With preseason only four months away, the draft wrapped up, and most of free agency dwindling down, it's never too early to take a look around the league and get ourselves a little more accustomed to the new looks of each team. We'll start with the division the defending Superbowl Champions call home, the NFC South.
Superbowl Champion New Orleans Saints:
It's a dream come true in New Orleans as the Aint's have finally finished the 42 year long canonization process and will finally live up to their given name, Saints. Drew Brees is clearly one of the best QB's in the game today, and their offense is as potent as any in NFL history. With a receiving crew like Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and some Reggie Bush out of the backfield or in the slot, Brees will have plenty of receiving options. They may need someone along side Pierre Thomas to step up running the ball though, as second leading rusher Mike Bell moves on to Philadelphia. Their defense will have some new faces, but still has plenty of talent. Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith (Proctor High- Utica!), SedrickEllis, and Scott Shanle will still be pitching in, but their are question marks at safety, possibly at defensive end, and little depth at linebacker... Who am I kidding here? If this defense can not give up 30+ points, they should be in most of their games this year.
2009: 13 Wins, 3 Losses (.813%); 510 Points For (64 TD's); 6-2 at Home (Losses: Dallas and Tampa Bay); 7-1 on the Road (Loss: Carolina); 4-0 vs. AFC (AFC East opponents)
Head Coach: Sean Payton- Career: 4 Seasons, 38 Wins, 26 Losses (Two Seasons above .500; One season below .500; One .500 season). One Superbowl Win in to playoff appearances.
2010 Draft (6 Selections):
- Round One, Pick 32:Patrick Robinson- CB from FSU
- Round Two, Pick 64:Charles Brown- OT from USC
- Round Three, Pick 95: Jimmy Graham- TE from The U
- Round Four, Pick 123:Al Woods- DT from LSU
- Round Five, Pick 158:Matt Tennant- C from Boston College
- Round Seven, Pick 239:Sean Canfield- QB from Oregon State
Key Departures: Darren Sharper- FS, Mike Bell- HB, Scott Fujita- LB, Charles Grant- DE (Released), Kendrick Clancy- DT, Billy Miller- TE
Key Arrivals: Lombardi Trophy, Alex Brown- DE (Chicago), Jimmy Wilkerson- DE (Tampa Bay)
Steelers Tie-In: Recently released DT Kendrick Clancy was once the Steelers third round pick, way back in 2000. In the last two years, only tow teams have won the Superbowl, us and them. (Admittedly weak tie-in for 'Nola.)
Coming into his third season as a pro, Matt Ryan looks like he's definitely on his way to being amongst the top tier in the game today. Wideout Roddie White and tightend Tony Gozalez offer up great targets when airing it out. White really came into his own three season ago, White has posted 80+ catches and 1100 yards in 3 consecutive seasons. Tony Gonzalez is nothing short of one of the, if not the, greatest TE in NFL history. After three seasons backing up LT in San Diego, Michael Turner wanted carries, and found them in Atlanta in 2008. But like most of the halfbacks who carry the ball as much as he did, Turner had a rough follow up effort last year. Plagued by nagging injuries he was only able to put up half the numbers he had the prior year. Their defense features some younger LB's and a solid veteran in Mike Peterson. But besides John Abraham, who has seen better days, they will need some upgrades along the front four. They upgraded their corner situation, and have some solid young players at safety. If Matt Ryan makes the projected next step, this team could vie for at least a wildcard, if not the division.
2009: 9 Wins, 7 Losses (.563%): 363 Points For (44 TD's); 6-2 at Home (Losses: Philadelphia and New Orleans); 3-5 on the Road (Losses: New England, Dallas, New Orleans, Carolina, and NY Giants) 3-1 vs. AFC (Loss to New England)
Head Coach: Mike Smith- Career: 2 Seasons, 20 Wins, 12 Losses (Both seasons above .500). One playoff appearance.
2010 NFL Draft (7 Selections):
- Round One, Pick 19:Sean Weatherspoon- OLB from Mizzou
- Round Three, Pick 19:Corey Peters- DT from Kentucky
- Round Three, Pick 34: Mike Johnson- G from Alabama
- Round Four, Pick 117:Joe Hawley- G from UNLV
- Round Five, Pick 135: Dominique Franks- CB from Oklahoma
- Round Five, Pick 165:Kerry Meier- WR from Kansas
- Round Six, Pick 171:Shann Schilinger- S from Montana
Key Departures: Charlie Peprah- DB (Restricted), Tye Hill- CB
Key Arrivals: Dunta Robinson- CB (Houston), Matt Giordano- LB (Green Bay)
Steelers Tie-In: Verron Haynes... Am I the only one surprised to see Verron still in the league? Solid player at times, but not really anything special. After taking 2008 off for unknown reasons, I suspect a lack of interest from teams, Verron returned to his hometown team this past year. He was the last Steeler to wear 34 before Rush-Hard Spin-them-all.
Carolina has a future which, at best, is up in the air. With two legit running backs, one of whom I consider an elite player in DeAngelo Williams, they can have a consistent ground attack. But with question marks at QB and no real depth to speak of in the receiving department, the question is will they have much else besides the pound the rock approach. Defensively they lost their best player and multiple franchise tag-ee Julius Peppers. They drafted Everette Brown last year in an effort to plan for Peppers' departure, but he is a talent that will surely be missed. With big time question marks everywhere else along the defensive line and a secondary on the thinner side, this could be a rough transition year under Coach Fox, who has had an up and down career in Carolina already. Also losing proven leader, but interception machine, Jake Delhomme and replacing him with either Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, or dark horse Tony Pike will have a part in a potential roller coaster ride season.
