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Ear to the Ground

"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.


MINNESOTA - In recent seasons, teams that begin the season 0-2 have their chance of making the playoffs plummet all the way down to 15%... no teams did it last season. BTW, 1-1 teams make it about 40% of the time (only 12 slots out of 32 teams). Begin 2-0 and the odds soar to nearly 65% of securing a post-season berth. MIN has stood for min-imal defense so far, having been LIT UP for 61 through two games. The organization was lauded along with DAL and KC for revamping their defense with a supposed influx of talent... to date the formula has worked better for the Cowboys and Chiefs. CB Antoine Winfield led the team with 9 tackles and is the best pound-for-pound tackler in the NFL. Having C-Pepp throw 5 INTs will tend to pump up the stats, but we saw these kind of box scores from him routinely last season... his coverage weaknesses were exposed by Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson & Co. Fortunately he won't face many QB/WR batteries as good during the Vikings remaining 14 games. CB Fred Smoot is strictly a cover corner and not consistently a force in run support like his Tasmanian Devil counterpart. WLB E.J. Henderson was highlighted in the pre-season IDP Sleepers article. DC Ted Cottrell is mixing in 3-4 looks, rotating in Keith Newman and using Dontarrious Thomas in the nickle package, decreasing the liklihood of a breakout season... suspiciously resembles a Pats-like LBBC system. MLB Sam Cowart, just like the 2004 season, couldn't make it to week two unscathed... this time there wasn't a Jonathan Vilma to pick up the slack. Long-time Packers FS Darren Sharper came out like gangbusters in week one but came back to Earth against the Bengals. He may turn up on the injury list this week, a place he occupied all too frequently in Green Bay last season, which may have contributed to the teams seeming disinterest in re-signing him. DT Kevin Williams has only 3 tackles and 1 assist with no sacks in the early going. The third year super star (the interior defensive lineman equivalent of Julius Peppers) seemed poised for a monster year, next to Bills import Pat Williams and inside Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James. He seems to have fallen into the same funk that has afflicted the whole team so far... a recent high profile domestic battery allegation may be weighing on him, as well. Getting pasted by a combined 61-21 in the first two games isn't exactly conducive to the DL pinning their ears back. DE Udeze was dinged up in the Bengals stomping. He hasn't taken the next step up predicted for him this season... the former Trojan terror did come out as a junior, and linemen can take a few years to develope. Patience is recommended. James (along with Udeze the second first round DE taken in as many drafts by the Vikings) may already have the most formidable array of pass rush moves among the team's DL, and will see his playing time increase in the coming weeks.

NEW YORK JETS - Things were looking bad after a heinous, ugly-looking clobbering of the run defense in a dominant week one clinic put on by the Chiefs... but they do that to a lot of people. The Jets have the makings of a dominant DL, with former Top 5 overall draft pick, DT Dewayne Robertson and first round DEs, John Abraham (despite reporting late over contract dispute, showed up in shape and already has 2 sacks and 2 FFs) and Shaun Ellis. Robertson it was learned in the off-season has an inoperable bone-on-bone condition in his knee... the loss of DT/NT Jason Ferguson to the Cowboys may have lasting and negative repercusions that ripple through the DL, overall defense and the collective fortunes of the team as a whole in the 2005 season. MLB Jonathan Vilma is an ascendant player with definite Top 5-10 potential (led the way in the rebound win against the Dolphins with 11 combined tackles)... WLB Eric Barton makes an excellent one-two punch. The team may have unearthed another day two find in SS Kerry Rhodes (huge game one with 10+ tackles), to go with last year's fifth round discovery and revelation, Erik Coleman. While the CBs have been sub-par for a while, second rounder Justin Miller could be a good one with some schooling, and in the meantime, is an explosive kick returner with the talent to quickly become one of the league's best in that department. He does have some maturity issues, as evidenced by his pre-draft arrest. DC Donnie Henderson is considered by many to be a rising star in the league, with the potential to nab a HC gig in the future.

