Who's the Talk of Every NFL Team's Offseason so Far?
We are going to have a little fun here.
When it comes to the National Football League, who doesn’t love a good ranking or list? Just about anything that we can rate from No. 1 to No. 32 becomes a much-discussed topic.
But what if the talk is in regards to the talk?
Here is every team’s most talked-about subject in terms of a player or a coach. Yes, there was a temptation to list an owner or two (you know who they are), but we opted to make this as simple as possible with an emphasis on the product on the field.
In some instances, it may have been just one or two eye-opening moments. In others, a person may have been surrounded by a lot of chatter over the past six months or so. And in other cases, it may be just recent conversation and observations from both OTAs and/or minicamps. Not surprisingly, there are numerous rookies on the list.
Be it positive or negative, each person on this list has earned a little bit of the limelight this offseason.
Is there a definitive answer here as to who is the biggest subject of discussion? Of course not, and a topic doesn’t get more subjective than this one...especially when the talk is just talk.
Arizona Cardinals: RB Andre Ellington
Two years ago, the Arizona Cardinals finished dead last in the NFL in rushing. The team’s league-low 1,204 yards were less than 10 individuals in 2012.
This past season, there were some strides made in this area, but they weren’t necessarily large ones. Bruce Arians’ team ran for 96.3 yards per game, which was certainly a step in the right direction. Running backs Rashard Mendenhall (687) and Andre Ellington (652) combined for 86.9 percent of the team’s 1,540 rushing yards in 2013. But last year’s team leader, an unrestricted free agent entering this season, opted for retirement.
Enter Ellington, a 2013 sixth-round pick from Clemson who finished second on the team with 1,023 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns.
Late in May, Arians told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com that he envisions Ellington as a very busy performer this upcoming season.
A giant year by Ellington could propel the Cardinals offense to some big things in 2014.
Atlanta Falcons: RB Devonta Freeman
This past season, no team in the league ran the ball less often and for fewer yards than the Atlanta Falcons. The reasons were numerous, and philosophy certainly played a part in the game plan.
But things figure to be different for Mike Smith’s club in 2014. Veteran Steven Jackson will look to rebound from an injury-shortened season, Jacquizz Rodgers will return and the team added a little insurance policy during the draft.
When asked about the most interesting training camp battle surrounding the team this summer, Falcons writer Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com had this observation:
Although there will be plenty of competition among Falcons linebackers, I’m turning my attention to the running backs. Steven Jackson is the starter. He turns 31 next month and probably has one good season left in him—but if he is slowed by nagging injuries, the Falcons will turn to someone else. They drafted Devonta Freeman in the fourth round with thoughts of grooming him as the three-down back of the future. If he looks as good in pads as he did in shorts, Jackson might have a battle on his hands…
There’s plenty of potential when it comes to Devonta Freeman, who could team with Jackson and Rodgers and jump-start Atlanta’s woeful running game. With a rejuvenated ground attack, perhaps there will be playoff talk again when it comes to the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak
You wouldn’t be wrong if you suggested that the talk of the Baltimore Ravens' offseason was running back Ray Rice.
Unfortunately for the six-year NFL veteran, it has been for all of the wrong reasons. We are all still waiting for the ramifications regarding Rice's off-field issues. Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun discussed just what the Ravens' running game could look like if the three-time Pro Bowler is suspended for any length of time.
That brings the discussion to the team’s new offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. In seven-plus years as the head coach of the Houston Texans, he led the franchise to three winning seasons and a pair of AFC South titles.
Of course, John Harbaugh has had good luck when it comes to grabbing discarded AFC South head coaches.
In December 2012, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoted Jim Caldwell, who had joined Baltimore’s staff that season. Harbaugh and Co. got hot late and went on to capture Super Bowl XLVII.
Kubiak’s goal is to fix an attack that gained the fourth-least yards in the league, including a running game that ranked an abysmal 30th in the NFL this past season.
Buffalo Bills: WR Sammy Watkins
Back in early May, the Buffalo Bills gave up a bit of their future.
That’s because the team’s recent past has been a bit disappointing.
After reaching the playoffs 10 times in a 12-year span from 1988 to 1999, including a record four straight Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s, the Bills are now in the midst of the longest active playoff drought in the league. The team’s last postseason appearance was that 22-16 loss in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Round to the Tennessee Titans, also known as the “Music City Miracle.”
