Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
02 Sep 2005
by Will Carroll
(Ed. Note: Thanks to Will for filling in and knocking out this short Four Downs while I'm still trying to wrap up all the preseason projections and predictions articles.)
It's a bad sign when you miss Drew Bledsoe. I've held bad feelings towards him since encountering him at the Senior Bowl. We didn't talk, but an errant pass was going over my head and the natural reaction to stick my hand up occurred before my brain could say it was a bad idea. Oh, was it a bad idea. Bledsoe's pass tore the skin off my fingertips, very literally, and I learned a new respect for wide receivers and those all-important gloves. Still, Bledsoe's past is J.P. Losman's future and it hasn't been bright in the preseason. (Through three games: 27-for-51 with just 4.5 yards per pass attempt.)
Losman is still unsure who'll be running routes for him as the team continues to let Drew Haddad and Josh Reed battle for the third WR slot and Shaud Williams and Lionel Gates fight to back up RB Willis McGahee. The third receiver slot could be more important given Eric Moulds up-and-down career and sore ribs. Reed has been getting most of the reps while Roscoe Parrish has been out, though Haddad has experience in the return game. Gates seems to have solidified his position heading into the final pre-season game, a pretty good feat for a seventh-round pick. Mike Mularkey and his staff will have lots of decisions after the final preseason game.
The list of college coaches that have gone on the NFL success is long and illustrious. Sure, people will bring up Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier, but Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer had plenty of success, while few remember that Bill Walsh was a college guy before as well as after that stint in San Francisco. There's a long list of college coaches gone pro, something worthy of study by another of the Football Outsiders. So Dolphins fans are hoping that Nick Saban brings something to the table that can change the team's fortunes, on the downslide since they let that other college coach go.
Saban's known as a defensive whiz, but it's the offense that needs the help. Two "new" running backs -- Ronnie Brown and the reborn Ricky Williams -- will help the attack, though they're still looking for something better than the Sage Rosenfels Experience to run the offense. The constant tinkering with the offensive line isn't a good sign either. The Dolphins have shuffled the line around in every preseason game, and the big free agent signing (ex-Lion Stockar McDougle) has now been banished to second-string. Can a team win in the NFL with a grinding running game and a stingy defense? Probably not with this offensive line, but respectability is a win for the Dolphins, even if a 6-10 season knocks them out of the running for Matt Leinart.
David Halberstam has written books about Vietnam, Ted Williams, civil rights, and whole decades. Now, he focuses on Bill Belichick. Halberstam presents Belichick as an anti-hero for the modern era of football, the opposite of the charismatic leader of men or the inspirational coach echoing the lessons of Lombardi. Everything from his hoodie-covered rejection of celebrity to his Wesleyan education is covered. The book, The Education of a Coach comes out in early November and could be something of a football version of Moneyball, focusing attention on someone who actually doesn't want the attention while shedding light on matters that might have already been passed by. Belichick has a three advantages over Billy Beane when it comes time to answer his critics. Expect Amazon boxes on the doorsteps of 31 teams come November 1.
Of course, the Pats remain focused on the field. Rumors of an impending Peerless Price visit don't make sense given the depth at wide receiver, though this is a team unafraid to buck conventional wisdom if it can improve the team. Heck, given Troy Brown's success at defensive back last season, maybe they think Price could help the defense.
Heading into Thursday's game, the Jets seem to have things moving in the right direction. John Abraham is back under contract, Chad Pennington is showing that he's ready to play if not quite fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, and Lavernaneus Coles seems to think it's easy being green. They're left with one game to make cuts, figure out the depth chart, and look around at the Meadowlands. Yes, Giants Stadium will continue to be home now that the Manhattan Project is now officially ended. Herm Edwards seems more concerned with chemistry than talent at this stage, a stance that's all well and good when you have the talent to not worry.
The defense, so questionable-looking in the off-season, seems to be coming around. Abraham's return helps a defense that has looked aggressive and turnover-promoting. It's not exactly the same defense we'll see on Sundays, but it's been a nice step. Once Ty Law is integrated into the defense, the old "Gang Green" tag might be applicable once more. The major worry now is no longer the defensive backfield, but the offensive line, needed to keep the healing Pennington upright more often.
This is the last edition of Four Downs: AFC East for 2005.
Next week: The final Four Downs for the NFC East and NFC North.
10 comments, Last at 05 Sep 2005, 1:53am by johonny