie Jahvid Best. I loved Best coming out of the draft this year (my notes – excellent body control; hard to get a solid shot on; nice elusiveness in the open field; no wasted movements; better lateral than straight ahead speed; can catch; tough; good ball security; return skills; not very powerful; not a pass protector; concussion history) and think he’s in a great situation in Detroit. He’s got the young stud QB in Stafford and receiver in Johnson. Defenses are going to want to play tight and contain the shifty Best, but given Johnson’s presence and Best’s skills, that’s not going to be easy. I project Best to have a bigger year than the more heralded rookie runner, CJ Spiller.

Look for Donald Brown to get the ball more this year in Indy and impress while doing so. He’s a well-rounded, 3-down back who fits in really well with what they do. Brown’s talents are very similar to his backfield mate, Joseph Addai, but the Colts didn’t draft him to pick up the scraps every year. He’s reportedly gotten a better grasp of the offense, and worst case scenario IMO, has him earning a decent split of carries with Addai this season. With Addai in a contract year, the Colts are probably going to want to see what they’ve got in Brown. He may be a year away from owning the job outright, but I believe Brown will do enough this season to make the Colts comfortable going with him as their guy next season.

LeSean McCoy stepped in when Brian Westbrook went down last season, and while he only scored four times and showed lapses as a pass blocker, he didn’t embarrass himself. Westbrook is gone, and the only threats to McCoy’s carries are Leonard Weaver, Mike Bell, and JJ Arrington. The Eagles don’t run the ball a ton, but a McCoy figures to be a part of the passing game as well. Kevin Kolb is getting a lot of pressure to take this team to the playoffs, but McCoy’s burden isn’t much lighter since there’s little behind him. He doesn’t figure to be a pounder in the red zone running the ball and should do much of his damage between the 20s. Better year? Yeah. Breakout season? I don’t think so.

He’s probably in too good of an offense to have a real bust of a year, but color me unimpressed with Ryan Grant. Yes, he does a fine job of holding onto the football, but he’s missing a 3rd gear, isn’t a factor in the passing game, and is a worse goal line option than his own QB. Last year, games against the Browns, 49ers, and Bears accounted for 414 of his yards or a third of his entire year’s production. I think the passing game stays the staple of Green Bay’s offense and Grant is less of a factor this season.

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have been a great 1-1a punch for the Dolphins, but I think age, carries, and injuries are going to take their toll on the twosome this year. I expect both of these runners to exhibit a decline in skills this season, lending the Wildcat a less threatening weapon. Combine that with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall and the development of Chad Henne, and I think it’s stock down for both of these guys.


Steven Jackson is still one of the better backs in the game, but he’s also coming off offseason back surgery and has surpassed 1,500 carries for his career, good for 6th among active rushers if you don’t count Ahman Green who is in the UFL. Jackson is a punishing runner, so most of those carries end with a collision. He has over 100 more carries than the next closest rusher from his draft class (Willis McGahee). Jackson also has significantly more career totes than beaten/broken backs like Larry Johnson (127 more) and Brian Westbrook (240 more). The Rams are going to be bad yet again this year, and even though they selected Sam Bradford with the first overall pick, everyone knows that the Rams offense runs directly through Jackson. He posted his lowest TD total since ’04 and missed four games for the second year in a row. I don’t think it gets better for him this year. Unfortunately, I’m projecting Jackson to regress back towards the 1,000 yard milestone and miss multiple games yet again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Random Thoughts Post-PG3

Just some random thoughts about the team after the conclusion of tonight's game against the Jaguars:

Josh Johnson's development continues
The backup QB was 9-14 for 122 yards and a TD. Once again, he looked calm and in total control of the offense. That said, I would like to see more than three first half first downs. I think they got a fourth on a defensive holding call. The attitude and smooth ball delivery (minus the Stevens overthrow) was encouraging. I think the play tonight of both QB’s clearly showed us who the #2 QB is.

Reggie Brown didn’t earn a roster spot tonight
Man that was disappointing. He was targeted at least four times in the game and was unable to snare a single reception. I’ve still got him on the roster because I figure the Bucs would like a non-Clayton veteran presence at the position. He sure didn’t help himself tonight.