Now, this club looks to orchestrate a different tune via some young and emerging talent. That includes speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whom the Bills moved up in the first round in May to grab, giving up a pair of 2015 draft choices (first and fourth round) to get.
John Breech of CBSSports.com recounts some recent comments from the rookie wideout, who, like strong coffee, has opened his share of eyes the last few months. And once he and second-year quarterback EJ Manuel get on the same page, watch out.
“He can throw just about any ball,” Watkins said last week to NFL Network. “So it just comes down to...we just need a lot of reps.”
Buffalo’s passing game ranked 28th in the league in 2013 and produced only 16 scores. The addition of Watkins, the continued emergence of second-year pro Robert Woods and the acquisition of veteran wide receiver Mike Williams could change that—that, and a lot of other things as well.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton
Since his arrival in 2011, it’s safe to say that the Carolina Panthers have pretty much been Cam Newton’s team.
This past season, the Pro Bowl signal-caller seemingly took a back seat to the league’s second-ranked defense. But when the dust cleared for the NFC South champions, Newton enjoyed his best season to date, completing 61.7 percent of his passes, throwing for nearly twice as many scores (24) as interceptions (13) and rushing for 585 yards and a half-dozen touchdowns.
Still, the talented quarterback wound up having surgery on his left ankle. What will that mean in terms of training camp and preparation for the 2014 season? Injury expert Stephania Bell of ESPN.com spells it out:
Newton underwent a procedure to stabilize the lateral ankle, something that proved necessary after his ankle didn’t respond to conservative treatment. In fact, Newton’s ankle had been increasingly problematic for some time; surgery and rehab may ultimately enhance his mobility. Newton has shown positive signs of recovery since coming out of his walking boot, including doing some side throwing during organized team activities with Panthers first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. By training camp, Newton’s activity should increase substantially, and there should be no physical limitations as the season rolls around.
The key word there is limitations. The Panthers will have numerous new looks at wide receiver, including first-round draft choice Kelvin Benjamin, as well as a very revamped offensive line.
Meanwhile, Newton hopes to be good as new this fall. And "new" will be the perfect word to describe the Carolina offense in 2014.
Chicago Bears: WR Marquess Wilson
Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times summed up the buzz surrounding the Chicago Bears and arguably the talking point of their offseason.
No, this time it is not the defense, a topic that has been rehashed continuously for months. Instead, it’s the promise of a second-year wide receiver who hopes to make one of the league’s best passing attacks even more fearsome.
Although the Bears used a pair of starting quarterbacks (Jay Cutler and Josh McCown), only the Denver Broncos (606) scored more points than Marc Trestman’s club (445) in 2013. It was spearheaded by running back Matt Forte, the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett, a much-improved offensive line and a dynamic wide receiver duo that put up huge numbers.
Combine the talents of five-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and breakout second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery, and you have a tandem that combined for 189 catches, good for 2,716 yards and 19 of the club’s 25 scoring receptions.
Now add improving second-year pro Marquess Wilson to the mix. A seventh-round pick in 2013, he caught two passes for 13 yards during his rookie season. Those are the kind of numbers that Marshall and/or Jeffery would manage on one drive. But that is all about to change, as the former Washington State product will be replacing jettisoned wideout Earl Bennett as the team’s third receiver this season. Just ask Jahns:
Earl Bennett who? Wilson has had a strong offseason, gaining weight and strength and noticeably becoming a better receiver with the guidance of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But will the lack of strong competition hurt him at camp?
Now, as far as that defense goes...
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Andy Dalton
The Cincinnati Bengals are the defending AFC North champions, and they are looking to make a fourth straight trip to the postseason. They set a franchise record in 2013 by reaching the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
The problem here is that no one is laughing. Instead, we are reminded that Dalton is in the final season of a four-year contract. Will there be a fifth year in the Queen City for the former second-round draft choice from TCU?
As far as one thing goes, Dalton is part of the league’s best quarterback-wide receiver duo, teaming with Pro Bowler A.J. Green all three seasons. Those are the words of Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in a recent interview with SiriusXM NFL and documented by John Breech of CBSSports.com.
“I think they’re the best in the game in my opinion,” said Jackson. “I know people will fight that and say differently, but I’ve watched these guys and these guys have grown. They came in together. They started off hot, they’re still hot. Every year statistically, they’ve gotten better.”
