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Brian Thorne | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Training Camp Report - NFC
News, Notes & Post-Game Report for Preseason Week 1

Week One | Week Two | Week Three | Week Four



Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals had a number of deficiencies during 2012, but they have largely been addressed going into 2013. Carson Palmer was signed to provide stability at quarterback and the veteran is settling in nicely. John Abraham joined the defensive line to give them a legitimate threat of a pass rush. Unfortunately, linebacker Daryl Washington will miss the first four games of the season having violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Tyrann Mathieu was drafted in April to bring a second young playmaker to the secondary, and scouts are raving about his abilities already. Against the Packers in the opening preseason game, the entire defense looked good, coming up with stops, sacks, a turnover, and surrendering fewer than 225 yards. Other draft signings to the offensive line will provide improvement to the starters and to depth positions, both of which were in much need of it. Eric Winston provides additional improvement to one of the league’s worst offensive lines, where he has already secured the right tackle starting role. Rashard Mendenhall is projected as the starting running back, jumping ahead of Ryan Williams who is once again battling knee injury issues; neither played against Green Bay, which allowed rookie Stepfan Taylor to display the skills that made him so good in college. The final development from camp shows a new wrinkle to the offense, where starting corner Patrick Peterson has seen time at wide receiver, plus as the wildcat quarterback in Arizona’s “Pat Cat” formation, though this didn’t show up on the stat sheet from preseason game one. Improvements all around make the Cardinals a team to watch this season.

St. Louis Rams

Some of the biggest offseason moves in the NFL were made by the Rams. They signed left tackle Jake Long, which allows Rodger Saffold to move to the right side, giving the O-line two solid bookends to combat the pass rushers of the NFC West. The interior of the line is in good shape, but to backup those spots they drafted Barrett Jones, who is recovering from surgery but should be available fairly soon. Speaking of draft picks, the Rams chose two West Virginia wide receivers in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They will be challenging a group which includes Chris Givens, Brian Quick, and Austin Pettis, all of whom have unrealized potential but possess good skills. In a similar situation is free agent signing tight end Jared Cook, a big, physical, fast player who flashed brilliance in Tennessee but never played with the dominance he probably could have. Long time running back Steven Jackson left the team, leaving behind Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, and rookie Zac Stacy. Richardson is projected as the starter, especially after Pead lost a fumble on his first carry of the preseason. The defense has top talent at defensive tackle, both cornerbacks, both defensive end spots, and one or two linebacker positions, in addition to drafting Alex Ogletree in the second round. The safety position is the biggest liability, but if the front seven can continue to pressure opposing quarterbacks, they may be able to hide their shortcomings. The team is improved from last year, but they still have a fair way to go to catch up with the top talents of their division. Ultimately they will go as quarterback Sam Bradford goes. Last year he lacked weapons on offense, but that is not the case for 2013. This may be a career-making or -breaking year for the Rams quarterback. He was on time and on target during the first preseason game, which certainly isn’t a bad place to start.

San Francisco 49ers

The outlook for the 49ers this season is phenomenal. When healthy, they have arguably the best lines in football, both offense and defense. Well, they’re healthy, and backups Tank Carradine (rookie defensive tackle) and Daniel Kilgore (third-year center) are excellent insurance policies. Defensively they boast the best interior linebacker duo in the NFL in Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, and the other members of the front seven aren’t far behind. The only glaring problem is with the secondary, especially following the injury to Chris Culliver, who will miss the season with a torn ACL. Starting cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown have limited depth behind them and are joined in the back four by rookie safety Eric Reid, who is better in run support than in coverage. On offense you can expect to see a lot of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore. Michael Crabtree (ACL) is out for most of the season, so at wide receiver new acquisition Anquan Boldin will pair with Mario Manningham or newly signed Austin Collie. Tight end Vernon Davis will look to continue the success he saw in the postseason last year, and reports out of camp even tells of his lining up at wide receiver on occasion to get him more involved in the passing game. San Francisco will go as their lines go, and aided by their linebackers and offensive backfield, the team has a chance to make it back to the Super Bowl this year, hopefully finishing what they started in 2012.

