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Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009 NFC NORTH team previews

NFC NORTH

Minnesota 11-5
Green Bay 9-7
Chicago 8-8
Detroit 3-13

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Predicted finish- 11-5 Division winner and hosting a playoff game
Overview- The Favre show rolls into town . If he just adds what he has to what they already have, instead of trying to take over, they are a legitimate Superbowl contender.

Coaching - Brad Childress will live and die with how Favre does. He already escaped tying his fate to Tavaris Jackson with the Favre signing , but I am not sure how many lives he has left. Childress still oversees the offense despite Darrel Bevell being the offensive coordinator. Rising star Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will probably be a head coach after this season. The question is whether he replaces Childress in MINN. or goes somewhere else.

OFFENSE

OB- Its all been said about Favre. Yes he's secretly a Diva and attention whore who really loves the spotlight ,despite claims to the contrary. No matter what he still has left, its a safe bet its a LOT more than what they had. Gambler, gunslinger, and risk taker should no longer be his calling cards in this offense. Their running game is too strong for Favre to try to take over and throw the ball 30 times every game. All Brett needs to do is make them pay when they have 8( or even 9) in the box by taking what the defense gives him. He knows the west coast offense and he just needs to adjust to Minnesota's version and its terminology. Still strong armed ,and always durable ,despite coming off an arm injury. Despite everything that has happened he is still a better starting QB than at least half of NFL teams starters. Don't forget he looked great last year before his arm got hurt. If he truly is healthy this year (and still has IT) this team is scary ad could be in the superbowl. When he FINALLY retires he's a undisputed first ballot HOFer. Either Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfeld is bound to be traded before too long . Both are young ,have some starting experience, and the right measurables to develop into starters. Jackson has had more chances and still not made the jump though.

O-line- Perennially one of leagues best O-lines with Steve Hutchinson still being the leagues best at his position. Hutch is without a weakness. Run or pass, trap or drive, cup or man, double team or 1 on 1, in-line or 2nd level , he just gets it done. Smart but mean with a sound technique. Bryant McKinie is big long armed LT that plays with force and technique. Tires late in games some and doesn't chip well , but in the middle of the leagues blind side blockers.Dominates average players and struggles against speed and top tier pass rushers in the passing game. Better blocking in the run game in line than at the second level. New starting C John Sullivan has big shoes to fill . Departing center Matt Birk has been one of the leagues best for a long time. Sullivan played mostly special teams last year, but was a physical drive blocker with a mean streak in college who played off balance and ended up on the ground to much . Its a big question if he is ready for the line calls and stunts that NFL teams will throw at him. Arms are too short to be on an island in pass pro but does recognize stunts . RG Anthony Herrera is a stocky run first drive blocker. Locks on well and keeps his feet moving, but misses at the second level and often looks to be off balance . A little above average in pass pro, but mostly due to his strong punch, awareness, and tenacity, as his feet are only average. Rookie RT Phil Loadholt looks a lot like Bryant Mckinnie. Huge, long arms, fierce demeanor. Is better suited to RT right now and is still a better pass blocker than run blocker. Is devastating when he keeps his knees bent properly ,as pad level is his biggest weakness.Will probably flip over to LT if McKinnie goes down. Former starting RT Ryan Cook probably belongs inside despite his massive height. He's smart and plays hard but just not athletic enough to be on an island. Will probably be the main backup at RT and both guard positions. Kory Lichensteiger lost the battle with Sullivan for the starting centers job, but can also play some guard.

Tight ends - Viasanthe Shiancoe had his best season last year with 7 TD's and over 40 catches, Expect more catches and still 5-7 TD's with Favre throwing the ball. Has good hands and at his best underneath and over the middle. Willing blocker but not much drive in-line. 11 year veteran Jim Kleinsasser has played fullback, H-back and tight end during his career, but is really just a blocker now wherever he lines up . Good in-line and plays with force. Quick footed on an island in pass pro and is almost an extra OT at times . Never a good receiving target because he cant separate but can carry defenders on his back if he gets the ball. Jeff Dugan is smaller version of Kleinsasser with the same versatility.

Wide receivers- It's possible I am underestimating the group of guys that were here last year, but you can only go by what you see on film. That being said, they have a legit franchise QB throwing them the ball now. Questions will be answered. Bernard Berrian is a legit deep threat , but is probably miscast as a # 1 receiver. Still a big play waiting to happen and has good hands. This is the year Sidney Rice needs to make the jump to legitimate possession receiver. Has the size and skills of a west coast offense receiver but lacks physicality. Uses his body and height well to come down with the ball , but should use his size and strength more to batter DB's who press him in the 5 yard area. Despite Berrian being much smaller and leaner he is actually a better blocker than Rice , which either emphasizes Sidneys' lack of physicality again ,or makes me think he isn't giving enough effort there still. Favre will be able to get him the ball, so it's up to him to breakout.At the very least he should be strong possession receiver with Favre at QB.Percy Harvin brings his big play attributes to Minnesota this year too. Whether its in the wildcat , receiving, the occasional run, trick play, in the return game ,expect him to make a difference when he's on the field. The kind of player who can only be stopped by himself. Considering some of his off the field problems its not a done deal yet. Last years possible Percy Harvin was Jaymar Jhonson, although he didn't quite pan out as a rookie, but looked good this preseason. Needs to get bigger and add polish to his raw athleticism.

