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Opposing Camp Primer: Arizona Cardinals

July 15th, 2013 Comments off
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Palmer and Fitzgerald hope to connect a lot in 2013

The Cardinals enter the summer of 2013 trying to find a way to become relevant now that the NFC West appears to have quickly reversed it’s fortunes from three years ago as clearly the league’s weakest division to among the league’s best. They have a new head coach and quarterback which certainly is a good starting point.

Head coach Bruce Arians takes over for Ken Whisenhunt, after a year in which he earned NFL Coach of the Year honors as essentially a “backup,” replacing Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis as the interim head coach after he was diagnosed with cancer. The Colts had great success under Arians, and he hopes to mirror that in Arizona.

Whisenhunt was fired basically because the Cardinals quarterback situation became a giant quagmire since Kurt Warner opted to retire after the 2009 season. They now hope the veteran Carson Palmer can establish some stability at the position after cycling through bums over the past three seasons.

Palmer should work in Arians’ vertical pass attack. The very same worked well for both Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Palmer doesn’t have quite the arm he once did, but he’s a quarterback that is not afraid to pull the trigger down the field, an essential trait to work in Arians’ offense. And unlike in Oakland, he’ll have at least one major upgrade at wide receiver.

Larry Fitzgerald has struggled to produce over the past three years mainly because the quarterbacks have struggled to get him the ball. But he’s still one of the elite receivers in the league, and Palmer isn’t going to hesitate to get him targets in 2013. How quickly they can build a rapport will be a key point of their summer and shouldn’t be a major obstacle. Fitzgerald is also expected to get reps in the slot as it worked wonders for Reggie Wayne last season, and should have a similar impact for Fitzgerald.

Lining up across from Fitzgerald will be Michael Floyd, who had a disappointing rookie season a year ago. He too is a player that if he can get on the same page with Palmer quickly, it should give Arizona two solid weapons at the position and the means to attack defenses in 2013 like they haven’t been able to since Warner’s days.

But the big key if the Cardinals offense wants to take that next step is going to be what happens up front. One of the deficiencies of Arians’ offense is the fact that it has a tendency to give up a bunch of sacks due to the deeper drops of the quarterback trying to make throws down the field. That initially doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals because they had the league’s worst offensive line in 2012. The hope is that the healthy return of Levi Brown and the selection of Jonathan Cooper at the top of the draft will provide the necessary boost.

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Camp Battles 2013: Tight End

July 15th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY

Levine Toilolo’s summer could shape tight end group

The Falcons got a huge break when sixteen-year veteran Tony Gonzalez opted not to hang up the cleats for good and give it one more go in Atlanta. Gonzalez entered the 2012 season leaving the door open for a 5% chance that he might return in 2013. The Falcons will get no such sliver of hope for 2014, as he is adamant that this year will be his last in the NFL. But the Falcons hope to take full advantage of the last hurrah of Gonzo by getting him to the Super Bowl.

Gonzalez’s status could potentially earn him a pass for much of training camp, but that won’t be the case. But the Falcons probably will probably minimize how much of a workload he does this summer. That should open up opportunities for his reserves, where all of the competition will come.

The absence of Gonzalez throughout the off-season allowed the team to get a long look at Chase Coffman, who is the incumbent. Coffman is a capable receiver, but has struggled to stick in the pros due to lackluster blocking. For him to retain his spot as the top backup behind Gonzalez, will likely mean that he’ll have to show the Falcons that he is competent as a blocker. If not, then the spot will be ripe for the taking from another.

Tommy Gallarda is in a prime position to take that spot. He is considered the team’s most polished blocker, and prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last November was effective in that role. But he won’t be the only blocker that will be taking reps this summer.

