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June 2009

Thursday’s Thoughts of Football in The SEC

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Thursday's Thoughts of Football in The SEC  | read this item

There’s a lot of Sunday coach’s shows I don’t watch, but of all the ones I do, it seems old Yeller Feller is tossing his cash toward that school.  Now it may be savvy marketing and I’m sure he’s hitting a large male audience, but he’s about the biggest Auburn booster this side of Bobby Lowder.

So I wonder if it sticks in his craw when he must know most of his sponsorship dollars are going straight in Nick Saban’s pockets as well as the other coaches.  These shows are big cash generators for the coaches you know.

Heck, he even films a lot of commercials with them, or did, until his cowboy fantasy took over.

We know his sponsorship gets him the ‘private’ numbers of the coaches because his late night call to Houston Nutt gave Tuberville the last laugh in his firing.  If you don’t know that whole story, go to Intrigue, Conspiracy and a Great Story May Have Gotten Gene Chizik a Job 

But I wonder if he gets ‘other’ perks?  Surely a seat or two… In a nice skybox?  Inside information?  No wait that was Franchione’s sponsors. 

I can’t think of another company that sponsors so many coaches shows, there has to be a reason I’m missing.  It’s not like they’re expanding Bryant Denny Stadium with Osmose Pressure Treated Wood.

And where would my Thursday Thoughts be without a dig a Lane Kiffin.  This week he received a commitment from a 13 year old.  Yes that’s right, a 13 year old.

Something’s kind of wrong with taking a commitment from a kid who doesn’t even need to wear a cup yet.

And to think I was making jokes about Saban taking commitments for the 2011 class. 

Speaking of commits, with each team now limited in the number of commits they can sign, each has to be done with a little more care.  It also makes getting them in the fold faster more important.

With that in mind, here’s the breakdown of 2010 commits in the books, even if it is only written in pencil.

Team          Commits          Points 

Alabama -      18                 2765

Florida -         15                2312

LSU -             15                2049

Georgia -        12                1977

Tennessee -    11                1221

South Carolina – 12                960

Auburn -            8                 854

Vanderbilt -       11                512

Arkansas -         6                 367

Miss State -       5                 223

Mississippi -       2                  88

Kentucky -        1                  72

Now let’s examine what’s going on and just put it all in perspective with a few statements sure to cause a few thoughts to spin through your head.

Bobby Petrino at Arkansas is supposed to be a Nick Saban type genius and he’s got half the recruits so far Bobby Johnson at Vandy.

You wonder why I never talk about Kentucky?  One commit so far?  Maybe his dad was a former player or something, they’re so boring I haven’t checked.

Where’s all the excitement over Houston Nutt’s big turnaround at Ole Miss?  It sure don’t seem everyone’s lining up to jump on that wagon does it?

Gene Chizik is running about as far behind Nick Saban as Tuberville did, so it’s sort of hard to see a lot of results coming from the Tiger Prowl and the other gimmicks so far, but hey, it’s early, he still time to be embarrassed even more.

For all the bluster and loud talk and despite signing one of the nations top recruits, the rest must really be a lot no talent commits for Tennessee to still be mired in the middle behind Florida and Georgia yet again.

My guess is that’s where they’ll finish the season in wins also.

It seems like that ‘All World’ recruiting coaching lineup still has a lot to live up to before they come close to cashing those checks their big mouths were writing, but hey, it’s still early and things could get better or worse for them.

That’s all for this Thursday.  Until next week…..

The Top 10 Current College Football Coaches

Published on: 30th June, 2009

The Top 10 Current College Football Coaches  | read this item

In this day and age of college football, establishing who can lead a team effectively is judged by their team’s success and it’s longevity. Every team feels that their coach is the best for many different reasons such as winning big games or holding a very long winning streak over your biggest rival. So here’s a look at the 10 best coaches of the current era.

Fantasy Rankings: NFC South Tight Ends

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Fantasy Rankings: NFC South Tight Ends  | read this item

After a few offseason trades, the NFC South is well represented at Tight End with perhaps the best at the position now calling this division home.

 

1. Tony Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s arrival in Atlanta instantly makes him the top fantasy TE in the division. Stuck in a horrible situation playing for a 2-14 team last year, Gonzo had one of his finest seasons with 96 catches, 1,058 yards, and 11 TDs.