Cleveland Browns: TE Jordan Cameron
Hey, we’re coachable.
Late last week, Chris Mortensen of ESPN’s NFL Insiders (h/t Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com) reported that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam asked the 22nd overall pick in May’s draft to "tone it down" in regards to a video featuring Manziel and regarding the subject of money.
Don’t worry. You know where to find the footage. Cabot has more on the subject as well.
So we are going to tone down the Manziel talk as well and focus on a performer who may be worth a bigger discussion this upcoming season.
Veteran NFL writer Vic Carucci of ClevelandBrowns.com has some glowing observations regarding Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron, who's coming off a season in which he totaled 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven scores.
With the uncertainty facing wide receiver Josh Gordon’s 2014 season, Cameron may take on a bigger role this fall. And be it Manziel or Brian Hoyer, he figures to be a major part of the passing attack once again.
In other words: a money performer.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Dez Bryant
The Dallas Cowboys made some news Tuesday when they acquired thought-to-be-retired linebacker Rolando McClain from the Baltimore Ravens. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com has the details on Dallas’ latest move to improve the league’s 32nd-ranked defense of 2013.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of talk the last few months regarding the financial fortunes of wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has put together a pretty decent four-year resume. His career totals include 293 catches for 4,104 yards and 40 touchdowns.
However, it’s the last two seasons that have warranted the talk of getting a new deal done sooner than later. In 32 games since 2012, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy-turned-Dallas Cowboy has grabbed 185 passes for 2,615 yards and 25 scores.
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com has the latest on Bryant’s situation. We shall see if the contract talks between Bryant and the organization wind up taking center stage before the team takes the field for real in September.
Denver Broncos: RB Montee Ball
On their way to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII five months ago, a funny but important thing happened to the highest-scoring team in NFL history.
It became less about points and more about minutes.
In their first two playoff games in 2013, the Denver Broncos utilized the NFL’s version of Dean Smith’s “four corners” offense and slowed down their opponents by keeping their own defensive unit off the field. The result was 35-plus minutes of possession time in wins over the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots.
Of course, when a ball is being snapped over your quarterback’s head, possession time is a non-factor. And revisiting that Super loss to the Seattle Seahawks is a topic for another time...maybe.
This season, the Broncos will have their share of new faces. They will certainly have a new focal point in terms of the running game, as Knowshon Moreno left via free agency and signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Enter second-year pro Montee Ball. Despite failing to grasp his last name early in his rookie season (losing two fumbles in the team’s first three games), the 2013 second-round pick ran for 559 yards and four scores.
Broncos general manager John Elway can tell you something about the running game and winning Super Bowls, even when you have an all-time legend at quarterback such as Peyton Manning.
Detroit Lions: DT Ndamukong Suh
Even with a star like wide receiver Calvin Johnson on the Detroit Lions, it is very hard to ignore the presence of one of the league’s most talked-about defensive players.
Standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has received his share of good and bad press for numerous reasons, and rightfully so. Now, the talk surrounding the Lions is about his absence at April’s minicamp and why he hasn’t agreed to a new cap-friendly deal that would help the organization.
Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com gave his thoughts on the situation.
In four seasons, Suh has started all 62 games, totaled 27.5 sacks and been named to three Pro Bowls. He is part of a defensive unit that could be on the verge of some big things with the continued development of line mates Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah and the addition of rookie outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
However, the biggest thing at the moment is making sure that 2014 isn’t Suh’s final season in the Motor City.
Never say never in this league.
Green Bay Packers: TE Richard Rodgers
Say the name Rodgers around Titletown and the crowd roars with approval.
Talk about the tight end position these days and some don’t know exactly what to say.
The Green Bay Packers currently have seven tight ends on their roster, and there’s little doubt that quarterback Aaron Rodgers would love to find a go-to guy when it comes to getting six.
This offseason, the Packers re-signed potential free agent Andrew Quarless, a fifth-round pick back in 2010. There’s also speculation that Jermichael Finley could eventually make his way back to Green Bay, as outlined by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
Meanwhile, Aron Yohannes of WISports.com talks about rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, a third-round from the University of California who has opened some eyes since being the 98th overall selection in May.
