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Utah Preseason Top 10

1. Jordan Beetdiggers (Sandy)
The loss of several offensive linemen is a concern, but this team returns the best quarterback in the state in junior Austin Kafentzis and productive running back Clay Moss. The schedule is brutal with two stout out-of-state tests and a date with 4A contender East.

2. Alta Hawks (Sandy)
Quarterback Chipper Lucero will look often in the direction of receiver Mack Richards behind one of the state’s best linemen in Baron Bruce. Linebacker Jaden Johnson will pace the defense.

3. Bingham Miners (South Jordan)
Versatile tight end Dalton Schultz is one of the most highly sought-after players in the state. The offense once again should have a punishing ground game behind an experienced line.

4. Lone Peak Knights (Highland)
New coach Mike Mower will look to dual-threat quarterback Baron Gajkowski and a top-shelf defensive line to lead the way.

5. East Leopards (Salt Lake City)
The Leopards are led by Wisconsin commit Ula Tolutau at tailback and Arizona State commit Korey Rush at defensive end.

6. Northridge Knights (Layton)
The loss of running back David Adams hurts, but explosive junior running back/defensive back/return man Dayan Lake is back.

7. Brighton Bengals (Salt Lake City)
Junior running back Osa Masina already has multiple BCS offers. He will run behind a stout offensive line.

8. Timpview Thunderbirds (Provo)
The returning 4A champs will be formidable again with a defense that boasts experienced linebackers Emmett Tela and Pio Stowers.

9. Syracuse Titans
Defensive lineman Kaden Craig and linebacker Wyatt German power what should be a strong defense.

10. Logan Grizzlies
Ultra-productive quarterback Luke Falk is gone, but his favorite target, Taylor Compton, is back.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

8.31 – Alta vs. Lone Peak (at Rice Eccles-Stadium)
Coach Mike Mower’s debut at Lone Peak will come against one of the state’s best.

9.7 – Bingham at Valor Christian (Colo.)
The Miners will try to duplicate last year’s exciting 21-20 victory over this Colorado powerhouse.

9.14 – Bergen Catholic (N.J.) vs. Jordan (at Rio Tinto Stadium)
The Beetdiggers get an early chance to knock off one of New Jersey’s powerhouse programs.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Austin Kafentzis, QB, Jordan (Sandy)
Junior, 6-1, 195

As a sophomore, Kafentzis threw for 3,018 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,884 yards and 26 scores, so expect more fireworks this fall. He had offers from both BYU and Utah but committed to Wisconsin during a visit to Madison in June.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Bryan Mone, DT, Highland (Salt Lake City)
Senior, 6-4, 310

A University of Michigan commit, this disruptive force in the middle finished last season with 70 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and three sacks. Mone has the body type and athleticism to be an elite defensive tackle for the Wolverines in the Big Ten.

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Utah's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 19:08
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Oregon Preseason Top 10

1. Sheldon Irish (Eugene)
The Irish lost some key personnel from the 2012 Class 6A state championship team, but Sheldon has proven it can reload and remain among the state’s elite. Seniors Mitch Herbert, Tanner Davies, Liam Talty and Yadie Dunmore will form the core of Lane Johnson’s squad.

2. Central Catholic Rams (Portland)
Central Catholic made it to the 6A quarterfinals in 2012 with a very young team. The Rams bring most of their talent back, led by two-way lineman and U.S. Army All-American Connor Humphreys.

3. Jesuit Crusaders (Portland)
Jesuit lost its entire offensive line — and all five signed with Division I schools — but most of the Crusaders’ skill players are back. Linebacker Joey Alfieri leads the defense.

4. Southridge Skyhawks (Beaverton)
Southridge made a surprising run to the 6A quarterfinals last season. Now a year older, the Skyhawks are poised for a deeper run.

5. Tigard Tigers
The Tigers rely on aggressive defense and a ball-control offense. A.J. Hotchkins is a two-way threat at fullback and linebacker.

6. Roosevelt Roughriders (Seattle)
What used to be one of the state’s worst programs is now loaded. Five players had Division I offers going into the summer.

7. Lake Oswego Lakers
The 2012 6A runners-up lost a ton of talent, but one of the state’s best coaching staffs always finds a way to make the playoffs.

8. West Albany Bulldogs (Albany)
Senior running back Jake LaCoste hopes to break the state rushing record held by current Oregon freshman Thomas Tyner.

9. Lakeridge Pacers (Lake Oswego)
The Pacers struggled in 2012 while playing a very difficult schedule. The ’13 club brings back almost every key player.

10. Sherwood Bowmen
The 5A powerhouse program lost a ton of talent, but the Bowmen bring back some key pieces on both lines.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Central Catholic at Sheldon
This could be a preview of a playoff rematch. Sheldon won last year in the regular season, 33-26.

9.6 – West Albany at Sherwood
Two 5A powers clash in a game that will feature two of the state’s top rushing teams.

9.20 – Central Catholic at Jesuit
College coaches always flock to the Holy War to scout some of the best players in the state.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jake LaCoste, RB, West Albany
Senior, 5-11, 185

Thomas Tyner stole the headlines in recent years, but LaCoste is closing in on 6,000 yards rushing and 60 touchdowns in what has been a brilliant career at West Albany. Last year, he averaged 11.1 yards per carry en route to a 3,000-yard season.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Joey Alfieri, LB, Jesuit (Portland)
Senior, 6-3, 220

Alfieri enters his third year starting at Jesuit and has developed into the state’s No. 2 prospect. He recorded over 120 tackles as a junior and is also the starting fullback. Alfieri has offers from Oregon State, Stanford, California and Washington, among others.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:47
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Nevada Preseason Top 10

1. Bishop Gorman Gaels (Las Vegas)
The Gaels haven’t lost to a Nevada school since Nov. 21, 2008. The team lost four-year starting quarterback Jarrett Solomon as well as its top two receivers to graduation. But Randall Cunningham Jr., a 7'3" high jumper, takes over at quarterback and will lead with his athleticism.

2. Liberty Patriots (Henderson)
The Patriots have won 11 games in each of the last three seasons but will have to continue that streak without Kai Nacua  and Niko Kapeli, the school’s career leaders in passing and rushing, respectively.

3. Arbor View Aggies (Las Vegas)
The Aggies went 10-1 last year and return five backs who rushed for more than 350 yards, led by senior Anthony Smith (735 yards).

4. Green Valley Gators (Henderson)
Quarterback Christian Lopez is coming off an outstanding sophomore season (2,081 passing yards, 531 rushing yards) and looks to lead the Gators to bigger things.

5. Palo Verde Panthers (Las Vegas)
The Panthers return a trio of two-way standouts in Jake Ortale, Josh Hamilton and Mike Hughes but must reload at running back.

6. Reed Raiders (Sparks)
The Raiders suffered huge graduation losses but have become the top large-school program in Northern Nevada.

7. Centennial Bulldogs (Las Vegas)
Linebacker Toby Lopez (126 tackles) returns to anchor a defense that held opponents to 14 or fewer points five times.

8. Spanish Springs Cougars (Sparks)
Nevada-commit quarterback Hunter Fralick (2,899 passing yards, 22 TDs) returns along with leading rusher Jeff Jurgensmeier.

9. Canyon Springs Pioneers (North Las Vegas)
The Pioneers return plenty of talent on defense but must replace big-time back Donnel Pumphrey, who is now at San Diego State.

10. Truckee Wolverines (Truckee, Calif.)
One of five California schools that compete in the NIAA, Truckee won its fourth straight Nevada state title in 2012.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.26 – Las Vegas at Rancho
The state’s oldest rivals fight for “Sir Herkimer’s Bone,” a cow bone that goes to the winner.

10.4 – Liberty at Coronado
A rematch of last season’s Sunrise Region title game should be a key Southeast League contest.

