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Sunday, September 13, 2009

2009 NFC SOUTH team previews

NFC south

New Orleans 12-4
Atlanta 10-6
Carolina 9-7
Tampa Bay 4-12

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Predicted finish- 12-4 and winning the division
Overview- Kind of remind me of the Dan Marino lead dolphins. Great offense, although the saints have had more talent at RB than the Dolphin ever consistently had back then, with a below average defense. Always trying to out score the other team.The best O-lineman they have is pro bowler Jamall Brown and he is out for 3 to 6 weeks due to a hernia. Expect the saints to adjust and go to a lot of 3 step drops to start the season .Have added a lot of defensive talent through the draft , trades , and free agency in the last 2 years, but the D needs to step up if this team wants to make the super bowl.

Coaching- Former Parcells protege ( although they may not look like it, because they don't run it enough) Sean Payton is one of the young offensive gurus of the league. Payton was crucial in the development of Tony Romo in Dallas ,and instrumental in bringing Brees to the Saints. It was only 7 years ago Payton was stripped of play calling duties in New York, but has rebounded to be one of the leagues brightest young minds.Especially adept at game planning and making half time adjustments for such young guy. Has so many formations and schemes, that it just confuses opposing defenses-players and coaches. Despite Pete Carmichael JR. being the new offensive coordinator you can bet Payton is still heavily involved in the play calling. Greg Williams has come in to handle the defense ,and he has a long track record of improving teams and instilling aggression wherever he goes.

QB- Its amazing how a QB only 6 foot tall is so consistently accurate, but Drew Brees finds open passing lanes and exploits them at will. Smart and reads defenses with the best of them. A leader in the locker room and the community. Average arm but great touch. Gets rid of the ball quickly and spreads it around by generally taking what the defense gives him. The leagues best at finding his secondary receivers.Reminds me of a shorter in his prime Kurt Warner.Veteran former pro bowler Mark Brunell is still a smart capable backup , but they are done if Brees goes down for any extended period of time.

O-line- Pro bowl LT Jamaal Brown is the best of this bunch. A top 10 OT in the league and still young enough to get better, but just a tick below the elite LT's in the league .Quick feet and uses his hands well. Could be a bit nastier finisher but generally gets the job done. Keep his knees bent and stays low, but doesn't follow through to the 2nd level as often as he should. LG Carl Nicks probably would have been a 1rts rounder in 08 if not for multiple off the field issues.Big man with good ( not great ) feet. Long arms, and locks them out well. Powerful initial hand punch. Only has problems with speed rushers, and then it's only if he misses his initial punch.Could probably play RT at a high level as well. Powerful drive blocker in the run game who sinks his hips and keeps pushing. Veteran John Goodwin took over as the starting C in 08 and did a decent job. A backup for most of his career ,and can also play guard. He is big center but doesn't play mean enough and is only about league average. RG Jahri Evans is first and foremost a run blocker. Drives off the line with a will and plays with violence. Occasionally out of control and needs to be more consistent with his technique, but seems to get the job done anyway. Active in pass pro but needs to use his strong hand punch more. Looks like a future pro bowler when he plays in control, and he has improved every year in the league. RT Jhon Stinchcomb is more of a technical finesse player that you expect to find playing LT, but lacks the elite feet to do so at high level . Would probably be at his best at LG , but is still good for a RT becuase he usually finds some way to at least wall off his guy in the run game. One of those guys who just always seems to find a way to quietly make his block and starts for a long time . 10 year vet Jerome Nesbit is better as a backup, and plays with poor balance when he does get in the game. More of a leaner instead of a driver in-line. Jermon Bushrod is still a project, but has the tools to be a long term starter at either tackle position if he can harness them.Has looked like the light is coming on in the preseason. May end up with someones job in time. Zack Streif lacks the foot quickness to ever be on an island. Brees makes this unit look better than they are in pass pro by getting rid of the ball quickly. Better as run blockers if they get the lead to run out the clock and a strong unit when all are healthy.

Tight End- Jeremy Shockey's penchant for alienating team mates is balanced by his elite talent. Is currently in a wide open passing attack, with a great QB, but is the 3rd receiving option (at best). A willing blocker but doesn't get low enough most of the time.In a free agent year and seems to be a selfish guy who would be greedy enough to only play his hardest when it would most benefit him. Suddenly, all of his little bumps and bruises will seem less important as he plays for a potential big contract. Backup David Thomas runs good routes ,and is quick enough, but not as physical as he should be. More a technical blocker when called upon, but needs to add bulk and play with more ferocity. Veteran Darnell Dinkins is high energy player who's mostly here to play special teams. Better blocker than the other 2 and gives max effort but nothing special in line.

wide receivers- Marques Colston is a big west coast offense type receiver. Not a vertical threat , but runs tough after the catch and a excellent possession receiver. Big red zone target with good hands.The # 2 receivers role is unsure. Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, or Lance Moore could all emerge as a starter. Brees will spread the ball around so everyone should get in on the action. After a wasted rookie 07 season , former # 1 pick Meachem showed glimpses of his big play potential last year and even started 3 games. Size speed combo who just needs to stay healthy to contribute. Veteran Devery Henderson was hurt a lot last year, but is very physical when healthy. Runs strong after the catch and blocks hard. Needs to hold onto the ball more to become a starter. Lance Moore had a breakout year in 08. Lead the team in yards, catches and TD's last season. Undersized and at his best in the slot . Has trouble getting off the line against physical corners and is probably best suited to be a big play # 3. Think Patrick Crayton without the big mouth and less big drops. Also a returner on special teams and has a burst.

Running backs- They turned Duece loose for good and now its time for Reggie Bush to step up. Is never going to be a every down back. Is really a 3rd down back, 3rd WR, punt & kick return.Was supposed to be Gayle Sayers bit so far he's been Dave Megget. That isn't bad but it's not enough to justify his contract or draft status . Actually needs to read the hole , stop dancing in the backfield ,make one cut ,then go. Has great speed on the outside and as a receiver . Has a tendency to outrun his blocks downfield . Not very physical between the tackles and needs to justify his big contract now. Pierre Thomas has a chance to break out thsi year. Has produced when given the chance his first 2 years and averaged 4.8 yard a carry. Good balance and vision . Mostly a straight ahead one cut and go guy. Runs tough and doesn't have a big second gear but has some wiggle. Still learning pass pro but has good hands.Mike Bell ran like Pierre Thomas does in his rookie season 4 years ago, but hasn't looked the same since. This pre season it was like he as reborn. Could steal or even split carries with Thomas if he keeps sit up. Bigger than Thomas and a possible short yardage back at least. Veteran FB Heath Evans is a skilled blocker everywhere on the field but doesn't offer a lot running the ball. Has some rings from his time in NE but usually is a last resort as receiver. Brees throws to the fullback some and Heath did have 3 TD's in 07, so he may be utilized more as a receiver this year.