The player the Falcons really want to see emerge as Gonzalez’s top backup will be rookie fourth round pick Levine Toilolo. Toilolo performed primarily as a blocker over the past two seasons at Stanford. He has excellent size and speed that the Falcons will hope to develop in the future. But first and foremost to earn reps in 2013, he’ll need to hit the ground running as a blocker. He possesses good tools and potential there, but he can be inconsistent at times and not as physical as you’d like. Coffman’s chances of making the roster increase if Toilolo proves to be a capable blocker, as the Falcons probably won’t seek to have redundant players with him and Gallarda.

Also in the mix will be Colin Cloherty, a late offseason addition. Cloherty played for Koetter in Jacksonville in 2011. Like Coffman, he’s more of a receiver than blocker, albeit a bit more undersized. He can push Coffman for the potential H-back role. Helping Cloherty is the fact that he proved to be an adept cover man on special teams during his limited opportunities. If he can shine there this summer, that may be a better avenue to making the final 53-man roster than anything he could do offensively.

Andrew Szczerba sits currently as a dark horse, but he was impressive last summer for the Dallas Cowboys. And his size, strength, and potential as a blocker does give him a legitimate opportunity to earn a roster spot. He just seems unlikely at this point to leap frog both Gallarda and Toilolo in that regard to win a spot, but stranger things have happened in Falcons training camps in the past.

A remote possibility also exists that the Falcons aren’t quite done at this position if things don’t break their way by the end of camp. Between the four of them, all of the tight ends not named Tony Gonzalez have combined for just 10 career catches in the NFL. Particularly if Toilolo has a lackluster preseason, the Falcons might explore adding veteran options at the end of summer to shore up the No. 2 spot. What limited snaps the second tight end is likely to get in 2013 will be primarily be as a blocker. And if the Falcons are unhappy with the progress of the young guys, they could seek options elsewhere.

Opposing Camp Primer: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

July 14th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Freeman has a lot on his shoulders this year

The Bucs have interesting competitions across their roster and will be focused on getting certain things settled this summer in training camp.

The big concern for the Bucs heading into 2013 starts with Josh and ends with Freeman. All eyes are on Freeman and questions about on whether or not he’s going to take that next step and become a more consistent and efficient passer.

It’s not a lack of talent holding Freeman back, as one can see with his size, arm strength, and the occasional money throw he can make in crunch-time situations. It really is about being more consistent with those situations. Too often he’ll miss open receivers and makes too many mental mistakes. It doesn’t appear that the game is slowing down for him as much as it should for a player that has started 56 games and is entering his fifth season in the league. It’s really a make or break year for Freeman.

And the Bucs haven’t been silent about it. They used their third round pick on quarterback Mike Glennon, and head coach Greg Schiano has made it no secret that Glennon could push Freeman. Now, Schiano has since backed off a little. Probably because he realizes that he doesn’t want to ruin Freeman’s confidence. But if Glennon comes into this summer and plays well, and Freeman not so much it could create a quarterback controversy. One that could potentially undermine the entire 2013 season for the Bucs. So Schiano himself is going to have to do his best to manage this situation carefully. But things will be so much easier to manage if Freeman just shows up and plays his tail off in preseason.

The Bucs made a number of low-level additions on their offense in the off-season, but the two biggest gets were the healthy returns of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Joseph went down before the 2012 season started, and Nicks was on injured reserve by Week 9. Both have the potential to form one of the league’s elite pair of guards, and will be tasked with clearing holes for second-year tailback Doug Martin. The Bucs believe they can take a lot of pressure off Freeman if they can commit to a physical, smashmouth ground attack. If so, that can suck up defenders and leave players like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams in one-on-one situations on the outside, scenarios that big receivers like them can exploit. A key competition will be for Martin’s backup, with rookie seventh rounder Mike James expected to win the job. Martin was a bit overused last year with 319 carries and if the Bucs intend to make a playoff run, lessening his load to keep him fresh could be important.

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Camp Battles 2013: Wide Receiver

July 14th, 2013 Comments off
 Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Is 2013 the year Kevin Cone finally emerges?

