Category Archives: MVN blogs

Week 9 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 8 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Lions (add CB Jack Williams) – Williams was the player that the Broncos cut to add Ty Law late last week, and he was obviously in demand as four teams put in a waiver claim. He went to Detroit, which cut Jason David in favor of Williams. That’s the kind of move a bad team needs to make, because while Williams probably isn’t a starting-quality corner, he could end up being a nickel or dime guy down the line. Once again, the Lions showed aggressiveness in adding a guy who might be able to help, which is a good sign.

Raiders (add DT William Joseph) – The Raiders brought back Joseph, a former first-round pick by the Giants, and cut former starting OG Paul McQuistan. In other words, they shuffled the deck chairs. The Titanic? It’s still sinking.

Subtractions

Chiefs (cut RB Larry Johnson; put OG Mike Goff on injured reserve) – We broke down Johnson’s cut on our MVN blog. The Chiefs also put Goff, a long-time starter in Cincinnati and San Diego who moved to K.C. this year and started seven of eight games, on injured reserve and signed Justin Rogers to take Goff’s roster spot.

Panthers (put LB Thomas Davis on injured reserve) – Davis had been a big playmaker at the strong-side linebacker spot, but he suffered a knee injury that will sideline him over the rest of the season. That’s a blow to a Panthers defense that has just a placeholder at the other OLB spot in Na’il Diggs. Carolina promoted LB Kelvin Smith from the practice squad to take Davis’ roster spot.

Browns (put LB Eric Barton on injured reserve) – Barton was one of the ex-Jets that Eric Mangini brought over to install his defense in Cleveland. Now he’s one of two starting inside ‘backers who is out for the year. That’s a blow to a Cleveland D that is bad to begin with. The Browns signed Josh Stamer to take Barton’s roster spot.

Bengals (put WR Chris Henry and S Roy Williams on injured reserve) – The Bengals suffered two big blows because of injuries this week. Henry, the team’s No. 3 receiver and top deep threat, broke his arm vs. Baltimore last week and is gone for the year. Williams, who has been starting at safety, suffered a forerarm injury as well. These injuries will test the Bengals’ depth. To fill these roster spots, Cincy promoted WR Maurice Purify from the practice squad and brought back OG Scott Kooistra, whom they had cut last week.

Eagles (put CB Ellis Hobbs on injured reserve) – The Eagles took two blows at cornerback this week. Hobbs, who was not only a corner but also the team’s kickoff returner, sustained a neck injury that ended his season. Meanwhile, fourth corner Joselio Hanson was suspended four games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. To replace the two corners, the Eagles signed CB Ramzee Robinson (who can also serve as a returner) and promoted CB Jack Ikegwuono from the practice squad.

Buccaneers (put S Will Allen and LB Rod Wilson on injured reserve) – The Bucs suffered two injuries to defensive players. Allen, who had been playing as an extra defensive back, suffered a thumb injury. Wilson, more of a special-teamer, suffered a shoulder injury. To replace them, Tampa re-signed LB Matt McCoy and promoted CB Derrick Roberson from the practice squad.

Redskins (put S Chris Horton on injured reserve) - Horton, who started 10 games as a rookie, started five more this season with more limited success as a sophomore. Now he will miss the second half of the season with a toe injury. To replace Horton, the Redskins brought back RB Quinton Ganther.

Giants (put LB Gerris Wilkerson on injured reserve) – Wilkerson was a backup linebacker, and, as importantly, a special-teams ace. But a wrist injury will end his season. To replace him, the Giants added CB D.J. Johnson, who will step in on some special-teams coverage units.

Bills (cut RB Xavier Omon) – The Bills thought Omon had promise, but he couldn’t find a role behind Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. So he was finally cut so that the Bills could activate WR James Hardy from the physically unable to perform list.

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This week’s NFL lesson

On our Most Valuable Network blog, we highlighted the big lesson we learned from watching the NFL this week. That lesson?

Be careful what you wish for.

When MVN folded, we added the full post archive:

The biggest lesson the NFL has taught us this week is this: Be careful what you wish for.

We learn this lesson from the experience of former Chiefs RB Larry Johnson. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, LJ went on Twitter and then in front of the press and went on rants designed to get him out of Kansas City, and after losing one game check and one game, he got his wish. The team cut him. LJ undoubtedly thought he’d be snapped up, especially since he can play on a minimum salary for the rest of the season and still collect checks from the Chiefs. It seemed like a no-brainer to LJ.

