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My View from the Washington Redskins Press Box by Lake Lewis

Optimism is all that any Washington Redskins’ fan can ever hope for after a horrid 2009 football campaign. Last season contained former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn — now Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach — routinely questioned by fans and the media for his coaching tactics.  Former starting quarterback Jason Campbell’s leadership was questioned and many debated if he even was a legitimate playoff caliber signal caller.  And lastly, the ‘Skins defense was often criticized for not playing in a free-flowing attacking style. 

Well, the 2010 season has brought eternal hope for all around our Nation’s Capital.  And if last night’s Redskins preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills was any indicator, then the new season should bring a sort of giddiness seldom bestowed on this franchise over the last decade. The Redskins came out and imposed their will on the Buffalo Bills in route to a 42-17 alley-slapping.

In the Redskins’ preseason opening win, the three most important off-season acquisitions, in my opinion, of Head Coach Mike Shanahan, Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and Quarterback Donovan McNabb did not disappoint in their burgundy and gold debuts – BTW: I didn’t count General Manager Bruce Allen as he joined the team at the end of the 2009 season. 

After a shaky first series, the Redskins’ offense -– 2009 NFL rankings of 22nd in total offense and 26th in scoring — showed signs of life.  On their second possession, the new look offense led by McNabb orchestrated a twelve play, 70-yard, drive culminating with the former All-Pro passer connecting with first-year player Anthony Armstrong on a four-yard touchdown strike.  The touchdown pass showed that finally the Redskins seem to have the most important position on the field covered. 

McNabb’s improvisation skills were on full display on the touchdown play as he showed foot movement and presence in the pocket.  The former Philadelphia Eagles starter kept the play alive by moving around to find his receiver despite some pressure from the Bills.  Overall, McNabb who took the snap from center 17 times — was scheduled to take only 18 snaps actually — completed five of eight passes for 58 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. The former 6-time Pro Bowl player also turned in a more than respectable 124.0 quarterback rating for the game.

In his postgame presser, McNabb said that he felt good after having played his first game with the Redskins.  The new leader of Washington’s offense said, “It was an exciting time.  When you play your first game, obviously, with a new ball club it takes you back to the first game you played.”  The 12-year veteran added, “Your adrenaline is high and you have to settle down a little bit.  The second time we went out, after our first drive, it led us putting up some points.  Then good things happen.  There are a lot of things we have to work on but I thought offensively we were able to progress today.”

The strong performance of the Redskins did not stop at McNabb’s doorstep.  Back-up quarterback Rex Grossman, a former Super Bowl lead guy in Chicago, may have helped ease any discord about who will replace #5 should he have any kind of setback.  Grossman showed complete command of the Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which he was already familiar with from having been coached by the younger Shanahan last year with the Houston Texans.  For the game, Grossman played two quarters while completing eleven passes for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. The former Florida Gators passer also finished with a great quarterback rating too (122.5).

One of the recipients of Grossman’s two touchdown passes was gifted receiver Devin Thomas.  The former Michigan State receiver had recently been under intense scrutiny for his participation in a music video with R&B star Fantasia.  But he rebounded to have a nice game as he pulled-in three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.  Some people, who I talked to during the game, thought that Thomas should be bypassing any outside distractions and just focusing on football. 

However Thomas showed why he was a top-rated receiver prospect on many boards back during the 2008 draft.  Yesterday’s game could be the confidence booster for Shanahan’s offense and the third-year pro that the Redskins have been looking for.  After briefly talking to Thomas after the game, I can safely say there is not a more engaging player who knows exactly what is expected of him in the locker room.  I truly expect a breakout year for the developing receiver and for Thomas to also be the starter opposite veteran Santana Moss come opening day.

On the defensive side of the ball, there were some things from the game that I believe need to be corrected including over-pursuit and poor tackling.  But for the most part, new defensive coordinator Jim Hasslet’s unit showed the attacking style that most Washington fans have longed for since the departure of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is now with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.  The other major off-season drama, the Albert Haynesworth situation, also definitely seems to have been put to bed.  The $100-million dollar man started his long climb back up the depth charts and ‘Skins Nation’s hearts by playing a solid game.  Haynesworth entered the game in the second quarter, with the second unit, and although he did not record a sack or a tackle, his presence helped several players.

Redskins Game Notes:

First-year players who made an impact on the game were:

— LB Perry Riley who played well and was credited with a tackle for a loss.

— WR Anthony Armstrong caught his and Donovan McNabb’s first touchdown as Redskins.

— RB Keiland Williams showed that he could possibly breakthrough an already crowded backfield to make the final roster.

— CB Ramzee Robinson made several special teams gems.  And as always this is what separates young players who make NFL rosters.

— WR Brandon Banks showed the 4.2 speed that has caught the eye of many around the NFL.  Banks did not waste any time as he returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown.  His effort should help add greater debate about getting the young speedster more opportunities.

— RB Ryan Torain was impressive with 17 rushes for 62 yards.

— Former Pro Bowl TE Chris Cooley looked comfortable working with McNabb as he produced 3 catches for 33 yards.

— CB DeAngelo Hall had a nice interception, which he returned for 33 yards.

 

Lake Lewis is the head of the Sports Journey Broadcast Network and their daily drive-time radio host.  He also is a credentialed member of the media by the NBA, Washington Redskins, and Baltimore Ravens.

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Donovan McNabb’s Washington Debut is a Success by Lloyd Vance

Redskins QB Donovan McNabb had a strong performance in his Washington debut against the Buffalo Bills

After only having one preseason game last week, the NFL exploded this week with a slate of 16 early season battles.  One the most anticipated storylines of the 2010 NFL Preseason Week 1 was the debut of 12-year veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb with the Washington Redskins.