OAKLAND - Penalty Box

PHILADELPHIA - Luckily Jeremiah Trotter didn't start woofing at the opposing team in pre-game warmups and was actually able to play in this one. He makes a powerful difference in the run game. The scouting term "downhill" is used a lot to decribe RBs, but can apply to the important side of the ball as well... Trotter is a downhill MLB. When the defense got off to a slow start last season with Simoneau in the middle and got pounded in the run game harder than a defective pinata, the mid-season insertion of Trotter into the starting lineup was THE difference for the rest of the season in making the overall run defense more physical, resilient, and... violent. He produced at a Top 10 clip once he started. Without an impressive box score to date, the 49ers were behind big early and were forced to quickly abandon the run game. The LBs that flank him are of interest, though Trotter was the only one to offer consistent production in 2004. SLB Dhani Jones had 4 tackles and an INT in the SF thumping on Sunday, and the ex-Giant could boost his stats if he becomes more comfortable with the scheme in his second year. New WLB Keith Adams added 4 solos and plays fast... he could be an upgrade. Philly hasn't really offered a dominant DL in a while. They rotate in fresh troops heavily, and DC Johnson generates a lot of pressure on QBs from exotic places, like S and CB blitzes. It should be mentioned in passing that first round DT Mike Patterson looks like the real deal, and may not only be playing the best ball for a interior DL among NFL rookies, but DL period. Three fourths of the PHI secondary made the Pro Bowl last year, and some thought Sheldon Brown should have made it. FS B-Dawk will turn 32 in a few weeks, but his off-season mixed martial arts training regimen has him playing like he is 22. He tied his career high in sacks (3) and INTs (4) in '04, led the team in tackles last week (5) and nearly led the team to a win single-handedly opening week with 6 combo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF and 2 PD. SS Michael Lewis is an up 'n comer (only 25) who has arrived... he is already one of the better SSs in the NFL, though both Dawkins and Lewis can be streaky... in the week one loss to the Falcons he had 9 combined tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF and 1 FR. CBs Lito Sheppard and Brown though young ably replaced old pros Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, comprise a rock solid tandem and were a big piece of the puzzle in the 2004 Super Bowl push. The Eagles are #5 in the league in scoring defense (8.5 PPG)... defense always seems to have the upper hand in the early stages of the season, but the birds are used to sitting near the top of the scoring defense leader board.

PITTSBURGH - ILB James Farrior led Steel-town with 6 tackles and 3 assists... a common occurrence last season, where he was narrowly edged foe Defensise Player of the Year by Ravens safety Ed Reed. The former Jet first rounder and Virginia teammate of Jamie Sharper is an athletic playmaker who added 3 sacks and 4 INTs in his stellar 2004 campaign. Though he turns 31 before the next playoffs, he continues to play at an extremely high level(among the league's best at his position). Farrior is a late bloomer and moves like a much younger player (not a full-time player in New York)... he looks similar to the ageless and venerable ILB/OLB Donnie Edwards, who is aging gracefully and remains a dominant player approaching his mid-thirties. It now seems like a long time ago whispers were heard that Polamalu was a bust and the PIT war room had misfired in paying extra to move up in the first round of the 2003 draft to snare the former USC All American SS. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and played a key role in a 15-1 defense, and looks even better in the early going. The Samoan rocket tied Farrior for the team lead in tackles (6) and the 3 sacks he added were good for an even more prestigious tie... an NFL record for most sacks in a game by a safety. OLB Clark Haggans had a strong game with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF. PIT 3-4 OLBs have racked up a lot of sacks in recent seasons (they are often converted collegiate DEs), such as Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, and before them, guys like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd... a fearsome black belt who once allegedly pulled a gun on his child to exhort them to do well in school (those wacky Steeler LBs). Tackle production can be inconsistent from this position, however, compared to a classic 4-3 MIKE MAN (MLB) or WILL (WLB). Though not old (28), Porter has a downtrend in combined tackles the past three seasons... 88, 65, 53. CB Ike Taylor has played well enough in the absence of an injured Willie Williams that he appears to have seized the job... "Peanut" Tillman's lower profile counterpart at small school LA- Lafayette is a physical specimen and superb athlete. Like the Bears Jerry Azumah, he began his career as a college RB and will bring a lot of ability to the table with extensive reps and intensive technique work. CBs Ricardo Colclogh (pronounced Coke-lee) and Bryant McFadden are second rounders from the last two drafts who look to have a bright future in the PIT secondary. The DL in a 3-4 aren't generally as good a play as their 4-3 counterparts, and that is the case here. DE Aaron Smith is their most viable score, but even than he would most likely hold more interest in deeper leagues that start 11 IDPs. The team is giving up an amazing low 7 points a game... #2 in the NFL behind only the shockingly unbreachable Colts (5 PPG).

