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View Full Version : A football thread! Bucky Brooks: An AFCW Preview


Buehler445
07-06-2007, 02:04 PM
AFC West training camp challenges
Chargers transition to Turner; Russell readies for NFL
Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 11:16AM; Updated: Friday July 6, 2007 11:16AM

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/bucky_brooks/07/05/tc.preview.afc.west/index.html

Denver Broncos

Challenge No. 1: Help Jay Cutler build on last season's success

Cutler took over the starting QB job with five games left in the season and played surprisingly well. Though he only led his team to a 2-3 record during his starting stint, he almost completed 60 percent of his passes and compiled an 88.5 passer rating. Playing with a solid running game, Cutler was effective and efficient in the scaled down offense that Denver used with him under center. He spread the ball around to several different receivers and relied heavily on his tight ends in the red zone. With the Broncos making aggressive signings during free agency, the talent surrounding Cutler has improved. Travis Henry gives them a big time threat in the backfield and should force defenses to use eight in the box on early downs. New tight end Daniel Graham has enough speed, quickness and savvy to exploit his one-on-one match ups over the middle of the field. With Javon Walker, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler rounding out the group of skill players, Cutler is one of the few quarterbacks with weapons at every position. Finding a way to incorporate more of the offense into the game plan without overloading Cutler is one of the main objectives heading into the season. Expect the Broncos to be aggressive with their play-calling during the preseason, but scale it back if Cutler struggles early.

Challenge No. 2: Get Brandon Marshall onto the field

After watching Rod Smith struggle to get open for most of the season, Mike Shannahan gave Marshall an opportunity to play as the third receiver and he responded by catching 18 of his 20 passes over the six-game period. As the Broncos head into training camp, Marshall may become a start in only his second season. A big, physical receiver with outstanding size and speed, he gave the Broncos another big-play threat on the field. With an average of 15.5 yards per catch and two touchdowns, Marshall not only earned trust of Cutler, which will be vital to his development. Giving Smith a lesser role will be tough, but a strong camp by Marshall will make it easier.

Challenge No. 3: Work the kinks out in Jim Bates' new defense

After failing to produce a dominant defense over the last decade, the Broncos have turned to highly regarded defensive coordinator Jim Bates to build a championship-caliber defense. Bates is the master of the quick turnaround, and looking at the Broncos offseason pick-ups, he appears to have the pieces in place to make a quick transformation. Late additions Sam Adams and Jimmy Kennedy are massive defensive tackles, whose presence up front will free up middle linebacker D.J. Williams to be the playmaker in the middle. Dre Bly teams with Champ Bailey to give the Broncos arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league. And with first-round pick Jarvis Moss potentially offering the explosive edge rusher Denver has been missing, Bates has all of the tools to install his aggressive 4-3 defense. Throwing together a defense with so many new faces is challenging, but the simplicity of the scheme, plus the experience in preseason, should help make the transition smooth.

Kansas City Chiefs
Challenge No. 1: Find out if Brodie Croyle is ready to be the starter

After finally agreeing to deal Trent Green to the Miami Dolphins, the Chiefs enter training camp prepared to hand the keys to the offense to second-year quarterback, Brodie Croyle. Though veteran backup Damon Huard led the team to a 5-3 record with an impressive 11-to-1 touchdown/interception ratio last season, Croyle will be given every opportunity to win the job. Led by a strong running game powered by ultra-productive Larry Johnson, the Chiefs need Croyle to be a sound decision maker and effective passer in Herm Edwards' ball-control offense. Last season Croyle only appeared in two games and did not play enough meaningful snaps to display the skills, or talent, of a franchise quarterback. With so little game experience, the preseason will be crucial to determining if Croyle is ready to step into the Green's place under center. If he is able to take care of the football and make an occasional big throw down the field, he will solidify his status as the starter. But if he falters, the Chiefs have a solid insurance policy in Huard.

Challenge No. 2: Reduce Larry Johnson's workload

Assuming that Johnson reports to training camp, the Chiefs have to find a way to reduce his workload. Last year Johnson broke an NFL record for carries in a season (416) on his way to his second campaign with more than 1,700 rushing yards. It's unrealistic, though, to expect him to survive the rigors of another 400-carry season in one piece. Edwards loves to use the running game to wear defenses down and has the perfect banger in Johnson, but history has shown that runners typically struggle after logging so many carries during a season. In other words, Johnson would benefit greatly from a lighter workload. Though backup runner Michael Bennett is a former 1,000-yard rusher, he only had 36 of the Chiefs' 513 carries last season. Minor injuries kept him out of action for five games, but he never received more than six carries in any of his 11 games. With so much of their success tied to Johnson and the running game, expect the Chiefs to experiment with different ways to incorporate Bennett into the lineup during the preseason.

