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. Does anyone in the NFC South have any pass rushers? Well, the Bucs might, but they still need more players to catch the ball.
20 May 2011
by Brian McIntyre
Dallas' pass-rush remained effective in 2010, ranking 11th in adjusted sack rate, up from a 12th-place ranking in 2009. Despite getting similar production up front, the Cowboys dropped from 15th in pass defense DVOA in 2009, when starting cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins both made the Pro Bowl, to 28th in 2010. Newman and Jenkins both struggled in 2010, as did free safety Alan Ball, who is expected to be moved back to his natural cornerback position in 2011.
Jenkins returns in a starting role, but Newman turns 33 in September and is due an $8 million base salary, making him no lock to return in 2011. Dallas may look for a replacement for Newman through free agency, as Orlando Scandrick and 2010 undrafted free agent Bryan McCann are better suited for nickelback and dime back roles. The Cowboys used a fifth-round pick on University of Buffalo cornerback Josh Thomas.
In addition to Ball moving to cornerback, strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, leaving the Cowboys with a considerable hole in the back-end of the secondary. Second-year players Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (a fourth-round pick in 2010), Barry Church, Danny McCray, and Andrew Sendejo are the only safeties signed for 2011. Less than a year after showing interest in O.J. Atogwe, the Cowboys passed on signing the street free agent when he was available in February. Re-signing Sensabaugh is an option, and the Cowboys have been linked to former University of Texas standout Michael Huff, a 2006 first-round pick by the Oakland Raiders who will hit the free agent market this offseason.
General manager Jerry Reese had a terrific draft, adding cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round, defensive tackle Marvin Austin in the second round, and slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan in the third. There were two areas Reese didn't address early: linebacker and the interior of the offensive line.
Injuries in the middle forced the Giants to start three players at center last season. Even with the injuries, the Giants ranked seventh in adjusted line yards and second in adjusted sack rate last season. Still, all three players who started at center are recovering from offseason surgeries.
Starting center Shaun O'Hara turns 34 next month and underwent surgery on his right foot and left ankle and Achilles, while Rich Seubert and Adam Koets are both coming off knee surgeries. Right guard Chris Snee is a perennial Pro Bowler, but aside from 2010 fifth-round pick Mitch Petrus, who appeared in 11 games as a rookie, the Giants lack depth on the inside of their line.
Clint Sintim , a 2009 second-round linebacker, was expected to win the starting strongside linebacker job last summer but lost out to veteran middle linebacker Keith Bulluck, who was moved outside in the second half of training camp. Sintim would total 13 tackles, mainly on special teams, before landing on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL.
Bulluck is an unrestricted free agent, so Sintim again sits atop the depth chart, with only 2010 sixth-round pick Adrian Tracy, who missed his rookie season with an elbow injury, to challenge him. The Giants used a pair of sixth-round picks on linebackers Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams, but until Sintim shows that he is healthy and ready to seize the opportunity, the Giants appear to have a hole at outside linebacker.
Trent Cole posted 10 sacks and the Eagles ranked 5th in adjusted sack rate, but the pass rush fell off in the second half of the season, generating just 15 sacks in the second half of 2010. Defensive end Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, who finished the season on injured reserve with a torn ACL, combined for just four sacks after the midpoint of the season. Philadelphia also got very little pass-rush production from their tackles.
The Eagles fired defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and defensive line coach Rory Segrest after the season, promoting Juan Castillo to coordinator and hiring highly respected defensive line coach Jim Washburn from the Titans.
The Eagles did not address the front four in the draft, hoping that Graham will return from his knee injury and that Washburn will wring production out of Parker, Tapp, and tackles Trevor Laws, Mike Patterson, and Brodrick Bunkley. An improved pass rush could help the secondary, which is looking for a starting cornerback opposite Asante Samuel.
Samuel remains an elite-level cornerback, intercepting seven passes in just 11 games and earning a third Pro Bowl nod since signing with the Eagles in 2008. Free-agent Ellis Hobbs started at right cornerback last season, but a neck injury ended his season, and possibly his career. Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson are more effective in reserve roles in nickel and dime packages. Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, and 2010 fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley are potential starters down the road but not in 2011.
In a quarterback-driven league, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan needs to figure out who will be under center in 2011. With the expected release of Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman headed for unrestricted free agency, John Beck is the only certainty on the team heading into training camp.
A former second-round pick out of Brigham Young by the Dolphins in 2007, Beck was acquired from the Ravens last August and spent 2010 backing up McNabb and Grossman. Beck has not attempted a regular season NFL pass since December 30, 2007, so head coach Mike Shanahan will want to bring in an experienced quarterback to compete with Beck for the Redskins' starting job.
Washington ranked 27th in pass defense DVOA in 2010 and, thanks largely to a four-interception game against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, DeAngelo Hall made his first Pro Bowl since the 2006 season. Starter Carlos Rogers is an unrestricted free agent, as is Phillip Buchanon, who started a handful of games and led the team with 18 passes defensed last season. Kevin Barnes, a 2009 third-round pick, may move into the starting lineup, but the only other cornerbacks on the roster are Byron Westbrook, Reggie Jones, and seventh-round pick Brandyn Thompson. Teams need three good cornerbacks to compete in the NFL, and right now the Redskins are at least one short.
A version of this article previously appeared on ESPN Insider.
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