DEFENSE

D-line- 08 1rst rounder DT Sedrick Ellis produced as a rookie. A stocky penetrator who is fundamentally sound and rarely gets stood up. Strong hands , flows all along the line with leverage and can wreak havoc in enemy backfields in the run or passing games. Reminds me of Booger McFarland in his prime in Tampa Bay. Did miss 3 games due to injury though. Line mate Kendrick Clancy is a 10 year vet with the same build as Ellis, but lacks his explosion. Mostly just a run clogger and bull rusher. Rarely in on obvious passing downs. Backup Hargrove reurns from a year of due to violating the leagues drug policy and is on his last shot in the league. He is a undersized tweener with a knack for rushing the passer and special teams. Young Remy Ayodele is a journeyman who could be a lot more if he had sound technique. Former pro bowl DE Wil Smith is still an above average DE , but had a bit of a down year statistically in 08. Got his big contract and didn't quite live up to it. Still quick off the snap and has multiple pass rush moves, but may have lost a step ,as his sacks went from 10.5 to 7 to 3 in the last few seasons. He has seen more double teams than any other pass rusher they have ,and that definitely can contribute to a reduction in sacks, but he will see plenty of 1 v 1's now. If his sack stats don't go back up he's on the decline. Quick in his transitions when rushing ,but doesn't use hands well against the run, and he has the size to hold the point too. Needs to stack and shed better. Doesn't do well against the top LT's.Strongside DE Charles Grant does hold the point of attack well and can stack and shed with the best of them, but is no longer a significant threat as a pass rusher. Also a good tackler. Bobby Mcray and Jeff Charleston are very similar players. Best used as a pass rush specialist but McCray has more agility and starting experience . Both look more like a 3-4 OLB and neither holds the point well. They both either needs to bulk up and get stronger to be a good 4-3 starting end , or go to a 3-4 team and try OLB.

Linebackers- Jonathan Vilma was back to looking like himself in a 4-3 last year. Too small to play 3-4 MLB in New York ,as he needs to be free to run to the ball, and the trade was the best thing for both teams. A efficient violent playmaker again. SLB Scott Fujita is best as a run stuffer. A crafty veteran who fills with authority but lacks the change of direction skills to be an above average every down backer. Scott Shanle is bigger than your average WLB and hits harder than most of them. Generally takes the shortest path to the ball, but sometimes over pursues and opens up cut back lanes. Good in zone coverage as well . Backup SLB Troy Evans is best as a special teamer. Lacks the sped and agility to be a starter and his best skill in the regular defense is his willingness to come straight ahead and blow up lineman to clog the hole. Marvin Mitchel is only a special teamer right now .Jo-lonn dunbar is a small chase weakside backer. Needs to get bigger and learn to run through trash better.

Secondary- Mike Mckenzie has been released due to an injury and to clear cap space, but both sides are already talking of signing him back at a different salary. Mckenzie has lost a step but is still a big physical corner best suited to the Tampa 2 right now. Jams well in press coverage but can no longer run down field with most receivers. Maybe a move to safety would help , as he is a physical run supporter. 2nd year player Tracy Porter was a starter out of the gate before going on IR a 3rd of the way through the season. Has makeup speed and is agile enough to stay with most WR's. Gambles a bit much and goes for the ball. Needs to add mass to help him become a more physical tackler. Jabari Greer had his best season last year and looks to be ready for full time duty. If Mckenzie moves to another team( or position) he should fit right in . Smart and more cautious than Porter, but lacks his make up speed. Also more physical than Porter in run support. May actually be the best returning corner they have. 1rst rounder Malcolm Jenkins was the best corner and free safety prospect available this year. Will at least be in on nickel somewhere. A heady and hard nosed big DB with leadership skills. A natural pass defender with great instincts and outstanding speed and quickness. Jenkins is best at man-to-man coverage and jamming and rerouting receivers at the line as a corner. Doesn't have great long speed, but in cover 2 is ready to roll now, and often throw receivers so far off their routes that deep speed isn't necessary. If he ends up at FS I bet he is a pro bowler within 3 years.Roman Harper is a in the box SS that plays with reckless abandon. Brings it with a thump in run support, but struggles in space on the run & pass . FS Darren Sharper has lost a step, but is still a ballhawk who makes QB's sweat , and has 8 interception(6th all time) returns for a TD in his career. Will probably only start here for a year or 2 at most, but will make big plays while he's on the field, although some will be bad. Avid film studying veteran who reads QB's well , is a good form tackler, and one of the leagues smarter DB's. Still viable in run support. Lacks the speed to run with most receivers in man coverage now, and jumping so many routes means he will get beat deep some. Usama Young is mostly a special teamer but did make strides as a safety last season. Pierson Prioleau is a career special teams standout veteran with some starting experience. Handy to have in case of injury but likely won't see much action in the regular defense this year. Chris Reis isn't physical enough to play SS and isn't fast enough to play FS as a starter right now. Good on special teams though.

Special teams-
Make or break year for Reggie Bush and if NO continues to have him return kicks full time he should breakout if healthy. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are pretty explosive as well on kickoffs if the get a shot.Greg McMahon returns for his second season as special teams coordinator, and New Orleans finished the season as one of only four teams to rank in the top 10 in both punt return average (fourth) and kickoff return average .The Saints trade up to get quality directional punter Thomas Morstead in the fifth round. Morstead has some place-kicking experience in his background as well, but he'll compete for a roster spot solely as a punter. Ageless wonder John Carney had perhaps his best season last year for the giants and was signed when Garret Hartley went down with an injury.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Predicted Finish- 10-6 and fighting for a playoff spot but not winning the division Division title
Overview- 2nd year under new regime shows progress ,but a tougher schedule may make it harder show it in the standings.Coach Smith got everyone to buy into the program and they played above their talent level last season. Key veteran acquisitions Gonzalez and Williams should even out their tougher schedule some.

Coaching- 2nd year head coach Mike Smith brought a new team first nose to the grindstone feel to this team last year , and it payed off. Mostly known for his defensive prowess ( as a LB coach Baltimore when they won a ring , and as D coordinator in Jax) Smith showed he has the right skill set to be the head man. Turned around a team in turmoil since the Michael Vick fiasco and brought stability and hope to the franchise. Like minded Brian VanGorder came with Smith from Jacksonville, and as both made their bones coaching linebackers, you can bet they are on the same page. You will remember innovative offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey from his days under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. Mularkey is known for strong running games , trick plays ,and coaching to his QB's strengths. Mularkey was obviously the right choice ,as their offense was dynamic, and Matt Ryan had one of the best rookie seasons for a Qb since the AFL/NFL merger.

