2011 NFL Cut Day Brings Some Surprises by Lloyd Vance

 

The Miami Dolphins’ Turk had to tell running back Larry Johnson, “Coach needs to see you and bring your playbook”

Every team has that member of their coaching staff that no one wants to see on Cut Down Day.  The Turk came around the NFL at 6:00 PM on Saturday September 3rd reducing rosters to the regular season limit of 53 players – Approximately 700 players were given their walking papers. The last cuts are always the toughest for NFL teams as many had to let go as many as 22 players getting to the regular season limit from the earlier  limit of seventy-five.

Some of the bigger players getting their walking papers were Patriots RB Sammy Morris, Dolphins RB Larry Johnson, Eagles TE Donald Lee, Raiders CB Lito Sheppard, Patriots former first-rounder safety Brandon Meriweather, Bears RB Chester Taylor, NY Giants QB Ryan Perrilloux, Giants punter Matt Dodge, Steelers DB Victor “Macho” Harris, Niners QB Josh McCown, and Eagles DB Joselio Hanson.  Also promising Jacksonville Jaguars RB Rashard Jennings and Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki were placed on injured reserve for the year after injuring their knees near the end of preseason.

Some younger players that were cut still could be added to NFL practice squads as teams can name up to 8 players after12 PM EST (after waivers) on Sunday September 4.  By the way a practice squad is not that bad of a gig.  Players can be paid a minimum of $5700 dollars a week while learning in meetings and practices.

However for other cut players their next steps could be limited.  The Arena Football League (AFL) is over for another year and the Canadian Football League (CFL) is well underway, so the United Football League (UFL) — will starting its 3rd season this fall — maybe their only option left.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

NFL’s best feel good story from Cut-Down Day – With all the players whose NFL dreams were shattered on Saturday, there was one great story to talk about in league circles.  As former Boston College LB Mark Herzlich, a former cancer survivor made the New York Giants regular season linebacker.  The 23-year-old fromWayne,Pa., had played inspired the entire preseason and made it very tough for the G-Men’s coaches to cut him.  He six tackles, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble during the preseason, plus played very well on special teams.  “Well it is6:03pm an I am still a Giant God Is Good,” Herzlich tweeted Saturday.

Trades?? – Usually the NFL only has trades around the draft, but cutdown day there was one noteworthy move.

  • Jets ship-off veteran – Head Coach Rex Ryan sent veteran defensive back Dwight Lowery to the Jacksonville Jaguars for an undisclosed conditional draft pick. Lowery was a versatile DB, who spent three seasons with the J-E-T-S, after being drafted in the fourth round out ofSan JoseState.  Ryan said of the trade “It was an opportunity for Dwight to go to a place where he’s really going to be used and compete for that starting nickel job. I think it was kind of good for Dwight to go toJacksonville and get more playing time, and for us, we just felt we had the depth we needed in the back end.”  The New York Jets now have 10 defensive backs on its roster for the regular season — five cornerbacks and five safeties.

 You can also view the full list of transactions from NFL Cut Day here.

 

Lloyd Vance is an  NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Season – Week 7 Review

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After a fantastic 189-yard”revengeful” performance against the Chicago Bears, Cincy RB Cedric Benson is Week 7’s  Game Ball winner

I will start with a “Cheerio” this week as the NFL returned to London, England for the third year in a row.  Unfortunately for the NFL’s English fans viewing our version of football, they were not treated to an entertaining game.  The New England Patriots (5-2), led by QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker, continued their dominating ways by disposing of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 at sold-out Wembley Stadium — 17 consecutive games against NFC opponents, the longest streak of any team against the other conference since the 1970 merger.  With the 2009 “Own the Moment” season quickly nearing its halfway point, weekly fans are getting more clarity about who are the true “Contenders” and who are the “Pretenders”.  But Week 7 should have been called “Blowout Week” around the NFL as 6 teams lost by 20 points or more and 11 teams won by 10 points or more. 

However despite the ever-increasing number of blowouts in an NFL world where anyone can see the Grand Canyon sized divide between the  “Have’s” and “Have Nots” (after 7 weeks of play there  are three undefeated teams – Colts, Broncos, and Saints and  three winless teams – Rams, Titans, and Bucs) there were a few match-ups that lived up to their hype.  With only two divisional grudges on this week’s slate, the highlight of Week 7 had to be the 8 inter-conference games pitting the AFC and NFC, where conference bragging rights were at stake. After the dust settled it was the AFC, once again, that dominated the NFC with 6 wins and 2 losses.  The AFC’s dominance this week, held true a distinct pattern that we have seen this decade.  Despite the New York Giants winning in 2007, clearly the AFC has picked up their collective games as they have won all but two Super Bowl titles (other NFC title was the Buccaneers in 2002).  The AFC has the Indianapolis Colts led by Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning seem to win 12 games every year (beat-up on the winless Rams this week), the Patriots who have won 3 Super Bowl titles this decade (thumped the Bucs in London, England) and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (ended the Vikings winning streak this week).

