Owens (Photo Courtesy of sportstunner.com)
Strengths: The Cowboys have a talent-laden team that, on paper, looks like they could be right there with the Bears as the class of the NFC. Quarterback Tony Romo looks better than last year, and running back Marion Barber picked up right where he left off last season, scoring TDs as Julius Jones’s backup. Terrell Owens has had a great camp and preseason, and even managed stayed out of trouble. He seems poised for a huge season. Terry Glenn starts across from Owens and tight end Jason Witten will work as Romo’s safety valve receiver. If they can stay healthy, they are a dangerous trio who all could draw double-coverage. Problem for opposing defenses is, there are not enough defenders to go around. Someone will have single coverage. The defensive front seven is about as nasty as you can get. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will be the most fearsome tandem of OLBs in the league behind San Diego’s amazing duo. The team finally added a competent free safety in Ken Hamelin. Both Hamelin and Roy Williams will have fun taking turns seeing who dishes the bigger hit.
Weaknesses: The Cornerbacks will be tested. Top corner Terrance Newman was recently diagnosed with a torn plantar fascia in his right heel. Anyone who has had this knows the degree of pain that Newman will play through. Losing a step for Newman is music to WR ears, as Newman’s speed is his top asset. They do not have another corner on the roster with that type of deep speed. Unfortunately, a hurt Terrence Newman is still the best CB on the roster.
Opportunities: Defensive Ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty will have a special opportunity with Wade Phillips around. In Parcells’s 3-4, the defensive linemen stayed put and tried to clog holes. In Phillips’s 3-4, the DEs have more of an attacking role. Spears has already expressed his pleasure with the new system. Wide receiver Patrick Crayton could show the team that he’s capable of being a starter. He’ll fill in for Terry Glenn early in the year as Glenn recovers from knee surgery.
Threats: Can Wade Phillips prove that he is not the Norv Turner of defensive coaches? Phillips is a great defensive coordinator, however, as a head coach, has had more than his fair share of bumps. If Phillips proves to be a leader, this team could be Super Bowl bound.
Passing/Receiving the Torch: Tony Romo, from nobody, as the leader of the offense. Since the retirement of Troy Aikman, the Cowboys have lacked a true leader on offense. Romo has the door wide open to claim that role. It is his to lose.
Position Battle: The RB battle may last all season long. Julius Jones and Marion Barber are the perfect back, if only they were one person combined. Both want to be the starter, however neither has stepped up enough to the point where they can fully claim the job. Jones’s vast potential (if healthy) gives him the slight upper hand.
Rookie Contributor: OLB Anthony Spencer is a scary one. Going back to my mock drafts here on PHSports, I pegged him as the most-likely Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner. Don’t be surprised if he puts up a 12-sack performance this season.
New York Giants
Manning (Photo Courtesy of Worldmag.com)
Weaknesses: The defensive backfield is in shambles regardless of if Sam Madison is available or not. R.W. McQuarters should in no way be a team’s #1 corner. Corey Webster is still developing at the other corner. Rookie Aaron Ross looks like he might be thrust into the nickel spot. James Butler played special teams for the majority of his career. He is the team’s new starting strong safety. Without Strahan, the defensive front seven looks much weaker. They desperately need him in uniform.
Opportunities: Brandon Jacobs is the new starting RB on the team. At 6’4” and over 260 pounds, Jacobs has impressive speed, running in the low 4.4s. If he played defense, his physical gifts would be on par with San Diego LB Shawne Merriman.
Threats: How much will this team miss Tiki Barber? Barber was a dependable receiving option out of the backfield, whereas Jacobs and Droughns are not. Left Tackle David Diehl is more of a natural guard. The Giants tried him at both tackles before. His pass-blocking skills are already in question.
Passing/Receiving the Torch: Wide receiver Amani Toomer to Sinorice Moss. Moss must step up this year and claim the flanker position from the aging Toomer. Unlike Toomer, Moss can stretch the field, creating more opportunities for Burress and Shockey.
Position Battle: When Madison returns from his hamstring injury, look for some debate over who should assume the #2 CB spot. McQuarters and Webster will spend their time starting as an exhibition over who the starter will be once Madison recovers.
Rookie Contributor: CB Aaron Ross is the most likely contributor, but keep an eye on 2nd round WR Steve Smith and 7th round FS Michael Johnson. Smith will get opportunities in 4 WR sets to stretch the field. Johnson may get an opportunity to play at safety from time to time. If James Butler falters, Gibril Wilson will probably move to his natural SS position and Johnson will fill in at FS.
McNabb (Photo Courtesy of sparedollar.com)
Weaknesses: The Eagles do not have a lot to pick on when it comes to weaknesses. The Wide receivers are weak on paper. While pure talent is not abundant, chemistry might be the card under their sleeve. Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Jason Avant and Greg Lewis must stretch the field so that McNabb and Westbrook can do their damage. If the WRs play down to their level, the rest of the offense is shorthanded and non-productive. They also have three new starters at Linebacker. Omar Gaither played on the outside last season, and a little inside to spell Trotter. Takeo Spikes looks like he could be on the downside of his career. Chris Gocong is a converted DE who needs to prove that he has coverage skills to go with his rushing skills.
