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Ear to the Ground

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

"Time to slap the taste out of these hillbilly's mouths" - (Broncos message board before the Chiefs MNF game)

"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

ARIZONA - Penalty Box

ATLANTA -

Will 2005 be the year the Falcons finally snap the dubious and improbable "distinction" of never having been able to put back-to-back winning seasons together? Leading the way on defense this week were the feisty and talented LB trio of WLB Keith Brooking (6 solos, 3 assists), MLB Edgerton Hartwell (5 solos, 3 assists) and SLB Demorrio Williams (4 tackles, 4 assists). DT Rod Coleman (4 tackles, 1 assist, 2 sacks, 1 FF) is making a play to be known as the best DT in the game, with DT Kevin Williams of the Vikings struggling to begin the season... he has put up sick sack numbers since joining ATL last year (and the trend extends even further back, to his tenure in the "Black Hole" with OAK). DE Patrick Kerney (3 tackles, 2 assists, .5 sack) didn't have a huge impact on the game statistically, after being severely throttled by Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones of the Seahawks the prior week. FS Bryan Scott (3 tackles, 3 assists) surprisingly has no big plays (sack, FF or INT) almost one month into the season and at the quarter mark... he doesn't seem to be able to create as much havoc from his new role as he was formerly able to from SS. CB DeAngelo Hall (3 tackles, 1 INT) got his second INT of the young season and is always a threat to take it the distance due to his borderline world class speed.

BALTIMORE - Bye (Bye Bye?)

BUFFALO - The big news was that Pro Bowl WLB Takeo Spikes went down for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Along with MLB London "Calling" Fletcher (8 tackles, 3 assists), he was the heart and soul of the defense and his passion for the game, intensity and toughness were contagious. From that standpoint he is virtually irreplaceable... yet the show must go on, so versatile Angelo Crowell ("little" brother of once promising former Lions WR Germane, since retired due to an injury-derailed career) who was primary back up at all three LB positions gets the nod. He put up a respectable 4 tackles and 4 assists in less than a full game and will no doubt be one of the more popular waiver wire adds in IDP leagues this week. FS Troy Vincent and CB Terrence McGee each had 7 tackles. Vincent is making a smooth segueway from CB to the inside, and has the athleticism to be one of the best in the NFL in the twilight of his career (much like Rod Woodson). SS Lawrence Milloy (3 tackles, 3 assists) is currently hindered by a cast on his arm. DE Aaron Schobel had an off game and has only 1 tackle in each of the last two games (Falcons and Bucs... also 2 assists against Tampa Bay) after the monster 2 sack opener against the hapless Texans. His bookend or DE counterpart Chris Kelsay had a strange looking box score, with 1 INT but no tackles or assists.

CAROLINA - Penalty Box

CHICAGO - The Bears have gone from Monsters of the Midway to monstrously middle-of-the pack. There will be days like last Sunday as they go through the growing pains associated with starting a rookie QB (Kyle Orton through 5 INTs). The CHI defense could be special and help to keep the team in a lot of games. SS Mike Brown turned in a dominant performance for the second week in a row (9 tackles, 1 assist) and should fluorish as the beneficiary of the FS-SS role switch. Stud CB "Peanut" Tillman was torched more times than the monster hiding place/shelter at the end of a Frankenstein movie. MLB Uhrlacher had a down game (for him) of 3 tackles and 3 assists, but could be primed to explode for a career season. Up 'n coming WLB Lance Briggs had a non-descript 3 tackles, but DE Alex Brown broke out with 7 tackles, tying a personal best the fourth year former Florida star set his rookie season. DE Adewale "Wally" Ogunleye alarmingly already suffered an ankle sprain in week two, but fortunately it was not of the devastating, high ankle-variety that hobbled him for much of last season. Part of a Nigerian royal lineage, he is trying to prove he is worth a king's ransom. O-gun gobbled up his second sack of the season, and his prospects are extremly bright if he can stay out of the training room whirlpool (he has the talent to be a top 5 DE).

