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Ear to the Ground

EAR TO THE GROUND - 2005 SEASON (Week One Recap)

By Bob Magaw

"The cosmos speaks in patterns" - Roger von Oech (paraphrase of Heraclitus)

"Winning is our business" - Bill Parcells (motto for Cowboys 2005 season)

The subject matter of ETTG is IDP with an emphasis on Dynasty leagues. Ear To The Ground was chosen for this column's title to convey a sense of detecting rumblings in the distance... an ability essential to project a prospect from college to pro and rookie to veteran. It will consist of four sections : Team Reports, a Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter, an In-Depth Profile and a strategy section called Cracking the Code. The team reports will be covered on a rotation (ARI - KC, MIA - WAS) every other week. The events that wash over the IDP Dynasty world and alter its landscape move at a slower rhythm and tempo and according to longer cycles than redraft leagues, making weekly coverage superfluous. IDP focus will be on the impact positions of LB, DE and S... exceptional DTs and CBs will be noted for leagues that differentiate DE/DT and S/CB. Dynasty content is geared towards youth. Like most successful working rosters that employ a blend of production and potential, there will be a balance of rookie and veteran coverage in the mix. FBG IDP content is complementary and interlocking. Upgrades/Downgrades and Strong/Weak Plays articles will by their nature see new names bubble up to the surface from week to week. Ear to the Ground will identify key players early on and can be thought of as a watch list for the whole season as it unfolds.

TEAM REPORTS

ATLANTA - Though DE Patrick Kerney may not garner as much attention as the Strahan's, Rice's and Taylor's of the world, he has a workmanlike 42 sacks since 2001. His sacks (and the Falcons as a defense) were closely synched last season to the presence of free agent revelation and ex-Raider DT Rod Coleman. He has compiled 11+ sacks in two of the past three seasons (despite missing a combined five games in '02 & '04) and has clearly established himself along with Vikings prodigy Kevin Williams as the most devestating, dominant pass rushing interior DL in the game. Coleman can't be blocked solo and is a catalyst in creating playmaking opportunities for the rest of his teammates. The attention opposing OLs must devote to containing his freakish blend of power and agility frees up others and helps spring them on the QB. Kerney and Coleman picked up where they left off in 2004... each getting a sack for the team's only two on McNabb in the MNF season opener and re-enactment of the last NFC Championship game. MLB Edgerton "Ed" Hartwell was one of the most coveted free agents in the off-season at any position. With Coleman's roaring success, owner and Home Depot magnate Arthur Blank whipped out the check book again to secure the former Raven ILB. His didn't exactly have a sizzling debut against the Eagle's, but Andy Reid isn't known for pounding Westbrook into the middle. WLB Keith Brooking overcame an injury-marred start to his career with a run of top 5 performances from the MLB position. Since sliding to the weak side in the new Mora regime, his stats have been pedestrian. DeAngelo Hall could be a burgeoning star as a pure, shut down cover corner... but in the mirror opposite, perverse, twisted logic of the IDP world, good is bad... QBs will eventually learn to not test him. Safety Bryan Scott was looking like one of the league's brightest young defensive stars... this could be a crossroads year to see if he can stay healthy and how he adjusts to the FS position. When on his game, he is a playmaker capable of racking up points with sacks, FFs and INTs.

BUFFALO - The Bills may have the best defense in the NFL, and completely throttled and destroyed the Texans offense. After only getting one sack in the first month of the 2004 season, DE Aaron Schobel got off to a blistering start with two sacks against Houston. He quietly has amassed 35+ sacks since 2001, and looks to be on the threshold of stardom. Bookend Chris Kelsay is frequently compared to fellow-Cornhusker alumni Grant Wistrom due to their measurables, intensity and playing style... he pitched in a sack, and could also be primed for a breakout season. MLB London Fletcher (10 combined tackles with five solos) and Takeo Spikes comprise what is probably the top duo in the league. Spikes began the season where he left off last year, with five combined tackles, a sack and FF. He was one of the top big play LBs last season in terms of sacks, FFs and INTs. Buffalo's secondary is very talented and under-rated. CBs Nate Clements and Terrence McGee are complemented by the savvy and still skilled deep patrol of SS Lawyer Milloy and FS Troy Vincent (three INTs between them). The ex-Dolphin and Eagle CB is making a seamless transition to the inside as other CBs with the athleticism to make the switch smoothly have before... such as Ronnie Lott, Rod Woodson and Aeneas Williams in the twilight of their careers. Milloy is probably not at the apex of his career arc and trajectory, but is still playing at a relatively high level.

