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News: Carucci (nfl.com) | Veteran coaches face off in NFC East

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Bluefin, Jul 19, 2004.

  1. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    Veteran coaches face off in NFC East

    By Vic Carucci
    National Editor, NFL.com



    (With NFL training camps due to open later this month, Vic Carucci has put together an eight-part series highlighting how each division shapes up in the aftermath of offseason personnel moves and organized workouts).

    (July 19, 2004) -- Here's a look at the NFC East.


    Most influential offseason moves


    As usual, the Redskins showed the most dramatic flare of any team in the league during the offseason. They brought back a coaching legend, Joe Gibbs. They made one of the biggest trades the NFL has seen in years. And, once again, they spent mightily in the free-agent market. Gibbs' hiring is the greatest cause for optimism among Redskin fans, even though they realize it wasn't long ago that a coaching legend from the college ranks -- Steve Spurrier -- arrived with much fanfare only to make a disappointing exit two years later. Although Gibbs last coached in 1992, his offensive ideas and creativity remain fresh. He also has the help of an experienced and talented coaching staff -- featuring assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel -- to help implement a plan to revive this struggling bunch. The Redskins picked up one of two major pieces to their offensive puzzle when they acquired top-notch running back Clinton Portis from Denver in exchange for top-notch cornerback Champ Bailey. Portis has excellent burst to run outside and is always a threat to go the distance. In addition, he hits the hole with the authority of someone much larger than 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, has excellent vision and lateral movement, and makes the most of his cutback lanes. To be the absolute ideal back for the Redskins' system, Portis needs to work on his receiving, especially when it comes to running more complex routes and catching the ball in-stride. The other major piece to Washington's offensive puzzle, Mark Brunell, also arrived via a trade. Although Patrick Ramsey could very well remain the Redskins' starting quarterback, Gibbs and Bugel would prefer the experience, leadership and, most of all, stability that Brunell should be able to bring to the position. An elbow injury and Byron Leftwich's promotion ended Brunell's 2003 season in Jacksonville early, but he is healthy and refreshed. He still has excellent footwork and good lateral mobility to buy extra time. His advantages over Ramsey are patience in the pocket and the ability to consistently hit receivers in-stride. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams brings an aggressive mentality, although the loss of Bailey's ultra-tight single coverage makes it a little harder to pull off. Free agent Shawn Springs will try and fill the cornerback void, but he has problems staying healthy. First-round draft pick Sean Taylor will upgrade the Redskins at safety. Free-agent outside linebacker Marcus Washington should provide at least a small boost to an anemic pass rush, while Mike Barrow should bring some consistency the Redskins have lacked at middle linebacker.

    The Eagles' conservative image for spending and roster makeup took a pretty big hit during the offseason. They signed Jevon Kearse to a contract that, according to at least one estimate, puts him among the top 50 wealthiest athletes in professional sports. They traded for Terrell Owens, whose explosive nature is as much a part of his identity as his explosive plays. After losing the last three NFC Championship Games, the Eagles understandably decided almost no price was too high to make the necessary repairs to two major shortcomings -- pass rush and receiver -- that could finally put them into the Super Bowl. Kearse can restore all of the pass-rushing power the team lost (and then some) when its sack total plummeted from 56 in 2002 to 38 last season. Foot and ankle injuries have limited his production the past two years, but the Eagles are satisfied they have the healthy "Freak" who made his mark as one of the league's most dominant defensive ends in Tennessee. Owens can single-handedly change the Eagles offense from an inconsistent unit that shows occasional flashes of brilliance when quarterback Donovan McNabb does something spectacular to one with constant big-play capability. Owens can still overpower any defensive back who tries to stick with him, and stricter reinforcement of defensive contact should make him that much more dangerous. Few receivers match his effectiveness on vertical and fade routes, and he has very little company when it comes to owning the red zone. When he wasn't griping about Andy Reid's shorts-over-tights dress code for practice, Owens spent a good portion of the offseason adjusting to the delivery and velocity of McNabb's passes. Still, Owens' reputation as a ticking time bomb can't help but temper at least some of the optimism that his skills bring. The Eagles gained speed at linebacker with the addition of free agent Dhani Jones, but it is doubtful that that will make up for the free-agent exit of another player at the position, Carlos Emmons. They also took what seems like a fairly significant gamble in saying good-bye to long-time veteran cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, and replacing them with third-year pros Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown.