Earnest Graham is still a great red zone threat
The move to FB might not keep Graham from being a big offensive factor this season. His second quarter score was a nice reminder of how great of a weapon he can be down in close. Graham was a hard goal line / short yardage runner as a lead back, and I could see that happening again this year with the way the Bucs have been working Adam Hayward and Roy Miller at FB. Imagine a formation with Miller and Hayward both lining up in the backfield as lead blockers for Graham. Fire them cannons!

Barrett Ruud needs to get physical
Bravo for the INT and 80 yard return! We definitely need to see more momentum shifting plays like that from our MLB, but more importantly in my opinion, once the regular season starts, Crash needs to be Ruud’s middle name. He’s never been a great thumper, but I feel that he’s going to need to expand his portfolio if he hopes to continue his South Florida residency. Nothing stuck out from tonight’s game in this area, but I feel his physicality is going to be key to this defense’s success.

Derrick Ward’s roster spot should no longer be tentative
The Bucs have to be scouting other teams and be ready to pounce when cuts are made across the league. I know Ward had a couple of nice runs in tonight’s game, but that’s not enough for me to change my overall thoughts on the guy. I think he’s got to go. They certainly will be able to find a more effective, cheaper alternative in free agency. My top target would be Mike Goodson if the Panthers cut him, and I’m also fond of James Davis with the Browns. I’ll try to spend a little more time on this area this week and see if a little more digging reveals more possibilities.

OL needs to get better at handling pressure, establish a pocket
I’d have to do a rewatch to provide much analysis on this, but from watching the action live, I continue to be unimpressed with the resistance being put up by our front five. There’s little pocket for the QB to work in, and it resembles more of a thin rectangle than a circle. I saw Zuttah get zooted a few times, but he wasn’t alone.

Oh, and if anyone happens to know where Kyle Moore was while his team was playing football tonight, please let me know. I’m so glad he’s “earned” that starting job of his.

My revised 53
This is how I’d fill the 53 spots:

QB (3) – Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter
No change

FB (1) – Earnest Graham
RB (3) – Cadillac Williams, Kareem Huggins, FA
I think they’ll have a third back to go with Cadillac and Huggins, but I’m not sure who that player will be. I just don’t think Ward is worth the $3 million plus he’s due. Question is – will the Bucs admit the mistake in signing him by cutting him in the second year of his deal? Mike Goodson (Carolina) and James Davis (Cleveland) would be my top targets if they were to be cut by their teams. The Bucs should be burning the phone lines trying to deal Ward to a team like Houston or St. Louis this next week.

WR (6) – Mike Williams, Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn, Reggie Brown, Micheal Spurlock
Same six, but Reggie Brown certainly didn’t cement anything tonight.

TE (3) – Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, John Gilmore
No change

OL (9) – Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Keydrick Vincent, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, James Lee, Jonathan Compas, Demar Dotson
No change

DL (8) – Stylez White, Kyle Moore, Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett, Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Ryan SimsLorig gets bumped this week. Again tonight he broke containment and bit on misdirection. I think he could use work on the practice squad.

LB (6) – Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jon Alston, Dekoda Watson
No change, but Niko Koutouvides had a nice game tonight.

CB (5) – Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis
No change; guessing Derrick Roberson is a numbers victim and makes the practice squad

S (5) – Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Sabby Piscitelli, Corey Lynch, Cody Grimm
It looks like Grimm will make the team, and I’ve got to think Lynch has earned a spot as well. The question is – will the Bucs cut ties with Piscitelli? Personally, I think that would be a foolish move at this point. He’s a pissed off dude right now, so why not try to utilize that and see if you can more out of him? Demand growth? Yes. I just feel that a team lacking in talent should be a bit hesitant in dropping a former starter whose problems are mental not physical in nature.

