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Aaron Rodgers Makes It Easy To Forget About You-Know-Who

Published: January 8, 2010

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Aaron Rodgers starts his first playoff game and, really, his legacy Sunday against the Cardinals. The postseason is where careers are cemented; Peyton Manning was seen as merely a good quarterback because he fell apart in big games before finally winning the Super Bowl. Dan Marino is quickly fading because of his lack of success.

Which is why I would love to have Rodgers win his first playoff game. It would start his career off with a bang, instilling “We’ve been here before” attitude and confidence for the next few years. While his first two seasons need no extra spice to validate currently being a top 10 quarterback, a playoff win would be special. 

So Sunday may be Rodgers’ first game where, if he loses he goes home. But it is far from the first of being in the spotlight. Hell, his first game ever as a starter was on Monday Night Football against a conference rival; with everyone tuning in and gushing about how he would (or could) replace You-Know-Who.

Rodgers completed 18 of 22 that night, threw for one touchdown and ran for another.

Has any other player started eight games and endured the scrutiny, either on Monday, Thursday, or Sunday Night Football in their first two years? Throw in the Cowboys game when he came in relief for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and that makes nine times in his career playing on prime time.

Arizona may be just the third most hyped up game of his career, behind “The Return” and Rodgers’ first start. 

The one criticism Rodgers had coming into the season was that he couldn’t close games, that he couldn’t muster a fourth quarter comeback. I’ll be the first to defend him on this front as Crosby and the run defense should have held the brunt of the attack in 2008. Anyway, Rodgers said screw it, led the Packers from behind in the fourth quarter in the opener, then did it to the Bears again 13 weeks later.

For those who haven’t followed Rodgers, or seen him play, watch Sunday night. He is as fearless as his predecessor (I’m running out of substitutes) without the recklessness. Rodgers will bomb it on third and short, refuse to let a defensive lineman make him throw it away, and still only toss seven interceptions on over 540 attempts.

There was much criticism of Rodgers for holding the ball too long earlier in the season; which was somewhat justified, especially since those sacks killed the Packers. But now that he actually has an average offensive line in front of him, those plays will turn into big gains.

In fact, Rodgers probably learned more from the offensive sucking the first half (beyond the fact that a 300 lineman hurts when they crush you at full speed) than he did when they had a decent line. He knows the longevity of plays, and reacts better to the blitz. Of course, it’s nice to say that now because Rodgers can still stand.

But watch him. He plays with an absolute coolness.

(Side-note: This “championship belt” celebration Rodgers has, which can be seen here at 1:10, is definitely not cool. It’s incredibly dorky, to say the least. That being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing it a couple of times Sunday.)

By far, the best kept secret Rodgers has is that he tears apart defenses with his legs. Rodgers has rushed for five touchdowns and only David Garrard rushed for more yards this season, slightly edging him out 323 to 316. Rodgers sustained drives and rushed for 25 first downs, with a 43% first down rate! No one ever talks about this.

Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t give the ball away. Mike McCarthy constantly preaches about turnovers on both sides of the ball, and Rodgers adheres to it. His seven interceptions are the fewest in the league, which is partly due to his decision making and partly due to his excellent arm.

Best of all, Packer fans have embraced the man. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard considering the unprecedented numbers he has put up in the last two seasons, but we all know Green Bay loved Brett (There. I said it.). We loved him for bringing back the Lombardi trophy and later for his personality. As of now, Rodgers has the latter down.

If you watch Rodgers in any interview, he has a sly grin half of the time. He is soft-spoken, very calm, and jokes around with reporters. It has been a relatively smooth transition (did I really just say that?) from Favre to Rodgers as far as the likability factor.

There was a link over at CheeseheadTV, documenting Rodgers’ humorous quest of making the captain’s photo before each game.

Could you imagine Philip Rivers or even Tom Brady in Green Bay? They would be way too serious for Green Bay. We would love the numbers, but Brady’s robot personality doesn’t hold a flame to Favre or Rodgers.

So far, Rodgers has carried the offense for the past two seasons. He has been instrumental in turning the players with a 6-10 record into an 11-5 playoff team.

Sunday, Rodgers can close the healing process a little further.

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Predictions for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010

Published: January 8, 2010

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame selections are performed by a panel of 44 leading NFL media members, including representatives of all 32 NFL teams, a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and 11 at-large writers.

The panel has selected a list of 15 finalists from the modern era , defined as playing all or part of their careers within the last 25 years. A player must have spent five years out of the league before they can be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. Players that last played in the 2004 season will be eligible for induction in 2010.

During Super Bowl weekend, the panel will meet and narrow down the list of modern-era finalists down to five. Those five will be considered alongside two senior candidates, selected by a nine-member sub-panel of the larger panel last August, for a total of seven. From this list, at least four will be selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My prediction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 is:

Jerry Rice
Emmitt Smith
Shannon Sharpe
John Randle
Russ Grimm

Hall of Fame Game: 49ers vs. Cowboys

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BCS Championship Shines Light On Talent; Kansas City Should Pay Attention

Published: January 8, 2010

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A player is not just measured by their physical ability or capacity to learn. Scouts search for (and if they don’t, they should) that crucial “clutch” player—the ones who phrases like “Grace Under Fire” are used to describe.