10.4 – McQueen at Reed
A key High Desert League contest that could be a preview of the Northern Region title game.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Hunter Fralick, QB, Spanish Springs (Sparks)
Senior, 6-2, 190

Fralick displayed great accuracy as a junior, completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,899 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was picked off only three times and added six rushing TDs. Fralick committed to Nevada at the end of May.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Rayshawn Henderson, DT, Canyon Springs (North Las Vegas)
Senior, 6-1, 275

Henderson can dominate at the line of scrimmage, and he recorded 76 tackles, including 11 for a loss, along with seven sacks as a junior. He even picked off a pass, and he is nimble enough to log time at fullback for the Pioneers.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:12
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Minnesota Preseason Top 10

1. Eden Prairie Eagles
Feared for their physical style yet loathed for their success, the Eagles are favored to become the first program to win three consecutive big-school state titles. Expect large helpings of bruising running backs Dan Fisher and Anthony Anderson.

2. Wayzata Trojans (Plymouth)
Less-heralded players gained experience when starting seniors suffered injuries in 2012. Expect a sound defensive unit and capable offensive line.

3. Totino-Grace Eagles (Fridley)
Though much smaller in enrollment than most Class 6A schools, Totino-Grace succeeds thanks to a few stars and lots of smart, disciplined football players.

4. Maple Grove Crimson
The Crimson welcome back 12 starters, most of them offensive linemen with good size and defensive players who can run.

5. Minnetonka Skippers
Quarterback Nick Rooney, running back Ian Cote and seven defensive veterans plan to keep the Skippers in the hunt.

6. Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders (St. Paul)
A one-and-done playoff run should have the Raiders hungry. Graduation took a toll, but few programs reload like Cretin-Derham Hall.

7. Edina Hornets
The surprise team of 2012 could turn heads again, as 11 starters return for the Hornets.

8. St. Thomas Academy Cadets (Mendota Heights)
Favorites to win the Class 5A title, the Cadets boast a stable of running backs with complementary styles few defenses can solve.

9. Rosemount Irish
A young Irish team improved all season, culminating in a Class 6A state tournament appearance. Rosemount will wear a target this fall.

10. Owatonna Huskies
Continuity on the offensive line and nine defenders who saw action in the Class 5A title game loss give the Huskies a solid foundation.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.7 – Joliet Catholic (Ill.) at St. Thomas Academy
The Cadets, favorites in Class 5A, hope to shine at home against the storied Hilltoppers.

9.12 – Eden Prairie at Totino-Grace
Totino-Grace rebounded from a rout in 2011 to top Eden Prairie last fall.

10.11 – Wayzata at Eden Prairie
The state’s two largest schools collide, likely for the Lake Conference title.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jeff Jones, RB, Washburn (Minneapolis)
Senior, 6-0, 200

Jones used great burst and breakaway speed to compile 1,002 yards (9.0 yards per attempt) and nine touchdowns in eight games. He added 105 yards and three TDs receiving. Millers coach Giovan Jenkins called the Minnesota commit “the total package.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Andrew Stelter, DE, Owatonna
Senior, 6-4, 250

Stelter set his school’s single-season record with 12 sacks. He uses quickness off the ball and strength (he squats more than 500 pounds) to get off blocks and into opposing backfields. The 3-star prospect spurred Owatonna to the Class 5A title game last season.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 18:05
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Kentucky Preseason Top 10

1. St. Xavier Tigers (Louisville)
After losing to Trinity by a point in last year’s 6A playoffs, the Tigers may be ready to knock their crosstown rivals from their perch atop the state. A big, experienced line and a deep stable of backs have this team poised to win its first state title since 2009.

2. Trinity Shamrocks (Louisville)
Despite some heavy graduation losses, the Shamrocks return one of the state’s best athletes in Louisville commit Reggie Bonnafon, who takes over at quarterback after a strong season at receiver.

3. Highlands Bluebirds (Fort Thomas)
Perennially one of the top offensive teams in the region, the Bluebirds will again put up points in bunches with receivers Luke Brockett and Brandon Hergott and tight end Nick True.

4. Bowling Green Purples
The two-time defending 5A champs have won 30 straight games, including two in a row over St. Xavier.

5. Scott County Cardinals (Georgetown)
The Cardinals nearly shocked Trinity in last year’s playoffs and return one of the top receivers in the state in Scott Daniel.

6. Covington Catholic Colonels (Park Hills)
Expect another strong defense, as linebacker Sam Burchell anchors the front seven.

7. Central Yellowjackets (Louisville)
Linebackers Donald Styles and Phillip Francis pace the defense for Central, winner of five 3A state titles in the last six seasons.

8. Conner Cougars (Hebron)
Quarterback Drew Barker should keep this offense humming at a high level, while the defense figures to be improved.

9. Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers (Louisville)
The Panthers look to duplicate last year’s offensive showing behind an experienced line and emerging back Delvon Dunn.

10. John Hardin Bulldogs (Elizabethtown)
Only two offensive starters return for new coach Chad Lewis, although one is leading rusher Khalil Frazier.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Bowling Green at St. Xavier
An early chance for a statement game by two teams with legitimate state title hopes.

9.28 – Highlands at Covington Catholic
Covington Catholic was one of only two teams to hold Highlands under 40 points last year.

10.4 – St. Xavier vs. Trinity (at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium)
Trinity owns a six-game winning streak in this rivalry between the state’s marquee programs.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Barker, QB, Conner (Hebron)
Senior, 6-4, 210

For his career, Barker has thrown for 3,104 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 2,971 yards and 41 touchdowns. The 4-star prospect committed to Kentucky over South Carolina this summer in a huge recruiting victory for the Wildcats’ new staff.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Matt Elam, DT, John Hardin (Elizabethtown)
Senior, 6-6, 350

A powerful and athletic presence anywhere you line him up, Elam can make an impact rushing the passer, stuffing the run or blocking kicks and punts. He’s a 4-star recruit who has offers from a host of SEC powers as well as Louisville.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:48
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August Crossword Solution

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:41
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Colorado Preseason Top 10

1. Valor Christian Eagles (Highlands Ranch)
Despite a coaching change, there is just too much talent on the four-time defending state champions (won in three classifications) to pick against them. The offensive line features five 300-pounders paving the way for the state’s best player (Christian McCaffrey).

2. ThunderRidge Grizzlies (Highlands Ranch)
Routinely in the mix these days, the Grizzlies were ranked No. 1 in the state deep into the playoffs last season and have enough returning to make another run.

3. Cherokee Trail Cougars (Aurora)
The Cougars are a rugged team that didn’t allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in a game last season, and they held mighty Valor Christian to nine in the state championship game.

4. Ralston Valley Mustangs (Arvada)
Quarterback Jacob Knipp returns for his senior season after completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards with 28 touchdowns as a junior.

5. Pomona Panthers (Arvada)
Running backs Chris Benefiel, Konner Burns and Chris Marquez lead the Panthers’ potent rushing attack.

6. Cherry Creek Bruins (Greenwood Village)
Coach Dave Logan, now in his second season at Cherry Creek, always seems to have his team in the mix for a conference title.

7. Monarch Coyotes (Louisville)
The defending 4A state champion reloads with the addition of quarterback Jay MacIntyre, the son of Colorado’s football coach.

8. Denver South Rebels
The 2012 runner-up in Class 4A has the bulk of its key contributors back and just might be the favorite.

9. Arapahoe Warriors (Centennial)
This team lost only twice last season, both times against powerhouse programs. The Warriors have key components coming back.

10. Pueblo West Cyclones
Last season, four players rushed for at least 398 yards as the Cyclones went 12-1.

Three Can't Miss Games

8.24 – Central (Fresno, Calif.) at Valor Christian 

A quality opponent should give Valor Christian a tough test as it begins its bid to repeat in the state’s top classification.

9.7 – ThunderRidge at Ralston Valley 

An early top-five matchup in non-league play will give one of these powers a leg up.

10.4 – Cherokee Trail at Cherry Creek 

Both of these teams will have something to say about who wins the Centennial League.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch)
Senior, 6-0, 195

The youngest son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey plays both running back and slot receiver for his team and could do either when he heads to Stanford next year. He’s a threat from any spot on the field and also returns kicks.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Evan White, S, Cherokee Trail (Aurora)
Senior, 6-3, 190

White is a bruising athlete who might be a linebacker in college but has the speed to stick in the secondary. He intercepted seven passes as a junior in his first season playing primarily as a defensive back. He also helped his track team win a state championship in the 4x200 relay.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:33
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Pennsylvania Preseason Top 10

1. Gateway Gators (Monroeville)
Loaded with Division I athletes, Gateway is the favorite to finally capture district and Class 4A state titles. Star wideout/defensive back Montae Nicholson headlines a half dozen D-I prospects, and new coach Donnie Militzer might have one of the elite secondaries in the state.