    [IMG]
    Eli Manning has proven to be a quick learner of the Giants' system.

    How much difference does an infusion of discipline make on a football team? The Giants are counting on it to be the driving force behind their efforts to recover from a disastrous 4-12 season in 2003. New coach Tom Coughlin has placed his unmistakable stamp of toughness and accountability on a team that had seen a decline in both under his predecessor, Jim Fassel. It had better be worth plenty, because there isn't a whole lot to suggest the Giants have upgraded themselves appreciably -- at least in the short term -- through player movement. They did land their franchise quarterback of the future in Eli Manning, who steadily showed greater comfort during offseason workouts as he became more familiar with the Giants offense. But the key to wherever the Giants are headed this season is the performance of their quarterback of the present, Kurt Warner, whom they acquired to fill the veteran transition quarterback role after saying farewell to Kerry Collins. At the peak of his career with the Rams, Warner combined great patience, football smarts and quick decision-making to maximize the production of a tremendous receiving corps and make himself an MVP. However, thanks in part to age and physical punishment, questions linger about almost every aspect of his game. In his final appearances with the Rams, Warner seemed less confident and showed a lack of pocket awareness that grew more troublesome because of his lack of mobility. He waited too long to get rid of the ball and began forcing too many bad throws. It won't help that the Giants' offensive line is a work in progress. It also won't help if one of their best receivers, tight end Jeremy Shockey, ends up missing any extended time after undergoing foot surgery last month. The Giants filled their strong- and weak-side linebacker spots with free agents Carlos Emmons and Barrett Green. They added Norman Hand and Fred Robbins to rotate at tackle next to full-time starter William Joseph.

    It should surprise no one that the more prominent moves in an otherwise quiet offseason for the Cowboys saw Bill Parcells reunite with players from a previous coaching stop -- Keyshawn Johnson and Vinny Testaverde. Parcells likes to surround himself with familiar faces, particularly those of players and coaches who thoroughly understand his schemes and embrace his core philosophies. Johnson gives the Cowboys the best possession receiver they've had since Michael Irvin. His skills might not be what they were when he thrived for the Parcells-coached Jets, but they are still good enough to give the Cowboys a legitimate chance of making a noticeable improvement in third-down efficiency. Although Johnson has lost whatever deep speed he once had, he makes good use of his 6-3, 212-pound frame and considerable strength to push defensive backs out of the way and consistently get open on short and intermediate routes. Johnson also is a strong supporter of Parcells, and that would figure to minimize the chances of his turning into the disruptive force that prompted the Buccaneers to remove him from their lineup for the final six games of the 2003 season. Testaverde left the Jets, with whom he had been the No. 2 quarterback behind Chad Pennington, and will have a chance to compete in camp to become the Cowboys' starter. The primary competition is Quincy Carter, who held the job through last season, and Drew Henson, the former Michigan standout who gave up football for a pro baseball career and is now taking a shot to make it in the NFL. During offseason workouts, Parcells gave even practice repetitions to all of his quarterbacks. Carter still figures to have the edge, and Testaverde's likely role will be that of the experienced insurance policy he had been with the Jets. Quarterback focus notwithstanding, the one acquisition that might have the greatest impact of all on the Cowboys' fortunes this year is first-round draft pick Julius Jones. Parcells believes so strongly that Jones is the answer to upgrading a position that produced little when Troy Hambrick occupied it last season, he passed up Steven Jackson and Kevin Jones to trade down for the former Notre Dame star. What sold Parcells on Jones the most is his exceptional quickness, burst to the hole and ability to find cutback lanes and reach second gear in the open field.