Since Kansas City is sporting more and more of a “New England” look, these two examples are oddly appropriate.

I still remember the day, even the exact play, where I became a true believer in Tom Brady. It was a Monday night game against Denver in 2003. New England was in the red zone at Mile High, and Brady dropped back to pass. 

In moments, the pocket looked more like a street brawl. Brady looked like he stood in the eye of a hurricane, and, seemingly oblivious to the carnage around him, launched a rocket of a pass to a receiver in the back of the end zone.

As for that other example, I only need two words: Adam Vinatieri. I mean, seriously, the guy’s picture should be in the dictionary under the word “clutch”.

Fortunately for scouts, each college season provides the perfect scenario to judge a player’s cool when the pressure is on with bowl games—and last night’s game showcased a couple of players the Kansas City Chiefs should pay close attention to come April.

 

Mike Johnson, Offensive Guard, Alabama

Already considered to be one of the top guards coming into the draft, Johnson was essential in opening holes for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. 

Despite losing 2008 Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith to the NFL Draft last year, Johnson and his teammates were able to elevate their play—tallying up 3,011 yards on the ground, with Ingram boasting 6.1 yards-per-carry and 17 touchdowns. 

Should Kansas City feel confident with Branden Albert at left tackle following the second half of the season, and decide to move Brian Waters to center, Johnson might find a home in the starting left guard position, should the Chiefs find him available in the middle of the second round (courtesy of the Tony Gonzalez trade to Atlanta last year).

 

Jordan Shipley, Wide Receiver, Texas

Originally, I was in favor of using both second round picks on the offensive line, but Shipley’s performance last night was too enticing to ignore.

Despite losing quarterback Colt McCoy in the first quarter, freshman backup Garrett Gilbert paired up with Shipley in the second half to rally Texas to within three points of Alabama following a 24-6 deficit at halftime. 

When all was said and done, Shipley finished the night with 10 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns, working mostly out of the slot position. Shipley might have played his way into a late first round draft slot, but if he should drop into the second round Kansas City should be willing to welcome this Texas product with open arms. 

A dangerous slot receiver to pair with incumbents Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers could be just the weapon the Chiefs front office is looking for to complete their high-powered offensive scheme.

Making the transition to playoff-caliber is difficult, especially for a team who cannot even make the claim of mediocrity. The Chiefs combined 10-38 record over the last three years will take a number of changes to overcome, and a number of years for fans to forget. 

Make no mistake, though: the Chiefs are on the road to recovery, and once Kansas City finds itself in games where “clutch” players are needed again, Shipley and Johnson should be people that can be counted on when it matters most.

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Cleveland Kick Returner Likely Not Returning: Agent Says Offer Is “Insulting”

Published: January 8, 2010

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Josh Cribbs, the Cleveland Browns’ most dynamic weapon, told coaches and medical staff today that he felt like it was the last time he would be in the Browns’ facility. 

Cribbs is unhappy with a contract offer from the Browns that his agent considers “insulting.”

The Cleveland wide receiver is a fan favorite and considers himself to be more than just a punt returner. 

Cribbs currently has 3 years left on his contract that are set to pay him just shy of $1 million per season. The Browns have offered to increase the deal to $1.4 million per season, but Cribbs wants no part of that deal.

Cribbs is just the latest player to demand a new contract after having a breakout year, showing that professional football is a business like no other. 

Players repeatedly hold out of training camp until they get a “long term” deal, only to demand a new deal as soon as they feel their market value has increased.

This is an insane occurrence that is beginning to be the norm in the NFL.  Owners need to start putting their foot down and forcing players to abide by the deal that they signed. 

Players feel that when they are worth more than their current contract, the owner must bite the bullet and renegotiate. 

But what about when the shoe is on the other foot? 

If a player has a bad season, can the owner then demand to lower the player’s salary?  Of course not!

So what gives the player the idea that he has the right to demand an increase?  The plain and simple truth is….agents.  

We now live in a world of super-agents like Drew Rosenhaus, who represents top talent in the NFL. 

While they are ultimately looking out for the best interest of the player, and in turn themselves, these agents are influencing young men and encouraging them to act in a manner that would be unacceptable in any other profession. 

And yes, I understand the argument that professional football players need to get paid as much as possible, as soon as possible because of the short average career. But at some point, common sense and ethics need to come into play.

What happened to the days when a man’s word was his badge of honor? When he lived up to any deal that he agreed to.

NFL owners need to band together and start forcing these players to do what is ethically and professionally right. 

The simple solution is incentive-driven contracts. Players and owners need to layout contracts that provide for the player if he does have a breakout season and exceeds expectations. Both sides win and no one has to hold out or demand a trade.

NFL owners need to hold these guys accountable for the contracts that they agree upon. If you insist upon a five or six year deal, then you have to understand that you are stuck with it. 