Seattle Seahawks

Along with the 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks are clearly the other top team in the NFC West. On offense, their only significant issue is the injury to Percy Harvin, who himself was an offseason addition to the team. Everyone else on that side of the ball is be back and it’s not like the offense was an issue last year. The only significant addition was Harvin, but it is clear they improved throughout the year as young players gained experience and the team meshed. This year is likely to once again heavily feature the running game of Marshawn Lynch, with quarterback Russell Wilson contributing on the ground in addition to his passing. If he can avoid a sophomore slump, the Seahawks should be just fine, if not better. On defense two outstanding pass rushers were added in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and cornerback Antoine Winfield was added to an already stellar backfield. By comparison, the linebackers may be the weak spot on defense, but K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner would be a powerful duo as part of any three-man unit. On paper the Seahawks may be the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this season.


Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons came into 2012 with huge expectations and 2013 will be no different. They were able to once again talk Tony Gonzalez out of retirement, and in the offseason they signed Matt Ryan to a $103.75-million contract extension. The most significant change on the offensive side of the ball is the addition of Steven Jackson from the Rams and the release of Michael Turner. History suggests Jackson is in for a downturn, at 30 years old, but so far in the preseason he looks as good as ever. Defensively John Abraham is no longer around, but Osi Umenyiora of the Giants steps into his place. Reports suggest he’ll be a hybrid DL/OLB. Their biggest area of need was addressed through the draft, as they selected two cornerbacks with their first two picks. Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have been battling for the second starting cornerback role in camp, and early evaluations suggest Alford currently is ahead; veteran Asante Samuel holds the top cornerback position and should have another good year. The biggest problem going forward could be a lack of depth at linebacker; the starters are decent, but after them things thin out very quickly. It became evident during the first preseason game that the offensive line isn’t that great either, especially in run blocking. The starters were beaten too many times, and to make things worse, right tackle Mike Johnson landed on the injured reserve list, thinning out the O-line even further.

Carolina Panthers

Injuries have devastated the Panthers in the past, and one of the biggest stories at the beginning of camp was about Coach Rivera adjusting their routines to try to avoid a third consecutive season of putting 16 players on injured reserve (a franchise record set in 2011 and tied again in 2012). So far it seems to be working. Except for with Jonathan Stewart, that is, who is carrying injury issues over from last season. The running back battle between him and DeAngelo Williams currently favors Williams. Offensively all of the weapons are there, and if Brandon LaFell continues to improve, the Panthers will be hard to stop. Quarterback Cam Newton still needs to prove he can constantly make good decisions and perform well both as a runner and as a passer. His one glaring mistake (resulting in an interception for a touchdown) against the Bears in the first preseason game shows he’s not the polished passer he wants to be. The offensive line had its share of problems and injuries last year, and with the exception of veteran guard Geoff Hangartner (released), they are all expected to be the starters again this season. This doesn’t look good on paper beyond center Ryan Kalil, but the continuity may help them to perform better than the sum of their parts. Defensively the draft added two great talents on the D-line, bringing additional stopping power and pressuring abilities to an already great front seven. The only real weakness has been in the secondary; cornerback Chris Gamble retired and two veterans were brought in to fill that void, but neither they nor the talent currently in Carolina can replace the production of Gamble. The biggest obstacle for the Panthers is their divisional opponents. Facing Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice each year is a daunting task which further highlights their deficiencies in the secondary. If the Panthers can avoid major injuries this year and their secondary can take a huge step forward, the NFC South battle could become a tight three-way race.

