Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
10 May 2010
By Vince Verhei
The Bills went into the draft with holes up and down their roster. Among other needs, they could have used a quarterback, a wide receiver, a nose tackle, or a bevy of offensive linemen. A month ago in this space, we named the offensive line as the team’s biggest need, figuring that better blocking would not only help the team win more games in 2010, but would also keep any promising quarterback prospect alive and well for years to come.
The Bills apparently disagreed, taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller with the Draft’s ninth pick, then focusing on defensive line (Central Florida’s Torrell Troup and Arkansas State’s Alex Carrington) and wide receiver (Connecticut’s Marcus Easley) in the next three rounds. Only in the fifth round, 140 picks into the draft, did they address their offensive line, selecting Virginia Tech tackle Ed Wang. They added Iowa tackle Kyle Calloway in the seventh round.
Barring injury, neither rookie is likely to start this year, which means the Bills will be starting a pair of promising guards (second-year players Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) alongside castoffs at right tackle (journeyman Cornell Green) and center (Geoff Hangartner, a starter in Buffalo after years on the bench in Carolina) and a left tackle with little experience or talent (Demetrius Bell, a seventh-round pick in 2008 with eight career NFL games). Not surprisingly, this unit was much better at run blocking than pass blocking last season, so you can expect to see plenty of Spiller highlights on television. On third-and-long, though, prospects seem dismal. Bills quarterbacks could spend a lot of time on the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf -- or on the disabled list.
Naaman Roosevelt was the Jerry Rice of the University of Buffalo, setting school records for catches, yards, and touchdowns just a half-hour south of Orchard Park. He also returned punts for the Bulls, which may help him stick with the Bills -- Roscoe Parrish averaged only 5.5 yards per return last season. Senior Bowl invitee Joique Bell rushed for more than 6,700 yards for Wayne State and was 2009’s Division II Player of the Year. Bills scout Brian Fisher noted Bell’s ability to break tackles as well as his pass-blocking skills. Wide receiver David Nelson started only 14 games at Florida, but a 4.49-second 40-yard dash caught the Bills’ attention. Weber State offensive lineman Kyle Mutcher was a first-team FCS All-American despite playing most of the year with a foot injury that eventually required surgery. The Bills also added Georgia Tech guard Cordaro Howard, a 300-plus-pounder who was first-team All-ACC last year.
The Dolphins used all means of player acquisition this offseason, filling holes through free agency (inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, formerly of Arizona), trade (ex-Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall), and the draft (Penn State defensive lineman Jared Odrick and Utah linebacker Koa Misi). But through it all, their only change at safety was a subtraction, releasing Gibril Wilson. Last year’s starter at free safety, Yeremiah Bell, will slide over to strong safety, his more natural position, but that leaves the free position open.
The likely starter is Tyrone Culver, a sixth-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2006. Culver played sparingly in his rookie season, then was cut by the Packers after missing all of 2007 with a shoulder injury. The Dolphins signed him just before the 2008 season started, waived him a month later, and re-signed him a week after that. The only other real candidate is Georgia’s Reshad Jones, taken late in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Jones has size (6-1, 214 pounds) and speed (4.58-second 40-yard dash), but lacks agility. He was slowest among safeties at the Combine in both the three-cone and short-shuttle drills. One of these men will be the last line of defense on a team with serious playoff aspirations in 2010.
The Dolphins still needed a deep threat after the draft, so it was good news that a pair of undrafted rookie receivers -- Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace -- impressed observers with route-running, hands, and deep speed at the team’s rookie minicamp. Moore struggled with injuries throughout his career at Fresno State, but he did flash big-play ability, scoring a 92-yard touchdown against UC Davis in 2009 and a 63-yard punt return touchdown against UCLA the year before. Wallace wowed onlookers at San Diego State’s pro day, running a 4.41 40-yard dash that would have placed him second among receivers at the Combine -- and he weighs 223 pounds. Speaking of weight, 341-pound defensive tackle Travis Ivey out of Maryland has the size to be a nose tackle in Miami’s 3-4.
Technically, the Patriots didn’t ignore this position in the draft -- they spent one of their three second-round selections on Florida’s Jermaine Cunningham -- but this is still the weakest position on the roster. The star of the unit, Tully Banta-Cain, led the team with 10 sacks last year, but that was a one-year fluke. In his other six seasons, he has never had more than 5.5 sacks, and he has still never started more than 10 games in a season.
