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Key Players in the NFC East

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Old 06-08-2005, 11:15 PM   #1
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Key Players in the NFC East

ESPN reports the following:

Dallas Cowboys -- Drew Bledsoe, quarterback
Head coach Bill Parcells knows that he is not going to be around long enough to see the Drew Henson project through. Furthermore, he is not sold that Henson has what it takes to develop into a good starting quarterback in the NFL. Hence the reunion with Bledsoe.

Bledsoe is an experienced veteran with not only a great concept of Parcells' system, but also a clear understanding of what Parcells expects from his quarterback. However, if Bledsoe and Parcells are to return to the Super Bowl together, the veteran quarterback must mend his recent shortcomings.

Bledsoe has been sacked 402 times in his 11-year NFL career, 140 of which came in his three seasons in Buffalo. He hasn't averaged more than 7 yards per attempt since 2002, and he threw nearly as many interceptions (28) as touchdowns (31) in his final two seasons (2003-04) with the Bills.

Bledsoe's supporting cast in Buffalo wasn't great, but it wasn't bad enough to justify his numbers. In reality, he's not going to get much more help in Dallas. Running back Julius Jones and tight end Jason Witten are emerging stars, but there are question marks still remaining.

The offensive line is aging on the left side, with Flozell Adams and Larry Allen, and the Cowboys also have a big question mark at right tackle, where Kurt Vollers and Torrin Tucker are left to duke it out for the starting job. There's some good depth at wide receiver, but Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson are over the hill and Quincy Morgan is too inconsistent.

In order to upgrade an offense that ranked 25th in scoring last season, Parcells must play to Bledsoe's strengths. The drops have to be shorter, the reads must be simpler and the release time must be quicker. Bledsoe can't hold on to the football as long as he has in the past few seasons and also needs to take fewer chances throwing into traffic.

For starters, the Cowboys will rely heavily on Jones and the power run game. They also will utilize Bledsoe's strong play-action skills in order to freeze linebackers and slow down the blitz. The good news is that Witten gives Bledsoe a security blanket at the tight end position that he hasn't had since Ben Coates. He also has a strong familiarity with Glenn from their days in New England.

The Cowboys' front office has done an outstanding job of addressing its areas of need on both sides of the football by adding Bledsoe, offensive guard Marco Rivera, nose tackle Jason Ferguson, cornerback Anthony Henry and top draft picks Demarcus Ware (outside linebacker) and Marcus Spears (defensive end). Now it is up to Parcells and Bledsoe to make everything mesh. If Bledsoe can cut down on his key errors and simply do a better job of utilizing the talents that surround him, the Cowboys have a legitimate chance of making a playoff run in 2005.

New York Giants -- Kareem McKenzie, right offensive tackle
After doling out the most free-agent money in team history to McKenzie, the team is understandably expecting big things. McKenzie's addition signals an immediate upgrade at the right tackle position, which was a glaring weakness on a patchwork offensive line last season. He is an experienced and proven starter with 48 NFL starts with the Jets. He has good size, long arms, and good overall power.

McKenzie has developed into a solid anchor on the perimeter and rarely gives up a sack. Furthermore, he is a disciplined player who has had only three penalties called on him in the last three seasons. Considering the organization's future is being built around quarterback Eli Manning, signing McKenzie made plenty of sense.

If McKenzie is able to live up to expectations, the Giants' offensive line should be one of the most improved units in the NFL in 2005. Not only is McKenzie an upgrade over last year's starting right tackle, David Diehl, his presence allows Luke Petitgout to remain at left tackle.

Diehl can now move back inside to left guard, where he was emerging as a solid starter in 2003. Center Shaun O'Hara is efficient, and right guard Chris Snee has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl player. Also, McKenzie and Snee on the right side give the Giants a massive, overpowering duo to run and set up play action behind.

Finally, with McKenzie and Petitgout as bookend tackles, it should allow offensive coordinator John Hufnagel to release tight end Jeremy Shockey as a receiver more often than he could in 2004, when Shockey was needed in too many max-protection schemes in order to help mask the inefficiency in perimeter pass protection.

Philadelphia Eagles -- L.J. Smith, tight end
Smith is a terrifically gifted athlete with an impressive combination of size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and speed (4.6 in the 40-yard dash). He has the acceleration to stretch the middle of the field vertically and enough size to develop into a solid all-around blocker.

The third-year pro has shown flashes and has steadily improved since the Eagles selected him in the second round of the 2003 draft. He averaged more than 11 yards per catch in his two NFL seasons and he had seven more receptions (34) and five more touchdowns (six) in 2004 than he did as a rookie.

