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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.

TEAM REPORTS

ARIZONA - PENALTY BOX

ATLANTA - BYE

BALTIMORE - The Ravens spooked the Steelers on MNF, but were ultimately more trick than treat... their prospects for making the playoffs are scary, and the loss to PIT may have put a stake in the heart of any AFC North crown aspirations. Adding to the horror of the season has been the loss of star defenders and team leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed... though they weren't setting the world on fire even when they were healthy. Lewis may have lost a step, and opposing OCs seem to have figured out is best to avoid testing Reed downfield, after he led the NFL in INTs last season (9) in winning the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

CHICAGO - The Bears gave up their first rushing TD of the season at near the mid-point in the season. They have given up less points at a similar juncture than their famed '85 Monsters of the Midway, Super Bowl Shuffle counterparts. It figures that it happened against another hapless NFC North opponent, but the CHI win lifted them to a 4-3 record... the only Norris division team with a wining record. MLB Brian Uhrlacher is not only playing at a Pro Bowl level, he is playing at a level that could merit Defensive Player of the Year consideration before the season is over... he led the charge (9-2), though was held without a sack for the second time in as many weeks after getting out to a white-hot start of 6 sacks in his first five games. Five of the Bears top defenders were atop the box score with 6 or more tackles, including Lance Briggs, SS Mike Brown, DE Adewale "Wally" Ogunleye and CB Charles Tillman. Briggs can score a lot of ways, and already has 2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR and 1 INT. The switch from FS to SS has agreed with Brown... he leads all safeties in tackles with 42 (in just seven games) and also has 2 INTs... he is on the threshold of the top 10 DBs and at the rate he is producing should get there once the bye weeks even out. O-Gun is not putting up the monster sack numbers expected of him after his brilliant start in MIA induced Chi-town to extend one of the most lucrative DL contracts in NFL history, but he is staying out of the trainer's whirlpool (a step in the right direction after an injury-marred 2004) and is not a slacker in run support like some edge rushing phenoms. Though Tillman was abused by CLE WR Antonio Bryant early in October for a couple of late TDs (otherwise they might be 5-2... a testament to the remarkable performance by the D given the team has had to rely on rookie QB Kyle Orton after starter Rex Grossman went down before the season even started)... including that game he has 3 INTs in his last four games. The latest was a game winner after a return TD in OT. The 2004 first and second round DT dopplegangers Tommie Harris and "Tank" Johnson also figured prominently... Harris with a blunt force trauma-type hit on DET QB Garcia, and Johnson with his third sack in the past two games (breakout ALERT with flashing lights and klaxon sirens after Tank failed to distinguish himself last season). Throw a rock at the Bears defense and dynasty leaguers will probably hit a youngster. The nucleus... Uhrlacher (27), Briggs (24), Brown (27), Ogunleye (28), Tillman (24), Harris (22) and Johnson (23)... is comprised chiefly of pups chronologically.

CINCINNATI - MLB Odell Thurman (ETTGs #1 Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with a bullet since the 2005 season's first installment) has an amazing 4 INTs through eight games after adding two more Sunday. To put that in perspective... in the past five seasons, the most INTs by a LB is 6 by Ray Lewis in 2003 (ILB Donnie Edwards had five several times in that span). The future Pro Bowler currently resides behind only long time IDP stalwarts Zach Thomas and Donnie Edwards, as well as soph sensation Jonathan Vilma (who may have Ray Lewis-like potential and future Defensive Player of the Year ability). All those big plays (including a sack and 3 FFs) have rocketed him up the LB scoring column, ahead of the likes of Antonio Pierce (NYG), Cato June (IND), Keith Bullock (TEN), Jeremiah Trotter (PHI) and Mike Peterson (JAX).

