Monday, August 30, 2010

Sad sports landscape lately in the T-Dot

This entry is dedicated to my fellow Toronto sports fans...the professional sports landscape in the T-Dot has been suffering of late...gone are the days of 50,000+ at the SkyDome for a Jays game...the Leafs have not been relevant as a legit contender in the NHL for eons (remember that 1967 isn't just the last time the Leafs hoisted the Stanley Cup, it is also the last time the team even went to the Stanley Cup Finals)...the Raps have never been significant in the NBA...the Argos seem to have their best days behind them (especially if there is not a stadium answer like in Montreal where the new stadium helped create an atmosphere that has turned that franchise into one of the CFL's best...Argos in the half-empty Rogers Centre is a poor venue/atmosphere)...the Rock are the current toast of the town as they are the only pro team in the T-Dot for more than 2 years to compete in the post-season...let's take a look at our fair city and the pro teams that represent the great GTA

a jubilant Carter rounds the bases
Toronto Blue Jays - Touch 'em all Joe, you'll never hit a bigger homerun in your life...that was Tom Cheek's call on October 23, 1993 as the Jays completed back-to-back World Series Championships capped by a 3-run 9th in Game 6 courtesy of Joe's blast...17 seasons later the Jays have one 2nd place finish, nine 3rd place finishes, and 2010 will be the fourth time the Jays finished in 4th place (3rd year in a row for 4th place)...three 5th place finishes too...only one time since Joe Carter hit that Home Run have the Jays had a season where they finished less than 10 games out of a playoff spott...Guys like Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston have the organization on the right track to return to the Fall Classic...

Captain Mats celebrates tickling the twine
Toronto Maple Leafs - April 30, 2004 a 3-1 home victory over the Flyers to even that semifinal series at 2-2...Captain Mats scored twice in an Ed Belfour win...Leafs would lose Games 5 and 6 to be eliminated...6+ years later the Leafs fans have seen their team in zero play-off games...Brian Burke has the keys to the organization going forward...with names like Phaneuf, Monster, Kessel, Kadri the future seems bright, but Leafs fans are desperate for a Stanley Cup Title to end the 40+ year drought...the short-term question is when will this young team jell to at least end the 6+ year play-off drought...I mean come on folks - 8 teams in each Division get in the play-offs so for the Leafs to not be in the Top 8 in the East for this many seasons in a row (we know one season was lost due to the Lockout, but still COME ON!) is unacceptable

2008...both Raps in this pic are now ex-Raps
Toronto Raptors - April 24, 2008 a 108-94 home victory over the Orlando Magic was the last smile on a Raptors fan face...that put the first round play-off series at 2-1 for Orlando...T.J. Ford led with 21 points...Jamario Moon with 10 boards...Magic rebounded with double-digit wins in Game 4 and Game 5 and 2+ years later Raptors fan are as grumpy and down on the franchise as they have ever been...Brian Colangelo was once thought to be the saviour of this franchise, but that was a long time ago...the Regular Season wins and losses have been brutal...this off-season saw them lose Chris Bosh for nothing (so far anyway...Raps did get a Trade Exception in return which has to be used this year so we will see what asset BC can add to the Raps with that) plus were humiliated not once, but twice by deals gone wrong this summer...word was out on the Toronto-Charlotte trade to the point where the involved players were already tweeting the news only to have Michael Jordan (owner of the Charlotte Bobcats) take the deal back the next day and make a different trade with a different team...then the news breaks that Matt Barnes has been signed by the Raps...perfect player for this team and he too was tweeting about his new NBA home...but alas the sign-and-trade with Orlando for Barnes fell through due to the fact that it violated NBA trade rules...how Colangelo and company did not know that they were in violation is of course insane and only adds to the diminishing confidence Raps fans have with BC

Toronto Argos - November 18, 2007...19-9 home loss in the Divisional Finals to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers...2+ years and 4 Head Coaches later the Boatmen are still trying to right the ship...Jim Barker is back at the helm and the Argos are looking to join the Toronto Rock as teams putting the T-Dot back in the play-off picture...as we speak the Argos are at a very impressive 5-3, and have CFL newcomers like Cleo Lemon and Cory Boyd to lead them

For those of you who are sports fans in Toronto, and NFL is amongst your interests, then statistically speaking you are a Buffalo Bills fan...I jokingly refer the the Bills as "Toronto's own Buffalo Bills"...the Bills have not made the play-offs in the 2000's, and 2010 will absolutely not change that...even the 2 Regular Season games that the Bills have played in the Rogers Centre so far have both been lopsided loses

Toronto Rock - play-off absence in 2008 and 2009 ended with a run to the Championship game where they lost to the Washington Stealth...the May 1, 2010 home win over Buffalo provided the first home play-off game in the city of Toronto in 2 years...what a sports scene we have here when the Toronto Rock (all due respect to the Toronto Rock) are the best of the bunch...the SkyDome was once the place to be...the ACC is ROCKIN in the play-offs for Leafs or Raptors...but for multiple years now we only have the Rock as a success story...for me that falls under the "God help us" heading...

Send me an email with your thoughts/comments on this, or any other entry... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Sunday, August 22, 2010

AA meeting

My name is Craig Ballard, and I am a Jays fan...

Around here we have our own AA meetings...not the Alcoholics Anonymous kind of AA, but the Alex Anthopoulos kind of AA...Anthopoulos has been the General Manager of YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS for just under 11 months now and today we are going to have an AA meeting and take a look at a couple of players in particular that he has brought into the Jays organization recently...you may not know these gents now, but you will...

Anthony Gose...6'1" CF...just turned 20 years old and currently playing for Dunedin at the Class A level...The Jays traded 1B-of-the-future Brett Wallace to the Houston Astros on July 29 in exchange for the speedy Gose...The Astros had just acquired Gose as part of the Roy Oswalt trade (Oswalt traded to Philly)...this was the umpteenth attempt by AA to land Gose who he has been enamoured with for a while now - as have several teams...