A player named Rodgers from Cal. Sounds intriguing.
Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson
Has veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson played his last down with the team that made him the third overall pick in 2003?
Johnson has been a no-show in terms of OTAs and minicamp this offseason.
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are now being led by a new head coach in Bill O’Brien and a new starting quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Of course, there is that matter of a current 14-game losing streak, which the team hopes to make old news sooner than later.
As for Johnson and his future with the Texans, we shall see. In 11 seasons with the franchise, he’s totaled 927 catches, and with 73 receptions he can become the 10th player in NFL history to reach the 1,000-catch mark.
Where he does that, well...
But according to James Palmer of CSN Houston, there’s one former NFL receiver who thinks Johnson isn’t going anywhere: Donald Driver.
Of course, there could eventually be a little trade talk when it comes to this matter...
Indianapolis Colts: RB Trent Richardson
Will things be different for running back Trent Richardson in his second season with the Indianapolis Colts?
Apparently, it will be less about talking and more about studying.
Craig Kelley of Colts.com wrote about a new start for Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft who was acquired by Indianapolis last September for a first-round pick.
“Just to get back at it and just to be out here with my teammates, it’s a blessing,” Richardson said, via Kelley. “To be taking everything slow and to know the real concept of the plays (is helpful). (It’s) not just going week-to-week and just really knowing why the quarterback is doing this, or why they’re thinking that, or why do we got these audibles set up in this play, or why the offensive line is making this call, not just if they make this call, I go that way and make sure I block this person.”
A better understanding of what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and the Colts are trying to do will certainly help. This past season, Richardson ran for 458 yards with the team on just 157 carries, a mere 2.9 yards per carry. His longest run all season was just 22 yards.
If the former University of Alabama star can once again look like a first-round draft choice, there could be Comeback Player of the Year discussion in Indianapolis.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Chad Henne
A little less than a month ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars used the third overall pick on quarterback Blake Bortles.
That appears to be of little concern to veteran signal-caller Chad Henne, who is parlaying a good late-season performance in 2013 into a number of positives for Gus Bradley’s team.
And one of those positives has been his work with Bortles. "Chad has done an excellent job with his leadership," Bradley told Jim Corbett of USA Today.
"You want to show them that you can play," Bortles added. "People talk about having a chip on your shoulder, proving everybody wrong. I don’t want to prove everybody wrong. I want to prove Gus, (offensive coordinator) Jedd Fisch and (general manager) Dave Caldwell right—that they made the right choice."
Meanwhile, let’s not forget Henne’s play down the stretch in 2013. He finished the season with 13 touchdown and 14 interceptions. But he threw for nine scores compared to just five interceptions in the team’s final five outings.
For a change, the talk in Jacksonville has been positive. And that’s welcome news for a team that has won a combined 11 games the past three seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Alex Smith
The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off an 11-5 season, a nine-win improvement from 2012.
Fago Franklin of Pro Player Insiders recently inked a piece regarding quarterback Alex Smith, who is coming off his first season with the Chiefs.
While the Kansas City defense struggled down the stretch following a strong start, Smith did his best to put points on the board and did so successfully. In 2013, the one-time San Francisco 49ers signal-caller completed 60.6 percent of his passes and set career highs in passing yards (3,313) and touchdown tosses (23).
But how long will Smith be with the Chiefs? There’s been talking of a contract extension this offseason but no conclusion yet.
“Well, there’s open communication between both parties,” head coach Andy Reid said in an interview with NFL Network (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com). “Now, I’m not in that business anymore. That’s general manager John Dorsey’s side of it, but there’s been open communication. I can’t put a time frame on that, but I’m sure something will get done.”
This offseason, the Chiefs lost their share of players via free agency. Hanging on to their best performers would be a good idea. It will be interesting to see how this eventually plays out.
Miami Dolphins: C Mike Pouncey
It’s actually been a pretty quiet couple of months for the Miami Dolphins.
And that had to be a welcome change following the closing months of 2013, when inappropriate words took center stage over anything the team did during the season.
Simply put, it was the kind of talk that we all could have done without.
But in recent weeks, the news has been bad for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008. Free-agent pickup Knowshon Moreno was going to bolster a running game that finished 26th in the league last season. But he’s on the mend following knee surgery.
