Saturday, August 14, 2010

NFC West Training Camp

In 2009 the San Francisco 49ers played to an 8-8 record yet they enter 2010 as the favourites to win this Division...Arizona are the 2-time defending NFC West Champs but they lost a ton of important players...the Seahawks are re-building with a brand new era (Pete Carroll runs as fast as he can from the disintegrating scene at USC to take over the helm in Seattle)...Rams get #1 overall pick and franchise QB, but still a long way to go in the Gateway to the West

San Francisco
There may be as much excitement in 'Niners Camp as in any Camp throughout the League...first time in a while that this team returns the same coaching staff as the previous year...it has been 8 years since San Francisco entered Training Camp with the same Head Coach (Mike Singletary) Offensive Coordinator (Jimmy Raye) and Defensive Coordinator (Greg Manusky) in back-to-back seasons...this organization has severely struggled with continuity and consistency

QB Alex Smith celebrates a rare TD
On Offense San Fran has their own version of the Brett Favre will he/won't he drama...their version is with QB Alex Smith who has been in-and-out of the starting role so many times that 'Niners fans must be really sick of it already...will he/won't he play to his potential...if this guy is truly worthy of being #1 overall pick from 2005 then put him under Center for the entire season and let him develop...if he is a bust then let's move on with better strategies than Shaun Hill, Trent Dilfer, Chris Wenke, J.T. O'Sullivan etc...this season's version is fellow #1 overall bust David Carr... only a handful of teams were worse on Offense than the '09 49ers

The skill players that surround the QB all need to improve...even stud RB Frank Gore is in need of improvement as far as staying on the field...the only part of Gore's game that is as consistent as his 1,000+ yard seasons is the fact that his ankles will provide enough problems to force him to miss multiple games...2nd year man Glen Coffee will be using Training Camp to continue his development and show the bosses that he can earn an increased workload (REVISION as THIS JUST IN...Coffee has retired from the NFL!!!  Amazing but looks like it is true...word is that he was pancaked by an undrafted rookie in practice and was torn apart by RB coach Tom Rathman...will the retirement stick?!?!  Time will tell)...rookie Anthony Dixon (6th round Mississippi State) will get his first taste of NFL football 

new OL studs Iupati and Davis with Coach Singletary
The O-Line looking to protect Smith, and open the holes for Gore, was horrid in 2009...heck it was horrid in 2007 and 2008 too...San Fran used the draft to significantly upgrade...the 'Niners drafted twice in the first 17 picks...both times taking an O-Lineman...Anthony Davis (#11 overall...6'5" 325 from Rutgers) and Mike Iupati (#17 overall...6'5" 333 from Idaho) will both be given a chance in Camp to earn Starting roles...further development of Chilo Rachal and Joe Staley will also be focal points of Training Camp...will the biggest man on the unit Alex Boone (6'7" 315) get a chance too?
 If Smith is given time to find his WR's there may be some developing talent to throw to...2nd year guy Michael Crabtree could be a stud-in-the-making...Training Camp will be used to try to get the career of Ted Ginn jr going...plus the continued development of a guy like Josh Morgan...add veterans Brandon Jones and Jason Hill add to this unit too...at TE Vernon Davis is Top 3 in the entire NFL...Delanie Walker is a nice TE too, and rookie Nate Byham (6th round Pittsburgh) will try to earn playing time 

On Defense this unit is Top 10 vs the rush, and Top 5 as far as fewest points allowed...Top 5 in sacks too...it starts with a great front 7...on the D-Line Justin Smith hopes to put nagging injuries behind him...Training Camp needs to be the place to develop Rick Jean-Francois, Ray McDonald, and Kentwan Balmer...