The San Francisco 49ers set a huge precedent with the way they handled the Michael Crabtree situation this past offseason. Owners need to have a backbone and stand up to these players and agents. 

You cannot let the inmates run the prison.

If the NFL truly wants to develop players and prepare them for their life after football, they need to start holding them accountable like people in the real world.   

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What Pete Carroll to Seahawks Rumors Mean: Finally An NFL Coach On Twitter!

Published: January 8, 2010

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Multiple sources are reporting today that Pete Carroll could become the next coach of the Seattle Seahawks.  While this brings up immediate pressing questions like if Carroll will fare better in the NFL than during his previous stint, how many coaching changes would be triggered in the resulting domino effect, etc., I want to talk about more important topics.

What would Carroll-to-the-Seahawks mean for the NFL and Twitter?

Carroll and his USC program have seemingly mastered the social media universe through Facebook , his Twitter account , and a flashy football website (USCRipsIt.com).  A tech-savvy coach like Carroll could make a big splash in the NFL (if any of the league’s other coaches use Twitter, they’re not nearly as well-known), and the potential Seahawks hire would instantly challenge Chad Ochocinco for most influential (and fun-to-follow) tweeter on the NFL landscape.

Think about it! “Carroll to Seattle” opens up all kinds of potential tweets…

1. Carroll could continue his Song of The Day trend. Of course, in Seattle, expect the most popular tune to be “Singing in the Rain” or the yet-to-be-written “Wow, You Can See Our Neon Green Jerseys From Space”.

2. Carroll could motivate and correspond with players on the popular microblogging site. Just like Carroll and former protege Mark Sanchez exchanged tweets over the past year, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (a Twitter user himself) could get some pointers from his new coach.  Expect to see these kind of tweets flying soon: “Hey Matt, it’s Coach. If you want to keep your starting job, let’s not be getting blown out by crappy teams like Tampa Bay at home anymore. Win forever, okay?”

3. Carroll could motivate Seattle fans to create an even noisier, louder home-field advantage in Qwest Field.   Mark my words, it won’t be long before Carroll’s tweeting all 60,000 Seahawks supporters (a la Drew Carey) with free ticket giveaways, free ponchos (even more appreciated in Seattle), Space Needle tickets, and who knows what else.

 

No doubt about it, hiring Pete Carroll would be a great move for the Seattle Seahawks. Twitter…and the NFL…would never be the same again.

Hey, it may even help the Seahawks win football games.

As if that really matters.

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Can the Eagles Possibly Beat the Cowboys on Saturday?

Published: January 8, 2010

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Now that the dust has settled after the Eagles embarrassing meltdown in Dallas last Sunday, all the conjecture and unhappiness about what happened can be put aside. The only thing that matters now is looking forward to tomorrow night’s big rematch in the “Mega-Stadium that Jerry Built.” 

Simply put, can the Eagles possibly beat the Cowboys after being thoroughly dismantled by them just days earlier? 

It will not be easy, and will require a dramatic reversal in every phase of the game, but the simple answer is: absolutely. The Cowboys are playing their best football of the season, and are brimming with pride. The same could have been said about the Eagles prior to their three hour body of work last Sunday, which suddenly had them defending their honor and trying to restore confidence. 

 

The bottom line is that the Eagles are very much the same team that many expected to level the Cowboys to lock up the NFC East and No. 2 seed just a week ago. The only thing that has changed is they had a particularly horrific performance, failing in virtually every phase of the game.

 

And, of course, this affects human psyche on both sides, both positively and negatively. This is especially true for Eagles players, as they have had to endure the distractions all week due to the media’s trumped up friction and implications about Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid’s futures. 

 

It is also the same Eagles offense that racked up the highest scoring total in team history before heading to Dallas, eclipsing the previous mark set last season, as well as that of the 2004 Super Bowl team. It still features the same young group of receivers—including two speed burners, an emerging star tight end, and a sure-handed possession receiver.

 

This group is still complemented nicely by LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver in the backfield. 

 

What has changed on the Eagles offense is the loss of center Jamaal Jackson to injury. However, on the positive side is the presence of Brian Westbrook, who missed most of the season due to multiple injuries. Now that he has had a couple games to shake off the rust, and possibly allay fears about his readiness to return to action, Westbrook may be primed to re-assert himself as a difference maker. 

 

Of course, the unit is still led by veteran McNabb, who has put together his best season since the 2004 Super Bowl year. McNabb drew an inordinate and undeserved amount of criticism after last week’s contest, and it remains to be seen how much those distractions might affect his play this week.

 

The fact that he has never lost a first round playoff game in his career should not be discounted, while Tony Romo, on the opposite side of the field, is looking for his first postseason win.

 

Much has been made of the emergence of the Dallas defense in the latter part of the season. Pitching back-to-back shutouts in the last two regular season games will tend to do that. A lot of the accolades are surely deserved, but it needs to be tempered by the fact that the Cowboys played the woeful Redskins followed by an Eagles team whose troubles were often self-inflicted. 

 

The real wild card for this Wild Card team will be the defense. Rookie Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott was forced to move players around to fill holes and shore up weaknesses in the depleted unit for a good portion of the season.