Meanwhile, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is also recovering from recent hip surgery that will sideline him for quite some time. That means that Joe Philbin’s team will have a new look on the offensive front in 2014. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported on the signing of versatile offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, who hopes to take the sting out of losing Pouncey for the next few months.
When you allow an NFL high 58 sacks in 2013, there’s not a lot to talk about. Let’s see if Miami’s offseason actions, which included the additions of free agents Branden Albert and Shelley Smith and the drafting of tackle Ja’Wuan James, speak louder than words.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Can you tell how excited new Minnesota Viking offensive coordinator Norv Turner is about a certain second-year performer?
The ceiling is high for talented wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Interestingly, the team won’t have a ceiling to play its home games in the next two seasons. Instead, the Vikings will make TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota their home as the team’s new venue completes construction.
Back to Patterson, whose NFL debut campaign in 2013 saw him score nine touchdowns as a runner (three), receiver (four) and return artist (two). What could be in store for the former University of Tennessee standout?
“Cordarrelle has had an outstanding offseason,” Turner told Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei. “He’s reacted to this opportunity like a guy on a mission. He’s really done well.”
Last season, the Vikings didn’t do so well. Now, Turner and new head coach Mike Zimmer are hoping to reverse the club’s fortunes.
And that could mean a few more reverses for Patterson in 2014.
New England Patriots: CB Darrelle Revis
For the first six seasons of his NFL career, star cornerback Darrelle Revis got to face the New England Patriots at least twice a season. In 2010, the AFC East rivals actually squared off three times.
In 2013, the New York Jets dealt Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The veteran defender was coming off an injury-shortened season and hoped to revive his career with the Bucs. Instead, the team opted to let him go and head in a different direction.
Revis would take a very familiar journey. But instead of rejoining the Jets, he headed a little further north this offseason and joined the Patriots.
Now, according to Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune, Revis has gone from adversary to admirer when it comes to the Patriots.
One can only imagine the talk we will be hearing when he and his latest team face the Jets this upcoming season.
New Orleans Saints: TE Jimmy Graham
You say to-may-toe. I say toe-mah-toe.
Pass-catcher Jimmy Graham says he's a wide receiver. The New Orleans Saints and the National Football League say he's a tight end.
It appears that we will soon have our answer. According to Adam Schefter and Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, we will find out what an arbitrator has to say on the matter of the Saints’ designated franchise player in 2014.
A wide receiver commands a higher tender than a tight end, hence the dispute. Graham totaled 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and led the entire league with 16 touchdown catches in 2013.
Where he lines up on the field has been the hot topic.
Where he winds up in terms of his NFL future is the even bigger issue.
New York Giants: QB Eli Manning
While the New York Giants defense and, in particular, the pass rush was pivotal to the team’s Super Bowl-winning seasons in both 2007 and 2011, inevitably, the discussion when it comes to Tom Coughlin’s team always seems to center around veteran quarterback Eli Manning.
This offseason has been no exception.
Of course, when you lead the NFL with 27 interceptions in 2013 and follow that with offseason ankle surgery, there will be whispers that you are on the downslide.
But so far so good for Manning, who has been available for all of the team’s OTAs and minicamps. There have been no ill-effects from the aforementioned surgery, and it could be a good season for the Giants, who will look to rebound from a 7-9 campaign, the team’s first losing season since 2004.
With a roster that has its share of new faces, Manning will once again be the talk of the team—win or lose.
It simply goes with the territory.
New York Jets: QB Geno Smith
Similar to that Y2K bug, we are all still waiting.
When is this supposed quarterback duel between New York Jets second-year pro Geno Smith and NFL veteran Michael Vick going to transpire?
The suspense is unimaginable.
Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com tells us that the only issue when it comes to the team’s “competition” for the starting signal-calling job to date has been the semantics.
Smith is looking to rebound from a rookie season in which he threw for a dozen scores and ran for six touchdowns but also committed 25 of the team’s 29 turnovers.
Help has arrived, though, via free agency and the draft, in the form of running back Chris Johnson, veteran wide receivers Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford and a trio of rookies in tight end Jace Amaro and wideouts Jalen Saunders and Shaquelle Evans
That, along with a year of experience under his belt, should give Smith a little freedom when it comes to running Marty Mornhinweg’s offense this season.