Challenge No. 3: Get the revamped defense on the same page

The Chiefs enter the season with at least four new starters on defense. Veteran Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards step in at linebacker, and Bernard Pollard or Jarrad Page will start at one or both of the safety positions. In addition, Jimmy Wilkerson will fill in at defensive end during Jared Allen's four-game suspension. Blending so many new faces into the line-up poses a challenge for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. His multi-faceted defensive scheme features several exotic blitzes and pressures, but has gradually shifted to incorporate more of the Tamp 2 scheme that Edwards prefers. This is a key element because the simplicity of the Tampa Two scheme makes it easier to put several new guys on the field. There will be growing pains as the defense strives to develop trust and accountability, but they will have ample opportunity to work through those problems during the preseason games.

Oakland Raiders
Challenge No. 1: Energize an offense that lacked juice last season

After the Raiders scored a league low 12 touchdowns, new coach Lane Kiffin was hired to energize their woeful offense. He comes from Southern Cal with a reputation as an aggressive play-caller and an astute X and O's tactician. His innovative approach has been successful in the college ranks, but making it work in the pros will be a challenge. Not only will he have to adjust to facing more complex defensive schemes, he will have to adjust to working off of different hash marks and play clocks. Those aspects should not be difficult, but crafting an attack to accentuate the strengths of his personnel will be challenging. Lamont Jordan and Jerry Porter are seeking to bounce back from off years, and free-agent signees, Dominic Rhodes, Justin Griffith and Travis Taylor have to be incorporated in the new attack. The Raiders also have to solve their offensive line issues after giving up 72 sacks last season. With so many questions yet to be resolved, Kiffin will use the preseason to experiment and hopefully come up with clear plan as to how to inject a little creativity to an offense that had none.

Challenge No. 2: Slowly prepare JaMarcus Russell for the starting job

No. 1 overall draft choice Russell was picked to be the face of the franchise, but he may not be ready to be the full-time starter this season. He has dazzled coaches and teammates with his physical tools, but his adjustment to the pro game will take some time. He not only has to learn the nuances of Kiffin's diverse offensive attack, but also adjust to the speed of the game and the various cover schemes that defensive coordinators will throw at him. Quarterbacks progress at different speeds, and starting out behind Josh McCown will give him an opportunity to learn without the immediate pressure of having to perform. Russell's performance in preseason will determine his readiness, but with so many questions surrounding the offense, it is hard to image him being an opening day starter.




Challenge No. 3: Build on last season's success on defense

After fielding a dominant defense during last season's disappointing campaign, the Raiders are hoping to pick up where they left off. The league's third-ranked unit returns with its starting lineup intact and will be stronger after another season under Rob Ryan tutelage. Though the statistics suggest the Raiders struggled versus the run, they only gave up an average of four yards per carry despite facing more carries than any other team in the league, and most of those extra carries were the result of being on the field more because the Oakland offense was on it less. The Raiders' pass defense also developed into one of the league's top units, and all without using a tricks or gimmicks. Armed with multiple defenders with solid cover skills, the Raiders are one of the few teams able to lock up in man free coverage without additional help outside. Nmandi Ashougha, Fabien Washington, Michael Huff and Stuart Schweigert have developed into a cohesive unit despite their youth and will continue to improve as they continue to play together.

San Diego Chargers
Challenge No. 1: Make a smooth transition from Marty Schottenheimer to Norv Turner

Though Schottenheimer had led the Chargers to a 13-3 record and is one of the winningest coaches in league history, he was dismissed following last season due a disappointing playoff performance. Turner's familiarity with the team should make the transition easier since he was the offensive coordinator in 2001 and the team still was using most of his offensive principles last year. He also wisely retained most of the offensive assistants during the coaching transition. Having continuity with his offensive coaches will undoubtedly help him as he continues to build the attack around the talents of LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Phillip Rivers. Defensively, his decision to hire defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell also will keep things running smoothly on that side of the ball. Cottrell spent several years working under Wade Phillips, and his defense relies on the same elements and principles previously established by Phillips. Though he is sure to tweak the scheme to suit his tastes, the defense should be able to build off the momentum and success they have created over the past two seasons. The pressure is on Turner and the Chargers to take the next step, but how well they make the transition to Turner will determine if they can pull it off.

Challenge No. 2: Expand the playbook for Phillip Rivers

Rivers finally got his opportunity to lead the Chargers last season and responded with a Pro Bowl season. Compiling a 61 percent completion percentage and a 22-to-9 touchdown to interception ratio, Rivers has shown that he has the tools to be one of the league's best quarterbacks. Heading into his second season as the starter, Rivers will benefit from Turner's expanded playbook. After San Diego spent most of last season relying on play action passes with Gates and Tomlinson as the primary targets, Turner will craft an attack that features more drop-back passing with vertical routes and incorporates the receivers into the gameplan. Expanding the playbook will give young receivers Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Eric Parker and Craig Davis their chances to make plays down the field. If they can deliver during the preseason, the Chargers will show more diversity in their offensive approach this season.