And now, Matt Ryan’s throwing the ball to him. Look for Gonzalez to be heavily utilized in the passing game and have another 1,000 plus yard, double digit TD season.

 

2. Kellen Winslow

Acquiring Winslow was a very nice move by Tampa. The talented TE needed a change of scenery after an extremely disappointing beginning to his Cleveland career, which consisted of him missing a few seasons from off-field injuries.

In 2008, playing in a troubled Browns’ offense, he totaled just 428 yards and three TDs while playing in 10 games—this coming after his breakout 2007 season.

This year, look for Winslow to rediscover his game and post at least 60 catches for 800 yards and seven TDs.

 

3. Jeremy Shockey

This is really a make or break year for Shockey, who has always ranked well in fantasy due to the hype he received from his rookie season.

But, in all truthfulness, back-up TE Billy Miller played better than he did last year.

In what was expected to be a move that would reignite his career, Shockey managed just 50 catches and zero TDs, even with Drew Brees as his QB.

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt one more time: Look for a 60-70 catch and five TDs.

 

4. Billy Miller

We’d normally feature a Panther in this slot, but, since their leading TE Dante Rosario managed only 209 yards and one TD on just 18 catches, it’s quite clear that the TE position has little to no role for the Panthers’ offense.

Miller, on the other hand, playing in a very potent offense, hauled in 45 balls for nearly 600 yards.

Look for a similar stat line in 2009 as Brees likes to look for his TEs over the middle.

 

Draft Tip

Gonzalez should be one of, if not the top, TE drafted, and hear his name called from the third round on.

Winslow is still a starting caliber fantasy TE and will be a nice pick after round six.

Shockey could actually end up as a strong fantasy sleeper as he’s certain to be overlooked following last year’s disappointing season.

Miller would be a good back-up to add depth to your roster.

Ranking the Big 10: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Ranking the Big 10: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends   | read this item

If there is one area on offense that the Big Ten look s especially strong in in 2009 it’s receiving. Though Receivers like Penn State’s Deon Butler and Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie are now gone to the NFL, the two leading receivers from last year, Minnesota’s Eric Decker and Illinois’ Arrelious Benn both return for another year. The Big Ten has had two Fred Biletnikoff Award winners already this decade when Charles Rogers and Braylon Edwards won it in 2002 and 2004 respectively, there is a storng chance they get another this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers Will Field a Better Team in 2009

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Pittsburgh Steelers Will Field a Better Team in 2009  | read this item

The 2008 Steelers overcame several handicaps to win the Super Bowl. The playcalling for much of the season was uninspiring, the punter was only mildly better than the kid who punts for your local pee wee team, and the offensive line was stitched together with bubble gum.

Yet, this squad navigated one of the toughest ranked schedules in league history to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.

Yet, these Steelers are not being picked by many experts to win the Super Bowl next year. These experts may very well be right. Thirty-two teams will begin next season with the Lombardi trophy as their ultimate goal, even the Lions and the Browns. It is easy to predict that the Steelers won’t repeat based on sheer probability.

I don’t know if they will win the Super Bowl or not. There are several really good teams in this league and, come playoff time, a fluke bounce one way or another could determine which one of those teams comes out on top.
But, there are plenty of reasons to believe that next year’s black and gold squad not only will be better than the 2008 team, but might be significantly better.

Steelers Position Battle No. 2: Keenan Lewis vs. Joe Burnett vs. Keiwan Ratliff

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Steelers Position Battle No. 2: Keenan Lewis vs. Joe Burnett vs. Keiwan Ratliff  | read this item

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Position battles are normally battles for one spot between two players. But teams, even ones that are talented from top to bottom, can have two or more spots open at a certain position during an offseason.

This is the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive unit, where both the dime and quarter-package cornerbacks are undecided.

While many might view these holes as insignificant, depth in the defensive backfield has become increasingly important each year ever since the development of offenses such as the run-and-shoot and the West Coast offense.

Modern teams like to spread defenses out, which means more receiving threats on the field. For the Steelers to repeat their Super Bowl victory and maintain their top-rated defense, they must find the right men for the job of covering these extra pass-catchers.