QB- Matt Ryan was poised as a rookie can be last year and looks to be the rarest commodity in the NFL, a franchise quarterback. Displayed his above average arm well and didn't force the ball the way he did his senior year in college. I am sure the talent around him helped, but that is rare for a rookie . Poised and a leader in the Tom Brady mold. The kind of guy who will do whatever he needs to do to get better, and teammates respond to that in kind. Already reminds me of a slightly more outgoing Eli Manning .Chris Redman has some starting experience and even reads defenses well, but lacks the arm to be ever be a good starter. Reminds me of Jason Garret when he was Aikmans backup in Dallas. Might even know the offense better than the starter and be a big help becuase of it. Rookie John Parker Wilson could become a solid backup in time, but he currently lacks high level tools ,except athleticism and leadership.

O-line- 2nd year LT Sam Baker really made strides as a rookie when he was healthy ,and is a player on the rise . A smart blocker and above average athlete who's technique is solid but not great yet. Not a mauler, but plays with good pad level and sustains his blocks. Still has some growing pains to live through.Has a tendency to get his hands too wide and hold when pass blocking. LG Justin Blaylock is a mauler with inconsistent technique. Plays with violence and power but is often out of control. I think he would be a better fit as a right guard at present. When he puts it all together he looks like a pro bowler and when he locks on its over. Is much stronger as a run blocker and needs work on stunts . Needs to be coached up . 11 year vet Todd Mcclure is a heady veteran with sound technique and a excellent understanding of angles. Plays to the whistle and only struggles one on one with the bigger DT's ,but most centers do. Chips to the 2nd level really well and makes good line calls . LG Harvey Dahl looks like a long term above average starter if he learns to stay low consistently. Gets off the ball fast and gives maximum effort ,but stands up out of his stance a lot. Also a bit small for a right guard and needs more time in the weight room. Doesn't have the feet to play outside either, but is the kind of max effort player coaches love. RT Tyson Clabo is a big strong guy who doesn't always play like one. More of a finesse guy at a position that usually more requires ferocity. Also another player that needs to stay lower and could use his strong hand punch more. Has good feet initially , but doesn't react well to counter moves. Plays more like a LG than a RT. Smart play calling, good RB's and Ryan help them look better than they are. Average as a unit and their backups are either veterans near the end or young guys that are projects as of now.Excellent run blocking veteran Todd Weiner retired and will be missed, as he always seemed to get the job done, and never got the recogniton he deserved. He and London Fletcher should start a Sports bar chain called underrated sports hero's just so the casual fan will know who they are.

Tight Ends-Future HOFer Tony Gonzalez has shown no signs of slowing down, but is with a new franchise for the first time in his long career. Great hands, precise routes, and catches the ball at its highest point as well as anyone. Its not like he hasn't played for team that prefers to run the ball before, but this time he won't be the # 1 receiving option. Has made himself into a above average run blocker, and sustains his blocks as good as anyone despite not being a mauler.Chips well and is a nightmare matchup for any defense. Still runs well before and after the catch and is a proven leader. Greatest TE of all time so far.Justin Peele is a smart veteran backup but lacking as a blocker.

Wide receivers- Rhoddy White is the main guy here and a legit # 1 receiver. Has improved every year since Vick's departure. Last year, showed the chemistry between him and Ryan was only getting better. The addition of Gonzalez might take some of his looks away near the goal line, but will open up more deep balls for big plays. Has good (but not great )hands and isn't afraid to go over the middle.Speedy and runs good routes anywhere on the field and is prone to big plays. A good blocker down field, but only average off the line. Mike Jenkins is big slow -twitch possesion receiver who lacks quickness in the short area and top end speed. He's physical .but press coverage is rarely necessary with him ,as it takes awhile for him to build up speed anyway. Strong blocker when he latches on but outright whiffs sometimes. Average hands and probably better as a backup.Brian Finneran is a rangy smart player adept at finding holes in the zone, but multiple injuries have slowed him down over his career.Now lacks explosion and speed after making me think he would be the next Ed McCaffery early in his career. Willing technical blocker who lacks force. Sure handed but can't get open the way he used to. Speedy big play 2nd year player Harry Douglas was lost for the year and will be missed . I truly hope his ACL injury doesn't hamper his explosion, as he consistently turned DB's around coming out of breaks in 08. Did have trouble with press coverage though.

Running backs- Cats out of the bag on Michael Turner , and while he was a potential breakout candidate last year , I don't think even Turner himself expected to blow up like he did in 08. Even though he won't catch anyone by surprise this season , the burner is the rarest of all Pro athletes, one who justifies his enormous contract the year he signed it. Relatively few miles for a RB of his age, due to being Tomlinsons backup for so long. Led the league in yards after contact and can take it to the house when he gets a crease.Smart powerful runner who makes one cut and hits the hole.Thick trunk, low center of gravity, and the way he keeps driving his legs make him hard to bring down.Hard nosed blocker and a threat in the receiving game as well. Reminds me of a young Earl Campbell. Did have a ton of carries last year so its possible he could still be feeling the effects , or that the Falcons will give him a lighter workload this year.Jerious Norwood is a speedy big play runner when he get the ball, rushing or receiving. Not a force between the tackles but can bust a long one anytime he touches the ball, especially when he turns the corner. Also a explosive returner on special teams. FB Ovie Mughelli is very smart ,in that he seems to always try to block the right guy, which a lot of FB's don't. Best when his target is approaching the line and does have a tendency to whiff the farther away from the line of scrimmage he gets . Not a threat as runner or receiver.Doesn't blow up a lot of people in the hole but locks on and turns them effectively.Jason Snelling is tweener ( fullback/tailback) but is a tough thick legged down hill runner who can move the pile if he gets a shot at it. Probably not big enough to be a every down FB right now, but would at least be a good short yardage back if given the carries.Strangely enough he reminds me of a less explosive Michael Turner.