Gose is a left handed hitting speedster who actually was also a left handed pitcher with a 90+ mph fastball, but his MLB position projects as an everyday CF and lead-off man...the type of dynamic top-of-the-order guy the Jays have not had since...well...ever...The only guys I can think of that compare are Dave Collins, Otis Nixon, currently Fred Lewis, and of course Devon White...Devo being the best of that group, but we know Devo was a reluctant lead-off man and only did it as it was what Cito Gaston requested from him...all of the above had speed, but not like Gose...White likely had the best power from this group, and was a very good defensive CF as well, but Gose has potential to patrol the outfield too...actually this is one area where he, at only 20, already shines...his speed and good glove allow him to be a menace in the alleys running down sure doubles/triples and turning them into outs...truly a Gold Glove talent on defense...these next few years in the Minors need to provide improvement as far as his route-taking and footwork to get to the ball even better, but his upside on D is great
Gose off-and-running
His speed of course has led to his passion for stolen bases...his base running IQ does have to improve...more experience will have him understanding when to attempt to steal a bag, and on what pitcher/catchers/pitch count/game scenario etc...this is just his second full season of pro-ball and he is already at 120 (wow) steals...the but is that he has been caught stealing a whopping 52 times which tells the story that he does need improvement...since coming to the Jays organization he has 7 steals, but already 5 caught stealing

He already knows how to work a deep pitch count, but there is a ton of room for improvement in the batters box...he strikes out 3 times for every walk (opposite of a good lead-off hitter's #'s) and his batting average so far in his early career is .261 which will surely improve, but his on base percentage of only .326 is somewhat alarming...both of those #'s will have to greatly improve, and Gose has the talent to do so...he does require tweaks to his swing (especially the mechanics of his arms during his swing) but he does hit the ball on the ground pretty well which will play to his speed...every scouting report that I have seen has this guy at 15-20 HR power...he is already a Doubles threat, and with his speed he turns Doubles into Triples often (last 2 seasons a whopping 22 Triples and counting)

At only 20 Gose already has a pretty good build, but you can see that it will improve as he works on that...as a Major League player in a few years looks to me like Anthony Gose will be somewhere between a Juan Pierre and a Carl Crawford...AA certainly did not trade Brett Wallace for a Juan Pierre...he believes in Gose's upside as a game changer...ever since this trade I have now had Gose on my radar as we will want to watch his progression very closely...my thoughts are in 1-2 years when Gose is ready to be the every day CF and lead-off man the Jays can trade Vernon Wells and get a nice asset(s) back for Wells, plus rid themselves of his huge contract which expires in 2014...if you try to trade Wells now that is a tough sell with still 4 years remaining on his 7 year $126 million contract, but in 2011 or 2012 when there is now only 2 or so years left then Vernon becomes attractive again to teams looking for a CF that can help them win now

The final word on Gose goes to a former Jays GM Pat Gillick...when Gillick talks baseball - I listen... “On a scale of 80, he’s probably a 65-70 runner. He’s above average, he’s like Mickey Rivers — just as fast, with a little more power and a better arm,” ...also “Anthony plays with enthusiasm. If he does develop, he will be a very solid centre fielder,”

My name is Craig Ballard and I am a Jays fan...

Deck McGuire...6'6" right handed pitcher from the Ramblin' Wreck of Georgia Tech...Deck was AA's first ever draft pick...we remember that Russ Adams was the first JP Riccardi pick and here's hoping that McGuire is a significantly better MLB career than did Adams...

6'6" Deck McGuire
McGuire already is battle-tested and has ACC pitcher of the year and All American awards to his credit...his college career finished at 28-7 with more strikeouts than innings pitched...more strikeouts than hits too, and strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3 to 1...his very good career era of 3.48 in 2008 and 2009 lowered to 3.28 on the strength of a 2.96 2010...he throws 4 pitches, and 3 of them look like they may be MLB ready now...a fastball that is in the low 90's with very good command...he will need to improve his arm angles, or ball grip to try to create more movement though...MLB ready, mid-high 80's mph slider could prove to be his best friend in the Big Leagues...already good command of his changeup and that will only get even better...he throws a complementary curveball for strikes too

Deck McGuire has the type of makeup typical of a Jays pitching prospect which is he throws strikes, has an above-average mound presence, and is a competitor...this innings-eater does not project as a #1 or #2 starter, but should have the potential to figure in the Jays rotation at some point soon...Romero/Marcum/Drabek/Cecil are the names that AA will count on to be his top-of-the-rotation guys but McGuire will surely get a shot to be in the rotation as well...his skills are there, plus as AA's first ever draft pick McGuire is certain to get a legit opportunity to contribute to the Big Club...we remember the numerous (failed) opportunities the J.P. Ricciardi era gave to Russ Adams

The MLB upside of McGuire is said to be similar to a John Lackey type of pitcher...final word on Deck goes to Jays amateur scouting director Andrew Tinnish "In between the lines he's an ultra competitor, he's a bulldog," ..."We think he's a durable guy who's going to be able to log a lot of quality innings for us down the road."..."This is a big physical, right-handed starter, he's had a lot of experience in a big conference, the ACC, so he's been pretty battle tested."

AA has his sights set on being a legit contender year in/year out  from 2012+ and these 2 guys are going to be a big ol' part of that

Thus concludes this addition of our AA meetings...scroll down to see previous AA meetings and certainly more will soon follow... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NFC West Training Camp

In 2009 the San Francisco 49ers played to an 8-8 record yet they enter 2010 as the favourites to win this Division...Arizona are the 2-time defending NFC West Champs but they lost a ton of important players...the Seahawks are re-building with a brand new era (Pete Carroll runs as fast as he can from the disintegrating scene at USC to take over the helm in Seattle)...Rams get #1 overall pick and franchise QB, but still a long way to go in the Gateway to the West

San Francisco
There may be as much excitement in 'Niners Camp as in any Camp throughout the League...first time in a while that this team returns the same coaching staff as the previous year...it has been 8 years since San Francisco entered Training Camp with the same Head Coach (Mike Singletary) Offensive Coordinator (Jimmy Raye) and Defensive Coordinator (Greg Manusky) in back-to-back seasons...this organization has severely struggled with continuity and consistency

QB Alex Smith celebrates a rare TD
On Offense San Fran has their own version of the Brett Favre will he/won't he drama...their version is with QB Alex Smith who has been in-and-out of the starting role so many times that 'Niners fans must be really sick of it already...will he/won't he play to his potential...if this guy is truly worthy of being #1 overall pick from 2005 then put him under Center for the entire season and let him develop...if he is a bust then let's move on with better strategies than Shaun Hill, Trent Dilfer, Chris Wenke, J.T. O'Sullivan etc...this season's version is fellow #1 overall bust David Carr... only a handful of teams were worse on Offense than the '09 49ers