Like many of the Falcons offensive starting positions, they are locked in at the wide receiver position. Thomas Dimitroff envisioned the possibility of having a No. 1 and No. 1-A receiver when he moved up in the 2011 draft to add Julio Jones to a receiver corps that already had Roddy White. It seems that vision will come true in 2013, as it’s hard to figure which player will be the preferred weapon of Ryan in the regular season. Based off last year, technically the honor of being the top option will probably fall on Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones saw a pass from Ryan once every 4.56 snaps where he ran a route. White on the other hand was slightly less used with a target for ever 4.70 snaps. That gap could widen as the Falcons look to better take advantage of Jones’ elite physical tools.

Behind both starters is Harry Douglas, who in this day and age of a passing league is also technically a starter. Douglas appeared in 58.8% of the Falcons offensive snaps last year (per Pro Football Focus) and will once again resume his duties in the slot. But the Falcons managed to mix Roddy White more in the slot last year, and might continue to expand his role there.

Most of the competition will come in camp at the position behind Douglas at the No. 4 wideout spot. That role primarily will be used on special teams rather than offense. Drew Davis is the incumbent there. Outside some of the Falcons blowouts and games in which Julio Jones was injured, he saw little more than two dozen snaps on offense last year. Davis managed to make the most of what few opportunities he did have, showing good speed and quickness to catch 4 passes and a touchdown last year. Davis flashed good ability as a cover guy on special teams, but was inconsistent at times. The key for him to maintain his current position on the depth chart is to make strides both on offense and special teams. Offensively, refining his route-running should help.

But in reality the competition for the fourth wide receiver spot is fairly wide open. Kevin Cone spent last year as the team’s fifth wideout. Cone had a bit of a disappointing preseason last summer. Among the potential candidates, he may possess the best physical tools due to his size and speed combination. But his hands were inconsistent and he hasn’t quite refined his route-running to a high level. Coming out of an option offense at Georgia Tech in 2011 explains his slow progress somewhat, but 2013 needs to be the year that he puts it all together.

Tim Toone was a late summer addition last year that showcased some ability as a punt returner and speed on offense. He finished the year with the team, although he did not suit up for game. Toone’s best avenue to making the roster will be showing he can be a contributor on special teams, most likely as a punt returner.

Also competing for a shot at the return gig is James Rodgers, the older brother of Jacquizz. Rodgers spent the year on the practice squad. He had a solid summer last year, coming fairly close to locking down one of the return spots. He’s an undersized offensive player, but if he can regain the explosiveness he lost due to an ACL tear in 2010, it should aid him greatly.

Marcus Jackson may be the most polished receiver of the group of last year’s practice squad players. Jackson was able to showcase solid hands last summer and an ability to get open, a necessary trait to be a productive NFL receiver. But the key for him will be to not only continue to make strides offensively, but also show he offers value on special teams. Otherwise, he’s looking at another year on the practice squad.

The Falcons also have three undrafted rookies in the mix in Darius Johnson, Rashad Evans, and Martel Moore. Johnson and Evans are helped by the fact that they have return experience while at SMU and Fresno State, respectively. They will hope to do what Rodgers couldn’t last summer and steal one of those jobs. Both are undersized but possess speed that could be assets on special teams. Moore offers a bit more potential as a wide receiver on offense due to his superior size and capable speed. Like Jackson before him, he’ll likely be pushing for a chance to earn a practice squad spot with a good summer.

Opposing Camp Primer: New York Jets

July 13th, 2013 Comments off
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

A good summer could push Geno Smith into starting spot

Following the heels of the New England Patriots, the Falcons face the New York Jets in Week Five of the 2013 season, another team that has a lot of questions going into their training camp this summer.