But now a week has gone by, and no one has claimed Johnson on waivers. He won’t be on a roster for this weekend’s games, and the free agent market for him has been soft to say the least. He might get a job again, but that’ s far from a certainty right now.

The bottom line is that Johnson has a lot of miles on his legs, and his performance lately has really fallen off. He’s not the dominant back he was four or five seasons ago. Forget rushing for 2,000 yards in a season; LJ is at a stage now that he would be hard pressed to pile up 800 yards over the season. Like many older running backs, including recent cut Edgerrin James, LJ is declining so quickly that he might be done. Unfortunately, LJ doesn’t seem to know it yet.

 So enjoy being free, Larry. We hope it’s everything you thought it would be. But we believe it’s probably not anything close to what you wished for.

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The message of college football 2009

What’s the overarching message of this year in college football in 2009? I’ve heard it, and now I’ve written about it over on Most Valuable Network’s Football Wire. You can read about this message below in an archive from MVN.

There is one overarching message that I keep hearing as I watch college football this year, and it’s this:

When you have the chance, go pro.

Ask Sam Bradford or Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma. Both were sure-fire first-round picks in 2010. Both chose to return to Oklahoma. Both are now hurt, and both are losing money.

Ask Tim Tebow. No matter where his draft stock settles, he was certainly going to be drafted. Now he has a severe concussion, and any player only gets one or two of those before his career (and sadly, often his life) is irreparably damaged. He should sit for a month. But he wants to play next week, and his coaches may let him. He too should have gone pro.

I’ve covered pro football full time, and college football pro time. I far prefer pro football, because the players determine their own path. They sign their own contracts. They make their own choices. They can protect themselves in most circumstances.

But in college football, coaches hold all the power. They can yank a player’s scholarship at any time – for violating team rules, for inadequate performance, or for no good reason at all. The players do get an education, but they also get jerked around. They’re in a business that they get no say in.

And the simple fact is that most college coaches will never put a player’s professional interests over their own. They want the players to play, even if they’re hurt, even if they’re concussed. They want the players to come back to school, even if doing so would cost the player millions of dollars and unbelievable opportunities. Remember that Pete Carroll wanted Mark Sanchez to return to USC this year. He said Sanchez wasn’t ready. Sanchez is. Maybe Carroll was just wrong, or maybe Carroll thought he would win more games and have a better shot at a national title with Sanchez starting instead of freshman Matt Barkley. Sanchez’s professional future was best served by leaving; Carroll’s professional future was best served by Sanchez staying. It’s no surprise which side Carroll fell on. Just about every college coach would have fallen on the same side.

College coaches want to keep their jobs, and they will use players to do that. They’ll couch it in terms like what’s best for the team or the program, but the dirty little secret of big-time college football is that the main motivation is the coach’s own job security.

After covering the NFL full-time for four years, I was moved to cover Clemson’s football team in 2000. That was an interesting team, and one of the best players was Nick Eason. Nick was a defensive end coming off a really good sophomore season, and he was starting to get some buzz from scouts as a burgeoning pro prospect.

But in his junior season, coaches moved Nick Eason to defensive tackle. He wasn’t big enough to hold up there, and he started getting banged up. It wasn’t his best position, but the coaches (in the midst of a 6-5 season) needed help at tackle, and Eason was their best defensive linemen. So they moved him.

That was a job security move, not a move determined by what was best for Nick Eason’s pro future. Nick suffered more of a pounding and more injuries because of the move. It hurt his draft stock. After having 8.5 sacks as a sophomore, he had only 6.5 more in his last two years. He fell from a potential high-round draft pick to a fourth-rounder who never played for the team that drafted him, the Denver Broncos.

Interview sessions at Clemson (like at most colleges, I think) were usually group sessions. But one day, late in the season, I ended up interviewing Nick with only one other reporter in the room. So I went for it. I asked Nick if he thought the coaches had done him wrong by moving him inside. I asked him if he thought the move had hurt his future NFL career. I tried to find out if Nick was upset about it.

Nick didn’t bite on my questions. He was a good team player. Just like Jermaine Gresham or Sam Bradford or Tim Tebow, Nick bought that what the coaches said was best for the team was probably best for him – even though it wasn’t.

Nick ended up OK. He’s been in the NFL since 2003, and he’s found a role as a backup defensive linemen. He even got a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.

