Football has returned, and even though to some extent they are using rubber bullets for now, it’s still pretty close to real live football. Close enough for me, for the time being. So here are some of the things I am watching this pre-season.
Though I am still at least slightly nonplussed about the work that has gone on out in ARIZONA this past off-season, including hiring KINGSBURY as Head Coach, and sending away JOSH ROSEN to make way for KYLER MURRAY, it does appear that in putting together his coaching staff, KLIFF has given thought, and a nod of the head, to NFL coaching pedigree. 21 names are listed as assistant coaches for the CARDINALS heading into Training Camp, and of those 21, only 5 are first time NFL coaches. In fact, 8 of his assistants have 10-years or more of NFL coaching experience, led by LB Coach BILL DAVIS, with 25-years in the League, and QB Coach TOM CLEMENTS with a 21-year history of NFL coaching. How they all click is another matter that will take time to sort out, but lack of NFL experience on this coaching staff will NOT be an issue.
While the MURRAY experience will be of major significance, the next chapter of the LAMAR JACKSON experience in BALTIMORE will hold even more fascination for me, relative to the possible emergence of a new style of pro QB, who in effect, runs better than he throws. And in reality, I’m assuming that HC JOHN HARBAUGH and OC GREG ROMAN will be trying to reduce the number of times that JACKSON runs with the ball, after a team leading 147 rushing attempts in 2018. Thus the addition of VFA MARK INGRAM, and the drafting of JUSTICE HILL. Combine those two with last year’s surprise Rookie, GUS EDWARDS, (718 YDS/5.2YPC), and the team feels it has the quality/quantity at RB to run the ball 60% of the time (or more). However, the question remains as to who will get separation in the receiving corps to allow LAMAR to find open targets. WILLIE SNEAD is their top returning receiver, (62 catches), and their next 3 leading receivers from 2018 are all gone. JACKSON completed just over 58% of his throws last year, and that will have to go up into the mid-60% range. The biggest number in JACKSON’s favor was the fact that he finished the year with a 6-1 record, with him starting at the end of the season. This should be interesting, to say the least.
The good news for CHIEFS fans is clearly the breakout first season by PATRICK MAHOMES in 2018, as a high caliber Franchise QB for their team. MAHOMES completed 66% of his throws, for 5,097-yards and 50 TD’s. Having just gotten the good news, (for them), that TYREEK HILL is not getting suspended by the League, they now must develop a running game in the absence of KAREEM HUNT. I will be watching closely to see if they can manufacture a running game somehow, or just let MAHOMES pass the ball 40-plus times per game. From amongst the list of DAMIEN WILLIAMS, CARLOS HYDE, and DARWIN THOMPSON (R), can HC ANDY REID develop a running game? We shall see.
It has got to be “all in” time again in NEW ORLEANS, after another play-off season fraught with bad luck, and resulting in defeat before they could reach that goal of another Super Bowl. As we marvel at the seemingly ageless group of current older QB’s, that includes DREW BREES, it strikes me that despite all the brave talk of playing to age-45 by MR. BRADY, the end of the football road is clearly in sight for all of them. There seem to be signs/hints that BREES would like to move on with his life after football, as soon as he can add a second Super Bowl ring to his jewelry draw, and with the good news that wideout MICHAEL THOMAS has just signed a contract extension. The SAINTS appear to have one of the best overall rosters in the League. One area that needs to be clearly defined this Summer is who replaces MARK INGRAM as the backfield compliment for ALVIN KAMARA. Veteran additions LATAVIUS MURRAY and BUCK ALLEN would seem the most obvious candidates, but I would also suggest that a RB to watch in Camp would be DIVINE OZIGBO, the Rookie out of NEBRASKA. He was nothing less than a revelation in Lincoln under the new SCOTT FROST coaching staff in 2018, while his power and straight line speed style of running may be closest to that of MURRAY.
Early signs in South Florida would tend to indicate that despite trading for QB prospect JOSH ROSEN, the DOLPHINS still may be headed for a miserable season, which may indeed put them in the TUA-sweepstakes in the 2020 NFL Draft. More than a few folks, (yours truly included), felt that ROSEN, with some coaching and more talent around him than he had last year in ARIZONA, might show enough to emerge as their Franchise QB. However, with the chaos and questionable talent currently abounding in their OL group that must protect him, ROSEN may be running for his life much of the 2019 season. How about firing your OL Coach, PAT FLAHERTY, the first week of Training Camp? Not a good sign. Then take a look at the names on their current OL depth chart. Unless Rookies MICHAEL DEITER and ISAIAH PRINCE both win starting jobs, (not expected to happen), the only verified pro level talent and starter is LAREMY TUNSIL. The other guys fighting for jobs are all pretty much journeymen back-ups. The current status of the DOLPHINS roster rebuild hinges quite a bit right now on the playing development of their, League high, 8 signees from defunct AAF teams. They could provide some decent depth, but where is the beef for the starting line-up? I would expect a rather miserable 2019 season for the DOLPHINS, and a possible last place finish in the AFC East.
It almost feels like any unemployed WR feeling like they can handle the NFL competition, should be making sure that their agents are contacting GIANTS GM DAVE GETTLEMAN, ASAP. Wideouts are dropping like flies in early Training Camp for the G-Men. Names like STERLING SHEPARD, GOLDEN TATE, and COREY COLEMAN are all looking like they will miss the season opener in September. TATE is trying to avoid a suspension for the use of a banned substance. His story about fertility RX-use sounds reasonable, but the NFL’s drug policies have historically been very inflexible. One almost gets the feeling that they might soon be accepting walk-ins for tryouts over in New Jersey. It’s too early to tell, but this situation may open the door of opportunity for Rookie draftee DARIUS SLAYTON/WR/AUBURN. Stay tuned for more on this situation. It’s far from my favorite thing, to be writing so much about injuries, so soon!