Even though two of the three big AFC franchises stumbled early (Steelers and Patriots), you knew they would get back in the race at the top of the NFL and they have so far.  The AFC’s Big 3 is almost always in the mix come playoff time and do not expect anything different this season.  Each team has a quality quarterbacks making timely throws, solid running games providing balance, and attacking defenses who turn turnovers into points.  The Steelers won their 4th straight game, this time disposing of one of the NFC’s two unbeatens (Steelers 27, Vikings 17). The Steelers fueled by their resurging defense – wonder if the return of Troy “The Hair” Polamalu has anything to do with it – bent but didn’t break in their victory that put the first “L” on the Vikings (outgained Pittsburgh 386-259, but only scored 10 Points offensively).  Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defenders were able to stop Vikings QB Brett Favre (34 of 51, 334 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT), All-World RB Adrian Peterson, emerging receiver Sidney Rice, and the rest Vikes offense deep in Pittsburgh territory when it mattered most – 3 big defensive stands. 

The Steelers were able to turn back Peterson 3 times (from the half-yard line) on a crucial early game goalline stand that left the score 13-10 in favor of the home team.  But the two biggest game-changing plays happened when the 2008 Super Bowl champs needed it most, especially with their offense sputtering at times.  Other a short Peterson touchdown run, there no passing touchdowns and easily the Vikings biggest play was a Percy Harvin 88-yd kickoff return.  Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble touchdown return after Favre was stripped in the 3rd quarter and LB Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception touchdown return of a Favre dump-off pass late in the 4th quarter were the keys in ending any of the venerable quarterback’s comeback magic this week. Favre said after his team’s first loss of 2009, “There were a lot of what ifs, a lot of reasons we didn’t win, the red zone was one of them. (The Steelers) are physical, and they were as good as we thought they’d be”.  The Steelers held Peterson to only 69 rushing yards – 25th straight game without allowing a 100-yard rusher – produced 3 turnovers, and kept Favre out of the endzone for the 1st time this year in the win.

Even in a weekend of AFC dominance, one NFC team continues to “March On” and that is the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints.  The Saints continued the best start in their franchise’s history by beating the Dolphins in a thrilling comeback as they increased their record to 6-0.  Brees and the unbeaten Saints fell behind for the first time all season, then overcame a 21-point deficit Sunday to beat the Dolphins 46-34 (biggest comeback in franchise history). The NFL’s highest-scoring team topped 40 points for the fourth time (most since 1950) and outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the fourth quarter to seal a crucial road victory.  Brees, who have looked like a miniature version of Johnny Unitas at times this year, had his worst game of the season – 3 INTs, a lost fumble and five sacks — but it didn’t matter as the Saints won again.

Brees this week used his legs rushing for 2 TDs including a crucial quarterback sneak at the end of the first half that cut the score to 24-10 in favor of the Dolphins.  To their credit, the Saints’ staff made the right adjustments at halftime that eventually won them the game.  “It can be a season-defining win,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “This was a test we hadn’t faced yet, and we couldn’t be happier with the way we responded.”  Brees was not the only hero of the game as their Saints defense produced the stops that allowed their offense to comeback.  After a first half where the “Wildcat” was running wild (for the game, America’s most talked about formation netted 30 yards on 14 plays), the Saints dug in and limited the Dolphins to only 10 second-half points.  The Saints biggest play happened early in the 3rd quarter when Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (NFL leading 6 INTs) scored on an interception return for the third time this season. The 42-yard INT to the ‘House came after Sharper took a deflected from Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr.

The Saints defense preserved the win for New Orleans finest too as CB Tracy Porter picked off a Chad Henne pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown with just under 2 minutes remaining.  Miami’s RB Ricky Williams, who had 3 TDs, said of the loss the NFC’s best team, “This was our game to win, we fought and we fought. They just fought harder at the end.” Everyone knows that it is too early to make season long assertions right now. But New Orleans has shown week in and week out that they are a tough team with a lot of weapons offensively and defensively.  I can tell you, they have made a believer out of this one-time naysayer.  I cannot wait for the Saints to host the Patriots in Week 12.

Here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week before we go to the awards.

New Colts’ head coach is the real deal — Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Colts to a 5-0 start this season.  With a Colts win on Sunday against St. Louis Rams, the Colts improved to 6-0 and Caldwell tied the mark for the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970.  Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels already tied the mark on Monday night in the Broncos’ 34-23 victory over the San Diego Chargers.  With wins in Week 8, Caldwell and McDaniels can break a tie with former head coaches Chuck Knox, Red Miller, and Mike Martz.