The former Eagles starter for 11 years had been performing in training camp to some mixed reviews.  But as usual “Game Time” meant that the former 6-time Pro Bowl passer was all business.  McNabb gave the Redskins’ faithful something to cheer about as he led Washington to a dominating 42-17 home victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills.

After a couple of errant throws in his first series, the notoriously slow starting McNabb picked-it-up.  Big 5 started to look comfortable in his new surroundings on Washington’s second offensive series.  And finished with respectable numbers 5 for 8 for 58 passing yards and one rushing yard in two series of work.  His biggest play was a 4-yard touchdown to WR Anthony Armstrong. 

McNabb said after the lopsided win, “When you play your first game, obviously, with a new ballclub, it takes you back to the first game you played.”  The dual-threat passer added, “Your adrenaline is high, and you have to settle down a little bit. The second time we went out, after our first drive, it led to us putting up some points.”

Next up McNabb and the Redskins will face the Baltimore Ravens on August 21 in a territorial bragging rights game.  But you know the 33-year old passer is using every game until October 3rd (vs. the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field) as a warm-up.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Updated 2010 NFL Holdout Watchlist by Lloyd Vance

There are still a few stalwarts that are away from camp as players, like San Diego Chargers OT Marcus McNeill, are Holding Out

Now that all NFL teams are in training camp, holdout talk has really heated-up.  There are currently three major holdout situations that are on the NFL’s front page: New York Jets vs. Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis, the San Diego Chargers vs. their 3 restricted free agents (OT Marcus McNeill, LB Shawn Merriman, and WR Vincent Jackson), and the New England Patriots vs. OG Logan Mankins.

Sure “holdouts” are a rite of passage, because star players always believe that they have “outperformed” their existing contracts.  In looking back at league history, in 1975, former Miami Dolphins superstars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield jumped to the World Football League (WFL) in an effort to be paid what they thought they deserved. This year more than ever, the uncertain times around the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement has caused both players and owners to talk tough. 

The owners are pointing to the 30% rule in the current CBA and an uncapped 2010 season.  But they are also not saying, at least publicly, if a deal is in place to not put too many new deals on the table, given there maybe a lockout in 2011.  Surprisingly an uncapped year has also shown that there is “no floor” too.  Owners seem less likely than ever to pay guaranteed money including signing bonuses on new player deals because they could potentially cover lost salary during a lockout – heck even future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are in the last year of their deals.  “Underpaid” star players are countering by holding out in hopes that their value to their team will sway their respective owners to open their checkbooks even with the CBA situation. 

You don’t have to be an NFL capologist to know that the longer that a holdout goes on, the more likely it will turn “ugly” quickly.  It is a test of wills between players/agents and teams and someone has to blink first.  Usually in the NFL’s world of non-guaranteed contracts – described by ESPN’s Mark Schlereth with the saying “The contracts should be written on toilet paper” — it is the players who come off their stances quicker. The owners are clearly holding the proverbial “Hammer”. Players under contract have to worry about the league’s 30-day rule (August 10th deadline), fines — $14,000 to $16,500 dollars daily for missed training camp days — and possible missing game checks. 

Also teams love to point to the case of 1985 Chicago Bears where highly valued players Safety Todd Bell and LB Al Harris held-out the entire season but their team still went on to win the Super Bowl without them.  Players have to always be mindful that the “NFL Never Sleeps” — the Saints and Vikings will kick-off the season as scheduled on September 9th — and that everything will go on with or without them.

So with 256 of 257 drafted rookies already signed including all 32 first-round picks, everyone’s holdout attention is now focused on the veterans still sitting on the sidelines.  Hopefully Revis, McNeill, Jackson, and the rest of the NFL’s holdouts will workout their respective situations as holdouts are a no-win situation for everyone involved.

2010 Holdout Watchlist (updated as of August 10th)

New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis – Arguably the best corner in the NFL is very unhappy about his current contract and is holding out.  Revis, who now owes over $128,000 dollars in fines for each missed camp day at $16,523 per, is currently slated to make $1 million in the 4th year of his 6-year rookie contract.  After a season where he basically carried the NY Jets to the AFC Championship Game, the former University of Pittsburgh star wants to be paid like an All-Pro.  Revis wants a deal similar to fellow Pro Bowl player and highest-paid corner, Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha – signed a 3-year, $45.3 million extension in ‘09. However it is going to be tough for the NY Jets to find a way of paying Revis on Asmougha’s level, especially after already extending OT D’Brickshaw Ferguson (six-years, $60M), plus signing free agents LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, and others.  There is no doubt that NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan wants Revis – 2009 stats of 54 TKLs, 31 passes defensed and 6 INTs in 16 starts – in camp badly.  But management (owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Tannenbaum) and the star cornerback’s side (includes family member / mentor and former NFL holdout Sean Gilbert) seem entrenched in a bad way.  Hopefully the NFL Films / HBO cameras for Hard Knocks are ready as this one may get real “ugly”.   There is no doubt, that it is incumbent on both sides to find a compromise as the J-E-T-S have no chance of going far into the playoffs without Revis Island on their side.

New England Patriots OG Logan Mankins – While everyone is talking about Revis and the Chargers’ Big 3 as the biggest holdouts in the NFL, quietly their is a very important contract impasse taking place in New England.  Mankins a former 2-time Pro Bowl player has been at odds with the Patriots’ brass (i.e. Bill Belichick) over his contract situation.  The 28-year old former first rounder out of Fresno State believes that the Patriots current restricted free agent tend offer of 1-year, $1.54 million is too low (down from $3.268 million after June 15th).  Mankins really would like a contract more in the neighborhood of the Saints’ OG Jahri Evans — recently extended with the terms 7-years, $56.7M w/ $19M in year 1).  Though many people don’t think of the value of a very good interior offensive lineman…trust me it certainly is on the mind of QB Tom Brady.  Mankins says he wants to be traded or there is the possibility of him sitting out the whole year — I don’t see either of those options happening.  However Brady’s protector may have some leverage as his replacement Nick Kaczur maybe lost for the season with a back injury and deep back-up Dan Connolly doesn’t have much experience. This situation will definitely get interesting as a Patriots insider has told me, “Mankins is just stubborn enough to sit out the entire 2010 season”.