Running backs- Adrian Peterson is probably the best pure running back in the league today. Punishing bruiser and breakaway threat on every touch. There are 3 things that keep him from being hands down the best though. 1- He fumbles a LOT. whether its due to concentration lapses, how he holds the ball ,or his upright running style it needs to stop. 2- His upright running style is dangerous, and not just becuase it makes fumbles more likely. He ends up taking a lot more big hits than he needs to . That leads to a shorter career ,and injuries. 3- pass protection. Has improved in the passing game, especially as a receiver, but still needs a bit more schooling and reps in pass pro. Incredible now but I could see him burning out quickly like Earl Campbell if he doesn't run a little closer to the ground. Chester Taylor is an excellent running back in his own right. He'd start for many teams in the NFL, but he just happens to be behind one of the best RB's in football. Makes things happen with the limited carries he does get. Good at everything ,but great at nothing, and handles most 3rd downs. The perfect backup.

DEFENSE

D-line- The strength of their team. Have the best pair of DT's in the NFL. Pat and Kevin Williams make attempting a run between the tackles near suicide. Kevin is an incredible athlete for a man his size. Penetrates, stacks , sheds, tackles, and even rushes the passer extremely well. No weaknesses. Neck and neck with Haloti Ngata for the 2nd best DT in football last year . Long in the tooth veteran Pat Wiliams is till a top notch run stuffer. Controls gaps , takes on the double, and keeps his pads low to clog the running lanes. Nothing special as a pass rusher and is replaced on obvious on passing downs. DE Jared Allen is one of the leagues better DE's and has a great burst of the edge. Keeps blockers off balance and uses his hands to get good leverage on bigger OT's. Has a lot of pass rush moves and seems to think them out well in advance, setting up the blocker plays ahead of time. Also stout against the run, but his best attribute is getting to the QB.Gets a lot of sacks because his relentless motor just keeps going till the QB gets in his path .Facing the packs line twice this year could amount to him getting 20 sacks.Reminds me of former Ram/steeler/panther great Kevin Greene. Ray Edwards has improved every year in the league and most thought he could breakout on 08 due to all the attention the other 3 down lineman would get from blockers. Did improve but only 5 sacks when you are almost always blocked 1 on 1 was disappointing. Just seems step behind the better pass rushers. gets more pressure than sacks but this could bet he year he gets the QB with a double digit sack total. DE Bryan Robinson is a overachiever and core special teams player right now , buthe did show som skil rushing the passer last year. If he keeps working hard he may develop into a starter but he looks more like a linebacker than a DE, so adding some more muscle would help him. Jimmy Kennedy is former first round bust of the rams who is only good as a rotational run stuffer or on goal line D.

Linebacker- Chad Greenway mans the strong side for Minnesota and is the best of this bunch. Complete player and really a good in coverage when in the Tampa 2. Added pass rush abilty last year and I think he is on his way to a pro bowl soon. If EJ Henderson returns to form after a injury derailed 08 the vikings will be sitting pretty. Pretty good at everything and a big hitter, but it remains to be sen of he will have teh same bust and pop in the short area as toe injuries often lead to turf toe. Was a player on the rise before the injury. Ben Leber is a good solid starter, and a valuable special teamer, but teams are always looking to replace him. Versatile enough to play all 3 spots, but at his best when stopping the run. Rookie Jasper Brinkley is at his best inside and would be a good fit for the strong inside backer on a 3-4 team. EJ's little brother will probably need another year before he can push Leber for a starting spot. Is still raw but has bigger upside than his brother. Heath Farwell looks like a big strong safety and is good as a nickel backer and on special teams.

Secondary- the Tampa 2 requires physical corners who can make tackles. Antoine Winfeild play s corner like he's 6ft. -200 lbs, but is really 5"9" - 180. Great in press coverage and strong in run support. Does everything well but still can have his size used against him on jump balls by bigger receivers. Would probably be a first ballot HOFer if he were 6 feet , but he still made the pro bowl last year and was rewarded with a big new contract. Cedrick Griffin is a physical press corner who tackles well, but also needs safety help over the top when covering faster receivers. Still young and could use a little improvement with his man coverage skills , but doesn't have top makeup speed. FS Madieu is a well rounded solid starter and hasn't hit his ceiling yet. Didn't give up or make a lot of big plays ,but you see the potential for him to make those plays on the horizon. Plays the run and pass equally well, but needs to go for the gusto more. Since he is the last line of defense I guess we should just be happy he doesn't give up the big play , but he needs to throw a few more big hits. Missed almost have the season with an injury last year.SS Tyrel Johnson is a full time starter now and I'm not sure that good thing. Poor tackler for a in the box safety. Great measurables but I expected more time before he was starter as he looked really raw coming out of college . Benny Sapp is at best a nickle back ,but makes the most of what he has ,and can play both Cb , safety and contribute on special teams. Karl Paymah is a similar player to Sapp but is bigger and has a higher upside.

Special team- Kicking in a dome helps but Ryan Longwell is perennially one the leagues best place kickers. Still has a big leg and high accuracy after all this time. Chris Klewe is an upper echelon punter. Expect fire works with Percy Harvin and Jaymar Jhonson returning kicks this year. Brian Murphy is in his first stint as an NFL special team coordinator so stay tuned.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Predicted finish 9-7 and in the playoff hunt.
Overview-Young exciting team that just needs an infusion of youth on the O-line to make the jump to the next level. My pick to make the biggest positive won loss record jump in the NFC

Coaching - Mike McCarthy returns and its definitely his team now a year after Favre-gate has died down. He was right about Rogers over Favre and now has the fan support he lacked last season. Dom Capers brings the 3-4 to Green Bay and this roster actually has the talent to make it work.

