Commentary

Three WRs who will face more pressure

Evans, Johnson and Moss will see more double coverage this season

Originally Published: August 9, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Lee Evans, Calvin Johnson & Santana MossAP Photo/ David DupreyBuffalo's Lee Evans, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Washington's Santana Moss are going to get more defensive attention than ever.
Having driven more than 2,500 miles to see 14 teams in 12 days, I have had time to reflect on the training camps I visited. Here are a few notable situations I saw during my tour:

•  Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome faces a tough month ahead. The season-ending knee injury to cornerback Domonique Foxworth will force Newsome to study rosters closer than any other front-office executive so that he can make trades and waiver claims on cornerbacks. Foxworth was a $7 million-a-year fix for the cornerback position last season. The combined salaries of the remaining players at cornerback are slightly more than $6 million. The Ravens are hurting at cornerback.

To make matters worse, Fabian Washington, who makes $1.809 million on a one-year deal, and Lardarius Webb, who makes $395,000, are coming off major knee injuries. Webb probably won't be ready for the opener, and Cary Williams opens the season with a two-game suspension.

Newsome already has made a trade for cornerback Doug Dutch of the Washington Redskins, giving up quarterback John Beck, and he can dangle quarterback Troy Smith to get another corner.

•  The three receivers I saw in camp who face tough challenges are the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, the Buffalo Bills' Lee Evans and the Redskins' Santana Moss. Each is used to seeing double coverage, and each should expect to see more attention. Their teams don't have enough threats to pull coverage away from them.

Detroit's Johnson might have the best chance to improve his receiving numbers because Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler should draw defenders. Moss will need to be helped by a lot of two tight-end sets. Evans is just doomed; the Bills simply lack weapons.

•  The Chicago Bears are the team I wish I could have doubled back to visit again. Their offense is intriguing. Mike Martz might have something special going with his motion packages and quarterback Jay Cutler is throwing the ball well. Martz feels good about what's happening on the practice field and that could translate into an exciting offense.

•  Seattle Seahawks running back Justin Forsett is on a mission. A smaller back, Forsett might not have the body to be an every-down runner, but he has the heart and the speed. He's making a big push to challenge Julius Jones for a starting job.

•  The more I think about St. Louis Rams rookie Sam Bradford, the more convinced I am he is going to be a top quarterback. The Rams might not start him in the season opener, but he'll play at least 12 games this season.

•  Expect a big season for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. He and Arizona Cardinals star Beanie Wells seem like two running backs on the rise.

Let's open the mailbag:

Q: John, why don't you think that teams can have success running the ball in this league any more? Why do you think that a team led by a staunch defense and a grind-it-out, clock-control [offense] cannot be successful? Call me old-fashioned, but I think the 3-4 yards and a cloud of dust, holding the ball for 35-40 minutes a game still has staying power in this league.

From Kovacs in Santa Monica, Calif.

A: Being old-fashioned is not a bad thing, but the game has changed. Sure, teams can run the ball successfully. The Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson gained 2,006 yards last season and the Carolina Panthers had two 1,100-yard runners. But there are more top-level quarterbacks who can get the ball in a close game and beat those running teams in the fourth quarter. I call those quarterbacks elite. They have changed the style of the game to the point that teams must be bolder and more aggressive with their passing offenses. Keeping it close can get you to eight or nine wins. It's the fourth quarter that betrays the conservative, old-fashioned strategy. The rules are patterned to help the passer, and the best passers take advantage of those rules.

Q: I was wondering if you could speculate the extent to which Kyle Shanahan's move from Houston to Washington will affect both the Texans' and Redskins' offensive dimension. Do you expect the Texans to rely less on the pass because of the change in coordinator? And do you anticipate the Redskins to pass more due to Shanahan's arrival?

From Joe in La Crosse, Wis.

A:
The loss of Kyle Shanahan might affect the Texans more than the Redskins, but the impact shouldn't be too bad. Head coach Mike Shanahan is the architect of the Redskins' offense; all his son will do is make the unit stronger and give Mike a trusted set of eyes. Gary Kubiak can handle the Texans' offense, but new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison could help build the running offense because he's a former offensive line coach. The Redskins will have more play-action passes for Donovan McNabb and they probably will use more two-tight end sets. Kubiak's challenge is to keep the passing offense at that 4,700-yard level, because Matt Schaub had a great year and wants to build on that.