The skill players that surround the QB all need to improve...even stud RB Frank Gore is in need of improvement as far as staying on the field...the only part of Gore's game that is as consistent as his 1,000+ yard seasons is the fact that his ankles will provide enough problems to force him to miss multiple games...2nd year man Glen Coffee will be using Training Camp to continue his development and show the bosses that he can earn an increased workload (REVISION as THIS JUST IN...Coffee has retired from the NFL!!!  Amazing but looks like it is true...word is that he was pancaked by an undrafted rookie in practice and was torn apart by RB coach Tom Rathman...will the retirement stick?!?!  Time will tell)...rookie Anthony Dixon (6th round Mississippi State) will get his first taste of NFL football 

new OL studs Iupati and Davis with Coach Singletary
The O-Line looking to protect Smith, and open the holes for Gore, was horrid in 2009...heck it was horrid in 2007 and 2008 too...San Fran used the draft to significantly upgrade...the 'Niners drafted twice in the first 17 picks...both times taking an O-Lineman...Anthony Davis (#11 overall...6'5" 325 from Rutgers) and Mike Iupati (#17 overall...6'5" 333 from Idaho) will both be given a chance in Camp to earn Starting roles...further development of Chilo Rachal and Joe Staley will also be focal points of Training Camp...will the biggest man on the unit Alex Boone (6'7" 315) get a chance too?
 If Smith is given time to find his WR's there may be some developing talent to throw to...2nd year guy Michael Crabtree could be a stud-in-the-making...Training Camp will be used to try to get the career of Ted Ginn jr going...plus the continued development of a guy like Josh Morgan...add veterans Brandon Jones and Jason Hill add to this unit too...at TE Vernon Davis is Top 3 in the entire NFL...Delanie Walker is a nice TE too, and rookie Nate Byham (6th round Pittsburgh) will try to earn playing time 

On Defense this unit is Top 10 vs the rush, and Top 5 as far as fewest points allowed...Top 5 in sacks too...it starts with a great front 7...on the D-Line Justin Smith hopes to put nagging injuries behind him...Training Camp needs to be the place to develop Rick Jean-Francois, Ray McDonald, and Kentwan Balmer...

What the D-Line does so well is occupy would-be blockers so that amazing talent like LB's Patrick Willis (Top 3 in the NFL) Parys Haralson (looking for a return to health), Ahmad Brooks, Travis LaBoy (looking for a return to health), and Manny Lawson can blow up the play...a lot of talent there

In the Secondary this Camp will be used to develop guys like Tarell Brown, plus rookies Taylor Mays (USC - 2nd round) Philip Adams (South Carolina - 7th round) look to show that they can compete for playing time with veterans Nate Clements, Shawntae Spencer, and William James

No team had a worse Punt Return unit than the 49ers in 2009...seems like everyone got a chance to be a Returner, but no one took the ball and ran with it (pun intended)...that should have a chance to improve with the addition of Ginn jr

The Cardinals used the veteran play of QB Kurt Warner, RB Edgerrin James, plus great WR play from Anquan Boldin...on defense the man leading the way was LB Karlos Dansby...that has led to back-to-back Division Titles, and a 2008 Super Bowl run...that constitutes the good news...the bad news is zero of those players remain...


Matt Leinart
2010 Training Camp takes on particular importance as a result of the overhaul...QB Matt Leinart gets his first full season as the man running the show (hey good luck with that)...Derek Anderson will also be in Camp looking to overtake Leinart as the teams #1 QB...rookie John Skelton (5th round Fordham) will be in Camp too...if Leinart really is going to be a #1 going forward then much will have to improve in Camp...footwork not the least of it

Training Camp is normally a time for great WR Larry Fitzgerald to stay cool and get ready for the NFL grind, but this year more will be required as he has to try to find a rhythm with these QB's...this is a huge Camp for Steve Breaston as he is the new #2 and needs to show that he is deserving of that...another young WR Early Doucett will be looking to earn increased catches too...Darren Mougey and Stephen Williams both have zero NFL catches, but each is 6'5" which makes a nice target and will need to display that in Camp...rookie Andre Roberts (3rd round Citadel) will surely get a chance to earn playing time as well

The O-Line will need to gel in Camp...Alan Faneca and Rex Hadnot are in, but Mike Gandy is out...young Brandon Keith will be getting a longer look in Camp 

The running game is in good hands in the desert...2nd year RB Beanie Wells is a stud-in-the-making...he started zero games in his rookie year, but his potential and his ability were on full display when he was inserted to spell the starter Tim Hightower...Hightower averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2009, Wells 4.5...Hightower 8 TD's, Wells 7...'Zona also has 2nd year man LaRod Stephens-Howling looking for increased carries...the overall team rushing #'s for 'Zona in 2009 were terrible, but we see a lot of good young talent at this position...the starting FB is up for grabs and will see audition'ers like Jason Wright and the Hawaiin Reagan Mauia

On Defense the D-Line will use Training Camp to further the development of Calais Campbell and Kenny Iwebema...the line lost veterans in the off-season, but added rookies Dan Williams (1st round Tennessee) and O'Brien Schofield (4th round Wisconsin) who both will have a chance to earn playing time - especially Williams who could be a starter right away

The LB unit lost leader Karlos Dansby, but added Joey Porter in the off-season...Porter will need to show in Training Camp that he is the man to address the void left by Dansby's departure...not a whole lot of talent on this unit so young guys like Will Davis, Reggie Walker, and Pago Togafau will have an opportunity in Camp to show that they can add depth...rookie Daryl Washington (2nd round TCU) will be given an opportunity to contribute to this unit too

Rodgers-Cromartie INT
The Secondary gave up yards, but took the ball away quite a bit in 2009...3rd year man Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a stud-in-the-making...he fully acknowledges that he can be even better then he has been, and in his 3rd Training Camp he does need to take those steps forward...2nd year man Greg Toler will get a chance to be the other starting CB...at the Saftey spots gone is Antrel Rolle, but in is Kerry Rhodes...other Defensive Backs in Camp looking for increased action are Matt Ware, Michael Adams, plus former Troy players Trevor Ford and Jorrick Calvin

 The Kick Returner spot is up for grabs in Training Camp...especially with Steve Breaston being given more responsibility in the passing game - likely do not want him returning kicks as well

The Pete Carroll era is about to begin in Seattle...Carroll couldn't run fast enough to get away from the sinking ship in USC...the Trojans are banned from post-season play for 2010 and 2011 amongst several punishments to the university...former USC football star Reggie Bush has been found guilty of numerous NCAA infractions and of course the university is on the hook for the punishment...Carroll himself was also quilty of NCAA violations...we remember that Carroll has been a Head Coach in the NFL in the past...one of the worst I have ever seen...33-31 with zero play-off wins...I believe this guy is an absolute joke of a Head Coach in the NFL so I expect zero from his latest attempt in the League...I will say this though - the personnel moves that have been made so far certainly give Carroll a chance to get his time with Seattle off on the right foot...