DEFENSE

D-line- 10 year savvy veteran John Abraham is the leader of the D-line and had his best season last year. A much better pass rusher than run defender ,who uses his speed to make plays ,but lacks power. He has variety of moves and has tendency to get OT's off balance and counter quickly to maximum effect. Still fast and penetrates with regularity. Never gives up containment on the outside but does get pushed off the point in the run game sometimes . Always better when coming forward, but chases plays till the whistle blows. Strongside DE Jamall Anderson is better against the run. Holds the point and stacks but rarely sheds or makes tackles. Lacks explosion and doesn't chase well. Gives up on plays sometimes when he is stymied, especially when rushing the passer. Seems to have the skill but not the will to be great. Former starter Chauncey Davis is best in a rotation. Gives good effort but doesn't hold the point well. Gets off the ball well when pass rushing but gets lost if his initial move is stopped. Might be best as a 3-4 OLB, but in this defense he's best as a pass rush specialist. Kroy Beirman is a lot like Davis but smaller and gives more effort. Would probably be best as a 3-4 OLB , but is a good special teamer right now, and pass rush specialist currently. DT Jonathan Babineaux is a quick off the ball penetrator but lacks power. Will wreak havoc in the backfield on one play then get washed out or pancaked the next. When he stays low he can hold the point but is usually trying to get by the O-lineman and get stood up. Plays with a good motor, but I think he would fit best as a strong side 4-3 DE ,or a pass rushing specialist DT. If he maintained leverage regularly all season he would probably be in the pro bowl.08 1rst rounder Peria Jerry is also a quick penetrator but plays lower to the ground. Still not the stoutest guy against the run, but rarely stands up and lets the blocker into his body like Babineaux. Quick hands and agile pass rusher with multiple moves. High motor and blows up the backfield early in games but tires late in them.Needs to be in better shape and get stronger to realize his potential. 2nd year player Thomas Johnson is stouter against the run then the starters and can help on goal line, but doesn't have the get off to be an every down player right now. Only offers the bullrush in the passing game.Big Trey Lewis showed promise a rookie in 07 before a knee injury sidelined him and he missed all of 08.Has used the time to get bigger and stronger and that could mean a lot to this undersized unit.

Linebackers- 11 year vet Mike Petersen WLB comes over from Jacksonville after a year where he was benched for disciplinary concerns, he got his job back and had a good season, but the time to move on had come. Still above average but not a form tackler. Runs well ,and is willing to take on anyone ,but gets bogged down inside & caught up in trash too much. Very good in zone coverage and is a big hitter.Stocky MLB Curtis Lofton had a good rookie season and will probably be a 10 year starter. Good instincts and reads his keys well.Quick in the short area, but can't play sideline to sideline.Smart in zone coverage but too slow to run with fast TE's. Strong tackler and calls the defense. Stephen Nicholas is highly athletic projectable backup and good on special teams, but needs to learn to stack and shed better. Doesn't take the shortest path to the ball, but is willing to stick his nose in when he gets there. With coaching, film study, experience ,and a little more size he could be a productive starter.Coy Wire still looks like the safety he was and runs like one. Too small to be an every down backer in this defense, he still is very valuable on special teams and on passing downs.Rookie Spencer Adkins is a project. High level athlete who never developed into the playmaker most thought his skills warranted in college.

Secondary- Coach Smith convinced his former Jacksonville standout corner Brian Williams to sign with Atalanta this offseason. Has everything but speed. Good technique, fluid hips, balance ,uses his hands well, and reads coverage. If he had more speed would have been a perennial pro bowler,but is even slower 8 years in. Will probably become a safety in a season or 2 and has played their some already. Great in cover 2, but can't run deep in man to man with most receivers these days, so he must hit his jam at the line. If he doesn't start he will still be on the field a lot somewhere in the secondary.CB Chris Houston is a quick twitch fluid athlete who can run with anyone. Needs to bulk up some as he gets out muscled fighting for the ball sometimes. Make up speed to gamble if he wishes but doesn't that often.Needs to be hands on or he gets turned around and is vulnerable to double moves. Willing tackler but slight build is a worry. Nickleback Brent Grimes is a slightly less athletic Chris Houston. Not as good in press coverage,but better in off man though. Fluid and explosive in and out of his breaks , but lacks long speed.2nd year corner Chevis Jackson has all the tools to start for this team right now, but doesn't read receivers well yet. Better in press coverage, and while he can turn and run with receivers, he loses sight of the ball a lot. 3rd round pick Chris Owens is a physical press corner and could be on the field a lot if he plays his cards right. Strong run supporter and physical in cover 2. Can run with most receivers, but the speediest guys will burn him deep if he misses his jam .Lacks makeup speed. A little stiff flipping his hips . SS Erik Coleman is solid, but unspectacular. Not a big hitter but a form tackler. Smart and reads routes / QB's well, but usually gets there in time to make the tackle ,instead of breaking up the pass. Would probably be better as a FS. Won't make or give up a lot of big plays. Thomas Decoud is bigger than Coleman and plays more like a SS. Big hitter and run supporter who doesn't always read coverages or QB's that well yet, but is still a ball hawk in spite of it. He should put on 10 pounds and they can switch jobs . Fast guy who will make receivers worry he will light them up , and QB's afraid he will jump the route. If 2nd round pick William Moore had come out as a junior he would have been a top 10 pick. Was injured and looked tentative last season. Was bad at the senior bowl and only his measurables and folks watching his junior film got him drafted in the second. Was a beastly big hitting ballhawk before the injuries.If the falcons can restore him to being that player, they will have someone special.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Veteran PK Jason Elam is still an accurate, ice water in the veins kicker with decent range. Mike Koenen not only has a big leg for punts, but also handles kickoff and long FG tries. Not very accurate with either though.The loss of Harry Douglas hurt this unit, but Jerious Norwood is still a big play returner.Keith Armstrong’s special teams units established a new league record by holding opponents to just a mere 43 punt return yards all season.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

Predicted finish- 9-7 and missing the playoffs
Overview- A team in a sort of transition. They need anew QB and not only didn't Carolina address upgrading the position at all in the offseason, they actually gave Jake Delhomme a new contract. After the worst playof peformance I have ever seen by a QB( 5 picks) , thery reward the guy? He's 34 years old, so it;s not like they have a lot of upside to project with him.Coach John Fox is at a point where the team neded to make abig run, and despite a nice( 12-4 in 08 ) regular season Delhomme took way any chance the had of winning that game. Jake's continued stewardship, combined with D-line injuries make me see this team taking a step back this year, despot a recent infusion of young talent and a top notch O-line. Don't forget that after their Superbowl run in 03 they didn't make the playoffs next year. Sound familiar?

Coaching- John Fox is beloved of his players, and he did help turn this Franchise around ( 1-15 in 2001) in 2002, but the decision to retain and pay Delhomme could be his undoing. He even led them to a Superbowl appearance in 2003 before a mass of injuries brought them back down in 04, and has kept them relevant during his tenure by changing the teams overall mindset . After this season he could get the boot or they could keep him and draft a QB, hoping Delhomme can mentor the young guy and hold the fort for a year . So the question is how much of the Delhomme resigning blame will land on him, and will his multiple playoff appearances be enough to save his job. He's still a strong defensive minded coach who gets a lot out of his players, but his future with the team is iffy right now. Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson is a former NFL O-lineman and coaches like one. He wants to play smash mouth run first football, and has the hogs up front and the RB's to do so. Don't be surprised if he ends up with the head coaching job if Fox is in fact fired after a disappointing season.New D coordinator Ron Meeks comes over from Indy where he led a undersized quick defense for a lot of years. Expect a lot more Tampa 2 , a lot less blitzing, but some big plays because of his scheme.