What the D-Line does so well is occupy would-be blockers so that amazing talent like LB's Patrick Willis (Top 3 in the NFL) Parys Haralson (looking for a return to health), Ahmad Brooks, Travis LaBoy (looking for a return to health), and Manny Lawson can blow up the play...a lot of talent there

In the Secondary this Camp will be used to develop guys like Tarell Brown, plus rookies Taylor Mays (USC - 2nd round) Philip Adams (South Carolina - 7th round) look to show that they can compete for playing time with veterans Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, and William James

No team had a worse Punt Return unit than the 49ers in 2009...seems like everyone got a chance to be a Returner, but no one took the ball and ran with it (pun intended)...that should have a chance to improve with the addition of Ginn jr

The Cardinals used the veteran play of QB Kurt Warner, RB Edgerrin James, plus great WR play from Anquan Boldin...on defense the man leading the way was LB Karlos Dansby...that has led to back-to-back Division Titles, and a 2008 Super Bowl run...that constitutes the good news...the bad news is zero of those players remain...


Matt Leinart
2010 Training Camp takes on particular importance as a result of the overhaul...QB Matt Leinart gets his first full season as the man running the show (hey good luck with that)...Derek Anderson will also be in Camp looking to overtake Leinart as the teams #1 QB...rookie John Skelton (5th round Fordham) will be in Camp too...if Leinart really is going to be a #1 going forward then much will have to improve in Camp...footwork not the least of it

Training Camp is normally a time for great WR Larry Fitzgerald to stay cool and get ready for the NFL grind, but this year more will be required as he has to try to find a rhythm with these QB's...this is a huge Camp for Steve Breaston as he is the new #2 and needs to show that he is deserving of that...another young WR Early Doucett will be looking to earn increased catches too...Darren Mougey and Stephen Williams both have zero NFL catches, but each is 6'5" which makes a nice target and will need to display that in Camp...rookie Andre Roberts (3rd round Citadel) will surely get a chance to earn playing time as well

The O-Line will need to gel in Camp...Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot are in, but Mike Gandy is out...young Brandon Keith will be getting a longer look in Camp 

The running game is in good hands in the desert...2nd year RB Beanie Wells is a stud-in-the-making...he started zero games in his rookie year, but his potential and his ability were on full display when he was inserted to spell the starter Tim Hightower...Hightower averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2009, Wells 4.5...Hightower 8 TD's, Wells 7...'Zona also has 2nd year man LaRod Stephens-Howling looking for increased carries...the overall team rushing #'s for 'Zona in 2009 were terrible, but we see a lot of good young talent at this position...the starting FB is up for grabs and will see audition'ers like Jason Wright and the Hawaiin Reagan Mauia

On Defense the D-Line will use Training Camp to further the development of Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema...the line lost veterans in the off-season, but added rookies Dan Williams (1st round Tennessee) and O'Brien Schofield (4th round Wisconsin) who both will have a chance to earn playing time - especially Williams who could be a starter right away

The LB unit lost leader Karlos Dansby, but added Joey Porter in the off-season...Porter will need to show in Training Camp that he is the man to address the void left by Dansby's departure...not a whole lot of talent on this unit so young guys like Will Davis, Reggie Walker, and Pago Togafau will have an opportunity in Camp to show that they can add depth...rookie Daryl Washington (2nd round TCU) will be given an opportunity to contribute to this unit too

Rodgers-Cromartie INT
The Secondary gave up yards, but took the ball away quite a bit in 2009...3rd year man Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a stud-in-the-making...he fully acknowledges that he can be even better then he has been, and in his 3rd Training Camp he does need to take those steps forward...2nd year man Greg Toler will get a chance to be the other starting CB...at the Saftey spots gone is Antrel Rolle, but in is Kerry Rhodes...other Defensive Backs in Camp looking for increased action are Matt Ware, Michael Adams, plus former Troy players Trevor Ford and Jorrick Calvin

 The Kick Returner spot is up for grabs in Training Camp...especially with Steve Breaston being given more responsibility in the passing game - likely do not want him returning kicks as well