New Orleans Saints

Thankfully for the Saints, 2012 and the suspensions related to the bounty scandal are over, meaning Coach Peyton is back to leading the team and running the offense from the sideline. The plethora of weapons at Drew Brees’ disposal is still astonishing, and aside from losing wide receiver Devery Henderson and their third-string running back, they are all back and healthy. Joe Morgan was expected to fill in for the departed Henderson and is one of the few exceptions to a healthy roster; he has been lost for the season with tears in his meniscus and ACL. Kenny Stills appears to be his replacement. Stills played well, ran clean routes, and his speed gave the Chiefs starters trouble during their first preseason game. The weak link in the offense is the O-line, especially at the tackle positions. But with strength in the middle and the quick release of Brees, these deficiencies will be minimized. When you look at the Saints defense you understand why they score so many points: out of necessity. This offseason they switched to a 3–4 system, hoping that something finally starts to work. Against Kansas City the defense wasn’t good early, but as the game progressed it seemed like they adjusted appropriately, albeit against the Chiefs' backups. New Orleans should be decent along the D-line with defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks—who is holding the spot until rookie John Jenkins is NFL ready—on either side of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. The linebackers are suspect at best, but the return of Coach Peyton may help that this year. Rookie Kenny Vaccaro was drafted to play safety and should be an immediate upgrade, while new signee Keenan Lewis should be a reliable cornerback across from Jabari Greer. If the defense can make a few stops each game, the offense ought to be able to carry the team throughout 2013. But a formidable defense would make the Saints nearly unstoppable.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 2012 Buccaneers were a tale of two teams, roughly broken into the first and second halves of the season. Quarterback Josh Freeman led the team to reasonable success for the first nine games, but after that his inconsistency once again caught up with him and things took a turn for the worse. Thankfully the Buccaneers have a stellar wide receiver duo in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to go along with breakout running back Doug Martin. The offensive line is a mixed bag that suffered detrimental injuries last season, and even at its best it isn’t a great unit. Davin Joseph is healthy but may not be at 100 percent following a tear in his patellar tendon a year ago; Carl Nicks appears to be ready after missing the second half of 2012 with a toe injury; both guards have great potential if they’re healthy. The biggest change may come at right tackle if Gabe Carimi can make an impact after being considered a first-round bust for the Bears. And the fact that he’s competing for a starting job speaks volumes about the depth of the exterior of the O-line. Two key defensive linemen, Michael Bennett and Roy Miller, won’t be with the team this year, but lockdown corner Darrelle Revis joined the secondary following ACL surgery and is expected to start come Week 1. Johnthan Banks, another cornerback, was brought in through the draft and reports out of camp suggest he’s going to make an immediate impact. Mark Barron and former 49er Dashon Goldson will be at safety, giving Tampa Bay a quality back four. Between injuries and departures, the front seven appears to be in trouble, and even at full strength they’re fairly pedestrian. The lack of pass rush ability will hurt the Buccaneers this season if the defense can’t create more pressure than expected.


Chicago Bears

The Bears parted ways with Lovie Smith in favor of former CFL coach Marc Trestman, who brings with him a high-powered offense well suited for Jay Cutler’s big arm. A few retirements saw some big names leave the defense, particularly Brian Urlacher and Sedrick Ellis (who signed, never showed up at camp, then retired), but the drafting of Jon Bostic and signing of Jamaal Anderson, respectively, will help to minimize the void left by those two. The rookie linebacker picked off Cam Newton and returned it for a touchdown against Carolina in the first preseason game. D.J. Williams of the Broncos was also signed to be a part of the linebacking corps in Chicago, giving them great depth in the front seven once again. The draft also added guard Kyle Long to join an offensive line in need of a boost; he should make an immediate impact as part of a rotation or as the outright starter. Jermon Bushrod from the Saints was signed to a big contract to play left tackle, moving J’Marcus Webb to the right and hopefully improving an O-line that gave up far too many sacks last year (they gave up seven to the Panthers). Early reports out of camp suggest the offense of Cutler, Brandon Marshall, free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, and Alshon Jeffery will give other prolific NFC North teams a run for their money. Against Carolina, rookie wide receiver Marquess Wilson showed that his success in training camp wasn’t a fluke as he exploded for a 58-yard touchdown catch in addition to four other receptions for 24 more yards. The Bear’s defense is what could set them apart from their division in 2013. Aside from the changes at the linebacker level, Chicago will look remarkably similar on the defensive side of the ball this season, including running a similar system despite the coaching change. If Coach Trestman can successfully implement his offense, he may have a phenomenal team in his hands.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are an unfortunate mix of very good and very questionable, which makes predictions extremely difficult but also allows for a large degree of optimism this season. Improvements were made to the running game by adding Reggie Bush, and in limited carries he looked good in the first preseason game. The young secondary has looked very good in camp and the emergence of wide receiver Ryan Broyles in training camp gives Matthew Stafford another quality option to target who isn’t named Calvin Johnson. The strongest unit in Detroit may be the defensive line, where draft picks were spent to enhance an already fearsome defensive tackle combo. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah had several tackles and also picked off a screen pass from Jets QB Mark Snachez and returned it for a touchdown, all while competing across from an All Pro offensive tackle. Big question marks remain on the Lions offensive line, where two average veterans are joined by three players (one rookie) with no starting experience. The linebacker position is also worrisome since unproven or underwhelming players make up the entire squad. Special teams have received a lot of attention in camp, where a rookie kicker with a huge leg is challenging David Akers for the starting role and a rookie punter is proving he was worth a fifth-round draft pick. So much attention being paid to special teams likely speaks volumes about the performance and quality elsewhere. At this point it doesn’t appear that there is enough depth on the offensive line or in the defensive back seven to consistently challenge for the top spot in the NFC North, especially if there are any injuries. But in the meantime it appears the starters have more than enough potential to be competitive most weekends in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers entered the offseason believing they only needed a few pieces to get back to the Super Bowl, and prior to the start of the preseason it appeared as though they’d found them. The major change came to the offensive line, drafting two rookies to contribute and vie for starting positions while simultaneously lining up most of the returning players differently. Early in the preseason it looked like things were coming together. Injuries to rookie J.C. Tretter (out six months) and veteran Bryan Bulaga (lost for season) leave the Packers scrambling to revamp a revamped O-line, however, though it appears rookie David Bakhtiari may be able to step in without being a liability. The first-team O-line protected well in the first preseason game against Arizona and played better than expected. Injuries have also reached wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, but early indications are that they’ll be ready for Week 1. Running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are two good young backs who could each contribute; it seems that Lacy currently has the edge, but Franklin was the only one to see the field against Arizona. On defense the team isn’t much different aside from Charles Woodson leaving and pass rusher Dante Jones being drafted. The secondary has no appreciable depth, as seen by the absence of Traymon Williams allowing opposing wide receivers time and space all over the field. Like last season, there are stars at every level of the defense, but injuries will leave vulnerable the positions where the talent isn’t particularly reliable.