Oakland Raiders: OLB Khalil Mack
When you have suffered through 11 consecutive non-winning seasons and combined for a 53-123 record over that span, any good news is welcomed.
But if the recent reviews are any indication, the Oakland Raiders have a new headliner in town. Via Jerry McDonald of the Contra Costa Times, rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has been better than expected, and it’s made him the talk of the offseason for the Silver and Black.
The fifth overall selection in the 2014 draft, the Buffalo product looks to make an immediate impression on a defensive unit that finished a mere 22nd in the league in yards allowed this past season.
“We all have high hopes for him, because he’s only going to make us better as a team, said veteran free safety Charles Woodson recently. The 16-year NFL veteran knows a little something about stellar defensive play.
Woodson also know that Mack has a chance to learn from some of the best when it comes to rushing the passer. The team’s offseason additions include defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley.
Perhaps this season, there will be some promising news coming from both NFL teams that make their home in the Bay Area.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Darren Sproles
Talk about an abundance of riches.
After a slow start last season, the new-look Philadelphia Eagles gathered themselves, won seven of their final eight games and won the NFC East.
One of the keys to the success of head coach Chip Kelly’s squad was the play of Pro Bowl quarterback Nick Foles, who would finish with 27 touchdown passes compared to a minuscule two interceptions in 2013.
Aiding the entire attack was the top-ranked running game in the league, led by NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy, who skewered NFL defenses for 1,607 yards on the ground this past season.
Now add explosive Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia backfield. His prowess as a pass-catcher is well known. But Sproles, acquired from the New Orleans Saints for a fifth-round pick in 2014, is far from a one-dimensional player.
“Everyone thinks Darren Sproles is a receiver. He’s a running back,” Kelly said, via Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, “and a really, really talented running back.”
Sproles is joining a very talented team, one that felt comfortable jettisoning players such as wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, both for different reasons.
Meanwhile, Kelly and the Birds have every intention on making opposing defenses as uncomfortable as possible this upcoming season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB Ryan Shazier
Dating back more than 40 years ago, defense has become synonymous with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
From the original Steel Curtain of the 1970s to the more modern day versions that will always be somewhat known that way, stopping the opposition has become a tradition in Steel City.
In recent seasons, most notably in 2013, that tradition has taken a few hits. The big plays and the fierce pass rush associated with Dick LeBeau’s units haven’t had the same luster in recent years. Over the past three seasons, the Steelers have forced only 55 turnovers in 48 regular-season contests.
Now comes 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier. The former Ohio State product has been a quick study in LeBeau’s defense and is expected to be a Week 1 starter for Mike Tomlin’s team.
And look who’s talking: We give you assistant defensive coach Joey Porter, courtesy of Steelers.com.
St. Louis Rams: G/T Greg Robinson
You heard it said by more than one person this past season: The St. Louis Rams were the league’s best last-place team in 2013.
That, and a few bucks will get you a good cup of coffee these days.
Still, there’s talk of optimism in Gateway City. An up-and-coming roster added two players in the first 13 picks of the 2014 NFL draft.
But while defensive tackle Aaron Donald could make the team’s defensive line even more fearsome, the conversation surrounding second overall selection Greg Robinson has been scary.
The massive tackle is making the transition to left guard this season and, to date, it’s been a struggle. As recently documented by Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, the former Auburn University standout is a work in progress.
As such, talk to us in a few months.
San Diego Chargers: TE Ladarius Green
After going undrafted a little over a decade ago, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has carved out a magnificent career. The former Kent State product has totaled 719 receptions for 9,193 yards and 87 touchdowns (tied for 12th in NFL history) and been named to eight Pro Bowls in 11 seasons.
But it may be time for a little transition for the team, and the Bolts have the perfect solution as Gates' heir apparent.
In his second NFL season, tight end Ladarius Green ranked just seventh on the team with only 17 receptions in 2013. But those grabs added up to 376 yards (22.1 average) and three scores. That was progress from his rookie year, when he played in only four games and caught just four passes for 56 yards. This past season, one of Green’s three scores covered 60 yards.
Is there talk that the third-year pro is getting ready to unseat Gates as the starter? Not quite yet. But with rejuvenated quarterback Philip Rivers pulling the trigger in San Diego, the potential is there for a big season from the talented Green.
