08/27/2006: "2006 NFL Preseason Version of 21 Questions (Well maybe a few more) – The NFC Edition"
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2006 NFL Preseason Version of 21 Questions (Well maybe a few more) – The NFC 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.
Here is the NFC Edition of 21 Questions
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New York Giants
Is Eli all grown up? First game against his big brother will be a real test for this team, but will we see the Eli from the first half of last season that looked promising or the Eli from the second half of last season who looked downright awful?
Will LaVar fit into Coughlin’s system? The knock on Arrington has been that he is a “free lancer” and sometimes does his own thing. Tom Coughlin is the type of coach that expects his players to play within the scheme. We will see how this situation plays out.
Will Julius Jones stay healthy? Jones has looked promising when he has been healthy, but unfortunately for Cowboy fans that hasn’t been too often. With new additions in the passing game and on defense, a healthy dose of Jones and Marion Barber III and the Cowboys could go deep into the playoffs this year.
Will the offensive line hold up? We all know that Drew Bledsoe is not the most mobile QB in the world. He got sacked 49 times last year, which was the 2nd highest sack total for a QB in the league behind David Carr..ouch! He was on his way to putting up Pro Bowl type numbers before LT Flozell Adams injured his Achilles and missed the 2nd half of the season. Flozell is back and healthy, along with new RT Jason Fabini from the Jets and G/T Kyle Kosier from Lions. The Boys’ are ok as long as they stay healthy but they don’t have much depth.
Notice how I discussed the Cowboys without bringing up TO..wait a minute, whoops
How will McNabb do without TO? Football fans are you ready for a healthy dose of Reggie Brown, Jabar Gaffney, and Hank Baskett?? Who are they you ask?? They are Philadelphia’s top 3 WR’s this season. Can McNabb perform well in a tough NFC East with those guys?
Will Brian Westbrook stay healthy? Another NFC East back that can not seem to stay healthy. Westbrook has knack for fracturing his foot every year. He is already out with a foot injury. When healthy, other than McNabb, Westbrook is the Eagles offense; he does it both running and as a receiver. Some question if a small back like Westbrook can handle the full load. The answer thus far has been no, but speedster Ryan Moats figures to steal some carries from Westbrook this year.
Will Brunell hold up? Another tough NFC east team, with no viable backup the Redskins season is on the shoulders of Mark Brunell. Brunell had a nice season last year and looks to repeat this year. If he gets hurt NFL Vet Todd Collins, who has thrown about 8 more regular season passes in his NFL career than I have, and 2nd year QB Jason Campbell are Washington’s backups. Yikes!
How is Portis’ shoulder? Redskin’s fans cringed when they saw Portis lay a big hit on a DB in Washington’s first preseason game. He has been on the shelf ever since. The Skins even bought in former Falcon RB TJ Duckett to help shoulder the load (no pun intended). Is this a sign that Portis might not be as healthy as we think, or maybe it’s just insurance? We shall see in a couple of weeks.
Who will start? Cedric Benson vs. Thomas Jones. Right now Benson is on the shelf with an injured shoulder courtesy of Brian Urlacher. Jones is set to start their next preseason game and has been the man the past couple of seasons in Chi town, but Benson was drafted too high and paid too much money to just rot away on the bench. He was originally given all opportunities to start before he got hurt. Think of this as a Drew Brees/ Phillip rivers situation without the sunny weather of San Diego. Several NFL teams are in need of a RB and Jones could be dealt if Benson can show he is healthy.
Who’s the QB? Rex Grossman was pretty much anointed starter in the off-season but he has looked horrible during preseason, while newly acquired QB Brian Griese has looked solid. QB was the Bears Achilles heal position last year, that and Steve Smith, and it will be interesting to see if they play the guy whom they hope will put it together this year or the solid vet.
Another year for running back by committee? It seems as if the Vikes haven’t had a sure number 1 back since Robert Smith. This year they brought over Chester “The defense molester” Taylor from the Ravens. He was a backup behind Jamal Lewis, but has shown flashes of potential both in the running and the passing game. Mewelde Moore has also been a steady back for Minnesota but will this finally be the year that they have a sure #1 back?
Will 1st rounder’s get cut? Rumors are saying that former 1st round WR’s Charles Rogers and Mike Williams may be looking for jobs. They are reportedly looking bad during practices and games. Who would have ever thought Corey Bradford would be starting opposite Roy Williams this year?
Will the Mike Martz show be a hit? Former head coach at St. Louis Martz looks to bring his high powered attack to the motor city. Good news for the WR’s, could mean bad news for QB and RB. Martz has a tendency to forget about running the ball at times, and some of his schemes are not QB protection friendly. Kitna had better get the ball out quick. Will Martz be able to balance the load between Roy Williams, Kitna, and Kevin Jones?
Green Bay Packers
Which Brett Favre will we get? We all know Brett is back, but what does it mean? Another year of more interceptions than TD’s? Brett says that this is Green Bays most talented team since he’s been there. I somehow don’t believe that. Another more interesting question is that if Brett stinks it up, will or how early will Green Bay look to get former 1st round QB Aaron Rodgers into the mix?
