2010 NFL Pre-Season Power Rankings (Training Camp Edition)

Post-season trades, NFL Draft, Preseason publications, NFL Network re-runs, and even the early fantasy football drafts have gotten me through the last five months, but enough is enough –  it’s time to turn my focus towards Kickoff 2010. For me, it’s a season of new beginnings here in Philly. I’m over the sting of the McNabb trade until he one-ups his former mates in one of their two meetings this season.

In honor of NFL Training Camps opening this week, I’m going to preview all 32 teams in the order of which I feel they rank at this moment (32 to 1). Prior to Kickoff 2010, there will be a final Pre-Season Power Ranking.

Okay, time to break this huddle.

Fred Jackson Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium December 28, 2008 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Fred Jackson

32. Buffalo Bills: The arrival of Terrell Owens in Buffalo did about as much good for the Bills as a snow shovel does in one of those sign of the apocalypse snowstorms in upstate New York. If it looks bad and plays bad – it is bad, and it’s not going to get better this season. It was a combination of injuries, suspensions, poor play and anything else that you can name that doomed the Bills season.

Anything and anyone except Owens.

Owens pulled off a rare double last season by being a non-issue on and off the field – Owens could’ve trashed everyone from the front office to his teammates but to the chagrin of many in the press, Owens took the high road kept quiet.

The Bills are in a total rebuilding stage and enter the 2010 campaign with a new GM and Head Coach in Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey respectively. The word on Nix is that he’s a exceptional judge of talent, while Gailey was way down on the list of desireables for head coach. Owner Ralph Wilson was unable to attract Mike Shannahan or lure Bill Cowher out of retirement so he went after Gailey who was out of the league last season. In 2008, Gailey began the season as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, only to be demoted after three PRESEASON games. I know pickings were slim but Chan Gailey?

Offense

The quarterback situation in Buffalo is not as bad as most would think, but it is bad - I think Trent Edwards can work here. While starting 14 games in 2008, Edwards passed for 2,700 yards and despite throwing only 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, he was able to complete 65 percent of his passes and had a modest QB rating of 85.4.  Last season’s woes can be attributed to Edwards losing his starting left tackle and the firing of his offensive coordinator a week before the season opener. The no-huddle was a disaster last season despite some adequate weapons on offense. Expect a fresh outlook from Edwards this season as he takes steps towards becoming a leader on a  team looking for an identity. If the team has to look to Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brian Brohm – winter will come sooner than expected.

The emergence of Fred Jackson as a 1,000 yard rusher was a bright spot on a team looking for a spark on offense. Jackson in his first three seasons has averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Jackson was an effective safety valve for Edwards with 46 receptions, averaging over 8 yards per catch. If there’s a knock on Jackson it’s his struggle to find the end zone, the flip side to that is that he protects the ball exceptionally well, losing only two fumbles last season.

If Marshawn Lynch can regain his 2008 form maybe he can find team willing to take a flyer on him – the Bills are hoping for the same as they look to give explosive rookie C.J. Spiller a decent amount of touches this season. Lynch was lost for the Bills first three games – just enough time for Jackson to make his mark and eventually supplant Lynch as the starter by Week 9. Despite his run-ins with the law and requests to be traded GM Nix refuses to listen to offers for this talented back. The Bills are going to have to make room for Clemson speedster C.J. Spiller who is cut in the Brian Westbrook mold (5’10″, 195). Spiller is the perfect complement to the bruising styles of Jackson and Lynch. Don’t be surprised to see Spiller in the Bills’ return game. This is the one unit on this team that will keep fans watching.

l_evans.jpg Lee Evans image thehage55

The acquisition of Terrell Owens was supposed to mean the ascension of Lee Evans to the upper echelon of receivers in the NFL. In the end Evans would be the one player who would benefit the least in the season from hell. This came as a shock because Evans has been productive in a generally weak receiving corps Even with his struggles Evans did manage seven touchdowns. This season will look all too familiar to Evans who will have little help from his supporting cast in the way of receivers. James Hardy has the size and build (6’5″ 220) to be a difference maker in this offense but injuries and lack of production have stifled his growth. Roscoe Parrish is really nothing more than a special teams threat with an occasional outbreak on offense. The Bills need to develop second year tight end Shawn Nelson who looked good in spurts last year.