Challenge No. 3: Find another starting safety

The Chargers enter training camp with Marlon McCree penciled in at one safety position, but without a clearly defined starter at the other spot. Veterans Clinton Hart and Bhawoh Jue are battling second round pick, Eric Weddle, for the safety position opposite McCree. The Chargers do not label their safeties, but McCree is best suited to be a deep middle player in the defense. His savvy, experience and intelligence makes him the perfect guy to control the back end. With him in the middle of the field, the other safety needs to be a physical player with the toughness to fill the alley versus the run. Hart and Jue both have the size to be a box defender, but neither has much experience in that role. Weddle lacks the size, but his savvy and penchant for playmaking makes it hard to keep him off the field. Finding the right player for the position is critical for a defense regarded as one of the league's best.

RustShack
07-06-2007, 02:08 PM
Wilkerson? I thought McBride was going to play for Allen. I also heard awhile ago that they were going to use Kendrell Bell at DE some.

Redrum_69
07-06-2007, 02:13 PM
Wilkerson? I thought McBride was going to play for Allen. I also heard awhile ago that they were going to use Kendrell Bell at DE some.


:eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:

noa
07-06-2007, 02:15 PM
Wilkerson? I thought McBride was going to play for Allen. I also heard awhile ago that they were going to use Kendrell Bell at DE some.

It would be nice to see how well McBride can hold up at DT before assigning him the vacancy left by Jared Allen. I think they'll do a little bit of everything, probably start Wilkerson, but also include packages with McBride at DE and other variations.

Redrum_69
07-06-2007, 02:16 PM
Kendrell "Who said I was injured" Bell

RustShack
07-06-2007, 02:59 PM
LJ is 28 and has 892 carries in the NFL. Tomlinson is also 28 and has 2050 carries in the NFL. I don't see LJ wearing down anytime soon and I think he should and will get a new contract. They should still lighten his work load this year to be on the safe side, so hopfully Bennett can stay healthy or Kolby Smith plays pretty good as a rookie. I think Ross also has a shot at making the team.

DMAC
07-06-2007, 03:01 PM
I think Ross also has a shot at making the team.He'll make the team.

But, first fumble...GONE.

CoMoChief
07-06-2007, 03:08 PM
LJ is 28 and has 892 carries in the NFL. Tomlinson is also 28 and has 2050 carries in the NFL. I don't see LJ wearing down anytime soon and I think he should and will get a new contract. They should still lighten his work load this year to be on the safe side, so hopfully Bennett can stay healthy or Kolby Smith plays pretty good as a rookie. I think Ross also has a shot at making the team.

LT knows how to avoide hits, much as Priest Holmes did. LJ gives hits and is involved with alot more contact than LT.

kstater
07-06-2007, 03:15 PM
With so much of their success tied to Johnson and the running game, expect the Chiefs to experiment with different ways to incorporate Bennett into the lineup during the preseason.

Time to break out the wishbone. :)

Bob Dole
07-06-2007, 03:21 PM
Good to see the author continued with the general media's love for Cutler.

Bob Dole too hopes that Jay continues the "success" he displayed last season, which should lead his team to a sterling 6-10 record.

RustShack
07-06-2007, 03:25 PM
LT knows how to avoide hits, much as Priest Holmes did. LJ gives hits and is involved with alot more contact than LT.

Every player on defence gives hits and they last more than 2 years, lineman are involved in contact every play and they also last more than 2 years. I know these are diffrent but I don't think after 1 1/2 years as a starter LJ is going to make a huge decline in play.

DaneMcCloud
07-06-2007, 05:32 PM
Though Schottenheimer had led the Chargers to a 13-3

I guess this writer didn't have time to actually look at last year's records or standings. :shake:

bdeg
07-06-2007, 06:31 PM
Every player on defense gives hits and they last more than 2 years, lineman are involved in contact every play and they also last more than 2 years. I know these are diffrent but I don't think after 1 1/2 years as a starter LJ is going to make a huge decline in play.
I agree with your overall sentiment, but the argument is a little weak.

How many D players make 30 tackles a game?

LJ's still got a lot left in the tank but there's no denying last year was hard on his body. I remember a Michael Bennett interview last year before the Colts game he said he was shooting hoops with LJ and Larry went like 0 for 30.

It wasn't because he was well rested...

Direckshun
07-06-2007, 06:54 PM
#2 is going to be the toughest for the Chiefs. #1 is unpredictable, sure, but all signs point to Croyle being at least a decent pro.

It's uncertain whether Bennett can work his way into the game or if Smith or Ross can step in for LJ.

#3 should not be a serious problem.