ST. LOUIS - The Rams are giving up only 58 rushing YPG (#3 in NFL)... wouldn't have seemed possible to anybody who saw the 2004 playoff catastrophe against the Falcons, when their run defense got collectively stomped like a drunk tourist in way over his head at Pamplona. Easily the best St. Louis defender in the embryonic 2005 season, and one of the best players in the NFL has been DE Leonard Little. He leads all DL in FBG scoring through the first two weeks (24.5 points), and seems to be putting his forgettable 2004 season behind him, in which the specter of a potential mandatory multi-year prison term for a repeat offender felony DUI hung over him (since discharged in the off-season). Playing like a man possessed... like a man possessed... with his hair on fire. Little already has 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 FFs. The big plays aren't a fluke... he had 39 sacks in 41 games (2001-'03) and in the last two seasons in that span, 15 FFs in 28 games. The Rams infamous trio of first round DTs looks stouter this season, though as they are used more in a crash test dummy capacity to free up the LBs and not make plays themselves, this better play won't necessarily be reflected in the box score. The LBs haven't been racking up stats, but the 49ers were surprisingly ineffective in week one despite the win, and Kurt Warner threw the ball 42 times (against 16 runs), so put that in context and perspective... it is too early to hit the panic button due to the stat ower outage of MLB Chris Claiborne and SLB Pisa "5-0" Tinoisamoa. SS Adam Archuleta (8 combo tackles and a game turning sack) looks like he may emerge on the other side of what could have been a career-threatening herniated disc. If so, he is capable of making plays when on his game, especially sacks and FFs... he also has the burst, explosiveness and speed to take it to the house on FRs (his hands are appallingly bad and make the possibility of a rare INT sighting improbable). CB Travis Fisher needs to step up after the season loss of Jerametrius Butler due to a knee injury, who was starting to look like the team's best playmaker in the secondary, and a borderline Pro Bowler. The team is mixing in more press man coverage looks with the legacy Cover Two favored by former DC Lovie Smith... this could reduce CB tackles if so, though Fisher was second in tackles (8) against the Cards. He has been hurt A LOT since last season.


SEATTLE - The Seahawks fared much better with the clipped Falcons (Vick injured) at home than the Jaguars buzz saw on the road. DT Marcus Tubbs is beginning to play like SEA thought he would when they took him in the first round in 2004. He should make things easier for DE Grant Wistrom. The jury is still out on a revamped LB corp including former Raven and Texans great Jamie Sharper at SLB, though, rookie MLB Lofa Tatupu looks like the real deal and a keeper. If as good as advertised by the coaching staff, he could be part of the defensive nucleus the organization the team builds around, including Michael Boulware and Marcus Trufant, for the next half decade or more. Tatupu will be covered in a later profile, and had the first sack of his career against ATL, corralling the hard to lasso Vick. FS Kenny Hamlin is another potentially ascendant young defender for SEA... he is a nasty combination of hitting and coverage ability. His hit on Donte Stallworth can currently be seen on the intro to NFL films... look for the Green flash and the gold helmet flying away from the impact. He looks crazy enough to hurt himself as long as he can take the ball carrier down with him, launching himself like a human missile on a guided radar lock.