ST (4) – Andrew Economos, Connor Barth, Brent Bowden, Clifton Smith
No change

Practice squad candidates:
George Johnson, DE
Erik Lorig, DE
Preston Parker, WR/returner
James Ruffin, DE
Lee Robinson, LB
Chris Pressley, FB
Rendrick Taylor, FB
Ryan Purvis, TE

Thursday, August 26, 2010

2010 NFL Breakouts & Busts - Quarterback

I didn’t do too badly with this exercise last year, hitting big with Matt Schaub (ahem), Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Clay Matthews but doing less than stellar with Greg Olsen, Dwayne Bowe and Brian Robiskie. This year I’m going to list some positions and discuss candidates for huge years as well as those I don’t expect to do nearly as well as anticipated starting with…


The first guy that comes to mind when I think about breakout QBs is Joe Flacco, but it’s not because of my expectations for him. It’s that he’s being hyped up by a lot of people this preseason. Not only are he and super stud Rice a year older and wiser, but as far as offensive weapons are concerned, the Ravens added Anquan Boldin in free agency and drafted tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Derrick Mason decided to come back for a 105th season to give the 3rd year passer two reliable, yet youth-challenged, receivers. Whether he was injured or not (he said he wasn’t when I thought he was) Flacco looked skittish/hesitant and restricted too often for my liking last year. I didn’t see him trusting himself enough. Will he do more of that this year? Even with the offensive additions, is he going to do a lot better than 3,613 yards passing, 21 TDs, and 12 INTs? I expect Ray Rice to blow up (in a good way) even more this year, and that could either hurt (rushing) or help (passing) Flacco’s numbers. Yes, I expect Flacco to impress this year, but I don’t think he’s going to have Aaron Rodgers-like growth.

I think Chad Henne is still a year away from really being in this kind of conversation, but I do expect him to continue developing the skills he often displayed last year. The numbers weren’t where you wanted to a winning QB’s to be, but he often made throws that showed he knew what he was doing with the football. He threw for nearly 2,900 yards last year, including a four game 1,226 yard passing stretch towards the end of the season. Keep in mind he did all this while throwing to Ted Flop Jr., Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo, and Anthony Fasano. This year he gets to throw the ball 100+ times to Brandon Marshall, the (clich├ęd) troubled but talented receiver acquired from Denver this offseason. I’m looking at 2011 as a big year for Henne, but he just might get started early.

Maybe I’m the sucker here, but I’m not seeing a lot of folks talking about Matthew Stafford as we head into 2010. Yeah the Lions are still a bad football team, but they finally gave Calvin Johnson, one of the league’s best young talents, a viable threat across from him to keep defenses somewhat honest in Nate Burleson. When Kevin Smith gets healthy, he’ll team with the game-breaking rookie, Jahvid Best, as a lethal backfield combination. Stafford also has great hands at TE with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. I expect his 13-20 TD-INT ratio to resemble nearly a mirror opposite this season. His 5 TD last-second-winning game against Cleveland was his first game for the memory banks, and I think you’re going to see a bit more of that this season. The Lions are still going to be pretty bad on defense, so it’s not like he’ll have his throwing chances limited. I foresee a big step forward in year two for Stafford.

Matt Ryan would have had his second straight 3,000 yard season if he hadn’t missed three games due to injury in ’09. At his disposal are the ageless Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, the league’s best receiver no one talks about. Michael Turner will likely have his workload scaled back a bit this year, both to save his legs and open it up for Ryan a bit more. Matty Ice seems ahead of the curve from a mental standpoint and is ready (IMO) to shoulder more of the load on offense. Don’t be surprised if he approaches 4,000 yards this year and starts to display more of that Manning/Brady-like control of the game. Big year ahead for him IMO.

Kevin Kolb is the biggest boom or bust candidate at this position, and I’m not getting a great feel for how it will play out. Yes, he has DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy as weapons, but he has virtually zero starting experience and has yet to incur the wrath of the Philly faithful and be forced to adjust to it. How’s this for a measuring stick – 63.6% passing completion, 4,038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 INT? Those are Aaron Rodgers’ stats from 2008, his fourth year in the league and his first as starter for the Packers. Kolb is entering his fourth year, his first as a starter, and is in a similarly pass heavy offense. Even with my pro-Rodgers bias aside, I don’t see Kolb sniffing those numbers. A good enough year to keep the McNabb chants at bay? Yes.

