Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league.
+ Let’s hold judgment on Adrian Peterson before all of the details have been released following his arrest. This is a player with no history of off-field issues and it’s extremely bizarre that he was only charged with resisting arrest. The current details of the situation are that Peterson and some family members were out at a Houston nightclub when police entered the building at closing time. When they instructed people to leave, Peterson apparently wanted some water but an officer told him no and AP headed for the exit. At some point an officer was pushed, causing him to stumble and then three policemen had to “detain” Peterson. What’s unclear is how a push led to three officers attempting to detain the running back and then escalating to an actual arrest. Again, we should hold judgment until the full details have been released because something doesn’t sound right here. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that the Houston police overreacted and didn’t handle the situation properly.
+ Many have argued that the Saints players involved in the New Orleans bounty scandal were simply following the orders of Gregg Williams and thus, they had little to no choice but to follow their coach’s orders. I get that. If you’re a fringe player looking to stick with a team because your career and livelihood is on the line, then you may be more apt to get along and go along then to cause waves. But what everyone seems to overlook is that Roger Goodell was lied to, and that’s why he came down hard on these participants. When Goodell went to Williams, Sean Payton and Anthony Hargrove asking if a bounty program was in place, they all told him no. Then, instead of stopping the program right then and there, they continued their pay-for-performance system. And while players like Hargrove, Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fuijta insist that Goodell has no prove that a bounty program was in place, has everyone forgotten that Williams has already apologized and thrown himself at the mercy of the court? He already admitted that he was putting bounties on opposing players. So yes, maybe the players were simply following orders. But at one point Goodell asked the participants to tell the truth and nobody spoke up, so they remain in a hell of their own making.
+ Dick LeBeau remains one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, so don’t think for a moment that the Steelers’ defense is going to fall apart. That said, there’s no question that Pittsburgh is old on that side of the ball. Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will continue to be the focal point of the defense but younger players like Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta’amu to make an impact (especially with Casey Hampton recovering from ACL surgery).
+ It’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers’ offense develops throughout the 2012 season. The run blocking wasn’t very good last season and the pass protection was below average as well, which led to Philip Rivers make a fair amount of mistakes. Ryan Mathews is an emerging star and if the blocking improves, then obviously the running game on a whole will be better than it was a year ago. But the question is how effective will Norv Turner’s coveted vertical offense be. Can Robert Meachem finally have that breakout year that many have expected since he entered the league as a first-rounder? What will the absence of Vincent Jackson have on the passing game? Can an aging Antonio Gates stay healthy? Will Malcolm Floyd be as effective this season without Jackson on the other side? Rivers made the passing game flourish without V-Jax two years ago but he needs help, mostly from his offensive line. Again, it’ll be interesting to see if Turner, who is undoubtedly on the hot seat once again, can blend the new elements together to make the passing game thrive.
+ It’s easy to make the argument that the Texans’ window to win a championship in the next three years is wide open. Even with the loss of Mario Williams their defense has a ton of talent and is coached by one of the best in the game in Wade Phillips. But Matt Schaub has still yet to play in a postseason game and Andre Johnson, now 31, will have to remain healthy or Houston will fail to take the next step after making the playoffs last year. Losing Joel Dreessen to the Broncos in free agency hurt. Not only was Dreessen a solid blocker last year for Houston, but he also averaged 12.6 yards per play in the Texans’ big-play offense. That said, if Schaub and Johnson can stay healthy then Houston will make the postseason again this year. Thanks to the offensive line and the explosiveness of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the running game will be enough to win games on its own. It’s just a matter of whether or not the Texans can stay healthy long enough to make a deep run.
+ The reports out of San Francisco this offseason have not be positive for first-rounder A.J. Jenkins. He reportedly has made some difficult plays but he’s also had a hard time staying on his feet during workouts and is viewed as a major project. But let’s keep in mind that if Jenkins struggles this year it won’t be the end of the world. It used to be that players could take their time developing but nowadays teams need their first round picks to make an immediate impact. That said, considering the 49ers have veterans Mario Manningham and Randy Moss manning the outsides, they don’t necessarily need Jenkins to be on the fast track to NFL stardom. Is it good that the kid can’t stay on his feet and is viewed as a major project? No, but it wouldn’t be life or death if he needed a year. Besides, the 49ers will make sure that Jenkins contributes one way or another, including getting him involved in sub packages. Just don’t expect him to be a No. 1 as a rookie.
