Rookies drawing rave early reviews
Lions' Suh and Bucs' McCoy among top-10 picks who have shined early
So what did we learn from the first full weekend of preseason football?
The 2010 rookie class accounted for itself very well. Thirty-three rookies started in the 15 games played between Thursday and Sunday and many did well.
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What has to make coaches happy is the good play of most of the top-10 picks. Ndamukong Suh of the Lions, Gerald McCoy of the Bucs, Trent Williams of the Redskins, Eric Berry of the Chiefs, Russell Okung and Earl Thomas of the Seahawks, Rolando McClain of the Raiders and Ryan Mathews of the Chargers all started and did well in their first games.
Among the non-first-round picks who excelled were defensive end Lamarr Houston of the Raiders, linebacker Koa Misi of the Dolphins, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes of the Patriots and safety T.J. Ward of the Browns.
The likely loss of running back Ben Tate for the season was a big blow to a Houston Texans team that just doesn't seem to have any luck fixing the running back position. Wasn't it fitting that Steve Slaton had yet another fumble near the goal line? And the surprising part about Sam Bradford's debut was how the Rams' offensive line collapsed in front of him.
Of the next group of quarterbacks, Jimmy Clausen of the Panthers did the best. Tim Tebow of the Broncos was up and down. Colt McCoy of the Browns struggled and was injured when he hit his hand on a helmet. McCoy won't be a factor this season, and Tebow will be a work in progress.
Inside linebacker Daryl Washington of the Cardinals didn't start, but he sure made a case that he should. A part of a linebacking corps that sports four starters in their 30s, Washington was all over the place making tackles.
From the inbox
Q: With some uncertainty about the pass-rushing capabilities of outside linebackers (not named Clay Matthews) on the Packers' roster, why am I not hearing any rumors about efforts to sign Aaron Schobel?
Joe in La Crosse, Wis.
A: That one is pretty easy: Schobel was going to end up in Houston as a 4-3 defensive end. He apparently decided Monday that he's going to retire instead of playing football this year. Clearly, he wasn't going to make a move to a team that has a 3-4. You saw how Aaron Kampman struggled in his transition to the 3-4. Kampman was professional about it, but you could tell it was a bad fit. The fact Matthews was a first-year hit with 10 sacks was a big plus. Dom Capers will have to develop someone from the roster to be the second pass-rusher.
To Victor in Kenner, La., the physically unable to perform list is set for players who can't pass the training camp physical and it gives the team the option of saving a roster spot on the 53-man roster by sitting the player for six weeks. Waived injured is a list that keeps a player around until his injuries heal or the team reaches an injury settlement. The injured reserve list ends the season of a player, but the team retains his rights until his contract expires. To Gary in Middlebury, Ind., the Lions shouldn't have offered Derrick Brooks a chance to play this season, nor should they have pursued Keith Bulluck. Their mistake was trading Ernie Sims, who has been knocking people down in Eagles camp. Sims was their best weakside linebacker. Will in New Orleans, the Saints will have to add another running back after losing Mike Bell to free agency and Lynell Hamilton for the season with a knee injury. P.J. Hill offers some promise, but the Saints are trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs. I don't think Brian Westbrook is the right fit, though, because he's not a power back. Foley in Oregon, Tim Hightower remains the starting running back for the Cardinals, but Beanie Wells will get 75 percent of the carries. Hightower might get at best 10 to 15 carries a game. Mike in Round Hill, Va., thinks the Ravens can use Willis McGahee or Jared Gaither to fix the cornerback needs. I wouldn't trade Gaither because that would make the team too thin at offensive tackle. The Ravens could probably live without McGahee, but the teams with excess corners don't necessarily need running back help. Brennan in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., raises an interesting question. He thinks the move of the umpire to the backfield will lead to more holding penalties. He notes how hard it was for the umpire to catch holding on pass-rushing linebackers in their old location. There should be an increase in holding calls but only a slight increase. The league doesn't want many holding calls in games. For the record, there were 37 offensive holding calls in the 15 games over the weekend, for an average of 2.47 per game. That's a big jump from the 1.84 average during last season, but there are usually more flags in the preseason. Rory in Chesapeake, Va., I believe Kyle Orton will remain Denver's starter at quarterback all season -- unless he gets hurt. I don't see Tim Tebow being ready to challenge for a starting job this season, and Brady Quinn is struggling in his transition to the Broncos. Joshua in Duncan, Okla., I don't think Chris Johnson can get to 2,000 yards again, but he should have at least a 1,500-yard season. Getting to the playoffs will be tough, but the Titans will be in the mix. JD in Tifton, Ga., is a die-hard Jaguars fan and likes the direction of the team. Gene Smith is doing a great job as general manager, but they are still a draft away from getting over the top. They will be in the six- to eight-win range and they will be in the market to draft a quarterback next year. Ted in Wilmette, Ill., I like Mike McCarthy's decision to have tackle Bryan Bulaga battle for the Packers' left guard spot. If he wins the job, it upgrades their offensive line and gives him a chance to play before eventually moving to left tackle. Similar strategies have worked with other left tackles. Jason in Raleigh, N.C., sees that Hakeem Nicks has the potential to overcome Steve Smith as the Giants' No. 1 wide receiver. I don't think it will happen this season, but Nicks does have that ability. Regardless, it is a great one-two punch that should keep Eli Manning at the 4,000-yard passing mark. Mason in Medina, Ohio, is encouraged by the Browns' progress. I don't think they added enough on offense to get to the .500 mark. Their most improved area is the secondary, as now they are deep at cornerback and decent at safety.