A word that rhymes with “fluster cluck” comes to mind when thinking about the Jets and what has happened within that organization over the past year and change. Their struggles in 2012 are well-documented and questions abound going in 2013 on whether they can find any answers. The Jets will feature competitions at nearly every position group on offense, as well as relying on a bevy of new faces to restore a defense that was formerly among the league’s best.

The biggest question on the team is none other than the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez returns for a fifth season after an abysmal 2012 campaign where he seemingly lost all of his confidence and continued to make mistake after mistake, including the infamous butt fumble (I’ll never get tired of watching that!). To add to his worries, the team drafted Geno Smith in the second round in April. While Sanchez remains confident he’ll open the season as the starter, the tide of change seems to favor Smith. Neither emerged as a clear-cut front runner during OTAs but the inability of Sanchez to separate himself from Smith does not bode well for him. Sanchez at this point is a reclamation project, and one that Jets fans certainly have no patience for. Assuming Smith isn’t terrible this summer and shows improvement over the course of camp, he could easily wind up opening the season as the starter. But without a strong camp from either one of them, things won’t bode well for the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s success in New York has been built off strong defense and a steady running game. That latter aspect has been missing in recent years. And the Jets brought in former New Orleans Saints Chris Ivory alongside ex-Oakland Raider Mike Goodson to try and restore the ground attack. Ivory has been productive player when he played with the Saints, but those opportunities were sporadic over the years. He’ll hope to prove that he can carry the load in New York as they will rely heavily on him given Goodson’s off-field issues and the fact that Bilal Powell is seen more as a quality No. 2 than a full-time starter.

Helping to make that possible will be the Jets offensive line, which in their heyday of rushing success was one of the best in the league. This year’s group will feature two new starters at guard as gone are Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore. They will be replaced by Willie Colon and either Vlad Ducasse or Stephen Peterman, respectively. Colon is a good player, but is injury prone and hasn’t made it through a full season healthy since 2009. Ducasse has thus far shown he’s nothing more than a bust, and while Peterman was solid at times with the Detroit Lions over the past six years, he is by no means an upgrade over a fixture like Moore at right guard. The Jets also drafted Brian Winters in the third round and given the questions surrounding the starters, it wouldn’t be a surprised if he is the mix to play with a strong summer.

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Camp Battles 2013: Running Back

July 13th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Antone Smith’s roster spot is vulnerable

The top of the Falcons depth chart at this position is fairly set in stone. Newcomer Steven Jackson will be the feature back and likely get the brunt of the workload in 2013. Behind him will be Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. How much either player is worked in the lineup will be dependent on Jackson’s early season production as well as their own. Both players are excellent third down options, but Jackson also is adept in that role. But given that the Falcons will likely want to try and save Jackson somewhat for the stretch run in December and January, they could try and mix in both Rodgers and Snelling as reserves here and there.

Lining up next to Jackson is expected to be second-year fullback Bradie Ewing. Ewing went down with an ACL tear in the preseason opener before getting any real action on offense, so he is relatively an unknown commodity. But the Falcons had a lot of confidence in him going into last summer, and it would be a major upset if he didn’t open the season as the starter. If there is any real competition behind him, it likely rests in Patrick DiMarco, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. DiMarco was productive as a late season starter, after injuries forced him into the lineup. The Falcons won’t be afraid to play DiMarco over Ewing if he proves to have the better summer, but it would likely take an extraordinarily good preseason from DiMarco and an unexpectedly lackluster one from Ewing for that to become the case. More than likely DiMarco’s best route to the roster will be showcasing value on special teams.

Traditionally the Falcons have kept five running backs on the roster, with the fifth spot serving primarily as a special teams role. That has been filled by Antone Smith the past three seasons, who has settled in nicely on special teams. His 10 special teams tackles over the past two seasons is third highest among current Falcons behind Akeem Dent (20) and Shann Schillinger (11). Helping Smith potentially retain his grip on the roster spot is the fact that he’s a known commodity. But he’s vulnerable due to the fact that he’ll be counting $662,500 against the Falcons 2013 salary cap. The Falcons could potentially save over $250,000 against their cap by going with one of the young undrafted backs: Ronnie Wingo or Donald Russell.