TAMPA BAY - As they are the resident geezers in ETTG, with their premier, elite defensive players (such as Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber) being on the wrong side of 30, we will pass over TB quickly. Not without first pointing out, though, the Bucs are only giving up an average of 8 PPG (#4 in NFL)... they are also only giving up 40 rushing YPG (#1 in NFL). DE/DT Dewayne White seems like a perennial breakout candidate, but may have to wait for Rice to hang up the cleats. MLB-of-the-future Barrett Ruud looks like a bigger, more athletic Chris Spielman. He is thought to be the man no later then 2006... but incumbent MLB Shelton Quarles may have somethiung to say about that. He was NFC Defensive Player of the Week, leading the team in tackles to go with a sack.

WASHINGTON - DC Gregg Williams is a master of Xs and Os... the Redskins are only giving up 10 PPG (#6 in NFL). They had better be strong, because so far it looks like they will be winning more games with their prowess on the defensive side of the ball... the offense looks curiously Spurrier-esque in its gross ineptitude (though they batted 1.000 in Hail Mary plays in the MNF shocker in Dallas, with the divisional arch-rival doing unto the Cowboys what they had inflicted on the Seahawks in a similar unbeliveable finish to a 2004 MNF contest). The great success enjoyed by the WAS defense is a head scratcher and a puzzler to some scouts, as they don't necessarily have top drawer talent at all positions... this is a testament to the impact of Williams' schemes, who is adept at confusing offenses and keeping them guessing on which direction the pressure on the QB is coming from. Despite a non-descript set of DEs, last years FA gem, ex-Giant DT Cornelius Griffin was a major find, as he had career best numbers with 70 combo tackles and 6 sacks... excellent numbers for an interior DL, and among the best after Kevin Williams and Rod Coleman. LaVar Arrington was supposed to blow up at the WLB position, but a lingering injury last season and slow healing one in this one have quashed his production for the near future. Lemar Marshall beat out a cast of thousands for the WAS MLB gig... in game one he looked like Antonio Pierce 2.0, than was slowed in week two with an injury... he gets a convenient bye week to try and recuperate. If his slightly undersized physical dimensions (230) can withstand the punishment and rigors of the position, he is a former collegiate safety who will flash some athleticism, explosiveness and playmaking ability in the open field (INT in game one, and among team leaders in tackles). Ex-Colt SLB Marcus Washington has been the Redskins best LB since last year, when he made the Pro Bowl. While usually SLB would be a hindrance in scoring potential, he led the team with 12 combined tackles Sunday... a routine occurence in 2004. CB Shawn Springs was a blast from the past as a free agent last season... he was a big play machine with numerous sacks and INTs. Keep an eye out for high first round CB Carlos Rogers, who could start before the season is over and may be a special player, superior to Pacman and comparable to Antrell Rolle. When the dust settles on the SS position, the winner (or last man standing after injury attrition) could be a goldmine and outscore the far more high profile and prominent Sean Taylor. Don't blow up your team to secure the services of the phenomenal Miami All American (set state record in rushing TDs as a Miami prep)... aside from playing FS and more dependent on week-to-week vagaries of INT opps, he has an unresolved felony case on the books that won't be resolved until the off-season. If convicted, he gets a mandatory multi-year prison sentence.