Not everyone should go pro. A player should make sure he will be drafted. A player should never go pro thinking he is better than he really is.

Take Rodney Harrison. He went pro a year early, and in an interview he said it happened because his family needed financial help. Rodney got cut in his first training camp and spent a year on the practice squad before making it with the Chargers. Going pro doesn’t lead to an automatic success story. But it is an opportunity that players need to seize when it comes.

But when I see Jermaine Gresham missing the year after skipping the draft, or when I see Sam Bradford lying on the ground in pain, I think of Nick Eason. I think of how what was best for the college coaches wasn’t really what was best for the players.

And once again, I hear the message.

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FR: Coaching hot seats

It’s still really early in the season, but the coaching hot seat is already starting to heat up. So we thought we’d use Football Relativity to identify the hottest seats for head coaches around the league. We’re comparing these on a 10-point scale, with 1 being a backburner that’s barely lit and 10 being a red-hot seat.

We asked our readers over on the Most Valuable Network’s Football Wire to vote for the coach with the hottest seat, and we’ll give more thoughts about the “winner” of this comparison in this post over on MVN.

10 – Eric Mangini, Browns – (0-2 this year in 1st season with Cleveland, 23-28 including playoffs in 4th season overall) – Mangini was the choice of Most Valuable Network readers as the coach most on the hot seat. We spell out why below. (We moved our original MVN post to the bottom of this one…)

9 – Jack Del Rio, Jaguars – (0-2 this year, 51-50 including playoffs in 7th season with Jacksonville) – Del Rio’s my way or the highway approach has often led him into contentious relationships with players (including Mike Peterson), and Del Rio had the pull to clear the locker room of his detractors in the offseason. But after doing that, Del Rio will have to deliver, or else his tenure in Jacksonville becomes debatable. Del Rio has had a couple of really good seasons in Jacksonville, but the arrow appears pointed down at this point as the Jags look listless following up on a 5-11 campaign in 2008. The fact that Del Rio is signed through 2012 could save him for another year, given the Jaguars’ financial troubles related to ticket sales, but Del Rio needs to pile up some wins and provide some hope to make sure he sticks around.

8 – Wade Phillips, Cowboys - (1-1 this year, 23-12 including playoffs in 3rd season in Dallas, 71-54 including playoffs in 9th season overall) – Jerry Jones has always seemed to view Phillips as the coach he settled for and not the coach he wanted. Phillips has done an OK job in Dallas, but he hasn’t gotten the playoff win that has eluded the franchise since the mid-1990s, and until he does that he will always be on the hot seat. Phillips is 0-4 in the playoffs in all of his stops, which compounds the playoffs issue for him. The fact that flashy options like Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher will be available after the season should make any Jones employee nervous, because we know Jerry loves to make headlines. So Phillips needs a big year to stick around in 2010.

7 – Jim Zorn, Redskins – (1-1 this year, 9-9 in 2nd year with Washington) – Zorn got a win last week against the Rams, but that was a win of the ugliest variety. He is not nearly out of the woods yet, because Redskins owner Daniel Snyder always has high expectations and a spendthrift approach but never has much patience. Zorn went 8-8 in his first year in a tough division, which is an OK result, but thus far Washington has looked less able to compete in the NFC East this year than it was in ’08.

6 – none

5  – John Fox, Panthers – (0-2 this year, 68-54 including playoffs in his 8th season in Carolina) – Fox has done a solid job in Carolina, and he has gotten plenty of rope despite inconsistency year to year. But his contract is up in 2010, and Carolinian Bill Cowher lurks as a potential replacement. So Fox needs to record back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in his career to make his job completely safe. His team’s 0-2 start has only increased the temperature of the burner he’s on. Fox stuck with Jake Delhomme in the offseason, which may end up being his downfall. Delhomme must play better and the Panthers must win, or else we could see Fox’s long tenure in Carolina end.

5 (con’t) – Dick Jauron, Bills – (1-1 this year, 22-28 in 4th season in Buffalo, 58-77 in 10th season overall) – Jauron is off to another solid start in Buffalo, but that’s no guarantee of future success. Remember that the Bills started 4-0 last year before stumbling to a 7-9 start. Jauron has gone 7-9 in each of his three seasons in Buffalo, and owner Ralph Wilson seems to have accelerated the win-now pressure by signing Terrell Owens. The Bills don’t have a good enough roster to win a championship, but if they match their effort of the first two weeks and avoid gagging away a game as they did against New England, they could sneak into a playoff spot. It may take that for Jauron to keep his gig.