OFFENSE

QB- Aaron Rodgers broke out last year under a enormous amount of pressure. Replacing a legend is no easy task and Rodgers not only excelled he outplayed Favre . Is definitely a top 10 QB now , and could be top 5 by the end of the year. Strong armed , read defenses well, and actually is a threat to run with the ball. Accurate and smart enough to throw the ball away . Backup Matt Flynn not only won the 2nd string competition but actually inspired Green Bay to cut 08 2nd round pick Brian Brohm.

O-line- This unit is the reason I think that Green Bay is a year away from being in the Superbowl hunt. Both new C Jason Spitz and returning LG Daryn Colledge are both just average and get overpowered against the leagues better interior lineman. Both are smart and play hard , but both are near their ceiling now. RG Josh Sitton is a stout grinder inline but is still only about NFL average and is subpar at the second level in the running game. He shows flashes of skill in the passing game and profiles more as a LG. At lesat he's still on the way up. bNew RT Allen Barbre moves over from guard and can't do much worse than Tauscher did last year before his season ended with an ACL tear. LT Chad Clifton was once one of the leagues top 5 LT's. He is still well rounded and probably a top 15 LT now, but he is past his prime and struggles with the better pass rushers.In the running game his still above average for his postion . Green Bay need a replacement for Clifton soon ,as Colledge definitely showed he's not the guy when Clifton missed time last year, and Clifton has become increasingly injury prone.Still has quick feet and good hands, but his arms aren't long enough to lock out and keep someone permanently at bay . Scott Wells lost the starting center job in a shocker. Was on his way to being one of the best centers in the league early in 08, but they wanted to be more physical and he is a technician . The team may also have some hidden info on Wells, but it sure surprised me.Would fit best on a Alex Gibbs zone blocking team. 2nd year T Breno Giacomini is a former TE that wasn't converted to T till his senior season in college. Needs a lot of work but has the feet to be a starter in time. Theses guys have to improve and lead the way for Green Bay to make a big jump. If Clifton goes own their offense will be hamstrung.

Tight Ends- Donald Lee has become a solid stater . Has been a key goal line target for the pack the last 2 years, and at least a willing blocker but he probably isn't going to get any better than he is already . Enter 2nd year TE Jermichael Finley. He's already pushing Lee for a starting job. A superior athlete with a much higher ceiling and only needs more practice & weight room time to break out. Expect plenty of 2 TE sets this season.

Wide Receivers- A deep talented group. Greg Jennings is now a pro bowl type receiver . Runs routes everywhere and runs them well now, an area he has improved a lot in since he was drafted. Willing blocker and tough after the catch. Donald Driver is a seasoned pro and still one of the leagues better possession receivers. Good blocker, hands, and route runner but still has trouble with bigger bump and run corners. 08 first round pick Jordan Nelson made a good contribution as the 3rd receiver and on special teams as a rookie. A big receiver with good top speed who is the heir apparent to Donald Driver . Smart and physical going for the ball or blocking. James Jones was passed over by Nelson last year but still has role with the team. Could be a solid # 2 starter in a west coast offense if given the chance , but lacks the abilty to separate deep.

Running backs- After a fantastic 07, Ryan Grant played hurt all last year and didn't show the explosion he demonstrated in the past. He's looked great this preseason and since GB is a candidate for one of the leagues best pass offenses, and I expect him to be a beneficiary of a lot of 7 man fronts. Great vision and well rounded but lacks top end speed. Quick in the short area and good coming out of the backfield and in pass pro. Brandon Jackson is similar to Grant albeit stockier and with less wiggle. Injury prone thumper Deshawn Wynn is best in short yardage , but could press Jackson for 3rd down duties if he keeps improving in the passing game and stays healthy for once.

DEFENSE

D-LINE- A team converting to the 3-4 faces one huge problem when they make the move. You need 3 lineman capable of facing regular double team and one has to be a huge run stuffing NT. Green Bay not only drafted BJ Raji( can play any of the 3 needed positions) in the first round, but already have Ryan Pickett who is best suited to play the nose in a 3-4 and John Jolly and Cullen Jenkins to play the 3-4 end or 4-3 DT. Jenkins and Jolly looked really at home in the pre-season . Raji will probably start somewhere by season end but all 4 will get plenty of playing time. Raji and Jenkins are the 2 best though and will be inside on passing downs when they kick back to the 4-3. DE Michael Montgomery is probably the saddest guy to see the 3-4 as he had started some games in the 4-3 last year and doesn't have the size to hold the edge in the 3-4 or speed and agility to make the transition to 3-4 OLB. Aaron Kampmans comments about the transition to 3-4 probably won't be as big a deal as he feared, although he really is not ideally suited to the role of OLB. He will still play DE on close to half of the snaps with all the nickel that is run these days, and is the type of guy that will adjust to OLB as best he can. Will still need help in coverage unless he's in zone, but is best as a pass rusher . Solid against the run. Hard nosed leader and will try to make himself into whatever the team needs.

