You might be wondering what I mean by a realistic expectation. With that, I'm implying my expectations will not be based on what I think a guy is capable of doing, what I hope he can do, or what I think he can do. My expectations are based on what a player has done. Because all the hopes and dreams of every fan in the world doesn't equal production on the field.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at the team we're fielding for the 2009 season.
My biggest concerns here is the health of CP10, and can Henne step up if needed. I shouldn't have to remind all of you that CP10 has never, in his 9 year career, played two consecutive 16 game seasons. He's actually only played two 16 game seasons in those 9 years. Now do I think we can win it all with CP10? Yes, I do. He may not have a cannon for an arm, but when given time, can pick apart any defense. Now should the unfortunate happen, and CP10 goes down. Are we really that confident Henne can take over the reigns? I'm not fully convinced yet. He takes way too long to progress through his reads, resulting in 7 sacks this preseason. He may have a strong arm, but teams can take that away with lots of blitzes. Now Pat White, IMO, is most likely never going to be our starting QB. I think he was drafted purely as a situational QB for spread formations, and variations of the Wildcat. I know some of you may think spending a 2nd round pick is too high for that. But if they expand the wildcat and throw in some spread formations, he could be looking at around 15-20 snaps per game maybe more. It's the added dimensions to those formations his presence adds, that makes using the 2nd round pick worth it.
This may cause the most debate as to what do we expect from our RB corps. Well, as the past would seem to tell us, not too much would be the answer. Now I would like to believe, with our revamped OL and Ronnie a year removed from his major injury, that we can expect Ronnie to become a 1500+ yd 15+ TD back. I think he has the talent to do it, but until he actually goes out and does it, I don't believe this FO is going to even think about offering him another contract. This is the NFL, otherwise known as "The What Have You Done For Me Lately League". Potential is reserved for rookies, not 5th year players. Ricky will serve once again as a serviceable change of pace to Ronnie, giving Ronnie a chance to catch his breath. Although I feel they need to tone down Ricky's touches and use Brown more. Cobbs will serve as the ever reliable utility back/3rd down back/ST. I'd expect pretty much the same from him this year, as we got last year. I would like to see Polite get more carries on 3rd/4th and short downs. The guy converted 9 of 10 last year during the season, yet they don't use him on 3rd and goal or 4th and goal in the playoff loss to Baltimore. That was a demoralizing moment that showed Baltimore we don't trust our running game, and needless to say, they used it. Hilliard is an interesting choice to make the roster, simply due to the fact that Ricky just signed a two year extension, Ronnie will most likely be under contract next year, as are Polite and Cobbs. The only thing I can think that makes any sense is that they try to bulk him up to 250-260 and play FB. He's already 240, so he's almost FB size anyways. He could also be trade fodder by week 6. Either way, he's not likely to get many touches.
On to our biggest group of over-acheivers. With no true #1 receiver in this group, this corp has had to rely on playing better than anyone thought they were (Bess and Camarillo, I'm talking to you). Ginn is still the fastest of the group, but unfortunately, he's also the smallest of the group as well. Which will continue to get him jammed at the line of scrimmage by bigger more physical CBs. Bess and Camarillo are basically the same type of receiver (good hands, good route running), with Camarillo being a bit taller and faster, and Bess being tougher to bring down. Will Camarillo be able to shake off the injury, and go back to pre-injury form? He's looked a bit hesitant at times with that knee, which is to be expected after that type of injury. Hartline and Turner are the wildcards of the bunch, as we've only been able to see what they can do in limited action during the preseason. Turner showed early on in OTAs that he has the hands and big body we've been looking for in a possession/red zone receiver, but for some reason seems to have had his playing time diminished as the preseason came to a close. Hartline on the other hand, had his playing time increase during the preseason which shows the coaches seem to like what they've seen from him. But other than beating up on 2nd and 3rd string DBs, I haven't seen anything to get me overexcited. If he can show up, and prove he can play just as good against starting DBs. Then I'll jump on the bandwagon.
This could be one of our weakest positions if neither Hanos or Nalbone can step up and produce similar numbers to Martin. TE is a crucial position in our offense, considering how much we like to run two TE sets. That means both TEs on the field need to be able to not only block, but be able to get open and catch the football. In 4 preseason games they combined for one catch for 3 yards by Nalbone. Some of you may not have liked Martin, but the guy wasn't afraid of putting his body on the line to make the catch (which probably contributed to him being on IR now).
