4th of July weekend could be the dead period in the NFL. It has been forever since minicamp, and it will feel like an eternity until training camp starts (about a month!). That's why almost every blog is making little gimmicks just to put something out. I will say that I am liking what 18to88 is doing. I am a Reds fan and it is hard to find baseball blogs I enjoy, and 18to88 is the right level of fandom for me. I could care less about what the Reds' single-A team is doing or what was the ERA of the Reds 38th round pick. I just needed to say that. Now I will get onto the real story.
I was reading John Oesher's "Breaking Down the...", and I decided to rank the units of the team right now. Last year, defensive tackle would have obviously been the last one, but I don't think I can put them there now with Ed Johnson back and the drafting of Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. This will be difficult for me to do because I am having trouble thinking of a number one and a worst unit. It seems that all of the positions are pretty even for the most part.
14. Offensive Tackle
When healthy, I think Ugoh is a fantastic left tackle, and Ryan Diem holds his own, but the lack of depth is downright disturbing right here. Seriously, would they put Charlie Johnson at right tackle if Ryan Diem was out even after his 2007 performance there? Dan Federkeil is a good tackle, but I will be scared if we see him getting significant playing time. The depth here is just awful. It is the worst unit on the team, and I hope that Polian takes an offensive tackle in round one in the 2010 draft.
13. Special Teams
Coach R will hopefully change up this formerly awful unit, but looking at it, they still aren't great. The coverage should improve, but Vinatieri is aging and injury prone. The punter is a rookie. The punt returner is coming off of a major knee injury, and kick returning will just suck. I put Garcon in there, but it could be anyone. Not anyone good, mind you.
12. Offensive Guard
Injuries, injuries, injuries. That is the story of the offensive guards. Lilja is coming off of a bad knee injury, but I expect him to start against Jacksonville in Week 1. Pollak battled a whole mess of injuries last year and played poorly. I am a big Charlie Johnson fan now (bandwagoning it), but injuries keeps this unit at 12. If Lilja and Pollak aren't healthy, the offensive line is in big trouble.
11. Defensive Tackle
Projected Starters: Fili Moala, Ed Johnson (suspended for Week 1, Antonio Johnson starts in his place)
The depth at defensive tackle is just great now, but there is no experience. I believe Fili Moala will be a starter from Day One, but I am a huge Eric Foster fan and can see him starting. This is where I disagree with John Oesher. He has Antonio Johnson and Ed Johnson starting, but I cannot see the team starting two nose tackles. Fili Moala may be inexperienced, but he is a special talent. He is right around 300 pounds and he is already a better pass rusher than any other defensive tackle on the team. I believe that Keyunta Dawson will be the odd man out here. He is a major tweener and does not have the pure talent that Eric Foster has. Even if he did start some games last year, I don't feel like he is part of the plan for the future on the team.
10. Outside Linebacker
It's the inexperience of this unit that makes it so lowly ranked. Some would say that the outside linebackers are stacked. I disagree strongly. They have the potential to be great, but even with former starters Keiaho and Hagler now backups, they weren't great starters like I believe Wheeler and Session will be. Right now, Session looks like he will be the best outside linebacker since Cato June and maybe even Mike Peterson. He had his struggles last year, but he just flew into the backfield. If he didn't get the tackle, he disrupted the run enough to keep it from being a big play. The inexperience of this unit plus the lack of star starters makes this so lowly rated.
9. Middle Linebacker
Projected Starter: Gary Brackett
Could this be the last year of Brackett? It is his contract year, and I have an inkling that the team is looking for more size on defense. I still consider them to run a Tampa-2, but with the drafting of Terrance Taylor and Fili Moala along with the signing of Adam Seward, I think that size will matter to the team now. Brackett is the epitome of talented small linebackers. With Antoine Bethea being a free agent, I wouldn't be too upset if Brackett left in favor of Bethea. Even though I think Brackett may walk, he has been a major part of this team for a few years now. He should have made the Pro Bowl a couple of times now, and none of us will forget his great fumble return for a touchdown in the miracle comeback against Houston. I like Adam Seward. His size and speed is what I think the team is looking for. As I have said before, I think he will contribute this season and could be a starter down the road.
8. Running Back
Projected Starter: Joseph Addai
Don't read this wrong. This is not an indictment of this unit. It just shows how good this team is. A former Pro Bowler is the starter and a first round pick is the backup, but it is only the 8th best unit on the team. This is partially because Brown, Hart and Ball are so inexperienced and Addai had a down year, but this is a great team. I know we say it every year, but this is the most talented Colts team since 1984. I am amazed by this team all the time. I feel bad ranking them so low, but this team is too damn talented to put some of the units you will see later below running backs.