Linebackers- Kampmann has already been discussed and he's just one of a very talented group. Nick Barnett has traditionally been the leader of the defense and is a sideline to sideline player. Missed 7 games last year and comes back to a new scheme. Needs to be uncovered to do his best work in the run game and is one of the best coverage linebacker in the league . An every down player and strong tackler. AJ Hawk is above average everywhere but in the passing game. When rushing or dropping back he is only average. Better at taking on Blockers than Barnett. A solid above average starter, but not the perennial pro bowler they hoped when he was drafted # 5 overall. Brady Popinga made the transition from college DE to LB early in his career and now is going back to a rush role. Tough guy but not sudden enough for coverage. 2 down backer. # 1 pick Clay Mathews was drafted to eventually start at OLB, and I doubt Poppinga will make it through the whole season as a starter. Matthews is a special athlete who moves like a safety( think less polished Urlacher) and will at least be in on passing downs as soon as he learns the defensive schemes. Explosive big play talent who will probably be a star someday once he learns more pass rush moves.Veteran backup middleman Brandon Chillar has past starting experience and is a valuable special teamer.

Secondary- Big physical veteran corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris still play at a high level, but Harris is not quite what he was in his prime. Both are smart and excel in bump and run but Woodson is the faster of the 2 .Made some appearances at safety last year despite still playing at pro bowl level. A smart physical veteran ball-hawk. Could make a Ronnie Lott /Rod Woodson type switch soon and still make some more pro bowls. Harris gets by on physicality and know-how these days. Best in press or zone, but can no longer run down field with receivers. Will Blackmon is also big physical corner who would fit best in a Tampa 2 scheme as he doesn't have great top end speed. Tramon Wiliams is probably their fastest current corner and starting nickel back. Needs more time to see if he can be starter and learn press coverage from the other corners, but definitely has the abilty to be a starter. SS Atari Bigby is returning from a injury marred 08 and needs to show he can do more than just be an in the box safety. There is nothing wrong with that (and he is a big physical hitter )but Green Bay has options on the horizon. Not much in coverage except in short areas. FS Nick Collins had a breakout 08 and snagged 7 interceptions. A ball hawk ,heady player , good tackler and great center fielder. Not the biggest hitter , but a solid tackler.Aaron Rouse still looks like the linebacker he was and plays the run like it. if he just improved more in coverage he would probably have Atari Bigby's job already. Has started at both safety positions when injuries required it. All in all a good group but need some young corners to step up or an infusion of new talent.

Special Teams Shawn Slocum slides into his first year as the ST boss, although he does have special teams experience at the college level . Will Blackmon took 2 to the house last year and 07 key returner Tramon Williams or Jordy Nelson should be his partner on kickoff returns.second year pro Jeremy Kapinos returns as Punter but wasn't below avg. last year. Kicker Mason Crosby had a great 07, but didn't get as many shots in 08. Strong young offense that allows long FG trys . Great 2 yr.average for points scored & doesn't lack for confidence.

CHICAGO BEARS
Predicted Finish- 8-8 and missing the playoffs
Overview- FINALLY the bears have a franchise QB , but it may be too late. Teams have windows where key player are in their primes. It seems a lot of former key bears are just past their primes now, but the window isn't quite closed yet and they do have a QB capable of winning games now.Can the defense return to form if healthy?

Coaching- Tony Dungy disciple and Tampa 2 enthusiast Love Smith returns for a 6th season and has led the bears to the Superbowl before. Has 2 LB's( Urlacher & Brigs) capable of being the keys to his Tamp 2 scheme, but his team has been best by injuries and poor QB play throughout his tenure. As long as the Bears win at 8games he should be back. Team is almost in transition and will be short on draft picks thanks to the Cutler trade , so the talent to reload will be harder to come by. Run Turner runs a conservative ball control offense but has now can open up the offense some with Cutler at the helm. Bo Babich returns to run the defense for a 2nd yer and it will be interesting to see what he can pull off if they aren't wracked with key injuries this time.

OFFENSE

QB- The bears haven't had a legitimate franchise ( apologies to McMahon , but you aren't even one of the top 3 reasons they won a Superbowl) QB in his prime since Sid Luckman almost 60 years ago. Cutler has every physical tool, but still needs to mature some as a man and leader. Strong armed with a lot of gunslinger in him, but he should hopefully learn temper that in Chicago's conservative offense. Doesn't have the weapons he had in Denver , but is still a dream come true for long suffering Bears fan to have a QB who can actually win games, as opposed to mostly just having a long line of guys they prayed wouldn't lose it for them.The O-line will have to be much improved over last year but I doubt they will be quite as good as the one he just left in Denver, and I am certain he had a better current LT as a bronco. Can be a top 5 QB if he ever stops forcing the ball. Expect a few bumps in his first year in Chicago as he adjust to a new offense and receivers , but a massive coup long term for the bears. 2nd year pro Caleb Hanie is a developmental guy as a backup, and the bears would do well to acquire a veteran presence if Cutler goes down for any reason.

