As a blanket statement I like to opine that none of their units have taken steps back from a year ago. The moves and acquisitions made by this regime are (or appear to be) all wise football decisions made with a clear purpose and unwavering resolve. Here's my weigh in on the team as a whole and some gut feelings on how the season plays out.
I'll avoid wasting time on the backup situation, but can go many ways on Edwards. I think he still possesses that middle of the road NFL QB potential we've seen flashes of, especially 2 years ago in the 4-0 run. I really feel like he's gotten a raw deal in his 3 years thus far: As a rookie had to win a spot from the former "team leader" Losman because of injury, while having to deal with some of his teammates pining for the other guy, specifically his #1 receiver. 2008 was off to an MVP start (no joke) and got put out of commission by an illegal headshot, never really recovering. In 2010 had to start off with huge expectations learn some farce of a no huddle scheme, only to be reverted to a "pop warner" [Credit joey Porter] type offense under green offensive coordinator when shonert was fired.
So bring in Gailey a proven OC with lots of NFL experience and Cortez the QB coach who after a ton of CFL success turned Cal into a QB factory and an offensive powerhouse (Boller and Rodgers). Finally we have some semblance of a professional offensive coaching stable. Thus far it seems they're doing everything to put Trent in a position to succeed. They're tailoring the scheme to the talent we have, looking to maximize it. If trent doesn't take a huge step forward this year he has no hope and even if he does he's nothing more than a short term answer at the position.
Can't complain about a lack of talent here. If you told me 12 months ago Lynch would be the 3rd stringer i might have shot one in your eye. Well that's what we got. The spiller pick was certainly a luxury pick, but we can't deny he was had the most game breaking ability on the board and immediately injects life into the offense, something a need pick may not have done right away. I'm not taking much from the preseason other than he showed what we expected he would. Word is he won't be a 'fulltime back' if those even exist anymore. I'm hearing they'll move him around and get the ball into his hands where he can use his abilities best - speed and elusiveness, think open field. Jackson is what he is. A great motivational story and a quality NFL back but really should only be a complementary player on a good NFL team. Will he be featured at certain junctions of a game? Yes but I can't see him taking back the #1 job anytime soon. I really wanted Lynch to turn into that short yardage or goal line back that steals TDs every week, except I'm hearing he's looked sluggish all preseason and is probably the worst of the 3 at hitting the hole quickly and decisively. Where that leaves him I do not know. There's even a chance he could be a healthy scratch from time to time. I agree with the non-move of keeping him on the roster just don't know how his role with shake out.
Still don't have a true #1 on this team, sorry Lee. It's been a while since we could say there's a guy that can get open consistently and on his own. Without that complementary threat it's always going to be a struggle for him, tough life. Any of the next 2-3 guys could emerge this year, my gut feeling is that you'll see the ball spread pretty evenly between Roscoe, Steve Johnson, and hopefully David Nelson. It'll depend on what the defensive is giving us week to week. Sad to see Hardy released with all his potential. It is a good message though that this regime is keeping the best players with the best attitude, draft position be darned. I wouldn't be surprised to see Evan reach the 1000 yard plateau again with a good chunk of those yards coming on long gainers. He's not a high reception guy so there should be plenty of love to spread to whomever wants it. The tight ends are once again a weak spot. Are we ready to give up on Nelson yet? Even before the suspension he was proving to be nothing more than a decent back up receiving option. It'd be nice to see something out of David Martin, though he might not have much left. This position will probably end up relegated to an outlet or security blanket for the QB. No one scares me downfield.
I'll start immediately by saying Brad Butler put them in a tough spot with his retirement. Collected 2/3 years of his $8.8M contract and called it quits. Nothing personal on the decision, but losing a projected (granted he was healing) starter was tough. The theme of this unit seems to be athletic with potential. The guards Wood/Levitre are legitimate long term solutions as planned by the previous regime, kudos i guess. Signing this kid from the steelers, Craig Urbik, may open the door for Wood's move to center. He was reportedly the highest coveted OL cut last week and could be a mauler inside when he eventually cracks the lineup, 6-5 323!!! Tackles of course are the greatest unknown and the biggest importance to the passing game. Green should be solid but less than dominant and what do we have with Bell? Two years ago he was our sleeper LT of the future with Karl Malone's genes and a year or two to grow. Well we're here and if he's healthy he could be just that. I think he'd be a better fit at RT when an adequate replacement is found. It doesn't seem like anyone is being handed a job here, and game performance is going a long way with the coaching staff. Kind of a "load up on potential and something HAS to stick" type of strategy. Not reassuring today, but could pay dividends when the cream eventually rises and ages to perfection like stinky cheese!!