4 - Gary Kubiak, Texans – (1-1 this year, 23-27 in 4th season in Houston) – The time is now for Kubiak and the Texans, who have enough offensive and defensive talent to finally get the franchise over the 8-8 hump and into the playoffs. Last week’s win at Tennessee made that look like more of a possibility. Road wins have traditionally been scarce for the Texans, so beating a division rival away from home was a good sign. But Kubiak needs more than good signs this year to continue guiding the high-powered Texans attack.

3 – Tom Cable, Raiders (1-1 this season, 5-9 in 2nd season in Oakland) – Cable actually has the Raiders playing well thus far, continuing the solid finish of last year. He deserves some time to see if he can turn this positive momentum into actual progress in Oakland. But Raider-land is so bizarre that you never know when Cable will run afoul of owner Al Davis, and there’s also the lingering issue of Tom Cable’s Punch Out in a coaching meeting. Still, the burner is turned down low on Cable right now because he’s done a decent job.

2 – Marvin Lewis, Bengals – (1-1 this season, 47-51-1 including playoffs in 7th season in Cincinnati) – Bengals coaches traditionally get a lot more slack than other coaches because Cincy’s ownership is so penurious that it doesn’t want to pay a coach who is no longer coaching. But Lewis seems to have the Bengals playing pretty well so far, as they have beaten Green Bay on the road and are an all-time fluke play away from being 2-0. Last year was actually Lewis’ first year with less than seven wins in Cincy, so he’s done a decent job on the whole. If he can get back into the 8- or 9-win range this year, he should be able to stick around.

2 (con’t) – Lovie Smith, Bears (1-1 this year, 48-38 including playoffs in 6th year with Chicago) – Smith got a big win over the Steelers in Week 2 that will help to keep whispers about his job from festering. Smith took over defensive playcalling duties from coordinator Bob Babich this year, which is often a move that’s designed to avoid a firing. The Bears still need to carry on and compete for Smith to be completely safe, especially given the expectations that came with the arrival of Jay Cutler, but Smith’s solid tenure in Chicago should continue with another winning season.

1 – Brad Childress, Vikings – (2-0 this year, 26-25 including playoffs in 4th year with Minnesota) – Childress went all-in by signing Brett Favre, and his Minnesota team has gotten off to a good start with two solid if unspectacular road wins. But we can’t take Childress completely off the hot seat because all he’s done is beat two of the worst teams in the league, the Lions and Browns. If his team is 4-4 at midseason, the temperature on his tuckus will quickly ratchet up.

Archive on Mangini:

Yesterday, we asked Football Wire readers which NFL head coach was on the hottest seat in the NFL. The choice was Cleveland’s Eric Mangini. You can see how Mangini compares to other NFL coaches on the hot seat in our Football Relativity comparison.
Mangini’s first season in Cleveland has been a comedy of errors. In his attempt to be like his estranged mentor Bill Belichick, Mangini has tried to rule with an iron hand in Cleveland even more than he did in his three years with the Jets. But many of these moves have made Mangini look like a petty control freak, and players are noticing. To wit:

*Mangini forced team rookies to take a 10-hour bus trip (one way) to work his youth football camp. Mangini himself took a private plane to the camp on the way there before criticism caused him to ride the bus back (with his head between his legs, likely).

*Mangini forced players to practice at full speed in terrible weather early in training camp. WR Syndric Steptoe suffered a season-ending injury during the practice, and afterwards Steptoe’s agent blamed Mangini for it.

*Mangini fined a Browns player $1,701 for not paying for a $3 bottle of water he took out of a hotel minibar.

*Mangini, pretending he was smarter than everyone else, didn’t identify whether Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson would start at quarterback for the Browns leading up to the opener. Quinn started, and the Browns lost. (Don’t blame Brady; Derek Anderson would have lost too.)

*All this has reportedly caused some agents  to say that they won’t recommend their players sign with Cleveland, even when the Browns offer more money.

Mangini’s arrogance and his players-don’t-matter attitude simply won’t fly in the long run if he doesn’t win. And if his team continues to stink out loud as it is right now, there might well be an out-and-out player revolt in Cleveland before the end of the year.