7. Tight End
Dallas Clark is a top 3 tight end in this league. Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are the only two better than him. The backups are a bit of a tossup, and their youth makes this only the seventh ranked unit. Tom Santi, Jacob Tamme and Gijon Robinson all only have one year of experience, and Tamme and Santi barely played last year. I am a huge Tom Santi fan, and as many of you know I believe he should be the starting H-back next year, but Robinson will most likely win the spot. Before tight end moves up on this list, I will want to see more of Robinson, Santi and Tamme.
6. Wide Receivers
This may be high, but I am not only a fan of the starters, but I like the depth here. There may be a lot of inexperience, but no one can deny the talent here. Wayne is one of the top 7 receivers in the league. Very few players have been able to do what he can do. If he can add more touchdowns, he will be considered one of the best in the game. Anthony Gonzalez is a player that I think will break out big time. Pierre Garcon seems to be impressing everyone. Compared to the top 3 receivers the past two years, Garcon being a sixth round pick from a D-III school makes him stick out. I am looking forward to seeing Garcon play in preseason so I will know if he is all that they say he is. Austin Collie looks like he could be the next Brandon Stokely. It will be interesting to see how he gets on the field with Wayne, Gonzalez and Garcon. The wide receiver competition will be the most interesting to watch in the preseason without a doubt, even if Garcon appears to be the favorite. Roy Hall could suit up as a Colt for the last time this preseason if he is injured again.
If I could trust in the health of the corners, they could easily be number one. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are my ideal Cover-2 cornerbacks. They are big, solid tacklers and are athletic. Both of them played multiple positions in college (Jackson at safety, Hayden at wide receiver), and they know what they are doing. However, Jackson is coming off of a bad knee injury, and the backups have been hurt too. Tim Jennings seems to be the favorite for nickelback, no matter how much that disappoints me. I prefer corners like rookie Jerraud Powers and returner TJ Rushing who are big, good tacklers, but may not be the fastest. Michael Coe could make an impact on special teams. I would love to see Powers or Rushing become the nickelback at some point in the season, but sadly it looks like Jennings job.
Projected Starter: Jeff Saturday
Saturday is an all-time great center. When comparing him to other recent Hall of Fame centers, he should get in once his career is over, but I have a feeling he won't get in. Saturday is the anchor of the offensive line. Just look at how pathetic they were without him last year. Jamey Richard has a bright future in the league and will be considered a major steal, but the offensive line was dazed and confused without Saturday there. Not signing Saturday would have been the worst possible thing for the team not involving Peyton and his knees. Thankfully the team brought back both Hayden and Saturday. Steve Justice is considered the backup center, but there is not one good reason for why he should play over Jamey Richard, who has Pro Bowls in his future.
Projected Starter: Who do you think?
Honestly, I could be the backup QB and this would be a top 4 unit on the team. That's how good Peyton is. He is the best QB in the league and by the time he retires he should unanimously be considered the best quarterback in league history much like everyone says Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver ever. By 2014 (my guess on when Peyton retires), he will have broken every big record for a quarterback and hopefully will have more rings. But as long as Tom Brady doesn't murder a family, some people will consider him the greatest QB ever even if he has only had one great year and cheated his way to 3 Super Bowls. Also, Jim Sorgi is a somewhat competent backup, but I don't trust him. Curtis Painter sucks and always will sucks. I don't care if the Colts took him. I haven't seen him throw a good pass longer than 20 yards.
Projected Starters: Antoine Bethea, Bob Sanders
I cannot stress how close #2 and #1 are. Both of the starters have been Pro Bowlers. When healthy, Bob Sanders is in the top tier of safeties along with Ed Reed and Troy Polomalu. The 2007 Defensive Player of the Year has battled injury because he throws his small 5-8 body all over the field. Hopefully with a better run defense he won't be needed to stop the run and can actually stay healthy. Antoine Bethea is one of my favorite players when he is not trying to tackle. His tackling technique is pretty embarrassing and is a good symbol for the Colts run defense over the past few years, but in pass defense he is marvelous. The depth at safety makes it possible for Sanders to miss games because of injury while the team keeps on winning. Melvin Bullitt burst onto the scene last year and dominated when Sanders was out. The team just resigned Matt Giordano, a great special teamer and solid backup safety. Jamie Silva was a 2008 UDFA who is a strong special teamer.
1. Defensive End
This was tough, but it is hard to rank a unit with two Pro Bowlers anywhere else but number one. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney terrorize QBs like no other. It has been great to see Robert Mathis constantly get better until he reached this point. With two defensive ends that can get to the QB before he has time to think about throwing is a great asset. Raheem Brock is a good run stopper who can play DT as well. Marcus Howard has the potential to be the next Robert Mathis with his blazing speed. Curtis Johnson was a UDFA and will be entering his second year. With only five defensive ends, Johnson could see the field more often along with Howard.
So defensive end is the top position for the team. Discuss, criticize, flame, praise, do whatever you want.