Again, I think the players here are slightly interchangeable and are having to earn their keep. We have some nice vets in there (Stroud, Williams, Dwan Edwards) to carry the load with some talented youth to fill the gaps and play their way into the rotation. I'm real excited Carrington and Troup will mature over the year and give us nice backups or spot starters by year's end. Throw Johnson and McCargo in the mix and I think our DL line is slightly above average with room to grow. From the preseason numbers the 3-4 will not be the predominant formation, especially on passing downs (though it may be a ploy). So Maybin/Ellis could factor in here at DE. Two more guys with great athleticism that haven't shown much, but could thrive.
Easily the weakest position on the field right now. I like the Poz and Davis tandem up the middle. Not having to take on blockers benefits Poz immensely and should give him the chance to rack up tackles all over the field. Mitchell just was put on IR for the season, let's hope Ayodele can fill in capably. He played for George Edwards last year so nothing is new to him. I don't expect more than special teams play from Ellison and Moats is looking like a failed project so far. Simply awful in preseason. The OLB is where the question marks pile up. Is Maybin anything more than a super specialized pass rusher? Can Ellis or Kelsey contribute enough in pass coverage to not be a huge liability? I wish we would have gone after any of the FA linebackers that had experience in this type of defense. A few that come to mind were Antwan Barnes, Adalius Thomas, Keith Bullock, Larry Foote. Basically a veteran that could have contributed, or more importantly been a teacher. Torbor is a poor man's version of that.
Quite obviously our defensive strength. The 3-4 hinges on the CB's ability to cover man-to-man and I feel like we have 3 high quality players in that regard. Florence winning the job I think says more about him than McKelvin. A motivated professional that had a down year and ended up being a bargain for us. The depth is great here as well. The nickel backs can all play physical and play with the first team if needed. McKelvin needs to step up this year and win his job back before McGee starts to fade. The safeties also seem very versatile and we'll see a bevy of different looks here. When Byrd is full strength we have 4 starting caliber guys than can be switched in and out based on situation rather easily. I'm looking for Whitner to have a career year, going back to his Ohio State Role as a roving safety. Look for some big hits and for him to be involved a lot more than previous years. Scott will be rotated in as a coverage LB at times and Wilson provides veteran depth. He is only getting better in now his 3rd year of safety work. I'm not sure how much of our success last year against the pass was due to our exploited weakness vs the run, but on paper it's easy to see why they're so confident in this unit.
Not much should be judged on special teams in the preseason. The coverage teams definitely looked poor as it's a constant flux of players trying to give them a chance to win a spot. In fact this is the first time we haven't carried a purely ST depth player a la Corto, Aiken, or Stamer in a while. Dehaven will most certainly be a step back (not just in time) from the genius that was Bobby April, but he's no slouch. Our returner position is fairly deep and I don't recall if they've officially named these yet. A mix of Spiller and Donald Jones, with a possibility of seeing Parrish and McKelvin is quality. Once again Lindell and Moorman should be solid.
In all I can only like the direction we're moving as a team. They're confident in the talent and depth they've amassed and are going to let it play out before they settle on an identity. I'm certain we'll be surprised several times by players coming from the 2nd units and performing well as #1's. Likewise several starters could regress and lose their jobs just as easily.
For the schedule I certainly see some winnable games.
I really think NE won't be a powerhouse by any means. Belichick is cutting players he gave up a lot for left and right (Burgess, Thomas). Their defense is weakened with Ty Warren and McGowan out, the starting DBs have 4 years experience TOTAL, the running game is a washed up quartet, and their receiving corp hasn't gotten better around Brady with Moss’s age and Welker’s knee.
The Jet's were in the AFC championship yes, but do remember they went 9-7 and only got in when the Bengals and Colts sat their starters. The pressure is on this year no doubt, and most is self induced hype. I have no faith in Sanchez being anything more than mediocre. Carrying a team full of second chance vets (Taylor, LT, Richardson) and character cast offs (Braylon, Santonio, Cromartie) is pretty risky as well.
The 2 dolphins match-ups immediately jump out at me. Are they the 11-5 team of 2008 or has this youth movement sent them back/even with 2009? Henne looked competent last year, but unspectacular. With their running game and Marshall though, he won't have to be.
KC, Chicago, JAX, Detroit, and Cleveland are all toss ups looking at it today. From the rest (GB, Minn, Pitt, Cinn, Balt) we'd certainly be underdogs, but I'd count on 1 upset mixed in there. So take 1 win v Miami, 1 in the 4 games vs NE/NYJ, 3 v the scrubs and 1 upset vs the cream, putting us at a neutral 6 wins.
Ok, back to work...