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08/07/2006: "2006 NFL Preseason Version of 21 Questions (Well maybe a few more) – The AFC Edition"

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2006 NFL Preseason Version of 21 Questions (Well maybe a few more) – The AFC Edition
Written by Tino Wallace for http://www.blacksportsonline.com
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Training camps are underway; fans are migrating to small colleges to watch their favorite NFL teams prepare for the regular season. Every team has new faces, and in turn every team has some uncertainties heading into opening kickoff weekend. Here are some questions that I believe these teams must address if they want to have a successful year.

I’m going to start in the AFC this week:


AFC East:

New England Patriots:

Who will Brady throw to? Bethel Johnson, David Givens, and Christian Fauria have all left town and signed with new teams. Deion Branch is currently holding out for a higher paying contract. How long is he prepared to sit out? Only time will tell, but if the only targets for Brady going into opening day are Rookie WR Chad Jackson, and TE Ben Watson, NE is in big trouble.

Who will win the RB job? Will it be aging vet Corey Dillon, who only rushed for 733 yards last year, or rookie Laurence Maroney? Dillon is over 30 and that is about the time that RB’s start to decline. He is being affected by nagging injuries, which is causing him to miss some games. Maroney is a young versatile runner, he might not be the most explosive RB, but has good vision, and splitting carries in college at the University of Minnesota means that he does not have as much “tread” on his tires than normal 3 or 4 year fulltime starters.

New York Jets:

Who wants to be RB? Looks like Curtis Martin is on the shelf indefinitely, which leaves the Jets with Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston. You’ve got to be kidding me! If they head into the season with that combo at RB you can go ahead and pencil them in to finish at the bottom of the AFC with Buffalo and Houston. Houston hasn’t impressed me much from what I saw of him last year; Blaylock had a good season with the Chiefs but in that system behind that line I could rush for at least 750 yards and 9 TD’s. If they are not on the phone talking to Chicago or Tennessee trying to trade for Thomas Jones, Chris Brown, or Travis Henry then their GM needs to be fired.

Miami Dolphins:

Is Daunte back? Fins QB Daunte Culpepper is coming off of a nasty ACL tear, how well does he recover? He is reportedly ahead of schedule and looks to play in the preseason. Part of his game is running the ball, will he be run with the same confidence that he did before or will he be timid and hold back? We’ll see in a little over a month.

Buffalo Bills:

Will the offense look as bad as it did last year? The Bills where do I start? One of the worst offensive lines in the game, WR’s are not that great, QB’s are horrible. The only bright spot is Willis McGahee. I’m still wondering how he even got nearly 1250 rushing yards last year in that mess. The Bills signed QB Kelly Holcomb to compete with JP Losman. When your QB battle consists of Holcomb vs. Losman you are in big trouble.

Another question is how will their 1st rounder’s Donte’ Whitner (8th overall) and John McCargo (26th overall) play? Many draft “experts” felt that they reached on both of these players. We really won’t know for a few years, but strong rookie campaigns for both should silence the critics.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals:

Is Carson ok? Perhaps one of the biggest injuries of the year when he went down against the Steelers in the playoffs. It seemed like at that point Cincy knew they would lose. He is throwing well in practice and wearing a brace on his knee. How will the repaired ACL hold up? He might miss a few preseason games as a precaution, but team officials are insisting that he’ll be fully recovered by the time the season rolls around. He’d better be because Jon Kitna is wearing a Lions jersey, which leaves journeymen Anthony Wright and Doug Johnson to run their high powered offense if Palmer can’t go.

Another question for the Bengals is will they be able to stop anyone? They gave up 116 rushing yards, 223 passing yards, and 22 points per game last year. Not exactly what you want if you’re trying to make a move for the AFC crown. Indianapolis proved that you can’t win with by simply trying to outscore the other team, especially in the playoffs. Odell Thurman is not helping much by being suspended from the first 4 games of the season for testing positive for “illegal substances”. I guess he likes to hang out with Ricky Williams during the off-season. To make matters worse Thurman missed the beginning of training camp. On a brighter note safety Madieu Williams, who missed most of last year to injury, is back.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

Will there be life after Bus? Jerome Bettis is still in Disneyland celebrating the Steelers Super Bowl win, so who will replace or try to replace him. They used a “Thunder & Lightning” approach last year with Bettis and “Fast” Willie Parker. They also added Virginia Tech rookie Cedric Humes in the mix. Now they just have Willie Parker and the oft-injured Duce Staley. Will Duce go down again? Can Willie carry the load by himself? Who will dive into the end zone from 1 yard out?

How will Big Ben bounce back? QB Ben Roethlisberger is finally wearing a helmet on and off the field, how will his recent motorcycle crash injuries effect him if it all? He says he’s ok, but we’ll see if the accident affects his game. I don’t think it will but some do.

How will Santonio Holmes screw up next? He’s been in the NFL for all of 5 minutes and he’s already rubbing people the wrong way. First he was arrested on Memorial day weekend in Miami beach for disorderly conduct, which recently those charges has been dropped and he had to pay a $250 fine. Then he reportedly did not return a phone call from QB Ben Roethlisberger. If you are a Wide Receiver the last 2 people that you want to piss off are the coach and the QB. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come.

Baltimore Ravens:

Is Air McNair the final piece? Many believe that QB Kyle Boller has been holding the Ravens back the past couple years. Now they have McNair will they return to the playoffs? The defense is not as good as it has been in the past, but offense is usually what kills the Ravens. McNair is now reunited with wide out Derrick Mason, plus he has a stand out tight end in Todd Heap and we all know how McNair likes to throw to his TE’s, just ask Frank Wychek.