 

This creativity was probably mostly a good thing, but may have contributed to the breakdowns in Dallas. The cure may be to get players settled into their more familiar roles to improve on the overall execution.

 

Another key aspect will be whether their trade mark aggressiveness returns. Last Sunday, McDermott surprisingly pulled back on blitzing and often deployed a soft zone defense. The safer approach allowed Romo to pick them apart and Witten to roam free across the middle. A return of the Eagles normal attacking style with press coverage seems essential for success. 

 

One other element that was highly influential in the previous game’s outcome was field position. Dallas largely played on a short field, while Philadelphia was backed up most of the day. The Cowboys kicking specialists provide this advantage, but a key means to combat that will be for DeSean Jackson to get on track in the punt return game. 

 

So, yes, this is largely the same Eagles team, and accordingly it is surely conceivable that the outcome of the game be reversed. There is no denying that the Cowboys have a strong team, but despite the disaster in Dallas, the same is true of the Eagles.  Teams don’t fake their way to 11-5 in the NFL. 

 

The ‘Boys have “home, super-venue advantage,” and the afterglow of their recent masterpiece on their side. On the flip side, the Eagles postseason track record over the past dozen years dwarfs that of the Cowboys. Although last week’s game felt like a playoff game, the NFL’s year-end tournament begins in earnest tomorrow. 

 

When the NBC camera lights go on tomorrow night, it should not take long to gauge the Eagles chances. A slow start could further fuel doubts, and likely have the Cowboys’ confidence soaring.

 

Conversely, the reverse scenario would make last Sunday’s events a distant memory. In such case, the Eagles could surprise the enormous number of pundits who have jumped off their bandwagon and directly onto the Cowboys bandwagon.

 

 

Visit I’m Just Saying, Philly to read more on Philadelphia Sports and the NFL

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Seattle Seahawks Deserve Ass-Kicking Tyrant for Next Head Coach

Published: January 8, 2010

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If the Seattle Seahawks were the classic computer game Oregon Trail, I would put the pace on “grueling,” the food rations on “bare bones,” and tell the players, “Shut the hell up and play, or you’re gonna get dysentery and die.”

Loaded with prima donnas from top to bottom, the 2009 edition of the Hawks were coddled by their head coach, Jim Mora, who lost his job as a result. Consider him Zeke, the kid who was always first to pass in your Trail caravan.

The problem with Mora isn’t that he simply lost too many games; much of it has to do with his reputation as a player’s coach.

The term “player’s coach” is code for, “I want to be your friend, and while you’ll want me to stick around so you don’t have to do much work, I will probably get fired without ever accomplishing much since, deep down, you don’t respect me.” That’s a long-ass code, but you get the idea.

Mora didn’t have the respect of his players, and it showed.

The team quit on him down the stretch, as the Seahawks were pummeled in their final four games of the year. At the same time, disgruntled players vented their frustration with the coaching staff on the sideline and in the media, all but forcing their head coach to the unemployment line.

Though it makes sense to ax Mora, the timing of his departure is suspect.

The team has yet to hire a general manager and is now in the process of filling two gaping voids for the 2010 season. One can only wonder whether any of the Hawks’ players had a direct impact on the abruptness of Mora’s termination, namely superstar divas Jon Ryan and Olindo Mare (tongue, meet cheek).

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding Mora’s ouster, the opportunity for the Seahawks to improve is now greater than ever before.

Starting with a clean slate, the team can bring in the type of coach who will force these players to shape up. No more whining in the press, no more dogging it on certain plays, no more being overpaid little wimps.

The Hawks need a coach who will carry on the legacy of Mike Holmgren, who, let’s face it, should still be the team’s head coach (thank you, Tim Ruskell, for destroying our franchise).

Under Holmgren, players were forced to submit to the gameplan or risk serious consequences. At best, the team might release you. At worst, Holmgren himself might remove your limbs and beat you with your own arms and legs.

Players were scared of Mike Holmgren, and things worked better that way.

There was a level of predictability that came with each practice and each game. Everyone—coaches, players, personnel—knew what to expect when it came to the head coach.

There were no awkward post-game press conferences calling out kickers or questioning the desire of the ballclub. Holmgren had control of his team, and everyone knew it.

Similarly, there was a certain level of accountability that came with the Holmgren regime. If you screwed up, you’d face consequences. If you stepped out of line, you’d be punished. Everyone knew their role, knew what they had to do to survive, and acted accordingly.

With a chance to make amends for the resulting faux pas that was the Tim Ruskell-Jim Mora era, the Seahawks need to rekindle the memory of Mike Holmgren and bring in a head coach who won’t be afraid to make his players hate him. And by hate, I mean respect.

Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden are two names that quickly come to mind, but assuredly there are more guys like that in the world of the NFL. However, bringing in either of those two ex-coaches, both of whom have won Super Bowls and established a track record of excellence, would set a precedence on winning that was missing in 2009.

As a fan, I want nothing more than to see a true ass-kicker patrolling the Seahawks’ sideline.

I want the type of coach who will make his players quiver.

