Our final look at the holes each NFL Team needs to fill. Happy NFL Preseason Kick-Off!!
San Diego Chargers
A Complete Offensive Line
The early success that second round pick Marcus McNeill had a couple years ago was no surprise to me. He is a monster of a man that can move well in space and his balance as a power run blocker and finesse pass blocker are attributes that NFL coaches are constantly looking for in blind side protectors. The neck injury is an issue that needs to be watched, but if stays on the field, he pairs with Kris Dielman to form one of the better left sides in the NFL. However on the flip side, the Chargers right side of the offensive line was atrocious in 2008 and things are not looking up for 2009. Rookie Louis Vazquez has the body, strength, and size to potentially be a factor down the road at guard, but Jeromey Clary should be a backup at best for a good offensive line. The offensive line is crucial to the offensive success in San Diego as Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson are guys that need space to get going without having to break tackles in the backfield. On top of that, quarterback Phillip Rivers is not the most mobile passer and has the knees of a 30 year old already. That pressure coming off the right edge needs to stop if he is going to reach his potential as a thrower.
Deeper Defensive Line
The Chargers have the blueprint for a top notch defense if they can stay healthy. They have a strong and deep pass rush complimented by long, physical, and athletic defensive backs that can make plays on the ball. Their defensive line however is an area of concern especially considering the lack of talent they have up the middle of the unit in the back seven against the run. Jamal Williams is still a guy that can get it done at nose tackle but at the age of 33, his days as an every down contributor are numbered. Behind him, there is not a respectable talent at the position in case he goes down. A 3-4 defense without a space/blocker eating body is destined for failure unless there are a variety of ways the rest of the defensive line can beat you. The Chargers have a strong talent in Luis Castillo, but little around him at the defensive end position. A role player like Jacques Cesaire won’t do enough to warrant another offseason of overlooking the defensive line.
McDaniels’ Era Quarterback
Josh McDaniels is going to either look like the genius he believes he is or a complete failure very soon in his young head coaching career. The Jay Cutler debacle that eventually led to a questionable trade which brought back Kyle Orton among other things is what one could call starting off a tenure with a bang. While Orton had success here and there in Chicago, he is not the long term answer at quarterback for the Broncos. I have no quarrels with McDaniels trying to work magic with the strong armed thrower but he will eventually find out that no offensive genius is going to make him into a star. The talent simply is not there. The draft is the best spot to look for a franchise signal caller and there will likely be a good amount of names in the ring come April 2010 for McDaniels to pick from. If he wants to hold on to his job for more than a couple of seasons, they’ll need to bring in a promising player at that spot as soon as possible.
Bodies for the Trenches
Any time a team makes the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 scheme, there are several growing pains for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most influential reason involves the amount of time it takes to re-tool the team’s personnel . In a time where every penny is being watched, it makes it very difficult to let go of the 4-3 bodies and replace them with quality 3-4 players. The Broncos defense as a whole has very little chemistry across the board and the 2009 season will be an open tryout for a bunch of no-namers in the trenches. The guys at defensive end and nose tackle could all be upgraded by the start of the 2010 season which leads me to the notion that their run defense, which was second worst in 2008, is in for another long year. If the Broncos was to return to Super Bowl contention, the defense needs more strength, power, and presence up front.
Improved Right Side of the Line
The Raiders have been struggling to put out a strong offensive line on the field for a few years now, yet they continue to address the issue with non-factor free agent signings. While one can make the argument that their zone blocking power scheme can be filled in with below average individuals that simply work well together, its time to get rid of the dead meat in the trenches. The talent is there in both the ground and air attacks, but even the likes of Darren McFadden, JaMarcus Russell, and Darius Heyward-Bey will not fulfill their potential as superstars if the big boys up front cannot get it done. Right guard Cooper Carlisle and right tackle Cornell Greeen are the kind of guys a team wants in case a starter goes down. They are depth talents, not every down maulers that can perform for 16+ weeks per season. With the scheme that requires quicker athletes, the options are a bit limited in terms of potential player acquisition. Keeping that in mind, the Raiders need to show more aggression in the coming year if they want to get this offense out of the league’s cellar.
Revamped Front Seven
Only the 0-16 Detroit Lions allowed more yards per game on the ground the Raiders did in 2009. After the 2007 season, hybrid defensive lineman Tommy Kelly was given a monster contract extension and the monster of a man Terdell Sands was expected to pair with him to form a rising and dominating unit in the trenches. Those two along with edge talents Derrick Burgess and Greg Ellis are all depreciating assets to a the Oakland defense and it is leaving them with what is expected to be another long year against the run. Kelly is starting material, but the argument could be made that none of their other linemen are every down material on a good defensive line. Behind them are linebackers that again, showed promise early in the career but have not taken their game to that next level. Thus replacements need to be thought about and/or brought in to create a sense of competition at the position.
Kansas City Chiefs
The recent signing of Amani Toomer goes to show just how desperate the Chiefs are for serviceable athletes at the wide receiver position. While they have one of the game’s top young wideouts in Dwayne Bowe, there is almost nothing to speak of behind him. Mark Bradley showed flashes last year of being a nice compliment and the Bobby Engram/Toomer veteran duo could work for the short term. However now that Matt Cassel is set in place as the Chiefs franchise quarterback, younger pieces need to be implemented. Going from Randy Moss and Wes Welker down to Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Engram is going to be a slap in the face unless someone can really step their game up. You have to think these wideouts that he needs are not currently on the roster.
3-4 Trench Personnel
When the transition from a 4-3 to the 3-4 occurs, the front seven needs to be taken care of first and foremost. It is a much more specific personnel grouping than what you will find in a 4-3 scheme. The linebacker core was put together nicely with veteran additions to go along with the young talent already in place. They have enough edge rushing talent to put pressure on the quarterback and some quality thumpers that can play the run inside. However the bodies needed for the 3-4 scheme up front are noth there outside of top 5 pick Tyson Jackson. Tank Tyler and Glenn Dorsey are both young and versatile enough to be factors but there are countless examples across the league of players that cannot make that transition from the one gap responsibilities to the space/blocker eating roles. A nose tackle needs to be brought in before the unit can improve its bottom five run defense.