O-line- former all world LT Orlando Pace joins the bears this year and if he can stay healthy , he is still an above average LT . Once was a real dancing bear type guy with the feet of someone much smaller when pass blocking, but he's stoll servicaeble now. More deliberate when run blocking but locks on and keeps driving his feet. Significant upgrade ih can avoid injury. Last years # 1 pick Chris Williams is in the familiar position( played with Cutler at Vanderbilt) of blocking for Cutler again. Almost completely wasted rookie year when a back injury caused him to miss the first half of the season and wasn't the same player when he came back. If the back injury isn't chronic he profiles more as a LT, as he has the feet to pull it off and is more of a technician, and not the mauling run blocker most RT's are.At worst he's a LG if healthy. C Olin Kreutz is still one of the top 10 centers in the league after all this time. Intelligent Leader of the O-line who uses experience and technique to get the job done. Max effort guy who is great at the second level and on double teams. Only struggles with the biggest DT's one on one. RG Robert Garza is a stocky guy with a low center of gravity who gets underneath pads and controls defenders well. Plays to the whistle and works really well with Kreutz on doubles and chips. They are similar players and Garza can also play center in a pinch. Howver Garza is only average as a pass blocker. Former panther T Frank Omiyale is battling incumbent starter Josh Beekman for the staring LG spot. Omiyale is probably better suited to play inside as he doesn't have the feet to be on an island all game. Big fierce athletic run blocker who pulls well. Might be an upgrade as a starter if they keep him at G, but can backup the tackle positions as well. Beekman is more of technician and doesn't really fit the bears blue collar run game. Needs to get stronger if he is going stay in this system at guard but can also play center . Kevin Schafer has started at both T positions in ATL and Cleveland. Still should be starting somewhere , especially on the right side, and is a huge bonus as a backup. Strong run blocker and I think he would be a heck of a guard if given the chance at it. All in all, a deep group after a year where the O-line was decimated by injuries all season.

Tight Ends- Greg Olsen is another breakout candidate. Reminds me of Todd Heap in his prime and has the speed to stretch the defense. Still developing as a route runner and a willing blocker. Needs more strength for in line blocking but cracks and doubles Ok. Good hands and has improved each year in the league. Backup TE Desmond Clark is physical as a receiver with great abilty after the catch, but a subpar blocker. Former combine superstar Kellen Davis looks like a superstar in workout clothes but needs to harness his considerable athletic ability and get on the field.Davis is still a better athlete than football player.

Wide receivers- Devin Hester is a burner and has improving route runner, but shouldn't be anyone's # 1 receiver yet. Still has a lot to learn and draws a lot of attention from secondary's, but I still see him best as a decoy and deep threat right now. Earl Bennett was Cutler's number 1 receiver at Vandy and might enjoy the reunion this season. Most likely will be a possession receiver to counter Hester's deep threat in Chicago's passing attack. Sure handed good route runner and added to his comfort level with Cutler makes him a likely starter this year. Rashid Davis improved last year and is he likely the # 3. Undersized but quick and sure handed.The fact that Chicago kept 6 receivers shows just how unsure they are of what the have. Rookie 3rd rounder Jauquin Iglesias has the look of a future possession receiver. Fearless over the middle but more quick than fast. 5th round pick Johnny Knox is raw but reminds me of Terry Glenn. Came from a small school and he has a lot learn ,but has the track-star speed , attitude ,and athleticism to be a future big play guy.

Running back back - Matt Forte was the bears offense as a rookie in 08. Led the team in carries ,receptions and touchdowns last year. A workhorse big back with good balance . Fights for the extra yards and is a north -south guy. Valuable in the passing game as a receiver or blocker. Reminds me of Corey Dillon with a better attitude. can still add bulk since he isn't a big breakaway guy anyway, and maintain his current speed. Just hope his number of touches last year doesn't catch up to him this season. Diminutive Garret wolf is similar to Daren Sproles. Big play capability but too small to be an every down back. The other Adrian Petersen is a steady vet backup . FB Jason Mckie is about league average but gives max effort.

DEFENSE

D-Line- Former 0-16 lion head coach Rod Marinelli obviously didn't have success as a head coach , but he is fantastic coaching the DL. The Tampa 2 defense the bears primarily run requires pressure from the front 4 to cause QB's to make mistakes,and they should get it under Rod. Former pro bowler Tommie Harris needs to stay healthy. His ability to penetrate and wreak havoc in the backfield will be a big part of any success this defense has. Quick off the snap and uses his hands well. Think an injury prone Warren Sapp.With Dusty Dvorecek out for the year stocky Anthony Adams needs to step up. Low center of gravity but doesn't gets under O-lineman pads well. Penetrator with a high motor. Better when rotating in. DE Adewale Ogunleye is a lot like Andre Carter of the redskins. A above average pass rusher who gives good effort but doesn't hold the point of attack well in the run game against bigger blockers, which is a definite liability at strong side end. Does chase well and has good technique. Just needs to add bulk and strength. RDE Alex Brown is a very similar player although a little better in coverage and has a wider varity of pass rush moves. Both benefit a lot when Harris is in the game and feat on lower echelon OT's. Mark Anderson is also a undersized end ,although a bit leaner and quicker than the other 2. Best used as a pass rush specialist only right now, although I think he could develop into a rush OLB in a 3-4 if given the chance. Rookie Jarron Gilbert is a raw , tall, long armed freakish athlete that will probably play DT in their scheme but has the size to play RDE in a 3-4. Has the same physical attributes as a young Richard Seymour but his technique needs a lot of coaching. 2nd year player Marcus Harrison is bug run stuffin type that needs to keep his pad level low on a more consistent basis. Strong at the point and quick off the snap for his size when he stays low.