The leading candidates for the last two cornerback spots are rookies Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett, and veteran journeyman Keiwan Ratliff. There are a few other defensive backs on the roster who could potentially earn a spot, but Fernando Bryant’s retirement puts Burnett, Lewis, and Ratliff in the driver’s seat.     

Here’s the skinny how things just might shake out at camp.

Lewis and Joe, being rookies, are unknowns. But the Steelers are hoping at least one of them can eventually be a solid nickel or starting back. There will be an intense scouting process to see who is most worth a roster spot.

Most fans, as well as players and coaches, expect Lewis to be the most promising of the bunch—if not the best in camp already.

Lewis was the Steelers’ second third-round selection in the 2009 draft, and the six-foot, 208 pound cornerback out of Oregon State plays the physical kind of defense Mike Tomlin loves.

While the higher pick always gets more attention, lower picks can often surprise—especially when they have a chip on their shoulder and a fellow rookie to compete with.

That chance to compete will be given to Burnett, who will try to prove that he should’ve been the third round pick instead of going in the fifth round.

Burnett not only offers great ball-hawking skills—16 interceptions at Central Florida—but also gives the Steelers a potentially dangerous return-man. The Steelers have not had good return-man since Antwaan Randle El.

So if Burnett can show the potential to fill this hole, he will find himself among the final 53 men at the end of camp.

The final possible piece of the puzzle is Ratliff. Ratliff played in 13 games for the Indianapolis Colts last season, starting four of them and ending the year with two interceptions and one defensive TD.

It would be hard to imagine that a player talented and experienced enough to start for a playoff team wouldn’t make the final roster cut—especially with so many unknowns in the defensive backfield for Pittsburgh.

Lewis is too talented and has too much upside to cut.

Burnett is too valuable a return-man to cut.

Ratliff is too solid a veteran to cut.

While this is a preferable conundrum to be in, the wrong decision could create a weakness in a Steelers team that must be better than last year in order to repeat their Super Bowl win.

While it appears all three candidates are worth keeping there, just isn’t enough room on the roster for them all to make final cuts. Look for Lewis and Ratliff to make the 53-man roster, with Burnett heading to the practice squad.

Mike Wallace, Mewelde Moore, or Santonio Holmes will take the return job from Burnett—if not based on mere talent, then on their value at their primary positions.

And while Tomlin and Colbert will look for Burnett to develop and make the team next year, he will wait in the wings, hoping for injuries to get him some playing time.

Peek into the Future: USC Football in 2010 (Offense)

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Peek into the Future: USC Football in 2010 (Offense)  | read this item

Excitement is building for this year’s version of the Men of Troy.

How will the Trojans defense look after losing so many starters? How will Aaron Corp do replacing Mark Sanchez? Or will Matt Barkley become the first freshman quarterback to start for Pete Carroll?

These are but a few questions the Trojan faithful find themselves asking as the 2009 season looms in the near future.

As the excitement of the upcoming season builds and high expectations reach a crescendo, is too early to think about next year?

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but what will the Trojans look like in 2010?

Let’s look ahead to the 2010 Trojan roster, starting with the offense. Who will be missing and who may be the possible replacements for this years crop of future NFL stars?

 

Offensive Line:

 

This is the group that will take a big hit after 2009.

Jeff Byers, who is on many Preseason All-American lists and who was granted a sixth year of eligibility due to missed time from injuries, is gone for sure.

Also gone is Alex Parsons, the other starting guard, who is a senior and will also play on Sundays.

Kristopher O’Dowd, USC’s starting center and probably the best at his position in the country, is also most likely gone. Although he is only a junior this year, it would be difficult count on him coming back for his senior year.

Charles Brown, USC’s starting tackle, also a senior and also a possible first day NFL pick will be gone as well.

Butch Lewis, a starter for much of last season is a redshirt junior, so he may be back, but there is a good possibility that Tyron Smith, a freakishly athletic sophomore, will start in his place anyway. If Lewis does leave, he too will play on Sundays.

Meanwhile, Nick Howell and Zack Heberer, both expected to see a lot of playing time, are a senior and redshirt junior, respectively. Both of these guys are talented and will make a NFL team somewhere.

However, despite these massive losses, the Trojans are pretty well stocked for 2010.

Tyron Smith, who will be one of the best offensive linemen in USC history barring injury, is back.

Martin Coleman, a 6’5”, 315-pound beast, is a redshirt sophomore this year, so he, too, will be back at guard.

