Ten NFL players facing make or break seasons

Training camp is still a month away but you don’t need daily reports from the grueling two-a-day sessions to see what players are going to have the heat turned up on them this season. I’ve complied a list of 10 players (in no particular order) who, not necessarily the same reasons, face make or break seasons in ’09.

1. Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
If Romo doesn’t get the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2009 will Jerry Jones look for other options at quarterback in 2010? No. But if you read between the lines, the Cowboys jettisoned Terrell Owens this offseason so that Romo will have every opportunity to be the team’s most influential leader and hopefully go from being a great quarterback to one of the elite. While it might not technically be a make or break season for Romo, his career is certainly at a crossroads. Romo’s numbers last year were solid – 3,448 yards, 26 TDs, 91.4 QB Rating – but his play faded over the last month of the season and the Cowboys imploded. Since then, Romo’s work ethic, offseason dedication and leadership skills have been questioned and it appears as though the QB’s career has come to a fork in the road. If he continues on the path his currently on, he might put up decent numbers and lead the Cowboys to the playoffs a couple more times before his days are done. That’s certainly not bad, but Jones and the rest of the Cowboy faithful want Romo to be extraordinary and if he completely dedicates himself to the game, maybe he can take this talented team to the next level. One thing’s for sure – with T.O. out of the way, this is now Romo’s team and it’s up to him where he and the Cowboys go from here.

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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.

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