Bills linebackers healthy, show plenty of promise in ’08

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I break down the Buffalo Bills and their promising linebacker corps.

When the Buffalo Bills drafted Paul Posluszny in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, they had hoped they found their middle linebacker of the future. After averaging over 8.5 tackles in his first three games as a rookie, Posluszny was making the Bills’ hopes turn into reality.

But in late September, Posluszny went down with a broken forearm and missed the rest of the 2007 season. Fellow ‘backer Angelo Crowell suffered a similar fate last year, tearing a triceps muscle in the final game of the season.

With both Posluszny and Crowell on the mend, as well as adding productive free agent Kawika Mitchell formerly of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, the Bills’ linebacker corps appears to be the strength of their defense heading into 2008.

Even though he only played in three games as a rookie, many believe that Posluszny is on the cusp of a breakout season. He’s not the most athletic linebacker in the league, but he’s physical at the point of attack and plays with a mean streak.

The same can be said for Crowell, who is perhaps the most underrated linebacker in the AFC. Even though his main responsibilities are to stop the run, Crowell has also shown a knack for getting pressure on the quarterback and has shown above-average skills in pass coverage. In 2007, Crowell led Buffalo in tackles with 126 total stops.

Even though Mitchell might be a more natural fit at strong-side linebacker given his size (6’1”, 253 pounds), he should fit Buffalo’s defensive scheme well. Mitchell is fast, athletic and can be a sideline-to-sideline player.

While there is plenty to like about the Bills’ linebacker corps heading into 2008, obviously both Posluszny and Crowell have to stay healthy. Given that neither suffered an injury that would take a long recovery time (i.e. a knee injury), both should bounce back in ’08. While the Bills’ young offense will be a focal point in whether or not this team can make the playoffs this year, the defense is slowly starting to come together. And at the core of the unit is a talented trio at linebacker.

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2008 NFL Season Preview

Brett FavreThe 2008 NFL Season is ready to kick off Thursday night in New York as the defending champion Giants take on division rival Washington at 7:00pm on NBC. With another year of football upon us, has released their 2008 NFL Season Preview.

All 32 teams have been placed into five tiers: Super Bowl Contenders, Playoff Bound, Heading Forward (teams that should improve in ’08), Heading Backward (teams that will take a step back in ’08) and Spinning Their Wheels (teams that will roughly stay the same). For each team, BE also takes a look at one key offseason addition and loss while also throwing out a question mark that may keep each team from reaching their ultimate goal. A record projection and team outlook is also provided.

To view’s 2008 NFL Season Preview, click here.

Has the quarterback situation improved in Miami?

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback situation after the team added Chad Pennington.

Chad PenningtonTo say the Miami Dolphins had quarterback issues in 2007 would be putting it lightly. Whether it was Trent Green, Cleo Lemon or rookie John Beck, the results were the same and losses piled up in the standings.

Heading into 2008, the depth chart has changed but will the results? Gone are Green and Lemon; in are former New York Jets’ starting quarterback Chad Pennington and rookie Chad Henne.

When Bill Parcells took over the football operations for the Dolphins this summer, one of the areas he knew he had to upgrade was quarterback. And after watching Henne and Beck struggle in camp over the summer, Parcells reached out to the recently released Pennington – the quarterback he drafted when he was the Jets’ head coach.

The book is already out on Pennington: weak arm, severely limited, can’t throw downfield, etc. But he’s also a fundamentally sound veteran and a solid leader that can hopefully help tutor Beck and Henne for the future. Pennington is also familiar with the division and new offensive coordinator Dan Henning used to be his QB coach in New York so he knows the offense.

Eventually the Dolphins have to see what they have in Beck and Henne. It’s wise to allow young quarterbacks develop slowly, but sooner or later they have to sink or swim on the field. And while Parcells has a tendency to prefer players that he had a hand in drafting, Miami did spend a second round pick on Beck last year, so it would be unfair to give up on him too soon.

Chad HenneBut at the very least, Pennington buys Miami more time to see what they have at the position. It’s also fair to say that Pennington gives the Dolphins the best chance to win this season and Parcells did him a solid by drafting massive left tackle Jake Long with the first overall pick in last April’s draft. Long will be counted on to protect Pennington’s blind side and hopefully give the Dolphins a cornerstone tackle for years to come.