Also expected to vie for a starting position is 6’4”, 300-pound Khalid Holmes, brother of Alex, who is a very talented guard.

Matt Kalil, brother of Ryan, and a very capable tackle in his own right, and is only a redshirt freshman. Expect big things from him in 2010.

Michael Reardon, a 6’5”, 285 lb redshirt sophomore will be counted on to take over for O’Dowd in 2010. The coaches love this guy.

This group gives the Trojans plenty of reasons to smile in 2010, but keep in mind, the 2009 offensive line could be the best in recent history, and with the Trojans’ success over the last decade or so, that is saying a lot.

The 2010 offensive line has a ton of potential, but they will be even better in 2011.

Look for the offensive line to be a focus of this year’s Trojan recruiting efforts.

 

Receivers:

 

This is another group that may take a hit after the 2009 season winds up.

Damian Williams, the transfer from Arkansas and a guy who has made many Preseason All-American lists, is a reshirt junior, as is David Ausberry. The 6’4”, 235-pound possession receiver is being counted on to move the chains.

USC’s home-run hitter, Ronald Johnson, who will be the primary deep threat for Aaron Corp, is a true junior and, with a big season, may not return.

These three guys represent the group that will be seeing the most playing time at receiver for the Trojans.

However, much like the offensive line replacements, don’t shed too many tears for the Trojans.

Redshirt freshman Brice Butler had a great spring and earned playing time in the fall.

Brandon Carswell, a redshirt sophomore, has great hands and runs precise routes while Jordon Cameron, a 6’5”, 220-pound wideout, is athletic and catches everything that comes his way.

Depending on the way 2009 unfolds, Travon Patterson, a redshirt junior and one of the fastest players on the team, may or may not return.

One way or another, the receiver group will have a new look in 2010. Highly-regarded Kyle Prater is a prep stud that the Trojans are recruiting hard and they have their eyes on several others.

 

Tight Ends:

 

Anthony McCoy, all 6’5”, 250 pounds of him, will take his skills to the NFL next year.

However, Blake Ayales, a true sophomore and the number one prep tight end two years ago and Rhett Ellison, son of former Trojan great Riki Grey, are both back, and they are both extremely talented.

Xavier Grimble, the No. 1 prep tight end in the country and Randall Telfair, the prep No. 4 tight end, have both given USC verbal commitments.

Despite the loss of McCoy, this group will do just fine in 2010.

 

Quarterbacks:

 

This group is a fairly easy read, except for true freshman Matt Barkley. Will he redshirt or not? Either way, Barkley will challenge Aaron Corp for the starting position, whether or not it is this year or next. Some may disagree, but this kid is a superstar just waiting to happen.

Aaron Corp, who I believe will start this year, has the ability to be great.

He brings speed to the quarterback position, something that the Trojans have never had in the Pete Carroll era.

Couple that with the fact that Corp rarely makes silly mistakes with the ball, and it is easy to see why Carroll and company are fired up by this kid.

Corp is a redshirt junior, who, unlike Mark Sanchez, will be back next year.

Mitch Mustain, the All-Everything high school recruit who transferred from Arkansas, remains an enigma. He has all the tools, but just can’t seem to pick up the offense.

Nonetheless, Mustain too will be back next year too when becomes a senior.

Jesse Scroggins, a southland quarterback who is rocketing up the prep rankings, has just been recently offered a scholarship by the Trojans.

However, he has also been offered by Florida and others, so it remains to be seen whether or not Scroggins wants to come in and challenge Barkley.

 

Running Backs:

 

This group will be tough to figure because there are so darn many of them.

What we know for sure is that Stafon Johnson, who is the probable starting tailback and a senior, is gone for 2010.

C.J. Gable, a redshirt junior, and Joe McKnight, a true junior, may or may not be back, depending on either the level of success or frustration they each experience.

They both want the ball, but as long as Pete Carroll continues to employ the rotation he has used since Reggie Bush and Lendale White left, neither will get it to their satisfaction.

Allen Bradford, coming back from a serious hip injury, is a redshirt junior and likely to return, while Marc Tyler, still rounding into form after breaking his leg in his senior year of high school, will be redshirt junior next year. Tyler has a chance to be special.

