Thursday, August 2, 2012

Colts Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

As a first-time reporter covering the Indianapolis Colts training camp for the Ball State Daily News, I will be doing “research” by writing a position-by-position breakdown and preview for the 2012 Colts season. Today – running backs.

Currently on roster:
Donald Brown
Delone Carter
Deji Karim
Darren Evans
Mewelde Moore
Vick Ballard

Indianapolis is coming into camp with six unspectacular running backs. Aside from the right side of the offensive line, it is the biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball. One of these six will probably win the starting job by default.
Nonetheless, here’s a breakdown of each back, their strengths and weaknesses and their chances of making the roster and at what spot on the depth chart.

Donald Brown is coming into 2012 with a huge target on his back. This will be his fourth year in the league, and for a fourth-year running back who hasn’t done much as of yet in the NFL, it’s now or never for Brown.
As much as Colts fans may scoff, rookie head coach Chuck Pagano has been doing his best to hype Brown up as Indianapolis’ answer at the position.
“Donald is an every-down back,” Pagano said in mid-June. “He is doing a tremendous job and he is having a fantastic offseason. He understands, especially on third down as far as protections go and all of those things. Nothing is going to be more important than protections.”
Donald Brown will attempt to be an
every-down back for the first time in his career.
Despite Pagano’s claims, pass protection has always been quite possibly Brown’s biggest shortcoming during his career with Indianapolis.
Peyton Manning even thinks so.
To Brown’s credit, he led the team in rushing last year with 645 yards, but just started just two games.
He racked up those 645 yards on 134 carries, for an average of 4.8 yards-per-carry. If those stats are extrapolated into a “bell-cow” role, (approximately 260 carries) then Brown would have 1,251 yards rushing, with 10 touchdowns.
Those look like good numbers at first glance, but let’s delve a little deeper into Brown’s 2011 year. He played in 12 of 16 possible games. Of those games, Brown averaged less than four yards-per-carry in half. That is clearly a mark against him. Brown wasn’t consistent with his production.
In Week 15 against Tennessee, Brown was in the backfield heading into a late fourth-quarter drive with a seven-point lead, looking to seal the game.
Brown took a carry to the right, broke a tackle, reversed field and followed blocks 80 yards all the way to the end zone. His day finished with 16 carries for 161 yards and a score.
Take the touchdown away from the season, and Brown’s numbers look much more pedestrian; he would’ve ended with an average of 4.2 yards-per-carry. Remember, he only finished with 645 yards anyway. That run was one-eighth of his season’s production.
The 80-yard carry was a fluke. Aside from that run, Brown’s longest rush was for 24 yards. Not exactly the epitome of explosive.
Brown can give the 2012 Colts a level of reliability, just not a level of explosion. He doesn’t have enough speed and athleticism to be a “bell-cow,” especially in a Pagano “ground and pound” offense. Everything Brown does, he does it fine, but he needs more than “fine” to be an elite NFL running back.
Brown will enter the season as the clear-cut, No. 1 halfback, but over the course of the year, he’ll lose time and carries to the other options in the backfield.

Delone Carter, since being drafted in the fourth round in 2011, has had an up-and-down opinion in the eyes of Colts fans.
Many fans have wanted a more physical running game since the departure of Edgerrin James, and it appeared that Carter, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 238 pounds, would fill that role. He even said so following the draft.
Delone Carter is trying to carve out a role
for himself after fumbling away opportunities in 2011.
“I want to go in there and stick my nose in a linebacker,” Carter said.
However, as Colts fans learned quickly, some players sacrifice power for speed. Carter seemed to run in slow motion all season, rarely outrunning even the defensive linemen.
Midway through the season, another problem for Carter revealed itself – fumbling.
Carter fumbled twice in a three-game stretch, leading to his benching in Week 12 against Carolina. Carter then said he was thinking about the fumbles, which is never a good sign for a running back.
The coaching staff had enough faith in him a week later at New England to give him a few carries. Carter promptly fumbled again. His ball security problems surprised many, as he entered the NFL with a 215-carry streak without fumbling.
In his defense, the Syracuse alum did have a high point of the season – Week 7 at New Orleans.
Carter only received 10 carries, but ran for 89 yards and scored Indianapolis’ only touchdown of the game on a two-yard carry. He also had a 42-yard run in the second quarter.
Carter could enter the season as the No. 2 running back, but will get more chances as Brown struggles.
Carter is also a solid option as a goal-line and short-yardage back for Indianapolis in 2012. 