How well will Green Bay run the ball? Ahman Green is back and trying to rebound and become the back he was back in 2003 (over 2100 total yards and 20 TD’s). He has fan favorite and NFL All-Name star Samkon Gado breathing down his neck. If Green can run the ball effectively and stay away from nagging injuries that will open things up more for Brett Favre and Donald Driver.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will the Caddy roll once again? Cadillac Williams is looking to have a big year, but can he take the beating?? A criticism of him is that he tries to run “bigger” than his size, meaning he tends to try to run defenders over rather than running around them. Which isn’t a bad thing but you have got to figure that Gruden plans on running him an awful lot. If he can manage to stay out of the garage Caddy should have a nice season but that is a big if.
Will Michael Clayton boom or bust? You can’t have a more night and day type 2 years than Clayton has had his first 2 years in the league. Going from 1193 Yards and 7 TD’s in his rookie year to 372 yards and 0 TD’s in his sophomore season. Talk about a sophomore slump. This is Clayton’s 3rd year, and usually this is the year that really good WR’s make their mark. Is he going to play like he did his rookie year or slump again?
Is the running game back? John Fox relies on defense and running the ball. Last year they had the defense but the run game was non-existent. Stephen Davis’ glory years are over which leaves them with DeShaun Foster and rookie 1st rounder DeAngelo Williams. Neither of these backs is the bruiser that Davis has been over the years and Foster is an injury waiting to happen. With the addition of Keyshawn Johnson the emergence of wide outs Drew Carter and Keary Colbert (who was injured last year but played though the pain) if the Panthers can develop a solid running game, their opponents are going to have a tough time defending them.
Kris Jenkins, is he finally back? 2 years ago Kris Jenkins was a pro-bowler and the best DT in the game. 2 consecutive season ending injuries have changed all of that. Jenkins is back this year, having dropped down to 365 lbs from 405 lbs that he was during the year. He is back with a strong work ethic that he lacked in the earlier part of his career. If Jenkins can play he is no doubt one of the more unblockable linemen in the game. He is a huge key to the Panthers defense because it all starts up front, his presence will free up stand out DE Julius Peppers to make more plays.
Is this Vicks year? Mike Vick has been criticized for being more of a RB than a QB over his years in the NFL. His lack of accuracy has frustrated him and Falcons fans. He has gone on record a couple times this off-season requesting a change in the offensive system.. He now has newly acquired WR Ashley Lelie at his disposal as well as Roddy White and Michael Jenkins at WR and Algae Crumpler at TE. This is the best core of receivers he’s had since he’s been in ATL. If he can not pull it together and pass with more efficiency I believe we will start hearing grumblings of a change in Hot’lanta.
Will the defense be able to stop the run? This is another big concern. Last year the defense gave up about 130 yards per game on the ground. That is not the formula for success. With the additions of Safety Lawyer Milloy, DE John Abraham, and DT Grady Jackson the Falcons are making strides to address any defensive short comings they had last year.
New Orleans Saints
Will Bush have an impact? Some thinK Reggie Bush will be the next best thing since sliced bread and red kool aid. Others think he is overrated. No matter what you think, he sure does make for good television! If ESPN does a 10 minute segment on Bush rushing 4 times for 7 yards against the Cowboys in the preseason wait till the regular season starts baby! Bush himself said that he wants to be the best player EVER in the league. He has the moves and speed, but first he has to get used to the speed of the NFL and he will have to learn that his athleticism won’t bail him out as easily as it did in college. With all that talent Reggie has, Deuce McAllister is still a damn good back when healthy. Will Reggie get enough carries to prove he is more than just potential?
How will the Hawks hold up without Hutch? Super O-lineman Steve Hutchinson is no longer with the Seahawks. He and Walter Jones were perhaps the best “left side” of an offensive line in the league. They created truck sized holes for Shaun Alexander to barrel though. Now that he is gone will the line still block with the same efficiency?
Will Alexander fall Victim to the “Madden Curse”? Last year it was McNabb, the year before it was Ray Lewis, the year before that Vick, before that Marshall Faulk. All players that went down with major injuries the same season that they graced the cover of the John Madden football. Shaun Alexander is the cover boy this year. Uh oh.
St. Louis Rams
How will life after Martz be on offense? I bet Steven Jackson is breathing a sigh of relief. So is Marc Bulger. Why you ask? Well with Martz gone they will probably try a more conservative offensive attack meaning more rushing attempts for Jackson and more pass protection for Bulger. Also if Bulger’s shoulder can hold up, he will be one of the top 8 or 9 QB’s in the league.
How explosive will this offense be? Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Edgerrin James, and Kurt Warner are the core, with rookie QB Matt Leinart waiting in the wings. Denny Green is looking to have an offense that matches the ones his Vikings teams had. Will the Offensive line run block and pass protect well enough for all of these skill players to make an impact? How long will Warner hold down his starting position? One thing is for sure Zona SHOULD score a lot of points this year. We will see.
San Francisco 49ers
Is Gore “the man”? San Fran recently trade RB Kevan Barlow to the Jets because with Frank Gore doing so well in the preseason Barlow was expendable. Will he prove worthy of being a #1 back? He hasn’t done much this far in his career but it’s time to show that he is just more than potential.
Will Alex Smith fare better in his 2nd year? Year 1 was a rough one, but San Fran is trying to help the young QB out. Brandon Lloyd is gone, but they did bring in Antonio Bryant and Taylor Jacobs. They also drafted superstar in the making TE Vernon Davis and acquired offensive lineman Larry Allen from the Cowboys. That is pretty good improvement for one of the worst teams in the league from a year ago. With a year of experience under his belt it is time for him to start to show why he was a #1 overall draft choice.