Titans owner wants to see Vince Young now — Though the hapless Titans were on a bye this week, their owner Bud Adams made it clear he wants Vince Young to replace Kerry Collins now.  Adams, 86, has always been in Young’s corner and may be giving head coach Jeff Fisher a mandate. Fisher would not commit to Collins (completing 54.8 % of passes with 5 TDs and 8 INTs) at his press conference Monday — the first time he’s wavered on the decision all year. Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Young, who counts $14.2M against next year’s salary cap, will get his chance against the Jaguars on Sunday. The third overall pick of the 2006 draft, Young went 18-11 in 29 starts over his first three seasons, but he’s been the backup since suffering a knee injury in the second half of the Sept. 9, 2008 game (2008 season opener) against the Jaguars. “I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there,” Adams said. “I just think we need to find out how well (Young) can do.

Tough Injury Loss for the Jets — Mercurial Jets RB Leon Washington broke his leg (fibula) in a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders.  The Jets will probably place Washington on IR and they will need 3 players (rookie Shonn Greene, Brad Smith, and Danny Woodhead) to replace the variety of skills that he offers to the team.  Other key injuries around the NFL were Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), Steelers DE Travis Kirschke (calf), Redskins TE Chris Cooley (broken foot –season), Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons (high ankle), Colts RB Donald Brown (shoulder), Vikings WR Bernard Berrian (left leg), Saints DT Sedrick Ellis (sprained right knee), Dolphins CB Will Allen (ACL- season),  Niners ILB Takeo Spikes (sprained right shoulder), Colts WR Reggie Wayne (strained groin), Redskins QB Jason Campbell (sprained ankle), Giants TE Kevin Boss (stiff neck), Texans WR Andre Johnson (chest contusion) and Rams CB Bradley Fletcher (torn ligaments in right knee – season).

Nice road ahead for the Arizona Cardinals – After their tough 24-17 win over the NY Giants on Sunday Night Football, the road back to playoffs is a favorable one for Ken Whisenhunt’s team.  Only two of the Cardinals’ 10 remaining games are against teams with winning records. Their next five opponents – Carolina Panthers (2-4), Chicago Panthers (3-3) , Seattle Seahawks (2-4), St. Louis Rams (0-7) and Tennessee Titans (0-7) — are a combined 7-24.

Hey Raiders do you want a re-do on that pick – In his first action since ending his 71-day holdout, Niners first-round WR Michael Crabtree played a ton his team’s close loss to the Houston Texans.  Crabtree was in for 48 of 54 of the Niners’ plays and had five catches for 56 yards in his NFL debut.  Conversely Raiders WR Darius Heyward-Bey (7th overall pick), who was taken three spots ahead of Crabtree by noted need for speed aficionado Al Davis, only has 7 catches for 64 yards and 0 TDs plus at least four drops through 7 games.

Game Balls

Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson – “Revenge” is a dish best served cold and that is exactly what Benson gave the Chicago Bears.  After accusing Bears management (GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith) of bad-mouthing him out the door, Benson took matters into his own hands was spectacular in the Bengals surprisingly easy 45-10 win over the reeling Bears.  The former Bears first round pick who was quickly jettisoned after a couple off the field incidents, regained his lead in the NFL rushing title race with a career-high 189 yards  on 37 carries and 1 TD.  The former University of Texas star seems on a Pro Bowl pace right now as he has rushing stats 164 carries for 720 yards (4.4 ypc) and 5 TDs.

Honorable Mention

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo — The Cowboys (4-2) continued their climb back in the NFC East divisional race with a dominating 37-21 home win over the Falcons – second straight win.  The main cog of the Cowboys’ offense was spectacular completing 21-of-29 passes for 311 yards and 3 TDs plus he added 31 yards on the ground.  Romo also seems to have his T.O replacement in emerging receiver Miles Austin.

Dallas Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware — The Cowboys defensive menace recorded two sacks Sunday in the ‘Boys win over the Falcons and now has 4 sacks for the season.  Ware finally seems comfortable rushing the passer again and the Cowboys rewarded his hard work by giving him a new six-year deal including $40M in guaranteed money.  The 6-4, 262-pound three-time Pro Bowl linebacker now has 57.5 quarterback sacks for his career.

Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – While everyone was talking about the effort of RB Cedric Benson, Palmer “quietly” show that he is getting back to his old form in a big win over the Bears.  Palmer was pinpoint as he completed 20-of-24 passes for 233 yards and 5 TDs.

New England Patriots FS Brandon Meriweather – The former product of the “U” had two interceptions across the pond, including returning one for a touchdown in the Patriots’ 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Pittsburgh Steelers LT Max Starks — The Steelers strong tackle is finally meriting his big salary.  Starks held Vikings Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen to just one tackle and no sacks in the Steelers win over the Vikings.  Starks and his O-line mate also helped the Steelers produce a 5.3 YPC average in the running game.