CAROLINA - The Panthers were showing signs of being a resurgent team, and have been a popular choice along with the Eagles to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The surprise NFC Super Bowl representative in 2003 endured a nightmarish, injury-riddled start to last season... they nearly clawed their way back into the playoffs only to lose in their final game to NFC South nemesis, the Saints... who bested them again to kick off the 2005 season. Two time Pro Bowl DT Kris Jenkins is already done for the year with a blown ACL after being shelved for the season early last year due to shoulder surgery. His loss hurts as he might be the most irreplaceable player on the defense, and his absence will have a negative impact on the season. DE Julius Peppers is garnering a lot of attention as an early Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He is becoming more of a force against the run and could be evolving into an almost unstoppable pass rushing weapon... possibly slowed by a pre-season ankle injury, he failed to get to New Orleans QB Brooks. If sound, he is one of the most likely emergent young super star DEs to have a multi-sack game on a given week, or lead the NFL in sacks in a given season. MLB Dan Morgan was re-upped to a multi-year extension in the off-season... perhaps the team is second guessing whether they should have secured the services of WLB Will Witherspoon first... he looked like everybody else was flowing in real-time and he was in bullet-time. The fourth year former Bulldog was all over the field with 12 combo tackles (11 solos), and is coming off a Takeo Spikes-like breakout 2004 season filled with big plays (three sacks and four INTs among league leaders at his position). Last season's first round rookie sensation Chris Gamble and FA Seahawks import Ken Lucas shared the NFC lead in INTs in 2004 (six), and should be a dynamic duo in short order. Things are a little more unsettled in the Panthers deep patrol. Witherspoon's former Georgia teammate Thomas Davis (1.14 '05), who mostly played SS in college but was graded by the team's scouts and coaches as a superior overall LB prospect to Derrick Johnson, is playing SS for now but could face some obstacles in transitioning to the pros... he doesn't have a lot of experience in coverage. If his strengths of going forward and attacking the QB and ball carriers in the open field can be incorporated into the overall defensive design and his weaknesses schemed around to avoid isolation coverage situations, he has the talent to be dominant in the future. Some scouts think he is the top overall defensive talent in the entire draft. He could easily end up at SLB as soon as this season, depending on how he fares in the secondary... and contingent on the status of Witherspoon's contract negotiations, could emerge as the Panthers WLB of the future... though Carolina is said to be interested in bringing him back if it can be worked out.

CHICAGO - DE Adewale "Wally" Ogunleye, Pro Bowl MLB Brian Uhrlacher, CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman and SS Mike Brown are the Bears best defensive players and all missed substantial parts of the season or were rendered ineffective through injury. They lost despite giving up only three John Hall FGs... the defense better get used to it, as the Bears have been forced into starting 2005 fourth round QB Kyle Orton. Chicago may need to hold opposing offenses to one-two field goals just to have a chance at .500... they just might do it with a defense that looks rejuvenated... Brown had nine solos, Uhrlacher had nine combined tackles (eight solos) with a sack and FF, Tillman had seven solos and a FF and O-Gun had five solos, one sack and a FF. It was good to see all the team's defensive principals atop the box score. In 2003, Lovie Smith (a Tony Dungy Cover Two disciple) led the Rams to the the NFL lead in forced turnovers... with other talented players on the important side of the ball like WLB Lance Briggs, DT Tommie Harris, DE Alex Brown and CB Jerry Azumah, look for the Bears to fly to the ball carrier all season and force a lot of turnovers in an effort to help take the pressure of a very young offensive core with Orton, prized top five first round RB Cedric Benson and the good looking RAC WR Mark Bradley all being rookies.

CINCINATTI - MLB Odell Thurman and SLB David Pollack are #1 and #4 on the DROY meter. Thurman will be covered in the next In-Depth Profile. The Bengals 2005 second and first round picks were Georgia teammates (with the Panthers Thomas Davis) and got off to a strong start... Marvin Lewis may have finally stemmed the tide of the past two years mediocre performances turned in by his defense. Pollack has made the transition from elite collegiate DE to ascendant pro OLB conversion seemingly instantaneously. Thurman has the talent, athleticism, instincts and physical nature to thrive in the center of the cyclone that is a Marvin Lewis defense... he should see a lot of action funnelled towards him and looks like he is up to it. It should be fun to watch these twin Tyros develope throughout the season. One thing is for sure... with the explosive offense led by Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson and Chad Johnson, if they are as good as advertised, the Bengals could be a lot better and put some teeth back into their bite for the 2005 season. Playoff aspirations could very well soon turn into playoff reality.