This team was mediocre in 2009...bottom-third of just about every Offense and Defense category

The team traded for QB Charlie Whitehurst in the off-season to be their #2 today, and #1 of the future...many viewed the trade as a risk because so many QB's changed teams this year and all of them have had significantly more success than the 0 pass attempts in the 4 years Whiterhurst had as a Charger in San Diego...and Seahawks fans cannot be excited about having J.P. Losman in Camp - we know he is brutal

The team did make some draft-day trades to bolster the running game...or so we thought...on the surface I liked the idea of trading for LenDale White to re-unite him with his USC coach Pete Carroll, but weeks later White was cut by the team (?)...the 'Hawks also acquired RB Leon Washington who has a 4.8 yards per carry career average, but has always had limited playing time...3rd year man Justin Forsett looks like he has a chance to be the starter...

Russell Okung stands guard
The big difference on Offense this year is the new man running the O-Line...Alex Gibbs will be using Training Camp to start to put in the type of Zone Blocking system that led to all his success in Denver...when you think about the success of Denver's rushing attack from 1995 - 2003, and the idea that numerous RB's gobbled up 1,000+ yards in this system then you see the optimism here as the 'Hawks could improve greatly on their #26 ranking in the Team rushing stats from '09...The O-Line from '09 struggled with consistency...numerous different starting combinations...heck at Left Tackle alone the 'Hawks tried 4 different starters in 2009 (yikes)...enter 6'5'' 310 pound OT Russell Okung (#6 overall in this years draft)...remember earlier when I said that Carroll's stint in Seattle has got off to a great start personnel-wise?!?!  Here is an example...To have such a hole at Left Tackle and to be able to fill that whole with a talent like Okung is really damn good
 The WR unit has a lot of experience, but short on talent...veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch are solid I guess, but this unit needs an injection of youth and talent...again we say that Pete Carroll gets lucky as there has been potential added to the mix...former first rounder Mike Williams, a spectacular bust, is in Camp and looking to impress...this guy has zero track record, but a ton of potential...the coaching staff will be trying to develop him in Camp...rookie Golden Tate (2nd round from Notre Dame) will be given a chance to shine as well...2nd year man Deon Butler will also need to use Camp to further develop his skills

Earl Thomas lays the smack down
On Defense more good news for Carroll...#14 overall pick Earl Thomas (Texas) will instantly add to a Secondary that was bad in '09...now in fairness the pass-rush was nonexistent so the Secondary had to cover WR's for longer than would normally be expected...even so the #'s were really really bad...rookie CB Walter Thurmond (4th round from Oregon) will get a chance to contribute right away as well...
 Seattle will be looking to further implement their 3-4 hybrid Defense...it is a hybrid in that they use an ''Elephant'' pass rusher who will be in different spots and comes from different angles into different gaps each time...the elephant will be a player who fits the mold of a LB/D-Lineman...Chris Clemons for example...Lawrence Johnson needs to improve in Camp, as do Colin Cole, Kevin Vikerson, and Brandon Mebane...they are joined on the D-Line by rookie E.J.Wilson (4th round North Carolina)

The LB crew is strong...injuries in 2009 prevented the unit from playing together for any stretch of time, but the talent is there...the likes of Lofa Tatupu, Aaron Curry, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, and Will Herring all bring talent to the table...York University alum Ricky Foley is in Camp too (a little CanCon for you!)

Special Teams will have new man Leon Washington likely as the Kick Returner, while FG kicker Olindo Mare has made a Seahawks record 21 straight FG's heading into 2010

St. Louis
R.I.P. Greatest Show On Turf...we remember you fondly...we remember you showed us how a passing game could be on the attack...you showed us how to send several WR's in routes throughout the field and QB Kurt Warner and QB Marc Bulger were left to pick-and-choose what open WR to get the ball to...you showed us how to have the pass to set up the run...you have however passed on...the 2009 Rams scored fewer points than any team in the entire NFL...a ton of help is en route...the draft provided skill and size on both sides of the ball...

Sam  Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in 2008
On offense of course the Rams used the #1 overall pick to draft QB Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)...the consensus certainly is that Bradford posses all of the necessary tools to be a stud in the League...his arm strength and accuracy are already ahead of the curve...he will require a lot of help...in the short-term the Rams brought in A.J. Feeley to run the show...Feeley is familiar with what Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur wants to do on offense having spent several years with Shurmur in Philly...the short-term solution is likely Feeley to give Bradford a chance to develop naturally

The running game actually features a top-notch RB in Steven Jackson...on the surface his 2009 #'s are spectacular...1,400+ yards with a 4.4 average per carry...only 4 TD's though...to have 324 carries and only get to the house 4 times is an indicator at how badly the O-Line played in the Red Zone...Camp will be a chance for RB's Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby to show that they can take a few carries off of Jackson's plate to provide depth to this position

We referenced the struggles of the O-Line in St. Louis...rookie Rodger Saffold (2nd round Indiana) will get a look in Camp to compete with young guys like Jason Smith, Roger Allen III, and John Greco - plus veterans Jason Brown, Hank Fraley, Adam Goldberg, and Jacob Bell...all of whom will get a chance to show that they can be trusted with playing time on this unit

The WR unit for the Rams is poor...VERY young/inexperienced unit...3rd year man Donnie Avery was the top WR in 2009 with just 589 yards...a lot will be expected from young Laurent Robinson as he will get a chance in Camp to earn a starting job...rookie Mardy Gilyard (4th round from Cincinnati) will get a chance to become at least WR #3 in the rotation during Training Camp

The great Wild Card to the Rams O in 2010 is RB Brian Westbrook...he is currently a free-agent and as we approach the Regular Season we know Westbrook will be on a team soon, and the Rams are one of the teams that the great veteran is considering

We have looked at the poor scoring #'s for the Rams O...but to go 1-15 requires extreme futility on D too...one of worst defenses in the NFL vs the run, and vs the pass...most points allowed...fewest INT's (this team had 8 INT's in 2009 which is one every 2 games - YIKES)...low sacks

On the D-Line veterans Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins were brought in to try to help this season...4th year man Clifton Ryan will need to continue his progression...as do Darrel Scott and Chris Long...rookies Hall Davis (5th round Louisiana-Lafayette) Eugene Sims (6th round West Texas A&M) George Selvie (7th round South Florida) will all get a chance in Training Camp to show that they can add depth to this unit

Road Warrior James Laurinaitis
In a sea of crap LB James Laurinaitis was a stud in his rookie campaign of 2009 and much will be expected from this stud-in-the-making...the LB's after him though are a steep drop-off...Bobby Carpenter, Chris Chamberlain, David Vobora, Larry Grant, and veteran Na'il Diggs will all get a chance to show their stuff in Camp 

In the Secondary this Camp is the return from injury for young CB Bradley Fletcher...he will get a chance with rookie Jerome Murphy (3rd round South Florida) to show that they can be starters for this team...veterans Ron Bartell, Kevin Dockery, and Kevin Payne will get their shot at starting too...