+ Good for Joe Philbin and the Dolphins coaching staff for taking it slow with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Reports out of Miami are that the starting job is between David Garrard and Matt Moore because Tannehill is currently struggling with the speed of the game. Last year in Jacksonville, the thought was that Blaine Gabbert would be allowed to take his time while observe ring Garrard in his first year. But Garrard was released before the season and Gabbert was rushed into action way too soon. The results were disastrous and now observers are already questioning whether or not Gabbert can develop. Tannehill shouldn’t have been a top 10 selection but the Dolphins needed a quarterback and they went with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s guy. Fine. Now let the kid learn the game for a year before the weight of the franchise is thrust onto his shoulders. It’s not like the Dolphins are expected to compete this year so there should be no qualms about Garrard or Moore starting while Tannehill observes in his first year.
+ It looks like it’s going to be all or nothing this year for Montario Hardesty. Says ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi: “If Hardesty gets injured again, it’s easy – he will be gone, in my opinion. But if Hardesty stays healthy and is the productive player [Browns GM Tom] Heckert saw at Tennessee, I think he checks in at No. 2.” So essentially Hardesty will either be the first running back off the bench when Trent Richardson needs a blow or else he’ll be in another city at some point this year. Hopefully Hardesty isn’t another talented prospect that never developed because he was held back by injuries. He has all the talent to be a productive player in a two-back system but because of various injuries he hasn’t shown the same explosion he had coming out of college. Maybe this is the year he’ll finally stick.
Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis (40) is stopped by Miami Dolphins Tim Dobbins (51) after a short gain in first half action at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on December 5, 2010. UPI/Michael Bush
What’s the deal with Rice’s hip?
There have been conflicting reports about the status of Viking receiver Sidney Rice’s hip. Said coach Leslie Frazier on Friday: “Our medical staff has assured us that he’s going to be fine…productive for years to come.” He also stressed that Rice is a high priority and the Vikings want to sign him to a long-term deal. But Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman reports that “close friends” of Rice claim that he’s dealing with an arthritic condition in his hip after playing hurt last season. If you’re looking to choose a side in this race, I’d go with the head coach over the beat reporter. But that’s just me.
Shurmur likes the idea of Hillis and Hardesty teaming up
New Browns coach Pat Shurmur told the media on Friday that he likes the idea of a two-back tandem featuring bulldozer Peyton Hillis and second-year back Montario Hardesty. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. Bill Walsh used Roger Craig and Tom Rathman together in his version of the West Coast Offense when the Niners won the 1988 Super Bowl. The book is still out on Hardesty, but Hillis proved to be a one-man wrecking crew at times last year and showed that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, too. Good coaches use the weapons they have and it would be a shame for the Browns not to incorporate some two-back looks with both Hillis and Hardesty lined up in the backfield.
Coughlin admits Jacobs needs to carry the ball more
It’s assumed by many that the Giants will dump running back Brandon Jacobs and his $4.65 million salary this offseason. But after hearing the comments coach Tom Coughlin made on Friday, maybe the G-Men plan to keep Jacobs around next year. “As you look at everything at the end of the year, Brandon was fresher than he’s ever been, healthier than he’s ever been and probably needs to carry the ball a little more,” said Coughlin, who also said that Jacobs has “a lot of gas in the tank.” Considering Ahmad Bradshaw is a free agent, Coughlin’s comments are rather interesting.
Bush not expected to be released
Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune doesn’t expect the Saints to release Reggie Bush before the end of the league year on March 4. Triplett writes that the team will probably wait and work on a “possible extension or restructure.” I find it hard to believe that the Saints would pay Bush the $11.8 million he’s owed next season, so he’s going to have to take a dramatic pay cut if he wants to stay in New Orleans. As of right now, it seems like he is willing to do that.
Newton “physically imposing,” Mallett…not so much.
Wes Bunting of the National Football Post is at the scouting combine this week and was there when the quarterbacks weighed in on Friday. Cam Newton checked in at 6-5 and 248 pounds, while Ryan Mallett was nearly 6-7 and 253 pounds. According to Bunting, Newton looked “physically imposing” and has an “impressive” athletic build, while Mallett “had a bad body” and seemed “soft.” For those who have seen photos of Tom Brady at his combine weigh-in, these comments could mean very little. (That’s not a knock on Bunting, who is an excellent draft analyst. I’m just pointing out that Brady didn’t look like an extra from the movie “300″ when he was drafted and he’s gone on to win three Super Bowls.)