DALLAS - Roy Williams (team leading 7 tackles) is as big as a LB at about 235, hits like a LB... and is starting to score like a LB (he also covers like a LB, but thats a different story). He is the #2 DB (#1 S) in the league, and if his season totals were transposed into the LB scoring column, Williams would be the #12 LB in the NFL. The pre-season reports that Parcell's planned to deploy him closer to the LOS (which most closely aligns with his skills and best plays to his strengths... the ability to blow plays up and be a big play machine) have proven accurate. For the past two seasons, since the Big Tuna was reeled in from retirement, the former Oklahoma Sooners star has not been positioned for success or able to maximize his formidable playmaking ability... forced instead to baby sit the team's revolving door of CBs opposite Terence Newman. With at least one sack (actually 1/2 sack week one), FF or INT in five of eight games this season, Williams is evoking memories of his brilliant rookie season, when he looked like he would emerge as the top safety in the NFL. In calling him a playmaker, the characterization does not extend to great aerial or ball skills. What he does bring to the table is world class instincts, monster LB-like run stuffing skills and the rare short area burst and explosion to close on the ball carrier and QBs and change the game with a huge hit. The multi-Pro Bowler is at his best when going forward, pressing the issue, attacking and being disruptive. Safety is not usually a position scouts get as excited about as CB. Rare players like Roy Williams (who some scouts thought was the best PLAYER in the nation in college... not just the top defender) and Sean Taylor that are top 10 selections in the NFL draft only come around a few times a decade. Williams is the culmination of a lineage of fine Cowboys safeties including Cliff Harris and Darren Woodson, and if he continues to grow and evolve, may be good enough to become a HOFer some day. Some thought former CLE CB and free agent Anthony Henry (6 tackles) was overpriced, but he has been worth every penny and in fact a bargain so far (#3 DB in the NFL after #2 Williams). His INT (third of the season) and return TD was probably the biggest play of the game, and his steady play (as well as that of counterpart Newman on the other side) has played a key role in enabling Williams to do his thing. ILB Bradie James (4-3 and 1/2 sack) looks like the light is beginning to come on. The former LSU All American may be the most improved player on the team on either side of the ball. Though OLB Kevin Burnett has had some injuries and failed to crack the lineup in a significant way, fellow rookies and DeMarcus Ware (ETTG Top 10 DPOY candidate), Marcus Spears and Chris Canty have made their presence felt with substantial impacts. Parcells and the DAL war room should be commended for what might be the best overall rookie class to emerge from the 2005 draft.

DENVER - Rookie CBs Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth have made "genius" HC Shanahan look like... a genius. The dimunitive Williams plays way bigger than his size and has been a revelation. In addition to playing well enough to push Lenny Walls aside for the starting job, the play of his teammate Foxworth as the nickle back made Skeletor comfortable enough to cut the physically intriguing (but erratic and frustratingly inconsistent) Walls. Foxworth made the play of the game on a sensational INT in which he was beat to the inside by rookie WR Reggie Brown but had the presence of mind, wherewithal and recovery speed to regain inside position and snare the underthrown pass by McNabb. Williams especially is worth tracking and exploring in start two CB leagues. It is hard to get too excited about Foxworth in IDP leagues as long as he remains the nickle CB (Champ Bailey isn't going anywhere).

DETROIT - DT Shaun Cody has looked impressive in limited opportunities. An injury to man mountain Shaun Rogers has pressed him into action, as was the case earlier in the season with former USC teammate and fellow rookie Mike Patterson, the good looking PHI DT. The Lions traded up in the second round to secure his services. The ex-Trojan star DL was coveted for his versatility (he played DT and DE under Pete Carroll) and his impressive pedigree and resume... Cody was the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year as a highly recruited CA prep, before becoming a two-time All American, earning first team honors during the 2004 national championship season. Not a burner, he will flash deceptive athleticism and speed for a big man, has power and developing hand technique for separation and has some upside once he expands his ability to string moves together. He has distinguished himself in two of the last three games, with a 1 1/2 sack effort followed by Sunday's performance with 3 tackles, punctuated by a FF that was an impact play.