DALLAS - DeMarcus Ware is this week's installment of the profile section. He looked like the top rookie defender (probably at any position) in the pre-season... though he didn't show up in a massive way in the first box score, he looks like a mortal lock to be one of the top 3-5 defensive players from this class, if not the best. HC Parcells had a short list of three players he wanted to get with his two first round picks (the second acquired in the trade with the Bills for QB JP Losman) to facilitate the conversion from the 4-3 to a 3-4 front : DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and Marcus Spears. Fortune smiles on the well prepared, and the Cowboys emerged with both Ware and Spears. Despite a lot of down time in training camp due to a knee injury, he has already flashed a lot of athleticism for a big man... he was the concensus top 3-4 DE in the draft (just as Ware was thought by many to be the premier 3-4 OLB). DT Kevin Williams has been used as a comp player, and they have a similar rare combo of power and agility... Spears is a physical specimen who was one of the top TEs and basketball recruits in the nation. The rich got richer when Parcells snared OLB Kevin Burnett in the second round and stole DE Chris Canty in day two... he had first round talent but fell due to medical questions no longer of concern. Canty should catch on quick as he played at Virginia for long-time Parcells protege and cronie, Al Groh. He is nearly Too Tall Jones-like in height, yet has among the best feet and reactions in the draft for his position... he moves like a much smaller man than his listed 6'7", and has rare ability to track the ball carrier and get to him in the run game. The Dallas secondary looks like it will be better at least three different ways. Coveted FA CB Anthony Henry justified high expectations fueled by his monster contract with an even more monster first game (12 combo tackles with 10 solos and an INT), former high first round CB Terrell Newman looks to have regained his confidence after a shaky soph slump season and similar pedigree SS Roy Williams can begin to assert himself like he did in his brilliant rookie campaign... Henry's talent and coverage skills will allow Roy to move closer to the LOS and showcase his playmaking ability again... seven combo tackles (five solos) with a half sack are a good start. If turned loose, he is one of the half dozen top defensive players in the league, with Peppers, Lewis and Reed. If the youngsters are coached up by the MacArthur-like Parcells and play to their potential, the 'boys could live up to the Big Tuna's motto for the Cowboys 2005 season (see above).

DENVER - Penalty Box

GREEN BAY - Penalty Box

INDIANAPOLIS - DE Dwight Freeney is the best speed rusher in the game, and the moniker "speed" rusher may not even be needed as a qualifier. If he becomes a little more attentive in run support, he could not only bring his own game but the team's to a higher level. Freeney is like a big cat... a 260 lb, 4.4 runnin, 37" jumpin, 450 lb benchin, 650 lb squat liftin cat. His continued development will be instrumental and pivotal in the Colts fortunes this season. He makes the DL around him better. MLB Gary Brackett was voted AFC Defensive Player of the Week for pacing the team in tackles (10 with eight solos) along with two INTs. HC Dungy is the Godfather of the Cover Two scheme... a hallmark of this system is to have a MLB with the athleticism and speed to cover the deep route in the void left in the middle of the deep secondary from the signature two deep safety coverage. Brackett has the field awareness and ball skills of a smaller man... oh, yeah... he is a smaller man. Actually, at about 5'10" 235, he is similar in stature to the late Sam Mills. Last season was a year of transition for the LB corp. After losing Pro Bowl-caliber WLB Mike Peterson and SLB Marcus Washington in successive seasons, WLB David Thornton had to get adjusted to his new SLB role, and new WLB Cato June was still smoothing out the kinks in the position change from SS. Against the Ravens in the intial Sunday night game, the LBs looked fast, aggressive, instinctive & were swarming to the ball... Thornton had eight combined tackles (six solos) and June had nine tackles (seven solos) with one INT and a TD return. It is hoped an infusion of secondary talent can help propel the defense and team to greater heights. SS/FS Bob Sanders has Pro Bowl ability if he can stay healthy (already has a concussion), and CB Marlin Jackson looks destined to emerge as one of the top DBs from the class of 2005. They add a physical, menacing dimension to the overall defense. CB Donald Strickland was put on IR early in the season for the second year in a row. This guy makes Evil Knievel look healthy in comparison.

