1. I hope all you dads out there had a great day yesterday. I always thought the positioning of Father's Day was kind of sneaky--in a good way. It would almost be wasted in the fall/winter, as we are already glued to the NFL all day. Having a day for dads right in the heart of the dead zone of the NFL calendar is genius. The NBA Finals can deliver a memorable performance for us to watch. We sometimes get a compelling final round of the U.S. Open. Sometimes, the wife/fiancee of the U.S. Open champ is literally right off the pages of Maxim (Paulina Gretzky), wearing a dress that looks like it was sewn onto her (or wrapped around her, as it were). And sometimes, in that exact scenario, the TV network will be sure to have a cameraman following that woman from a few stairs below a dress that barely covers her butt cheeks. My phone hasn't blown up like that on a Sunday since the Redskins came back and beat Tampa Bay last season. I fully expect Fox to launch a channel this week where all they do is follow Paulina Gretzky around from about three stairs below her.
2. Between now and training camp, there will be minimal roster churn, but coaches will be chewing on the video and memories of players in minicamp. As they match up position groups with the players they envision filling them, things like the salary cap and injury history will weigh heavy in those coaches' minds. Despite the fact that our team has not enjoyed such firm footing from a roster standpoint in years--perhaps decades--there are a few position groups that have the kind of uncertainty that keeps teams from true championship contention. There is plenty of time to address this uncertainty and there is every chance that these areas can be adequately shored up. Over on ESPN.com, our main man John Keim posts an early 53-man roster prediction. Here are three players/position groups whose roster status (at this point) I found at least somewhat surprising.
3. Running back - Nobody is going to argue with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson at the top of the list. Keim's suggestion that our other two running backs in a four man group will be Keith Marshall and Rob Kelly seems slightly off-key. I believe his roster construction was driven by players currently in the fold, making a veteran like Pierre Thomas, for example, unavailable (though he did mention him specifically as a future option). Instead of bashing John for picking from the cards in the deck, let's talk about our belief that if we carry four running backs going into the season, one of them will almost certainly be a veteran signed sometime late this summer. Pierre Thomas would suit me just fine, and we have spent a few articles in the last weeks covering other potential veteran options. Knowshon Moreno, Joique Bell and even Arian Foster have been floated (by us as well as many others) as possibilities. To me, it comes down to where do you think your team is and what comfort level does your team have with its offense and pieces? Pretty much every seasoned head coach in the NFL places a premium on veterans over rookies. Seems obvious. If your team is at the beginning of a rebuild, you might have less problem trotting out a bunch of inexperienced players in the hopes of identifying where your future lies. Coming off of a division title, with major pieces in place elsewhere, you wouldn't be shocked to see the coaching staff choose to have a little more of a known quantity coming off of the bench to potentially lock down some meaningful carries. I am intrigued by Rob Kelly, and Mack Brown still has a chance to impress, but if Keith Marshall secures the third spot on our running back depth chart, I have a hard time seeing anyone but a veteran ballcarrier rounding out the group.
4. Offensive line - Regardless of whether they keep eight or nine offensive linemen (irregardless even), there are two names that I struggle with, even though one of these guys is likely to make the team. Shawn Lauvao and Josh LeRibeus are the most experienced guys who could find themselves out of work in my mind. I think that there is an interesting dynamic: if Lauvao makes the team, it will probably be because he performed up to a level where he can make a contribution as a starter; whereas if LeRibeus makes the team, isn't it probable that it would be because someone else failed? I get the sense that the coaches like Lauvao and hope he can get back to the form they think he is capable of where he is making a difference on Sundays. I feel like LeRibeus is no longer in contention to start (I am reading a TON into press conferences and beat writers), and if Long can show he is capable of playing both center and guard, LeRibeus' spot could be taken by another young backup (Reiter and Kouandjio).
5. Defensive backs - I feel like I am going to look back and see that I was most wrong in this position group. I just see way too many journeyman-type names to think anything is written in stone with regard to how this group is going to shape up. I know players like David Bruton and Duke Ihenacho are healthy and showing they can be the veteran answers in the defensive backfield. I even see how well Dashaun Phillips performed and can see that second year player making some noise in camp. You all know I am in the tank for Mariel Cooper, and based on our needs at safety, he is very much alive. I would consider it a huge win just to see him make the practice squad, and Keim tells us that there is likely room for two in the safety/defensive back department. I am not giving up on him making the 53-man list, but I would be ecstatic if we were talking about the real emergence of guys like Bruton. When you are talking about keeping as many as nine of these guys, you have to wonder what it would take for a player like Will Blackmon to get shoved off the page? The defensive coaching staff very much respected what he was able to come off the street and do last year. I have a hard time thinking he won't win every tie-breaker scenario through the end of camp. The real story here is when you look across our top four cornerbacks: Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Quinton Dunbar and Kendall Fuller. It might not be Darrell Green, Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders, but it represents one of the best starting cornerback groups we have seen since. In a pass-happy league, and in a division that features Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham and Jordan Matthews, there is no way to understate how great it feels to enter the season with this group of corners.
6. As is our custom, #6 is dedicated to The Audible, and the ongoing Sixpack conversation. Tomorrow night figures to be rather fun. We will literally be picking up right here on our show, as we are joined--IN STUDIO--by Mariel Cooper himself. He has been so blown away by the outpouring of support from Hogs Haven that he felt it necessary to stop by and talk with us. We'll talk the ins and outs of being at the bottom of the totem pole this summer, and we will get his take on the struggle to make his professional football dreams come true. I am sure we will find other things to get his take on--scarlet_epiderm's status as the "settler" among us, SkinsNJ's crucial role of "curmudgeon", and ih8dallas' current shorts length (I could swear I saw ass-pockets hanging down beneath the tassles of his jean shorts last week, so he has clearly been trimming those jorts on the side). After all, HogHunter is the eye-candy around here.
Other topics for discussion below that will feed our Hogs Haven podcast segment:
- Besides Bill Callahan, who is the most important assistant coach on the staff right now?
- Is it too early to talk uniform preference?
- Is Kevin going to owe me a round of golf based on Jamison Crowder's hot start this year/
- Is DeAngelo Hall a 100% lock to make the team?
- Can Nate Sudfeld be stashed on the practice squad?
- Why aren't we talking about Kendall Reyes more?