When you have a season like the Bills had last season the one silver lining is that you will find players that are hungry and want to make a name for themselves. The offensive line yielded two studs from the ’09 draft in Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Wood, a first round pick and possibly the team’s best lineman was injured midway through last season but is expected to be back starting at right guard. Levitre started all 16 games including 15 at left guard. Other than that the Bills struggle with speed rushers and show a tendency to get overpowered by larger defensive lineman.

The Bills are making the switch to a 3-4 alignment, this looks to be more experimental than anything since the Bills lineman fit better in a 4-3 scheme. Marcus Stroud will make the switch from tackle to end along with Spencer Johnson. The Bills only seasoned veteran in the 3-4 is Dwan Edwards, who will play end as well. Fifth year tackle Kyle Williams – who opened some eyes last season in the 4-3 will be placed at nose tackle.  New defensive coordinator George Edwards is rolling the dice on a unit that finished 30th against the run last season.

The Bills linebacker corps is decent and has the potential to excel in the 3-4. Paul Posluszny recorded 111 tackles despite missing four games, last year’s free agent acquisition Kawika Mitchell is looking to rebound from a disappointing season. The acquisition of Andra Davis has given the Bills experience at linebacker in the 3-4 despite lacking the speed and ability to shed blockers as he once did he should solidify a young unit with a lot of potential. Second year end Aaron Maybin may benefit the most from the 3-4 as he will be asked to come off the edge as the speed rusher. If end Aaron Shoebel puts off retirement for another season it would at least add depth at the position.

Like the running back corps, the secondary needs no improvements. The Bills finished second in interceptions and in fewest passing yards per game. This is a deep talented group that plays in a division against some of the NFL’s best. Corners Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin are of the League’s best and overlooked tandems. Both missed chunks of last season due to injuries but the Bills filled in with the likes of Reggie Corner, Ashton Youboty, Cary Harris and Ellis Yankster. Strong safety George Wilson came into his own last season with 103 tackles and four interceptions.

But the real surprise came from rookie free safety Jarius Byrd - the rookie out of  Oregon finished tied for second for the NFL lead in interceptions – earning a well deserved trip to Honolulu. Byrd’s ability to read plays and react on the ball will make him a perennial Pro-Bowler for years to come.

The Bills special teams unit has been one of the best for year’s, losing coach Bobby April will have it’s impact but this far too talented a unit to sink- especially with the edition of C.J. Spiller to the bolster the kick return game (see young Brian Westbrook). This may open the door for Roscoe Parrish to focus more on his duties as a third receiver, Leodis McKelvin also serves on the return teams. Don’t expect anyone to challenge placekicker Rian Lindell who made 28 of 33 attempts last season.

Outlook

The Bills have some good young pieces in place, and will need to continue to build through the draft. Inexperience and learning a new system will cause growing pains but there is a good mix of veterans around to keep things sane. Running the ball will keep them in some games if they don’t try to get too cute in the passing game. Defending the ball will be the true test as they switch to a 3-4, the benefit if having an above average secondary will help the defense on some days. Special teams will play a huge role as the offense could afford to use the benefit of an occasional short field. Like most young teams they will have their moments and struggles, the benefit of playing in the tough AFC East will pay off in a couple of seasons.

One Response to “2010 NFL Pre-Season Power Rankings (Training Camp Edition)”

  1. Homeless: The Tragic Tale of Terrell Owens

    Who are we? It’s an honest question. Even more, it’s an important question, don’t you think? The late John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Seems simple enough, right? Not hardly. If our character is who we truly are, then how is our character decided or selected? Do we decide our character; that is, should our own assertions about what kind of character we possess stand alone as the sole proprietor for who we truly are? Or, do outsiders select our character; that is, should other people dictate the kind of character we carry?

    Really, though, there seems to be serious flaws with exclusively subscribing to either one of these assumptions. For instance, a person deciding their own character eliminates accountability: in other words, do we ever perceive ourselves as we actually are? (I doubt it). Moreover, an outsider selecting another person’s character places too much power in the critic’s tongue (or pen): in other words, can we ever fairly appraise another person’s character? (I doubt it). Perhaps the most telling description of a person’s character surfaces when a delicate balance has been struck between how an outsider judges a person’s character and how that person perceives their own character.