For both players, not only will they need to showcase potential as ballcarriers and receivers on offense, but they will need to shine on special teams. That will be their best routes to giving Smith a run for his money. If they can showcase immediate value on special teams, the savings the Falcons could garner might be enough to give either a shot on the roster. More than likely, strong preseason performances will lead to spots on the practice squad rather than the final roster for either player.

Special teams ability might give Josh Vaughan the best potential odds among the backs to make the roster over Smith. Vaughan was a productive special teams player for the Carolina Panthers in 2011. The Falcons won’t reap huge savings for opting for Vaughan over Smith (roughly $110,000), but it could be worthwhile if Vaughan shows enough upside on offense. He differentiates himself from Smith by being a more powerful, downhill runner. If he can show value in the passing game, particularly in pass protection, and have a strong preseason then he has a chance to earn a spot.

Undrafted fullback Devonte Campbell was an effective blocking tight end at Maryland last year and too will more than likely be trying to impress his way onto the eight-man practice squad, since he’s a roster longshot.

Camp Battles 2013: Quarterback

July 12th, 2013 Comments off
Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Davis is the center of attention

Of course, Matt Ryan is in no risk of losing his starting position. Ryan is coming off the best season of his career, and the hope is that he can build upon it. It was a year in which at least through the early running of the year he was considered a league MVP candidate. The only real negative of Ryan’s 2012 campaign was that his play started to diminish in the second half of the season. But even a diminished Ryan is still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The expectation is that Ryan will receive a new contract extension that will make him one of the highest paid passers in the league before camp starts. If not, it could present a possible distraction as the media may raise questions why negotiations have been so protracted. The Falcons have made no secret about their desire to get Ryan locked up to a long-term deal since the end of the season, and the fact that a deal cannot get done before camp is somewhat troublesome.

But assuming the Falcons can get Ryan signed to a contract, much of the focus at the quarterback position this summer will be on the competition for Ryan’s backup. Dominique Davis is the incumbent, coming off a strong preseason performance during his rookie season last summer. If Davis can build off that, then he’ll be in the driver’s seat to take over as the top backup behind Ryan. Keys for Davis include showing that he has an improved command of the offense and has refined his mechanics and footwork somewhat, areas that despite an outstanding 2012 preseason were areas of weakness.

He’ll be pushed by seventh round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree missed a chunk of the offseason as he was recovering from an injury to his throwing arm that he suffered in Duke’s bowl game last December. Renfree is known for his smarts and toughness, and the key for him this summer will be showing that he’s a quick study when it comes to the offense. Davis has him beat as far as physical tools go, with the superior athleticism and mobility. But if Renfree can prove himself in the film room and then translate that into production on the field, he can potentially push Davis for the No. 2 spot.

Fourth arm Seth Doege is more than likely competing for a potential spot on the practice squad. While he does possess good arm strength and athleticism, the likelihood that he’ll be able to surpass either Davis and Renfree on the depth chart is low.

If Davis or Renfree doesn’t come out and have a strong summer, it will likely result in the Falcons pursuing a veteran backup at the end of camp once cuts are made. The Falcons scooped up Luke McCown at the end of last summer, and he filled the No. 2 spot ahead of Davis in 2012. If the Falcons pursued a veteran, they’d likely target a player with starting experience rather than another developmental backup. The possibility of McCown returning remains a possibility as he is set to compete with Seneca Wallace for the backup spot behind Drew Brees in New Orleans. If cut, he’d obviously be a top option. Other veterans with starting experience that might be on the roster bubble this summer include: David Carr (Giants), Curtis Painter (Giants), John Skelton (Bengals), Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers), Brady Quinn (Seahawks), and Rex Grossman (Redskins). Trent Edwards, currently a free agent, is also a player that could be a target given that he played under Dirk Koetter for a year in Jacksonville.