The Pete Carroll era is about to begin in Seattle...Carroll couldn't run fast enough to get away from the sinking ship in USC...the Trojans are banned from post-season play for 2010 and 2011 amongst several punishments to the university...former USC football star Reggie Bush has been found guilty of numerous NCAA infractions and of course the university is on the hook for the punishment...Carroll himself was also quilty of NCAA violations...we remember that Carroll has been a Head Coach in the NFL in the past...one of the worst I have ever seen...33-31 with zero play-off wins...I believe this guy is an absolute joke of a Head Coach in the NFL so I expect zero from his latest attempt in the League...I will say this though - the personnel moves that have been made so far certainly give Carroll a chance to get his time with Seattle off on the right foot...

This team was mediocre in 2009...bottom-third of just about every Offense and Defense category

The team traded for QB Charlie Whitehurst in the off-season to be their #2 today, and #1 of the future...many viewed the trade as a risk because so many QB's changed teams this year and all of them have had significantly more success than the 0 pass attempts in the 4 years Whiterhurst had as a Charger in San Diego...and Seahawks fans cannot be excited about having J.P. Losman in Camp - we know he is brutal

The team did make some draft-day trades to bolster the running game...or so we thought...on the surface I liked the idea of trading for LenDale White to re-unite him with his USC coach Pete Carroll, but weeks later White was cut by the team (?)...the 'Hawks also acquired RB Leon Washington who has a 4.8 yards per carry career average, but has always had limited playing time...3rd year man Justin Forsett looks like he has a chance to be the starter...

Russell Okung stands guard
The big difference on Offense this year is the new man running the O-Line...Alex Gibbs will be using Training Camp to start to put in the type of Zone Blocking system that led to all his success in Denver...when you think about the success of Denver's rushing attack from 1995 - 2003, and the idea that numerous RB's gobbled up 1,000+ yards in this system then you see the optimism here as the 'Hawks could improve greatly on their #26 ranking in the Team rushing stats from '09...The O-Line from '09 struggled with consistency...numerous different starting combinations...heck at Left Tackle alone the 'Hawks tried 4 different starters in 2009 (yikes)...enter 6'5'' 310 pound OT Russell Okung (#6 overall in this years draft)...remember earlier when I said that Carroll's stint in Seattle has got off to a great start personnel-wise?!?!  Here is an example...To have such a hole at Left Tackle and to be able to fill that whole with a talent like Okung is really damn good
 The WR unit has a lot of experience, but short on talent...veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch are solid I guess, but this unit needs an injection of youth and talent...again we say that Pete Carroll gets lucky as there has been potential added to the mix...former first rounder Mike Williams, a spectacular bust, is in Camp and looking to impress...this guy has zero track record, but a ton of potential...the coaching staff will be trying to develop him in Camp...rookie Golden Tate (2nd round from Notre Dame) will be given a chance to shine as well...2nd year man Deon Butler will also need to use Camp to further develop his skills

Earl Thomas lays the smack down
On Defense more good news for Carroll...#14 overall pick Earl Thomas (Texas) will instantly add to a Secondary that was bad in '09...now in fairness the pass-rush was nonexistent so the Secondary had to cover WR's for longer than would normally be expected...even so the #'s were really really bad...rookie CB Walter Thurmond (4th round from Oregon) will get a chance to contribute right away as well...
 Seattle will be looking to further implement their 3-4 hybrid Defense...it is a hybrid in that they use an ''Elephant'' pass rusher who will be in different spots and comes from different angles into different gaps each time...the elephant will be a player who fits the mold of a LB/D-Lineman...Chris Clemons for example...Lawrence Johnson needs to improve in Camp, as do Colin Cole, Kevin Vikerson, and Brandon Mebane...they are joined on the D-Line by rookie E.J.Wilson (4th round North Carolina)

The LB crew is strong...injuries in 2009 prevented the unit from playing together for any stretch of time, but the talent is there...the likes of Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, and Will Herring all bring talent to the table...York University alum Ricky Foley is in Camp too (a little CanCon for you!)