Chargers OT Marcus McNeill — Outside of Darrelle Revis’ fight with the NY Jets, this maybe the NFL’s most compelling holdout.  McNeill, a Pro Bowl offensive tackle, is not happy at all about his contract situation and he refused to sign his restricted free agent tender.  Frustrated Chargers GM AJ Smith then on June 15th reduced McNeill’s offer from 1-year, $3.168M to $600,000 dollars.  Both camps seem to have dug in deep, but it maybe San Diego who blinks in this one.  It probably didn’t help matters when the NY Jets gave Ferguson his big deal.  The Chargers signed veteran OT Tra Thomas as insurance, but already he is out after recently having his knee scoped.  San Diego in turn then went with the desperate act of moving OG Tyronne Green (6’2, 309) to left tackle.  We will see if Green can protect franchise QB Philip Rivers’ blindside, but I am not confident he can on a daily basis so I am sure McNeill will be getting a call soon.

Chargers WR Vincent Jackson – Much like McNeill, Jackson seems intent on making Smith’s life miserable.  Vincent also has not signed his restricted free agent tender – started out at 1-year, $3.268M, which was reduced to $600,000 on June 15th — and is “holding out”.  The Pro Bowl receiver is coming off a big year — 68 catches for 1,167 yards and 9 TDs – and was hoping to get a Brandon Marshall-type deal (four-year deal worth $47.5 million with $24 million guaranteed).  You know that Smith isn’t even thinking about hooking Jackson up with a deal like Marshall’s, especially after the star receiver got in trouble again for DUI, resulting in a 3-game NFL suspension.  I guess after Smith figures out how to make McNeill happy that Jackson is next, but his case is not as pressing with receivers Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson,  Leegudu Nanee and Craig Davis already in camp.

 Chargers LB Shawne Merriman – You would have thought after not producing at a level that he did in the past — 4 sacks in the past two years over 15 total games — that Merriman would be in camp.  However the NFL’s former poster outside linebacker has not signed his Restricted F/A Tender (1-yr, $3.269M) and is “holding out”.  I guess Merriman is caught-up in the fight between Chargers GM AJ Smith and fellow restricted free agents Marcus McNeil and Vincent Jackson.

 SF 49ers NT Aubrayo Franklin – Hopefully the Niners larger fire hydrant 3-4 nose will wake-up to the fact that his team overpaid for him and end his holdout by signing his “franchise player” deal – 1-year, $7,003,000 dollars.  Franklin, who is not being fined since he is unsigned, was lucky enough to be part of the franchise player class as New England Patriots NT Vince Wilfork and Green Bay Packers Ryan Pickett.  But in my opinion he is not on those two players level.

Chiefs safety Jarrad Page – This restricted free agent has yet to sign his 1-year tender offer — 1-YR, $1.759M – and is “holding out”.  Page is a solid on a rebuilding team, but I don’t know how much leverage that he has in not signing his deal.  I am sure the new Chiefs’ braintrust of GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley are not one bit happy with Page being on the sidelines.  He better come in soon as Kansas City has Brandon Flowers and Mike Brown already in camp.

Other “resolved” possible Holdouts

Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth (reported – finally passed his conditioning test on his 4th try and will now try to be the 100 Million Dollar Man that head coach Mike Shanahan expects)

Vikings WR Sidney Rice (Reported — Has “hurt” hip and is not happy about being slated to make $550,000 in ’10)

Titans RB Chris Johnson (received $2M escalator payment early and reported)

Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett (reported — Rosenhaus and Dockett will have to wait until ’11)

Saints OT Jermon Bushrod (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Ravens OT Jared Gaither (Signed Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Redskins OT Jammal Brown (Traded to the Redskins from Saints, signed his 1-year tender and reported)

Redskins LB Rocky McIntosh (Signed Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Titans TE Bo Scaife (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Ravens QB Troy Smith (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

St. Louis Rams FS O.J. Atogwe (Re-Signed with the Rams and reported)

Cleveland Browns LB D’Qwell Jackson (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Denver Broncos DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil (Received a six-year, $61.5 million extension and reported)

NY Jets LB David Harris (Received an extension and reported)

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (reported)

Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis (reported)

Browns safety Abe Elam (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

NY Jets center Nick Mangold (reported — Jets trying to get Revis’ deal done first)

Texans WR Andre Johnson (reported and is expected to get an extension around 1st preseason game)

Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton (reported — Not much leverage and is fighting for a roster spot)

Browns LB Matt Roth (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Giants DE Osi Umenyiora (Reported, but has a bad hip injury)

Browns K Phil Dawson (Reported)

Redskins FS Laron Landry (reported)

Chiefs G Brian Waters (reported)

Cowboys DL Marcus Spears (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

Colts WR Reggie Wayne (Reported)

Colts QB Peyton Manning (Reported and will probably get an extension before last year of contract runs out)

Colts DE Robert Mathis (Reported)

Patriots QB Tom Brady (Reported and will probably get an extension before last year of contract runs out)

Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley (Reported — Steelers have said no extensions in ’10)

Bills RB Marshawn Lynch (Reported)

Vikings DE Ray Edwards (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

SF 49ers OLB Manny Lawson (Reported)

Buccaneers LB Barrett Ruud (Reported — Threatening a “walkout”)

Panthers CB Richard Marshall (Signed his Restricted F/A Tender and reported)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tim Tebow Gets a New Haircut by Lloyd Vance

August 9, 2010 1 comment

So much for Timmy Terrific’s head of hair that drove the girls wild in Gainesville, Florida.  The Bronco’s first rounder got a “chop-job” courtey of his veteran teammates

Rookie hazing has been going on since the NFL first began back in 1920 and is a rite of passage.  Usually the “hazing” is all in good fun, so I think it is incumbent on rookies  to say “why not” and participate — what harm is there in singing your college’s fight song at dinner.  But already we have seen in this year’s training camp sesssion that Cowboys star rookie receiver Dez Bryant said, “No” to carrying a teammate’s shoulder pads.