Curtis McNeal, a true freshman who reminds many of Darren Sproles, had a great spring and will be heard from in 2010.

Fullback Stanley Havili, quite possibly the best at his position in the nation, is a redshirt junior and may or may not be back.

Adam Goodman, his unsung backup, is a senior, so D.J. Shoemate, another stud at fullback and only a sophomore this year, will man the position capably regardless of whether Havilli comes back or not.

The running back group will be strong next year and perhaps even more defined as the stable thins out. Look for either Gable or McKnight to enter 2010 as the leader in this position, but as we all know, Pete Carroll makes his starters earn it, so we will see.

 

Conclusion:

 

As usual, the Trojans will stock the NFL in the 2010 draft like they have done almost every year since Pete Carroll arrived at USC.

And, as usual, the Trojans probably won’t miss a beat. In fact, given the fact that the young defense will come back pretty much intact, 2010 could and should be a year that the Trojans dominate.

Hope always spring eternal in Trojanland. Even if we are getting are getting ahead of ourselves.

Four Quarters: A Look at the Carolina Panthers’ 2009 Schedule, Pt. 3

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Four Quarters: A Look at the Carolina Panthers' 2009 Schedule, Pt. 3  | read this item

Historically, under John Fox the Panthers follow good seasons with 7-9 efforts. That’s not the best sign for the 2009 squad.

But when you look at the reason why, there’s a little cause for optimism.

In 2004, injuries to Stephen Davis and Steve Smith killed the offense, and the Panthers started out the season 1-7 before adjusting, and going 6-2 in their final eight games.

In 2006, the offensive line was a revolving door, with Travelle Wharton going out early, Justin Hartwig missing the season to a groin in jury, and Mark Wahle finishing out 2006 on Injured Reserve.

Injuries dogged the Panthers all season, as Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme, Dan Morgan, and Mike Rucker also missed several games to injury that year, and after a somewhat promising 4-2 start the Panthers struggled to finish 8-8.

Although it didn’t follow a winning season, in 2007 the Panthers lost Jake Delhomme early and went through three other quarterbacks en route to a 7-9 finish.

Which brings us to 2009. The Panthers are coming off a strong 12-4 effort, and look talented enough to contend once again for the division title.

There are depth concerns on both lines though, and at wide receiver. If the Panthers get hurt at the wrong position, or lose too many people even where they have decent depth, then they’ll probably be lucky to be 2-6 at this point.

But this article assumes they’ll be healthy, or at least that they’ll be able to manage their injuries well. After all, no one wants to think about a “what-if” season where you finish with half of your team on the IR list, right?

So, if Carolina stays healthy, then the Panthers should be at least 4-4 at this point, and will probably be better than that.

You can expect the Panthers to be among the league leaders at running the ball again, and people outside the Carolinas will be surprised to see Jake Delhomme taking care of the ball.

On defense, the players will have adapted well to Meeks’ style, but don’t look for great stats yet. With the offenses the Panthers face in the first half, just being in the middle of the pack defensively will be an accomplishment.

Around the NFC South, the race will be emerging between the New Orleans Saints and the Panthers. After a dismal start, Tampa Bay will be looking for spoiler opportunities, and Atlanta will be struggling through the difficult part of their schedule with no defense of note.

The Saints will get a slow start, but Williams will have the defense playing better than it has in years, and all the Saints need is a decent unit on that side of the ball to be a real playoff contender.

Their big question will be whether they can win on the road, as they only play three of their last eight in the friendly confines of the Superdome.

The Panthers, on the other hand, only have three road games in the second half, and if they’re 5-3 or 6-2 at this point in the season, they’ll be the team to beat for the division title.

Games Nine through Twelve

The third quarter of the season looks to be the easiest on the schedule, with three home games and a winnable one on the road. But November is the only month where John Fox has failed to post a winning record.

Here are the games Carolina will play, with thoughts on each.

Week Ten, the Atlanta Falcons

2008 Record: 11-5
2008 Offensive Rank: 6th (14th in Passing, 2nd in Rushing)
2008 Defensive Rank: 24th (21st in Passing, 25th against the run)

So here it goes, rematch time. The first game was in Atlanta early in the season, this contest is in the friendly confines of Bank of America stadium.