Special Teams will have new man Leon Washington likely as the Kick Returner, while FG kicker Olindo Mare has made a Seahawks record 21 straight FG's heading into 2010

St. Louis
R.I.P. Greatest Show On Turf...we remember you fondly...we remember you showed us how a passing game could be on the attack...you showed us how to send several WR's in routes throughout the field and QB Kurt Warner and QB Marc Bulger were left to pick-and-choose what open WR to get the ball to...you showed us how to have the pass to set up the run...you have however passed on...the 2009 Rams scored fewer points than any team in the entire NFL...a ton of help is en route...the draft provided skill and size on both sides of the ball...

Sam  Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in 2008
On offense of course the Rams used the #1 overall pick to draft QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)...the consensus certainly is that Bradford posses all of the necessary tools to be a stud in the League...his arm strength and accuracy are already ahead of the curve...he will require a lot of help...in the short-term the Rams brought in A.J. Feeley to run the show...Feeley is familiar with what Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur wants to do on offense having spent several years with Shurmur in Philly...the short-term solution is likely Feeley to give Bradford a chance to develop naturally

The running game actually features a top-notch RB in Steven Jackson...on the surface his 2009 #'s are spectacular...1,400+ yards with a 4.4 average per carry...only 4 TD's though...to have 324 carries and only get to the house 4 times is an indicator at how badly the O-Line played in the Red Zone...Camp will be a chance for RB's Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby to show that they can take a few carries off of Jackson's plate to provide depth to this position

We referenced the struggles of the O-Line in St. Louis...rookie Rodger Saffold (2nd round Indiana) will get a look in Camp to compete with young guys like Jason Smith, Roger Allen III, and John Greco - plus veterans Jason Brown, Hank Fraley, Adam Goldberg, and Jacob Bell...all of whom will get a chance to show that they can be trusted with playing time on this unit

The WR unit for the Rams is poor...VERY young/inexperienced unit...3rd year man Donnie Avery was the top WR in 2009 with just 589 yards...a lot will be expected from young Laurent Robinson as he will get a chance in Camp to earn a starting job...rookie Mardy Gilyard (4th round from Cincinnati) will get a chance to become at least WR #3 in the rotation during Training Camp

The great Wild Card to the Rams O in 2010 is RB Brian Westbrook...he is currently a free-agent and as we approach the Regular Season we know Westbrook will be on a team soon, and the Rams are one of the teams that the great veteran is considering

We have looked at the poor scoring #'s for the Rams O...but to go 1-15 requires extreme futility on D too...one of worst defenses in the NFL vs the run, and vs the pass...most points allowed...fewest INT's (this team had 8 INT's in 2009 which is one every 2 games - YIKES)...low sacks

On the D-Line veterans Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins were brought in to try to help this season...4th year man Clifton Ryan will need to continue his progression...as do Darrel Scott and Chris Long...rookies Hall Davis (5th round Louisiana-Lafayette) Eugene Sims (6th round West Texas A&M) George Selvie (7th round South Florida) will all get a chance in Training Camp to show that they can add depth to this unit

Road Warrior James Laurinaitis
In a sea of crap LB James Laurinaitis was a stud in his rookie campaign of 2009 and much will be expected from this stud-in-the-making...the LB's after him though are a steep drop-off...Bobby Carpenter, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, Larry Grant, and veteran Na'il Diggs will all get a chance to show their stuff in Camp 

In the Secondary this Camp is the return from injury for young CB Bradley Fletcher...he will get a chance with rookie Jerome Murphy (3rd round South Florida) to show that they can be starters for this team...veterans Ron Bartell, Kevin Dockery, and Kevin Payne will get their shot at starting too...

On Special Teams rookie Mardy Gilyard should get a chance in Camp to compete with Danny Amendola for the Kick Returner job

All other NFC, and all AFC Divisions are below...drop me a line with your thoughts... craig.ballard@hotmail.com