Mangini isn’t taking the Browns in the right direction, and instead appears to be burying the franchise further in the doldrums. That should put him on the hot seat, if ownership (which was so eager to hire Mangini in the offseason) is willing to admit its mistake after just a season. The temperature on Mangini’s hot seat ultimately will come down to Randy Lerner’s willingness to eat some humble pie.

Browns fans better hope Lerner is hungry enough to win to eat that meal, because Mangini has quickly put together a train wreck of a tenure in the Dawg Pound.

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Week 1 Moves

As we did in the preseason, we’re going to do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We’ll include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year.

Additions

Panthers (add QB A.J. Feeley) – Given the quarterback crisis they have going on right now, the Panthers needed a veteran hand, and they thought Feeley was the best guy out there. He’s been a solid performer in the past for the Eagles, and he started some games for Miami back in the day again.

Eagles (add QB Jeff Garcia) – With Donovan McNabb suffering from a broken rib and Michael Vick ineligible until Week 3, the Eagles needed a quarterback who’s at least good enough to back up immediately in case Kevin Kolb gets hurt or just stinks out loud. Garcia had good success with the Eagles a few years back, and he can still move an offense. Given Garcia’s locker-room personality, don’t be surprised if he’s cut when Vick and McNabb are available again, but for right now he can help Philly.

Chiefs (add WR Bobby Wade) – The Chiefs, who have been looking for veteran help at wideout all offseason, picked up Wade, who had 50 catches each of the last two seasons in Minnesota. Wade isn’t a great receiver, but he’s a tick above average, and he can be a solid No. 3 wideout for the Chiefs. This move won’t put the Chiefs over the top in the playoff chase, but it will help.

Colts (add WR Hank Baskett) – Mr. Kendra has had his moments in Philly, but as the Eagles have upgraded their receiving corps via the draft in recent years, Baskett’s limited speed moved him down the depth chart. He still has good size and good hands, so he can help the Colts. Indy has some talented young receivers but very little experience behind Reggie Wayne, and so Baskett can help in that area. But Indy must realize that Baskett is going to be a bigger reality-TV star than football star at this point in his career.

Bears (add LB Tim Shaw) – After Brian Urlacher and The Tower were hurt in the opener against the Packers, Chicago needed to add some linebacker depth. Shaw played basically a full season with the Panthers in 2007 and had a cup of coffee with the Jags last season. He won’t start, but he can provide depth and help fill the special-teams void left by new MLB starter Hunter Hillenmeyer.

Buccaneers (add OG Sean Mahan and DE Tim Crowder) – Mahan, who was cut just before the opener, came back after Week One in what looks like a ploy by the Bucs to keep his entire ’09 salary from being guaranteed. He’s a veteran backup but not much more at this point, but he can still help. Crowder, a former second-round pick in Denver, was lost in the Broncos’ move to a 3-4 this year, but he still has enough promise that he’s worth a look for a team like the Bucs that runs a 4-3.

Lions (add DL Turk McBride via waivers) – McBride, a second-round pick back in 2007, didn’t fit as a linebacker in the Chiefs’ new 3-4 defense, making him a bust in two systems. He’s another in a long line of failed Chiefs defensive line picks in recent years, which is a huge reason that the Chiefs are in such a rebuilding mode right now. But ex-Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who is now in Detroit, thought McBride is worth a shot in a 4-3 set. Given the Lions’ lack of talent, it’s worth a shot for them.

Seahawks (add LB D.D. Lewis) – Lewis, an eight-year vet who was cut late in training camp, came back to provide depth for Seattle with OLB Leroy Hill hurting. Hill will miss a couple of games, and Lewis can provide depth behind fill-in Will Herring and add some special-teams stability as well.

Giants (add RB Gartrell Johnson off waivers) – With Danny Ware injured, the Giants needed to beef up their backfield depth. Johnson, a fourth-round pick of the Chargers from Colorado State, is the kind of young back who’s worth a look.

Saints (add WR-RS Courtney Roby) – Roby played for the Saints last year but didn’t make the opening-game roster this year. But the Saints brought him back, likely as much for special teams and returns as anything else.

Rams (add LB Paris Lenon and WR Ruvell Martin) – Lenon was a full-time starter the last three years in Detroit, and he brings experience if not pizzaz to St. Louis’ LB corps. He can replace the veteran wile that Chris Draft provided before he was cut just prior to the opener. Martin, who had 52 catches and 6 TDs in three years in Green Bay, adds depth to a receiving corps that has little of it.