QB- Jake Delhomme inexplicably returned to be the starter after the worst playoff performance I have ever seen. Still a good leader and has the support of the locker room at the moment, but lacks the arm to make big plays down field, despite having deep threat Steve Smith at WR. Supposedly, a bus driver type whose job it is to not lose you the game. His performance in the playoffs demonstrates he can no longer fill that role. Accurate in the short area, but too often makes reads without scouting out the whole defense, and can be read easily . Needs to be replaced. Backup QB Matt Moore played passably well in 07 when Delhomme went down but he hasn't shown the skills to be a full time satrter yet. Competing for the second string job is AJ Feeley, who has the athletic ability to be a starter, but his inability to get rid of the ball quickly and take what the defense gives him has relegated him to a role as a career backup. I could see this team drafting Tim Tebow next year if they can get back into the first round or he falls to the 2nd round. His wildcat package would give them a new element, and with Delhommes contract Tebow would have time to learn a pro offense.

OL - Jordan Gross is one of the top 10 offense tackles in the NFL. Despite not being overly large for the position, he seems to always get the job done. More of a technician than a mauler. His speed and use of angles generally allows him to make his block. Quick feet and the awareness to recognize stunts, make him an excellent blind side protector. Despite formally starting on the right side, is a much better fit as a left tackle. Fundamentally sound and a good hand punch, he only struggles with the biggest defenders. Left guard Travelle Wharton is a former OT who is a better fit on the inside. Much like Gross, he gets by on technique over power. Excellent shifting to the second level off the double team and quick off the snap, always has his head on the swivel. A little above average as a run and pass blocker and a solid starter. Center Ryan Kalil is extremely technically sound and has the versatility to play either guard or center. While a bit undersized, his aggression and balance are a definite asset on combination blocks. Only struggles with the bull rush in pass protection, but has improved each year in the league. Makes all the line calls and is adept at picking up blitzers when uncovered. Right Guard Keydrick Vincent is a physical mauler, who is a natural knee bender despite being tall for a guard. Best when driving off the ball in line and in combination blocks. Often struggles at the second level and in space. Doesn't have the feet to be outside on an island, but was an upgrade as a starter last year and is a high motor veteran. 08 first round pick Jeff Otah had an outstanding rookie season. Was a mauler coming off the ball, when he kept his knees bent, and pad level low. Plays with a violent disposition and can sometimes get out of control in the second level. A pounding finisher, who reminds me of former Dallas Cowboy Erik Williams. Probably doesn't have the feet or disposition to play on the left side. But, opens up large holes for running backs. The only backup of significant note is Rookie Duke Robinson. Another mauler who comes off the line with tenacity, but has a tendency to play with his head down and end up on the ground too much. If he improves his overall balance, expect him to be a starter at right guard very soon.

Tight Ends - Carolina is first and foremost a running team. Which is good for Jeff King, because it allows him to be a starter. In most offenses, he'd be a run blocking TE, used on short yardage and 2 tight end sets. Not very sudden in his release, but has good hands and uses his body well to shield his defenders when making the catch. Despite being a good blocker in the run game, he's more of a technician that uses his feet and leverage to wall people off (not a mauler). Will never be a big time receiving threat, especially deep down field. Backup Dante Rosario is a much more athletic tight end than King and a more viable receiving threat. If he were a better blocker, he would already be the starter. He lacks aggression in line and technique down field. As a receiver he has decent hands, but seems to drop easy ones and make difficult ones all in the same game. It's only his 3rd year in the league, so if he continues to progress, he should be the starter soon. Gary Barnigge is a potential prospect who mainly contributed on special teams last year. Quick off the ball and a willing blocker, but needs to get stronger and more tenacious to see the field on a regular basis. Needs to be coached up all around, but is more well rounded than Rosario at this point. Runs good routes and shows ample concentration to catch the ball. Fearless over the middle, but lacks the ability to separate against faster linebackers and safeties.

Wide Receivers - Steve Smith is a playmaker, despite being undersized. Fierce as anyone weighing 30 lbs more, but his temper can get the best of him, even amongst his own team mates. Break away speed, strong hands and above average route runner. His biggest weakness is his lack of a viable threat somewhere else in the Carolina passing game. Explosive in space and one of the most dangerous players in the NFL after the catch. His fierceness helps him to be at least an adequate blocker, but he can still be overpowered by larger corners and safeties. Muhsin Muhammad is a 14 year veteran who no longer possess the ability to separate in the passing game. One of the best run blocking receivers I've ever seen and was once one of the game's best possession receivers. Now doesn't have the burst to force corners to get up on the line of scrimmage against him. If you can get the ball to him, he will catch it and even break some tackles. But, his lack of speed makes the window to get the ball to him much smaller than it used to be. Still a leader, but should no longer be a starter. Dwayne Jarrett has been a large disappointment since coming to Carolina. A big, strong receiver who should be at least a viable red zone threat, but seems to lack the will to perfect his craft. Despite his size, can usually be jammed at the line of scrimmage and takes a long time to reach top speed. Belongs in a west coast offense, because his ability to run after the catch and break tackles would be highlighted. Willing, but not a physical blocker for the run game. Strong hands, but questionable work ethic. Ryan Robinson is a younger, smaller, less explosive Steve Smith clone. Quick on his release and in the short area, strong hands and great after the catch. Has the ability to get open when the Db plays off, but still struggles in press coverage and against stronger defenders.

Running Backs - DeAngelo Williams finally had his breakout season last year. Regardless, the team drafted Jonathan Stewart to regulate Williams to the 3rd down backs role, and he destroyed that plan. Reminds me of Emmitt Smith with more speed. Great balance and vision, much stronger between the tackles than he looks, with the burst to bust a long one outside. Excellent receiver out of the backfield and makes things happen in space. Decent pass protector, but can get pounded by blitzers, despite his willingness to meet the attack head on. Jonathan Stewart is a big, fast, North / South runner. Think Frank Gore with break away speed. Low center of gravity, breaks tackles on a regular basis, hits the hole with a will and doesn't shy away from contact. Still raw in pass protection and as a receiver, but he just needs time to develop. He's the type of player whose work ethic will carry him through. A bit injury prone, but that's often the case with physical, straight ahead runners. Fullback Brad Hoover is definitely there to block first. A willing lead blocker, who generally secures his block instead of blowing up players in the hole. Keeps driving his feet and plays with good leverage, but not a mauler. Decent runner in short yardage situations, but not a threat to break anything long. Below average as a receiver out of the backfield. Getting on in years, but his experience has equaled out the loss of athletic ability.