SF 49ers QB Alex Smith – It was remember me time as the former first overall pick from 2005 shine after replacing starter Shaun Hill at halftime.  Smith responded by completing 15-of-22 passes for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns (all to emerging TE Vernon Davis) plus rallied the Niners from 21 points down.  Unfortunately the Niners came up short losing to the Houston Texans by a score 24-21.

Other Honorees: Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox (scored 4th quarter touchdowns to drive the Steelers over the Vikings); Buffalo Bills Safety Jairus Byrd (two interceptions spurred the Bills to a surprising road win over the Panthers); New Orleans Saints PK John Carney (became the fourth NFL player to score 2,000 points in his career); Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin (showed that his 250-yard breakout at Kansas City in Week 5 was no fluke, by producing 171 yards and 2 TDs in the Cowboys win over the Falcons); Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (reached career milestones 30,000 yards passing and 200 career touchdown passes in the Eagles win over the Redskins);Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (caught only two passes but had 69 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Redskins.  Jackson also ran for a 67-yard touchdown and scored both Eagles’ offensive touchdowns); The NY Jets RB’s (led by rookie Shonn Greene’s 144 yards and 2 TDs, the Jets RB’s became the first NFL team since 1975 – Buffalo Bills — to rush for 300 yards in back-to-back games).

 Lloyd’s Lackey

Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson — Things just went from bad to worse for LJ in Kansas City.  The two- time NFL rushing leader and former workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about 4 to 5 years ago.  Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with him (30 on Nov. 19th). But the bigger story is that after another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of 9 yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Here are some of his excerpts: “my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”; “My father played for the coach from “remember the titans”. Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”.  It is never a good idea to jump-on your head coach, but then LJ decided to call some reporters a bad word for homosexuals and Tweeted much more. Now NFL spokesman Greg Aiello revealed that the league is investigating LJ’s recent tirade on Twitter.  Plus the team basically told the volatile runner that he cannot practice and is not at their complex.  I don’t think it will be long before LJ is on the free agent running back scrap heap with older RB’s Warrick Dunn and Shaun Alexander. 

Dishonorable Mention

Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams – The former Detroit Lions first rounder returned to the line-up in Week 7 (rib injury) and produced 1 catch along with several drops.  Williams just doesn’t seem like he will ever live-up to the amount the Cowboys traded for him and now Miles Austin is clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver.  Williams has just 12 catches on 30 targets (40% catch rate) this season and looks like he is a colossal bust.

Oakland Raiders DE Richard Seymour – Predicted his team would make the playoffs after their “lucky’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.  And the Raiders responded by getting shutout 35-0 by the NY Jets.

NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez – I know it was a snooze fest in a dominating 38-0 win over the Raiders, but did you really have to eat a hot dog with mustard on the sidelines.

Minnesota Vikings FB/TE Jeff Dugan – Unnecessarily ran down NFL Back Judge Richard Reels on Percy Harvin’s Kickoff for a touchdown in the 4th Quarter of the Steelers’ win.  Also Dugan had a bad tripping penalty near the goalline that negated a Brett Favre touchdown pass.

NY Giants rookie OT William Beatty – Playing in place of starter Kareem McKenzie (ended Giants O-line’s 38 consecutive starts streak), head coach Tom Coughlin gave Beatty mixed reviews.  The youngster from UConn was beat off the edge by Cardinals OLB Clark Haggans for a sack and also had a bad false-start penalty late in the fourth quarter.

Panthers QB Jake Delhomme – Was terrible in Carolina’s 20-9 home loss to the Buffalo Bills as he threw more 3 interceptions.  The former Super Bowl starter is now on pace to throw a mind-boggling 35 interceptions and has 13 INTs for the season.  The NFL’s 32nd rated passer may soon be watching one of his former backups (AJ Feeley or Matt Moore) playing. 

Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell – Returned to his pitiful ways in a horrible loss to the NY Jets.  Russell had 2 INTs, 1 lost fumble, and was benched for journeyman QB Bruce Gradkowski.

Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris – Inactive for lack of effort in practices and for overall being in head coach Lovie Smith’s doghouse.  The former Bears defensive leader was told he was not need this week and he may soon be looking for another team despite his huge contract.

NFL Week 7

SUN, OCT 25 

Bengals (5-2) over Bears (3-3), 45-10

Bills (3-4) over Panthers (2-4), 20-9

Cardinals (4-2) over Giants (5-2), 24-17

Chargers (3-3) over Chiefs (1-6), 37-7

Colts (6-0) over Rams (0-7), 42-6

Cowboys (4-2) over Falcons (4-2), 37-21

Jets (4-3) over Raiders (2-5), 38-0

Packers (4-2) over Browns (1-6), 31-3

Patriots (5-2) over Buccaneers (0-7), 35-7

Saints (6-0) over Dolphins (2-4), 46-34

Steelers (5-2) over Vikings (6-1), 27-17

Texans (4-3) over 49ers (3-3), 24-21

MON, OCT 26

Eagles (4-2) over Redskins (2-5), 27-17

Byes: Broncos (6-0), Jaguars (3-3), Lions (1-5), Ravens (3-3), Seahawks (2-4), Titans (0-6) 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Johnson is trying to “Tweet” his way out of KC

Larry_Johnson

LJ is trying to aggravate beleaguered Chiefs head coach Todd Haley even further with his recent comments on  Twitter

Things just went from bad to worse for volatile running back Larry Johnson in Kansas City.  The one time NFL rushing leader and workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about 4 to 5 years ago.  Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with Johnson (30 on Nov. 19th). 