CINCINNATI - The Anti-Bungles became the first team in nearly three and a half decades to amass 5 INTs in back-to-back games. New DC Chuck Bresnahan (replaced the departed/deposed Leslie Frazier) is getting a lot of play as being instrumental in the turnaround of the CIN defense. The torrid pace continued as the team zoomed to a league best +12 in the turnover differential column after just three weeks, with the defense leading the way (16 takeaways). MLB Odell Thurman and FS Madieu Williams are firmly in the sights of the 2005 ETTG watch list and will be monitored in this space closely... they could both be key IDPs league-wide in coming seasons. The CIN secondary has been SMOKIN with an NFL leading INT total. CB Deltha O'Neal has proven to be an outstanding addition through trade for HC Marvin Lewis... props for identifying an undervalued talent and helping to coach him up. Those are the kinds of little things that can help win championships. The Orange and Black Striped-ones are 3-0 for the first time in 15 years, and the arrow is definitely pointed up in the 2005 season.

CLEVELAND - Before Sunday, the Colts-Browns game looked like a real David vs. Goliath mismatch (though the first battle royale/death match admittedly turned out pretty well for the undersized, but undisputed champion)... new HC Romeo Crennell (ex-DC for multi-Super Bowl winning HCs Bill Belichick most recently... Bill Parcells before that) and his charges acquited themselves nicely. They held possibly the best team in the league to just one TD in the first quarter and just one FG in each of the second and third quarters (IND did get to the CLE 6 yard line with almost two minutes left, but Manning kneeled down three times to run out the clock). Crennell looks like he will be a strong and representative offshoot of the Parcells/Belichick coaching tree. He was very familiar with Manning from recent meetings in the playoffs (and regular season) when Crennell was with the Pats and presumably had a pretty good idea leading up to the game of how he wanted to defend the Colts. New England has been one of the best and stingiest defenses in the NFL during their current run of three Super Bowls in the past four seasons... NOT just because of talent and teamwork advantages, but also a fundamental difference in approach and outlook. Instead of letting their scheme dictate their game plan decisions and formulation, they let the game plan (and the particular circumstances of each unique encounter) drive the scheme... unlike the old school Lombardi philosophy of just running a few plays but mastering them and forcing the other team to adjust to YOU. Chamelon-like, NE would identify key strengths and weaknesses of their next opponent, and tailor their scheme, tweaking and modifying it from week-to-week to best exploit these ever-shifting matchup advantages. A kaleidoscope of different 3-4 and 4-3 looks morph into and out of each other throughout the season, from game to game, and often within games. This keeps the offense guessing and off balance, out of rhythm. The centerpiece of the new defense is ILB Andra Davis... he is second in the league in combined tackles (39... projects to 200+ over 16 games), barely nosed out by tackle machine and Dolphins MLB Zach Thomas. CB Gary Baxter was a big addition in the offseason, and his pairing with under-rated Daylon McCutheon (son of the former Rams RB great) comprise a fine tandem that could sneak up on some QBs and WRs. They are also solid in run support, each chipping in with a half dozen tackles. The depth chart in the secondary is a little fuzzy and it could be a while before the dust settles. The athletic, talented and highly regarded pair of second round safeties, second year SS Sean Jones and rookie FS Brodney Pool are no doubt the most gifted safeties on the roster, but not the most experienced or instinctive... in the meantime, FS Brian Russell and SS Chris Crocker will continue to be in a rotation. After the pre-season gutting of the Davis regime DL, they understandably don't possess a lot of super star talent there... and 3-4 DL rarely are enabled scheme-wise to distinguish themselves anyway, for our purposes.

DALLAS - The Cowboys got back to fulfilling Parcell's 2005 season motto (Winning Is Our Business) in a surprisingly hard fought and close battle with former NFC Championship foils the 49ers, after a disastrous week two lapse against bitter divisional rivals, the Redskins. If not for two inexplicable failures of the DAL secondary to keep the play in front of them in the closing minutes, the team would be 3-0. They are quickly becoming the Cardiac Kids of 2005 (along with the Jaguars... already 2004's Cardiac Cats), with each successive finish getting harder on the ticker than bad cholesterol... in fact, their games are best avoided altogether if you have a pace maker. Stats were pretty spread out and evenly distributed against SF Sunday. Beyond the top four in the tackle column, 18 Cowboys had 3 or less tackles... including LBs Al Singleton (1 INT), stud rookie second rounder Kevin Burnett and newly acquired ex-Chief Scott "Steak" Fujita (1 FF). The Big Tuna is using his LBs in heavy rotation, and it should be interesting to see who emerges when the dust settles. Ware and Nguyen seem to be the only locks to get a majority of the snaps. Eight figure free agent CB Anthony Henry got scorched worse than the Cape Canaveral launching pad by less-than-elite WR Brandon Lloyd, and needs to get his coverage chops fixed pronto, as that was why he was brought in. ILB Dat Nguyen (7 tackles, 1 INT) enjoyed his birthday the right way with a game-clinching INT in crunch time. OLB/DE DeMarcus Ware (3 tackles, 1 sack... first of what should be many) is coming on gradually but could be getting ready to go Krakatoa and Guns of Navarrone (courtesy Pulp Fiction) on NFL East offenses at any moment. ILB Scott Shanle (4 tackles) has seen his time increase at the expense of ILB Bradie James (2 tackles). SS Roy Williams (4 tackles, 1 assist) has not had that break out, monster game many have been patiently waiting for ever since his shift back to SS was announced in the off-season. DEs Marcus Spears and Chris Canty each had 2 tackles and are definitely looking like they belong. The Dallas front seven could be a terror in upcoming seasons.