The anti-Bryant is Broncos’ Superman rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Heisman winner from Florida continued to endear himself to his older teammates by allowing them to shave his head like Friar Tuck. 

Hopefully the former first rounder will keep either his helmet or a hat on at all times so that kids don’t walk into their local barbershop asking for a “Tebow”

Favre to Re-Re-Retire?? by Lloyd Vance

  

 

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is supposedly “retiring” again…I think we have heard this before 

Everyone out there must have thought Tuesday August 3rd was a network re-run as news leaked that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was going to re-re-retire. According to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, the 40-year old passer told teammates late the prior night that he was not coming back for a 20th NFL season.  Like New York Yankees baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, “It was dejavu all over again”.  

Apparently Favre’s surgically repaired ankle – last year it was his surgically repaired shoulder – could not survive workouts with Hattiesburg, Mississippi high schoolers enough to get ready for the rigors of another NFL season.  So with this enormous news coming forward, I decided to go back into my archives to see if once again the public “could” be part of another waffling melodrama.  On July 31, 2009, I ran a piece called “Favre tells the Vikings “No Thanks”, but is he really retired”.  The entry gave quotes from No. 4 saying he was finally done and that his ailing shoulder would not allow him to comeback….Does any of this sound familiar.  

I wasn’t buying Favre’s conciliatory retirement talk in late July 2009 and until I see backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson starting under center September 9th against the New Orleans Saints in the NFL’s opening game, I am not buying it in August 2010.  Don’t even think about writing Favre’s final NFL career stats in ink, because last year on August 19th there was a piece titled “Favre unretires again and joins the Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 season”.  Yes, maybe the soon to be 41-year old (October 10th B-day) is really too tired and beat-up from the hellacious beating he took in New Orleans last January in the NFC Championship Game overtime loss to gear-up for one more season.  

But the greatest waffler in NFL history since Orlando “Pancake” Pace, just cannot stay away from the spotlight.  Favre’s final pass from the 2009 season was a risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter near the end of the regulation (19 seconds left in the game) and you know that is still haunting him.  There is no way that Favre is not ready with a crowbar to jimmy the door back open on his career.  The Vikings have assembled too much talent and Favre is such an ego-maniac that he will not let anyone else lead a team loaded with the NFL’s most Pro Bowlers (8) in 2009.   

Let’s also remember that Vikings management including head coach Brad Childress (picked Favre up at the airport in August 2009) and GM Rick Spielman will continue to rollout the red carpet for the league’s reigning old-time king.  And don’t forget that the 3-time MVP is coming off probably one his greatest statistical season ever too — in 16 starts led his team to a passed numbers of 363-531, 68.4% (career high), 33 TDs, 7 INTs (his fewest in a season), and a career-best 107.2 quarterback rating. So until I see Favre standing at the podium in Canton with his gold jacket on….I will always believe the NFL’s graybeard gunslinger quarterback thinks he has one more season left in him.  

Here’s what Tarvaris Jackson had to say about a possible Favre retirement, “I haven’t heard anything about it. I’m not looking at it any different. I’m still going to show up and work hard every day…If something happens, we’ll see…It’s always back and forth with Brett. It’s a decision. He deserves the opportunity to decide when he’s going to retire or not, whether he wants to retire or not. It’s up to him. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on getting better.”  

No. 4’s back-up added on the on-going melodrama, “”It’s been about three years now I’ve been getting asked the Brett Favre questions…It’s kind of part of my life now. I actually might miss it. Like I said, it’s his decision. He deserves however long he takes to make the decision. It’s on him and I’m just going to come out here and try to get better.” 

If Favre’s decision is his final one, then hallelujah and let’s move-on to the litany of other topical stories heading into the 2010 NFL season.  I have to admit that I have been a Favre follower since his early days with the Packers when he made magical plays out of nothing almost every game.  His childlike joy for the game was like none other. But my bro-mance and the love of many NFL fans and media has definitely been stretched to its limits by his flip-flopping retire/unretire ways which definitely has tarnished his legacy.  

Though I refuse to be fooled by Favre again – trust me he will be back for $13 Million reasons and rising.  But if this is truly it — yea right — No. 4’s final legacy will be that he had a “quality” that made everyone root for him even if he was on the opposing team’s sideline. Favre’s passion for the game brought childhood “street” football to the masses and he truly was a true gambler at heart. Good Luck Brett riding off into the sunset on your tractor and please stick with staying on your farm this time. 

However you know the cynical and probably “right” side of me says that in a couple of weeks, Favre’s ankle will be magically healed in time for the Vikings’ 3rd or 4th preseason game. 

  

  

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Bengals Sign Terrell Owens by Lloyd Vance

Everyone around the NFL is wondering how the receiving duo of T.O and Ochocinco will work out in Cincinnati

Get your popcorn ready as pro football’s greatest reality show has landed in Cincinnati.  No, I am not talking about Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco’s Ray-J inspired VH1 reality dating show, “Ultimate Catch”.  Ochocinco (32) will now have to share marquee top-billing with the city’s newest star, Terrell “T.O.” Owens.