I want to see T.J. Houshmandzadeh weeping on the sideline.

I want Matt Hasselbeck to know that his next interception will be his last.

I want the underachievers to know that their reputations, their contracts, or their names mean nothing. Nothing.

I want this team to succeed, and it starts with the coach.

Get a guy in here who will strip these players of their undeserved attitudes and start from scratch. This team needs a tyrant, a general, a force. Let’s go get one.

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Oakland Raiders: Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum, We Really Should Have Won

Published: January 8, 2010

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“Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman,

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

The Baltimore Ravens are named for the poet Edgar Allen Poe who was born in America and had his early education in England. Poe’s poem, The Raven, is a favorite in American literature classes. It’s a poem about a bird; its a poem about depression, I believe.

The Oakland Raiders are named for a more fierce and aggressive presence. The Raiders are the pirates who sometimes have a bird on their shoulder.

The Raiders were established years before the Ravens. The Ravens started in 1996, and it is one of the youngest NFL teams. Two others, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaquars are one year younger than the Ravens.

And here is my poetic chant:

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, Last Sunday we should have won!

Not exactly as good as Edgar Allen Poe, but I made my point! Huh?

There are so many “what ifs” this season. Many variables are at play in the game of professional football.

Injuries took their toll on the Oakland Raiders, and we ended up tumbling down the beanstalk like the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

When you look at the numbers for wins and losses, there were as many “swings” in the curve for the Raiders as there were for the Ravens.

The bird flew back and forth; the pirate stumbled up and down.

Now, to use a regression curve to measure the overall direction the season was going for both the Raiders and the Ravens, we see that the slope of the regression line for the Raiders is positive. The slope for the Ravens, is, surprisingly, going downward, or decreasing.

From a statistical standpoint, if we extrapolate and imagine that the season is longer than 16 weeks, then the Ravens would have been headed downhill, according to the statistical model.

I know what you are saying, but I see the good in it all.

Defintely, we can conclude that we had improvement and an upward movement near the end of the 2009 season, although a second quarterback had injuries, and we lost our groove in the Ravens-Raiders game.

Let’s look at the bright side. We lost but maybe be have found a hen to lay our golden egg, and maybe we will do so much better once all of our players get their groove on in their respective positions.

So cheer up Raider Nation, and remember the big guy who said “Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, tumbled down the beanstalk, and he was dead and done.”

Wow! The children’s story did not have a happy ending for Jack’s opponent.

In fact, Jack and his poor mom, got the hen and the golden eggs and lived “Happy ever after.”

Now, that’s the kind of ending we want for the Oakland Raiders in 2010.

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Wrapping The Seattle Seahawks Season, Looking Ahead to Life After Mora

Published: January 8, 2010

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In a ritual completed in 19 other NFL locker rooms Monday, Seahawks’ players removed their belongings for the final time this season in an attempt to cleanse themselves of a forgettable 5-11 campaign.

Craig Terrill, a backup defensive lineman, and D.D. Lewis, backup linebacker, toted massive, plastic-covered posters containing the 2009 team picture upon their departure. Many of the players in the photo are unlikely to appear in next year’s version.  

“I think this year more than other years, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “There has been uncertainty here before. I think back to 2004, there were 20-something unrestricted free agents, and no one in place to sign those people. This is a similar situation in a sense.”

The first major change occurred Friday with the reported firing of coach Jim Mora. Mora met with team officials Friday morning and was informed of their decision not to retain him, in a story first reported by FoxSports.com. The Seahawks went 1-4 and were outscored a combined 140-57 since team CEO Tod Leiweke made assurances that Mora’s job was safe in early December.

After finishing the year with 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, a bruised and battered Hasselbeck openly questioned the player’s trust in first-year offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s system. Seattle’s patchwork offensive line provided the quarterback with little time to throw and allowed 15 sacks in the last five games of the year.

Even worse, Hasselbeck became too hurried to develop chemistry with free agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Nate Burleson, who returned after missing nearly the entire 2008 season.

“I think that’s just something you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘Did you trust the play?  Did you trust the guy coaching you?,’” Hasselbeck said. “When I’m cutting the ball loose, I (need) to trust that the guy I’m throwing to is going to help me out. At the same time, when I’m standing in the pocket, I’ve got to trust the guys around me got my back.”

One day after Hasselbeck ended the season with an interception that sealed the Seahawks’ fourth straight defeat, the 34-year-old quarterback said he hopes to be back in Seattle next year.

At a wrap-up press conference on Wednesday, a Seattle-area radio host asked Mora “When you close your eyes and imagine this team in September do you see Matt Hasselbeck as your starting quarterback?” Mora jokingly complied by shutting both eyes on the stage, pausing for a moment, before resoundingly saying “yes.” With a new coach, Hasselbeck’s status is now in question, as well.

Houshmandzadeh, for one, would welcome the return. The offseason prize signing said Hasselbeck and Mora were the two primary reasons why he chose to come to Seattle. Houshmandzadeh finished with 135 targets, but only 79 catches (his lowest total in four years).