The other starter will likely be Pierre Woods, a career backup with eight fill-in starts in the past two seasons. After Banta-Cain and Woods, there five other outside linebackers with the Patriots, and none of them has ever started a game.
It seems like an ideal situation for Cunningham to play right away, but he’ll have to make an adjustment to outside linebacker in New England’s 3-4 after playing defensive end in Florida’s 4-3. The good news is that Florida used a lot of zone blitzes, so Cunningham has experience dropping into coverage.
The rest of the crew consists of castoffs from other teams (Rob Ninkovich, Marques Murrell, Bruce Davis) and Shawn Crable, a third-round pick in 2008 who has missed each of his first two seasons due to various injuries.
Erik Scalavino covered the Patriots’ rookie minicamp for the team’s official Web site. He came away most impressed not by any of the team’s draftees, but by "the tryout receiver wearing number 13." Scalavino was impressed by 13’s hands, routes, and YAC ability, but wasn’t able to confirm his identity until rookie camp had ended. Turns out he was Buddy Farnham from that traditional football factory Brown University. Farnham didn’t even earn a contract until camp was over, but he’s on the roster now.
Offensive lineman John Wise was a wrestler, not a football player, at Illinois. (He did play nine games for Western Illinois in 2004 before transferring to Illinois to wrestle.) A three-time qualifier for the NCAA championships, Wise went 25-9 and was named an All-American his senior season. The Patriots have experience with wrestlers on their offensive line. Guard Stephen Neal didn’t play football in college either, but he was a two-time NCAA champion at Cal State-Bakersfield and a winner of the Danny Hodge trophy.
Wide receiver Bryan Anderson caught a pass in 54 consecutive games at Central Michigan, an NCAA record. He finished second in school history in receptions and first in yards and touchdowns. Montana State linebacker Dane Fletcher was defensive MVP of the Big Sky conference last season.
Last month we said that the Jets’ biggest need going into the draft was depth in the front seven. The Jets, however, selected Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson in the first round, then spent their final three picks on offensive players. While the addition of outside linebacker Jason Taylor from Miami will boost the team’s pass rush, the questionable status of Marques Douglas (still unsigned) makes defensive end the most worrisome spot on the roster.
Assuming Douglas doesn’t return, the contest for his position looks like a two-man race between Mike Devito and Rodrique Wright. DeVito has played in 38 games for the Jets in the past three seasons, with only one start. He has exactly half a sack in his career, which could lead to some interesting conversations. ("Did you ever get a sack in the NFL?" ... "Well, kinda.") Wright started nine games for Miami in 2007, but he missed all of the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons with a shoulder injury. (He did play in Miami’s playoff game against Baltimore after the 2008 season.)
Vernon Gholston, the former sixth overall draft pick in 2008 who looks up at DeVito’s half-a-sack with envy, is also competing for the spot. After Gholston failed to get to the quarterback in his first two seasons at linebacker, the Jets have moved him to defensive end in a last-ditch effort to get some sort of production out of him.
The Jets didn’t draft any front-seven players, but they did bring in a bunch of undrafted free agents. Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer has experience in the 3-4 under Nick Saban, and Jets coach Rex Ryan said Reamer was "really standing out" in rookie camp. Another linebacker looking to earn a spot on the roster is Hawaii’s Brashton Satele, who missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. If the name sounds familiar, his brother Samson was a center for the Dolphins and now plays for the Raiders.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Mick Williams had 17 tackles for loss in his senior season, but, at 280 pounds, is undersized for a 3-4 end. Defensive end Jason Lamb isn’t much bigger at 285 pounds, but he was a two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 player, and he also blocked two field goals at Baylor.
According to some reports, Nevada linebacker Kevin Basped neglected to inform his coaches that he was bypassing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Then he went undrafted. Oops.
North Dakota State guard Keith Buckman didn’t leave school for the NFL, but the All-Missouri Valley Conference first-teamer did make headlines when he skipped out on his brother’s wedding to attend the Jets’ rookie minicamp.
Texas guard Charlie Tanner was a two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 player.
(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN.com Insider.)
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