Will Jamal Lewis be as bad as he was last year? He says he was still dealing with a foot injury, I hope he was because he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry, was below 1,000 yards, and only scored 3 rushing TD’s. If he is not back to his old self, RB Mike Anderson, who was acquired from the Denver Broncos, is waiting in the wings.

Cleveland Browns:

Is Charlie Frye the guy? Looks like Frye is going to be Cleveland’s starting QB. How will he handle the pressure? He is a local product from Willard, OH, and played his college ball at Akron. Will the hometown pressure get to him? Newly acquired target Joe Jurevicius and 1st rounder Braylon Edwards should help Charlie, both have great hands.

Will Kellen Winslow Jr aka “Soulja” play this year? He seems healthy, he says that he is only 90% but his 90% is better than most guys 100%. The kid obviously has confidence. He hasn’t played many downs but he has all the talent in the world. I would like to see what he can do in the NFL. He talks a big game though.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts:

How will the offense be with no Edge? Indy is without All-Pro RB Edgerrin James this year. They drafted rookie Joseph Addai from LSU and they are returning RB Dominic Rhodes to try and fill the void. Edge was known as a tough runner and a good receiver out of the backfield. Teams had to account for him so that opened up the passing game for Peyton Manning. Addai was known for being versatile at LSU, Rhodes has filled Edge’s void before back in 2001 when Edge was hurt. He rushed for 1,100 yards and scored 9 TD’s with an impressive average of 4.7 yards per carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

When will Fred Taylor get hurt? Notice the question is when will he get hurt, not if. It’s only a matter of time with him. Backup RB Greg “The Beast” Jones better be ready.

Who will fill Jimmy Smith’s void? Probably one of the better WR’s the NFL has seen, Jimmy Smith made this past season his last by retiring. Left to take over are 2nd year ex-QB Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford, and Reggie Williams. Which one of these young receivers will step it up?

Tennessee Titans:

What’s up with the rookies? Vince Young and LenDale White are the big name rookies for the Titans. They also have big expectations. As for now Billy Volek is the starter and you might not see Young much, unless Volek gets hurt or stinks it up early. As for White, he is a part of the next question…

Who will emerge as the primary runner? You have 2nd round pick LenDale White, Travis Henry, and Chris Brown. 3 pretty good prospects are RB. It has been reported that Brown asked to be traded; he then later said he only asked his agent if any other teams were interested in him. If the Titans are smart they’ll trade Henry or Brown for a draft pick. No sense in having all 3, even though you can never have too many good RB’s. I’m sure whoever is selected 3rd on the depth chart will make some kind of noise during the season about being unhappy. This should be an interesting battle in camp, looks like Chris Brown has come into camp in the best shape he’s been and the coaches say he looks faster than he has before.

Houston Texans:

How many times will David Carr get sacked? I’m going to guess 60. If he can stay up right this year he has some nice WR’s in Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds.

How well will Super Mario play? The man whom the Texans passed over Reggie Bush for, all eyes will be on him. Mario Williams DE from NC State. He looks to anchor Houston’s new 4-3 defensive look. There will be a great amount of pressure on Mario; he will forever be compared to Bush. I wonder how he will handle it in his first year.

AFC West

Denver Broncos:

Is it aloha time for Ashley? Wideout Ashley Lelie is holding out. He wants more money, Denver does not want to give it to him, and I don’t really blame them. Lelie had all of 770 yards and 1 TD last year, averaging 47 yards per game. Not all-pro numbers if you ask me. Plus with the addition of Javon Walker, Lelie is expendable. I mean what good is it to be a deep threat that can run really fast but when the ball comes his way he drops it?

Who will win Dayne vs. Bell? The battle for the starting RB spot is between former Heisman trophy winner Ron Dayne and speedster Tatum Bell. The word from the first few days of camp is that Dayne has the upper hand. This is Denver though, they probably have some guy we’ve never even heard of before that will end up starting, and he’ll probably rush for 1,000 plus yards.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Will LJ break records? With Priest Holmes on the shelf for who knows how long, Larry Johnson finally has his wish…he is the “guy” in the KC running game. Only question is will Herm Edwards and company continue to utilize him in the way that Dick Vermeil and his staff did last year? In a little over half a season LJ managed to rack up 1750 yards and 20 rushing TD’s. Could he break the 2,500 yards in one season? We’ll see.

San Diego Chargers:

Will the Chargers miss a beat with Philip Rivers starting? Drew Brees is out and Rivers is in. Some question his arm strength; he is known to have a very accurate arm. With probably the best Tight End in the game now Antonio Gates to throw to, and one of the top RB’s in the game LaDainian Tomlinson, Rivers has some potent weapons around him to help make the transition from backup to starter less painful.

Oakland Raiders:

Will Art Shell bring the attitude back to the Raider Nation? One of the more interesting hires of the off-season, Al Davis is brining back Art Shell to coach the Raiders. Raider fans are looking for Shell to bring the nastiness, attitude, and swagger back to the Raiders, which they have been lacking for years now. Shell looks to bring an old school approach back to the Raiders, and plans to focus on the basics: running, tackling, and blocking.

Will Aaron Brooks do well? Talented but mistake prone Aaron Brooks gets the keys to the Raiders offense. At his disposal are Lamont Jordan, Doug Gabriel, Jerry Porter (maybe, he’s holding out) and Mr. Randy Moss. The Raiders should be able to put up points, notice I said should. Brooks has been known for throwing silly interceptions, and fumbling the ball in the pocket. We’ll see if he has changed his ways and takes care of the ball more.