Linebacker- Brian Urlacher is still a beastly athlete but always seems nicked up the last few years. Still possesses good speed for a linebacker ,and is above average in coverage, which is must for his role covering the middle in the tampa 2. Has good instincts and is a powerful hitter and good tackler in the run game. WLB Lance Briggs is a similar player and they are almost interchangeable at times, although Urlacher looks a tick faster and is a little better blitzer . Both are playmakers and do a lot better when their D-line keeps them free. Both are pro bowl caliber sideline to sideline linebackers . The younger Briggs may be on the verge of passing Urlacher this year . New strong side backer Pisa Tinoisamoa is better suited to the weak side but all Tampa 2 linebackers need to be able to run and he can. Plays little out of control but has a high motor.Veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer can back up all 3 spots and is a former starter. Is a smart overachiever but a tick slow for thsi defensive scheme now. Would be better suited to put on some weight and go play one of the middle spots in a 3-4 now. Formee staring SLB lost his job hsi season but stil has potential. Plays rough and fast , but gets caught up in trash and needs more classroom time . Jamar Williams is mostly a special teams player.

Secondary- CB Nathan Vasher seemed on the verge of being one of the leagues premium corners 3 years ago but has missed more games than he has played the last 2 years. Wasn't just your typical press run support( although he was great there too) Tampa 2 corner, as he showed good speed and man coverage skills. Needs to be healthy and return to pro bowl form for the bears to make a run. Charles Tillman would be your typical tough guy Tampa 2 corner with long speed liabilities against faster receivers when (no easy feat ) they could beat his jam at the line, if he weren't so big. Physical , smart, and has a high motor. Fights for the ball in the air, and will strip it any chance he gets. A lot like a bigger Ronde Barber of Tampa Bay. Trumain Mcbride is still best as a special teams player, but has started plenty of games due to injury. Needs to work on his craft to even be a nickel back this year and possesses the abilty of he work at it. 2nd year player Zack Bowman started 08 with a bang. Picked off a pass and recovered a fumble for a TD in his first game, then got hurt and missed the rest of the season.Still a bit raw but is big physical athletic corner who will stick his nose in. Will probably be the nickel corner this season. 4th round pick DJ Moore is your typical Tampa 2 corner. Undersized and more quick than fast, but plays big and physical. Great technician. Will probably be a core special team player this year, as he was in college. Is the type of guy ends up being a 10 year player in the league and a starter sooner rather than later.FS Kevin Payne made some big plays last year but is still iffy in coverage and tackling in the open field. Is only in his 3rd year and has stared close to 20 games so he has room for improvement. At his best when closing on the ball or ball carrier. The more open room their is the worse he does. rookie SS Al Afalava is in the running to start at SS. Looks like a classic in the box run first safety right now. Daneal Manning is a jack of all trades. Can play safety , corner, is in the mix at nickel and returns kicks.SS Josh Bullocks was signed to be the starting SS and started a lot of games in New Orleans over the last 4 years, but may nit get the job. Has inconsistent foot work and tackling technique. A better athlete than foot ball player though. Craig Steltz is mostly a core special team player right now.

Special teams- 2 years ago all anyone could talk about was Devin Hester and his amazing return abilities. Last year he never scored , and this year is just going to return punts. Maybe learning receiver caused him to lose focus (or just tired him out for returns ) but he didn't look to be as explosive as he was when he kept opposing coaches up all night . ST coordinator Dave Taub is a difference maker , as his units consistently produce top notch results in all phases . Daneal Manning isn't likely to break 6 long ones like Hester but led the league in KR avg last year. Punter Brad Maynard is an above average directional punter . K Robbie Gould has a strong leg and is one of the leagues top 5 kickers.

DETROIT LIONS

Predicted finish- 3-13 , last place, but nowher to but up
Pverview- New coach , front office, a lot of new players, but still a bad team. However, they do have some good young talent and he blocks to rebuild are being put into place.

Coaching- New defensive minded coach Jim Scwrtz brings his 8 years of experience as the Titans D coordinator to Detroit. During his tenure in Tennesee Schwartz’s defensive unit was strong n two areas that factored significantly in the team’s overall success, rushing defense and third down conversions. From 2001-08, Tennessee ranks fifth in rushing yards allowed per game (103.5) and sixth in third down conversion (36.1). Through 2008, the Titans allowed just nine rushers over 100 yards during the past 64 home games. No nonsense guy who should improve the team overall after a season where a lot of players outright quit on the franchise.27 yera NFl coaching vet Gunther Cunningham brings his agrresive style to Detroit as well. He excels at getting the front seven to play at their peak. Offesnive coordinator Scott Linehan is best known for Minnesota's high octane offense( Culpeppers best year by the way) form 02-04. A lot of things went wrong in his head coaching gig in ST. Louis but he should be an upgrade here, and a good teacher for Stafford.

OFFENSE

QB- I Really think the best thing for Mathew Stafford would be to sit and watch Cullpepper for awhile, but its not up to me. Rookie QB's that have success in the NFL generally have 3 things going for them. A strong defense, O-line, and running game. The best Lions fans can hope for this year in any of those categories is average, but they seem driven to throw him to the wolves anyway. Will a season of punishment and miscues make him into Troy Aikman or David Carr? Why even chance it? They are going to do it , so here is the report on Stafford. Decent size, strong armed and a 3 year starter in college at a big program .While he's not the quickest to pick up the playbook ,he has a dogged determination to study that will earn him respect in the locker room.Will try to force balls with his gun, but is generally accurate when he has time to set his feet. Above average feet in the pocket and can run for the first if needed. Kind of reminds me of Aikman, but I think he needs a lot more around him to succeed than Aikman did. Cullpepper had his best years when throwing to big fast target Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson is an even more impressive specimen. Still has an above average arm and can break some tackles , but not the threat to run he once was. He never was the most accurate passer but has shown he can take a hit, and Detroit's starter will take plenty this year. I think Detroit would still be better suited to let the veteran take a pounding till about week eight. By then Stafford would be more into the playbook and it might re-energize the fan base some.