Despite the progress, Smith is still underachieving. He must improve his overall consistency. He makes some spectacular catches, but also loses focus and drops some catchable balls. Smith must improve his feel in getting open against zone coverage. He also needs to improve his strength during the offseason and take better angles as a blocker in space.

Chad Lewis wasn't nearly as consistent or dangerous as a receiver in his last two seasons with the team, but he served as a reliable veteran that the Eagles could count on as a complement to Smith.

Lewis has indicated he wants to return to the NFL, but remains unsigned following the foot injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. It is believed the Eagles are waiting to see how his rehab pans out before making any decision. But even if he does re-sign for one year, the team couldn't count on him as anything more than a reserve at this point.

With Lewis' future unclear, the sense of urgency for Smith to produce in 2005 is great. The Eagles should be just as solid along the offensive line with the healthy return of guard Shawn Andrews. They were able to lock up versatile starting running back Brian Westbrook for another season, and while receiver Terrell Owens remains a minicamp holdout, we still expect he'll be back by the start of this season. If that's the case, the one missing ingredient for quarterback Donovan McNabb is a consistent weapon at the tight end position.

Owens can stretch the field vertically, McNabb keeps defenses honest with his feet and Westbrook draws a lot of attention underneath due to his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield. With so much attention given to those three players, the intermediate-to-deep middle of the field is oftentimes left unaccounted for. That is where Smith's athleticism and vertical speed could come in most handy.

Following four consecutive NFC title appearances, capped by last year's trip to the Super Bowl, the Eagles don't have much room left for improvement. However, the tight end position is certainly one of those areas. If Smith can emerge as a more consistent blocker and pass-catching weapon down the middle of the field, he could play a key part in the organizations' pursuit of the ultimate prize.

Washington Redskins -- Lemar Marshall, middle linebacker
When the team lost LaVar Arrington to injury in 2004, Marshall was thrown into the fire as a 14-game starter at weak-side linebacker. His production was adequate, but it was the raised level of play from strong-side linebacker Marcus Washington and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce that kept this unit from collapsing. Now, with Arrington returning healthy at weak-side linebacker and Pierce bolting to the Giants via free agency, it's time for Marshall to step up his game.

Marshall is a fine athlete with an impressive blend of quickness and speed. He is a sideline-to-sideline pursuit linebacker who will cover a lot of ground in run support if protected. A former collegiate safety, Marshall has the fluid hips and agility to match up against most running backs out of the backfield, and also shows great range in zone coverage.

The biggest question remaining, however, is whether he possesses the size and strength to hold up as a full-time starting middle linebacker. When he filled in on the weak side last season, the team was able to protect him by keeping him in space. As much as the coaches will try to give him room to roam, the 227-pound middle linebacker will inevitably encounter more interior linemen on reach blocks and fullbacks in the phone booth on isolation blocks.

With Pierce anchoring the middle, the Redskins' run defense ranked second in the NFL last season. If the unit is to maintain its high level of play in 2005, Marshall must use his quickness and athleticism to make up for the 20 pounds he gives up to Pierce.
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Old 06-09-2005, 12:52 AM   #2
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

i think that holdman will the be the middle lb if barrow can not go. marshall may be pretty good especially when he took over for lavar but he is just to small to play the middle. i think that holdman is more talented and probably more of a fit for the position. i truly believe that portis is our key player. we will go as far as he takes us considering that we are a running team first and foremost.
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Old 06-09-2005, 10:08 AM   #3
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

Man, I think Peirce was good, but he got a lot of hype and the Giants over paid him, big time. . .

OUr key players are going to be Springs and who ever starts on the other side, and the nickel corner, our CB's are much more important than our LB's . .those guys are on an island so much, its a live by the blitz, die by the blitz D. . .
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Old 06-09-2005, 10:18 AM   #4
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

I think we could see a rotation in the middle if someone doesn't step up and claim the job. I still wouldn't rule out seeing Holdman on the outside and Washington in the middle.

Williams likes versatile LBs and wants them to be able to play any LB spot, so basically anything is possible.
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Old 06-09-2005, 11:02 AM   #5
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

I also wouldn't be surprised to see McCune in there on occassion.
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Old 06-09-2005, 11:53 AM   #6
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

Damn, I'm just picturing some unlucky chump taking hits from LaVar and McCune simutaneously.
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Old 06-09-2005, 06:05 PM   #7
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Re: Key Players in the NFC East

williamss has specificly said he wants all his LBs to know every position EXCEPT marcus and lavar, who he wants to keep on the outside... i have no doubt he'd be good at MLB, but its a lot harder to hit the QB from there...
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