Defensive Rookie of the Year Meter

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

    Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida? (6'2" 240)
  • Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  • Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)
  • Shawne Merriman, OLB/DE, SD, 1.12, Maryland (6'4" 245)
  • Marcus Spears, DE, DAL, 1.20, LSU (6.4 295)
  • Chris Canty, DE, DAL, 4.31, Virginia (6'7" 290)
  • 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)
  • C.C. Brown, SS, HOU, 4.?, LA-Lafayette, (6'0" 200)
  • 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)
  • 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

Odell Thurman - The former Georgia teammate (along with the Panthers SS/OLB Thomas Davis) of fellow Bengals DROY Top 10 candidate David Pollack is #3 in FBG scoring among LBs (24.5 points) through the first two games. The kid has been a playmaker... adding to his 11 combined tackles an INT and 2 FFs, spearheading CIN to a league best +7 in the all important turnover differential column. The more highly decorated and touted Derrick Johnson of the Chiefs (subject of next week's In-Depth Profile) is close behind at #5 in FBG scoring among LBs (22 points)... the Raiders Kirk Morrison might be the rookie with the next greatest impact among IDPs so far. On film, Thurman's freakish talent roars off the screen... some attributes that separate him from the pack are superior instincts, an outstanding first step, quick feet, the ability to get off blocks, take good pursuit angles, sift through traffic and break down in the open field. Despite hitting with the force and impact of a 230 lb electric axe handle, he will improve on his tackling technique and learn to wrap up better under the tutelage of HC Marvin Lewis, who is a no-nonsense disciplinarian, a taskmaster and a stickler for fundamentals, and should be a positive influence on and role model for the mercurial MLB. But Thurman has natural ability and skills that can't be taught. He is a bad man, and is already beginning to elevate the overall physicality quotient of the entire team. Already called by some team insiders the "Chad Johnson" of the defense due to the supreme confidence he exudes and radiates, he is a born leader who leads by example. Thurman's cool under pressure is contagious... when asked by Lewis if he was ready for his first NFL game, instead of exhibiting typical rookie nerves, his dry and matter of fact come back was that it was just another day at the office. His constellation of physical/emotional/mental traits coupled with his intensity and passion for the game are reminiscent of 2004 DROY Jonathan Vilma, and he could be a perennial Top 5-10 LB as soon as... immediately. With DeMarcus Ware appearing to lag behind in the early going, it looks like a two horse race for the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year between Thurman and DJ. The Texas comet edges him out in athleticism, whereas the former Bulldog is a more explosive hitter. Come out soon to a stadium near you... where you will see Thurman... ANGRY AGAIN!

Cracking the Code - Football Is A Team Sport

Sometimes a team can plug in a new part on defense and do just as good or better... former Bronco and current Cards DE Bertrand Berry comes to mind. The Vikings attempted to bring in new starters at DT and DE (Pat Williams and Erasmus James), all three LB positions (MLB Sam Cowart, SLB Napoleon Harris and WLB E.J. Henderson in new role) and S and CB (Darren Sharper and Fred Smoot). When all these disparate elements are brought together, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that they aren't firing on all cylinders and are coming off the line sluggishly. Football is a team game that requires precise timing, knowledge of your teammates strengths and weaknesses, many reps playing together in game speed and conditions, etc. Golf, tennis and track are individual sports... football requires an entirely different level of behind the scenes coordination between teammates. The Vikings seem like a team in disarray... but they should improve over the course of the season as they play together and become a team. It is hard to read too much into their stats in the opening two games. An exciting developement with the Colts is that there have now been some players in the system for a few years (Freeney, Thornton, Doss, Sanders, Harper, etc.) that are learning to play together. If the DL does its job, this should boost stats for the LB and DB (by keeping blockers off the LBs and pressuring the QB into hurried and errant passes). If SLB Thornton is doing his job, a lot of action should get funnelled back inside to MLB Brackett and WLB June in pursuit. If the secondary does their job in coverage, this could cause the QB to hold the ball for the split second longer that is the difference between getting the ball away for a completion and a sack. Team work often trumps talent in the parity-driven new NFL... look no further than the success of the New England Patriots, Super Bowl champs in three of the last four seasons.


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