Before going into detail about Deji Karim, here is a quick clarification about his background. He was born in Oklahoma City, but his parents are Nigerian. His full, legal name is Abdul-Gafar Olatokumbo Ayodeji Lamar Karim, which means “pure happiness.” His mother shortened Ayodeji into just “Deji,” which is what he goes by now.
Back to on the field, Karim was drafted by the division-rival Jaguars in the sixth round in 2010, and was claimed off waivers by the Colts in April.
Karim is similar to Carter in that he is built stockier at 5-foot-8, 209 pounds. However, he appears to have more burst and speed than Carter. At his Pro Day at Southern Illinois, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and had a 20-yard shuttle of 4.05 seconds.
Karim showed some flash in his rookie season, running for 160 yards on just 35 carries in spot duty behind Maurice Jones-Drew.
Last year, however, both Karim’s opportunities and production dropped. He ran for just 130 yards on 63 carries, possibly contributing to his getting cut.
Where Karim has really excelled, however, is as a kickoff specialist. He has a career average of 24.7 yards-per-return, Karim has shown explosion and shiftiness when bring back kicks.
To put that in perspective, his career average would be the best that the Colts have had returning kicks since Dominic Rhodes did it in 2004, with an average of 24.8.
Karim may try to stick via special teams, but Indianapolis has acquired many different returning options for 2012. He’ll be among the final cuts at the end of camp.

Darren Evans joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Evans spent the majority of the year on the practice squad as the extra running back to be promoted in case of injury. He had a spectacular year as a freshman at Virginia Tech, rushing for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, before tearing his ACL before his sophomore year. However, he rebounded well the following year, re-claiming the starting job and running for 854 yards and 11 scores. Speed and durability are concerns for Evans, and he’ll likely return to the practice squad in 2012.

One of Mewelde Moore’s biggest highlights, interestingly enough, involves the Colts. In a 2008 game against Pittsburgh, the Indy defense stopped Moore on the goal-line on three straight plays.
Mewelde Moore signed with Indianapolis
as a free agent in 2012.
Moore has been a career third-down back for both Minnesota and Pittsburgh, starting just seven career games in eight years in the NFL. Moore has 214 career receptions, which currently stands as second-most on the team behind Reggie Wayne.
His receiving ability can help rookie Andrew Luck as a passing outlet out of the backfield.
However, Moore just turned 30, and it remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank. Most running backs end up wearing down around age 30, but Moore doesn’t have anywhere near the mileage as a regular running back. He only has 494 career carries, which is what most No. 1 backs rack up in two years in the NFL.
Moore will stick on the roster as a third-down back, but will bring little to no explosion to the team. Just reliability coming out of the backfield, and in pass protection.

Vick Ballard is the biggest X-Factor at the running back position for the Colts. He’s a fifth-round pick, and, at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, is built bigger than the other running backs on the roster, and looks to have more power than speed.
Vick Ballard was a fifth-round
pick out of Mississippi State.
He ran a relatively slow 40 time at the combine at 4.63, but Ballard plays faster than his timed speed.
Ballard rushed for 2,157 yards in two years at Mississippi State, and set a school record his first year there with 20 total touchdowns. He’s yet another hard-nosed, power runner for the Colts, but isn’t shifty and won’t break a ton of tackles.
Pass protection is also another area in which he must improve. That is one spot where he really struggled at Mississippi State. But that’s why he was a fifth-round pick, instead of an early-round selection.
Despite Ballard’s shortcomings, there is one NFL analyst that is still in his corner. Shortly after the draft, NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi listed Ballard as one of his value draft picks, and recently said that he would draft Ballard in Fantasy Football, if he played it.
Ballard’s biggest competition for playing time will be Carter, as they are similar players, both looking to be the No. 2 option and possibly the goal-line back.
Considering the current regime drafted him and not Carter, that will bode well for the rookie.