2. St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks (Philadelphia)
Prep lost in the district final, but some youthful Hawks, including junior running back Olamide Zaccheaus, should challenge again.

3. Central Catholic Vikings (Pittsburgh)
Linebacker Niko Thorpe and defensive back Tre Tarpley lead a defense that pitched five shutouts last year.  

4. West Allegheny Indians (Imperial)
Now juniors, quarterback Andrew Koester, running back Chayse Dillon and linebacker Armand Dellovade could challenge for a state title.

5. Archbishop Wood Vikings (Warminster)
The 2012 Class 3A state runners-up will go with a youth movement behind sophomore quarterback Tom Garlick and junior linebackers Andrew Guckin and Jake Cooper, all D-I prospects.

6. Bishop McDevitt Crusaders (Harrisburg)
Running backs Rashad Lawson (1,002 yards, 12 TDs) and Andre Robinson (1,034 yards, 18 TDs) both return.

7. North Allegheny Tigers (Wexford)
The defending Class 4A state champs reload with senior two-way star Elijah Zeise (four TDs, three INTs) and junior linebacker Layne Skundrich (96 tackles, six sacks).

8. Coatesville Red Raiders
The Class 4A state runners-up return athlete Daquan Worley (1,779 yards, 20 TDs) and linebacker Tyler Burke (208 tackles, 11 sacks).

9. La Salle College Explorers (Wyndmoor)
Jimmy Herron leads the offense, and linebacker Zaire Franklin headlines the defense on a team that’s won four straight district titles.

10. Cardinal O’Hara Lions (Springfield)
Transfer running back J.T. Blyden joins quarterback Dashawn Darden (1,607 yards, 20 TDs) and receiver Thaddius Smith (eight TDs).

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.31 – Harrisburg at Bishop McDevitt
McDevitt opens its new field, and both teams get a chance to make an early statement.

9.7 – St. Joseph’s Prep at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.)
SJP hops the state line for a game against a perennial top-100 team in the country.

10.4 – Cathedral Prep at McDowell
A heated public/private rivalry game in Erie, the game’s been played every season since 1958.

10.4 – Gateway at North Allegheny
Top challenger Gateway gets a shot at dethroning the defending Class 4A state champs.

11.28 – Phillipsburg (N.J.) vs. Easton
Financial woes nearly ended Easton’s program, giving the nation’s oldest interstate Thanksgiving game a new perspective.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Robert Martin, RB, Harrisburg
Senior, 6-0, 191

Martin missed his sophomore year at Steel-High, but his transfer to Harrisburg injected life into the moribund program and shot him onto the recruiting radar. Martin ran for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 games as a junior and is poised for a dominant encore performance in 2013.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Dravon Henry, DB, Aliquippa
Senior, 5-11, 190

Henry has 15 interceptions in two seasons, and early comparisons are being made to fellow Aliquippa grad Darrelle Revis. Henry’s also an accomplished running back for the perennial contender. He chipped in 1,919 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns to go with his presence in the secondary.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:25
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Oklahoma Preseason Top 10

1. Jenks Trojans
One of the state’s premier powerhouse programs is loaded again. The Trojans are strong on defense with a secondary that includes Steven Parker and Dylan Harding. But coach Allan Trimble’s offense will be looking for playmakers to step into primary roles.

2. Tulsa Union Redskins
The Redskins have combined with Jenks to win every Class 6A state championship since 1996, and this year doesn’t look to be any different, with Union trying to take the title back.

3. Broken Arrow Tigers
Broken Arrow has the most Division I talent in the state, but the Tigers have to make it count on the field. Quarterback Coleman Key and running back Devon Thomas lead the high-powered offense.

4. Owasso Rams
Owasso must replace talented leader Jaylen Lowe at quarterback, but the Rams have several other tools to work with.

5. Edmond Santa Fe Wolves
The Wolves return several pieces of a strong offense, starting with quarterback and Oklahoma commit Justice Hansen.

6. Edmond North Huskies
The Huskies return a powerful run game, led by 210-pound Arizona State commit Michael Farmer, who averaged 8.8 yards per carry.

7. Norman North Timberwolves
The Timberwolves reached the Class 6A finals last fall, but they’ll have some holes to fill, particularly on defense.

8. Carl Albert Titans (Midwest City)
The Titans won the 5A title behind quarterback Stevie Thompson, who rushed for 1,926 yards and 36 touchdowns as a junior.

9. Lawton Wolverines
With overpowering linemen on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should bounce back after missing the postseason in 2012.

10. McAlester Buffaloes
The Buffaloes rebounded from an 0-3 start to reach the 5A semifinals and return much of the starting lineup.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.13 – Jenks vs. Union
The state’s most noted rivalry is set for the second week of the season at the University of Tulsa.

10.4 – Carl Albert at Bishop McGuinness
Carl Albert avenged last year’s midseason loss in a Class 5A semifinal showdown.

10.11 – Clinton vs. Anadarko
This is a budding rivalry. Clinton won the meeting in the 2012 Class 4A state championship game.

10.11 – Broken Arrow at Jenks
The winner is likely in the district driver’s seat, and no other game in the state will put as many Division I prospects on the field.

11.8 – Tuttle at Blanchard
Defending Class 3A champion Blanchard’s only loss last year was at rival Tuttle, so plenty will be riding on this Week 10 matchup.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Justice Hansen, QB, Edmond Santa Fe
Senior, 6-3, 200

Hansen completed 58.2 percent of his passes (185-of-318) with 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last year while showing his ability to run the ball effectively as well. In his senior season, Hansen and the Wolves will try to snap Jenks’ and Union’s 6A championship dominance.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Deondre Clark, DE, Douglass (Oklahoma City)
Senior, 6-3, 240

Clark had 22 sacks last year to set the Douglass single-season record, regularly overpowering the Class 4A offensive linemen he faced each week. His speed and power made him a national recruit. This year, he’ll try to help the Trojans end a two-year run of first-round playoff exits.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:17
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Athlon Sports monthly, the world's largest sports magazine (9.3 million monthly circulation), is now offering a digital edition of its popular product. Featured under the "magazine" tag on AthlonSports.com, the digital version of the print monthly allows sports fans access to stories and features that were once only available to readers of Athlon's 500 newspaper partners. 
 
The first digital edition is Athlon's August 2013 issue, featuring Johnny Manziel, along with Athlon's College Football Preview, 5 Bold NFL Predictions, high school football, the NBA offseason, and a look at the newest sports channel, FOX Sports 1. 
 
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Athlon Sports Monthly Goes Digital
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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:15
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Mississippi Preseason Top 10

1. Brandon Bulldogs
Brandon returns the bulk of its Class 6A runner-up team, including junior quarterback Gardner Minshew (3,001 yards, 27 TDs). Senior defensive end Michael Brooks Jr. and junior tackle Fletcher Adams each bring more than 130 tackles back on a loaded defense.

2. South Panola Tigers (Batesville)
The Tigers won their seventh title in the last 10 seasons, beating Brandon in December. Now a senior, quarterback Rip Kirk threw for 2,358 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012.

3. Olive Branch Conquistadors
The Conquistadors went 11-2 but will have to replace Memphis football and basketball recruit Sam Craft, who combined to run and throw for nearly 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.

4. Meridian Wildcats
The Wildcats return a talented backfield, and the defense features one of the nation’s top safeties in C.J. Hampton.

5. West Point Green Wave
Running back Aeris Williams is one of the state’s top recruits and will line up behind a new full-time quarterback, junior Josh Ewing.

6. Picayune Maroon Tide
The Tide’s only loss came in the playoffs to South champion Pascagoula. Preston Dedeaux (1,451 rushing yards, 20 TDs) returns.