Opposing Camp Primer: New England Patriots

July 12th, 2013 Comments off
The Sun Chronicle/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Hernandez headlines a tumultuous off-season for the Patriots

Nobody has had a more fascinating and interesting off-season than the New England Patriots, as we take a look at the Falcons fourth opponent in the 2013 season to see what to look for this summer as training camps loom.

First, their most potent offensive weapon (besides quarterback Tom Brady of course) in tight end Rob Gronkowski went through a series of surgeries. Most came on his injured forearm which developed an infection during the off-season and kept him out of OTAs. But the fifth came in June, and may be the most important because it puts his 2013 season in jeopardy. Gronkowski is such a potent piece of the Patriots offense. Not only is he the only tight end in the NFL that is without question better than the Falcons own Tony Gonzalez when healthy, but he creates so many opportunities for other options in the Patriots offense by being the focal point of coverages. Gronk has recently begun rehab for his back, but there is no exact timetable for his return to the field. Initial projections from his mid-June back surgery indicate he would be out three months which certainly would put his ability to compete against the Falcons in Week Four in potential jeopardy. But because of other events that have occurred this off-season for the Patriots, they probably don’t want to rush him back as it will be more important to have him at 100% rather than risking re-injury with him at less than that.

While Gronk is the Patriots most potent weapon, the team also lost Brady’s favorite target in Wes Welker. He didn’t get the offer from New England he wanted, and went across the country to Denver where he’ll be catching passes from Peyton Manning. The Patriots replaced him with Danny Amendola, who offers a very similar skillset. But Amendola has struggled to stay healthy the past two years in St. Louis. That will be the big question for him this year, and whether he and Brady can gel quickly as he will be carrying a big load.

That load got only heavier in the past month due to the issues surrounding tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been arrested for alleged murder. The team already cut ties with him, even going so far as to allow fans to exchange their jerseys to do their best to wipe the slate completely clean. Hernandez was the “joker” of the Patriots offense, the wild card that had to be accounted for every play because of his ability to line up in the backfield, in the slot, or on the outside as a hybrid player at tight end, wide receiver, H-back, and fullback. They have no one else on the roster capable of filling such a role. Currently Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Daniel Fells are their remaining tight ends expected to fill in for Gronk and Hernandez. All three are capable blockers. Ballard was productive as the New York Giants starting tight end in 2011, but he certainly wasn’t a player that created mismatches. He benefited more from the presences of players like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks than they did from him.

All of these developments put added pressure on Tom Brady to get the passing game clicking with so many new faces. Replacing Brandon Lloyd on the outside at wide receiver is expected to be rookie Aaron Dobson. The Patriots offense is notorious for being hard to pick up even for veteran receivers (see Chad Ochocinco) and getting on the same page with Brady is something that rookies historically have struggled to do (see Taylor Price and Chad Jackson). Dobson offers good size and vertical potential on the outside, but it will be a tall order for him and fellow rookie Josh Boyce to impact quickly.

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Opposing Camp Primer: Miami Dolphins

July 11th, 2013 Comments off
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Brent Grimes hopes to pick up in Miami where he left off in Atlanta

After checking out the Falcons first two opponents of the year in the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams, let’s look at their Week Three opponent in the Miami Dolphins and what things will be happening in South Florida this summer.

The Dolphins are a team in flux hoping that their second year under head coach Joe Philbin will lead to greater success than the 7-9 finish in 2012. They spent quite a bit of money this off-season to bring in new starters at several positions on both sides of the ball and are hoping it pays immediate dividends. The main thing people watching Dolphins camp will be looking for this summer is how things gel with all the new faces.