Sometime before the start of the season, Evans will be cut and once again relegated to the practice squad. Karim will show some promise as a return specialist, but so will other players on the roster who also play well on offense, which Karim does not. He’ll be cut before Week 1. Moore won’t be anything exceptional, but he’ll prove himself as a reliable third-down option for Luck.
In training camp and preseason, Ballard will show more explosiveness than Carter and take over the No. 2 job from him. Depending on how many running backs Pagano decides to keep, Carter could remain on the active roster. However, if the team only keeps three, Carter would be cut.
Barring injury or epic collapse, Brown will start Week 1 as the every-down back, but Ballard will start to eat into his playing time, starting as a goal-line and short-yardage specialist, but perhaps even taking the starting job from him. Unless Ballard or Brown show more promise in pass protection, Moore will have the third-down back role locked up.

Note: Statistic projections are very general and are rounded to reflect that.
Donald Brown – 8 starts, 200 carries, 800 yards, 5 touchdowns      
Delone Carter – 2 starts, 50 carries, 175 yards, 2 touchdowns
Vick Ballard – 6 starts, 175 carries, 775 yards, 4 touchdowns
Mewelde Moore – 0 starts, 30 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown, 25 catches, 150 yards receiving, 1 touchdown receiving

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Colts Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

As a first-time reporter covering the Indianapolis Colts training camp for the Ball State Daily News, I will be doing “research” by writing a position-by-position breakdown and preview for the 2012 Colts season. Today – quarterbacks.

Currently on roster:
Andrew Luck
Drew Stanton
Chandler Harnish

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck is coming into camp as the clear-cut starter, drafted No. 1 overall to be the face of the franchise. He has a strong, accurate arm, and, more importantly, has what is necessary above the shoulders.
Example: Last year at Stanford during the October 1 game against UCLA, Luck called many of his own plays as part of its no-huddle offense. Remind you of anyone?

He’ll start week one, no doubt about it.

However, it remains to be seen how many quarterbacks new head coach Chuck Pagano will keep on the active roster during the season. The old regime (Caldwell and Polian) kept only one behind You-Know-Who. We all saw how that turned out.

I think that Pagano will end up keeping all three signal-callers throughout the season. Drew Stanton will probably secure the backup job sometime during the preseason.

Drew Stanton
Indianapolis traded for Stanton in March, giving up a 2012 sixth-round pick. He hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2010, though, and wasn’t real great when he did. In three spot starts for Detroit, Stanton went 69-119 for 780 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Again, not great numbers, but he should suffice as the backup during the regular season if he needs to be called upon.

A much more intriguing option behind Luck is Chandler Harnish. Harnish, Indianapolis’ seventh-round pick in April, was a starter at Northern Illinois. According to the team’s website, he set 30 new offensive records in his four years there.

Chandler Harnish
Harnish improved his passing statistics every year at Northern Illinois, culminating in a 3,216 yard, 28 touchdown senior season. He also threw just six interceptions in 2011.

An underrated part of Harnish’s game is his rushing ability. He ran for 2,983 yards in his career as a Huskie, including 1,379 in his senior season. He also scored 11 touchdowns rushing last season for Northern Illinois.

However, Harnish is not without problems of his own. His throwing motion is a little funky; it takes him too long to get the ball out of his hands. He also has a tendency to scramble too soon at the sign of pressure, which is perfectly fine against Mid-American Conference competition, but wouldn’t work against the superior athletes in the NFL.

Barring a colossal face-plant,  Harnish should take hold of the third quarterback job and stay there for the 2012 season.

Luck will take every possible snap for the Colts in 2012. If things go right for Pagano and company, nobody will ever see Stanton or Harnish on the field when the live bullets are flying during the regular season. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Aaron Maybin: How Rex Ryan Will Turn the Former Bust into Terrell Suggs

When the Buffalo Bills released Aaron Maybin on August 15, many (including myself) thought that would be the end of his career.

Maybin was drafted by the Bills 11th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Penn State pass rusher spent two seasons on the Buffalo roster without recording a single sack before being cut.

However, he was signed by the New York Jets just two days later. The general thought around the NFL was that if anybody could turn his career around, Rex Ryan could. Ryan had a similar project when he was in Baltimore in Terrell Suggs.

Suggs was a first-round draft pick in 2003 and he came onto the field strong with 12 sacks as a rookie. In 2004, Ryan was promoted to defensive coordinator and took It upon himself to turn Suggs into a more well-rounded player.  Suggs was a talented pass rusher, but Ryan took it upon himself to make him into a more complete player.