7. Madison Central Jaguars
The Jaguars again had their championship plans foiled by South Panola, but they did beat 5A champ Starkville.

8. Petal Panthers
The Panthers welcome back top linebacker Forrest Harvey, but their top receiver, running back and quarterback all graduated.

9. Oak Grove Warriors
The Warriors return quarterback Kirk McCarty, who threw for 2,356 yards and 31 touchdowns, as well as receiver Cameron Myers.

10. Bassfield Yellowjackets
The Class 2A champions must replace their top runners, but Trodrick Daniels had 811 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.22 – Brandon at Madison Central
Brandon, the 2012 South 6A champ, battles a Madison Central team that is eager to make an early season statement.

8.29 – West Point at South Panola
These teams opened last season, and it came down to a last-second field goal for South Panola.

10.4 – Olive Branch at South Panola
Only one can get to the Class 6A championship. This will be one intense division game.

10.11 – Picayune at Pascagoula
Pascagoula ended Picayune’s perfect season in the playoffs last season.

10.18 – Ridgeland at Callaway
Callaway is loaded with individual talent. A division win here can stamp the Chargers as a team to be reckoned with.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Aeris Williams, RB, West Point
Senior, 6-1, 205

Williams will again be the featured ball-carrier for the Class 5A favorite — and rush-heavy — Green Wave after running for 1,893 yards as a junior. His offer sheet is starting to fill in nicely, with Florida State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Wisconsin already on board.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
C.J. Hampton, S, Meridian
Senior, 6-1, 190

The state’s top-ranked safety, Hampton had 48 tackles and three interceptions last season. An Ole Miss commit, Hampton added an offer from Alabama in May and also has offers from Auburn, Mississippi State, Stanford and Tennessee. He has accepted an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

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Mississippi's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 17:10
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Michigan Preseason Top 10

1. Cass Tech Technicians (Detroit)
The Technicians could again be the deepest and most talented team in the state this fall, with several future FBS players on the roster, including linebacker/defensive back Deon Drake (committed to Michigan State) and corner Damon Webb (Ohio State).

2. Grand Rapids Christian Eagles
The defending Division 3 champs bring back Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Drake Harris and Northwestern-bound tackle Tommy Doles.

3. Brother Rice Warriors (Bloomfield Hills)
Last year’s Division 2 state champions will be led by senior running backs Brian Walker and Shon Powell, who combined for 35 touchdowns and nearly 2,400 yards on the ground in 2012.

4. Clarkston Wolves
The Wolves return several standouts, including running back Ian Eriksen, tight end Cole Chewins and defensive lineman David Beedle.

5. Muskegon Big Reds
With Western Michigan commit Kenny Finley leading the way up front, the Big Reds could win their fourth state crown in nine years.

6. Ithaca Yellowjackets
The Yellowjackets will go for their fourth consecutive state title this year under the leadership of signal-caller Travis Smith.

7. South Christian Sailors (Grand Rapids)
The Division 4 champs in 2012, the Sailors will be led by Jon Wassink, who threw for 2,564 yards and 23 TDs as a sophomore.

8. Country Day Yellowjackets (Detroit)
Rutgers-bound senior quarterback Tyler Wiegers has one of the state’s top targets in Michigan commit Maurice Way.

9. St. Mary’s Prep Eaglets (Orchard Lake)
The Eaglets lost a heartbreaker in the Division 3 championship but bring back stud athletes Tyson Smith and Jalen Watts-Jackson.

10. Southfield Bluejays
Transfer Malik McDowell forms the most intimidating defensive tandem in the state with Michigan commit Lawrence Marshall.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.29 – Grand Rapids Christian at South Christian
This cross-town rivalry features two defending state championship squads.

8.30 – Cass Tech at Southfield
The Technicians could get their biggest regular-season test in this Week 1 contest at Wayne State.

10.4 – Brother Rice at St. Mary’s Prep
Brother Rice didn’t lose another game after falling to St. Mary’s 24-14 last September.

10.18 – Zeeland East at Muskegon
Muskegon hopes to avenge a 40-39 loss, while Zeeland East’s Spencer Viening tries to replicate his 137-yard, three-TD showing.

10.19 – Warren De La Salle at Detroit Catholic Central
This matchup usually delivers some drama. Central escaped with a 31-30 win last fall.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Drake Harris, WR, Grand Rapids Christian
Senior, 6-3, 170

Harris tallied more than 2,000 receiving yards as a junior, including a record 243 in the Division 3 state title game win. A Michigan commitment, he averaged 22 yards per catch and scored 25 TDs. He might struggle to replicate those numbers with the added attention he’ll get this season.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Malik McDowell, DE, Southfield
Senior, 6-6, 280

McDowell, who earned Division 7-8 Player of the Year honors from the AP after dominating small school competition (70 tackles, 15 sacks) for Loyola (Detroit) last season, will try to do it against top competition this year. He forms a formidable tandem with Lawrence Marshall, who is trying to get McDowell to commit to Michigan, too.

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Teaser:
Michigan's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:57
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Maryland/D.C. Preseason Top 10

1. Our Lady of Good Counsel Falcons (Olney)
Coming off a fourth straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, the Falcons will look to replace two-way standout Kendall Fuller. Good Counsel averaged 33.2 points in its six regular-season WCAC contests in 2012.

2. DeMatha Stags (Hyattsville)
The Stags went 9-3 and are set to return a host of talented seniors, led by quarterback John Lovett and his band of receivers. Getting past rival Good Counsel is the annual challenge.

3. Gilman Greyhounds (Baltimore)
The Greyhounds lost to Good Counsel 20-19 in overtime last season, then won nine in a row and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association “A” Conference crown.

4. Henry A. Wise Pumas (Upper Marlboro)
The reigning Class 4A state champs played a thriller in the title game, and will have quarterback Isaiah Black returning.

5. River Hill Hawks (Clarksville)
The Hawks overcame a 14-6 halftime deficit in the 3A state title game to beat Huntingtown 18-14 and win their 24th game in a row.

6. Dunbar Poets (Baltimore)
The Poets are state championship veterans, with three straight 1A crowns. But they’re moving up a classification to 2A this fall.

7. Middletown Knights
The 2A state champion Knights boast an all-state offensive lineman in senior Justin Falcinelli (6-4, 300).

8. St. Paul’s Crusaders (Brooklandville)
The Crusaders capped a perfect 11-0 season by beating John Carroll in the MIAA “B” Conference title game.

9. Calvert Hall Cardinals (Towson)
The Cardinals’ season ended with a 35-7 loss to rival Gilman in the MIAA “A” Conference title game.

10. Friendship Collegiate Academy Knights (Wash., D.C.)
The Knights are loaded with college recruits, and topping the list are sought-after cornerbacks D’Andre Payne and Jalen Tabor.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.23 – Good Counsel vs. Gilman
Private powers collide before most teams get started this year at Towson University.

9.1 – Manatee (Fla.) vs. Gilman
A tasty interstate matchup in Baltimore featuring Florida’s Class 7A power against the Greyhounds on ESPN.

9.6 – Middletown at Westminster
Last year’s 2A state champs come to Ruby Field to face the 4A state semifinalist for the first time.

10.11 – Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep at Friendship Collegiate Academy
One of New Jersey’s (and the nation’s) premier teams takes on the Knights in the nation’s capital.

11.28 – Calvert Hall vs. Loyola
The Turkey Bowl is in its 94th year and likely will be played this year on the campus of Towson University.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Demetrius Johnson, ATH, Annapolis Area Christian
Senior, 6-2, 205

The Annapolis Area Christian program is relatively new and didn’t win a game last season, but Johnson is set to emerge as one of the state’s premier prep stars. He played wide receiver and defensive back last fall and has earned a roster spot in the 2014 US Army All-American Bowl in Texas.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Melvin Keihn, LB, Gilman (Baltimore)
Senior, 6-3, 225

The speedy Keihn racked up 13 sacks to lead a stingy Greyhounds defense, and he reportedly has offers from close to 20 FBS schools. Keihn helped Gilman to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association “A” Conference title and a 9-2 record.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:46
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Arkansas Preseason Top 10

1. Har-Ber Wildcats (Springdale)
Nine starters return, including heralded senior defensive lineman Josh Frazier. Offensive tackle Isaac Johnson and defensive end Jake Hall also have major college offers. Senior quarterback Kyle Pianalto completed 123-of-214 passes for 1,903 yards and 26 touchdowns last fall.

