Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 9:01 AM
Lots to get to in NFL-land as we inch closer to the start of the Preseason- that's an August 5th Hall of Fame Game between Arizona vs. New Orleans- but first this reminder when it comes to the here-and-now Major-League Baseball season:
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NFL TEAM-BY-TEAM CAPSULES
On today's busy July pigskin menu, we bring you the Tennessee Titans, the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts from the AFC; And from the NFC, it's the Philadelphia Eagles, the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints.
TENNESSEE- It's easy to forget that last year's Titans sported a 9-7 record and yet didn't make it into the AFC playoff dance. No doubt first-year head coach Mike Munchak's club got wobbly knees late in the year with Week 14 and 15 losses to New Orleans and Indianapolis, respectively (and remember the Titans went 0-3-1 against the spread in the final month of regular-season action) and so that leads to the question as to how this AFC South crew has improved its overall depth- and note that Tennessee inked three defensive linemen via free agency including DE Kamerion Wimbley (Oakland) but will Tennessee's defense be missing some swagger now that hard-hitting (or is it head-hunting) CB Cortland Finnegan flew the coop for the big bucks with the St. Louis Rams? Plus note that the Titans nabbed five defensive players among its seven draft picks this past April with OLB Zach Brown (North Carolina) hoping to give this stop unit an attitude adjustment after last year Tennessee ranked a lowly 24th in the NFL in rush defense (allowing 128.3 yards per game) and 14th in pass defense (yielded 226.8 ypg).
NEW YORK JETS- Last year's meltdown season included more than a few internal brush fires en route to a sluggish 8-8 campaign but the J-E-T-S believe they've "improved" the locker room mix and maybe getting rid of WR Plaxico Burress was a start (although WR Santonio Holmes already has acted out by sitting out a portion of the team drills last month in the OTAs). Naturally, the biggest buzz surrounding Gang Green was the import of QB Tim Tebow during the off-season and while critics laughed at head coach Rex Ryan's account that Tebow will get "20 snaps" in regular-season games this 2012 season we believe Tebow will play in lots of short-yardage and goal-line plays as a running back type and so maybe he'll get closer to 20 snaps per game than everyone thinks. If Tebow does have a role as a passing quarterback behind starter Mark Sanchez, than we would think it's just as a guy who gets plugged in for a quick slant pass here or there to help energize a drive ... we'll see. On the defensive side of things, keep in mind the Jets are looking for big things from first-round draftee DE Quinton Coples (North Carolina) whom Ryan promises won't be another Vernon Gholston!
INDIANAPOLIS- No doubt that game programs will be selling like hotcakes this year in "Nap City" as this roster has been greatly overhauled but everyone in town is asking one question and one question only: How quickly will #1 overall draft pick QB Andrew Luck (Stanford) get acclimated to his on-the-field life in the NFL? Luck had to be smiling draft week when the Colts nabbed back-to-back tight ends right after his Round One selection- yes, including his top target in college TE Coby Fleener- plus don't forget the team nabbed WR T.Y. Hilton (Florida International) who could well double as a return specialist for a Colts team that figures to sport more team speed on offense/defense/special teams than any in recent Indy memory. If you would like to check out someone other than the aforementioned Luck here, than follow RB Mewelde Moore (free agent/Pittsburgh) who figures to get 15-or-so touches a game after replacing cut (and injury-prone) RB Joseph Addai.
PHILADELPHIA- Since 2001 the Eagles have participated in 17 post-season games but last year Andy Reid's gang did not add to that figure and so this off-season was a time of major purging as the Birds waved bye-bye to the likes of OT Winston Justice (Indianapolis), CB Asante Samuel (Atlanta), WR Steve Smith (St. Louis) and backup QB Vince Young (Buffalo). Remember that Philly "franchised" WR DeSean Jackson for a $9.515 million tender and now they're looking for more than 58 catches and just 4 receiving TDs this time around. Meanwhile, if there's one area of this team that really will be under scrutiny it's the defensive front seven- and note the Eagles spent their first three draft picks on D-linemen (see DT Fletcher Cox of Miss State at #12 and DE Vinny Curry of Marshall at #59) or linebackers (see ILB Mychal Kendricks of California at pick #46).
CHICAGO- Here's another team that didn't quite live up to expectations last year while also recording an 8-8 SU (straight-up) mark and now this NFC North crew hopes the offense can be a bit more productive after ranking just 17th in the NFL in 2011. Running back Matt Forte claims he has "scars" from his contract issues as the Bears placed the franchise tag on him and paid'em $7.742 million for this upcoming campaign but will new additions WR Brandon Marshall (trade with Miami) and acrobatic rookie WR Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) really stretch the field for QB Jay Cutler ... or will those offensive line problems force Cutler to dump down more passes than he would like in this offense? Meanwhile, hate to get "caught up" in stats but last year's Bears bunch finished 28th in the NFL in passing defense (allowed 254.1 aerial yards per game) and rookie OLB/DE Shea McClellin (Boise State) could wind up being a perfect complement to Bears pass rusher Julius Peppers- and don't be surprised if Chicago's first-round pick plays on most every down and even on some special teams too. Hey, Chicago's gonna get its proverbial money's worth, right?
NEW ORLEANS- Now that bounty-gate has torn a major hole in the Saints' season (we just saw where suspended head coach Sean Payton filed for divorce and so this whole saga is taking a toll on this organization in more than football-only matters) the focus has to get back to what this NFC South club can do to energize this outfit: Hey, getting a better pass rush than a year ago would help matters as New Orleans finished dead-last in sacks in 2011 but how about a moment to check out this sked that includes only one home game during one five-week stretch (see a Week 5 prime-time tilt against San Diego) and take note that the Saints have to play at archrival Atlanta off a short week in late November? Now the league didn't do the Saints any favors there, right? If QB Drew Brees wanted another weapon added to his passing game than he got it in Round 4 of the NFL Draft when Wisconsin WR Nick Toon was tabbed- note that Toon figures to be a neat red-zone target with TE Jimmy Graham drawing away double-coverage looks most of the time.
NOTE: Catch our MLB and NFL News and Notes in the next Jim Sez!