San Francisco 49ers: OLB Aldon Smith
That huge sigh of relief you heard coming out of the Bay Area in the last 24 hours came from San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has the latest on some of Smith’s legal problems. According to Maiocco, the former Pro Bowler won’t be facing any charges in regards to an alleged bomb threat Smith made at Los Angeles International Airport three months ago.
Due to other issues, though, it is possible that the Niners may not have the star pass-rusher to start the regular season. Combine that with the continued recovery from knee surgery by Pro Bowl inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who will not be available at the start of 2014, and Jim Harbaugh’s club could be down a couple of star defenders out of the gate.
In three seasons, Smith has totaled 42 sacks in 43 regular-season games. His possible absence could quiet one of the better defensive units in the league...but don’t bet on it.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch
It is safe to say that Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s action have spoken louder than words during his stint in the Pacific Northwest.
While quarterback Russell Wilson has received his share of accolades over the past two seasons, it’s the workhorse and relentless performer who is the "Lynch Pin" of Pete Carroll’s offense.
But will the talented runner be skittling his way all over the league this upcoming season? Roughly three weeks ago, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport stated on NFL Total Access that, according to a source, the seven-year pro may have retirement on his mind.
But just when you thought it was safe to assume he wouldn’t be around in June, Rapoport reported that Lynch did attend mandatory minicamp last month. Of course, as we're reminded by Stephen Cohen of SeattlePI.com, Lynch was a no-show when the Super Bowl XLVIII champions visited President Obama and the White House back in May.
That brings to mind this question: Will Lynch indeed elect to play in 2014?
Here’s a yes vote for Proposition 24.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Head Coach Lovie Smith
Things just haven’t been the same for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since Jon Gruden was the team's head coach for seven seasons from 2002 to 2008.
Now, the franchise is on its third head coach in six years. But instead of giving Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano their first shot at leasing an NFL club, the Buccaneers have turned to a face that used to grace the sidelines for the team as an assistant: Lovie Smith.
This offseason, new general manager Jason Licht signed free agents like Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson, quarterback Josh McCown, left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. It’s been a happier time for a club that's finished last in the NFC South in each of the past three seasons.
But it was the addition of Smith that has the team and fans feeling optimistic in 2014. He’s an experienced head coach who led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, forging an 84-66 record (including playoffs) from 2004 to 2012. He and coordinators Jeff Tedford (offense) and Leslie Frazier (defense) hope to put it all together in a division where no team has ever won back-to-back titles.
That puts the Bucs, as well as the Falcons and the Saints, right in the thick of playoff talk.
Tennessee Titans: QB Jake Locker
Please. No The Hurt Locker jokes.
In three seasons, there’s been plenty of film on Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker. But none of it has been deemed award winning...at least to date.
But there’s a new head coach in Nashville these days in the form of Ken Whisenhunt, who hopes to keep the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft in one place this season.
Since becoming the team’s starting quarterback two years ago, Locker has missed almost as many games (14) as he has started (18). So over that span, it somehow makes perfect sense that he has thrown nearly as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes (18).
This past season, the Titans quarterback was limited to just seven contests. That just won’t do, and Whisenhunt, along with offensive coordinator Jason Michael, hopes to change all of that in 2014, as documented by Craig Peters of TitansOnline.com.
Meanwhile, rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger spoke to SiriusXM NFL (as reported by Kevin Patra of NFL.com). It is safe to say that the team’s sixth-round pick in May will have his own say on the matter of who will be the Titans’ starter this season.
Washington Redskins: WR DeSean Jackson
There is the excitement of NFL free agency, and then there is its reality.
In the early stages of this offseason, the Washington Redskins added to their receiving corps with the addition of wideout Andre Roberts, late of the Cardinals. It was a solid pickup for a club looking to give quarterback Robert Griffin III more options.
A month later, Washington added three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and all talk of Roberts’ arrival seemed forgotten. You can’t blame the Redskins as they looked to improve their team. And what better way than to add a divisional rival’s top pass-catcher?
But as Redskins insider Tarik El-Bashir of CSNWashington.com discusses, it means a different role for Roberts, who has totaled just 182 receptions, 11 for scores, in four NFL seasons. In 2013 with the Eagles, Jackson totaled 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
There’s little doubt that Jackson will be the talking point when it comes to the Redskins' aerial attack this season. Roberts is just hoping to get a few words in edgewise.
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