This group has been hit or miss during the preseason. At time they have looked dominant, and at other times have looked ineffective. Most glaring would be when they played one of the better DT in the league John Henderson. Grove was signed to be an upgrade over Satele due to his lack of strength to handle the bigger NT/DT in the league. I'm not sure we got that. We averaged a paltry 3.8 yards per carry during the preseason, but on the plus side, we only gave up 2 sacks while Pennington was in the game (I mention that because I believe most of Henne's sacks were due to him holding the ball too long). This group must get better at run blocking, or this could be a long season as teams will take out a page from the Baltimore defensive playbook and go to town on us. I am surprised we didn't carry a 9th OL on the roster considering the injuries we have sustained in the past regarding the OL. All 5 of our starting OL dealt with injuries last year. Can they stay healthy the whole year? ***UPDATE*** Garner was signed from practice squad to replace TE Davon Drew.
Probably the most impressive group yet this preseason. They've done an effective job containing the run, as well as getting some pressure on the QB. Really the only concerns are, how well will Ferguson hold up during the year considering he turns 35 in Nov., and will Soliai be able to step up when he's not in the game? So far Soliai has shown great improvement over last year. As for any concerns about Merling, I think with Starks and McDaniel stepping up their games and becoming real contributers it makes it less of a concern. If anything it may help bring out Merlings game as he realizes his job could be in jeopardy.
Probably the one position we have the most talent and star power. With the addition of JT one would expect our pass rush to be that much better. It would appear JT has been rejuvenated since returning to the Dolphins, and any lingering health problems that hampered him in DC shouldn't be a problem this year. With plenty of depth of pass rushers, we should be able to keep Porter fresh for the whole season so he doesn't wear down at the end of the season (facing less double teams should help as well). I'm curious as to how they'll integrate Roth back in when/if he comes back after week 6. It wouldn't surprise me if Taylor continues to play well, and the team is doing well. To see Roth get put on IR and shut down for the season. Biggest concern with the LB corp? Will Crowder finally become a play maker? He's shown he can talk big, now let's see him back it up on the field.
This group played fairly well, but considering who we played against, that's not exactly a compliment. This secondary really didn't get challenged during the preseason as we played a NO team without Brees and Colston, a TB team without it's two leading WRs, and a Carolina team without Steve Smith. Our best challenge was a 33 yr old Torry Holt, even though it was Troy Williamson who had 4 catches for 74 yards. I won't even go into the TB game, where if it weren't for Byron Leftwich and his erratic throws, it could have gone a lot different. I like what I've seen so far from Sean Smith, my only concern is his tendency to want to jump routes. A smart QB is going to use that against him, and we're facing some of the smartest Manning, Brady, Rivers, Brees, and Roethlisberger. Vontae Davis continues to get better, and I'm sure both him and Smith will benefit from plenty of playing time during the year. I'm sure we'll see their fair share of rookie mistakes, considering we're facing three of the four top passing yardage leaders in the NFL since 2003, I can almost guarantee it. The rookies are going to get picked on, early and often, until they prove it to be a bad idea. As for Jones and Allen, while neither is known for their coverage skills, they both bring something to the table. Jones has a knack for getting into the backfield and getting sacks on nickel blitzes, and Allen is a sound tackler and ST contributer.
While there's not much to speak about the safety play during the preseason, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. The positive, only six pass plays went more than 20 yards against the Dolphins in the preseason. The longest being 43 yards, and it didn't result in a TD. So it would seem they are doing a good job of preventing the big play. One change I would like to see is Bell not leading our team in tackles again this year. If Bell is getting that many tackles, the LBs and CBs are not doing their jobs. Wilson should be able to thrive in our system the way he did with the Giants in 2007 (78 tackles, 4 INT), and not constantly put in the box like he was with the Raiders. Both guys don't have any injury histories so I don't see Clemons and Culver getting much time unless it's on ST or in quarter/prevent packages.
DC$ continues to be a solid consistent kicker, but I get the feeling the FO wants someone with a stronger leg. Which is why I believe they brought Barth in for a bit. Carpenter only kicked one FG over 50 yards last year (51) and he made it. But they had more opportunities than just that one time. He's also in the bottom half of the league in kickoff touch back %. Fields is a decent punter, but I've noticed he has a tendency to out punt the coverage. Allowing the returners room to react to the punt coverage. I realize his numbers may not show that (43.9 avg), but playing in a ball control, field position offense makes him punt on shorter fields when other teams would be kicking field goals.
So with all this in mind, I'm optimistic about our chances going into the 2009 season. I know the schedule looks daunting, but we'll see what the real strength of schedule is at the end of the season. I also believe with the personnel we have we can compete with any team in the league. Feel free to tell me what you think, good or bad.