The former Penn State power back only had 874 yards on 193 carries with a 4.5 ypr average and 5 TDs in 2008, but you know he would be more than happy with those mediocre type numbers this year.   After another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of 9 yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. 

Though Tweeting is sometimes unconfirmed for some athletes, I am pretty sure it was Johnson pulling his Blackberry on Haley.  Just read the following excerpts and you will see what I mean.

“my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”

“My father played for the coach from “remember the titans”. Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”

It is never a good idea to jump-on your head coach, but doing so in a public form only fans the flames even more.  Johnson’s alleged tweets are pretty inflammatory stuff and you can only expect things to get more heated between Haley, Johnson, and overall Chiefs organization.    

The Chiefs are pretty downtrodden right now with a record of 1-6 and Johnson isn’t doing much better (132 rushes for 358 yards, 2.7 ypc, and 0 TDs).   Also remember it was the fiery Haley who was the coach that got into it verbally with Anquan Boldin last year on the sidelines during the Cardinals’ Super Bowl run. 

 So expect some kind of fine, suspension, or some other disciplinary action to be coming Johnson’s way.  If I were backups Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles, I would be getting my legs ready for more running after the Chiefs’ bye week.

Top 10 Players to Stay Away From this Fantasy Football Season

Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson – Time and injuries seem to have caught up with Johnson (30 on Nov. 19th).  Though the NFL’s former rushing champ has held off backup Jamaal Charles for the starting running back job, his production has steadily decreased over the last couple of years.  Ran for only 874 yards on 193 carries with a 4.5 ypr average and 5 TDs in 2008 plus only had 12 catches for 74 yards.

New York Jets RB Thomas Jones – On his fourth team in 9 years, Jones (31) continues to complain and get no respect around the NFL.  Ran for over 1312 yards and 13 TDs for the Jets in 2008, but the team seems ready to step away from him.  The former Georgia star wants a contract and the team didn’t blink this offseason as they brought in rookie Shonn Greene and are working a possible renegotiation with multipurpose back Leon Washington.  Stay away, because I could see Washington and Greene taking carries from Jones real soon in new head coach Rex Ryan’s system.

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford – With the success of 2008 rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, everyone immediately believes Stafford will be the next golden boy of the NFL.  However there is one big in that the Lions are a rebuilding team with over 20 new faces after their much publicized and embarrassing 0-16 season.  The Lions gave Stafford a huge contract (6 years, $72 Million w/ 41 Million guaranteed), but he has a lot to learn as shown by an inconsistent preseason.  I think it takes a couple years for this former underclassman to adjust to the NFL after never consistently winning in the SEC in college.

Jacksonville Jaguars QB David Garrard – The Jaguars starter will never be a fantasy football player’s dream passer as he is more efficient than putting up eye-popping numbers.  Garrard and the Jags struggled in 2008 as he threw for  for numbers of 3,620 yards, 15 TDs and 13 INTs after receiving a big contract.  With head coach Jack Del Rio on the hot seat, look for the abrasive coach to lean on his running game led by MJD and hope that Garrard can return to his ’07 form where  he led the team to the divisional round of the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Torry Holt – The Jaguars had a ton of injuries and inconsistently in their receiving corps in 2008, so they signed  former Rams veteran Holt  to wash away the taste of Matt Jones, Jerry Porter, and Reggie Williams.  The move to bring in the 7-time Pro Bowl player looks good on paper, but Holt’s knees have bothered him over the last couple of years and his production slipped below 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since his rookie year in 1999 – finished with 64 catches for 796 yards, a 12.4 ypc, and only 3 TDs.

Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee – You would have thought that McGahee (170 rushes for 671 yards, 3.9 ypr, and 7 TDs in ‘08) after getting out of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s doghouse this offseason would have had a chance at being a featured back again.  But it looks like being the Ravens’ main ball carrier has passed the former Bills star by.  The team this preseason seems to be leaning towards 2nd year backs Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain carrying the load.  McGahee is coming off a 2008 season where he missed games due to injury and he had multiple offseason surgeries (ankle and knee). 

