A look at 15 veterans under scrutiny for the 2004 season By Mike Wilkening (firstname.lastname@example.org) June 25, 2004 If you happen to take a vacation in the next few weeks, well, congratulations, you lucky dog, for it’s high time for you to get rid of that farmer’s tan. And if you’re an NFL devotee, double congrats, because this is the best shot you’ll have all year at having a random running back, placekicker or long snapper show up at your clambake. See, the league is pretty much on vacation at the moment. Training camps don’t kick off until late July, so it’s now-or-next-June for players, coaches and scouts to get that summer trip in. Me? Well, I don’t have any excursions planned. I don’t know, maybe I’ll get out to an outlet mall or something. But for now, I’m here, thinking about the upcoming season — and some of the players that have something to prove: Redskins QB Mark Brunell — I have mixed feelings about having him on this list; he doesn’t make many mistakes, and he was effective in limited action with Jacksonville in 2003. But he’s 34 to start the season, and he’s playing behind a suspect offensive line. That said, he will always be one of my all-time favorites because of his professionalism and his unique style of play, Raiders CB Phillip Buchanon — In his third season, expectations are high for Buchanon. “He needs to push himself to consistently get better because he does have all the talent in the world,” Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently told PFW. “We tell him 'Use your skills, challenge yourself and get the best out of you.' He's a hard worker who wants to be the best. He gives up some routes that athletically Phillip can shut down. That’s what we’re going to get him to, and he’s young. The thing with him is that he cares. We expect a lot out of him, and we’re going to demand him to be as good as he can be.” Patriots RB Corey Dillon — Has he lost a step? Or was his final season with the Bengals an aberration? The Patriots need Dillon to be a 1,200-yard rusher and a good soldier. At the end of his run in Cincinnati, he was neither. The early word from a Cincinnati source is the Bengals are a more pleasant team to be around since Dillon left. Chargers WR Kevin Dyson — He very well could end up being San Diego’s No. 1 wide receiver. Physically, will he be up to the task? Buccaneers PK Martin Gramatica — Is coming off a season when he hit only 7-of-17 kicks from 30 yards and beyond. His histrionics may always be his legacy, but he needs to regain his form — and quick — if anyone is ever to remember him as a pretty good kicker, too. Ravens WR Kevin Johnson — Johnson’s reputation took a big hit last season. The Browns cut him in November, and players and coaches took turns ripping him in his wake. After a stint in Jacksonville, Johnson was traded to the Ravens, who hope Johnson can be the trusty possession receiver that young QB Kyle Boller needs. If Johnson runs routes by the book and is motivated, he could catch 65 passes. If he struggles, he may never again be a starter in the league. Rams DTs Jimmy Kennedy, Damione Lewis, and Ryan Pickett — The Rams haven’t gotten what they expected out of each of these first-round picks, though Kennedy reportedly looked better in the offseason. Broncos WR Ashley Lelie — Will he be able to eventually succeed Rod Smith as Denver’s No. 1 wideout? This is a pivotal season for Lelie, who is among the league’s most physically talented wide receivers. Browns WR Quincy Morgan — Morgan has weighed in with veiled criticism of both Kevin Johnson and QB Tim Couch after the Browns jettisoned both players. If Morgan doesn’t pick up his play, he could be looking for work elsewhere. Morgan, who is a free agent after this season, should be better than he has been. Bengals CB Deltha O’Neal — O’Neal’s athleticism and footwork has impressed team observers early on. He has the ability to be very good; now it’s just a matter of avoiding mental lapses and not losing his confidence. Eagles WR Todd Pinkston — The Eagles gave him a contract extension before last season but didn’t get much of a return on their investment, as Pinkston caught only 36 passes. With Terrell Owens certain to get double-teamed, Pinkston needs to step up. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu — Wasn’t instinctive enough as a rookie, according to Steelers DB coach Darren Perry, but did play better in the second half of the season. Polamalu is one of the AFC’s fastest safeties; if the light comes on, a Pro Bowl trip — and a Pittsburgh run at the AFC North title — is not out of the question. Texans OLB Kailee Wong — Can Wong give the Texans a consistent pass rush now that he will be playing on the right side? If Wong and rookie LOLB Jason Babin take to their roles, the Houston defense will be interesting to watch.