In the first contest, the Falcons are coming off a winnable game and will have been riding high. But after they play the Panthers they get to go to New England, to San Francisco, then host Chicago before going to Dallas and to New Orleans. Finally they get a home breather versus a stout Washington defense before facing the Panthers on the road.

Forgive me for thinking they’ll have a difficult time assembling a winning record by this point. In fact, this is the part of the season where their wheels are going to start to come off.

Carolina will be looking at a Falcons team with an explosive offense and a porous defense that lacks both talent and leadership. And the Atlanta team that was so lucky on the injury front last year may be struggling with them in 2009.

Mike Mularkey’s offense will probably be more explosive than it was in 2008, but that also means the defense will be spending more time on the field. And if they end up swapping field goals for touchdowns, there will be a hint of desperation in Atlanta,

It’s happened to New Orleans in the past two years. Great offenses with poor defenses just don’t win consistently in the NFL.

The Panthers will probably drop the first contest, and will probably win this one. Or they’ll win in Atlanta, and disappoint the home team here. The Falcons and Panthers are probably headed for another split in 2009, their fourth in as many seasons.

Atlanta leads this series 17-11

Week Eleven, the Miami Dolphins

2008 Record: 11-5
2008 Offensive Rank: 12th (10th in passing, 11th in rushing)
2008 Defensive Rank: 15th (25th in Passing, 10th against the run)

The Dolphins were one of the surprise teams of 2008, going from a 1-15 season in 2007 to a first place finish in the AFC North and a playoff spot.

They did it on the strength of a favorable schedule and improved defensive play. The Dolphins switched to a 3-4 defense in 2008, and that unit was the key to their success. Their consistency as a team, however, was another story.

The point differential in their games was just 345-317, but they played in only three games where the outcome was decided by four points or less. When the matchups were favorable, they won and won big. When they weren’t, they got killed.

On the defensive line the Dolphins look set at nose tackle, but Jason Ferguson will turn 35 this year. At the ends, second year men Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford will try and make fans forget Vonnie Holliday’s presence and leadership.

In the 3-4 though, it’s the linebackers who star. The Dolphins have some good options there, with Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele in the middle, Pro Bowler Joey Porter on one side, and on the other Jason Taylor and Mike Roth. Crowder has had knee problems in the past and Taylor’s getting up there in age, but this is a solid unit.

In the secondary is where the questions lie. Cornerback Will Allen is a Pro Bowler, but they need someone to emerge on the other side to replace Andre’ Goodman, who signed with the Broncos in the offseason.

They also need help at Free Safety, and may have gotten a steal in free agency. The Raiders severely overpaid for Gibril Wilson, and had to let him go in a salary cap move. The Dolphins were the lucky team to snag him, and he should be an improvement over Renaldo Hill.

On offense Chad Pennington will still be the starting quarterback this year. He’s never had a big arm, and his receiving corps of Davone Bess, Ted Ginn Jr., and Greg Camarillo only combined for five touchdowns last season.

Miami uses their tight ends as receivers a lot, and led by Anthony Fasano that group scored ten touchdowns in 2008. When your tight ends outscore the receivers, no one is going to think of your offense as dynamic.

But the Dolphins like to mix it up in the running game, bringing back the popularity of the wildcat offense. Panther fans will remember how Dan Henning used this with DeAngelo Williams to beat Atlanta in 2007.

In Miami, it’s Ronnie Brown who lines up to run it, and they also drafted Pat White, who projects as a wildcat option in the NFL, or he may be used to help out the receiving corps.

The Fins also have Ricky Williams, who’s getting old but can still run the ball.

So in sum, the Dolphins don’t have any stars on offense. But they have a group of capable players.  Capable or not, they can be shut down. And they will be.

Unlike their 2008 season, the Dolphins play a brutal schedule–the hardest in the NFL. At this point in the season the age they have on defense will probably be showing itself in the form of injuries, and there will be a whole book out on how to handle the Miami offense.

The Panthers have never beaten the Dolphins. But the Dolphins won’t stop the Panthers offense, and at Bank of America stadium they’ll struggle to move the ball. The streak ends here.

The Panthers have a lifetime record of 0-3 against the Dolphins

Week Twelve, at the New York Jets

2008 Record: 9-7
2008 Offensive Rank: 16th (16th in passing, 9th in rushing)
2008 Defensive Rank: 16th (29th in Passing, 7th against the run)

The New York Jets went for broke in 2008, putting their season in the hands of Brett Favre. Unfortunately for them, they peaked in the third quarter of the season with a convincing win in Tennessee, then went 1-4 to close out their season at 9-7.