D- Line - Julius Peppers is one of the games best players, when he plays with maximum effort, which is not always the case. Speed & power combo, but sometimes gives up on plays or seems content to let the play finish out when his initial pass rush move is stymied. When playing with a will, he shows multiple pass rush moves up field and has the height and long arms to re-direct, change and block passing lanes. Is 6' 7" and sometimes will give up leverage, because he's not a natural knee bender. A great athlete, who despite being a consistent pro bowl performer, could do more if he had a higher motor. Carolina can't franchise tag him again, so expect him to have a strong season. Rookie Everette Brown is an undersized pass rusher, who plays with a motor that Peppers should envy. So impressed the Carolina brass, that they gave up next year's number 1 pick for the right to draft him in this years 2nd round. Quick off the snap, multiple pass rush moves and plays whistle to whistle. Looks more like a 3-4 outside linebacker than a D End. Not particularly stout in the run game, but trys to hold the edge well and continuously fights even if getting driven back. Will chase plays till the whistle blows. Taylor Brayton is a veteran who has gotten by more on experience and will, then on athletic ability, throughout his entire career. Started all 16 games last year and plays with a motor. Strong at the point of attack and gives maximum effort on every play. But, lacks the speed to chase down plays from the back side. Better as a backup, but still a solid starter when necessary. Charles Johnson is an enigma. Every year since he was drafted, he seems like he's just about to make the leap to the next level. Has all the athletic ability he needs and his technique is inconsistent. Will probably end up a starter next year if Peppers leaves in free agency. He needs to step it up, NOW! Carolina's defensive tackles have been beset by injury and this could be the reason their defense goes down hill this year. The loss of Maake Kemoeatu, with a ruptured Achilles, is a dramatic blow to their overall team. Was a physical, run stopping, gap clogger that allowed the linebackers to make plays. Looks more like a 3-4 nose tackle, but he's gone now. Damian Lewis is a career underachiever who has failed to live up to expectations throughout his career. Can be a penetrator who gets washed out of plays and stands up too much off the line of scrimmage. Will blow up a play in the backfield in one down and get pancaked the next. Needs to play with better leverage and more consistent effort. Knows how to use his hands well and has better pass rushing than run defense. 2nd year player Nick Hayden spent most of his time on the practice squad last year and really isn't ready to be a starter. Plays hard, but stands up too much at the line of scrimmage. Needs a lot more coaching to become the starter. This unit will make or break their defense.

Linebackers - Jon Beason (MLB) is probably the only current player in the league who can challenge Patrick Lewis for the title of next great linebacker. Reads offenses well, good instincts and sticks his nose in as soon as the ball snaps. Very quick in the short area and stacks and sheds better than most people. Stocky and plays with good leverage, good form tackler and plays sideline to sideline in the run game. Excellent pass defender in zone and has the speed to run with all but the fastest TE's/RB's coming out of the backfield. True playmaker. Weak side linebacker Thomas Davis is a former safety who plays like a linebacker, but still possesses a strong safety's cover skills. Good athlete who chases down plays from the backside. His range and speed also makes him a threat as a blitzer. Is willing to take on blocks, but has trouble freeing himself after initial contact. Big hitter, but not the greatest form tackler. Strong side linebacker Na'il Diggs is a veteran who would fit best in a 3-4 scheme nowadays. Physical and willing to take on blockers coming out of stance and separates well. Only quick in the short area and plays out of control from time to time. Good instincts and reactions, but often plays outside his scheme. Adequate in pass coverage in zone, but a liability in 3rd down and man to man coverage. 2nd year player Dan Connor looks like a future starter. Instinctive linebacker with good tackling skills and the ability to shut down the run game between the tackles. Lacks the speed to play sideline to sideline and in recovering from a torn ACL, which doesn't help. Will probably be more of a contributor on special teams this year. But, when he is mentally back, has the look of a future starter. Landon Johnson is a former starter with the Bengals and versatile enough to play all three linebacker spots if needed. Not the most instinctive player, but a good athlete and a good tackler when he's in the right place. Better pass defender than Diggs, and will probably be a starter in the nickel defense.

Secondary - Richard Marshall is a physical bump and run corner, who is adept at throwing receivers off their routes. Has the speed to run with receivers down the field and comes out of the break quick. Always looks to be a solid starter, but has a tendency to miss on double moves. Strong in run support and a good tackler. At the very least, he'll be the nickel back, if not the full time starter. Chris Gamble is a pro bowl type corner and is being paid like one. One of the leagues bigger, more physical corners and bullies receivers of the line of scrimmage. Uses the sideline well and is a big hitter when he gets his chance. Is a ball hawk and sticks his nose in there. Strong in run support and is an excellent tackler. Safety size with corner back skill. Backup corner Dante Wesley looks like a safety and probably should be one by now. Lacks the coverage abilities and top end speed to run with most receivers these days. Best on special teams or when jamming receivers on the line of scrimmage.

Special Teams - Rookie running back Mike Goodson has the burst and wiggle to be an effective kickoff returner. Ryan Robinson should be the starter on the opposite side bringing back kicks. Robinson is the most explosive returner they have, behind Steve Smith. But, it's uncertain whether they'll give either the chance. Captain Munnrlynn is the other possible returner. Explosive in the short area, but don't expect a lot of big plays, unless he gets the punt return job. Lacks top end speed. Special Teams coordinator Danny Crossman is in his 4th year and generally runs productive units in coverage, but needs more play makers to step up on returns.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Predicted Finish 4 - 12

Overview - A team in transition and definite rebuilding mode. 32 year old Raheem Morris takes over the helm and jettisoned a lot of the veteran leadership on the team. They still have talent, but a lot of it is young and inexperienced. Their quarterback situation is unsettled and the question of whether Leftwich or Freeman ends up the starter is still open for debate. If Leftwich starts, they are making the pretense of trying to win now. If Freeman gets the job, they are admittedly rebuilding and in for a long season.

Coaching - Raheem Morris, former Mike Tomlin disciple, become the NFL's youngest head coach. A Disciple of the Tampa 2 defensive scheme and already beloved by his players. He served as the Bucs' secondary coach last year and helped their development of Aqib Talib, who led the league in interceptions among rookies. One of the new breed of coaches whose age makes him a contemporary of his players, but relatively unproven. Not only has he not been a head coach before, he's never been an NFL defensive coordinator.There are whispers they will run a lot less Tampa 2 and that was part of the reasons they let so many veterans go. Has a lot to prove, but will be given the time to put his stamp on the team. Offensive coordinator Greg Olsen is in his first year as TBs coordinator after being the QB coach last year. He's mostly in this position to help bring along Josh Freeman. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates is in his first year overseeing the defense, but is the only one with NFL coordinator level experience. He is not a Tampa 2 guy ,but maybe he and Morris can splice in the right schemes at the right time between them.