    Stories are always being told (or so they say). With Terrell Owens, this is certainly the case—some of them are broadcasted by the media, sports’ writers, and talking pundits; some of them are relayed by coaches and teammates; and some of them are constructed by the gushing personalities of Owens: the humble humanitarian, the flamboyant entertainer, or the tussling teammate. As the stories have accumulated, almost in the manner of a self-regulating organism, our perception and understanding of this impossible to bottle up superstar has become increasingly distorted and contradictory, leading us to the knotty question: who is Terrell Owens?

    Before he ever blossomed into a chiseled, athletic clairvoyant, Owens spent his childhood under the helm of his mother, a single parent who toiled under the pressure of two jobs, and grandmother, an overly protective pseudo-guardian. One of the staples of his childhood was that he could not leave the front yard to play with other children. Even when he received a new bike, the time when most of us recall exploring the world around us, he was instructed that he could only ride it in the driveway or on the sidewalk immediately in front of his house. In his biography, he recalled crying from his bedroom window as he watched other kids play freely in the street. It is rather clear, then, that Owens yearned for attention and exposure as an adolescent (as most of us often do), so it can be inferred, rather reasonably, that the isolation Owens experienced as a child molded him into the attention addict that he is today.

    If we compiled a montage of Owens’ career, I anticipate that a portion of it would be a highlight reel of charades and shenanigans. Let’s see, there is the infamous “Sharpie Play,” where, after scoring a touchdown, Owens yanked a Sharpie from his sock, signed the football, showed it to the camera and then tossed it to a group of fans; there is the “Pom Pom Dance,” where, after scoring a touchdown, Owens skipped over to the San Francisco cheerleaders, flashed a wink, grabbed a set of pom-poms, and performed an impromptu dance; and there is the “Lance Armstrong Moment,” where Owens, after deeming himself physically ineligible for the first fourteen days of practice, sported a Lance Armstrong Discovery Channel biking jersey as he pedaled lackadaisically on a stationary bike while his teammates practiced. While Owens’ questionable antics are often labeled excessive—some even argue that they chip away at the foundation which makes the NFL respectable—it seems that the reasoning behind his actions are rarely rooted in malice. Simply put, Owens perpetuates the entertainment side of professional football. He even tells us this much: “I do a lot of stuff like signing the football because it’s fun…I’m not trying to disrespect the game. I love this game and God’s blessed me to be able to play it. I just want to lighten things up.”

    Clearly, the “entertaining” side of Owens saturates the market; it oozes from media outlets, steady and thick. With that being said, it’s perplexing to consider what we see as “entertainment.” The commendable areas of Owens’ character (such as the humanitarian) are often left as unchartered territory. For instance, Owens has dedicated a hefty portion of his time toward helping the lives of others, especially the underprivileged. In fact, he has created his own charity organization—The Terrell Owens Catch a Dream Foundation—which specifically helps underprivileged families and children. The goal is to eliminate the shortage of basic/daily needs by providing the necessary resources that children need (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, etc.). Most recently, Owens made a special appeal to the people of Western New York in his “81 Tackles Hunger” movement. For this movement, he encouraged everyone to donate just eighty-one cents in order to provide nearly 700,000 meals every month to hungry people at the Food Bank of Western New York. Yet, the casual observer—hell, even the fanatic—is most likely not aware of these strokes of kindness. Could it be we don’t label these actions as “entertainment,” so we take them out of the forefront of our mind? Could it be we’re thatcynical? I’m crossing my fingers that we’re not, but I fear we are. But this is what makes Owens remarkably endearing in one regard: he’s quietest about what is most important; no “look-at-me” sentiments spewing from Owens during these metaphorical touchdowns. Because it certainly holds true that renovating the landscape for the underprivileged supersedes snatching touchdowns and shredding tackles—the former is clearly more important than the latter.