Q: During a road trip with a couple of friends a few weeks back, an argument was started as to whether former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott has a shot for the Hall of Fame. He has a franchise-high 71 TDs and is second to Derrick Brooks as the team's greatest player of all time, if not the best. There was also no one more dominant at the fullback position as he was during his prime. What is your opinion on this?

From Jesse in Palm City, Fla.

A: Alstott has no chance. He might have gone to the Pro Bowl often as a fullback, but he was more of a running back, and his yards don't match up with the top runners of his day. As a voter, you must make value judgments on positions because you have so many qualified candidates. A fullback-running back with 71 touchdowns is not going to beat out a receiver who ranks in the top five all-time or a 100-plus-sack defender. Just being the best fullback doesn't get you into the Hall of Fame, but it gets great honors within a franchise. Alstott deserves all honors in Tampa Bay because he was a very good player.

Q: Considering how teams have to work nowadays to find a steady kicker, how big of a deal is it that Jason Hanson isn't going to be there through the preseason? He did this last year and had a less-than-stellar season. Or is this a good thing for the Lions finally giving them an opportunity to find a successor to Hanson who has manned the spot for a couple of decades?

From Gary in Middlebury, Ind.

A:
The medical reports on Hanson -- who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee recently -- are good enough that he should be ready for the regular-season opener. Still, the Lions probably do need to start the search for a new kicker. It would be great for the franchise if he can get through this season and maybe handle next year because the Lions still need to find five or six starting defensive players. Hanson has been a treasure for the Lions. He's been dependable, but at some point everyone wears out.

Q: What will the Redskins do with Andre Carter if Lorenzo Alexander beats him out for the OLB spot opposite Brian Orakpo? I have to imagine that a 10-sack rush end has to be worth a third-round pick to a 4-3 team, or will Mike Shanahan keep him for third downs?

From Ryan in Colorado Springs, Colo.

A:
Lorenzo Alexander is expected to beat out Carter, so the plan is to use Carter as a defensive end on passing downs. The Redskins are a 3-4 team, but most 3-4 teams go to a four-man line when they go to the nickel or dime defense. Carter could get 60 percent of the playing time if opponents try to pass the ball on him, and that's where he can get the sacks. Why trade him? Carter has value to the Redskins going against Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Kevin Kolb six times a year.

Q: Yes, I am a Bucs fan from the N.Y. area.. The Bucs seems to be putting all the right pieces in place, yet so many analysts are already marking them off. They had their best draft in recent memory. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price will fill in huge voids that were missing last season along the D-line. Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn complement well with Josh Freeman, and will sure make an impact along with newcomer Reggie Brown. Donald Penn has reported to camp. Earnest Graham has more than accepted his role at fullback. If Freeman overcomes some of his inaccuracy issues, I see the Bucs pulling down 8 or 9 wins this season, which is a vast improvement. How do you think they'll fare this season?

From Danny in New York

A:
I loved the Bucs' first four picks, but they need another draft or two to get back to the eight- or nine-win level. They are missing that big-play defensive end, they still have questions along the offensive line, they need another player or two in the secondary and Freeman is still a young quarterback. The Bucs are going in the right direction, but I have them at the six-win level for now.

Q: Are the Chargers really going to move on without Vincent Jackson? I understand their concerns with the CBA, but I thought teams search far and wide for a franchise WR. If they end up letting him go 10 games on the bench and eventually in free agency next year over money, doesn't that just put them back where they were a few years ago without a No. 1 WR?

From Alex in Phoenix

A: I hate to say it, but the Chargers concede they will probably go 10 games without Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill, a big blow to the offense. Even though Jackson has the talents of a No. 1 wide receiver, he is technically the No. 2 or No. 3 option in the Chargers' passing offense. Antonio Gates is No. 1. The running back is usually the second option, but we will have to see how Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles handle those duties now that LaDainian Tomlinson is gone. I know there's confusion, but both sides boxed themselves into tough positions.

Q: Professor, in Mike Martz's offense, Jay Cutler will need to throw to a spot, rather than a receiver (timing). What will be more imperative for Cutler to be effective in this offense, his arm strength or having the time and accuracy to complete the pass. And will the O-line give him time?

From Kevin P in Louisville, Ky.

A: Cutler's accuracy and brains work to the benefit of the Bears. I liked what I saw in camp. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu are getting to the spots and Cutler is hitting them. Martz has them motioning all over the place to confuse defenses. You'll like what you see in the preseason. The mistake would be trying too many seven-step drops. I would be concerned about the offensive line, because while Chris Williams looks much better at left tackle, the rest of the line is shaky. Martz can scheme his way out of trouble by sticking to shorter routes.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer