Well, the Summer Olympics are coming up (USA! USA!) and while this year doesn't seem to have the same kind of hype as the last summer Olympics - no Michael Phelps mania this time around - it's still exciting. Tragically, the best sport in the world, American football, has no place in the Summer Olympics. Let's be real - we'd be as dominant in football as we are in basketball, probably even more so. It's a fun game to imagine who we would send as our representatives to the world in the sport we love more than any other. In that light, I've put together, yet again, an Olympic team to send abroad to represent the country. I'm picking players and coaches based on talent, teamwork, fit for the system run by our selected coaching staff, and also character. Also, the games start soon, so they've got to be able to play now - no one with an injury to keep them out is eligible. These are our guys, after all, and we need to put a good face on for the Queen.
Coaches - The coaching staff we select will dictate the type of team we field and the systems we run.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers.
This really isn't as much of a homer pick as one might think. Tomlin gets the nod, more than anything else, for his personality. There are plenty of great head coaches, but I had to discard Jim Harbaugh because he's a jackass, Jim Schwartz is too volatile, Belichek has that whole cheating thing (in addition to being totally anti-fun). Mike McCarthy could be a good choice, but I want someone who will bring a little more attitude to the team, and Mike Tomlin has got attitude. Sean Payton would have been a contender, but then bounty gate happened. Tomlin has the best balance of attitude, charisma, leadership, and success. He's the guy - he's also good at giving his coordinators a lot of leeway and control over their units, which is good for this, because of the superstars he'll have in each coaching position.
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins.
Philbin is now the head coach of the Dolphins (and boy, dos that look like a rough gig). Still, he did outstanding work as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, helping Rodgers become the best quarterback in the league and giving the Packers a dynamic offense. I know their running game was awful, but they have crap at running back and their offensive line was none-too-outstanding either. That won't be the case here. I also considered Pete Carmichael, of the Saints (but I don't really want anyone associated with the bounty problems and Sean Payton was the play caller), Kevin Gilbride of the Giants, Cam Cameron of the Ravens (if he had used Ray Rice more, like he should, it was his to lose), and Rob Chudzinski of the Panthers.
Defensive Coordinator: Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, I entertained the thought of picking someone else like Vic Fangio of SF, Perry Fewell of the New York Giants, or Dom Capers of the Packers, and then I laughed. Any questions?
Special Teams Coordinator: Joe DeCamillis, Dallas Cowboys.
I don't know much about this area or even how to quantify it, but I have heard numerous times from the pundits that DeCamillis is an outstanding special teams coordinator. He gets the nod, I guess. Honestly, if we have to kick a field goal or punt - ever- I'll be surprised. We need a guy who's good on kick coverage, because I see Team USA kicking off a LOT.
Defense, 26 players - Hey, why is offense always listed first on these lists? I'm going defense first, because honestly, it might be the only 11 guys we need to field. LeBeau loves his zone-blitz with a 3-4 base, so that's how I'll be building the team. A 4-3 roster would look very different up front, obviously (Jared Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul, would be making the team, for example, but they aren't going to here).
Yes, I left Keisel off the list. I just don't think he makes this team, though I'd love to have him. Smith and Ngata get the start, teaming up for a massive end combination with some big play ability as well. Campbell is the best end in the NFL that no one has ever heard of, and definitely earned his brand new contract. Watt was only a rookie this year, but showed why he went so high, especially near the end of the season and the playoffs. He was a huge part of the Texans defensive surge and showed up with big plays from a normally low impact spot. These guys are going to rotate a lot, and any of these guys fresh is going to wreak havoc. Ngata can also fill in at the nose in a pinch.
Size. I wanted size in my nose tackles. Big Snack would have been a shoe in around three years ago, but with is injury and him coming off the field so often anyway, he can't make the squad. As a result, I'm going with Wilfork and Soliai, two huge veterans with everyone you want in a nose tackle. Wilfork goes first, but they'll be swapping out a lot - have to keep the big guys in good shape. Williams is an odd choice, it might seem, but he has experience at the nose in the 3-4 and also offers a touch of positional versatility - easier to run some sets with 4 down linemen with him on the roster, because he has some interior pass rush ability. A luxury choice, but I have the roster for it.