Matt Moore was really impressive during his time under center for the Panthers last season, and he enters 2010 as the undisputed starter, for now. The Panthers drafted two QBs in April; Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Clausen has impressed during camp and is someone I see starting in the NFL in the not too distant future. Pike might even make the team, as he’s currently behind Hunter Cantwell on the depth chart. If the Panthers do end up cutting him, he’s a player I’d like the Bucs to go after. I think Pike has more to work with than Carpenter. I don’t love Pike’s arm or think he’ll ever lead the league in passing, but I believe he has the potential to be a very reliable backup. He’s smart, minimizes mistakes, does a nice job of running an offense, and has some mobility. Back to Moore. The majority of his value won’t show up in the numbers though, as it’s the level-headedness and leadership he brings to the table that the Panthers love. I think the Panthers are going to have trouble breaking .500 again this year, and while Moore may be a noticeable upgrade from Jake Delhomme, I don’t think he’s on the verge of a breakout, and I’m predicting that this is Clausen’s offense by this time next year at the latest.

Kurt Warner retired this offseason leaving Arizona’s starting QB job, again, to Matt Leinart. The lefty from USC has done little in his four years as a pro to show the Cardinals or anyone else that he’s ready to hit the ground running with this potent offense. Anquan Boldin is in Baltimore, and Larry Fitzgerald is already dinged up. Is Beanie Wells ready to be a lead back? Derek Anderson is looking over his shoulder, but I don’t think he’s anything special. Still, I think there’s a better chance this goes bad than good, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Anderson is under center after or around their bye week (6). Leinart hasn’t been a regular starter since ’06, his rookie season, and then he was working with Boldin, Fitzgerald, and Edgerrin James. I can’t say his supporting cast is any better this time around? Is he? I expect him to be inconsistent, hesitant, indecisive, and INT prone. Leinart is probably the most “team-important” player in the NFC West, as far as his team counting on him to take a big step forward and shoulder a large load. Again, I don’t believe this goes well. I think John Skelton, the rookie from Fordham, is the future QB of this team.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

10 Thoughts Post-PG2

Here are my thoughts on this team / the roster after the completion of game two. These are in no specific order, and these thoughts aren’t entirely dependent/reflective of the game against the Chiefs.

1) Michael Clayton absolutely cannot make this team
Yeah, still. The pass he dropped tonight wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to catch, but he did absolutely nothing in this game to earn a spot on the roster. If the Bucs do indeed choose to go with 6 receivers, that last spot would have to go to Micheal Spurlock or even Preston Parker or Terrence Nunn before Clayton. I’m hesitant to say he’s absolutely out of here because the Bucs have surprised me before, but I just can’t see how you’d sell that one. In my opinion he’s our 9th option at the position.

2) Kareem Huggins absolutely must make this team
He’s again the most dynamic runner on the field tonight; 8 carries for 44 yards compared to Derrick Ward’s 5 carry 11 yard performance. I don’t care what defensive unit he’s playing against, the way he runs the ball and adjusts in traffic shows me that the only question surrounding him should be how often you get him the football. Now I’m not saying he’s the best back on the roster and needs to be running with the ones, but he should certainly be part of the game plan.

2b) Derrick Ward’s roster spot tentative
I’m not sure if the Bucs are ready to admit they made another free agent mistake with Ward and cut him too, but he shouldn’t be taking Huggins’ snaps. I’d try to see if you can get something for Ward, and seriously think about cutting him if a better option presented itself on the waiver wire. Ward would fit well in Houston if they want someone to go with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton. Reports are that Ward suffered a concussion on the play where he was a bit wobbly, and while you hope he’s healthy, this can’t help his chances of making the team. I think the Bucs’ interest in find another RB is about to heat up.

3) Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter looked better this week
Johnson got into the game a little earlier than planned and led the Bucs to their first TD on his second drive. He completed passes to four different receivers, was more decisive and accurate than last week, and threw the ball with some decent zip. To me he looked noticeably more comfortably/confident as well. I still don’t have high hopes for Carpenter, but he did a nice job of leading the offense against the Chiefs. He held up really well in the pocket, let plays develop, and allowed his receivers to get open. The only negative play I can recall off the top of my head is when he overthrew Ryan Purvis in the endzone. I’m still not sold on him as a #3 on a competitive football team, but tonight was a nice second impression.