Bears (add CB DeAngelo Smith) – The Bears have had major injuries and upheaval in the secondary, and that has kept them from estabishling a rotation there. This week, they cut McBride and replaced him with DeAngelo Smith. Smith was a higher draft pick than McBride two years ago, and the Bears thought his physical skills made the switch worth it. But neither Smith nor McBride is the ultimate answer to the dilemma the Bears have in the secondary right now.

Subtractions

Bears (put LB Brian Urlacher on IR) – We cover the Urlacher injury in more depth in this blog entry on Most Valuable Network’s Football Wire.

Chargers (put NT Jamal Williams on IR) – One of the biggest keys to any 3-4 defense is the nose tackle’s ability to anchor against the run and free the linebackers to run around and make plays. For more than a decade, Williams has been one of the best at that, but now the Chargers will have to make do without him. This is a huge injury that deals a significant blow to the Chargers’ championship hopes. Williams won’t be easily replaced.

Panthers (put QB Josh McCown on IR) – McCown was the Panthers’ No. 2 quarterback, but he quickly got hurt after he took over for Delhomme in Week One. The injury was a six-week injury, but the Panthers needed quarterback help stat, and so they shelved McCown to make room for Feeley.

Eagles (put ORT Shawn Andrews on IR) – Andrews, who was supposed to team with his brother Stacy this year to provide the Eagles massive beef on the right side of the offensive line, instead will miss the season. Winston Justice, who is much lighter and less accomplished than Andrews, will try to fill his massive shoes.

Jaguars (put DE Reggie Hayward on IR) – Hayward broke his shin in Week One and will miss the year. The long-time Jaguar’s pass-rush ability will be missed, and his absence will force second-year men Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey to step up.

Giants (cut OG Tutan Reyes) – Reyes is a big man who is a passable backup guard but not much more at his career. Given how solid and sturdy as the Giants’ offensive line has been in recent years, Reyes wasn’t going to see much playing time. At least he was on the roster long enough to get his 2009 salary guaranteed.

Lions (cut DT Orien Harris) – Harris was traded twice this offseason, from Cincinnati to St. Louis to Detroit, but he lasted just one game with the Lions before being replaced by Turk McBride. He is a borderline rotation player at this point who should find work as injuries pile up throughout the league.

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Where do the Bears go now that Urlacher is gone?

In our latest blog entry for the Most Valuable Network Football Wire, we assess the state of the Chicago Bears defense now that MLB Brian Urlacher is gone for the season. You can read the blog below in an archive of our original MVN post.

The Chicago Bears lost the biggest name their franchise has had this decade for the season when MLB Brian Urlacher suffered a wrist injury in Week One against the Packers. But the loss of Urlacher the linebacker isn’t a death knell, because he’s not the player that will determine the ultimate success of that defense this season.

The Bears are a team in transition defensively. The core of the unit that was so good in the NFC Championship game three seasons ago is not what it once was. DT Tommie Harris, who was near Albert Haynesworth’s level of disruption on the front line, is fighting knee injuries and can’t make the consistent impact he once did. CB Nathan Vasher, once a ballhawk, is now a target. CB Charles Tillman has been hurt a lot. Play-making S Mike Brown is gone. Only WLB Lance Briggs remains an elite player on a league-wide level on this defense.

Urlacher, like many of his teammates, had begun the slow decline of his career. He’s still a good tackler, but he was no longer the massive threat he was earlier in his career. In fact, Briggs would have been a bigger loss than Urlacher for the Bears. While replacement Hunter Hillenmeyer is not a special player, he’s solid enough to provide stability in the middle. The question is what other players will emerge to make big plays for the Bears D.

Briggs can drop into coverage, range to make plays, and even provide an occasional pass rush. Some have suggested moving Briggs to the middle and signing Derrick Brooks, who knows the Lovie Smith take on the Tampa-2 defense like the back of his hand, to stabilize the unit. But that would be a mistake — since Briggs is the best guy on the defense, you want to put him in the optimum position to make plays, and that’s right where he is.

Instead, the Bears need DE Adewale Ogunleye to be a consistent pass rusher like he was in the opener against the Packers. The Bears need Alex Brown and Mark Anderson to do much the same thing. The Bears need CB Charles Tillman to return to his pre-injury form, and they need young DBs like Al Afalava and Zack Bowman to emerge as plus players.