While it’s unlikely he’ll lead the Dolphins to the playoffs this year, Pennington at least gives the team a respected veteran presence in the huddle and on the field. Time will tell if Henne or Beck can develop behind him.

Raiders secondary stacked with talent

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at how the Oakland Raiders have built one of the better defensive backfields in the NFL.

DeAngelo HallHe takes too many chances going for interceptions, is cocky and can sometimes be viewed as a selfish player.

He’s also one of the few shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s DeAngelo Hall, one of the Oakland Raiders’ newest additions in their secondary.

The Raiders acquired Hall from the Atlanta Falcons this offseason for multiple draft picks and immediately signed him to a seven-year, $66.28 million contract. While he’ll occasionally get burnt trying to jump a route for an interception, Hall has been one of the best defensive playmakers in the league. He’s also coming off his best season as a pro, hauling in five interceptions and amassing 63 tackles for the Falcons in 2007.

Playing opposite of Hall in Oakland’s secondary is the incredibly underrated Nnamdi Asomugha. Even though his interception total dropped from eight picks in 2006 to just one last year, stats don’t tell the whole story. Opposing teams often stayed away from Asomugha’s side, fearing his playmaking ability. But teams won’t be able to do that this year with the equally dangerous Hall on the other side.

The Raiders also signed Gibril Wilson this offseason, a talented safety who helped the New York Giants win a Super Bowl last year. Like Hall, Wilson is arguably coming off his best season as a pro, recording 92 tackles and four interceptions. Joining him at safety will be Michael Huff, the former top 10 pick who has come into his own despite having to play multiple positions in his first two seasons.

Nnamdi AsomughaEven though there are some concerns about Hall having to play with a cast after breaking bones in one of his hands in preseason, Oakland has built one of the better defensive backfields in the league. It’s amazing to think that Hall will see plenty of action this season playing opposite from Asomugha, because Hall is incredibly skilled in coverage himself. And with Wilson now in the mix, Huff can concentrate on playing just one position and further developing his game.

The Raiders will rely on their secondary to set the tone for them on defense this year, but the front seven must get pressure on the quarterback. No secondary can be expected to hold up in coverage for long periods of time, so it’ll be up to Derrick Burgess, Gerard Warren and Tommy Kelly to get a good push off the line. Still, it’ll be fun to watch Oakland defend the pass this year with so many talented players in the secondary.

No Strahan or Umenyiora – how will Giants’ defensive line cope?

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at how the New York Giants expect to cope without having Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan on their defensive line.

Michael StrahanWhen the New York Giants selected defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka with the 32nd pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, many eyebrows were raised at the pick. Why would the Giants take another defensive end when they already had Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck on the roster?

After Strahan retired following the Giants’ Super Bowl victory in January and Umenyiora was lost for the 2008 season because of a knee injury, nobody is questioning New York’s decision to draft Kiwanuka now.

Kiwanuka not only has the daunting task of having to transition from outside linebacker back to defensive end, but he also will attempt to fill the shoes of Umenyiora, a highly productive player who registered 52 tackles and five sacks last season.

Playing opposite of Kiwanuka on the line will be Tuck, a promising fourth-year player who compiled 10 sacks last year as part of a rotation. While he’s shown plenty of upside, this will be the first time in Tuck’s career that he’ll be counted on as a full-time starter.

Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins will man the interior of New York’s defensive line. Neither stands out as impact players, although Cofield did show promise in his rookie season when he compiled 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

There’s no denying that losing both Strahan and Umenyiora was devastating. The Giants demonstrated what a heavy pass-rush could do for an entire defense in the Super Bowl when they completely flustered Tom Brady and his offensive line. While young corner Aaron Ross is developing into a nice player, the rest of the secondary is average at best – especially after safety Gibril Wilson signed with Oakland this offseason – and will need the front seven to put pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks so they’re not vulnerable in coverage.

New York GiantsNew York is going to need Kiwanuka and Tuck to provide the type of rush that Strahan and Umenyiora got last year in order for the defense to not be exposed in certain areas. Both ends have a ton of talent, but how will they do as full-time starters? Can they be as effective as every-down players as they were in a rotation last year? Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was outstanding in devising game plans last year to frustrate opposing teams, but a lot of what he does depends on his ends getting pressure.

Time will tell if the Giants will sink or swim without the two ends that helped them when a Super Bowl last season.

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