KANSAS CITY - After the Chiefs rid themselves of the 2004 delusion that they could change the DC without changing the cast of characters and thinking it would have an impact (that is like thinking you could cast Steven Seagal in a production of Hamlet and pull it off by changing directors), GM Carl Smith opted for the talent influx route. Good call, Carl. Though the front four may not be markedly different the back seven should be vastly improved. If the pricey and risky Kendrell Bell can stay on the field, the former Defensive Rookie of the Year can be a difference maker... he is thick, athletic, a monster hitter and plays angry. Coveted first rounder Derrick Johnson might make the record books from the WLB slot... for now, owners will have to content themselves with the fact that he has looked very comfortable at SLB since the pre-season, and appears poised to dominate. He is in the ETTG DROY meter top three (as are Odell Thurman and DeMarcus Ware) with a bullet, and will be the subject of an In-Depth Profile in the near future. All DJ did in his first pro game was lead the team in tackles with nine (eight solos) and add a sack and FF. He is very mature and advanced after staying four seasons at Texas, and is a tremendously gifted athlete who was one of the best players in the Lone Star state as a highly touted prep... the brilliant, multi-talented Julian Peterson could be a comp player. Even third year MLB Kawika Mitchell looks like a different player... after being a disappointment and getting perilously close to bust status, he clearly appears to have turned the corner and can probably now be viewed as an ascendant player. Stud secondary FA acquisitions, SS Sammy Knight and CB Patrick Surtain had a big impact in the box score and are expected to have an even bigger impact on the Chiefs season. Among the biggest surprises in week one was how well the Chiefs and Colts defenses performed... both nearly pitched shutouts, giving up meaningless late scores. If their respective defenses can sustain their intensity and effectiveness, the two high powered offensive juggernauts could be on a collision course for the Super Bowl, despite the looming presence of the Patriots and Steelers in the stacked AFC.

Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

  1. Odell Thurman, MLB, CIN, 2.16, Georgia (6'1" 230)
  2. DeMarcus Ware, OLB/DE, DAL, 1.11, Troy State (6'4" 232)
  3. Derrick Johnson, SLB, KC, 1.15, Texas (6'4" 235)
  4. David Pollack, SLB, CIN, 1.17, Georgia (6'2" 260)
  5. Antrel Rolle, CB, ARI, 1.8, Miami (6'1" 202)
  6. Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  7. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, SEA, 2.13, USC (6'0" 240)
  8. Thomas Davis, SS/OLB, CAR, 1.14, Georgia (6'3" 230)
  9. Mike Patterson, DT, PHI, 1.31, USC (6'0" 285)
  10. Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
  11. Marlin Jackson, CB, IND, 1.29, Michigan (6'1" 200)
  12. Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)

    Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida? (6'2" 240)
  • Shawne Merriman, OLB/DE, SD, 1.12, Maryland (6'4" 245)
  • Marcus Spears, DE, DAL, 1.20, LSU (6.4 295)
  • Kevin Burnett, OLB, DAL, 2.10, Tennessee (6'3" 235)
  • Shaun Cody, DT/DE, DET, 2.5, USC (6'3" 290)
  • Carlos Rogers, CB, WAS, 1.9, Auburn (6'1" 194)
  • Nick Collins, FS, GB, 2.19, Bethune Cookman (5'11" 193)
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones, CB, TEN, 1.6, West Virginia (5'11" 185)
  • Corey Webster, CB, NYG, 2.11, LSU (6'0" 197)
  • Barrett Ruud, MLB, TB, 2.4, Nebraska (6'2" 240)
  • Chris Canty, DE, DAL, 4.31, Virginia (6'7" 290)
  • Jonathan Babineaux, DT, ATL, 2.27, Iowa (6'2" 280)
  • Matt Roth, DE, MIA, 2.14, Iowa (6'4" 270)
  • Brodney Pool, FS/SS, CLE, 2.2, Oklahoma (6'3" 208)
  • Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, STL, 3.2, Stanford (5'11" 220)
  • Bryant McFadden, CB, PIT, 2.30, Florida State (6'0" 180)
  • Jerome Carter, SS, STL, 4.16, Florida State (5'11" 220)
  • Alfred Fincher, MLB, NO, 3.18, Connecticut (6'1" 240)
  • Lance Mitchell, MLB, 5.32, Oklahoma (6'3" 245)
  • Luis Castillo, NT, SD, 1.28, Northwestern (6'5" 305)
  • Justin Tuck, DE, NYG, 3.10, Notre Dame (6'5" 261)
  • Travis Johnson, DE, HOU, 1.16, Florida State (6'5" 285)
  • Donte Nicholson, SS, TB, 5.5, Oklahoma (6'2" 216)
  • Justin Miller, CB, NYJ, 2.25, Clemson (5'11" 200)
  • Eric Green, CB, ARI, 3.11, Virginia Tech (6'0" 197)
  • Leroy Hill, WLB, 3.35, Clemson (6'1" 225)
  • Daryl Blackstock, SLB, ARI, 3.32, Virginia, (6'4" 240)
  • Ron Bartell, CB/FS, STL, 2.18, Howard (6'1" 213)
  • Travis Daniels, CB, MIA, 4.3, LSU (6'1" 184)
  • Kelvin Hayden, CB, IND, 2.28, Illinois (6'0" 198)
  • Stanley Wilson, CB, DET, 3.8, Stanford (6'0" 190)
  • Fabian Washington, CB, OAK, 1.23, Nebraska (5'11 180)