That finish probably nailed the coffin shut on Eric Mangini’s tenure, as he was fired the day after the season ended. His replacement is one of the game’s best defensive minds, former Raven defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

They also replaced Favre by moving up in the first round to select Mark Sanchez in the draft. Sanchez ran a pro-style offense at USC, but the NFL is a much quicker game and success in college is no guarantee in the NFL.

Still, he has the tools, and should develop into a quality starter in time. But in New York, he may not have the tools to win this year.

Laverneous Coles left the team in free agency, leaving Jericho Cotchery as the first receiver. Cotchery is good, but he’s a possession guy at best, and won’t perform well against the other teams’ top cornerback.

The Jets have a pass-catching tight end in Dustin Keller, but that’s about it. Outside of Cotchery and Keller, they have a group of players who combined for 75 catches last year, but none of them really asserted themselves as candidates for the number two job.

The frontrunner is probably former 7th round pick Chansi Stuckey, who played his college ball at Clemson. Former quarterback Brad Smith may also win the job, or it could be a free agent. That much uncertainty doesn’t bode well for Sanchez.

At least there’s some real talent at running back. Thomas Jones was the AFC’s leading rusher, and he’s spelled by home-run threat Leon Washington. Both of them benefit from a very solid run-blocking offensive line.

But Jones is 31 and old running backs wear down as the season goes on.  If the Jets are going to win, it will be on the back of their defense.

That probably suits Ryan just fine, as he’s followed that model in Baltimore for years.

Up front the Jets have pro bowler Kris Jenkins at the nose tackle; and Shaun Ellis and former Raven Marques Douglas will line up at the ends.

At linebacker Ryan brought another Raven with him in Bart Scott, and he will team with David Harris on the inside to form a solid core. With those two manning the middle behind Jenkins, the Jets will be difficult to run on in 2009.

On the outside, what the Jets really need is for someone to light a fire under 2008 first round pick Vernon Gholston. He has the physical tools to be a star in Ryan’s defense, but if he disappears again then Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas will man the edges.

The secondary will boast yet another ex-Raven in strong safety Jim Leonhard (do you detect a theme here?). He’ll team with budding star Kerry Rhodes in the middle, while the cornerback positions will be manned by pro bowler Darrel Revis, and former pro bowler Lito Sheppard.

Expect the Jets’ defense to look a lot like the Ravens’, and to be improved on last year’s unit. Points will be hard to come by in New York this year, as the Jets won’t score a lot and neither will their opponents.

Carolina’s defense should be more than good enough to confound a rookie quarterback. Given that Williams and Stewart are hard to shut down, look at this game as a good candidate for the Panthers to steal one on the road.

Carolina and New York are even in the series at 2-2

Week Thirteen, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2008 Record: 9-7
2008 Offensive Rank: 14th (11th in Passing, 15th in Rushing)
2008 Defensive Rank: ninth (fourth in Passing, 19th against the run)

This is the second meeting in 2009 between the Buccaneers and the Panthers, and given the likely state of both teams it’s the best candidate for a win in the quarter.

Assuming the Bucs manage the upset in week six, and that’s a big assumption, then this game is going to be a hell of a payback time.

If they don’t, this game is still in Charlotte, the Panthers will be playing for playoff positioning, and the Bucs will be playing for pride, at best.

A look at the Bucs’ schedule tells the story. After the first Panthers game, they’re probably looking at a 2-4 record at best. They they get to host New England and Green Bay before heading to the Dolphins. They get a strong New Orleans team before going to the Falcons, and then they head into this contest.

If the Bucs have more than three wins at this point, Morris should be getting consideration for coach of the year honors.

But then again, that’s exactly what people thought about Atlanta last year.

This bears repeating. The Bucs have a young and aggressive defense. They lost a lot of personnel, but at this point in the year they’ll know who their leaders are, and while other teams are getting tired they’ll be in a position to take advantage of their youth and depth.

And on offense, the Josh Freeman show will be in full swing. The rookie will have a feel for the NFL by then, and his coordinator will know what he can and can’t do.