    I suppose it can’t be that one dimensional, though, to credit Owens with a role model-like character (of course it’s not, nothing is ever that simple). I’m not sure anyone has aspirations of being a carbon-copy of Owens; his athletic talents, sure, but certainly not the “diva” element. By all accounts, Owens has shown himself to be the quintessential “Me-First” player. The number one goal is for Owens to be as lucrative as possible—statistically, financially, etc. He understands the goal (it’s his goal); it seems that, all the while, he’s been wondering why we aren’t right there with him, the same goal in tow. One moment he’s entertaining and endearing, the next moment he’s brash, impossibly eccentric, and irrevocably incompatible. It’s rarely a question of “Will the troublesome Owens surface?” Rather, it’s usually a question of “When will the troublesome Owens surface?”

    He’s answered the “When” rather blatantly: “problems” emerge during the valleys, not the peaks (calling these incidences “problems” seems like quite the understatement; it’s like calling Cavaliers fans “disappointed” after hearing that LeBron was “taking his talents to South Beach”). If we scour through Owens’ history, it’s obvious that he has progressed into a cancer on each of his respective teams. When he played for the 49ers in 2001, he accused Steve Mariucci of trying to save Dick Jauron’s head coaching job after he relinquished a 19 point lead to the Bears. As the sideline tirades with coaches and players mounted in San Francisco, Owens declared himself an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2003 season, only to miss the filing period for that declaration, which placed him back into the hands of the 49ers. They attempted to finagle a trade to Baltimore, but Owens adamantly refused to play for them—of course, he thought he was above the team who had won the Super Bowl three seasons earlier. Ultimately though, the 49ers organization schemed a way to trade him to Philadelphia while receiving something in return, but before Owens made it out of San Francisco, he found a way to throw his former quarterback, Jeff Garcia, under the bus one last time (only this time it had nothing to do with Garcia’s quarterbacking abilities), claiming in an interview with Playboy that Garcia was a homosexual.

    For the first time around, we typically give people the benefit of the doubt (at least a reasonable portion of society does). We basically gave Owens the benefit of the doubt after his nasty divorce from San Francisco. We said: perhaps he was in a negative environment, perhaps they weren’t utilizing his strengths most effectively, perhaps he was playing for a slightly-less-than mediocre quarterback. All reasonable concerns, I think. Also, the fact that Owens had such an applaudable first year with Philadelphia certainly helped us give him the benefit of the doubt when we thought back on his San Francisco days. But the portrait of that surprisingly drama-free year in Philadelphia disintegrated months after Owens posted a heroic performance—9 receptions and 122 receiving yards on a severely injured ankle, which contained two screws and a metal plate—in a losing effort to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. He threatened to “hold out” of the following training camp, lamenting that he needed a restructured contract for more money to “feed his family” (despite making 7.5 million dollars the previous season). Eventually, he returned to training camp, but with a sour attitude, where he literally refused to speak to the media or teammates, thus leading to a bitter confrontation with head coach Andy Reid. The consequence: a one week suspension. After the dissension between Owens and the Eagles organization stewed for a couple of months, Owens stated in an interview on November 3 that the Eagles organization “lacked class” for not acknowledging his 100th touchdown reception. Later in the interview, he even suggested that the Eagles would be better off with Brett Favre as their quarterback instead of Donovan McNabb—a blasphemes statement in the eyes of the Eagles organization. After releasing a disingenuous apology a day later, failing to even acknowledge the Donovan McNabb comment, Owens was suspended for the remainder of the season for “conduct detrimental to the team.” At the end of that season, just before Owens was due a five million dollar roster bonus, the Eagles released him.

    At that point in Owens’ career, a ten year veteran and fresh off of signing with the Dallas Cowboys, the only people stepping into the batter’s box to defend him were the most zealous optimists, the people who inexplicably try to see the “good” in anything and everything (oh yeah, and some of the Cowboy teammates). For most of us though, we knew that it was just a matter of mere months before the foundation between the Cowboys and Owens would begin to crack. Again, it’s never “Will it happen” but “When will it happen.”

    Of course, there was the aforementioned “Lance Armstrong Moment,” where Owens declared himself ineligible for the first fourteen days of practice, even though an MRI revealed no apparent damage. There was the “accidental” overdose on a mixture of pain medication and supplements (it was believed to be a suicide attempt). There was the run-in with the Cowboys receivers’ coach, Todd Haley, for being late to practice (Owens insisted he was in the bathroom). There was the soap-opera press conference after a playoff loss, Owens crying: “You’re talkin’ about my teammate…my quarterback.” And finally, there was the voiced complaint about Tony Romo and Jason Whitten’s relationship, Owens theorizing that Romo and Whitten were conspiring against himself and the other receivers. Owens, once again and to no one’s surprise, was released after a tumultuous three year stint in Dallas.