More tellingly, the former Bengals receiver said in early December he would have had “90-100 catches,” if he had as many targets as Texans wideout Andre Johnson. At the time, Johnson had the ball thrown in his direction 130 times.

“There were certain things (Matt and I) got better at timing-wise, and certain things that we didn’t, some of it my fault,” Houshmandzadeh said. “You run routes a certain way your whole career and then you come here and it’s a little bit different. There’s times where you try to go back and do them how you’ve done them, and he’s not used to that.”

One receiver who may not return is Deion Branch. The former Super Bowl MVP ended the season with 45 receptions for 437 yards and has not finished with more than 51 catches in each of his four years with the Seahawks. Though the ex-Patriots wideout had a strong game in the season-finale against the Titans, Branch struggled filling in for Burleson at split end in the final month of the year.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract,” Branch said. “This is where I want to finish my career.”

Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, hopes his career is not finished. Jones has missed the team’s last 20 games with crippling knee and back injuries and hinted at retirement near Thanksgiving. The nine-time Pro Bowler went on injured reserve in October and spent the majority of his time rehabbing in Florida.

“My knee feels a lot better. I feel pretty good in the direction that I’m going,” Jones said. “The decision (on whether to return next year) is going to be made pretty early, hopefully in the next couple months.”

Without Jones, the offensive line had difficulty opening holes for running backs Julius Jones and Justin Forsett in Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme. Jones had trouble hitting the hole quickly and finished with 3.7 yards a carry, the second-lowest in his career. Forsett, meanwhile, averaged 5.4 yards per run in primarily a backup role. Jones is unsure if he will return.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “Some crazy things happen. I like the team, I would like to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

An encouraging sign for Knapp is that the Seahawks’ running game finally started to show improvement as the season wore down. Seattle averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in each of its last three games. In their previous 12 contests, the Seahawks eclipsed that average only three times.

“I think it’s closer to where we want it to be,” Mora said. “I think that’s an indication of guys understanding the scheme, and how it does take some time.”

On defense, the loss of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu for the season in late October stung as badly as the absence of Walter Jones. Though David Hawthorne filled in admirably with a team-high 117 tackles, the unit had to play more than half the year without its defensive quarterback. Tatupu has been pleased with his progress, as he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.

“I’m not (bench) pressing 300 yet, but I’m doing okay,” Tatupu said. “I expect to be ready for offseason lifting (in) mid-March, (when) we usually get back into it.”

Unlike the running game on offense, the defense regressed in the final month of the season. During the month of December, the Seahawks allowed an average of 30.75 a game and a season-high 48 to Green Bay. Mora, however, was impressed with how the defense stifled Chris Johnson last week, when the Titans back was held to 3.7 yards per carry.

“I feel like, coming out of that game Sunday, it might’ve been the very first time I felt all year, defensively, that we kind of had it,” Mora said. “The players really understand the package and how we want them to play it. We want to make sure we continue that, and then add problems for the offense. That’s when you become a really good defense.”

Still, questions remain. Defensive end Patrick Kerney (elbow) and strong safety Deon Grant (wrist), both 30 or above, underwent surgery this week. Darryl Tapp, a fourth-year defensive end, will become a free agent in the offseason. 

Personnel decisions cannot be made until a new front office and coaching staff are put in place. Mora politely sidestepped questions on the new general manager on Wednesday and it is not yet known if he knew his fate at that time. His firing may signal the first major change.

“I really have no say in (the general manager’s decision),” Hasselbeck said on Monday. “It’s unfortunate that this year, we didn’t put our best stuff out there, what we showed on game film, which is kind of like your resume in a sense.  That’s disappointing. There’s nothing you can do about it except get better and, given the opportunity, make it happen.”

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

Published: January 8, 2010

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

1.     Russell Okung (Oklahoma State)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 300 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 5

Okung is a complete tackle, one that will do very well in the NFL. He is one of the few offensive players in this year’s draft to show true progression, both in his statistical achievements and understanding of the game. He is an ox on the line and a light foot in the open field. He has every quality needed to succeed at the next level and maybe even take the first pick in the draft.

Okung is a strong, patient pass blocker that does a great job at extending blocks and using his long arms and legs to sustain the rush. He needs to learn to keep his pads lower at times, but if he senses any sort of defeat, he is quick to push his man off balance or get low for the cut block.

He has great force in blocking down the field, getting a great initial pop on the defender. Okung is better at using angles to cut his man inside or outside rather than sheer strength, something that will benefit him at the professional level and only requires a little time in the weight room to perfect.

Okung has all the pieces you look for in a left tackle in the NFL and will most assuredly be the first tackle taken in April. He has no character problems and will be a great addition to any squad.

Teams that will target him: St. Louis, Kansas City, Cleveland

 

2.     Anthony Davis (Rutgers)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 325 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Davis is in the second position simply for his dominant run blocking. He hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot in Rutgers’ offensive scheme (traps, pulls), but he has all the athleticism you look for in a left tackle. He has a flawless work ethic and can play a number of positions at the line, a true scholar of the game.

