Preseason football is nearly upon us, which means the "best" time of
the sports year is just around the corner. Organizations have spent the
spring and summer making changes to try and improve their football
team. A year ago, two teams that received among the most accolades for
improving their personnel were the 49ers and Patriots, both with
several key additions. The 49'ers were so confident of their moves that
they gave the Pats their number one pick in the 2008 draft. Note that
the 49'ers went 1-3 in the preseason, including losses in each of their
final two games. New England lost its first two preseason games.
However, when the starters saw some more playing time, they closed out
the preseason on a 2-0 run, including a convincing 24-7 win at Carolina
in Week 3, when the starters typically get the most playing time of any
preseason week. The Patriots went 18-1, the 49ers went 5-11. In other
words, some changes work out, some don't!
As usual, every team has made at least a few changes - some more than
others. Here's a brief look at five teams which made some key moves.
Keep an eye on how these changes affect their various teams in the
preseason. For starters, there's real money to be made in the
preseason. Additionally, even though the star players generally don't
get all that much playing time, one can still often gain valuable
insight as to how the various changes might work out for their
respective teams once the regular season begins.
San Francisco 49ers:The pressure is on Mike Nolan after a
disastrous 2007 season. To change an anemic offense the 49'ers hired
Mike Martz, the former Rams head coach who favors wide-open, spread
offenses. This will be a sharp departure from the last two years where
the 49ers were plodding and predictable on offense, mainly with RB
Frank Gore up the middle. Veteran WR Isaac Bruce joins the team,
teaming up with Martz again, while WR Ashley Lelie was seen running
reverses in practice, so expect a very different 49er offensive look.
The real question is: Who will be behind center? Former top pick Alex
Smith had a falling out with Nolan and is working his way back from a
separated shoulder. Backup QB Shaun Hill (5 TDs, 1 pick) was impressive
last season, while J.T. O'Sullivan, who Martz knows from Detroit, is
also in the mix. As you know, teams with quarterbacks battling for the
starting job can often provide some value during the preseason.
Nolan had all three working out in summer practice. "Alex is very
athletic," Nolan said. "He probably has the strongest arm of all the
guys. Now he's got to go in there and put in four quarters and move the
ball consistently and make plays he should make." Asked if Smith has
the edge, Nolan replied, "I wouldn't go there right now." QB Hill tends
to play better in games than he shows in practice: "Shaun's been OK in
practice, but he's that type of player," noted Nolan. The coaches like
O'Sullivan competitiveness and the fact that he learned Martzs system
last year in Detroit. Look for a heated battle in preseason between
those three, plus a more aggressive offense under Martz, even in
August, as they learn his new bag of tricks.
Baltimore Ravens: Brian Billick had a reputation as a fierce
competitor and as someone who always liked to win, regardless of
whether or not a game was 'meaningless.' An anemic offense cost Billick
his job though and theres an old wagering adage that says to take a
look at new coaches in preseason. while it seems rather simplistic, the
logic is that new coaches typically want to show fans (and upper
management) that they were the right pick for the job. Therefore, they
want wins, even in preseason. John Harbaugh is the new head coach, the
former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach. Cam Cameron comes in as the
new offensive coordinator and he'll have a trio of quarterbacks
battling to direct his preferred vertical passing game. Kyle Boller
figures to have the inside track but he's just 18-21 as a starter.
He'll be fighting off former Ohio State star, Troy Smith, along with
rookie QB Joe Flacco from Delaware along. The 6-foot-6 Flacco, the
team's 1st round pick, has a big arm and is the highest quarterback
ever drafted by the Ravens. Harbaugh was quoted as saying: "We said all
along that the quarterback job is going to be an open competition.
Whoever gives us the best chance to win, I think is going to be our
Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota has been built from the inside out,
with exceptional line play on both sides of the ball. They were number
one defensively against the run last season. On the other side of the
ball, they had a power running game last season with a strong offensive
line and running back Adrian Peterson. Now about those skill positions?
The Vikings will be interesting as they give young QB Tavaris Jackson
some speedy help. They added wide receiver Bernard Berrian from the
Bears, a speed-burner alongside second-year WR Sidney Rice, who is also
fast. While Jackson should enter the season as the unquestioned
starter, the Vikings did bring in backup Gus Frerotte to back him up.
(Note that Jackson had three more interceptions than touchdowns last
season.) John David Booty will compete with Brooks Bollinger to become
New Orleans Saints: New Orleans is a team of extremes: Great
offense (when healthy), bad defense (when healthy or not). Not
surprisingly, they made almost all their offseason moves at upgrading a
terrible defense that ranked 26th overall and 30th against the pass.
The Saints added defensive end Bobby McCray along with veteran
linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan. The secondary saw the
additions of Randall Gay and Arron Glenn. They also added Indiana
cornerback Tracy Porter with their second round pick int he draft.
Speaking of the draft, they moved up to take USC nose tackle Sedrick
Ellis with the 7th overall pick, along with DT DeMario Pressley (5th
round, NC State) They hope cornerback Mike McKenzie will be ready to
go. He tore a ligament in his right knee late last season and is
'rehabbing.' They didn't completely ignore the offense though, as they
recently traded for tight-end Jeremy Shockey. When healthy, Shockey can
have a major effect on a game. He won the 'Rookie of the Year' award in
2002 and has been selected to play in four Pro Bowls.
Jacksonville Jaguars: One gets the sense that Jacksonville is
slowly moving from a power defensive team to a wide-open offensive one.
Jacksonville has a new defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams, who was
with the Redskins last fall under Joe Gibbs. The problem is they lost
DT Marcus Stroud in free agency and defensive end Bobby McCray went to
the Saints. Looking to get pressure on the likes of Manning and Brady,
they did grab two of the draft's best pass rushers though, Derrick
Harvey and Quentin Groves. On offense, they rewarded quarterback David
Garrard with a longterm contract and immediately upgraded his receiving
corps by adding WR Jerry Porter from the Raiders, who is being penciled
in as the No. 1 receiver. Not satisfied, they also acquired speedster
Troy Williamson. You may recall that the Jaguars closed out the 2007
preseason with three straight wins, each of those victories coming by
more than a touchdown.