2. Bentonville Tigers
A solid cast of returnees for the Tigers includes senior tight end Jack Kraus, who has committed to Arkansas, and junior offensive tackle Ean Pfeifer, who had 26 knockdown blocks last fall.

3. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats
Coach Brad Bolding says this could be the fastest team he’s had. The program received a boost in the offseason with two transfers — senior linebacker Tim Quickel and junior utility back K.J. Hill.

4. Southside Rebels (Fort Smith)
The Rebels are led by athletic senior quarterback Isaac Jackson and his younger brother, Ian, a junior linebacker.

5. Cabot Panthers
The Panthers improved to 6-5 last season after finishing 3-7 in 2011. Five three-year starters return to the offensive line.

6. Fayetteville Bulldogs
The two-time defending Class 7A state champions could start as many as 16 underclassmen, including several promising linemen.

7. Greenwood Bulldogs
Greenwood is seeking to become the first Arkansas school to capture four-consecutive state championships since 1989.

8. Conway Wampus Cats
The Wampus Cats return 11 starters, seven on defense. Junior kicker Matt “Thunderfoot” Cummins is one of the state’s best.

9. West Memphis Blue Devils
West Memphis had won or shared eight consecutive conference championships before tying for third last fall.

10. Jonesboro Golden Hurricane
The program continues to flourish under alum Randy Coleman. Defensive lineman Chuks Ota headlines nine returning starters.

Three Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Webb City (Mo.) at Har-Ber
Webb City, which won last year’s meeting 30-15, is riding a 45-game winning streak.

9.27 – Har-Ber at Bentonville
Caps a brutal four-game stretch for Bentonville, which has beaten Har-Ber five consecutive times.

10.25 – Greenwood at Fort Smith Southside
This may be the toughest regular-season test for Greenwood, which has a 38-game winning streak.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jabe Burgess, QB, Greenwood
Senior, 6-2, 200

Burgess, a Tulsa commit, made a seamless transition from backup to starter, completing 219-of-296 passes for 3,128 yards and 36 touchdowns last fall for the Class 6A champion. He is the cousin of former Greenwood and Arkansas star Tyler Wilson.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Bijhon Jackson, DT, El Dorado
Senior, 6-2, 320

Jackson was a starter as a sophomore on El Dorado’s Class 6A state championship team in 2011. The Arkansas commit had six sacks last fall and also won the state weightlifting title in April, bench-pressing 385 pounds and power-cleaning a record 335 pounds.

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 16:26
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No more sneaking up on the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts blew their underdog cover in 2012 with a most unexpected climb to 11–5 and a playoff spot only one year after a 2–14 train wreck.

First-year general manager Ryan Grigson initiated himself by winning NFL Executive of the Year. First-year head coach Chuck Pagano endeared himself to a team and community with his inspiring fight against leukemia and emotional return to the sideline. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck turned out to be every bit as talented and smart as advertised.

Just like that, the Colts are Super Bowl contenders in the eyes of many, and so soon after parting ways with Peyton Manning in March 2012. Who woulda thunk it?

Pagano suggests he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. The Colts are still “Building The Monster,” as player T-shirts remind. As much as everyone is excited about what could come next, the bottom line is about winning Super Bowls and hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 7th

Related: 2013 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Offense
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians parlayed a stint as interim head coach into a permanent title with Arizona, so the Colts hired Luck’s former Stanford play-caller, Pep Hamilton. This should translate to a more balanced passing attack — Arians hated dink-and-dunk — with Luck utilizing more short-range throws in addition to going deep. He took 41 sacks last year and had to hold the ball too long behind a below-average offensive line.

The Colts had money to spend in free agency and used a chunk on Gosder Cherilus to play right tackle. They also added guard Donald Thomas. Grigson is a former O-lineman who ensured what he called a “cauldron of competition” for training camp with draft picks used on offensive guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes. How quickly the rookies transition will impact who stays and goes on a reshuffled front.

While wide receiver Reggie Wayne delivered his sixth Pro Bowl season and flourished in the slot formation when the Colts went with three wide receivers, the team needed another speed guy to replace free agent departure Donnie Avery. They signed former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey for one year. Like Avery, Heyward-Bey is fast, but drops are a concern.

Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener showed promise as rookies, especially Allen, who the Colts should utilize more — often times he helped block and even ran the ball as an H-back. Allen’s a mismatch in the pass game, and Luck needs to find him more.

The run game is still a question mark. That Vick Ballard proved to be a reliable rookie was a big bonus for a fifth-round pick. Donald Brown got hurt again, and the former first-round pick is in a contract year. The Colts talk about wanting to run the ball, which is why the team signed former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw in June. Bradshaw has had a tough time staying on the field, but he's also shown he's capable of being a 1,000-yard rusher when he gets enough carries. Seventh-round rookie Kerwynn Williams is valued as a kick returner but could be an ideal third down back.

Defense
Pagano used the word “hybrid” to describe the team changing from its usual 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 last year. That’s another way of saying the Colts didn’t have the parts to play an aggressive 3-4 like he did as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator.

More parts are now in place. While some were surprised at the money shelled out for certain players, needs were addressed with the addition of several free agents, most notably Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, outside linebacker Erik Walden and cornerback Greg Toler.

Landry is a run-stop thumper, the likes of which the Colts haven’t had since 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders. Walden “sets the edge” as a decent run-stuffer and adequate pass-rusher, although many will unfairly compare him to the guy he’s replacing, all-time sack leader Dwight Freeney. The Colts decided not to re-sign Freeney, who didn’t fit the 3-4 and had just five sacks last season. Walden had more than 100 tackles in the last two seasons with Green Bay, so the priority is to have a guy on the edge who is responsible on all downs, not just rushing the pocket. If Walden can’t come up with enough sacks, first-round pick ­Bjoern Werner should get his chance.

Toler helps a secondary that lost cornerback Jerraud Powers, an oft-injured but capable starter. They essentially switched addresses — Powers going to Arizona and Toler coming from the Cardinals. While more changes were expected, the Colts opted to hang onto to cornerbacks Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn, who made plays at times but also got torched.

Eyebrows rose when Grigson gave starter money to San Francisco backup defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. But he’s another ideal fit in a 3-4. He’s worked before with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and can play either end or tackle.

Specialists
Kicker Adam Vinatieri enters a contract year and turns 41 in late December. It’s possible his replacement is on the roster in punter Pat McAfee, who also handles kickoffs and aspires to one day add field goals to his areas of expertise.

The Colts thought enough of McAfee to use the franchise tag on him, which meant $2.9 million for this season. The sides have talked about a long-term contract.

T.Y. Hilton could be one of the league’s best punt returners. He started slow as a rookie but eventually displayed the speed and elusiveness to make cover teams miss. He accounted for both Colts TDs in a 20–13 home win over Buffalo in Week 12 with a 75-yard punt return and eight-yard catch. Williams should handle kickoffs and might spell Hilton on punts at times.

Final Analysis: 2nd in AFC South
As owner Jim Irsay said outside the locker room after January’s playoff loss in Baltimore, 11 wins is a tough act to follow.

If Luck’s O-line gives him time, watch him take another step forward. That’s saying something considering the passer set an NFL rookie record with 4,374 yards. But he should enjoy a better TD-INT ratio than 23-to-18. The Colts will still have to pass to set up the run in stretches, but Luck is mobile and has plenty of weapons. Even if every part doesn’t fit, the Colts should be better on offense.

The real question about this team is defense. The Colts couldn’t stop the run at times, the pass rush was spotty and the cover guys were exploited too often.

Granted, the team was able to overcome those shortcomings. But Pagano and Grigson realize that next step is a big one and requires a complete team. Winning masks inefficiencies for only so long. The initial hurdle is the two-time defending AFC South champion Houston Texans. They’ve taken ownership of the division once dominated by the Colts. Houston has learned that climbing the playoff ladder demands more than just talent. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis, so that bodes well if the Colts need a Dec. 15 win in the playoff push.