QBs - Byron Leftwich is the most likely starter of the group. A big, strong armed, signal caller, who is great when given time. His main weakness is his long delivery. Lacks quick feet in or out of the pocket, but is still hard to bring down when you reach him. Reads defenses well and can force the ball into tight areas. But, often stares down his receiver before trying to do so. Rookie 1st round draft pick Josh Freeman has all the athletic ability you could ever want in a QB. Tall, strong armed and athletic when out of the pocket. Nevertheless, he has a long road to go to be a starter. Needs to learn a pro offense, because the offense he ran at Kansas State was rudimentary by NFL standards. Would be best if he sat for a year or two and was given time to develop and learn the pro game.

OL - Left tackle Donald Penn is an average NFL left tackle who lacks force in the run game. Quick feet and long arms, but needs to use his hand punch better. Better on the double team and second level in the run game, but doesn't overpower many people upfront when run blocking. 2nd year guard Jeremy Zuttah is a similar player to Penn, but is quicker off the snap and run blocking and plays with better leverage. Has good balance and feet in pass pro, but tends to get high and bull rushed if he misses his initial punch. Has a lot of projection going for him, just needs more time perfecting his technique. Can play both guard spots and possibly kick out the left tacks if Penn is injured. Center Jeff Faine is a technician who is a tad undersized and can struggle against the bigger defensive tackles from time to time. Good with double teams and chipping to the second level and plays through the whistle. Decent feet and balance in pass protection, but gets run over by the bull rush. Needs to sink hips and anchor to protect the pocket from collapsing. Right Guard Davin Joseph is the best lineman they currently have. Fierce off the snap, plays physical whistle to whistle and pancakes more people then the rest of the OL combined. Pulls well, but occasionally misses his initial target and ends up on the ground. Has a strong hand punch and finishes his opponent once he locks on. Lacks the foot speed and body control to play outside. But, a possible future pro bowler at guard. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a better pass blocker than run blocker, which is rare for a right tackle. Not a natural knee bender and too often lets a defender get underneath him. Prone to holding, because he lets people into his body, but seems to get away with it a lot. Has long arms and good hand punch in pass pro, and usually sustains his blocks when he locks on. Lacks the feet to move to the left side and really needs to work on leverage. Has a high motor and plays the whole snap, but is often off balance. Rookie Xavier Fulton is a project with a lot of athletic ability. A top athlete with the foot quickness to play left tackle, but lacks the sand in his pants to anchor at present. Needs a year or 2 to get stronger and work on his technique, to develop into a starter. Marcus Johnson is a former starter in Minn., who was miss cast as an offensive tackle. Plays with the aggression of a guard and lacks the feet to be on an island. If he could learn to stay lower, would be an effective guard. But, with his former starting experience, he's a quality backup. Former starter Aaron Sears, who made an impact from the first game in uniform, and has played even better than Joseph, is sidelined with a neurological condition after a concussion. His career is in jeopardy and this is a huge loss to the team.

Tight Ends

New TE Kevin Winslow is one of the leagues better receiving options at the position. Runs like a wide receiver and even lines up outside sometimes. Is a huge miss match for any defender on the field. He's too big for corners to covers and too fast for linebackers and safeties to stay with him. Precise route runner, usually has strong hands but with the tendency to drop balls at big times. A willing blocker, but nothing special in that area. Has had injury and maturity issues in the past , which still may pop up from time to time. Reminds me of Shannon Sharpe with more size, as he has the same kind of explosiveness, and volatile personality. Backup TE Jeremy Stevens was once thought to be one of the leagues next great tight ends. Perfect size and speed combo, but always seems to have something go wrong. Off field issues and a lack of dedication have prevented him from reaching his potential for good. Explosive in the short area and uncoverable by linebackers. Technically sound blocker, but not overly physical. Big target over the middle and has the speed to stretch the defense on every play. A lot of 2 TE sets would be a a good idea here.

Wide Receivers

Antonio Bryant came back after taking a year off in 07 to finally realize his potential in 08. Inconsistent throughout his career, and would show flashes of brilliance, but his self-destructive personality looked to have ended his football career. Past drug and disciplinary offenses are hopefully a thing of the past, as he found a place in Tampa in 08 , and played well enough to be designated their franchise player. More quick than fast, but runs strong routes over the middle. Takes a long time to reach top speed, but will go up and battle for the ball on every play that its thrown to him. Fearless over the middle and challenges DB's . Reminds me of Michael Irvin with less dedication to his craft, but has the same ability and potential. Michael Clayton returns to the starting lineup after a couple years in Gruden's dog house. A big, west coast possession type receiver who lacks the explosion to separate. Had a strong rookie year and looked to be a future pro bowler, before corners realized they could play him off the line and jump slants thrown his way. Good goal line and over the middle target that will go up for the ball. Just has trouble getting open everywhere. 08 2nd round pick Dexter Jackson was mostly a special teams player as a rookie. Undersized, but extremely explosive. He could do his best work in the slot. Needs a lot of work on technique as a route runner, but makes things happen when the ball is in his hands.So far has done little. 4th year player Maurice Stovall probably should start over Clayton. He's a big possession receiver. He's better running routes and planting his foot to separate than Clayton. Shows good body control in the air and will break tackles when he comes down with it. Lacks top end speed and fits best in the west coast offense. Willing blocker who walls off well.

Running Backs

An unsettled situation with 3 guys capable of being the starter. Cadillac Williams returns from another major knee injury to try and regain the form that made him a pro bowler as a rookie. Before he was injured, he was explosive with great cutting ability, who always looked like he was one step away from taking it to the house. Also could run between the tackles and was a very smart player. Adept at selecting the whole and hitting it like a freight train. Strong in pass protection and a good receiver out of the backfield...before the injury. Will he be the same guy again? Derrick Ward comes over from NY, where he was one of the few NFL backup running backs to break 1000 yards in history. A one cut and go runner, with good vision to pick the right hole. Also a good receiver out of the backfield and a guy you have to wrap up to tackle. Injury prone, though stayed mostly healthy during his contract season. The amount of money they paid him, makes it likely he'll get at least half the carries. Ernest Graham is probably the odd man out in this rotation, despite producing whenever he got the ball over the last 2 years. A low center of gravity, north south runner, who finishes every play. Has a little wiggle, but is mostly there to move the chains. Above average as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield. Could start for many teams. Fullback BJ Askew is a strong lead blocker who is adept at finding the right man to block and drives his feet until the whistle blows. Won't decleet a lot of people in the hole, but generates a good pop. Rarely outright misses his assignment. Only good for running the ball in short yardage situations and will get very few chances with Tampa's stable of RBs. Not much of a threat as a receiver, but shows good hands.