In his second year in the league, Suggs started all 16 games for the Ravens and intercepted one pass. Suggs has credited Ryan for making him tough.

“If he’s Michelangelo, I was his Sistine Chapel,” Suggs said.

If Suggs was the Sistine Chapel, Maybin must be the Statue of David. Maybin’s transformation may prove to be a much more difficult task for Ryan. Suggs’ first year was a success, winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Maybin’s first two NFL seasons were spent in the wallows of Western New York, collecting zero sack as a Bill.

Maybin has turned his career around in 2011, collecting five sacks as a Jet without starting a game. He achieved his first multi-sack game of his career last week against his former team.

If Maybin continues to progress, he will fill a need that has been missing for all of Ryan’s tenure and could become what John Abraham was way back when he donned the green – a yearly threat for double-digit sacks.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My NFL Quarterback Power Rankings

1.       Rodgers
2.       Brees
3.       Brady
4.       P. Manning
5.       Roethlisberger
6.       Romo
7.       Rivers
8.       Schaub
9.       Cutler
10.   E. Manning
11.   Vick
12.   Ryan
13.   Fitzgerald
14.   Stafford
15.   Flacco
16.   Bradford
17.   Hasselbeck
18.   Palmer
19.   Kolb
20.   Dalton
21.   Newton
22.   Tebow
23.   Freeman
24.   Smith
25.   Ponder
26.   Henne
27.   McCoy
28.   Jackson
29.   Cassel
30.   Gabbert
31.   Sanchez
32.   Grossman

Monday, August 1, 2011

Buffalo Bills Training Camp: Weight Shocker Should Be Aaron Maybin's Last Straw

When the Bills released their roster for the 2011 training camp, eyebrows were raised when third-year outside linebacker, Aaron Maybin, weighed in was listed at a very slight 228 pounds (see photo below), just three pounds heavier than kicker (that's right, kicker), Rian Lindell.

Photo credit goes to Joe Buscaglia. Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeB_WGR.
After Maybin left Penn State early to declare for the 2009 NFL Draft, his production quickly vaulted him to first-round status.
As a redshirt sophomore at Penn State, Maybin exploded for 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, after having four the previous year.
However, Maybin came into the NFL with only 10 college starts under his belt and many experts were skeptical that he could produce at a high level as he did in college.
Top draft analyst Mike Mayock thought Maybin should have stayed in college another year to refine his skills.

Nevertheless, Maybin declared for the draft and Buffalo thought it was filling a need by selecting him at 11th overall, just two spots before Pro Bowl alternate outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.

After an extended holdout that forced Maybin to miss all of training camp, he signed a five-year, $25 million contract.
Maybin's rookie season was a complete bust; he did not start a single game for the Bills in 2009. His pass rushing prowess also failed to translate to the pro game, as he didn't register a sack all season.

A coaching change in Buffalo meant a fresh start for Maybin in 2010. He got a chance to play in a 3-4, a system that is a much better fit for his skills.
However, it didn't take head coach Chan Gailey long to find fault in Maybin.
"He has to continue to improve his all-around play, and that includes special teams," Gailey said after Maybin's benching. "To be honest with you, it gets harder and harder."

Maybin's 2010 season ended as disappointing as his first. He appeared in 11 games, finishing with only six tackles and zero sacks.

Now, as Maybin enters his third year in the league, the pressure is on to do something, anything, for the Buffalo. However, weighing in at 228 may have been his last straw with the Bills. Many expect Maybin to become one of the Buffalo's first cuts this preseason.
Bills fans can only hope.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

NFL Free Agency: Joseph Addai's Resigning Drastically Improves the Indy Offense

If you told 100 Colts fans that Indianapolis has re-signed Joseph Addai, 50 of them would say, “Great!” while the other 50 would say, “Not him.”
It's happened. Addai re-signed with the Colts late Saturday night.
Addai is a lightning rod for Colts fans; some love him, others can't stand him.

Ever since being drafted 30th overall in 2006, he has had an up-and-down career. Addai rushed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 40 passes his rookie year, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Throughout the next two years, Addai's career took a tailspin. His rushing yards and yards-per-carry both dropped.
In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, Addai's YPC increased, but he missed time in each year.
Addai has also drawn criticism for not running hard enough and being too injury prone.
Some Colts fans have never forgiven Addai for those things.