4) Corey Lynch should make the team
The second year reserve safety and special teams contributor splashed a couple of times against the Chiefs. I saw him make a nice tackle covering a kickoff, and he also did a really good job defending a pass on defense; diving to punch and knock the ball down. If it were me, I’d go into the season with Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Sabby Piscitelli, and Corey Lynch as my safeties. Try to get Cody Grimm on the practice squad, and if someone else picks him up, oh well. Does he really have to be kept/protected?

5) Should the Bucs search for a QB?
With Josh Freeman fracturing the tip of his throwing thumb on Tamba Hali’s helmet, the Bucs are looking at riding out the rest of the preseason with Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter as the only QBs on the roster. Should the Bucs try to find a veteran to bring in just in case Freeman’s recovery takes a bit longer? Should they be looking to bring one in even if Freeman was able to suit up tomorrow? I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, but I think the state of this team is that, if Freeman misses time, they’ll just ride it out. I don’t think they believe they’ll be competitive without Freeman and won’t make a strong push to acquire an experienced clipboard holder. If they were, Sage Rosenfels would be at the top of my list. With Brett Favre coming back, Rosenfels is Minnesota’s #3 and might be available, but I believe the Bucs will ultimately ride it out with the 3 QBs they have.

6) Biggers looks like a lock
I’m sure this is one of the more obvious ones at this point, but the guy was all over the field tonight. Yes, he did have the one defensive holding penalty (that’s all I think), but I liked the way he seemed to consistently be in position to make plays and negate yards after catch/contact. I’m anxious to see how he develops behind the starters. Elbert Mack’s job might be in a little more jeopardy than most think. Derrick Roberson has made some plays, including an INT tonight where he did a nice job of holding onto the ball as he got hit while making the turnover. I still think Roberson’s on the outside looking in, but the preseason isn’t over just yet.

7) Mike Williams is for real
The Bucs #1 WR is clearly the rookie from Syracuse. The Bucs ran the offense through him while he was on the field, targeting him on various patterns both inside and out. He continues to impress with the way he fights for the football and never gives up on a play. The #2 receiver spot is a bit of a question, as Arrelious Benn is slow to step up, and Maurice Stovall is dealing with an injury. I still think Sammie Stroughter is better off inside, but they may be forced to start him out wide early on. Regardless of who lines up opposite him, Williams seems poised to hit the ground running and be Freeman’s #1 target. I really like how quickly their chemistry is developing. It’s still really early, but Williams looks like a steal.

8) Heads up Donald Penn
Don’t hit the panic button just yet, but Donald Penn didn’t exactly earn his check against the Chiefs. Tamba Hali beat Penn to get in on the play where Freeman hurt his thumb, and a little later on, Penn was beaten to the outside as Hali hit Josh Johnson just as he released the ball, causing an incomplete pass on 3rd down. I didn’t watch him enough to really break down his performance, but Penn was on the wrong side of at least a couple of highlights. I’m not sure if it’s conditioning or just the ho-hums, but nothing about Penn was impressive in this game.

9) First string defense was unimpressive
They were slow to react and didn’t show a lot of aggression last night. I saw too much reacting and not enough initiating contact. Sure it’s the preseason, but to watch Matt Cassel march the Kansas City offense down the field rather easily isn’t encouraging. I want to see a little more attitude from this defense; get aggressive and really hit somebody in the mouth.

10) My revised 53
This is how I’d fill the 53 spots:

QB (3) – Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter
If I was competing for the playoffs this year, I’d really look for a Rosenfels-like upgrade over Carpenter, but I don’t see it coming. The Bucs like what they’re seeing from the 3rd stringer

FB (1) – Earnest Graham
RB (3) – Cadillac Williams, Kareem Huggins, Derrick Ward
Yes, Huggins is second intentionally. I don’t feel I’m jumping the gun in placing him ahead of the uninspired and uninspiring Ward on the depth chart. Again, I’d see what I could get for Ward and look for an upgrade in free agency. For now, he’s on my 53.

WR (6) – Mike Williams, Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn, Reggie Brown, Micheal Spurlock
I’m now keeping 6 here, and Spurlock easily gets the last spot. Two other guys are practice squad candidates, and another dude will hopefully never suit up as a Buc in the regular season ever again.

TE (3) – Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, John Gilmore
I’d be surprised to see anything other than these three. Ryan Purvis is practice squad bound in my opinion.