Defensive Line - Defensive end Gaines Adams is the most talented of this bunch and they desperately need a break out season from him . Quick off the ball and can run the arc, but needs to use his hands better.Doesn't have a wide variety of pass rush moves and doesn't transition well when his initial move is stopped. Decent stacking at the point of attack one on one, but can't hold against the double team. Rarely gives up the edge of containment, but does let it get stretched wide. Extremely fast chasing down plays from the back side, but doesn't always play to the whistle. Needs to make the jump into double digit sacks for the Tampa 2 to work, as pressure from 4 man fronts is essential to its success . If he doesn't realize his potential soon they are in trouble. May even be best suited as a 3-4 OLB Former pro bowl DT Chris Hovan is a one gap penetrator who struggles against double teams in the run game. He gives max effort and can create havoc in the backfield with his first step. Lacks the agility and quickness to chase anyone down field, but he will try just the same. High motor over-achiever who is best when coming forward. His aggression can be used against him to wash him out of plays and is a liability holding the point of attack against double teams or strong run blocking guards.Needs to counter better when pass rushing, and looks lost if his initial move is stopped. Jimmy Wilkerson takes over the starting strong side end position this year. Better as a rotational player and can move inside on passing downs. High motor player, but a limited athlete, which prevents him from being a top tier starter. Strong holding the point at left defensive end, but lacks the explosion to beat offensive tackles to the outside on a regular basis. Former first round bust, Ryan Sims has never lived up to the hype. Shows flashes of greatness, but is overall inconsistent with his effort and technique. If you could ever get the most out of him, he'd be a pro bowler. He's a better athlete than football player. Needs a coach that will stay on him every down. Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller is a stout, squatty, beast of a man who overpowers offensive linemen through the use of leverage and strength. He lacks the quick first step of Hovan and needs to show more consistent motor, but is stout at the point of attack. Can play both tackle positions but has rudimentary pass rush moves. Future starter if he continues to develop. Former arena leaguer Styles White is a skilled situational pass rusher. Despite being 30 years old he seems to have finally found his niche . Good hands , quick off the ball,and has multiple moves. Subpar when run at, but can range up and down the line ,and will chase down plays from the backside when the play is run away from him.

Linebackers

Barrett Ruud is the key to this defense. The middle linebacker with the speed to cover the deep third in Tampa 2 is essential to the overall scheme's success. Good instincts and reads his keys well. Quick in the short area, but not as explosive as he could be. Rarely out of position and is a strong wrap up tackler. Angelo Crowell comes over from Buffalo to man the strong side linebacker position. Fierce taking on blockers, but needs to play with better leverage. Plays out of control at times, but hits like a truck when he gets there. Best only used on 1st and 2nd downs against a power running team and is miss cast as a starter in any other defense. Has to be off the field on obvious passing downs, as he occasionally loses track of his assignment and can't run with quicker running backs or tight ends coming out of the backfield. 3rd year player Quincy Black has spent most of his time making a difference on special teams his first two years in the league. Technique has improved against the run and is willing to take on blockers, but needs to shed them quicker. Has the physical ability to play inside in a 3-4 and the possibility to be a starter in the 4-3 this year, if Crowell falters. Still stiff in coverage, but improving his read and recognition skills in the passing game. Starting weak side linebacker Geno Hayes looks and plays like a strong safety. Lacks the bulk and power to take on linemen in the running game, but is good at avoiding blockers outright. Reads the play and runs to the ball quickly, big hitter, but inconsistent wrap up tackler. Needs to put on size and get better shedding blockers at the point. Quick in coverage and can run with both RBs and TEs, but needs to use his hands better going for the ball. Good special teamer when called upon. Also can blitz, but is rarely asked to. Matt McCoy was a failure in Philly and can only play the weak side if he's protected. He's probably best in nickel situations right now, because he's above average in pass coverage and can run with most receivers coming out of the backfield. Lacks the recognition skills to be a starter. He'll contribute on special teams and he's a better athlete than football player.

Secondary - 13 year veteran Ronde Barber has lost a step and was never that fast to begin with. He gets by on instinct, reading the play and the quarterback well. He's only still a starter because he plays in the Tampa 2. His physical play on the line of scrimmage and his strong run support makes him valuable. Uses his hands really well to press receivers and jumps routes with regularity. No longer has the speed to run with receivers down field and can't play man to man very often. Will probably make a good coach someday. If they do start running a lot less Tampa 2 he may not even end the season as a full time player. 08 first round pick Aqib Talib is a prototype corner. Big, strong, fast and has very fluid hips. Showed a strong learning curve as the season went on, ending the season as a starter. Gambles a bit much, but has makeup speed to run with all but the fastest receivers. Not nearly as physical in the run game as you would expect from a corner his size. Needs to work on breaking down and coming forward with more aggression. Jumps routes and is therefore vulnerable to double moves. If he continues to progress and doesn't allow off the field issues to get in his way, he could become a future pro bowler. Veteran Torrie Cox returns from a lost 08 after suffering a torn ACL. A physical bump and run corner and max effort player/ Lacks top athletic ability, but may work his way into the nickelback position based on his experience and ability to prevent receivers from getting into their routes. Coach Morris, as a former safety, is adept at developing young safeties in the NFL. Converted cornerback Tanard Jackson has made definitive strides his first 2 years in the league and is an above average starter thus far. A ball hawk, who reads QBs eyes well and jumps routes on a regular basis. Willing in run support and a big hitter, but sometimes puts his head down too early. Needs to be a better form tackler and remember, he's the last line of the defense. Strong Safety Sabby Piscitelli plays strong safety like a linebacker. Would probably be a better fit on the weak side in this defense. Physical run stopper and a solid tackler, but often lost in coverage. High motor special teams player who just needs more work in the film room and on the practice field.

Special Teams -Clifton Smith had an excellent rookie year and was a game changer returning punts and kicks in 08. Made the pro bowl as a rookie and beat out highly touted rookie Dexter Jackson for the punt return job. Both guys are hard to see because of their stature and can burst out from behind linebackers before defenders can see them coming. PK Mike Nugent lost his jobin NY last year due to injury and never got it back. Still has a big leg , but not very accurate on deep FG kicks. Beat out out Matt Bryant after a career year, so that's significant, but they could have just wanted more distance on kickoffs. Dirk Johnson is a directional punter and nothing special. 8 year special teams coordinator Richard Bassacia units have sent 3 Buccaneers special teams players to the Pro Bowl in the last 3 years and is one of the games best.











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