Order your 2013 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)IndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Indianapolis Colts 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 10:00
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Jeff Fisher made his bones in coaching with a bruising, physical defense coupled with a conservative run-oriented offense led by big back Eddie George. That was in Tennessee (and Houston). As Fisher enters his second season in St. Louis, the bruising, physical defense is still there. But this offense could be unlike anything ever seen on a Fisher team. After undergoing a dramatic offseason makeover of skill-position players, the Rams have gotten faster and potentially more explosive on offense. After finishing 25th in scoring and 23rd in total offense in 2012, the Rams may do a 180 in terms of approach this season. It may take time to see how it all shakes out, but it looks like the emphasis is on getting players in space, creating mismatches, spreading the field and picking up the tempo.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 7th

Related: 2013 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Offense
For the first time as an NFL player, quarterback Sam Bradford has the same offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer — and the same terminology and playbook — in consecutive seasons. The apparent emphasis on more of an up-tempo passing style better suits Bradford. He did some of his best work a year ago in the hurry-up, when he was given more responsibilities at the line of scrimmage.

He’s got a speedy receiver corps with the addition of tight end Jared Cook in free agency and wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the draft. Four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long is the new left tackle on what already was an improved offensive line. If the Rams can find production in a backfield minus Steven Jackson, this could be Bradford’s eagerly awaited breakout season. There will be growing pains, however, because so many of the running backs and wide receivers are inexperienced. But the potential exists for a dynamic offense, one that can create a lot of matchup problems. Cook, who has 4.49 speed, will line up in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, and — oh yeah — on the line. Pairing Cook with the much-improved Lance Kendricks, the Rams can mimic the Patriots with two accomplished pass-catching tight ends.

At wide receiver, the Rams have a pair of burners in Chris Givens and Austin. Brian Quick presents a big target. Not unlike Cook, Austin will line up just about anywhere. Austin Pettis can make the tough short and intermediate catches and has developed into a decent red zone presence. But it won’t work as well without some semblance of a ground game. Second-year players Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead are smaller scatback types. The Rams traded up into the fifth round for Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy, a tough inside runner who they hope can excel in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Terrance Ganaway, who played in only three games as a rookie, will have a chance to show he can provide a big-back element.

For at least the start of the season Richardson will play the role of lead back, as he beat out the rest of the competition during training camp. Pead hurt his chances when he received a one-game suspension from the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Even though Richardson is atop the depth chart, he won't be expected to carry the load like Jackson did for so many years in St. Louis. Pead, Stacy and Ganaway all should get their share of chances during the season.

The addition of Long gives St. Louis a veteran line — at least four-fifths of a veteran line — with former Green Bay Pro Bowler Scott Wells at center, hard-nosed Harvey Dahl at right guard and Rodger Saffold grudgingly moving to right tackle to accommodate Long. If the Rams find a left guard and the unit stays healthy, this could be one of the league’s better lines.

Defense
The Rams flirted with being a top-10 defense for much of the 2012 season. If rookies Alec Ogletree (linebacker) and T.J. McDonald (safety) fill the only holes in the starting lineup, this unit should achieve top-10 status this time around.

It all starts with the pass rush. Robert Quinn and the underrated Chris Long are developing into one of the NFL’s top tandems of pass-rushing ends. They combined for 22 sacks — a big reason the Rams tied for the league lead in sacks, an amazing achievement considering they led less than one-third of the time during games over the course of the season. They still managed to get all that pressure even though they didn’t have opponents in predictable passing situations all that often.

William Hayes was a super-sub off the bench with seven sacks, backing up Long and moving inside to tackle in passing situations. As a result, the Rams didn’t blitz all that often; they didn’t have to because of the consistent pressure of the front four. That figures to be the case this year, particularly if second-year tackle Michael Brockers can continue to provide an inside push, a part of his game began developing late in his rookie season.

At linebacker, James Laurinaitis continues to be a rock in the middle, and he will be seeking his fifth consecutive season as the team’s leading tackler. He also will help mentor Ogletree, who is slated to start alongside Laurinaitis. Read-option quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco and Russell Wilson of Seattle took the league by storm a year ago, and the Rams are counting on Ogletree’s closing speed to help keep them in check.

The Rams' other starting outside linebacker was expected to be Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who was a surprise last year after leaving New Orleans in free agency. He is an active, aggressive hitter capable of making the splash play via interception, sack, forced fumble, or simply a jarring tackle. Unfortunately, he also will miss the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Fisher has already said that Dunbar may not be handed his starting job right away once he rejoins the roster in Week 5. Veteran Will Witherspoon, who played for the Rams from 2006-09 and for Fisher in his last season coaching the Titans in '10, is expected to fill Dunbar's spot in the starting lineup.

The only veteran in the secondary, corner Cortland Finnegan, sets the tone with his take-no-prisoners style of play. Janoris Jenkins showed he could be a game-changer as a rookie with four defensive touchdowns, but he needs plenty of technique work. After falling out of favor following a training camp injury a year ago, Darian Stewart will hold down the starting job at strong safety.

Specialists
A year ago, the Rams gambled by jettisoning kicker Josh Brown and deciding not to re-sign punter Donnie Jones. Both respected veterans were replaced by rookies. One year later, it looks like the gamble will pay off. Although he tailed off later in the season, Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein was sensational for much of the 2012 season, making his first 15 field goals in the NFL and kicking seven of 50 yards or more, including an NFL rookie record 60-yarder. Johnny Hekker needs more consistency but has that rare blend of leg strength and directional skills. The issue for years in St. Louis has been the return game. Austin should help solve that, especially on kickoff returns. And don’t be surprised if Jenkins gets another shot on punt returns where he was dynamic in college.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC West
There’s no doubt this is a team on the rise. Fisher is a proven commodity, players love playing for him, and he has an owner and organization that gives full support — financially and otherwise. Unlike many front offices of the past, general manager Les Snead & Company actually have a plan in terms of the draft and free agency. A foundation of young talent has been established, although the team probably needs another good draft and offseason to be considered a genuine playoff contender. So 2014 may be the true breakout year, not ’13.

For now, they are dealing with a radically strengthened NFC West, with Super Bowl contenders San Francisco and Seattle the teams to beat. So victories will be tough to come by and hard-earned. The best the Rams might hope for is .500.

Order your 2013 St. Louis Rams Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)IndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

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Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 10:00
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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2013, Athlon asked coaches in the American Athletic Conference to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.

American Athletic Coaches Anonymously Scout Conference Foes for 2013
 

Cincinnati

“I thought they might have dipped last year but they found a way to win.”…

“They weren’t as talented in the front as a few years ago. It used to be the best front seven in the league.”…

“They played better on the back end, where they were shaky before – a scrappy, physical team.”…

“The quarterback (Munchie Legaux) is not a great thrower, but he had a little something to him. You’d say he can’t throw it, but he’d scrap his way into a win.”…

“It’s going to be a drastic change in the way program is run under Tuberville. They won’t be quite as good as a year ago.”…


Connecticut

“They lost Don Brown, one of the best d-coordinators in the conference.”…

“They had five defensive guys at the combine, which is crazy.”…

“They had a better defense than some power programs.”…

“They can’t be as talented on defense. There will be a significant dropoff.”…

“They had probably the best-coached defense we played.”…

“Offensively, they’ll change what they do.”…

“The offensive line wasn’t overly physical but got in the way. Decent tight ends.”…

“Running back was an overachieving guy.”…

“They struggled at quarterback quite a bit.”…

“I think there will be a big dropoff there.”…
 

Houston

“They have skill all over the place, speed all over the place.”…

“Their issues aren’t talent. I wonder if the issues are internal. There was a coach who was on staff there for about three weeks and left.”…

“Maybe it’s chemistry, leadership – they are just so up and down.”…

“That program under Kevin Sumlin recruited deep, and they are still getting talent in there.”…

“They look like the same type of team – speed, athletes, physical – but just really inconsistent.”…


Louisville

“Teddy Bridgewater is arguably the best quarterback in the country. He’s in the conversation.”…

“They’ve done a nice job with offensive line and skill, though not dominant up front.”…

“I’m interested to see what they have for depth at running back.”…

“They weren’t great defensively at times because they weren’t sound in gaps and didn’t stop the run well. Charlie (Strong) would tell you that, but they showed growth at the end of the season.”…

“You’ll probably see more consistency and more stout defense.”…

“They weren’t dominant on the back end and were weak at corner. You could pick on them. Safeties are good players.”…

“Charlie’s recruited well. He’ll have some athletes.”...