On Special Teams rookie Mardy Gilyard should get a chance in Camp to compete with Danny Amendola for the Kick Returner job

All other NFC, and all AFC Divisions are below...drop me a line with your thoughts... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Sunday, August 8, 2010

NFC South Training Camp

NFC South...The Dirty South looks top-heavy again in 2010...New Orleans Saints are the Champs...Hotlanta is on the verge of being really significant in the NFC...Carolina has a new QB enterring his first full season...and in Tampa the Buccaneers try to continue to move forward in the Raheem Morris era

New Orleans
Who Dat are the defending Champs and the sure place to start...oddly enough does much need to be said though?

New Orleans returns most of the 2009 Super Bowl unit which puts them in a rare Training Camp scenario...they don't really have any scheme/strategy/personnel areas of concern...pretty much a case of stay healthy and keep on the path you are already on...no Offense was better in 2009 than the Saints, and no Offense scored more than Drew Brees et al...Brees in particular was a record setter in '09...Saints have Patrick Ramey (1 start and 2 TD's in the last 6 seasons) plus 2nd year man Chase Daniel, and rookie Sean Canfield (7th round Oregon State)...we see that the Saints will be using Training Camp to make sure Brees is a healthy QB, which luckily for Who Dat is his history...the drop-off from Brees to any of the back-ups look like a step one

A Top Ten running game actually has a chance to improve...gone is RB Mike Bell, but Pierre Thomas is averaging 5.1 yards per carry over his 3 year career and he ballooned to 5.4 last season...is it just me or is the jury still out on Reggie Bush as a RB?  If he ever can get a bit more consistent that would only add to this unit...3rd year RB Lynell Hamilton will be using Training Camp to try and get in the mix too...any/all of them are sure to get a boost with the return of FB Heath Evans
super athlete TE Jimmy Graham
We know Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton will use Training Camp to further scheme how to spread the football throughout their talented group of WR's (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham, Lance Moore, plus TE's Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas)...add rookie TE Jimmy Graham (6'6" 260 3rd round from the U)...Graham was a basketball player for the Miami Hurricanes from '05 to '09...he does have only 1 year of football under his belt, but his athleticism may have a chance to be molded and utilized in New Orleans by an Offensive mind like Payton
Offensive Line is a strength of this team...a TON of talent here...a TON of depth here too...the unit has Pro-Bowl'ers-a-plenty, plus a return from injury for Jammal Brown, and a rookie who will be using Training Camp to show that he too can add depth to this unit in Charles Brown (6'6" 303 pounds from USC - 2nd round)

Only a handful of the D's in the NFL were worse than Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams' Saints unit in the regular season...the unit was creating turnovers though, and really caught fire during the play-off run to, and through, the Super Bowl
Saints DE Will Smith
Training Camp will be a chance for Williams to improve the D-Line...Alex Brown (free agent from the Bears) is in...Jimmy Wilkerson (Tampa Bay previously) is in...as is rookie Al Woods (4th round LSU)...they will try to fit along side of the very good Saints DE Will Smith (Smith able to record a career high 13 sacks in '09 despite parents who just don't understand)...Saints seem to be on-again/off-again with veteran Bobby McCray
At Linebacker Scott Fujita is out, but there is a lot of young talent here to look at in Training Camp...Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Marvin Mitchell, Jonathan Casillas, Zak Keasey, and Anthony Walters will all get a chance to show their worth
On Special Teams the Saints are an odd unit...Top 5 on Kick Return yards...absolute worst in the NFL at Punt Return yards...will Training Camp provide a renewed sense of optimism for Reggie Bush as a Return man?!?!

Gotta feel good for the Falcons faithful...2008-2009 was the first time ever that this franchise produced back-to-back winning seasons...2010 looks to be #3 IMO...Training Camp is the place to start...

The Offense was middle-of-the-pack in '09...that has a chance to improve in '10...3rd year QB Matt Ryan will be using his third Training Camp as the stage to take his next steps as a QB...all of his stats fluctuated in '09 from '08...some up, others down...but all-in-all I think we would agree that this season should provide Ryan with an opportunity to take his development to that next level as far as consistency, and the Kobe Bryant effect (contributing to winning)...a return to 100% health would surely go a long way in allowing Ryan to continue his development (difficult Turf Toe injury plagued him in 2009)

Roddy White celebrates a TD
Ryan has talent to throw to...not the least of which is stud WR Roddy White, and great TE Tony Gonzalez...Training Camp needs to be a time of improvement for WR's Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas, plus our first pro-look at rookie Kerry Meier (5th round Kansas)...Eric Weems was used a bit in 2009, plus veteran Brian Finneran is still around too

The running game just needs a return to health...the talent is there...Michael Turner in particular needs to get healthy after dealing with nagging injuries (especially in his right ankle)...his potential is evident...1,200+ yard rusher easily if healthy...Dirty Birds also have Jerious Norwood and his 4.30 40-yard dash speed...Jason Snelling will be using Training Camp to try and show that he can be given an increased workload in 2010...all of the above are buoyed by the blocking skills of FB Ovie Mughelli

This team finished very strong on D in 2009 and will be looking to use Training Camp to simply build on that positive finish...their overall #'s were poor...only a few teams in the League sacked the QB less than the Falcons...this month will be a chance to re-energize the likes of John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, Lawrence Sidbury, Kroy Biermann, Peria Jerry, Thomas Johnson, Vance Walker, and Jonathan Babineau...all the above play on the D-Line...on the surface looks like a lot more talent than the lame 28 sacks from 2009...rookie DT Corey Peters (3rd round Kentucky) will try to add his helmet to the mix too

rookie Sean Weatherspoon
The Linebacker crew needs to get going in Training Camp...and right away it gets a shot-in-the-arm from rookie addition Sean Weatherspoon (1st round Missouri)...the continued development of stud-in-the-making Curtis Lofton is also on the to-do list...Stephen Nicholas started 13 games at LB for Hotlanta in '09 and he will look to continue his progression

Frank Grimes

Very few Secondary units struggled last season as poorly as the Falcons did...only 15 INT's...the off-season sure provided talent for this unit though...free-agent Dunta Robinson (Texans) will help...as will rookie CB Dominique Franks (5th round Oklahoma) and rookie Safety Shann Schillinger (6th round Montana)...veteran Brian Williams returns from injury...Brent Grimes (no relation to Homer Simpson-hater Frank Grimes aka Grimey) Chevis Jackson, and Chris Owens are all young CB's who will have a chance to show their value in Camp

Head Coach John Fox could be leading his Carolina Panthers through Training Camp for the final time...heading into the final year of his contract Fox is certainly on the hot seat...Panthers have qualified for the play-offs only once in the last 4 seasons...