Minnesota Vikings

Beyond Adrian Peterson the strength of the Vikings lies along the line of scrimmage. The defensive line got an upgrade through the draft with Sharrif Floyd, who will join Kevin Williams and thee outstanding pass rushing defensive ends. The offensive line drafted two future replacements, but for 2013 the line will look much like it did last year. One wrinkle is the four-game suspension of Demarcus Love for violation of the league’s PED policy; his appeal was not upheld. The Vikings addressed holes in the secondary through draft picks to hopefully make up for the release of Antoine Winfield, and the linebackers were bolstered with the addition of Desmond Bishop from the Packers. Wide receiver Greg Jennings, another ex-Packer, was signed following the trade of Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. Against the Texans in the first preseason game neither team played many of their star talents, so it’s hard to determine how the team has gelled. Rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, however, has big play ability. He could be dangerous across from Jennings if he can elevate his offensive play to that of his special teams contributions. After the relative success of the offseason moves, the largest remaining question mark is once again at quarterback. Christian Ponder has been consistently inconsistent, showing moments of true leadership and NFL ability, only to be followed up with questionable performances and poor decision-making. His performance against Houston did nothing to demonstrate he’s markedly better than last season, but backup quarterback Matt Cassel clearly isn’t the future of the franchise. The skill and potential seem to be there for Ponder, but until they are realized, the Vikings will be limited by their young signal caller's success (or lack thereof).


Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys brought in Monte Kiffin to run the defense instead of Rob Ryan and transitioned the team to a 4-3 system better suited for their roster talent. The front seven boasts star-level pass rushers and some of the most forceful run stoppers on the league, and the only real question is how well DeMarcus Ware can adjust to being a down lineman rather than a standup outside linebacker. Their secondary, with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, can cause problems for a number of opposing offenses, but the safety position is the likely weak point of the entire defense. Injuries happen every year, but last season seemed particularly cruel to Dallas defenders. Unfortunately, defensive end Tyrone Crawford has already been lost to a torn Achilles tendon. If widespread injuries can be avoided this season, the defensive unit should be a good one in 2013, especially if the play of some of the young talent in the Hall of Fame Game can continue. The offense is another story. DeMarco Murray battled the fumbles last season, wide receiver Miles Austin needs to find some consistency, and his star counterpart Dez Bryant must continue to improve his off-field maturity. Also, Dan Bailey needs to not be iced by his coach, and though no icing occurred in their first preseason game, he did have a 26-yard FG attempt blocked. Perhaps most importantly, Tony Romo is looking to make good on his new monster contract, and in the preseason game against Oakland he looked pretty good—not great, mind you, but he played well enough in two series. All of those things can be addressed and a number have already started to resolve themselves. But even so, they pale in comparison to the problems faced by the offensive line. Training camp injuries and additional casualties from the Hall of Fame Game leave rookie Travis Frederick as the only cause for optimism in keeping Romo safe from opposing defenders, and that’s not saying much. Against a star-needy squad in the Raiders, they held their own. As the offensive line situation works itself out, the fate of Dallas will become more clear. For now it’s muddy at best.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have been in the news more than most teams this offseason, though little of it has been positive. Longtime coach Andy Reid lost his job in favor of Oregon’s Chip Kelly, who will bring with him the up-tempo offense he helped make famous at the college level. That’s about all of the good news. Michael Vick and Nick Foles are vying for the starting quarterback role but each comes with limitations; age and turnover issues first, inexperience and immobility second. Coach Kelly won’t name a starter until right before Week 1 of the regular season. Star wide receiver DeSean Jackson is quick but not great in the middle of the field, Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn each tore their ACLs and are done for the year, Riley Cooper has off-field issues to sort out, and beyond them Jason Avant is the only other wide receiver with appreciable game experience. The tight end position by comparison is one of strength, and that will work well with Kelly’s offense, which often runs multiple-tight end sets. The offensive line, all things considered, looks pretty good if left tackle Jason Peters is ever fully healthy. Running back LeSean McCoy is perfectly suited for the new offense, so if the O-line is there and the wide receivers are solid enough, he should be a star regardless of who eventually wins the quarterback battle. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the defensive side of the ball doesn’t bring much certainty. A new 3–4 scheme (or some variation thereof) will feature recent signee Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle flanked by Fletcher Cox on one side, and then the question marks start to roll in. Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, and Mychal Kendricks will certainly be essential pieces of whatever scheme is used. The secondary has potential but is often injured, though the ceiling is set fairly low for the serviceable tandem of cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Philips will be backed up by rookie Earl Wolff, whose draft profile suggests he isn’t the brightest individual by any standard. This year may bring moments of greatness, but the overall results for the Eagles will likely be disappointing due to the large number of uncertainties heading into the season.