DENVER - Mighty-Mite rookie second round CB Darrent Williams supplanted the disappointing Lenny Walls and easily paced the Broncos in tackles (9-1) in the MNF snoozer against the formerly red hot Chiefs. The dimunitive Oklahoma State flash was one of the fastest players at the 2005 combine and has some playmaking skills, on display in a week two punt return for a TD, called back due to a rarely enforced (probably because it is rarely committed!) premature celebration/too many men on the field penalty. Fellow day one CB selection from the 2005 draft, Dominique Foxworth has shown some promise to figure in the mix for the nickle and dime defense. Skeletor was almost universally panned for taking three CBs with seemingly other, equally important holes to patch. After patching some of THOSE holes with some free agent moves that were mocked with nearly the same fervor and intensity (ie - how now, Brown-coes?), gobbling up as many aerial defenders for the war in the sky with the Colts could prove prescient in the near future. IND QB Manning has shredded them more easily than a marshmallow through a woodchipper in the past few post-season meetings. The Broncs highly regarded, pedal-to-the-metal LB trio (MLB Al Wilson, WLB Ian Gold and SLB D.J. Williams) is playing according to form, and could be a huge advantage that will enable DC Larry Coyer to do lots of things scheme-wise with the DL and DBs throughout the season, in terms of covering internal weaknesses and attacking and exploiting opposing ones.

DETROIT - Bye

GREEN BAY - Penalty Box

HOUSTON - Bye

INDIANAPOLIS - The Colts defense is in some uncharted territory (for them in recent seasons)... only a handful of teams in the past six decades have held three consecutive offenses to single digits. If they hold the Titans to under 10 in an important inter-divisional tilt with TEN this Sunday, they would become only the second team in NFL history to do so for four straight games. If Defensive Player of the Year meters were like geiger counters, DE Dwight Freeney (5 tackles, 1 assist, 3 ((!!!)) sacks, 1 FF) would be positively radioactive, and causing off-the-scale readings. MLB Gary Brackett has been a man on fire himself, with 10, 8 and 12 combined tackles in the first three games (and 2 INTs week one). Stud FS/SS Bob "Hitman" Sanders added a half dozen solos (not to mention his steadying influence in the Cover Two deep patrol) as did SLB David Thornton, who is starting to assert himself more and thrive in his new role after an off 2004. Good looking first round CB Marlin Jackson is a sensational athlete and had his best game yet after opening the season with some nicks and dings (5 tackles). He could have future top 10-20 DB potential, and not just in mandatory start CB leagues, in the tried and true, historically CB tackle-friendly Cover Two system.

JACKSONVILLE - CB Rashean Mathis (6 tackles, 1 INT) paced the team... the CB/FS-tweener with the futuristic array of skills is one of the top up 'n coming secondary talents in the game and merits a close look to see how his career developes. SS Deke Cooper (5 tackles, 1 INT) had a solid debut in place of Donovin Darius, who is done for the year with a torn ACL. Cooper could be a nice in-season sleeper... he has decent size and athleticism, and the Jaguars were prepared to go with him if Darius had held out into the regular season. DE Paul Spicer (6 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF) is a converted LB who seems to have benefited from the presence of twin towers Stroud and Hendo more than prized free agent DE Reggie Hayward (2 tackles, 1 assist), who only has a single controversial sack to show for the first three games, and so far hasn't played up to his eight figure contract (not backloaded, either... a lot of up-front, guaranteed money). There has been conflicting information that the former Bronco has had a large number of QB pressures in the initial few weeks, though he needs to finish, as pressures don't show up in the box score. Steady-Eddie MLB Mike Peterson (4 tackles, 6 assists) has been an integral part of the Jaguars surging defense... WLB Daryl Smith (3 tackles, 3 assists) hasn't had the breakout game expected of him, but the tackles must be slim pickens playing behind and alongside the voracious Stroud, Hendo and Peterson (Hendo HUUUNNNGGGRRRYYY!). Speaking of Henderson, he was investigated for domestic battery since the last ETTG report. The intense DT has an old school pre-game ritual... he has a trainer slaps him in the face HARD to prepare himself for the imminent hand to hand combat and trench warfare.