New England Patriots RB Laurence Maroney – After promising seasons in 2006 and 2007, this former University of Minnesota running back crashed hard in 2008.  Maroney could not stay healthy (shoulder injury) and he only played in three games, which prompted the Patriots organization to question his toughness.  The 4th year running back has never run for over 900 yards and it seems Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is ready to move on with his running back by committee philosophy.  Maroney will have to battle newcomer Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis just to get on the field this season.

Seattle Seahawks RB Edgerrin James – Always beware of an older back joining a new team.  James (31) comes to the Seahawks as the NFL’s 11th all-time rusher with 12,121 yards his ten-year career.  But you could see last year that the Cardinals did not have confidence in him for the majority of last season – only 7 starts finishing with numbers 133 rushes for 514 yards, 3.9 ypr, and 3 TDs with a long run of only 35 yards.  James carries have decreased over the past three years and he missed the Seahawks’ training camp, which maybe a blessing in disguise.  With Seahawks head coach Jim Mora looking to lean on starter Julius Jones, the former Colts star maybe relegated to short yardage situations.  Also the Seahawks offensive line has been decimated by injuries during the 2009 preseason.

New Orleans Saints WR Bobby Meachem – All preseason, the New Orleans area has been abuzz about Meachem – 5 catches for 106 yards and 1TD (64 yards) in first two preseason games.  Everyone is wondering if the former University of Tennessee star is ready to live-up to the high expectations that  the Saints had when they selected him in the first round of 2007. Over his first two years in the NFL, Meachem was plagued by injury (lost rookie year to a torn ACL) and dropping passes.  Though it looks like he may have turned the corner this preseason, I am not ready to say he has passed WR Marques Colston, RB Reggie Bush, WR Devrey Henderson or WR Lance Moore as one of quarterback Drew Brees’ main targets.

Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez – I know you are probably thinking how can the NFL’s all-time leading tight end in terms of catches (916) and yardage (10,94) be on my Stay Away List.  Well…Gonzalez is starting with a new team in the Falcons (traded for a 2nd Rd pick) and their head coach Mike Smith has an affinity to run the ball and play tough defense.  With so many other great tight ends on the board (Gates, Keller, Winslow, Witten, and others), I just don’t see a reason to spend a pick in the first six rounds of your FF draft on him.  I know the 10-time Pro Bowl player and surefire Hall of Famer is coming off a season where he put up 96 catches for 1058 yards, 11.0 ypc, and 10 TDs, but he is a huge question mark when quarterback Matt Ryan will be going to RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White first.

Others to Stay Away From

QBs — Miami Dolphins QB Chad Pennington (run-first team and he is a game manager type); Carolina Panthers QB Jake Delhomme (5 INTs in the Panthers’ playoff loss to the Cardinals  in ’08.. enough said);  Miami Dolphins QB Pat White (will get a few snaps in the Wildcat, but still not ready to be under center); Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick (America’s No. 1 sports radio topic will be stuck on the bench behind McNabb as he knocks off over 2 years of rust)

RBs — Oakland Raiders RB Justin Fargas (injured – hamstring and will be splitting carries); Washington Redskins RB Clinton Portis (too injury prone, slowing down, and will be splitting carries); Buffalo Bills RB Dominic Rhodes (stuck behind Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson)

WRs — Arizona Cardinals WR Steve Breaston (injured – knee and ’08 is looking like a career year); Pittsburgh Steelers WR Hines Ward (play is more gritty now and Santonio Holmes is Big Ben’s go-to-guy); Buffalo Bills WR Josh Reed (with T.O and Lee Evans around, he will be lucky for a couple catches a game…did I mention T.O)

TE’s — Baltimore Ravens TE’s Todd Heap and LJ Smith (run-first team, too injury prone, and both their production has slipped over the years), Cleveland Browns TE Steve Heiden (Will not even come close to replacing Winslow); Jacksonville Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis (great name and size, but plays like a Yugo).

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Training Camp Questions – AFC West

Denver Broncos

How will the Broncos many offseason pick-ups including 14 unrestricted free agents fit together?

Is young 32-year old head coach Josh McDaniels already on the hot seat for his flare-up and trade of former franchise quarterback Jay Cutler?

Are there enough backfield carries to go around in the Broncos’ crowded backfield (Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, first round pick Knowshon Moreno, and RB/FB Peyton Hillis?)

Will the Broncos be able to workout a new contract for malcontent Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall and if he doesn’t get his new contract how much of a distraction will he be this season?

Will the addition of Pro Bowl S Brian Dawkins and four defensive draft picks helps a defense that allowed 448 points during the 2008 season?

Kansas City Chiefs

Is new head coach Todd Haley ready to lead a Chiefs team that only won two games during the 2008 season?

Will high-priced running back Larry Johnson continue being a good soldier or is there a flare-up waiting to happen when he doesn’t get his carries?

Was new Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassell a one-year wonder for the Patriots or is he ready to make the leap to the Pro Bowl after being traded to the Chiefs?

Is there a tight end on the Chiefs current roster that can replace future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez?