This was, by far, the hardest position to pick during this whole exercise. How do you leave guys like Von Miller off the list? It was a challenge, and I'm assuming that Harrison's knee and back issues won't keep him out. Still, we're taking four OLBs on this roster. Harrison plays the first two downs opposite Hali, who plays all three. Ware, who is a better rusher than Harrison but weaker in the run stopping and coverage department, comes in on third down at his place to get after the quarterback. Matthews spells Hali, who might actually be underrated and brings some size and strength to this crew, on the left. Harrison also gets to go back to ripping it up on special teams - as I said before, we'll be kicking off a lot. Woodley makes the roster as a luxury pick - I only had 24 guys here, so I can put him on the team, and as we know, pass rushers are ALWAYS at a premium.
Willis and Cushing line up next to each other to provide a dream mix of athleticism, talent, and smarts. The surprisingly gifted and productive Bowman and an always solid guy like Fletcher spell them. Athleticism, productivity, and some veteran leadership - not too shabby. These guys combine with the outside backers to make perhaps the most fearsome and athletic grouping of players in defensive history - I would HATE to be a running back.
This is a pretty good group. Revis was an obvious pick, and Joseph has been outstanding for two teams in two different systems - he's earned a place. Haden is the best young corner in the league by far, and will do a great job covering slot receiver. Grimes might be the most underrated guy on the defense - he gave up a staggeringly low completion percentage this year according to Pro Football Focus, yet got no credit for it, and Brandon Flowers is another name you might not have heard of, but he's outstanding. These guys will be blanketing receivers all day, and giving our 'backers time to destroy anyone brave enough to come out at quarterback.
The Seahawks safeties are the best tandem in the league - they're young, athletic, and talented. Thomas is a great center fielder and Chancellor is huge and lays the wood like no other safety in the game today, and they're rarely out of position. They get the nod as backups to the two greatest safeties of all time (whose styles will complement each other well, with Reed waiting patiently for a quarterback to throw up a duck after being thoroughly confused by Troy's incessant roaming) over guys like Eric Berry (concerned about his injury recovery), Eric Weddle (solid, but not spectacular), and LaRon Landry (who leaves something to be lacked in coverage). Graham makes the team because he's outstanding on special teams - he won't see the field ordinarily. Ever.
Offense, 24 players: The glamour guys and the big uglies. Philbin gets the reigns of this offense because he just took a team with a crap offensive line and jack at running back and made them one of the best and most efficient offenses ever. He's simply a good coordinator, and I don't hate him. This team is going to emphasize distribution - we could put basically anyone at QB with the talent he'll have around him. Tebow could take this team to the gold, but we've got someone even better at the money spot. We're also going to do some old school stuff - hammer the ball at them until they move up, then spread them out and send it deep to the wide outs. Ah, it will be a sight to behold.
Rodgers is the obvious choice. He's the MVP, just had the most efficient season in history, and is well-versed in Philbin's system. He is also highly accurate with a pretty good arm, and excellent at spreading the ball around. He's perfect for this, and his mobility is just a plus. Brees goes next - despite Bountygate, Brees remains the most accurate passer in history and his character and veteran leadership leaves little to be questioned. Also, like Rodgers, he's outstanding at getting the ball to anyone and everyone.
Whew. This is a cadre of backs. Sadly, the great Adrian Peterson is still rehabbing his knee, so he's out. Foster, McCoy, Rice, and Peterson are the four best in the league, but Foster gets the start because he can run, catch, and block - while McCoy and Rice are both outstanding at the first two, he's not as good as Foster at blocking, and I love backs who can block. Dammit, it's my team, and they're going to run it my way. Still, I love versatility in my backs, and all of these guys have it. Whoever has the hot hand is going to get the most touches, and they'll have to earn them in practice and during the game. I wanted Darren Sproles on here, but with all of these guys having the ability to catch, he just doesn't bring enough special skills, nor will there be enough touches to go around.
Fullback (1): Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens
That's right, a damn fullback. We're going to use one, if for no other reason than the joy it will be to watch Leach pop some of the miniscule players we're likely to see from the other countries. He's a great blocker with a mean streak, and has cleared the way for both Foster and Rice on some of their biggest seasons - he's making this roster, I don't care what anyone says.