New York Giants

If the Giants had a different coach and played in a different division, their outlook on the year would be much worse. Playing in the NFC East under Coach Caughlin may once again be their saving grace. Eli Manning is one of the top talents in the NFL, but he didn’t play like it for the majority of the second half of last season. Part of that was due to the injuries to Hakeem Nicks, who is already battling injury issues early this preseason. Nicks' counterpart, Victor Cruz, signed a large contract this offseason after holding out of the first part of team activities. The emergence of wide receiver Ruben Randle and signing of tight end Brandon Meyers will certainly help, but each come with flaws and their upsides aren’t spectacular. The running back duo of David Wilson and Andre Brown is solid, each making up for what the other lacks. Much of the same offensive line remains intact from last year, aside from the addition of rookie Justin Pugh, who can play guard but will likely be starting at right tackle. The defense, once formidable and overpowering, drastically underperformed last year. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora is now with the Falcons, but Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are back and ready for a bounce-back year. The center of the D-line is solid with the addition of Cullen Jenkins, and rookie Johnathan Hankins will be behind Jenkins and Linval Joseph as the season begins. Improvements were needed with the linebacker corps, but the signing of Dan Connor likely won’t cut it. The secondary isn’t much better, but they do possess playmakers, even though they aren’t great in coverage. Still, in the high-flying NFC East, a weak secondary is likely to be a liability if the offence can’t compensate.

Washington Redskins

Redskins fans can rejoice; it seems that Robert Griffin III is healthy and ready to begin the 2013 season, even though he’s being held out of preseason games as a precaution. As a true dual-threat quarterback, he brings additional elements to his team that make it hard for opposing defenses to prepare for, just so long as he’s on the field. Kirk Cousins is a solid backup should RG3 go down again, but he’s certainly not the talent Griffin is. In the first preseason game he showed he was calm under pressure and displayed accuracy, efficiency, and the ability to quickly go through his progressions and make the right reads. The offensive line is largely a point of strength, and between them and his dual-threat quarterback, running back Alfred Morris should have plenty of opportunities for solid performances. Mike Shanahan is known for his running back “shenanigans,” but Morris has displayed the ability to take and hold the starting role all for himself. The wide receiver and tight end positions are far less certain, with a lack of depth behind wideout Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, who are both returning from injury. Griffin has the ability to be a good passer but it doesn’t seem that he has the receiving threats to take advantage of it. Last year the story of Washington’s defense was one of injuries, especially early in the season. At the start of this season, all of the critical players appear to be healthy and ready to resume their solid performances. Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker are great pass rushers from the front seven, and the other starters are solid themselves. The secondary features cornerbacks Josh Wilson and an aging DeAngelo Hall in addition to safeties Reed Doughty and the often injured Brandon Meriweather. Rookie safety Philip Thomas was drafted to provide depth and to potentially grow into a starting role. In the NFC East the Redskins will be competitive, and the explosive nature of their offense allows them to win games they otherwise shouldn’t, making them a potentially dangerous playoff matchup.