Much of the focus is going to center on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as many are expecting big things from him this season as he matures into a more consistent passer. Tannehill has skills to be a very good quarterback in the NFL, showcasing all the physical tools you want. Despite limited experience playing at both the collegiate and professional levels, he shows a relatively strong mental grasp for the position which indicates that with added experience the sky could indeed be the limit for how good a player he matures into. But there were too many times he was erratic last year. And it certainly didn’t help that there were no true weapons for him to throw to last year.

That changes with the free agent additions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson at wide receiver, as well as tight end Dustin Keller. Wallace had a disappointing 2012 campaign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, seemingly due to the uncertainty of his future in that city after two excellent seasons as the league’s most-feared vertical threat. The Dolphins hope that now that he has is sated contractually, he can get back to those former ways. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, history suggests that when free agent wide receivers change teams their level of success with their new teams isn’t very good. The Dolphins hope that Wallace is the exception, rather than the rule.

Gibson will be competing with Armon Binns for the third spot at wide receiver. Philbin wants to incorporate an explosive vertical attack into the Dolphins offense, akin to what he helped build in Green Bay years ago, which will make ample use of three-wide sets. Gibson is a solid possession receiver that was productive in St. Louis over the past few years. Binns has good size and many observers are suggesting his strong off-season will cause him to win the job this summer. If either one can become the underneath option for Tannehill while Wallace and Brian Hartline continue to do what they do best on the outside: stretch the field, then it should give the Dolphins a major upgrade in their passing attack.

But one of the key areas of competition this summer on offense will be at the running back position. Gone is Reggie Bush, with his backups in Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller competing for the starting job. Miller is expected to win the job and certainly will enter camp as the starter. Thomas had a few moments last year, where his size and inside rushing ability could prove to be an effective change of pace to the quicker, more explosive Miller that is better rushing on the edge. Depending on how strong a summer Miller has could determine just how much balance the Dolphins have this season. And despite roots in Green Bay, Philbin being a former offensive line coach is not going to run an offense that throws the ball every down. How much success they have on the ground will be a key factor in taking pressure off Tannehill to be able to better pick and choose his spots in 2013.

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Opposing Camp Primer: St. Louis Rams

July 10th, 2013 Comments off
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Fisher hopes to avoid scrutiny from zebras by instilling discipline

After checking out the Falcons season-opening opponent in the Saints yesterday, it’s time to check out their Week 2 matchup against the St. Louis Rams and many of the questions they face headed into training camp.

The Rams could prove to become one of the most interesting stories of 2013. They featured the best record within the NFC West division, which featured two of the teams that many believed were the best in the conference last year in Seattle and San Francisco. They proved to be the team most effective at thwarting Colin Kaepernick last year, primarily because of their ability to get pressure with just four rushers.

That Rams defense was in the running last year with Arizona and Cincinnati for the most underrated unit in the league that few had seen outside their respective markets.

It will feature many of the same cast of characters, helmed up front by defensive end Chris Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, and anchored on the back-end by cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Their biggest addition is first round linebacker Alec Ogletree, who they moved back to get when they swapped picks with the Falcons.

Ogletree is an elite linebacker prospect when it comes to his coverage potential, which was a problem area for the Rams last year with Jo-lonn Dunbar garnering too many snaps on third down akin to the Falcons own Stephen Nicholas. Ogletree’s draft stock fell due to off-field issues and questionable instincts. How quickly he can transition to the NFL and impact could have a big impact on whether the Rams defense goes from very good to elite.

They’ve had some success with players of questionable character, including cornerback Janoris Jenkins last year. Jenkins had his brilliant moments last season, taking three picks to the house, but that masked the fact that he was highly inconsistent in coverage. They’ll need him to become more consistent this year to take that next step.

If there is a major question mark for the defense it lies at the safety position where starters Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell both departed. Mikell still remains unsigned and a possibility to return, but at this point in the summer seems unlikely. That leaves the quartet of Darian Stewart, T.J. McDonald, Matt Daniels, and Rodney McLeod competing at the position.

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