Memphis

“Erratic team, all over the place.”…

“They’ve been very junior college and transfer heavy in recent years, and they’ve never really been consistent as a result.”…

“They play like wild animals – make a big play, then give up three big plays.”…

“Justin (Fuente) is trying to change that and he’s doing a good job with teaching more sound football.”…

“The front on defense was toward the bottom seven of the league. Very weak front. They did have a few kids who were bigger in person than what I thought going in though.”…


Rutgers

“They were a hot early team.”…

“They kept the same scheme -- a lot of blitzing and stunting.”…

“They had some talent, too. They had a few guys on that defense drafted.”…

“A linebacker that led the league in tackling last two years (Khaseem Greene), he’ll be a big loss.”…

“Offensive consistency wavered late, but they had a good-looking group of kids -- big receivers, really physical looking group.”…

“They’ll be dangerous.”…

“Kyle’s done a good job keeping recruiting together in New Jersey.”…

“The quarterback (Gary Nova) improved, but I don’t know what happened. He started throwing a bunch of picks. Maybe the running game shut down.”…


SMU

“June Jones is very good, very smart and can find the mismatch in a defense.”…

“They establish the running game early.”…

“They are very simple defensively, so you can do things schematically to get around them.”…

“The negative thing with being fundamentally sound is sometimes you can limit yourself.”… 

“They were very big up front defensively.”…

“Offensive line play is very solid but not overly physical.”…

“Defensive end Margus Hunt was a freak of nature, but you could contain him. They’ll miss him, but not that much.”…

 

South Florida

“Defensively, they could be good.”…

“A linebacker, a true freshman, Tashon Whitehurst, he’ll be really good.”…

“Reshard Cliett has an NFL shot.”…

“Aaron Lynch is a freak. They tell me he’s better than Jason Pierre-Paul when he was there. If he does what he’s supposed to do, he’ll be dominant.”…

“The key will be corner play. They’ve had some young guys struggle and had some injuries.”…

“Tight end Sean Price -- not a good player, but a great player.”…

“There’s nobody at receiver who scares you.”…

“Quarterback is the question. Bobby Eveld, Steven Bench and Matt Floyd will battle it out.”…


Temple

“They maximized their talent.”…

“I think they had some good players, they just didn’t have a quarterback who could throw consistently.”…

“They had decent running backs.”…

“The line was physical.”…

“Tight ends were good blockers and they had some receivers with size.”…

“Defensively, it was kind of a scrappy bunch, not one dominant guy.”…

“Across the board, they are not as talented as South Florida. They are probably the lesser of some of the top American Athletic schools.”…
 

UCF

“They have a solid quarterback (Blake Bortles) and playmakers on offense with an experienced line.”…

“Left tackle Torrian Wilson is really talented.”…

“Bortles managed the game last year. The next step for him is to control the offense.”…

“They are younger on defense but should be better up front.”…

“They will need to replace a few spots in the secondary and need to improve there.”…

“George O’Leary’s done a nice job. They should be able to blend in with the depth in the American Athletic Conference.”…

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Teaser:
American Athletic Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Post date: Friday, August 23, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

After an “uncomfortable” offseason, the Cowboys believe they are ready to contend. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and much of the coaching staff paid the price for a third consecutive non-winning season after Jones vowed to make things “uncomfortable” around the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters. Ryan was replaced by Monte Kiffin, the grandfather of the Tampa-2. Former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli, who was with Kiffin on Tony Dungy’s staff in Tampa Bay, was among the new assistants hired as the Cowboys are converting back to the 4-3 scheme.

The Cowboys didn’t have the money under the salary cap to be active in free agency. They instead used the draft to try and help Tony Romo — who signed a six-year, $108 million extension this offseason — become quite comfortable in the pocket. Romo will be asked to do more, including being more involved in the game-planning. “If you told me after our last game that we would get to stand here with the results of this draft, that we would get to stand here with what we have been able to put together with our coaching staff, with what we are doing with Tony — Tony is more involved in the finished product; he is more involved, unequivocally — I’m counting that in,” Jones says. “That ought to produce some success.”

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 8th

Related: 2013 Dallas Cowboys Schedule Analysis

Offense
Romo is the team’s quarterback of the present and the future after signing a contract that makes him the NFL’s sixth-highest-paid player. Romo is only 17–21 over the past three seasons, has one playoff win his career and, at 33, doesn’t have a lot of time left to get it done. The Cowboys spent the draft trying to create a “Romo-friendly” offense — and that starts with a more productive rushing attack.

The Cowboys set the team record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season in 2012. DeMarco Murray has 1,560 career yards, but he has missed nine games with injuries in his two seasons, including six last year with a foot injury. The Cowboys replaced No. 2 running back Felix Jones, a former first-round pick, with fifth-round selection Joseph Randle. Randle’s versatility should make him a solid fit as the team’s third down back. Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar will compete for the No. 3 job.

Dez Bryant, who struggled to stay healthy his first two seasons, came into his own the last half of 2012. Bryant was one of the league’s top receivers over the final eight games, which should have gotten him Pro Bowl honors. Bryant’s focus, route-running and knowledge of the playbook have improved greatly since he entered the league. Hamstring tightness continued to dog Miles Austin, who had only two 100-yard games in 2012. Dwayne Harris stepped up in the final seven games, but the Cowboys still drafted Terrance Williams in the third round. Williams will be groomed as the future replacement for Austin. Dallas thinks highly of Cole Beasley, and it hopes to see more of Danny Coale, who had an injury-plagued first season.

Tight end Jason Witten, 31, remains at the top of his game. The Cowboys believe they might finally have his future replacement — second-round pick Gavin Escobar. James Hanna, whom the Cowboys drafted in the sixth round last year, returns after coming on late last season. The Cowboys, though, are lacking a blocking tight end.

The Cowboys have invested heavily in their offensive line the past two offseasons. They signed Doug Free to a four-year, $32 million deal with $17 million guaranteed before the start of the 2011 season to be their left tackle. He now plays right tackle and didn’t play it very well last season with 13 penalties, including five holds, and seven sacks allowed. They drafted Tyron Smith with a first-round pick in 2011 and gave him a guaranteed four-year, $12.5 million deal. He has become the team’s best lineman and a solid left tackle. This year, the Cowboys spent their first-round pick on a center, Travis Frederick, whom they believe will help give Romo an extra half second.

Defense
With the switch to the 4-3, all four linemen have new positions. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are moving from outside linebacker to defensive end. Ware, who had only 2.5 sacks in the final eight games, vows to become an elite pass-rusher again despite his advancing age (31 this summer) and offseason shoulder surgery. Spencer was the team’s best defensive player last year, and the Cowboys opted to franchise him for a second consecutive season to keep him from becoming a free agent. Jay Ratliff is penciled in at the three-technique and Jason Hatcher at the one-technique. Ratliff, who turns 32 this summer, has had declining production because of injuries. He played in only six games last season.

The Cowboys have high hopes for linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, believing they can live up to the high standards the organization has had for the position. But there is a caveat: They have to stay healthy. Both ended last season on injured reserve. Lee, who just signed a six-year, $42 million contract extension, is the middle linebacker in the Cowboys’ 4-3, and Carter is on the weak side. Alex Albright and free agent signee Justin Durant are among the contenders for the strong-side job.

The Cowboys spent a lot on upgrading their cornerback position last offseason. They signed free agent Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal, and they drafted Morris Claiborne in the first round. This year, they drafted B.W. Webb in the fourth round to replace Mike Jenkins, who left in free agency. The safety position is unsettled after the Cowboys released Gerald Sensabaugh. They have faith that Barry Church can return from a torn Achilles tendon, and that Matt Johnson can emerge as a solid contributer. Johnson missed his entire rookie season with hamstring and back injuries. The Cowboys signed Will Allen in free agency, but he has started only 33 games in nine seasons.