Davis’ size will be his greatest attribute; his long arms are well suited in knocking over undersized ends and linebackers taking poor angles. At times, he depends upon his initial pop to sustain the block rather than sticking to his man and extending the play.

Davis has the sheer force and tenacity to create a gaping hole on either side of the line. He has the athleticism to catch the Sam linebacker off balance and drive the lane into the secondary. He does a great job staying within the defender’s pads; he is rarely victim of a holding penalty. His durability typically outlasts the man on the other side of the line, and he is consistent as he is strong.

Although questionable at times, Davis will show up big at the combine and cause his draft stock to rise considerably, making him my number two tackle taken in the draft. He will fit in well with a team who has more than one hole at the line because he can assist in whatever capacity is required.

Teams that will target him: Oakland, Indianapolis, Houston

 

3.     Charles Brown ( USC)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 295 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Brown was a tackle with great potential at the beginning of his junior season, finally getting the starting position after Sam Baker was taken in the 2008 Draft. Even then, his potential was evident.  ut after a stunning senior season, Brown is among the O-line elite in this year’s draft.

His athleticism is more dominant than his strength, but that isn’t meant to imply that Brown isn’t one of the stronger tackles in this year’s class. He relies on a quick pop to throw his defender off balance but doesn’t always drive his feet to sustain the block. His major strength is his ability to discern the motives of the rusher, going inside to cut off the blitz and jumping outside to mirror the defender.

Although he is an adequate run blocker, his technique and mechanics still need considerable work. He leans on the defender at times rather than driving him down the field. He is considered a quick lineman but doesn’t always follow through with his blocks down the field and could do a better job at creating additional run lanes in the secondary.

All in all, Brown is a gifted young man with enormous potential at the next level and, with proper coaching, could blossom into a pro-bowl tackle within his first three years. Look for a team with a low draft pick and pedigreed coaching to give Brown a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans

 

4.     Trent Williams (Oklahoma)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 290 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

As the only returning starter on Oklahoma’s offensive line, Williams had his work cut out for him, both in physical demand and leadership potential. Moved from right to left and back to right tackle throughout his career, he has had the chance to prove himself on both sides of the line.

As a run blocker, Williams is above average at best. His speed isn’t consistent and his arm extension is his best weapon against blitzes from the secondary. He will struggle against quick under-sized ends in the NFL.

When blocking for the runner, though, Williams is dominant at the very least. Fires off the line faster than anyone else on this list. His snap anticipation sometimes causes trouble in the form of false starts, but he makes up for it with a tenacious push on his man.

He struggles in a zone blocking scheme, failing to move his feet adequately at times.  He is best when confined to a small space in traffic; he struggles when given the responsibility of managing open space.

Williams’ progression isn’t great, but it isn’t bad, either. His return to school for his senior year will play a major role in the way teams look at him, but it’s unclear as to how long he will have to wait to be drafted. Look for a team to look at him as a potential player at the guard position or an anchor on the right side to pick him up.

Teams that will target him: Detroit, Washington, New England

 

5.     Bruce Campbell (Maryland)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 310 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

Campbell was unlikely to enter this year’s draft until he, well, declared for this year’s draft. Although there is little to no doubt of his potential at the next level, there are some concerns about his past injuries and whether or not his durability can remain intact in the NFL.

Campbell gave the struggling Tarrapin offense a decent chance for success in ’09, although Turner and company still haven’t found their stride. With more than a few offensive line starters departing, Campbell was among the few elite players left and had to overachieve the entirety of the year.

While most expect him to hit his ceiling early in the NFL, Campbell is strong as he is quick. He has a tremendous pop in the pass blocking scheme, though he over-extends at times, causing the outside rushers to use a second move to get to the quarterback.

Campbell has elite strength as a run blocker and will undoubtedly do the same at the next level. I don’t know if he is ready to be an NFL left tackle, but he could certainly provide some girth in any position on the front. He has the speed to get down the field quickly and provide a second and third block for an advancing runner.

Campbell’s issue with grades will cause his stock to fall further than he’d like, but he can prove his physicality at the combine and make himself a contender to be a top-five OT rookie in 2010. Look for a team that has a sufficient enough line to make Campbell a personal project.

Teams that will target him: Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

 

6.     Ciron Black (LSU)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 322 lbs.

Projected: 2-3

Black is another offensive lineman who could have done very well had he declared for the 2009 draft, but he opted to stay to further develop his technique. Although he lacks superior athleticism, he has great strength and versatility on the line.

As a pass blocker, Black is marginal at best due to his slow kick slide and his sluggishness off the snap. His long reach, though, will make up for it as he can reach the outside rusher and use a mean cut block if all else fails.

Black’s size is his greatest asset in creating run lanes, and he has sufficient straight-line speed to reach the next level and bowl over small corners and safeties. He has elite upper body strength and does very well at staying low and using his low center of gravity to create a push and open up the lanes.

He doesn’t always seal off the rush when it matters most, but he has a level of consistency that most other lineman at his level lack. His progression in college is something scouts look for and, while his stock is floating between elite and above average, the combine will be his opportunity to prove he is ready to compete at the next level.