Q: Will the Ravens' problems in the secondary really cost them first place in the division? Sufficient cornerbacks seem to be a dime a dozen. I don't care what Saints fans say, their CBs weren't all that great and the Ravens have better safeties than they do and New Orleans won a Super Bowl!
Danny in Hollywood, Fla.
A: I think it could cost them the AFC North. Before seeing them and before the Domonique Foxworth injury, I thought the Ravens would win 11 games and the division. The cornerback situation has caused me to switch to the Bengals, a team with a top-five defense and plenty of offensive weapons. Lardarius Webb is a good potential starter, but I don't think he will be ready for the season opener and he might need the full season to get back to full speed after offseason knee surgery. Sure, the Ravens can get good pressure with the front seven, but that's a heavy burden for the group to carry over 16 games. The key to the division race is how the Ravens do in Week 4 in Pittsburgh. If the Ravens can win that game against a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger, they can get a sweep of the Steelers and maybe get to 10 or 11 wins. If they lose, it will be more difficult and the cornerback situation will make it tougher for the Ravens.
Q: The Bucs have an improved defense with Gerald McCoy and offense with Mike Williams. Josh Freeman has entered his second season and will be more comfortable, and the Bucs will have the Wildcat formation going with Josh Johnson. My friends and I made a bet that the Bucs would make the playoffs. Do you think a 10-6 season is possible?
Matt L in Palm City, Fla.
A: I hope you didn't bet a lot. The Bucs have a long way to go and privately they will admit it. As thrilled as I was with their first four draft choices, they need another draft or two and another year or two to get to the eight-win level. I love the fact that Freeman has a chance to grow with young receivers. The problem with youth is there will be mistakes and it will take time for the offense to win, particularly in a division that includes the Falcons and Saints. You can see the improvement but it may not translate into many more wins this season.
Q: Why are so many people down on the Giants? The defense has more depth. The power running game will return. Eli Manning has confidence in his receiving corps. Keith Bulluck provides leadership on the defense. Are they better than 6-10 or 7-9?
Colvin from Columbus, Ga.
A: I think they are better than 6-10 or 7-9, but I still favor the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. The key for the Giants is getting better play out of their defense. Leadership is a big question mark. Bulluck should help if he is healthy. Injuries hurt the team last year and you still worry what happens to the secondary if Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross don't bounce back from injury-plagued seasons. Manning is now a 4,000-yard passer, and I can't imagine the running attack being as bad as it was last season. I think they are better than a .500 team.
Q: You wrote that Calvin Johnson is one of three receivers who will have a harder year than last year?? Johnson had a good year on an awful team last year with no other playmakers in sight. This year the Lions have Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, a re-charged Bryant Johnson, Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew, not to mention Kevin Smith, a better offensive line, and a more mature Matthew Stafford. Please explain how that will make this season harder for Johnson?
Forrest in Indianapolis
A: Scheffler is going to help Johnson out the most, but defenses will still commit to covering Johnson. I think Stafford is going to be better, but he's still a young quarterback with only 12 games of experience. I'm not sold the offensive line is that much better. Best is exciting but he's only a role player at the moment. The Lions will be better on offense, but clearing out room for Johnson to do his thing is one of the keys to the season.
Q: What is the rule that would allow Vincent Jackson to return after 10 weeks? Couldn't the Chargers suspend him for the season by that time? I don't understand why players would be able to come back at a certain time so late in the season.
Jack in Iowa City, Iowa
A: The rule is more of a benchmark. A player needs to be on a roster for six games to get an accrued season. That's why a holdout can wait for 10 games to elapse before reporting and still get credit for the season. If Jackson's holdout goes past this Friday, he will be placed on the exempt list and be ineligible for the first game, which doesn't mean much because he's suspended for three games. If this goes beyond Aug. 20, I think the Chargers will shop Jackson in a trade.
Q: Why are teams allowed to have 53 players on their roster, but only 45 may dress for game day? What happens if you have a third-string QB inactive for game day, and your top two QBs go down? I take it you would just have to throw someone else in there, and not the actual QB.
David in Cincinnati
A: The reason teams dress only 45 is the conservative belief from older owners that having 53 active players will destroy competitive balance. They believe a team coming off a bye week with a healthy roster could destroy a team that carries eight or nine injuries. They also feel as though the better teams would have a big advantage because they would have more role players to use. If a team uses a third quarterback in the first three quarters, the top two quarterbacks can't play the rest of the game.
Q: Over the past few years we have seen a change in schemes -- for offense the scheme is from running to throwing; for defense it's going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. What do you see happening over the next 8-10 years?
Jamin in Winnipeg, Manitoba
A: I think the offense swing will continue to grow. Look at next year: There are four potential good quarterbacks if Andrew Luck turns pro early and joins Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder in the draft, as all four are quarterbacks prospects who will only make passing better. Stafford looks better, and I think Bradford will be a star. We're in a golden era of quarterbacks, and I don't see any slippage in the next few years.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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