    Positional showdowns

    Pete Hunter is the front-runner to replace Mario Edwards for the starting cornerback spot opposite Terence Newman in Dallas. Hunter's strongest challenge should come from Jemeel Powell. Hunter runs exceptionally well for a relatively large cornerback (6-2 and 212 pounds) and has good ball skills and change-of-direction ability. But his technique needs work and he still needs to develop his instincts.

    Lennie Friedman did a nice job at center for the Redskins while filling in for Larry Moore last season. However, at 6-3 and 283 pounds, Friedman is a bit undersized, which could create an opening for 300-pound Cory Raymer to push him.

    Trouble spots to address

    After the security of knowing both cornerback spots were in the highly experienced hands of Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, the Eagles are entrusting the jobs to a pair of younger players, Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. Brown is a bit further along in his development. He has good reactions, although sometimes struggles against more athletic receivers. Sheppard has plenty of speed and confidence in his skills, but is prone to allowing big plays and larger receivers have little trouble gaining position on him.

    Quincy Carter has the edge, but the Cowboys have an uncertain picture at quarterback. Carter has good physical skills, yet he can fall into stretches of making mistakes and getting flustered when he does. Vinny Testaverde is 40 and has seen some erosion of skills, but can still throw the ball well and has a thorough understanding of Parcells' offense. Drew Henson is the Cowboys' long-term answer for the position. Ideally, he will watch and learn as Carter or Testaverde carries the load this season.

    With three newcomers -- free agent Shaun O'Hara at center, free agent Barry Stokes at guard, and second-round draft pick Chris Snee at guard -- the Giants' offensive line undoubtedly will take time to form anything resembling cohesion. And that could be a big problem in front of immobile Kurt Warner.

    Rookies to watch

    First-round draft pick Shawn Andrews, a tackle at Arkansas, enters camp as the Eagles' starter at right offensive guard. He has impressed coaches with the way he has responded to the pressure of being placed at the top of the depth chart in offseason workouts. By quickly grasping his assignments, Andrews was able to demonstrate that he had the physical skills to handle the job.

    The Redskins expect third-round draft pick Chris Cooley to make an immediate impact as an H-back. The coaches are particularly impressed with his capacity to grasp the complicated details involved with the position.

    Although he has struggled a bit with the transition from left to right tackle, Cowboys second-round draft pick Jacob Rogers is in the mix for a starting spot along with Torrin Tucker.
  2. LaTunaNostra

    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    Nice read, Bluefin. Thanks.
  3. Tio

    Tio Armchair QB

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    Good read. Blue fin, you know youre stuff....
  4. adbutcher

    adbutcher K9NME

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    Great read. Ahhhh it feels good that the real deal is right around the corner. I can not wait!
  5. LaTunaNostra

    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    Hey Ad, what's that supposed to mean? :p [IMG]
  6. adbutcher

    adbutcher K9NME

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    LOL, the unveiling!
  7. LaTunaNostra

    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    I used to post to amuse myself.

    Now it's to amuse you.

    You let me know if that was an upgrade or downgrade. :rolleyes:
  8. Charles

    Charles Benched

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    Great stuff. Thanks
  9. adbutcher

    adbutcher K9NME

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    Definitely an upgrade, at least for me it is, lol. :D
  10. Roughneck

    Roughneck Active Member

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    Am I the only one who caught this?
  11. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    The typo about Julius Jones being a first round draft pick?

    Seriously, I noticed the comment and agree to an extent.

    It's very important to get a more productive runner in the lead role for the Cowboys this year, but I don't know how big a role Jules will be able to handle as a rookie.

    I expect Jones will snare snaps with Richie Anderson and a third runner who may or may not be on the team at the moment.

    IMO, the bigger factor will be whether or not the offensive line can settle on five starters and play at a higher level than they did a year ago.

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