This might seem an odd group to some - Gronkowski is an obvious choice, though his total meathead nature and the fact that he's a Patriot is a serious turnoff. He's too talented not to get the start, though, and it's not like he'll be the face of the team. I think the rest of the guys on the team will keep him from doing anything too stupid in England. Davis gets the nod over guys like Jimmy Graham or Jermaine Gresham because he's just as talented a receiver as they are (now that he's getting his shit together) but he's also very underrated as a blocker. I know he screwed around a lot, but he seems to be growing up and I think he'll make a good addition. Heath makes the roster because Tomlin loves him and he's the best blocker at the position in the game (except for maybe Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew). Heath also brings veteran leadership to this unit and the team as a whole.
Receiver (6): Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions; Andre Johnson, Houston Texans; Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals; Victor Cruz, New York Giants; Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
This is where the game gets ugly, and this is where it was REALLY hard to make decisions. How do I leave the games best deep threat, our own Mike Wallace, off the list? Doesn't the small yet might Steve Smith get on this roster? No Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and no Wes Welker? Well, sorry Wes, but you're a total snot and I hate your cocky, taunting guts, and so will the rest of the world. The Johnsons start on the outside because they're INSANE, and Megatron will be able to do nothing but laugh as the most athletic man in the history of the NFL simply outruns, outjumps, and utterly overpowers all in his way. Brown gets the start in the slot - premature and homerish you might think, but I believe one of our own analyses established that Brown was one of the most productive receivers per route run in the NFL this year, and his skill set (shifty, great hands, spectacular route runner, never-say-die attitude, YAC-machine, clutch performer) is perfect for the slot, and he'll reap the benefits of watching teams have fits trying to cover Megatron and the other Johnson, especially as they go deep. Fitz is the first guy off the bench and brings character and outstanding play to the team, while I just can't leave the always entertaining Cruz off the list - he's going to show the Latin world how you cha-cha in endzones. Hester gets a roster spot for his return ability - he goes over Brown, if he gets the game-day hat for some reason.
Thomas gets the start over Long at left tackle, because he's just slightly better (though perhaps more than slightly in the pass protection department). Long is still outstanding, however, and his strength and competitive nature will be great as he starts at right tackle (he's also the only Wolverine I've ever liked while they were still at U of M - sorry, Woodley, you get a pass for when you BECAME a Steelers, haha). Stewart is an underrated tackle who struggled a bit this year because of a calf injury, but he'll be bouncing back and he's solid in everything, so he'll be a great swing tackle. Albert barely makes the team, and doesn't get a hat on game days, but he provides positional flexibility between tackle and guard, and I like being deep on the lines.
Big, nasty, maulers. That's what I wanted, and that's what I've got. Nicks is the best in the game right now, as Hutchinson has declined a touch, and Yanda isn't far behind. Grubbs is a hell of a guard as well, and brings something I really appreciate - a touch of irony. Grubbs, the former Raven teammate of Yanda, was signed to be Nicks' replacement in New Orleans. Fun stuff, and these guys will make for a brutal interior.
This was actually a tough position - I don't know if the league has ever seen such great players at the center position. Myers, Pouncey (a now healthy one, that is), Nick Mangold, Ryan Kalil, and Scott Wells could all be in this place. However, I picked Myers because of his well-rounded skills - fabulous in both pass protection and run blocking - and he gets the start. I also ended up going with Pouncey, simply because of his versatility - I don't know how well the other guys would do at guard if they needed to play there, while we know Pouncey would be solid. Tomlin loves linemen who can play both ways, so I'll give him his boy.
Special Teams, 3 players - Ah, special teams - the ever underappreciated facet of football. We need a kicker, a punter, and a long snapper (no Harrison snaps, in the Olympics, okay?)
Perhaps the greatest ever, except for a younger Vinatieri? It's possible. He's got a monster leg too. It's almost sad we only need him for kickoffs and many, many extra points.
Punter (1): Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Hard not to go with Janikowski's compadre Shane Lechler, but Lee just posted one of the best seasons ever by a punter. He was a weapon unto himself, and partially responsible for the 49ers outstanding defensive success. He deserves the ticket to London, though it's unlikely he sees the field.
Long Snapper (1): Patrick Mannelly, Chicago Bears
I'll be honest - it's hard to find out much about long snappers. All I know is that when I was searching to find information about them, his name repeatedly came up as tip-top. He's listed as an offensive tackle, though he never sees the field at the position.
So that's it - that's my full, 53 man roster that I would pick were I field a US Olympic team. I'm sure you all have disagreements, so let me know!