    Now, let’s take a gander at Owens in his current state, just off of his most lackluster season in recent memory and another pink slip from yet another NFL team. At this point, Owens is struggling to find a home. A part of us knew he wouldn’t last long in Buffalo. But an even larger part of us is surprised that we’re only weeks from training camp and Owens is still team-less. In spite of all of his missteps and cancerous symptoms, he has always convinced one team to roll the dice. The mindset was: his talent always seemed to outweigh the baggage. Now, though, we’re witnessing a shift within that paradigm: the baggage seems to outweigh the talent (a part of me thinks this is how it has always been).

    Owens places the brunt of the blame for his misfortunes on the media, claiming that he has been unfairly portrayed as a cancer in the locker room. In fact, he points to his hated persona as a main cause for not finding a new team. He says: “The teams I’ve been on, if you ask in that locker room how I’ve been as a teammate and as a person, it’s contradictory to what’s been displayed out there [in the media].” Let’s consider Owens’ claim. Wouldn’t former teammates and coaches rally to Owens’ defense if he was being that unfairly portrayed? I’d certainly think so. And even if one (or a few) of his former teammates or coaches came rallying to his defense, does that qualify Owens’ claim as “the rule” rather than “the exception”? Would that minimal support usurp Owens’ three train wrecks (San Fran, Philly, and Dallas)? I certainly wouldn’t think so. But the biggest flaw in Owens’ claim is that no one has truly rushed to his defense. No Jeff Garcia. No Donovan McNabb. No Andy Reid. No Tony Romo. Nobody. At. All.

    So, here we are, stuck with a pending question: who is Terrell Owens? Is he the humble humanitarian? Is he the flamboyant entertainer? Is he the cancerous teammate? Could he be all of this? None of this? Something else, rather?

    In a way, he’s like a good book. He’s a spiraling, contradiction of elements—endearing and abhorrent, helpful and selfish, arrogant and humble. He’s a page turner, never knowing what he might do next. He’s respected and disregarded, depending on who we ask. He’s thought provoking, making us question where he’s been, where he is, and where he’s going. He makes us wonder how he’ll be remembered—also how he’ll ever be forgotten. He proposes many questions, yet answers very few. He makes us reconsider everything, just when we think we’ve pinned down a single illumination. A single read certainly won’t be enough, that’s for sure. And like a good book, maybe we can never truly know the story entirely; that is, there are layers of meaning embedded within the prose, and that prose, which we use to draw meaning, is only a fraction of reality—we create meaning in respect to our perceived realities, not as it actually occurs within the story.

    In my perceived reality, it seems that Terrell Owens—above everything else—is homeless. He has doused each organization that he has ever played for in gasoline and engulfed any chance of a return with Molotov cocktail flames. He has been blacklisted for the pandemonium and destruction that he has caused. There’s no coach reaching out as a father figure, there’s no quarterback reaching out as a friend, and there’s no one treating him like a refugee. That’s one of the things about being homeless: it’s radiating coldness, like the burning end of a winter-midnight cigarette.

    The kryptonite for Owens is that NFL legends are remembered just as much by their team (their home) as their performances and statistics. John Elway with the Broncos. Walter Payton with the Bears. Barry Sanders with the Lions. There’s something to be said about a player being associated with a team, a community, a home. It’s the “Welcome Mat” of a person’s career, that, which helps a legacy resonate throughout eternity by annotating to the historians and future fans, “You’re in the right place…This is where I was…my home.” Where is Owens’ home? Where will he place his “Welcome Mat”? I suppose that’s another thing about being homeless: there are many more questions than answers. But, in the twilight of Owens’ fading career, in what is turning out to be quite the tragic tale, if there is an answer teeming from within the smoldering ash of his previous homes—San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Buffalo—it’s this: Ultimately, who he is and how he will be remembered will be crystallized by whether he finally finds a door step to place his “Welcome Mat”; whether he finally finds an organization to call family; whether he finally, after all of these years, finds a place to call home.

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