Opportunities: Cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown need to play back up to the level they did two years ago. Brown struggled at times, and Sheppard was hurt for a large chunk of the season. The team moved several of their DTs, and elevated 2006 first rounder, Broderick Bunkley as a starter. Bunkley spent much of his time on the bench last season, but has come on strong this offseason. He ranks near the top of the DTs in the league when it comes to the Strength/Speed combination. He could potentially be another Tommie Harris.
Threats: How will the trouble with Andy Reid’s sons effect his coaching? Many speculate that he will not bring those issues onto the sidelines. However, something must be said for possible exhaustion. He already took time off this offseason to deal with his sons’ issues. The recent arrest only compounds the aggravation that Reid has as a father. If Reid falters from this, expect this to be his last season as the Eagles head coach. Another threat could be McNabb, choosing to hear rookie QB Kevin Kolb’s footsteps. The McNabb Camp was already openly upset about the pick. Hopefully the effects are not seen during the season.
Passing/Receiving the Torch: As the leader of the defense, Brian Dawkins (34 in a little over a month) has his hand slowly stretching out, ready to pass the torch. Yet nobody is reaching out to take it. The team is in need of a new leader. A career Eagle who will do as Dawkins does, and get going when the going gets tough.
Position Battle: There is a battle for the #3 WR. Hank Baskett, Greg Lewis and Jason Avant have been battling all training camp and preseason. As of now, Jason Avant looks to be in the lead, however one cannot overlook Lewis’s speed and Baskett’s possession receiver skills.
Rookie Contributor: Rookies are not likely to contribute much here. However, if injuries strike at LB, Stewart Bradley can play any LB position, but probably fits best on the strong side. RB Tony Hunt could get a few carries, but has been somewhat unimpressive this preseason.
Campbell (Photo Courtesy of typepad.com)
Strengths: The running game should be the bread and butter of this offense. Clinton Portis claims to be back from his injury, however the team was able to keep backup RB Ladell Betts who came out of nowhere last year to rush for over 1000 yards. Leading the way for the running game is an offensive line geared towards the run and an underrated fullback, Mike Sellers. On defense, London Fletcher leads a solid LB corps that has looked great this preseason. Fletcher has the ability to attack the line like a bowling ball as well as patrol the line in a read/react function. Tight End Chris Cooley looks like QB Jason Campbell’s favorite target. He could be in for a big year.
Weaknesses: The defensive line is about as weak a defensive line as there is in the NFL. A power rushing team can have their way with this defense. Last offseason’s big acquisitions, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle-El and Andre Carter, gave coaches fits last year. Only problem was, it was their own coaches. Randle-El and Carter did not play up to their contracts. Lloyd was almost cut from the team after clashing with coaches.
Opportunities: Cornerback Carlos Rogers showed flashes toward the end of the season, securing his status as a starter on this defense. He could be in for a big year. Rogers is a physical corner and in the hybrid cover-1 defense that Greg Williams will run this season, Rogers will be around the line of scrimmage supporting the run defense more often. QB Jason Campbell was a winner from high school through college. Could he be the QB that helps turn this franchise back around?
Threats: The team is getting old with major contributors getting into their 30s. London Fletcher, Shawn Springs, Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn, Cornelius Griffin, Pierson Prioleau, Chris Samuals, Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas and Mike Sellers are all 30+ years of age. If this were a Super Bowl contending team, this might be ok. However, this is a team constantly on the rebuild, and trading draft picks and settling on filling the roster with older players is not the best way to rebuild a team.
Passing/Receiving the Torch: LB Rocky McIntosh from Marcus Washington as the up-and-coming linebacker on the team. McIntosh was an afterthought last season, however the only player on the Skins to study more film than McIntosh this offseason was Jason Campbell. The preparation shows, as McIntosh has been all over the field this preseason. If this continues into the season, the Skins could look good for trading up in the second round in 2006 to seize the physically gifted LB.
Position Battle: Strong Sefety, Pierson Prioleau is fighting off a strong challenge from phenomenal rookie LaRon Landry. The coaches love Prioleau. In fact, when Prioleau went down in the opening play of last season with a season-ending injury, you could almost immediately see the effect on the defense. Landry, on the other hand, is one of the most physically gifted safeties to enter the league. The thought of having him line up nest to Sean Taylor has Redskins coaches thrilled, and opposing receivers shaking in their cleats.
Rookie Contributor: Landry could be the lone contributor in this year’s draft class. This is very common for the Redskins who love mortgaging their future and trading their draft picks away, only to end up in the basement of the league anyway. Keep an eye on H.B. Blades if there are injuries among the linebackers. He looked good this preseason.