QB's Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore
QB may not exactly be listed as a strength...no other NFL team has less experience at the position than Carolina...Matt Moore is the man for now, but the Panthers did address their future in the draft...rookies Jimmy Clausen (2nd round Fighting Irish) and Tony Pike (6'6" 6th rounder from Cincinnati) will use Training Camp as their first opportunity to show that they belong as the #2, and soon to be #1...their development could be very interesting

Carolina used the draft to try to find a WR(s) to compliment WR Steve Smith...Muhsin Muhammad is gone...rookies Brandon LaFell (3rd round LSU) Armanti Edwards (3rd round Appalachian State - Wildcat or specialty formation QB/WR) and David Gettis (6th round Baylor) will all get a chance in Camp to show that they can contribute...LaFell and Gettis both at 6'3'' tall...young guys like Wallace Wright, Kenny Moore, Charly Martin, and Dwayne Jarrett will all get their chance too

RB's Jonathan Stewart & DeAngelo Williams
The running attack for the Panthers is Top 5 in the NFL...it is under the microscope though in Camp as great RB's Jonathan Stewart (1,133 yards) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117 yards) both had monster 2009's, but both had off-season surgeries...the Fullback position will have a new starter...Brad Hoover is gone...2nd year player Tony Fiammetta will be given the opportunity to be the guy

The 2009 Defense was a Top 10 unit, but they lost sack leader Julius Peppers...the D-Line will be getting a brand new look in Training Camp...all spots are open for grabs...let's watch Tyler Brayton, Everette Brown, Charles Johnson, Ed Johnson, Tank Tyler, Louis Leonard, Hilee Taylor, and Nick Hayden will all get a chance to contribute to the front 4...not much experience here

The Linebacker unit has potential...Jon Beason is a beast...Thomas Davis returns from injury...James Anderson, Dan Conner, Quinton Culberson, and Jamar Williams will all get a look in Training Camp to show that they can replace the departed Na'il Diggs...that last group may see rookie Eric Norwood (4th round South Carolina Gamecocks) pass them on the depth chart in Training Camp

 The Secondary is certainly a strength in Charlotte...Top 5 unit...the continued development of guys like Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn, C.J. Wilson is necessary to add to Kevin Gamble's ability at CB...rookies R.J.Stanford (7th round Utah) and Robert McClain (7th round Connecticut) will have their chance to show they can add depth as well...the Safety spots will be decided in Camp between guys like 3rd year man Charles Godfrey, 2nd year man Sherrod Martin, and rookie Jordan Pugh (6th round Texas A&M) who will compete with veterans like Aaron Francisco and Marcus Hudson

On Special Teams this unit really struggled in 2009...the unit promises to get better and will use Training Camp to get going under new Coordinator Jeff Rodgers...look for improvement on both the Return units and the Coverage units

Tampa Bay
 Josh Freeman & Josh Johnson
In the entire NFL few teams need Training Camp as much as the young (and getting younger) Buccaneers...Raheem Morris enters his 2nd Season at the helm of this rebuilding pirate ship...Morris and his mateys try to improve on a 3-13 2009

At QB youngsters like 3rd year Josh Johnson and 2nd year Josh Freeman will use Training Camp to continue their development...both had poor #'s in '09 but that was expected due to their youth, plus the overall lack of talent on this entire roster currently...the quality and strength of Freeman's arm could have him ahead of Johnson to start Training Camp...

The names on the WR unit do not exactly read like a who's who...only Michael Clayton is recognizable...Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,200 in his rookie season of 2004, but has averaged just 28 catches and 350 yards per season since then...as poor as those #'s are they are still king on this unit...Reggie Brown was added as a free agent from Philly...2nd year man Sammie Stroughter will look to continue his development...the draft provided talent to this unit in rookies Arrelious Benn (2nd round Illinois) and Mike Williams (4th round from Syracuse)...Training Camp will be a chance for TE Kellen Winslow to continue to develop his chemistry with Josh's Freeman and Johnson...same can be said for WR Maurice Stovall...Reggie Brown joins the team as a free agent from the Eagles

While the WR unit is young, the RB unit is deep and veteran...Cadillac Williams was back in '09 and has veterans Derick Ward plus Earnest Graham as his backfield mates...Morris and 2nd year Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson will use a run-first strategy to try and improve on an offense that scored more points than only 2 teams last season...as bad as the Bucs D was in '09 we see that a running game is also a way to control the clock and keep the sad-sack D on the sideline

another sack for Gerald McCoy
Speaking of that Tampa D let's take a look...no team struggled more when it came to stopping the run last year...few teams had fewer sacks too...the Bucs certainly added talent to the D-Line through the draft...Gerald McCoy (#3 overall pick from Oklahoma) and Brian Price (2nd round from UCLA) plus Erik Long (7th round from Stanford) all were added to the mix...McCoy (6'4" 300 pounds) is a beast and an instant upgrade...landing him was a major good-news story for this franchise

The Linebacker group needs to develop depth...Barrett Rudd is a stud...Geno Hayes and Quincy Black both took big steps forward in 2009, and look to use Training Camp to continue their development...Adam Hayward is in this boat too...