However, they don't realize that Indianapolis' offensive line has been a revolving door of junk since the Colts Super Bowl win in 2006.

Now with a revamped offensive line with two new high draft picks on it, Addai will get his best opportunity to shine since 2006.
Addai is the best running back in the league... for the Colts.

Indy's pass-heavy offense requires its back to be involved in pass blocking more so than other teams. Addai is one of the best at that skill.
His ability to pick up a blitzing linebacker is matched by few backs in the league.

Also due to the Colts' offensive scheme, their running backs must catch the football well. Addai could move to slot wide receiver right now and be productive for most teams. He runs crisp routes and makes smooth catches, even in traffic.

As far as the actual running of the ball goes, Addai is no slouch there either. He is extremely shifty and can make even the most consistent tacklers miss. When his blocking gives him a decent hole, he can burst through it as well as anybody.
Addai also falls forward on almost every touch, giving Indy that extra yard or two when needed.

If Addai and his line stay healthy for 16 games this season, he has a chance to be the MVP not named Peyton Manning of the Colts.

Baltimore Ravens Baltimore Ravens Team Questions: Wide Receiver and Mount Cody

Offense – Will a legitimate deep threat emerge for Baltimore? 

Answer: Not as much as it hopes.
Baltimore's offense was tremendous in 2009, it finished 9th in points scored and 13th in yards. After adding star wide receiver Anquan Boldin via trade from Arizona, most thought the Raven's offense would only improve. But surprisingly, it took a step backward in 2010, finishing 16th in points scored and 22nd in yards gained. Some thought Joe Flacco regressed in his third year, but he threw more touchdowns, less interceptions and had a higher yards per attempt in 2010 when compared to 2009. Could it be that Boldin didn't fit in as much as Baltimore had hoped he would.
Boldin's style is a bruising, physical slower one. He plays wide receiver like a running back with a chip on his shoulder. Boldin's physical nature forces him to play slower than most wide receivers.
What Baltimore needs is to make its offense more explosive. To do that, they need a fast wide receiver to complement Boldin.
The Ravens thought they had that last season when they signed Donte Stallworth to a one-year deal. Stallworth turned out to be worthless for Baltimore, catching only two passes for 82 yards. He won't return to Baltimore in 2011.
The Ravens also drafted Maryland's Torrey Smith in the 2011 draft. Smith, a six-foot one, 204 pound speed demon ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. Smith can provide exactly what Baltimore needs–someone to stretch the opposing defenses.
But Smith is just a rookie, and a raw one at that. His route-running needs to improve before he can fulfill his potential.
So unless Smith learns extremely quickly or a unknown free agent comes into play, Ravens' fan will be forced to watch Baltimore's fail to live up to expectations.

Defense – Can Terrence Cody emerge as a dominant force?

Answer: Yes.
What makes Raven's GM Ozzie Newsome so great at his job is that he doesn't overreact to needs.
Baltimore's biggest needs going into the 2010 draft were cornerback and tight end.
When its first-round pick came around at 25, the number one tight end in the draft, Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham was already off the board.
Instead of reaching for a cornerback at 25 and “filling a need”, Newsome saw an opportunity to gather more picks by trading down with Denver.
Using their own second-round pick, the Ravens selected Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody.
Although his stats didn't show it, Cody, or "Mount Cody" as he's sometimes known, was a dominant force at Alabama. He was the anchor for Nick Saban's 3-4 defense, which finished second in the country in 2009.
He, like all players, has flaws.
His weight can become an issue. He weighed in at 380 pounds as recently as the Senior Bowl.
Cody's size (listed at 6'4'', 349 pounds) causes him to be stiff and slow, especially when attempting to rush the passer.
However, despite the flaws, Cody has the natural talent to be one of the best nose tackles in the league.
Cody's first season with Baltimore was very disappointing. He didn't get to play much due to other veterans in front of him on the depth chart. Cody also struggled adapting to the speed of the game. With a year under his belt, he will now be able to make a significant impact on the field.
And with the Ravens' release of Kelly Gregg, Cody now has a golden opportunity to shine in Baltimore. With nobody else to challenge his roster spot, I believe he will.