Since the start of the offseason in February, No. 85 had lobbied for his buddy to get a shot and now the fun can finally begin in Cincy. Bengals owner Mike Brown and charismatic head coach Marvin Lewis — trying to win the franchise’s first playoff game in 19 years — added yet another rogue player to their growing list of reclamation projects by signing the enigmatic Owens.  There is no doubt that the future Hall of Fame receiver must be part cat as he has found yet another NFL life – his fifth team overall and fourth since 2004.  The 36-year old receiver signed a one-year, $2 Million deal w/ incentives that could push the contract to $4 Million. 

The arrival of the player that some NFL fans love to hate is definitely stop-the-presses worthy news, even if Owens is closer to the end of his career.  Let’s face it, even as big of a star that Ochocinco has become recently, he is nowhere near T.O — league’s No.1 star attraction outside of posterboy quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  T.O now becomes the second VH1 star in the Bengals lockerroom – his “T.O Show” in its 2nd season of reality bliss has been very popular — but it is on the field that is really what matters most. 

Even T.O’s publicists/homegirls Mo and Kita will tell you that the megawatt star needs to have success catching the football to continue preparing for a Hollywood star life after football (modeling and acting). Owens’ resume is already Hall of Fame-worthy with 1,006 catches for 14,951 yards (14.9 ypc) and 144 TDs — currently ranked 6th all-time in career receptions and 3rd in receiving yards – but if T.O wants a ring he will need to learn to share the spotlight with the entire Bengals organization.

The reason the Bengals are looking to T.O to help them secure their first playoff win in forever was their end of 2009 difficulties.  Though Cincinnati handily won the AFC North – undefeated 6-0 record in division – the New York Jets cleaned their clocks in back-to-back weeks including a 24-14 home loss in the Wildcard round of playoffs.  In those two games, the Bengals were exposed as a one-dimensional running team only with former secondary receiver Laveranues Coles proving that he wasn’t much of a threat — outscored 61 to 14 by Rex Ryan’s Brash Bunch. 

The J-E-T-S’ No.1 ranked defense let RB Cedric Benson get his production – ran 21 times for 169 yards and 1 TD in the playoff loss – but everyone else on the Bengals offense, including Ochocinco and QB Carson Palmer were shutdown in the passing game.  In the Week 17 loss, Ochocinco was shutout by NY Jets Pro Bowl cover corner Darrelle Revis — first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games – and the playoff game wasn’t much better as No. 85 didn’t make a catch until 11:56 remaining in the game while finishing with two receptions for 28 yards.  Palmer wasn’t much better, especially in Week 17 where he finished with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7).  If can say it, the former 4,000-yard passer rebounded with numbers 18/36, 146 YDS, 1 TD, and 1 INT in the disappointing home playoff loss.

It will be real interesting to see if Owens after an almost 15 years in the NFL will be happy being Ochocinco’s sidekick and possibly the second-option in the passing game. Yes…last year in Buffalo, T.O kept his mouth shut for the most part and performed well in bad circumstances.  But there were moments where he disappeared and showed signs of slowing down despite looking in tremendous shape.  Playing on a 1-year, $6.5 million contract, T.O sometimes struggled to beat press coverage and his numbers sagged (55 catches for 829 yards (15.1 ypc) with 5 TDs) compared to his final season with the Dallas Cowboys — 69 catches for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008.  Some will point to the Bills’ offensive line and poor quarterback play as the main reasons for Owens’ decline, but it is now or never for the Bengals and this sometimes pain-in-the-butt receiver.

Other than Ochocinco and Owens, the two people that have to find a way to make it all work are Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and Palmer.  The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback will need to find a way to shut-up the two talkative receivers in the huddle while also spreading the ball around to keep everyone happy.  In addition to Owens and Ochocinco, the Bengals currently have an on-paper fantasy football player’s dream with an embarrassment of riches including Benson, first round rookie TE Jermaine Gresham, former Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), former Jags first-round pick Matt Jones, Wes Welker wanna-be Jordan Shipley, and emerging young receiver Andre Caldwell.  Wonder which receivers are going to make the team based on their valuable special teams play.

So even though T.O, Palmer, and Ochocinco continue to play kissy-huggy going into training camp, including Owens making a guest experience on Ocho’s show, eventually something has gotta give…right.  You know the old song, “T.O’s back and there’s gonna be trouble…Hey La…Hey La.. T.O’s back”.  The two veteran receivers/tweeting buddies have been stars in their own regard – both six-time Pro Bowler with a combined six-1,000 yard season — but they also have been accused at times of being “bad” lockerroom guys, especially Owens. 

However I still do believe even though T.O is approaching 37 in December that he still has enough gas in the tank to have a greater impact on the Bengals than Coles — 2009 numbers 43 rec, 514 yards, 12.0 ypc, long of 40 yards, and 5 TDs.  But the real fun will be if games are lost and one loudmouth receiver gets more targets / catches than the other. My PFWA colleague Don Banks of SI.com recently tweeted of Owens joining Mike Brown’s Wayward Home for players, “Bengals with T.O, Pacman, et al, now remind me of early in sub-prime mortgage era when there was no apparent thought of risks being taken”. 

Hopefully the Bengals will be able to look like the 1980 Oakland Raiders, who where able to turn a rowdy bunch of free-spirited players into a Super Bowl championship team.  But surely adversity awaits in the upcoming 2010 NFL season and you can expect the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to exert as much heat as possible on the Bengals.  I am officially setting the T.O / Ochocinco meltdown alarm for November 9 when the Bengals host the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. 

So now it is “Lights, Camera, Action” time as all of the Bengals’ players will report for training camp at Georgetown College in tiny Georgetown, Kentucky on Wednesday July 28th.  Too bad the Bengals were last year’s feature team on the NFL Films / HBO series Hard Knocks as this year’s training camp should be memorable. 