KANSAS CITY - Penalty Box (#3 DROY candidate Derrick Johnson is the subject of this week's profile)

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. Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
  5. Antrel Rolle, CB, ARI, 1.8, Miami (6'1" 202)
  6. Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  7. Mike Patterson, DT, PHI, 1.31, USC (6'0" 285)
  8. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, SEA, 2.13, USC (6'0" 240)
  9. Marlin Jackson, CB, IND, 1.29, Michigan (6'1" 200)
  10. Thomas Davis, SS/OLB, CAR, 1.14, Georgia (6'3" 230)

    Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)
  • Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida? (6'2" 240)
  • David Pollack, SLB, CIN, 1.17, Georgia (6'2" 260)
  • 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)
  • Leroy Hill, WLB, 3.35, Clemson (6'1" 225)
  • 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, 6.14, LA-Lafayette, (6'0" 200)
  • Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)

    Injured Reserve

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

In-Depth Profile

Derrick Johnson

The 2005 LB draft class is already shaping up to be an excellent one, and when things shake out in a few years we may be calling it one of the best in the past decade. Thumper Mike-man Odell Thurman (CIN), the protean-talented OLB/DE-tweener DeMarcus Ware (DAL) and the incendiary SLB Derrick Johnson (KC) have all lived up to pre/post-draft accolades by roaring out of the gate for DROY contention and almost single-handedly changing the face of their respective defenses, and by implication, their team's fortunes writ large. Slower developing future stars, such as Panther's SS/OLB hybrid Thomas Davis (his transition to the NFL has been choppy, and he may be playing out of position at safety and a more natural LB in the pros), the Bucs MLB of the future Barrett Ruud (taking notes on the incumbent and rejuvenated Shelton Quarles), highly anticipated DE-OLB conversions David Pollack and Shawne Merriman (both had their momentum coming into the season blunted by having among the most contentious contract negotiations and lengthiest holdouts in their class), and good looking prospects Kirk Morrison (OAK ILB/OLB), Lofa Tatupu (SEA MLB) and Channing Crowder (MIA OLB/ILB) should all figure prominently in the mix before it is all said and done. DJ has a shot to be one of the best of the bunch. Any time a player transitions quickly and well from one level to another it can be viewed as promising and even suggestive. Johnson was one of the best football players in the nation as a legendary Texas prep, than the pattern recurred as he was arguably the #1 defensive prospect in the nation in college as an All American Texas OLB... not surprisingly, he finds himself as one of the elite, blue chip IDP talents from the 2005 bumper crop. Questions about his toughness, physicality and having the requisite ability (and willingness) to engage, shed and dispatch blockers have been answered in the early going with an emphatic and resounding YES! A big play dude who broke the NCAA record for FFs in a season (9) his senior year in 2004.

Cracking the Code - The Timing Tightrope

Juggling many different ages across your roster is a key differentiating points between Dynasty and Re-draft leagues, making them as different as chess and checkers. This factor can add a completely different level of complexity and degree of difficulty, adding to the challenge, as well as the satisfaction if navigated successfully. You don't want to hold an older player too long, at the risk of having them get old overnight and hitting the proverbial wall all of a sudden before you can offload them and retain something of value in exchange. On the other hand, giving up on a player too early that could have helped propel your team to a championship could be a crucial mistake of the opposite kind. One thing that can help is to have a coherent strategy about the best way to acquire talent... through the draft, trades and waiver wire. Different age criteria might make sense for offense and defense, and even for different positions. Questions of position scarcity might enter into the equation... also of positional impact. When possible, it is great to fill LB, DE and S with young, productive talent... for recylcleable positions such as DT and CB, where there are typically many options in even the deepest leagues (and where there is not much separation among all but the top players at their respective positions and the vast majority of the rest), going old can be the smart play. This can help to prioritize "more important" positions.

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