Even though he has only ever played as the blind-side anchor for LSU, he has the ability to play multiple positions and that may be the deciding factor for a team looking at Black. Look for a team with needs in their run blocking scheme to look closely at him.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Arizona, Philadelphia

 

7.     Bryan Bulaga (Iowa)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 312 lbs.

Projected Round: 2-3

Bulaga comes from a long pedigree of good linemen at Iowa and will likely continue the trend in the NFL. His progression at Iowa is something to be desired by other fellow linemen in this year’s class and, while he lacks the physicality needed to be dominant at this position at times, his athleticism makes up for it.

Bulaga’s pass blocking skills are marginal, but it’s unclear as to how well he could do with an offensive scheme that features it. Iowa isn’t a passing juggernaut but he has all the tools needed to be elite at the next level.

As a run blocker, he is better than most, progressing nicely from year to year. Most noticeably, he became less content to focus solely on the first line of defense his senior year and turned his sights on getting to the next level and create the secondary blocks needed to turn the back loose.

Bulaga is one of those linemen who could go either way in the NFL; he could become a backup who excels at filling the holes in most teams’ revolving door line or he could find a permanent home as a guard and, eventually, a right tackle. Of course, I’ve been surprised before and it’s always possible for a marginal player to find their stride at the professional level. Look for a team with shallow depth on the line to look closely at Bulaga.

Teams that will target him: Carolina, New York Jets, Green Bay

 

8.     Selvish Capers (West Virginia)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 298 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Protecting Pat White in the versatile West Virginia offense has forced Capers to remain athletic and quick, creating a unique profile for the upcoming draft. Capers made the switch from Tight End to right tackle in ’07, but showed no signs of difficulty in the transition. Rather, he excelled and began to increase his build to adjust to the new position.

It is Caper’s athleticism that sets him apart from the other linemen on this list. He lacks consistency in some of the mechanics that most others have mastered, but he has a desire to learn and the ability to progress that will overcome those downsides.

Even though he has a tremendous cut block, he goes to it too quickly at times. He presents a solid anchor as a pass blocker but doesn’t always keep his body low enough and loses his balance.

As a run blocker, Caper presents a tenacious pop and uses his quick feet to drive the defender far from the play. West Virginia’s spread offense doesn’t always call Capers to get set in a three point stance so transitioning to the next level may be difficult for the young man. He is quick off the line, but loses count of the snap sequence too much, resulting in unnecessary penalties.

He runs with surprising fluidity for a lineman down the field, getting to the next level fast and causing damage to an unsuspecting secondary. No matter the position he is called on to play, Capers is a football player at heart and his tenacity on the line will not go unnoticed by scouts. Look for teams to depend on his versatility and athleticism to contribute at the professional level and give Capers a chance at success.

Teams that will target him: Minnesota, Baltimore, Houston

 

9.     Kyle Calloway (Iowa)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 317 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Calloway is another lineman that comes from the Iowa pedigree of NFL-ready players who transition to the next level well. The only real controversy surrounding Calloway is his run-in with the law when he was pulled operating a Moped while intoxicated. Other than that, he is good at what he does and should receive deserved recognition come draft day.

Calloway does a wonderful job at mirroring the defender as a pass blocker. He stays low and becomes a wall at which defenders love to punch and get through but have little success. He uses his reach at times when he should use his feet, and doesn’t use his lower body to drive the outside rush, but he adjusts nicely to a variety of moves by elite ends and utilizes a mean cut block.

Run blocking is arguably Calloway’s forte, using his size to push the defender in any direction he desires. He does well to keep his hands inside and avoid penalties that often call the play back. He is a fighter at heart; he plays through the whistle each and every play.

Calloway has efficient speed and uses that quickness to get down the field and reach the secondary to create an extended run lane. Overall, he has tremendous upside and, even though he won’t be a top five tackle in the draft, will eventually blossom into an elite player at any position on the line.

Teams that will target him: San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland

 

10. Sam Young (Notre Dame)

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 320 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Young comes from a pro-style offense which will make his transition easier than most. Although he lacks superior athleticism and quickness, he has massive size and strength, an upside that will not go unnoticed by pro scouts.

Pass blocking is not something that Young excels in which is a large concern for a pass-happy NFL. His lack of quickness inhibits his lateral agility and ability to reach the outside rusher and maintain his balance. Against the elite ends of the NFL, Young will most likely have to rely on the cut block to protect his quarterback.

What keeps Young on the top ten list is his ability to be a wrecking ball in the run game. His technique still leaves something to be desired, but his size allows him to create holes that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. He has tremendous initial pop and, if he can keep his balance, will drive the defender all the way down the field.

Four years as a starter has given Young more than enough experience and tremendous awareness on the field. He hasn’t shown as much consistency as some would like to see, but his sheer physicality will demand attention on draft day. He will probably never reach left tackle status, but could be a force on the right side or in the middle should that become a factor at the professional level. Look for a team needing beef on the front to give Young a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Seattle, Tampa Bay

 

These, and other rankings, can be read at http://nflsoup.com

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