O-line- LT Jeff Backus is a veteran who gets the most out of what he has. Smart, tough , and durable but still would be better at RT( drafed Gosder Cherilus # 1 last year to play there) or LG. In the bottom half( 18-24) of NFL LT's and he struggles with the better players he goes against. If they had taken a LT in the draft they could have moved Backus to LG and improved 2 positions at once. Starting LG Daniel Loper would be better as a backup at both guard positions. Stocky C Dominick Raiola is solid but struggles with size. A smart technician better on the second level and double teams than 1 v 1. Rg Stephen Petermna should only be a starter on a power running team. Best driving off the ball with close splits and mauling defenders. Tough guy, but struggles in space and with speed, and is overall a tad below average as a starter. RT Gosder Cherilus looks like a road grader on one play and lost the next. He's only entering his second year and has all the abilty he could need but needs to improve his technique. Looks like he's thinking at the line and it makes him tentative sometimes and your technique needs to honed into second nature with a lot of practice reps .When he knows what he is doing he generally excels. Might still develop into a good starting RT , but would be a better fit at RG right now. A below average line in the NFL and a bad idea to have a rookie starting till they get better , or they upgrade their personnel. The only backup they have I see becoming a possible starter is Manny Ramirez. A big bull of a man that just needs to learn the pro offense after playing in Texas techs pass happy scheme. Very strong hand punch but needs to get a bit stronger in the lower body and develop his run blocking more.

Tight Ends- Brandon Pettigrew was the best pick of the first round considering that they got him at #20. Probaly the next great all around real life football TE. Not sure how many passes he will see, but he will make the most of them. Great blocker and the kind of guy who will move the chains. Stafford will need him as a safety valve. Will probably be more like Heath Miller than Jason Witten this year,as he's more of a short area receiver than a field stretcher right now, but he's got the work ethic to be the best he can be. Will Heller should only be a backup. Has the size to be a great run blocker but isn't as aggressive or technically sound as he could be.Casey Fitzsimmons is a well rounded H-back type, who mostly contributes on special teams.

Wide Receivers-Calvin Jhonson is probably the most talented receiver in the history of football, even more so than Moss. However, has no major threat opposite him and will be catching footballs from either rookie Stafford or past his prime Culpepper. Needs Bryant Johnson or Pettigrew to draw coverage away from him. He's such a big, amazing athlete that despite double coverage he'll still put up major stats and be a major goal line threat. Looks like a small TE , runs like a slot receiver and has good hands. Even a good blocker and is mismatch for any defender anywhere on the field. Bryant Johnson looks like a big west coast receiver,but has consistently been unable to hold down a starting spot in the NFL. Big with average speed and hands. Former AZ # 1 pick needs to step up and take the pressure off Jhonson. He should be single covered all year but still looks like an underachiever so far in the preseason. 10 year vet Dennis Northcutt is smart but slowing down. Is small but still could be a decent slot guy and help in the return game .More quick than fast but still sure handed. 3rd round pick Derrick William looks like a future starter. The former Penn state team captain has average size but is an explosive big play athlete. Still raw but should be able to help in the return game right away.

Running back- Kevin Smith was a steal in the 3rd round last year. Led the team in receptions as well as rushing. Strong between the tackles with some burst but lacks great long speed. Average in pass pro but that will come as he is dedicated to his craft. Averaged over 4 yards a carry for a horrible team last year. Still learning , but is a bright spot on a below average talent roster. Maurice Morris is the running back version of Bryant Jhonson. Looks the part but just never seems to win the job. Is best as a backup only. Rookie Aaron Brown is too lean to be a everydown back right now. Needs to either bulk up or change postions. Has good speed , moves and return abilty. I am guessing that is where most of contributions will come as a rookie. 2nd year fullback Jerome Felton played in 12 games with six starts at fullback as a rookie . Primarily a runner in college he can at least help on short yardage right now. Is still learning how to block like a fullback , but he seems willing. Veteran Terell Thomas is fighing for the starting FB job. A block only guy who excels at clearing out the whole between the tackles but doesn't offer much anywhere else.