Don’t look for a conventional offense here, they’ll probably be relying on some gimmicks to move the ball. But moving the ball is moving the ball, regardless of how it’s done.

And this is team has a lot of the same players that looked like Super Bowl candidates last year at this time.

This is still probably a Panther win, but any given Sunday and all that…

Carolina leads the series 10-7

Conclusion

This is by far the easiest stretch of games for the Panthers this season. After hitting the NFC East hard in the first quarter and dealing with some high powered offenses in the second, the third quarter is largely marked by games against teams that will be thinking about defense first.

Given that the Panthers are set on offense and questionable on defense, the mediocre offenses they face here may be just what the doctor ordered to give the club some confidence heading into the brutal home stretch.

In 2008, the Panthers really started to come together as a dominant running team later in the year. The same thing will happen this year, although in 2009 no one will be taken by surprise.

The Panthers should put together a 3-1 effort here, and don’t be surprised at 4-0 either. This year the Bad November story gets a new chapter.

So unless there have been a ton of injuries, the Panthers should be in the 7-5 or 8-4 range after this quarter. That’s going to look good, but although they’ll appear in the drivers seat for the division, December will be a killer.

The Panthers will probably be playing four teams in the top of their division, and the last game against New Orleans will be for the division title.

But that’s a subject for another article. Tune in next week, when we finish out the 2009 season.

Browns’ Harrison Could See Workload Increase In 2009

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Browns' Harrison Could See Workload Increase In 2009  | read this item

The Cleveland Browns’ coaching staff is finally seeing what fans have been pleading for over the past three years…more touches for running back Jerome Harrison.

 

Browns head coach Eric Mangini coached a running back in New York by the name of Leon Washington, and he sees similarities in both players’ abilities.

 

“I think Jerome has had an outstanding group of OTA’s [organized team activities] and camps,” Mangini said. “His ability to pick up the protections and run routes out of the backfield, he reminds me a lot of Leon.”

 

One of the reasons Harrison has been getting extra reps in practice is because Jamal Lewis is still rehabilitating from off-season ankle surgery. The other running backs on the roster are free agent-pickup Noah Herron and rookie James Davis.

 

Herron has been in the league one more year than Harrison (Herron was drafted in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Steelers), but is really not considered to be a “feature back.”

 

Davis received increased reps in OTA’s and mini-camps as a result of Lewis’ absence as well and reportedly has impressed the coaches.

 

Many fans were puzzled as to why former head coach Romeo Crennel left Harrison off the game day roster numerous times during his tenure. One of the reasons was because Harrison was a liability in blitz pickup, something that former running back Jason Wright excelled in. The other reason was due to Harrison’s inability to play well on special teams which hurt his chances of seeing action on Sundays.

 

Under the Browns’ new regime, Harrison has made the most of his opportunity and is making a positive impression on the coaching staff. Harrison’s 2008 season highlight was probably his 72-yard touchdown run against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.

 

Harrison appreciates the comparisons to Washington, but knows he can’t let it get to his head.

 

“Leon’s a good running back,” Harrison said. “I watched him all through college and the NFL and he’s good. So getting compared to Leon, I take that as a compliment.

 

“You know me, I’m just going to keep working, if the opportunity presents itself I’ll be ready.”

 

After three years of petitioning for more touches for Harrison, it looks like Browns fans will finally get their wish.

Vote on the Best Fantasy Football Team Name

Published on: 30th June, 2009

Vote on the Best Fantasy Football Team Name  | read this item

Over the course of the last few weeks, eager fantasy football players have been submitting their finest fantasy football team names to date for the upcoming season.

There are some contenders. It’s not a bad start to the team-naming season, which runs until the kickoff of the 2009 NFL regular season in early September. There’s plenty of time to pick the right name for your most scrutinized team of all, the uber-competitive friends and family league.

That makes now a good time to float out some ideas. Below are the best fantasy football team names submitted for June. Another contest will run for July, and yet another for August.

At the start of September, the three best fantasy football team names will compete not only for bragging rights, but also for prizes. There is a T-shirt deal potentially in the works with Art of the Fan. Mock Draft Central has a premium membership to give away. There may even be something from us—who knows?

There is your motivation. Get crackin’ on those team names for July’s challenge, which will be posted in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Vote after the jump. Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

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