OL (9) – Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Keydrick Vincent, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, James Lee, Jonathan Compas, Demar Dotson
No change here. I still have Lee getting a roster spot over Xavier Fulton, and I’m guessing they keep Compas instead of Dile.

DL (9) – Stylez White, Kyle Moore, Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett, Erik Lorig, Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Ryan Sims
No change here either, but Lorig is the guy I’m least confident in.

LB (6) – Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jon Alston, Dekoda Watson
Same guys here too. I’m guessing that if Niko Koutouvides makes the roster, Lorig won’t. No, they don’t play the same position, but I believe their fates are going to be somewhat intertwined.

CB (5) – Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis
These guys are still my five, but like I said above, Roberson is making some noise.

S (4) – Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Sabby Piscitelli, Corey Lynch
Again, I’d be disappointed if they cut Lynch for Grimm.

ST (4) – Andrew Economos, Connor Barth, Brent Bowden, Clifton Smith
Yes, I’m keeping Smith.

On the outside: Chris Pressley, Rendrick Taylor, Marc Dile, Derrick Roberson, Lee Robinson, Cody Grimm, Ryan Purvis, Preston Parker, Terrence Nunn

The following guys interest me as candidates for our 8 practice squad spots. They aren’t my final 8, but they’re players from our roster I’d consider keeping after final cuts:

Derrick Roberson, CB
Preston Parker, WR/returner
James Ruffin, DE
Lee Robinson, LB
Cody Grimm, S
Ryan Purvis, TE
Chris Pressley, FB (I believe he’s still eligible; only 7 games in his only accrued season)
Rendrick Taylor, FB

The biggest thing coming out of this game is obviously Josh Freeman’s fractured thumb. Hopefully it’s not too serious, and the young Bucs’ signal caller doesn’t lose any of the positive momentum he’s established. This is a fine opportunity for Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter to both gain experience and impress some folks, but surely the Bucs will be anxiously awaiting the return of their franchise passer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

10 Thoughts Post-PG1

Here are my thoughts on this team / the roster after the completion of game one. These are in no specific order, and these thoughts aren’t entirely dependent/reflective of the game against the Dolphins.

1) We need to upgrade behind Josh Freeman
I’ve been as big a supporter of Josh Johnson as you’ll find, but it’s clear that we need to have a better backup plan should Freeman have an extended absence. The problem is that the backup QB talent pool is junk, and a pretty decent candidate was dealt to Pittsburgh where he’ll start the season as their QB1. I don’t see a move worth making, but that doesn’t mean our situation is sound. I also don’t see anything in Rudy Carpenter. Freeman looks more confident and prepared from the last time we saw him in action, so that was a nice building block. Consistent decision making and chemistry with the receiving talent are what I’m looking for from Freeman early on.

2) Derrick Ward shouldn’t be guaranteed a roster spot
The free agent from New York was one of the many ugly spots on the Bucs last year, and he hasn’t done much to turn it around in 2010. I don’t care if it’s the 2nd unit, the 3rd unit, or the 6th unit, Kareem Huggins looks far more prepared and obviously hungrier for carries than Ward. I think the Bucs save over $3 million if they decide to cut Ward, and at this point, that might be the wise move. I was very supportive in bringing him in last offseason (he was one of my targets), but this (possibly perceived) lackadaisical effort isn’t what I was expecting. I don’t have huge hopes for Cadillac, but he’s still busting his ass, showing a burst, and is clearly the #1 RB. Huggins doesn’t have the sharpened skills or rounded game you want in a lead back at this point, but he’s shown me enough to deserve a handful of carries a game. Bottom line – We’re better off saving $3 million and/or getting a draft pick instead of having an unimpressive Ward sit on the sidelines and/or take carries away from Huggins.

3) I’m confused at FB
I don’t have it as a huge priority, but I’d like to have a pure thumper behind Earnest Graham. I’m not sure if the Bucs are committed to keeping Chris Pressley or Rendrick Taylor, but I also don’t see the Bucs relying on a “true” fullback a lot of the time this year. Pressley would be the guy I’m guessing they’d keep, but if it comes down to Pressley and someone like Ryan Purvis, who gets the roster spot?