GREEN BAY - This is quickly turning into a forgettable season for the 1-6 Packers... the last of the last... maybe the worst team in what has to be the worst division in football. In the sometimes upside-down, Escher-like world of IDP, bad can be good. Bad CBs get tested, and bad offenses entail the defense being on the field more, translating directly to more tackle and big play opps. MLB Nick Barnett (8-4) has been a poster child for this core IDP heuristic and tenet... he is the #11 LB through just seven games. After a Defensive Rookie of the Year-type inaugural season, he seemed to regress somewhat in 2004, leading to questions about whether the slightly undersized LB was a better fit on the weak side (where he played at Oregon State, before he was "converted" to the middle as a pro). Former Dolphins DC Jim Bates made the determination early on that he had what it takes to play MLB in his system (where oversized DTs kept interior OL off of Zach Thomas and freed him to roam sideline-to-sideline and fly to the ball carrier). This ex-Beaver plays angry (angry and beaver in the same sentence just looks wrong) and fast... as evidenced by his INT and 95 yard return TD week five against the Saints.

HOUSTON - The gross futility and ineptitude of the Texans offense has placed a lot of pressure on the HOU defense... but the D has contributed to the fact that it has been over three quarters of a century since the last time a team failed to capture a lead at any point through the first six games (DOH!)... until this FINALLY materialized last week, in their seventh contest.

INDIANAPOLIS - BYE

JACKSONVILLE - The "Cardiac Cats" can be maddeningly inconsistent. MLB Mike Peterson is a rock in the middle (10 tackles and a sack against STL). Despite having the #9 LB and probably the top DT tandem in the NFL (Marcus Stroud and John "Hendo" Henderson... #19 DL), the Shag-uars have been surprising soft and vulnerable to the run. After the latest instance, in which good looking soph sensation RB Steven Jackson lit them up for a monster game with 200 combined yards and spearheaded an improbable 4th quarter comeback by the decimated Rams (without the services of Pro Bowl caliber skill position players Bulger, Holt, Bruce or defender Little), that lifted and evened the feisty STL squad's record to 4-4 and dropped the high expectation (and highly erratic) JAX club to a disappointing 5-3. This could put pressure on the incumbent OLBs... SLB Akin Ayodele (a converted Purdue DE) and WLB Daryl Smith (a star MLB for Georgia Tech). There has been whispers in scouting channels that Del Rio has been looking to upgrade over Ayodele since 2004, and these concerns may have prompted the recent bargain basement acquisition of ex-49er OLB Jamie Winborn (unquestioned athleticism and talent, but with a medical history more checkered than a Wendy's table cloth). Smith (6-2) probably isn't going anywhere... he has routinely flashed impressive athleticism, instincts and playmaking ability when healthy, and could be groomed as the eventual heir apparent to Peterson, based on his stellar play in the middle as a Yellow Jacket. Rashean Mathis almost single-handedly turned the tide of the game, with 2 INTs and a tipped pass deflection that led to a third INT, along with 5 tackles. The former small school All American (from DB "factory" Bethune-Cookman, which also recently pumped out rookie second round FS Nick Collins of the Packers) has rare athleticism and versatility...the quickness, agility and coverage chops to excel at CB and the size, strength and range to star at safety if he were ever called upon to switch positions. Mathis is an ascendant player who could be a Pro Bowler soon if he fulfills the arc and trajectory of his career thus far. He is currently the #16 DB, though might be in the top 10 if he had played eight games.