DEFENSE

D-line

They are a below average in the middle right now, but getting stronger on the outside. 12 year vet Grady Jackson is a stocky bull of a man . A run stuffer only but he clogs the middle well. Stacks and takes on the double but has little speed or penetration ability left. Only a bull rusher against the pass. Orien Harris is a penetrator and still young but gets washed out of a lot of plays. When he stays low he is stout ,but hasn't reached his potential yet,and I don't know if he ever will. Short arms he needs to use better ,as he has trouble escaping if a guy locks on him. Has bounced around to few teams becuase the talent is there ,and teams are willing to take on the task of trying to harness it, but a underachiever so far. Small school rookie Sammy Lee Hill raised eye brows at the senior bowl. A big , versatile , explosive athlete that just needs to be coached up. Could be a starter soon if Schwartz can get him ready for the pro game. Might follow in the footsteps of former small school stud turned all -pro Leon Lett if harnesses his ability. 08 draftee Landon Cohen is a project still ,but did contribute some last year late in the season, and on special teams. Undersized but could have a role as 3rd down specialist this season. Dewayne White seemed on the verge of a breakout season last year, but was hurt a lot. Still led the team in sacks and is a above average starter. Gets under pads well to stack and shed in the run game and chases with a will. Dedicated pass rusher with multiple moves but only good instead of great burst off the line. High motor underrated player that should be a leader on the D-line this year. Reminds me of former Dallas stalwart Greg Ellis. 2nd year player Cliff Avril showed a lot of promise as a rookie. Mostly a pass rusher last year ,he moves into the starting lineup after showing continuous improvement since he arrived in Detroit. Despite not being a starter till the last quarter of the season, Avril forced 4 fumbles last year. Needs to stay lower in the run game and sink his hips at the point of attack. Having 2 max effort starting defensive ends should really improve Detroit's pass rush this year if they can just get some inside pressure. Backup Jason Hunter is a tweener and now that he is in Detroit he needs to get stronger if wants to crack the starting lineup. Agile athlete that looks like he could play 3-4 OLB who left Green Bay ( converted to it after he left ) for Detroits 4-3 only scheme. Mostly a special teamer right now but has the physical skills to contribute more soon if he harnesses them . 2nd year player Andre Fluellen is also a tweener but of a different sort. Quick off the ball and holds the point stoutly. Looks more like a 3-4 end or 4-3 DT. Started to get some snaps at DT last year in addition to end and is still very young. High motor and his pass rush skills are evolving quickly but more quick than fast. Looks like a future starter somewhere on the D-line if he keeps progressing.

Linebackers-Incoming SLB Julian Peterson may be just a tad past his prime, but is still a high level veteran capable of playing at a pro bowl level. Explosive smart and prone to the big play. Navigates through the scrum with alacrity , stacks and sheds well and is a strong tackler. Can also rush the passer when called upon, and is quick in coverage. Complete player that can lead the defense. WLB Ernie Simms is a high motor speedy defender that can track down plays side line to sideline ,if the line protects him., and will chase any play down till the whistle blows. A bit small but plays bigger and is fearless. Good in coverage and he reads QB's well. Big hitter and excellent tackler. Future pro bowler when Detroit turns it around if he can stay healthy .MLB Larry Foote is an overachiever who's football smarts and instincts made him a starter. Does everything good or average but nothing great. Will be replaced in a year or 2 by a better athlete, but has made the most out what he was given. Jordan Dizon is a poor mans Ernie Sims, but doesn't quite have Simms ferocity. Belongs on the weakside in a Tampa 2 scheme and will contribute on special teams.Rookie Deandre Levy will probably take over Footes job as soon as he bulks up a tad , or maybe even sooner. Was a speedy productive 4-3 OLB in college, and still looks like one so far, but has been great in the pre season. At the very least he will get on the feild in nickle and looks to be a future starter somewhere .Will probably be a core special teams player this year too. Has outstanding athleticism and a fearless attitude. Former raiders bust Darnell Bing is still a project 3 years into the league. Was a college strong safety and injuries have slowed his conversion to LB. Has mega ability as a WLB if he stays healthy and makes the change . Definitely the strongest unit on the team as a whole.

Secondary- Phillip Buchanon only belongs in the slot as a nickel corner in cover 2 and should no longer be a starter in the NFL. No longer has the speed to run deep and was never physical enough to be a big run supporter outside. Gambles too much but lacks the make up speed to pull it off consistently. Still has a quick burst in short areas and can return punts becuase of it. Incoming veteran Anthony Henry looks like a SS and should be one by now. Big , strong, and physical but never the fastest guy his whole career. Strong in press coverage and in run support. Maybe could start in Tampa 2 but he can't run deep with any average NFl receiver anymore. Has always been a ballhawk with the ball in front of him. Time for a position change.Marcus MCcaulley has regressed since his rookie year with Minnesota. They cut him and the Lions picked him up thinking they can harness his still high potential.Big, quick, instinctive corner with shoddy technique. SS Marquand Manuel is a tough in the box safety with poor coverage skills and inadequate speed. Should bulk up a bit and move to linebacker. Rookie statrting FS Loius Delmas plays the game like a 240 lb. linebacker, but he is actually a little small for free safety. Ballhawk and run stuffer in college and the preseaon. Natural leader and the kind of guy who will at least be a productive starter for a long time and possibly a perennial pro bowler. Excellent technique and a student of the game.His lack of size makes me fear he may end up injury prone if he doesn't add a little more muscle. Backup Ko Simpson looks like a tweener. Smart and a good tackler, but not physical enough for SS. Makes good reads but doesnt always get there fast enough for a FS and doesnt deliver a lot of big hits when he does arrive. Looked like a long time starter as a rookie in Buffalo, but got injured and hasn't progressed much since then.A below average group and teams will be passing all over the lions unless they make some personnel changes.

Special teams- P Nick Harris is a solid but unspectacular starter. Pk Jason Hanson is one of the all time most accurate kickers in league history. Poised, polished and has a big leg. Rookies Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams will bring their explosive speed to kickoff returns and veteran Philip Buchanon will probably man the Punt return duties, but hasn't busted one in years. Stan Kwan is a good special teams coach and the fact that he kept his job after last season shows it.





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