Hard to believe that a 3-13 team could have any strengths, but the Secondary was pretty good in '09...Top 10 unit...it has been a decade since Ronde Barber missed a start...young guys like Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack will get a chance in Camp to show that they can have an increased workload...the Safety position has a longer line of players auditioning...Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli, Corey Lynch will all be in the mix...as will rookies Myron Lewis (3rd round Vanderbilt) and Cody Grimm (7th round Va Tech)

On Special Teams the times they are a-changin'...this franchise was the worst Return team in the League for decades, but 2009 displayed a unit that was one of the absolute best...going forward there is a lot of room for optimism that '09 was no fluke in that department...the Punt game could improve with the drafting of Brent Bowden (6th round Va Tech)

NFC East is below...NFC North is below...all 4 AFC Divisions are below...scroll down, or use the Blog Archive to view those...NFC West blog is en route...drop me a line craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Thursday, August 5, 2010

NFC East Training Camp

NFC East

This Division should have its own Reality Show...new QB's in Philly and Washington...constant drama in Dallas...a Giants team that was the defending Champs last year only to have a 8-8 season

Super Bowl XLV will be played at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011...the Cowboys are looking to have Training Camp be their jump-off point to try and put together a season that will see them have a home game in the Super Bowl

On Offense the man running the show is QB Tony Romo...Romo is coming off of a terrific 2009 campaign...Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett will be using Training Camp to further develop Romo, but also to bring along 2nd year QB Stephen McGee, plus undrafted rookie Matt Nichols (Eastern Washington) to back-up Romo...Jon Kitna is also in Training Camp trying to show that he can still be an NFL back-up

Only the NFL Champs New Orleans had a better overall Offense than the 'Boys in '09...the running game features a trio of skilled RB's who will use Training Camp to sort out who is the featured back?...who is the short-yardage back?...who is the 3rd-down back?  to answer any of those questions the 'Boys have a lot of talent to work with...Marion Barber led the attack previously, but 3rd year RB's Felix Jones and Tashard Choice each showed that they were capable of handling an increased workload...each will be looking to improve further during Training Camp

Dez Bryant has STUD WR potential
The passing game, like the running game, was Top 10 in the NFL in '09...they add stud WR Dez Bryant (1st round OK State) to the mix...Dez's Training Camp is on hold currently as he suffered a high ankle sprain recently that will have him out for a few weeks, possibly the entire 2010 Training Camp...I consider this a huge blow as Romo and Bryant needed to use Camp as the stage to get their rhythm/timing together...the loss of Dez means that WR Roy Williams is back to being the #1 WR on this team...I am a believer that Williams is a significantly overrated WR...he is often injured and does not produce...witness his #'s with Dallas - in 2008 and 2009 Williams averaged 37 catches for 513 yards and 4 TD's, yet has a 6 year $54 million contract extension with the 'Boys(?)...that leaves veterans like Miles Austin and the disgruntled Patrick Crayton to pick up the slack until Bryant can return to show his skills...ask Toronto Raptors fans how things worked out with Reggie Evans' high ankle sprain...it took forever for Evans to return as that injury is such a tough injury to treat, and tough to accurately predict a timetable for a return to action...one constant for Dallas is the pass-and-catch combo of Romo to TE Jason Witten

The 2009 Dallas Cowboys Defense was also a Top 10 unit...only the Jets allowed fewer points in '09

On the D-Line Training Camp will be used by Wade Phillips (Defensive Coordinator playing a Head Coach on TV) to further develop guys like Igor Olshansky, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Bowen...rookie Sean Lissemore (7th round William & Mary) will also try to get in the mix

The LB unit will be using Training Camp to continue the development of guys like Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, and rookie Sean Lee (2nd round from OK State)

In the Secondary Training Camp will be used to try to improve this unit that ranked #20 last season vs the pass...rookie CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4th round from IUP...Division II) and rookie Jamar Wall (6th round from Texas Tech) will join guys like Terence Newman,  Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick on this unit that tries to improve on just 11 INT's in 2009

On Special Teams it looks like 2nd year K David Buehler will be given the chance to be the guy in Training Camp...his career FG stats are zero made...zero attempted...hey good luck with that

New York
Hard to believe that the Giants are actually a tad under the radar this Training Camp...with all the press about the Cowboys, plus the whole Donovan McNabb going from Philly to Washington, the other 3 teams in the NFC East are hogging the sports chatter, but this Giants team has there own issues to concern themselves with

2009 was still a Top 10 year for this offense but it certainly took steps backwards from the 2008 Super Bowl unit

QB Eli Manning's #'s were better then ever, but he continues to struggle in the Red Zone...Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride must use Training Camp to add some plays, and a few wrinkles for Eli in goal-to-go situations...at back-up QB the Giants have signed Peyton Manning's long time understudy Jim Sorgi, plus also have 2nd year QB Rhett Bomar in Camp

RB Brandon Jacobs was hardly the Thunder we knew him as in '08...his 3.7 yards per carry was significantly lower than his 5.0 in 2007, and 2008...his TD's dropped from 15 in 2008 to just 5 last season...Ahmad Bradshaw returns from a trio of ankle surgeries to use Training Camp as his first test on that ankle...Danny Ware also looks to get healthy, as does 2nd year RB Andre Brown...a TON of talent here, but all of them have health concerns

WR Steve Smith
The WR spot looks to be in good hands...perhaps underrated hands...Steve Smith is your quantity guy (his 107 catches last year is more than any Giants player ever) then throw in young talent like Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, and 6'6" Ramses Barden...again we say a TON of talent here...between these guys and TE Kevin Boss someone will have to step up as a reliable go-to threat for Eli in the Red Zone

On Defense the new Coordinator is former Head Coach of Toronto's own Buffalo Bills Perry Fewell...

There is work to done in Training Camp for this D...middle-of-the-pack unit last year which got worse-and-worse as the season progressed...only 2 teams in the entire NFL allowed more points in '09

sack for Jason Pierre-Paul
The pass rush that was instrumental in the 2008 Super Bowl run was non-existent in 2009...Fewell will need to light a fire under the D-Line and use Training Camp to develop a guy like rookie Jason Pierre-Paul (1st rounder from South Florida)...Pierre-Paul joins a group of talent that is looking to get healthy in 2010...guys like Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jay Alford, Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Mathias Kiwanuka all looking for increased playing time and increased effectiveness by getting back on track health-wise

The LB crew also is in need of health...gone is Antonio Pierce meaning more of an opportunity to lead the D for LB Michael Boley if he can be healthy consistently...