KANSAS CITY - PENALTY BOX

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. Lofa Tatupu, MLB, SEA, 2.13, USC (6'0" 240)
  4. Kirk Morrison, OLB/ILB, OAK, 3.14, San Diego State (6'2" 240)
  5. DeMarcus Ware, OLB/DE, DAL, 1.11, Troy State (6'4" 232)
  6. Shawne Merriman, OLB/DE, SD, 1.12, Maryland (6'4" 245)
  7. Kerry Rhodes, SS, NYJ, 4.22, Louisville (6'3" 210)
  8. Darrent Williams, CB, DEN, 2.24, Oklahoma State (5'8" 188)
  9. Channing Crowder, ILB/OLB, MIA, 3.6, Florida (6'2" 240)
  10. Josh Bullocks, SS/FS, NO, 2.8, Nebraska (6'0" 205)

Standin On The Verge Of Gettin It...

  • Marlin Jackson, CB, IND, 1.29, Michigan (6'1" 200)
  • C.C. Brown, SS, HOU, 6.14, LA-Lafayette, (6'0" 200)
  • Mike Patterson, DT, PHI, 1.31, USC (6'0" 285)
  • Dominique Foxworth, CB, DEN, 3.33, Maryland (5'11" 180)
  • Adam "Pacman" Jones, CB, TEN, 1.6, West Virginia (5'11" 185)
  • Thomas Davis, SS/OLB, CAR, 1.14, Georgia (6'3" 230)
  • Carlos Rogers, CB, WAS, 1.9, Auburn (6'1" 194)
  • Nick Collins, FS, GB, 2.19, Bethune Cookman (5'11" 193)
  • Chris Canty, DE, DAL, 4.31, Virginia (6'7" 290)
  • Erasmus James, DE, MIN, 1.18, Wisconsin (6'4" 270)
  • Alfred Fincher, MLB, NO, 3.18, Connecticut (6'1" 240)
  • David Pollack, SLB, CIN, 1.17, Georgia (6'2" 260)
  • Marcus Spears, DE, DAL, 1.20, LSU (6.4 295)
  • 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)
  • Corey Webster, CB, NYG, 2.11, LSU (6'0" 197)
  • Brodney Pool, FS/SS, CLE, 2.2, Oklahoma (6'3" 208)
  • Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, STL, 3.2, Stanford (5'11" 220)
  • 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)
  • Bryant McFadden, CB, PIT, 2.30, Florida State (6'0" 180)
  • Chris Harris, FS, CHI, 6.7, Louisiana-Monroe (6'0" 205)
  • Fabian Washington, CB, OAK, 1.23, Nebraska (5'11 180)
  • Stanford Routt, CB, OAK, 2.6, Houston (6'1" 195)
  • Jerome Carter, SS, STL, 4.16, Florida State (5'11" 220)
  • 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)
  • James Butler, S, NYG, UFA (only undrafted free agent on this list), Georgia Tech (6'3" 210)

    * Injured Reserve

  • Jordan Beck, MLB, ATL, 3.26, Cal Poly (6'2" 230)
  • Dan Cody, OLB/DE, BAL, 2.21, Oklahoma (6'5" 265)
  • Antrel Rolle, CB, ARI, 1.8, Miami (6'1" 202)

In-Depth Profile

This section will draw from and point back to pre-season work, such as the IDP Rookie and Sleepers articles, as well as include new profiles in-season as events dictate.

SS/FS Josh Bullocks, New Orleans Saints (from the Pre-Season Rookie Report - DB)... if his brother makes it to the NFL (Nebraska SS Daniel Bullocks), it will be easy to say he has good genes... they are identical twins. What a weapon that would be for the same team. Stash one on the practice squad, and if the activated player gets injured, he could go into the locker room at half-time, secretly change clothes/uniform and trade places with his healthy twin! Ssshhh... you heard it here first.