In other words, the Bears need more than Urlacher was going to give them anyway. Urlacher wasn’t the biggest answer for the Monsters of the Midway before, and replacing him isn’t the biggest qusetion for the team now. The Bears have the same ifs that will determine their season that they did before Urlacher was lost.

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Titans/Steelers thoughts

A few thoughts on last night’s season opener between the Titans and the Steelers, both from an on-field perspective and from a fantasy football perspective.

On-field
*I feel better than ever about including Tennessee among the top four teams in the league in our first Football Relativity comparison. Even without DT Albert Haynesworth, the Titans have a lot of pass-rush ability in their front four, with Jason Jones and Tony Brown providing it inside. This is a team that’s rock-solid on both lines and that has enough pieces elsewhere to be a tough team. Even though they lost, I’m even more convinced that this will be the best team in the AFC South.

*Pittsburgh is not a perfect team, but it’s a really tough team. This team went through the schedule gauntlet last year and found ways to win even when they’re not at their best. They did it again last night, and it goes to show that they’re never going to go down without a fight. Ben Roethlisberger is the microcosm of his team – always better at the end of the game than at the beginning.

*The injury to Troy Polamalu makes Pittsburgh’s defense less scary while he’s out. While Ryan Clark is a big hitter at safety, he’s not nearly the playmaker that Polamalu is. Without Polamalu, the Steelers will give up more big plays and make fewer, and that will hurt. The defense will still be good, but it won’t reach the special level that it can with Polamalu running around like a man possessed.

*Bo Scaie is really good. He’s the X-factor for the Titans offense. If Scaife can do every week what he did last night, the Titans offense will be a lot scarier. He’s not just a dependable third-down receiver; he’s also a threat to grab a 20-yard chunk at any time. Rookie Jared Cook isn’t going to replace Scaife this year (maybe in 2010 if Scaife leaves as a free agent), but the combo of Cook and Scaife on the field at the same time could be very interesting. Given how well-done Alge Crumpler is at this point, that has to be an option the Titans will explore.

Fantasy Football
*We saw the downside of both Titans running backs last night. Chris Johnson should get at least 50 yards each week, even against the toughest defenses, because he’ll bust at least one big play each week. (Last night it was a 32-yard run.) LenDale White, on the other hand, has very limited fantasy value unless he scores a touchdown. He’ll score his share of touchdowns this year, but against tough defenses he should be benched in most leagues because he’s not going to be a big yardage guy.

*Santonio Holmes has arrived. (This is a real football thought too.) Holmes is a legitimate No. 1 receiver from a real football sense, and he’s starting to take over for Hines Ward in that capacity for the Steelers. On my draft board, I had Holmes in the 20s among receivers, but this performance reminds me of his playoff run enough to say that Santonio is going to be a top-20 fantasy receiver this year. If you drafted him, you got a good deal. I thought Ward’s numbers, on the other hand, were a little higher than they will usually be. He’s more of a fantasy backup in most 10-12 team leagues this year. 

*Scaife is probably going to end up being between 10 and 15 on the tight end chart this year. I don’t count on him scoring a lot of touchdowns, but if you’re in a yardage-heavy leage or even a point-per-reception league, Scaife has more value. He’s not an elite guy, but he’s going to be productive.

*We saw last night what Kerry Collins is as a fantasy quarterback – 200-250 yards and a touchdown most weeks. Those are backup numbers. Roethlisberger’s numbers (363 yards and one TD) will probably fluctuate from week to week, but he does have some fantasy upside this year because he has better targets than he’s had in past years.

*I have two guys in my office who executed the strategy of drafting both Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall for their fantasy teams this year. That’s a dangerous strategy with this team. Although both will play, you can’t start both because you could end up 25 total rushing yards, as they did last year. Parker is the starter, but he’s not going to have a ton of 100-yard games this year, I don’t believe. He’s a borderline fantasy starter. I’m falling off the Mendenhall bandwagon. At one point, I had him as a top-75 player, but I don’t like his running style, and he just hasn’t looked special to me either in this game or in the preseason game I watched this year. He was playing a terrific defense last night, so I don’t want to overreact, but it is time to sound the bust alarm on him.

*I don’t buy Kenny Britt yet, but if he continues to play as a starter, he could end up being worth a spot on your bench. Justin Gage, on the other hand, is probably worth a pick-up in 12-team leagues and bigger. Gage is the No. 1 wideout, and he’s healthy (which he wasn’t last year). He probably ends up as a top-40 wide receiver, which makes him ownable.

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