Further tests revealed what initial tests showed: Browns rookie RB Montario Hardesty has a torn ACL. Out for year.
Bad news for Hardesty is great news for Jerome Harrison owners, who will likely have a solid RB2 for the price of a 7th-9th round pick. Peyton Hillis has played well and was productive in Denver, so he will probably get some touches to keep Harrison fresh. He could also vulture some goal line work.
Still, Harrison is looking like a great value in the middle rounds and is another reason why it’s a solid strategy to grab a couple of premier WRs in the first three rounds and worry about shoring up the RB position later.
The AFC North is chockfull of good storylines this year, from Big Ben’s suspension to two rising offensive stars in Baltimore to the new receiving duo of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens in Cincinnati.
Oh, and Mike Holmgren is now in charge of a Browns team that is sure to be improved.
Here’s how I see things shaking out in the AFC North in 2010. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes this season.
What to Like: Ray Rice is knocking on the door of superstardom and as long as Cam Cameron doesn’t get cute and start limiting his running back’s chances, then I think Rice could produce MVP-type numbers this year. He can do it all: run between the tackles, run outside, be a big-time factor in the passing game – everything. Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Joe Flacco is in store for big things heading into his third season. He made great strides in his development last year and the front office finally went out and got him a No. 1 target in Anquan Boldin. While Boldin can’t stretch the field like he did earlier in this career, he’s a consistent playmaker and will be a great weapon on third downs. On the other side, veteran Derrick Mason continues to be a consistent, steady presence for Flacco. Defensively, Ray Lewis once again anchors a defense that allowed only 300.5 yards per game last season. That was good for third in the NFL and if Terrell Suggs can get back to being the dominant player he was not too long ago, then the Ravens’ D shouldn’t take a step back. What Not to Like: Suggs has to step up or there will be serious concerns about the pass rush. Trevor Pryce was okay in that department last year, but not great. The team added Corey Redding in the offseason, but he has proven to be a pretty average player over the years. The bigger problem for this team is in the secondary, where Ed Reed isn’t healthy and the secondary was dealt a huge blow when Domonique Foxworth went down for the season with a knee injury in camp. Fabian Washington didn’t play particularly well last season and if the Ravens can’t drum up a pass rush, Chris Carr will likely struggle playing on an island. He’s more suited to play as a nickel, so there are serious concerns about the makeup of this defensive backfield heading into the season. Keep Your Eye On:Tom Zbikowski
If you notice, the only name I didn’t mention from the list of problems the Ravens will potentially have in their secondary is Tom Zbikowski. That’s because he’s the most underrated player on the Ravens’ defense and arguably the toughest outside of Lewis. With Reed out, the youngster from Notre Dame will be counted on once again this year to make a major contribution. The Final Word: The lack of a pass rush and the secondary outside of Zbikowski is worrisome, but this is practically the same team that went into Foxboro last year and gave the Patriots the beating of a lifetime on their home turf. Plus, the offense is improved with the acquisition of Boldin and I think Flacco is in store for a huge season. He’s starting to see the entire field and now has two full years of starting experience under his belt. He also has a running back in Rice that he can lean on in case he starts to struggle in the passing game. This is the team to beat in the North this year and I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the Ravens showed up in Dallas come February.
Jerome Harrison is currently working behind Montario Hardesty during OTAs. Obviously, this is a big blow to those fantasy owners hoping to find a solid RB2 in the third or fourth round in the form of Harrison. This looks like it’s shaping up to be a timeshare. Keep an eye on the competition as training camp wears on. Harrison was outstanding late last season and could be a steal if he wins back the job.
Felix Jones is looking better in the passing game. Jones is unlikely to get enough carries in the running game to become a true fantasy RB1, especially with Marion Barber vulturing goal line carries. But if he can become a regular fixture in the passing game, he could do some serious damage in PPR leagues.
Dustin Keller primed for a big year? The Jets have added some wrinkles in order to utilize Keller’s talents and Rex Ryan has said that Keller is likely to have more TDs than last season (2). He is a solid TE option for those owners who elect to wait on the position and play Tight End By Committee (TEBC).
Domenik Hixon is out for the season with a knee injury. This is a big blow to the Giants’ receiving corps, which will have to lean on Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks even more this season. Move both players up a couple of spots on your cheatsheet. Will Eddie Royal bounce back this year? He seems like a prime candidate since Brandon Marshall left town leaving Royal as the best and most proven receiver on the roster. Last year was a disaster, but Royal showed what he can do in his rookie season.