Overview: Though he didn't play as well in 2004, garnered some All American recognition with 10 INTs in 2003 (intercepting a pass in nine of 13 games), setting the Nebraska and Big 12 Conference record in his first season as a starter. Bullocks was the third safety taken in the '05 draft (all juniors) within a handful of picks of highly regarded Oklahoma standout Brodney Pool... or the second pure safety prospect from his class, depending on if Thomas Davis is viewed as a safety or a more natural long-term LB, as he seems to be by his own coaches. Free lance scout Mel Kiper had Pool and Bullocks as the #1 and #2 ranked safeties, grading Davis as a LB. Played in the same secondary as his brother, starting Nebraska SS Daniel Bullocks, and part of a talented Cornhusker defense that sported fellow high day one 2005 draft picks Barrett Ruud at MLB and Fabian Washington at CB. He was a prep RB/sprinter and has exceptional bloodlines (cousin of Olympian Evelyn Ashford). Former Cornhusker and current Chicago Bear SS Mike Brown and Philadelphia Eagles star FS Brian Dawkins could be comp players in terms of athleticism and skill set. Scouts are somewhat divided about his open field tackling skills and run support prowess, but seem to be in agreement about his outstanding natural coverage ability. Based on what he accomplished two seasons ago, when he was among the most dangerous and prolific pass thiefs in the nation, Bullocks looks like a future playmaker. Could be the whole package... with decent size, hops, 4.4 speed and the ability to both mix it up against the run and contribute immediately in coverage with great instincts and advanced skills.

Fantasy Outlook: In a similar situation to Brodney Pool in that he finds his path to becoming a starter temporarily blocked for the near future. High-priced free agent and ex-Buc FS Dwight Smith was a coveted playmaker handpicked to replace the disappointing Tebucky Jones. He signed a long-term contract with a lot of guaranteed, up front money and isn't going anywhere. The venerable Jay Bellamy is a grizzled (if not grizzly) veteran who is still solid and serviceable... what he gives up in speed and athleticism he makes up for in savviness and knowledge of the game. The latest camp reports have Bullocks getting reps at SS and the reviews have been positive. Even if he doesn't dislodge the incumbent Bellamy this season, he could soon be paired with FA Dwight Smith in a futuristic tandem... both can run, hit and cover. He will most likely figure in nickel and dime packages right away. The Saints have been missing playmakers in the secondary for seemingly forever, but now may sport three... CB Mike McKenzie and FS Smith from the past two season's respective free agency periods, along with Bullocks via the draft. The sketchy stopping power of the young, largely unproven LB corps could lead to more tackle opportunities than there are bead necklaces during Mardi Gras. The tremendous pressure the Saints potentially league best three man DE rotation (led by ascendant super star Charles Grant, steady if unspectacular Darren Howard and last season's first round revelation Will Smith) will be able to bring to bear on opposing QBs aligns nicely with all the new playmaking additions in the secondary. Haslett had the horses up front to force hurried and errant passes by the opposition... now he also has the playmakers in the secondary to do convert the opportunities. Seemingly a more natural center fielder, if he eventually lands at SS as expected, could easily emerge as one of the top safeties and most productive fantasy DBs overall from this class. Some camp reports say the promising Bullocks is as good or better than advertised and already pressing the athletically limited Bellamy for time... it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he is inserted into the starting lineup at some point during the 2005 season.

Cracking the Code - Buy Low and Sell High

Not an Earth-shattering revelation here. But it is worth attending to on a smaller scale, when dealing with IDPs. If a player has a big game or two... that is precisely when NOT to approach an owner for a trade. Let said player cool off for a while, diminishing in importance in the owner's evaluation. For instance, last year was a better time to try and get DAL SS Roy Williams. The cat is already out of the bag now that he has broken out. Ditto with guys like IND FS Bob Sanders and ATL WLB Demorrio Williams. This would be a great time to try and acquire potential future star, SEA SS Michael Boulware. Buying low has to do with key attributes of patience and not getting overly excited... selling high has to do with not panicking. Switching to the offensive domain, if analysis of underperforming young gun WRs Andre Johnson and Lee Evans identifies a constellation of traits that has in the past been a precursor of stardom (in terms of measurables, talent, work ethic and pedigree), this would be a horrific time to give up now... they could break out in 2006. Hunker down and stick to your scouting convictions.

* dedicated to K

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