4) If we keep 6 WR, the last one should be Micheal Spurlock
I wrote about this last week, but my opinion remains unchanged. Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams, and Sammie Stroughter are absolute locks. Reggie Brown is a near lock, and if he’s not hurt too bad, I think Maurice Stovall has earned a roster spot as well. I’ve always appreciated Spurlock’s committed return style, and he showed it again vs. the Dolphins. He’s shown the ability to catch the football, and should something happen to Clifton Smith, he’s an established returner. For me the decision is incredibly easy, but I’m eager to see if the Bucs are willing to admit their mistake with the other Mike just yet.

5) We need to check the waiver wire for OL depth
It’s something we needed to do this offseason, and it hasn’t become less of a need as we’ve gotten closer to the season. Donald Penn, Keydrick Vincent (Jeremy Zuttah), Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, and Jeremy Trueblood will be our starters, but our depth is uninspiring. Going by reports, Jonathan Compas isn’t progressing as expected, and their usage of Zuttah center may spell his doom. James Lee and Marc Dile haven’t exactly stepped up and earned anything either. Second year player Xavier Fulton is even behind those guys in development. Demar Dotson seems like the only backup lineman lock, although both Compas and Dile could make the club due to a lack of better alternatives. We’ve got to hope the starting front five stays healthy, or Freeman’s development could be stunted in year two.

6) Michael Bennett must make this team
Our DE depth is, here it comes again, uninspiring, so to see a player like Michael Bennett bust his ass every snap and actually put together some productive plays is something to get excited about. Kyle Moore has been handed the starting job across from Stylez White, but if Bennett continues to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield, he’s going to see the field quite a bit. I really like his motor and consistent push.

7) No excuses for Ruud
There should be no excuses for Barrett Ruud this season. He’s back in the scheme he grew up in as a pro, and he should be hungrier than ever with free agency looming after the season. In addition to getting huge upgrades up front with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, I expect both Geno Hayes and Quincy Black to elevate their play as well. I’m far more confident in Hayes’ development into a steady, week-in-week-out leader than Black, but I still think the SLB has more to show us. Black has to be a lot more consistent and take advantage of those game-changing opportunities when they present themselves. His movements need to become second nature, and he must quit making decisions out there. I don’t know if that makes too much sense, but he needs to simply play football, read the action, and keep the football in front of him. The pieces around our MLB should be noticeably improved, so he’ll likely only have himself to blame should the Bucs suit up a different man in the middle next year.

8) The CB situation looks clear to me
I think that Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, and Myron Lewis are clearly our five corners. No one else has shown themselves to be worthy of a roster spot. I still worry about Ronde’s ability to hold up as a viable starter, but I like the status of the young depth better than I have in the past.

9) Someone is likely to get squeezed out at safety
I have a hard time seeing the Bucs keep 5 safeties, and I’m guessing Sabby Piscitelli and Sean Jones are both on the final 53. Tanard Jackson starts at FS, so that should only leave one safety spot to go to one of two deserving young talents. Cody Grimm has impressed this preseason and looks like he could contribute early on special teams. I liked what I saw from Corey Lynch last year, and he showed against the Dolphins that he can make some plays on defense. Problem is, I don’t see them both making the final cut. I expect to see both of these guys playing 150% in the remaining preseason games in an effort to make the team.

10) My 53 as of now:
QB (3) – Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter
RB (3) – Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward, Kareem Huggins
FB (1) – Earnest Graham
WR (5) – Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter, Reggie Brown, Maurice Stovall
TE (3) – Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, John Gilmore
OL (9) – Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Keydrick Vincent, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, James Lee, Jonathan Compas, Demar Dotson
DE (5) – Stylez White, Kyle Moore, Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett, Erik Lorig
DT (4) – Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Ryan Sims
LB (6) – Geno Hayes, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jon Alston, Dekoda Watson
CB (5) – Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber, EJ Biggers, Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis
S (5) – Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Sabby Piscitelli, Cody Grimm, (*)Corey Lynch
ST (4) – Andrew Economos, Connor Barth, Brent Bowden, Clifton Smith

* = owns roster spot #53

On the outside: Micheal Spurlock, Ryan Purvis, Xavier Fulton, Dre Moore, and Chris Pressley