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 NFL Power Rankings – Pre Training Camp by Lloyd Vance

Even without Big Ben to start the regular season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be looking to get Pittsburgh back in the playoffs in 2010

With training camps set to open soon for most NFL teams, I thought it was a good time to unveil my first ranking for the 2010 season.  The great part about this time on the NFL Calendar is that rankings don’t matter as hope has sprung eternal around the league.

Every team is 0-0 heading into training camp and “Yes” even the St. Louis Rams (1-15) believe they have positively upgraded their roster and drafted well enough that training camp two-a-days can’t get here soon enough.  And why not…since 1996 there have been at least 5 new playoffs teams that had been sitting home the year before – highest total was 8 teams in 2003.

80-man rosters are pretty much set for every team…Sorry T.O… – still need to sign rookies as only Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is the only first rounder signed — so here we go with our rankings of all 32 NFL Teams.

1.  Saints – The 2009 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch.  In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!!  The Saints only lost players that they believe already have replacements on their current roster. Sean Payton’s offensive squad has more weapons than almost every team in the NFL, including an O-line that returns all of it’s starters from the Super Bowl.  However there are a couple things that New Orleans will need to shake out in the pre-season, which are their defense not relying on turnovers too much – produced an NFL best 39 fumbles and INTs plus 8 turnovers into touchdowns.  And the usual Super Bowl winner problems of complacency, money, and injuries.

2.  Vikings – All off-season it had to have bothered the Vikes that they were so close to playing in the Super Bowl (lost in overtime).  Keys for sustaining their success from last season will be veteran QB Brett Favre coming back (already a done deal…trust me), RB Adrian Peterson concurring his fumbling woes, and the Vikings’ defense getting better performances from everyone outside of Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen.  Head Coach Brad Childress has now tasted success, so it is easy to think that Minnesota will be right back at the top of the NFC North, but I think the Packers and Bears might have something to say about that.

3.  Colts – Another season, another 12 wins for Indy (NFL Record seven Consecutive).  The Colts are a regular season buzzsaw, but once again the playoffs, it was a different story.  QB Peyton Manning’s team lost in Super Bowl to the Saints and at some points in the game, the younger team from New Orleans “Out Physical-ed” Indy.  There is no doubt that Manning and his plethora of receivers will continue to put up yards and points.  But the Colts need more of a running game from veteran RB Joseph Addai and 2nd year RB Donald Brown plus their defense needs to get more physical at the point of attack.

4. Cowboys – Maybe the curse of Quincy Carter is over as the Cowboys won in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 by demolishing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard round.  Unfortunately the Cowboys got a quick taste of reality in the divisional round as the Viking pasted them 34-3.  However owner Jerry Jones obviously thinks that his team has a chance of playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium so Dallas’ roster pretty much is set.  The keys for Dallas will be QB Tony Romo continuing to make big plays with WR Miles Austin, RB Felix Jones gaining a more prominent role and the Cowboys defense improving in their back four.

5.  Ravens – An already dangerous team just got a little bit tougher this offseason as John Harbaugh’s squad had a very good draft and also obtained quality veterans like WR Anquan Boldin.  With QB Joe Flacco coming off an impressive season (posted a 95+ passer rating in 9-of-16 games in ’09), underrated RB Ray Rice looking like the second-coming of Marshall Faulk and a hungry defense returning just about everyone, Baltimore is a scary bunch.  Expect team leaders MLB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and WR Derrick Mason to show younger players, like Terrence “Mount” Cody, how it is to make a playoff run.  But don’t forget the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals should be ready to fight for the AFC North crown.

6.  Chargers – After dominating in the regular season and looking like a strong Super Bowl contender, the Chargers were out-physicaled by the NY Jets in a tough 17-14 home loss.  Fiery quarterback Philip Rivers could do very little as the J-E-T-S pounded the rock and played attacking defense.  Of course, recently jettisoned RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be blamed for some of the Chargers problems.  But in the end, the NY Jets dug deeper and Norv Turner’s team appears to be in need of a spark.  In the 2010, San Diego is hoping an influx of younger players including first rounder RB Ryan Matthews will be what they need, but the Chargers better be leery of the Broncos.  Also they better figure out what to do with unsigned players OT Marcus McNeil, WR Vincent Jackson, and LB Shawn Merriman.

7.  Patriots – Was it just me… or did the Patriots look like an old rusty team in 2009 as the Ravens hammered them out of the playoffs.  Though I am not ready to totally bury the 3-time Super Bowl champs, I do believe that head coach Bill Belichick also saw his team aging and went about give it an offseason makeover.  Veterans Junior Seau, Shaun Springs, Jarvis Green, and others are long gone, leaving a mix of former Super Bowl players and some youngsters.  It will be incumbent on Belichick to lean on former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and future HOF Randy Moss as the Patriots try to re-tool while holding off the hungry NY Jets.  Of course Brady doesn’t play defense, where Belichick’s unit needs to be better in deep coverage.

8.  New York Jets – Everyone’s pick for the team that won the offseason, the New York Jets, will be trying to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row.  Last year after an up-and-down regular season, Rex Ryan’s team got hot at the right time beating the Bengals and Patriots to make it to the AFC Championship game.  However this year everyone will be gunning for the “cocky” J-E-T-S as there are high expectations on them due to the additions of OLB Jason Taylor, WR Santonio Holmes, L.T and others.  But you know and I know that everything will boil down to whether QB Mark Sanchez is ready to be more than a “Caretaker”.