Will the addition of LB Mike Vrabel and first round pick DE Tyson Jackson help a defense that allowed 440 points during the 2008 season?

Oakland Raiders

How secure is head coach Tom Cable’s job even though Al Davis removed the “interim” from his title this offseason and can he turn around a Raiders team that has gone 24-72 since the 2003 season?

How will the addition of veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia affect developing former first overall pick QB JaMarcus Russell and is the 3rd year pro mature enough to lead the Raiders?

Are there enough backfield carries to go around in the Raiders’ crowded backfield (Justin Fargas, Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and Gary Russell)?

Did the Raiders reach for rookies WR Darius Heyward-Bey and SS Mike Mitchell and how will the youngsters reach to the high expectations placed on them?

Will new Raiders defensive coordinator John Marshall be able to replace fiery departed DC Rob Ryan (Cleveland Browns) and will the Raiders defense be better than the 388 points they allowed in 2008?

San Diego Chargers

After a great run at the end of the 2008 season where the Chargers won a playoff game can head coach Norv Turner now relax about losing his job?

How healthy is now 30-year old RB LaDanian Tomlinson and does he have a rebound season left in him after barely getting 1,000 rushing yards in 2008?

Will the return of Pro Bowl LB Shawn Merriman from injury and the drafting of first round pick LB Larry English help to bring the Chargers defense back to their high standards of 2006?

Is Pro Bowl Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers ready to take his career to the next and get his team to the AFC Championship game and beyond?

Will there be enough balls to go around for an offense that features L.T, Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates, emerging WR Vincent Jackson, WR Chris Chambers, and newly franchised RB Darren Sproles? 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Top Players that have Something to Prove in ‘08

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb – I don’t know if it is injuries or questions by “loyal” Eagles fans, but McNabb seems to be on the prove something list every year.  Though he looked good in the team’s last four games (3-1 with passing numbers of 96-147, 995 yards, 65%, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 96.2 QB rating with an additional 101 yards rushing).  McNabb needs to prove that he can stay healthy and lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time under him since going to the Super Bowl in 2004.  Some experts that I have talked to are saying if things don’t go right in ’08, it could be McNabb’s last year in Philly.  Unfortunately for the 10-year veteran, we now know the “playmakers” that he was asking for in February have not arrived other than tight end LJ Smith returning from injury and trading for running back Lorenzo Booker.  I can tell you from watching mini-camps that quarterback in waiting Kevin Kolb is very confident and seems poised to make a move after being elevated to the number two quarterback slot.

New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush – Needs to prove that he can be more of a complete running back while understanding that a homerun is not needed on every single play.  Bush showed during the time that Deuce McAllister (knee) was out that he couldn’t handle the load of being an every down back.  The second overall player selected in the 2006 draft had his numbers in ’07 drop in receiving yardage (742 to 581), total touchdowns (9 to 6), and punt return yardage (261 to 12) with a slightly better number of yards in rushing 581 to 565, but only 3.7 yards per carry.  Now in his third season, Bush needs to live up to his commercial hype by grasping the fact that in the NFL you need to have more than pure speed.

Carolina Panthers OT Jeff Otah – When the Carolina Panthers traded up in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft by swapping their ’09 first round pick plus two lower level picks in ’08 (3rd and 4th rounds) to the Philadelphia Eagles to select the huge tackle (6’6, 340), the bull’s eye was on Otah.  The former University of Pittsburgh road-grader was a dominant player in the Big East conference (101 knockdowns in ’07), but he will have to face bonafide pass rushers on a weekly basis in the NFL.  Otah will need to answer questions on his conditioning and must protect recovering from injury quarterback Jake Delhomme.

Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson – After a lengthy holdout that drifted into training camp, Johnson got a new contract with the terms six years, $45 million, and $19 million in guaranteed.  However the big back from Penn State was plagued by nagging injuries ending with a season ending foot injury.  Johnson’s 2007 numbers were not his usual Pro Bowl numbers (8 games played, 158 rushes for 559 yards, 3.5 ypc and 3 touchdowns).  If Johnson wants to live up to his ’07 boasts of pushing toward Eric Dickerson’s single season NFL rushing record (2,109 yards), he will need to prove he can stay healthy for 16 games.

Miami Dolphins DE Jason Taylor – All eyes this off-season have been on Taylor, as he became Mr. Dancing With the Stars.  Everyone was impressed with his dance moves except the Bill Parcells led Miami Dolphins front office.  Whether he plays for  the Dolphins, Jaguars, Saints, Eagles, or any other team, the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder needs to prove he is not done at 34 years old.  Since being drafted in the 3rd Round of 1997 NFL Draft, Taylor has produced 117 sacks including eleven in ’07.