    On Injured Reserve

  • Dan Cody, OLB/DE, BAL, 2.21, Oklahoma (6'5" 265)

In-Depth Profile

DeMarcus Ware

Burst. Explosiveness. Instant Acceleration. Suddenness. All these attributes help skill position players to run away from defenders in the open field. But there is a flip side. In the service of an IDP stud like Ware, they help him to CLOSE on the QB and ball carrier. On film he really pops off the screen. Soon-to-be-first-ballot-HOFer Jerry Rice did not run the fastest 40... but he looked the fastest when he was attcking the ball. Ware can look like he is the fastest player on the field when attacking the ball carrier. He dominated at tiny Troy State (quickly becoming an NFL DE "factory", also recently having produced big time pass rush prodigy Osi Umenyiora of the divisional rival Giants). Despite level of competition concerns, he was one of the fastest risers in the post-combine/workout draft evaluation process, rocketing all the way to the 11th pick. Ware was the first non-CB off the board, and whether he is viewed more as a natural 4-3 DE or Parcell's inspired 3-4 OLB conversion, was the first LB or DE selected... ahead of the likes of Thomas Davis, Derrick Johnson, fellow-DE/OLB tweeners Shawne Merriman and David Pollack and pure edge rushing talent Erasmus James. This rare hybrid has a futuristic array of skills that hark back to the retro exposiveness and playmaking athleticism of Lawrence Taylor... considered by the some the greatest LB and maybe even defensive player in NFL history. At his best when going forward and turned loose in attack mode, he looked surprisingly proficient in coverage during the pre-season. His instincts, recognition and field awareness appear to be exceptional, which will smooth the transition from a three-point stance to playing while standing up. Parcells expresses compliments and praise about as often Bill Belichick guarantees future victories and touts past accomplishments... so when he compared Ware to #56 in the midst of the draft it was a strong hint that the Tuna thinks so highly of his prized defensive weapon that he is confident he has the talent, intangibles and is so wired that he can handle the extra and added pressure of huge expectations. He is the centerpiece of the Cowboys intent to switch back and forth from a 4-3 to 3-4 and back, according to their ability to make adjustments in-game and from week-to-week to exploit the best possible matchups, attack the QB and as much as possible keep the offensive coordinator on his heels and guessing where the pressure is coming from. With developement (Parcells is a stickler for details, and Ware has the requisite work ethic), Ware has the kind of natural ability and raw skills that could quickly be molded into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

Cracking the Code - The Domino Principle

As there are no leagues that consist exclusively of defensive players, coverage will occasionaly encroach on offensive strategy. Choosing the right time to take certain players and positions can have fateful consequences. Drafting a QB early can make you stronger at an all-important position... but can trigger off a cascade effect that ripples through the rest of your lineup. Pick one player at the wrong place or time impacts on your roster not just once, but in multiple ways. If instead of selecting a skill position sequence of RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, QB one opts for QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR... the QB likely will be better, but you could conceivably be worse at five other RB/WR positions. By holding off on non-QB skill position players, you are than forced to draft your RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2 and WR3 exacly one round later than you would have otherwise. Elite QBs like Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper are capable of producing at such massive levels they can confer on the owner an almost unfair advantage... as if they were allowed to start two-three extra players. But the wrong early QB choice can exact a heavy toll on the composition of your team and, in some cases, be very difficult to surmount.

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