Here are five players for whom 2004 is a prove-it proposition: Keyshawn Johnson
The return of the Tantrum. Keyshawn Johnson
has whined himself onto the hot seat and with every 2-catches-for-19-yards performance he turns in this year, Jon Gruden will be further vindicated.
Keyshawn is a relic, a totem from a previous football generation where general managers had to choose between big guys and fast guys. Now it seems wide receivers are made in the lab, towering guys who can fly and catch everything thrown their way. Bigger, faster, stronger.
Though his mouth runs a 4.2, Key is considerably slower than that. He can't get any separation (except with a court order, but that's another story), yet thinks he's always open. He yacks and yacks about his ability, but gets almost no YAC because of his lack of speed.
And still it's all someone else's fault.
The assumption throughout New England is that the Patriots
have substantially upgraded their running game and will ramble to another championship. (Driving past the Razor last week, I was actually giddy with anticipation.) True, Corey Dillon
is not Antowain Smith
. He hits the hole faster and harder and is tougher to bring down. He also has an ego commensurate with his considerable NFL achievements.
Dillon has to prove not only that his physical skills are not in decline after an injury-marred season, but that his attitude fits in with Belichick's philosophy after his bitter parting with the Bengals
. Dillon is the new guy in a weekly poker game that has enjoyed near-perfect chemistry for years. Will he add to the mix, or will he be the guy who bums everybody out by talking too much when it's his turn to check or bet?
Raise your hand if Tiki Barber
cost your fantasy team a playoff spot last year. Have you ever seen a running back so allergic to the end zone? The prospect of scoring a touchdown was so scary for this guy, he would get chills, break out in hives, and, of course, gack up the football.
Coming into training camp, Tiki was going to have to answer for last year under any circumstances. Was he a legit every-down back who was undone by a leaky o-line or a situational scatback with Ronnie Harmon-in-the-Rose-Bowl fumble-itis? And then some trimmed-down battering ram of a runner showed up in camp wearing Ron Dayne
's uniform and the hot seat got a whole lot warmer.
If you were a Lions
fan, and there must be one or two of you left, would you really be excited about acquiring a guy that the NFL's reigning genius let walk away? I mean, if you were Jack Nicholson at a Hollywood party in 1970 and Warren Beatty happily deferred on the leggy stewardess, wouldn't you be a little suspicious? What does The Pro know that I don't?
Well, Belichick knew this (and doubtless more):
- An All-Pro on a championship team is at his maximum market value and Belichick is much more comfortable shopping at the Mike Vrabel/Roman Phifer discount emporium.
- Woody was coming off an injury and big bucks have been known to lead to a down-tick in desire to work out and an up-tick in desire for cheeseburgers. Woody is reportedly came to camp 20 pounds overweight.
- His absence was hardly noticed in the Super Bowl as his replacement Russ Hochstein made Kris Jenkins invisible and the Patriots ran up 32 points.
The man who sits on the eternal hot seat cleared some big hurdles last year in leading the Colts
to the AFC Championship game and expectations have risen almost as precipitously as Manning's salary.
Manning's $98M contract was structured to keep the Colts
competitive from a salary cap perspective for the next two seasons, but after that the big hits kick in. This is what is known as a window of opportunity. After next season, Manning's paycheck might become a major reason why he may not be surrounded by as much talent as he might like (see Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers).
Another concern for Manning and coach Tony Dungy is the post-Belichick-exposure factor. Remember, nobody could solve two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner
until Belichick did. Then, equipped with just one game tape, the rest of the league figured Warner out. Now Belichick may have done his Jonas Salk thing again and inoculated the rest of the league against Manning-to-Harrison by disguising his Cover 4 as a Cover 2 or vice-versa or whatever magic mojo he cooked up in his giant brain that led to Manning completing as many passes to Ty Law
(three) as to Marvin Harrison
Manning has had seven months to study that game tape. What's he learned? We'll find out when the 2004 season opens Sept. 9th in Foxboro.
1. Redskins - Check
2. Dolphins - Check
3. Arizona -