2009: 8 Wins, 8 Losses (.500%); 315 Points For (35 TD's); 5-3 at Home (Losses: Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Miami); 3-5 on the Road (Losses: Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, NY Jets, and New England): 0-4 vs. AFC (Losses to all AFC East teams)
Head Coach: John Fox- Career: 71 Wins (Franchise's All Time Leader), 57 Losses (Three seasons above .500; Three seasons below .500, Two .500 seasons). Three playoff appearances, one NFC Championship (2003)
2010 NFL Draft (10 Selections):
- Round Two, Pick 16:Jimmy Clausen- QB from Notre Dame
- Round Three, Pick 78:Brandon LaFell- WR from LSU
- Round Three, Pick 89:Armanti Edwards- WR from Appalachian State
- Round Four, Pick 124:Eric Norwood- LB from South Carolina
- Round Six, Pick 198:David Gettis- WR from Baylor
- Round Six, Pick 202: Jordan Pugh- DB from Texas A&M
- Round Six, Pick 204:Tony Pike- QB from Cincy
- Round Seven, Pick 223:RJ Stanford- DB from Utah
- Round Seven, Pick 249:Robert McClain- DB from UConn
Key Departures: Julius Peppers- DE, Jake Delhomme- QB (Released), Damoine Lewis- DT (Released) Ma'ake Kemoeatu- DT (Released), Na'il Diggs- OLB (Released), Dante Wesley- CB, Landon Johnson- LB, Brad Hoover- FB (Released), Chris Harris- S (via trade with Chicago)
Key Arrivals: Brian Witherspoon- DB (Detroit), Marcus Hudson- DB (San Fran), Wallace Wright- WR (NY Jets), Aaron Fransisco- S (Indianapolis)
Steelers Tie-In: The Carolina Panthers have long been the rumored destination of former Steelers coach and icon of the Men With Prevalent Chins of America Association, William Laird Cowher a Raleigh native.
Tampa Bay is smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding process. After parting ways with most of the coaching staff and several big name, all-time Tampa greats over the past years, this team features a young nucleus of potentially great players. Josh Freeman, in my opinion, is the real deal. He was drafted last year as a "project" quarterback, but stillwent earlier on in the first, which shows you what kind of talent he is projected to be. With several runningbacks at Coach Morris' ready, Freeman has some help, but none are great top tier talents, just solid players. Bringing in some young receivers, it is fairly safe to say that their will be some growing pains by the Bay. Although, I think both of their picks at receiver are really good, neither has done anything yet. I think Mike Williams might be the real surprise player in their draft class, kind of a Mike Wallace type pick, but not with Wallace's skillset. Defensively they showed little little pass rush, they attempted upgrade the weakness of interior line play, drafting a skilled rusher in round one, Gerald McCoy, and a pass rusher with strength, Brian Price, in round two. With linebackers Barrett Ruud and Geno Hayes getting another year together, they can be the strength of this defense for years to come. The great Ronde Barber will still be around, tutoring Aqib Talib and the rest of the secondary. Why don't I name more of the secondary, well because I can't. They experimented with moving aging thumper Jermaine Phillips to linebacker last year, but injuries eventually forced him back to safety, and then the injury bug caught up with him too. I look for more out of this defensive group this year, but my expectations are still fairly low.
2009: 3 Wins, 13 Losses (.188%); 244 Points For (28 TD's); 1-7 at Home (Losses: Dallas, NY Giants, Carolina, New England, New Orleans, NY Jets, and Atlanta); 2-6 on the Road (Losses: Buffalo, Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and Carolina); 0-4 vs. AFC (Losses to all AFC East teams)
Head Coach: Raheem Morris- Career: 3 Wins, 13 Losses (One season below .500)
2010 NFL Draft (9 Selections):
- Round One, Pick 3:Gerald McCoy- DT from Oklahoma
- Round Two, Pick 35:Brian Price- DT from UCLA
- Round Three, Pick 39:Arrelius Benn- WR from Illinois
- Round Three, Pick 67:Myron Lewis- CB from Vandy
- Round Four, Pick 101:Mike Williams- WR from 'Cuse
- Round Six, Pick 172:Brent Bowden- P from VaTech
- Round Seven, Pick 210:Cody Grimm- LB from VaTech
- Round Seven, Pick 217:Dekoda Watson LB from FSU
- Round Seven, Pick 253:Erik Lorig- DE from Stanford
Key Departures: Chris Hovan- DT (Released), Antonio Bryant- WR, Matt McCoy- LB, Jimmy Wilkerson- DE, Byron Leftwich- QB
Key Arrivals: Reggie Brown- WR (via trade with Philadelphia), Sean Jones- S (Philadelphia), Jon Alston- LB (Oakland)
Steelers Tie-In: Many draw comparisons between present Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Buc's coach Raheem Morris. Both were hired at a young age, with defensive backrounds. The two worked together in Tampa at one point. Both were employed as defensive backs coaches with Tampa as well. This offseason the Steelers also signed former Tampa special teams captain, safety Will Allen. Allen, entering his seventh season out of The Ohio State University is expected to help shore up a special teams unit that was one of the Steelers weakest links last season.