Chicago Bears RB Rex Grossman – Much like Donovan McNabb, Grossman seems to be on this list every year.  Though the former Florida quarterback has led the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006 if he is shaky again in ’08, you can say good-bye to Rex in Chicago.  Grossman, who is in the last year of his rookie contract, has great ability but just cannot avoid the mistakes that drive coaches insane as shown by his passing numbers in ’07 (7 starts, 122-225, 54.2%, 1411 yards, 4 TDs, and 7 INTs).  Bears head coach Lovie Smith has been a strong supporter of the Grossman, but he may have seen enough as shown by the stoic coach leaving the quarterback position up for grabs this off-season.  Surprisingly the Bears didn’t draft a quarterback leaving Kyle Orton and Grossman to battle for the starting position.

Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden – The big questions regarding the Raiders first rounder are “Can McFadden be this year’s Rookie of the Year like Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson?” and “Did the Raiders really need him?”  The former two-time Heisman runner-up had several off the field red-flags going into the draft process, so he will need to make an impression while holding off Justin Fargas and Michael Bush for playing time.  McFadden (6’2, 210) will also need to answer questions about his durability and fumbling problems while negotiating the Lane Kiffin-Al Davis situation. The former Arkansas star has all of the measurables including blazing speed (4.33 seconds in the forty) and leading the SEC in rushing (school season-record with 1,830 yards).  However in the NFL, McFadden will need to prove that he can succeed outside of Arkansas’ gimmicky “Wildcat” offense. 

Cleveland Browns DT Shaun Rogers – Even with head coach Romeo Crennel on a semi-warm seat, the Browns went about rebuilding their team through free agency and trades.  All the off-season moves caused the Browns to not pick until the fourth round in the 2008 NFL Draft.  Pardon the pun, but no off-season move was bigger than bringing in gigantic (6’4, reported 340 probably closer to 355) defensive tackle Rogers from the Detroit Lions for a 3rd round pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden.  The Browns re-negotiated the big defensive tackle’s contract committing six-years and $42 million on him. Though Rogers has flashed legitimate playmaking ability (7 sacks in ’07), he often is said to take plays off at times.

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan – The Falcons announced with authority that they have moved on from the Michael Vick situation by selecting Ryan (6’5. 224) with the third overall pick.  Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank went even further by signing Ryan to a six-year, $72 million contract with $34.5 million guaranteed (the most guaranteed money ever for a rookie).  With his teammates looking for him to live up to his contract and a good majority of the Falcons’ fan base being loyal to Vick, Ryan has much to prove.   The Philadelphia suburbs kid has the credentials as shown by his ’07 college numbers (388-of-654, 59.3%, 4507 yards and 31 TDs), but he better cut down on his 19 interceptions from last year. 

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – Sure he has the celebrity girlfriend (or Maybe not depending if Jessica Simpson’s publicist is answering calls) and the big contract (six-year, $67.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed), but Romo has not yet answered the call in the postseason.  Everyone can forgive him for fumbling the field goal snap against the Seahawks in the ’06 playoffs.  But there is no excuse for Romo’s performance (18-36, 201, 1 TD, 1 INT) in helping his 13-win team lose at home to the Giants.  Romo’s ’07 numbers say he is a player (335 for 520, 4211 yards, 64.4 %, 36 TDs, and 19 INTs), but he needs to prove that after 27 career regular season starts that he is more legit than hype.

Baltimore Ravens QB Troy Smith – With the new Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh putting the starting quarterback position up for grabs, Smith is in the mix with former number one quarterback Kyle Boller and ’08 first round selection Joe Flacco.  Against the two more heralded signal callers, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner will have something to prove to scouts that have questioned his height and ability to play in the NFL.  Smith showed brief flashes at the end of the ’07 season while subbing for an injured Steve McNair, but it is the time for him to either live up to his highlight heisman college career or go by the way side like too many other Heisman winners.

Other Players that will need to answer the bell include:

Dallas Cowboys CB Pacman Jones – First will he be reinstated and simply put can he stay out of trouble  enough to contribute to the Cowboys’ defense.

Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson – Was he a one-year wonder or a legitimate Pro Bowl passer plus Brady Quinn is waiting for his chance.

Minnesota Vikings DE Jared Allen – Received a huge contract from the Vikings, but he will need to lead them to the playoffs.

Green Packers RB Ryan Grant- Was he a one-year wonder and can he play without Brett Favre.

Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young – After a season of 9 TDs and 17 INTs plus laughable retirement talk, it is time to prove he is more than the hype.

Dallas Cowboys LB Zach Thomas – At 34 is he too old and can he make a difference in the Cowboys middle.

Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Johnson – Has the talkative receiver’s mouth and his agent Drew Rosenhaus’ said too much for Ocho Cinco to back it up.

Kansas City Chiefs OT Branden Albert – Can he play LT in the NFL after being an All-American guard in college?

Denver Broncos Safety John Lynch – At 37 in September, can the tough safety still get it done for the Broncos.