I think Spurlock gets the call if they go with 6 wide or Stovall’s injury is serious. I’d love to see Purvis on the roster, but would the Bucs keep 4 TE or cut Stevens or Gilmore? Fulton seems stuck behind the rest of the depth up front and (IMO) isn't deserving of a roster spot ahead of these other bubble guys. I’m guessing the Bucs decide to keep Ryan Sims as a veteran presence at DT, making Moore expendable. Again, Pressley gets the spot if they keep 2 FB.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Turn the Page Tampa Bay

It’s no secret that I haven’t been one of Michael Clayton’s most ardent supporters over the years. The Louisiana wideout has been a failure since his breakout rookie season in 2004. That year, Clayton led all NFL rookies in receptions (80) and scored 7 TDs. He was one of the few bright spots on an ugly 5-11 football team and looked to be on his way to justifying the 15th overall selection.

But that’s as good as it got for Clayton. He’s caught a whopping 141 passes over the last 5 seasons (that’s an average of 28 per year) and has found the endzone just 3 more times than I have from the comfortable confines of my couch. His blocking has always been his best asset, but when you pay a receiver $24 million for 5 years of service, I don’t think asking him to score twice in a season is too big of a request.

His conditioning, health, and attitude problems are connected and ever-present. It’s obvious that Clayton couldn’t handle his early success and didn’t/doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader of a football team or the focal point of an offense. The Buccaneers have not improved as a team or an offense by carrying him over on the roster year to year, and it’s no coincidence. Opposite a consistent deep threat in Joey Galloway, the disgruntled receiver was never anything more than a disappointing offensive afterthought. Lighting up the boxscore with his 3 catch 28 yard performances, nothing ever seemed to be Clayton’s fault. I don’t find it a coincidence that he was the first Buccaneer to speak out when Jon Gruden was fired. In addition to being consistently unproductive, Clayton’s tendency to find fault anywhere but within has become a pathetic part of life at One Buc Place.

This year, for a change, the Bucs actually have some decent talent that could give the Bucs reason #80 to cut ties with the flopped flanker. Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams were two sound draft choices, and both are making a case to start right out of the gates this season. They’re obviously on the team. With the tight ends expecting to figure prominently in the passing game again, I can’t see them keeping more than 6 receivers. That would leave us 4 players to choose from the following group: Reggie Brown, Micheal Spurlock, Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Mario Urrutia, Terrence Nunn, and Preston Parker.

Stroughter is a lock to make the team and will see the field a ton in 3 wide sets. Barring an injury, Brown will be on the roster as well. That leaves two spots for Spurlock, Stovall, Urrutia, Nunn, Parker, and Clayton. Reports have Stovall playing well, and while he hasn’t blossomed into the receiver the Bucs were hoping to get when they spent a 3rd round pick on him in 2006, he’s one of the team’s best special teams players.

If the final roster receiver spot does indeed come down to Clayton, Spurlock, Urrutia, Nunn, and Parker, why in the world would you decide to keep Clayton? It’s obvious that if he’s not one of your top 4 options, he’s not going to see the field much. The Bucs can reportedly save $3 million by cutting him, so why pay for him to stand on the sidelines, again? Keep one of the younger players who hasn’t yet shown us the depth of their disappointment.

I for one will never forget this quote when asked about being criticized for his lack of production:

“I ain't worried about that. People who say stuff, they're not out there on the field. Nobody who writes (stuff) or says (stuff) can say anything about a player because they're not on the field. It's real serious out there. That's why I don't pay any attention to that stuff because the mentality is that you make up for it and you come back and catch the next one. I mean, regardless of what they say, the check is in the bank. That's not changing."

That says it all doesn’t it? A man the Bucs were likely hoping would develop into the Derrick Brooks of their offense never became anything even remotely resembling the all-time great defensive captain. When presented with the opportunity to cut the cord with the Clayton era last offseason, they inexplicably kept him from fleeing to Seattle by giving away millions of dollars that could have been spent elsewhere, anywhere else. It’s not a “do over”, but the Bucs are once again at the precipice of a decision with the failed veteran. If I had any advice for the Bucs it would be to not let a bad investment remain a lingering liability. Turn the page. No one but Michael Clayton would blame you.