In the Secondary DB's like Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Bruce Johnson, Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, John Busing, Deon Grant, Michael Johnson, plus rookie Chad Jones (3rd round LSU)

On Special Teams Matt Dodge was drafted in the 7th round from East Carolina and will look to win the Punting job in Training Camp

For years the Eagles offense was Donovan McNabb throwing to decent, at best, WR's...entering the 2010 Training Camp this team is flush with young/explosive talent at the WR position, but McNabb has been jettisoned to Washington...DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Macklin are both young stud WR's...Jackson is already a Pro Bowl player who had 8 TD's of 50+ yards in '09...young TE Brent Celek is also a stud...Jason Avant and Mr Kendra Wilkinson aka Hank Baskett will also look to add to this unit...same goes for rookie WR Riley Cooper (5th round Florida)

 The QB entrusted in running this offense is QB Kevin Kolb...Kolb takes over after serving as capable back-up to McNabb for the last 3 years...he set NFL passing records in his first 2 starts with Philly last season...overall career #'s of 4 TD's and 7 INT's are certainly underwhelming though...to have Michael Vick as your #2 QB is a major swing-and-a-miss...when Vick was tossed from the NFL several years ago you would not have wanted him running your offense then...and that was in a controlled environment like the Dome in Hotlanta...now years later he is back, in a horrible climate for his skills and likely 5 years beyond being able to be an NFL QB...in a specific formation like the Wildcat perhaps you can still get Vick a few snaps, but to have him be your #2 guy on the depth chart is bad...I will be watching Training Camp to see if rookie QB Mike Kafka (4th round Northwestern) can climb the depth chart and surpass Vick...as it is entirely possible that Philly has completely mis-managed/mis-evaluated the QB position I will also wonder if Kafka can surpass Kolb at some point

RB LeSean McCoy plays catch me if you can
While I have my doubts on Andy Reid's ability to evaluate QB's, I certainly can appreciate the talent he has provided to the RB position going forward...2nd year player LeSean McCoy looks like the real McCoy...BIG future for this speedster...in Training Camp he will be teamed with free agent Mike Bell and outstanding FB Leonard Weaver to form Philly's 2010 rushing attack...rookie RB Charles Scott (6th round LSU) will try to throw his helmet in the mix too...

To protect everyone mentioned above will be an Offensive Line looking to gel much better than they did in 2009...guys like Jason Peters, Stacy Andrews, Winston Justice, Nick Cole, Mike McGlynn, and A.Q. Shipley will all have a chance to fit into the O-Line rotation...

On Defence the Eagles have a lot of work to do in Training Camp...there are a lot of young players to look at here...Andy Reid is always great at dialing up a vaunted pass rush...he drafts, and coaches to it...it is a priority for him...2010 draft was no exception...witness the talent he has incoming through the draft...DE Brandon Graham (1st round Michigan) DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (3rd round Washington) DE Ricky Sapp (goooood player - a steal in the 5th round out of Clemson) DT Jeff Owens (7th round Georgia) with LB`s Keenan Clayton (4th round Oklahoma) and Jamar Chaney (7th round Mississippi State)...all that talent, plus in the Secondary guys like Nate Allen (2nd round Safety from South Florida) and Trevard Lindley (4th round CB from Kentucky)...a TON of potential here...guys that will be contributing to the Eagles long after the Andy Reid era has concluded

Training Camp is also an opportunity for guys like LB Stewart Bradley to return from injury...Bradley showed in '08 that he is a beast...LB's Omar Gathier and Akeem Jordan will be using Training Camp to try to return to full health...also LB Moise Fokou will need to continue his development

In the Secondary we looked at the rookies added to the mix, but guys like Macho Harris will have to continue to improve...also Ellis Hobbs returns from injury...look for Marlin Jackson and Quentin Demps to use Training Camp to show their worth too

Kick Returner is a lock with stud DeSean Jackson stealing the show

new coach Mike Shanahan with new QB McNabb
No team in this Division has more to gain through Training Camp than this Redskins team...everything is new...coaches, players etc...

QB Jason Campbell is gone...good riddance say `Skins fans...in 52 games started by Campbell was the winning QB only 20 times vs 32 losses...QB Donovan McNabb is in...McNabb was a Pro Bowl QB in 2009 for the 6th time in his career vs 0 for Campbell...McNabb has 161 more TD`s than Campbell...where I am going with this is that the 'Skins made a major upgrade at this position...reminds us of Favre with Minny in 2009...reminds us of Rich Gannon going to the Raiders...Training Camp is the first look for Donovan at his new targets on offense

TE Chris Cooley returns from injury (stud)...he will be paired at TE with up-and-comer Fred Davis and the two should provide McNabb with goal line targets...

New Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan will use Training Camp to figure how to better utilize WR's like Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, and Malcolm Kelly...plus vets like Joey Galloway, Mike Furrey, and Bobby Wade (all were free-agent signings)...Training Camp will also be our first look at 2010 7th round pick Terrence Austin (UCLA)

If the running game can dial up the ol' time machine then this unit is spectacular...Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Fast Willie Parker were all at their best, and amongst NFL elite a few years ago...now Shanahan and Sons are hoping the trio can provide a nice RB-by-committee attack...only a hand full of teams ran the ball worse than Washington in 2009...1st round stud OT Trent Williams (#4 overall from Oklahoma and a sure-fire stud) will certainly go a long way in helping the running game (and of course in protected McNabb)

B I G Trent Williams
Rookies Eric Cook (7th round New Mexico) and Selvish Capers (also 7th round - West Va) will try to show in Training Camp that they, along with Williams, can be added to the O-Line to improve the depth...the 'Skins have struggled mightily to protect the QB for a while now...if Shanahan could improve just 1 area in Training Camp I bet he would choose the O-Line...we know Shanahan wants very specific things from his O-Line...he loves a running game where the O-Line sets up cutback lanes for his RB's...a lot of Zone blocking too...remember in Denver it did not matter who the RB was, it was the O-Line that really did the work and set-up the running game's success

On D the 'Skins join the Buffalo Bills as the 2 teams using Training Camp to implement new schemes...Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett will be switching the unit from a 4-3 base D to a 3-4 base D...we know this has already caused an issue with the Incredible Sulk aka Albert Haynesworth...when Fat Albert cashed a $21 million cheque a few weeks ago he had no problem with the transformation, but he sure does now...what a joke this guy is turning into...let's move on shall we...the new 3-4 is a nice fit for rookie LB Perry Riley who may have been a nice pick for Washington in the 4th round...

Speaking of LB's Rocky McIntosh, Brian Orakpo, H.B. Blades, Lorenzo Alexander, Chris Draft, Robert Henson, London Fletcher, Chris Wilson will all be given an opportunity in Camp to show that they can contribute to this unit

The Secondary needs work...Haslett is hoping that a 3-4 will provide the DB's a better opportunity to sit in a zone and pick-off passes...only a few teams had fewer INT's than this unit in '09...newcomer Phillip Buchanon should get a chance in Camp to show that he can contribute...Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall will have to improve too...'Skins also have young DB's like Justin Tryon and Byron Westbrook looking to improve through Training Camp too

On Special Teams new Punter Josh Bidwell returns to the NFL after an injury-filled 2009...the Kick Returner duties may go to rookie Terrence Austin (Austin runs a 4.38 40-yard dash)

NFC North, and all AFC Divisions are below...scroll down...NFC South and West en route...send me your thoughts at craig.ballard@hotmail.com