9. New York Giants – It was a rollercoaster ride for the G-Men in 2009.  They started out like gangbusters as they jumped out to a 5-0 record against some cupcakes, but from there injuries – mostly in their secondary – and big plays against their defense caught up with the Giants.  An 8-8 record just is not good enough in New York City and volatile head coach Tom Coughlin knows it.  Expect a rejuvenated team based around bruising RB Brandon Jacobs, newly acquired veteran LB Keith Bulluck and an attacking defensive line – highest sacker in ’09 was DE Justin Tuck with only 7 sacks.

10.  Cardinals – The Matt Leinart era is about to kick-in out at University of Phoenix stadium.  The Cardinals’ former first round pick in 2006 finally will get his chance to replace veteran Kurt Warner after the future HOF retired.  Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is preaching that the Cardinals will be a more balanced team on offense, which means 2nd-year RB Chris Wells should be more active.  I will be interested in seeing how their defense plays after surviving a pinball machine against the Packers and being throttled by the Saints in the 2009 playoffs.

11. Steelers – A year after winning the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in 2009 as they finished with a 9-7 record.  Some big reasons for the Steelers fall from grace were inconsistency, injuries (see Troy Polamulu), and a pass-happy offense.  Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who just received an extension, is preaching that his team is going to play “Steelers Football” again i.e. Run the football and play tough attacking defense.  Of course any talk about where the Steelers are as a team begins and ends with QB Ben Roethlisberger who is currently suspended for the season’s first 6 games.

12.  Bengals – It will be real interesting to see if last year’s feel-good team, the Bengals, can get back to the playoffs.  2009’s Beast of the AFC North (swept the division) looked good until the playoffs when the NY Jets hammered them.  Offensively QB Carson Palmer needs to produce more bigger plays and the rest of the unit needs to live-up to loudmouth receiver Chad Ochocinco’s boasts.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis is trying to get an extension so he will need another great season from his defense which is led by CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

13.  Falcons – After battling through many injuries in 2009, the Dirty Birds seem to be everyone’s pick to be a rebound playoff team in 2010.  A good reason for optimism in Hotlanta is that this young team has bought into the teachings of fiery head coach Mike Smith and his staff.  The Falcons have the modern version of the quadruplets as they sport a leadership type quarterback in Matt Ryan, a workhorse running back in Michael Turner, a pass-catching tight end in veteran Tony Gonzalez and a big-play receiver in Roddy White.  If their O-line is stable, I am not really worried about their offense.  However their defense needs to rally around big-ticket free agent CB Dunta Robinson.

14.  Texans – You have to hand it to Houston as they accomplished a major goal in 2009 by producing their first winning season since their inception in 2001.  But as nice as it was to be over .500, the Texans still have a ways to go to catch the Colts.  Head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith were given a half-hearted vote of confidence, but you can tell management wants a playoff contender now.  The Texans will need to lean on the offensive firepower of Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and NFL receiving yardage leader WR Andre Johnson. But it will be interesting to see if their defensive unit is better without disgruntled defensive back Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and you know that will fall on DE Mario Williams (9 sacks in ’09).

15. Titans – Tennessee is another team stuck in the NFL’s ever increasing middle.  After a disastrous 0-6 start, everything seemed to finally click once Vince Young was named the starting quarterback.  However it was too much too late as they finished 8-8 and their defense was continually beaten deep.  In their first season sans Albert Haynesworth, Jeff Fisher’s team allowed a whopping 402 points and their former 2008 Pro Bowlers in their secondary looked average at best.  With an eye on fixing their defense, the Titans went heavily on that side of the ball in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will see if they have enough to catch the Colts and Texans, but If nothing else the Titans will be exciting with CJ2K running the ball.

16.  Eagles – The winds of change are blowing around the Philadelphia Eagles.  Former veterans like QB Donovan McNabb, CB Sheldon Brown, S Brian Dawkins, and RT John Runyan are long gone leaving a younger team searching for an identity.  The trade of McNabb to the Redskins changed the entire feel around the team and now it is up to first-time starter Kevin Kolb to take the reins of Andy Reid’s young squad.  Kolb will not have to do it on his own as he has Pro Bowlers WR DeSean Jackson, OT Jason Peters and TE Brent Celek to help him, but the defense is the Birds’ biggest question mark (allowed over 200 passing yards per game).  We will see if the Birds have made enough offseason changes to close the gap between themselves and the Dallas Cowboys – outscored 58-14 in last two games of 2009.

17.  49ers – To me last year was a tease in terms of the Niners.  You can clearly see that energetic head coach Mike Singletary had his team playing well at times, but consistency was not there enough – finished with an 8-8 record.  In order for San Francisco to finally pass the Cardinals and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They will need to have better quarterback play from Alex Smith, improved O-line play behind their two coveted first rounders and more defensive pressure — didn’t have a single player top 6.5 sacks last season.

18.  Dolphins – After shocking the NFL in 2008 by going from worst to first in their division, Miami came back down to earth in 2009 with a 7-9 record including a 1-4 stretch to end the season.  A lot of change is afoot in South Beach, but the Dolphins are hoping that are is more than just LeBron going to the Heat. Surprisingly the Dolphins biggest problem was their defense that allowed 390 points.  With Football Czar Bill Parcells watchful eyes over head coach Tony Sparano, the Dolphins attempted to fix their woes in the draft by going heavily on defense.  They also brought-in WR Brandon Marshall to help their offense.  We will see if these changes are enough to vault them over the Patriots and NY Jets.

19. Packers  –  There is no doubt that Green Bay and QB Aaron Rodgers have the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the NFL – 461 points scored — but the Packers’ 2010 hopes directly hinge on Dom Capers’ defense.  I know his unit allowed only 297 points in the regular season and they were ranked near the top of the entire NFL.  But against the Vikings –you know who torched them – and the Cardinals in the Wildcard round put up points too (lost 51-45) so they needed more than Defensive MVP, DB Charles Woodson. It should be another fun year when the Pack lock horns with Favre and the hated men in purple.

20.  Bears – The head coaching seat in the Windy City is getting extremely hot and it is incumbent on Lovie Smith to return the Bears to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Smith thought that he had solved his Super Bowl loser hangover dilemma by trading for talented QB Jay Cutler, but a 7-9 season in ’09 made the spotlight hotter.  With new offensive coordinator Mike “Mad Scientist” Martz and big-ticket free agents DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor on the team, it is now or never for Smith and GM Jerry Angelo.

21.  Broncos – Another year and another controversial player was kicked out of town by brash head coach Josh McDaniels.  In 2009 it was QB Jay Cutler (to Chicago) being ushered away and in 2010, it was talented malcontent receiver Brandon Marshall’s turn to leave the Rockies – shipped to the Dolphins before the draft.  McDaniels better hope he is right as his team badly slumped down the stretch of the 2009 season — 4-game losing streak to end the season — and some fans’ patience is running thin.

22.  Redskins – There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is “Mike Shanahan”.  The two-time Super Bowl winning head coach, veteran QB Donovan McNabb and new GM Bruce Allen have been called-in to restore the nation’s capital’s franchise.  Already Shanahan and Allen have brought in over 20 new players with many being veterans (McNabb, Larry Johnson, Joey Galloway, Jammal Brown, and others).  We all know this team will be nowhere near their 4-12 record in 2010, but you have to wonder if all these new faces can jell quickly enough.  All the NFL’s entire eyes will be on Philly for the October 3rd, McNabb-Eagles Grudge Match.

23.  Raiders – For once the Raiders don’t seem like the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.  Yes, they have the league’s worst record since 2003 (24 wins and 72 losses).  But already I have seen some positive moves including the jettisoning of underachiever quarterback JaMarcus Russell, bringing in veteran QB Jason Campbell, a solid draft that produced players like LB Rolando McClain, and the same head coach (Tom Cable) for the second year in a row for the first time in a long while.  Al Davis’ boys should be shooting for .500 this season, which would be a big step forward.

24.  Jaguars – It seems everyone in this organization is fighting for survival.  The team is trying desperately to sell enough season tickets to avoid a proposed move to L.A, QB David Garrard is trying to prove he can play like his 2007 form to justify his big contract and lastly head coach Jack Del Rio is fighting to stay in town after two losing seasons in a row.  Well at least the Jags have one of the NFL’s most dangerous players in RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

25.  Panthers –  If it now or never for head coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney who are both entering the final year of their contracts.  Owner Jerry Richardson is healthy now and he will have a greater say in the Panthers this year, so it is incumbent on the team to continue helping their on-the-hot-seat head coach again – finished 4-1 in 2009.  Expect another great year of the NFL’s best two-headed backfield (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), but Carolina’s defense must recover from losing DE Julius Peppers. Expect QB Matt Moore (6-2 as a starter) to hold-off rookie Jimmy Clausen and establish himself as an NFL starter.

26.  Lions – Head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew had one of the best drafts in 2010 as they brought in potential difference-makers DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best to continue their rebuilding.  With QB Matthew Stafford firmly at the helm, there is no reason why the Lions could not win 3 to 4 more games this year.  I am going to make an early prediction…watch out for the Lions in 2011, if there is not a lockout of course.

27.  Buccaneers – Some good young building blocks (QB Josh Freeman, TE Kellen Winslow and S Tanard Jackson) are in place for 2nd-year head coach Raheem Morris, but 2010 looks like another rebuilding year for Tampa.  However there still should be hope as the NFC South since 2003 has had 6 out of 7 years where a team went from worst to first including the New Orleans Saints last year.

28.  Seahawks – New head coach Pete “runaway” Carroll has brought in a ton of new faces (over 25 new players) including retread receiver Mike Williams, former NY Jets RB Leon Washington and former Chargers restricted free agent QB Charlie Whitehurst.  But Carroll’s team still has too many leftover players from the Mike Holmgren era (i.e. QB Matt Hasselback, WR Deion Branch, and others) that will need to figure out where they stand before the entire organization can move forward.

29.  Bills – Can you say, “Oh Canada”?  Right now the reality of playing more than two games a year in Toronto, Canada maybe facing this team.  I am not even sure if new head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have any idea of the mess on their hands.  The Bills have 3 quarterbacks competing and I don’t think any of them can be a week-in-week-out NFL starter and whoever is the starter, they will be playing behind on of the league’s leakiest O-lines.

30.  Chiefs – Head Coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli are trying like crazy to make the hapless Chiefs into New England West, but something is amiss.  QB Matt Cassell after finally getting a chance to start regularly put-up even stats of 16 TDs and 16 INTs while the defense couldn’t stop anyone in 2009, letting up 424 points.  There is nowhere to go but up for Cassell and the rest of this young team who are looking like one big rebuilding effort.

31.  Browns – Football Czar Mike Holmgren took over early as he came in during the end of the 2009 season to start evaluating a roster that looked like multi-purpose threat Joshua Cribbs and not much else.  What Holmgren did find was that there were a few talented players (Cribbs, OT Joe Thomas, and CB Eric Wright), but unfortunately he still will need to put on his janitor’s suit as there is much more housecleaning to be done.  It looks like another long year awaits on the shores of Lake Erie, especially with washed-up QB Jake Delhomme under center.

32.  Rams – Just like the Saints at the top of the food chain…I have to start the Rams at the bottom.  However I do believe that head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Bill Devaney are making positive changes on this team. Hopefully RB Steven Jackson (back) and first rounders QB Sam Bradford, OT Jason Smith, and DE Chris Long will get some help to move this young team out of the basement. 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)