Specialists
The Cowboys have confidence in kicker Dan Bailey, who, in two seasons, already has tied the team record for game-winning kicks with seven. Punter Chris Jones was having a solid first full season when he injured his left (kicking) knee in Week 3. He returns to try to settle a position that has been injury-plagued the past two seasons. Harris became a dangerous punt returner and was solid as a kickoff returner, too.

Final Analysis: 2nd in NFC East
The Cowboys aren’t drastically different from the team that came one game short of winning the NFC East title in 2012. This team can contend if Romo reduces his interceptions (he threw 19 last year), Kiffin can improve the defense (which set a record for most yards allowed in team history) and the team’s key players remain healthy. A division title would no doubt do a lot for coach Jason Garrett’s job security, but Romo and the rest of the Cowboys will continue to be under intense pressure until they win at least one playoff game.

Order your 2013 Dallas Cowboys Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Dallas Cowboys 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

The Titans faithful hope the third time is a charm for coach Mike Munchak and quarterback Jake Locker, who are each entering their third season with the franchise following the disastrous breakup of Jeff Fisher and Vince Young.

With iconic owner Bud Adams entering his 90s, Tennessee is in win-now mode but may fall short of having the personnel to win the first Super Bowl in Oilers-Titans history.

Make no mistake, all eyes are on Munchak and Locker, both of whom have given reasons for hope as well as doubt.

Munchak is a Hall of Fame former O-lineman who brings a blue-collar pedigree and attitude. But he has also lost to the then-winless Indianapolis Colts in 2011 and the even-worse Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 — inexcusable defeats to AFC South Division foes.

Meanwhile, Locker has the type of dual-threat tough-guy swagger Steve McNair would approve of. But his completion percentages over the last six seasons (the first four at the University of Washington) read: 47.3, 53.8, 58.2, 55.4, 51.5 and last year’s 56.4.

Unless Munchak and Locker both take the next step, the Titans could be doomed for a Fisher-style 8–8 season.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 8th

Related: 2013 Tennessee Titans Schedule Analysis

Offense
Chris Johnson has to be the most overlooked of the seven 2,000-yard rushers in NFL history. Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. CJ is still CJ2K-capable. Last year, he had scoring runs of 80, 83 and 94 yards, the longest TD run in the league since 2006. The key to Johnson’s revival is two-time BCS champion and 40-game Alabama starter Chance Warmack, the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft. “War Daddy” is the type of mauler at guard who can pave the way for Johnson and new change-of-pace power back Shonn Greene.

Former Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos and enforcer right tackle David Stewart are entrenched. Guard Andy Levitre has started all 64 games of his career and was the Titans’ top free agent target, inking a six-year, $46.8 million deal.

Tennessee’s receiving corps is a mixed bag. Talented manchild Kenny Britt is oft-injured and saddled with off-the-field problems. Second-year wideout Kendall Wright has chemistry with Locker, but he sustained a sprained knee during the second preseason game. Although the injury isn't believed to be serious, it will impact the amount of practice time Wright will get before the season starts. Nate Washington was in offseason trade rumors, while rookie Justin Hunter has upside. Newly acquired tight end Delanie Walker likely will line up all over the field, bringing a physical style and run-blocking dimension the team lacked with Jared Cook, who is now in St. Louis. He also also has been slowed during training camp by a knee injury, so it may take him a little longer to get fully acclimated to the new system and his role.

Defense
Coordinator Jerry Gray and free safety Michael Griffin were both Texas Longhorn defensive backs. And both are on the hot seat this season after the Titans’ historically bad defensive performance last year, when the stop-unit allowed over 30 points eight times, including 51 to the Chicago Bears and 55 to the Green Bay Packers. The team brought back former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as a senior assistant coach in hopes that he can help instill the same type of physical mentality and aggressiveness that his Titans' defenses during the late '90s were known for.

Former Baltimore Raven and infamous Tom Brady pest Bernard Pollard brings a nasty demeanor and in-the-box mindset to strong safety, freeing Griffin to ball-hawk in center field. Depth could be an issue at cornerback, where Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner have run hot and cold during their young careers. Verner could see more time at nickel back if rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson steps up early on the outside.

Speed is paramount at linebacker, where Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown, rookie Zaviar Gooden and man in the middle Colin McCarthy fly sideline to sideline. McCarthy was the Titans’ best defender last preseason before injuries limited him to just seven games. Brown showed promise as a rookie, with 93 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions for 156 yards and two TDs.

The pass rush is a question mark, with Derrick Morgan — who was infamously drafted one spot behind Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul — having failed to provide the type of splash plays (10.5 career sacks over three seasons) expected from a first-round edge rusher. Veterans Kamerion Wimbley and Ropati Pitoitua and rookie Lavar Edwards are hard-nosed defenders who provide scheme versatility. A late push to sign a pass-rush specialist like John Abraham or Dwight Freeney could make all the difference in a division that features Indy’s Andrew Luck and Houston’s Matt Schaub, and a schedule that includes games against Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Jurrell Casey has shown flashes as a star in the making at tackle, while Mike Martin and Karl Klug are underrated overachievers inside.

Specialists
Kicker Rob Bironas is one of the best in the business, and the Titans locked up the former All-Pro with a two-year contract extension this offseason despite coming off his worst statistical season (25-of-31 field goals) since 2006. Bironas was only 6-of-12 from 40-plus yards in 2012, after connecting on 40-of-46 from outside of 40 yards from 2009-11. For a team that has historically played a ground-and-pound, low-scoring style, Bironas’ ability to make long field goals is essential.

Brett Kern averaged 47.6 yards per punt but suffered the first two blocked kicks of his career last year.

The return game has multiple candidates in former Pro Bowler Marc Mariani, who suffered a broken left leg last preseason, and Darius Reynaud, who was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September — after executing a perfect Music City Miracle-style home run throwback. Reynaud finished the season with 1,240 kick return yards and a 105-yard TD, along with 410 punt return yards and two TDs.

Final Analysis: 3rd in AFC South
The offense should once again revolve around Johnson, with Greene — who is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in his own right — providing another option on the ground. With a strong running game, beefed-up offensive line and variety of pass-catching options, Locker appears to have the supporting cast necessary to succeed. Should he stumble or get hurt, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could follow in the Tennessee tradition of proven second-fiddles — remember Kerry Collins and Neil O’Donnell? — who make the most of their opportunities on the big stage in Music City.

Defensively, there are many more concerns. The pass rush is weak, the secondary is thin and the linebacking corps is inexperienced. The schedule opens at Pittsburgh, then includes seven games against playoff teams from last season.

But if Locker takes another stride in his development and Munchak avoids his annual ugly loss, the Titans could make a run at the Wild Card playoff berth the Colts claimed last season.

Order your 2013 Tennessee Titans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Tennessee Titans 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

The Chiefs turned the page yet again after another miserable season, this time parting ways with general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel after yet another unsuccessful regime in Kansas City.

Now for the good news: The Chiefs landed perhaps the hottest free agent entering 2013, former Eagles coach Andy Reid. John Dorsey, a former Packers executive, joined him as GM, and they’ll try to bring stability — to say nothing of the first playoff win since January 1994 — to a franchise that has lacked it for years.

They began the latest rebuild immediately, trading for quarterback Alex Smith and releasing Matt Cassel after four mostly forgettable seasons. They quickly signed star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a long-term contract, and then drafted offensive tackle Eric Fisher first overall.

Despite a 2–14 record in 2012, there is talent in Kansas City. The Chiefs did, after all, have six Pro Bowlers, including star running back Jamaal Charles. With a kind of luck that has been rare around these parts, a fast turnaround is possible.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 9th

Related: 2013 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Offense
Smith will be the key to Reid’s success timeline. The veteran quarterback is limited, as Cassel was, but he will bring an efficiency that hasn’t been present since Trent Green was starting. Reid will be judged on how quickly Smith adjusts and proves he can succeed without the eye of Jim Harbaugh, his coach in San Francisco.

The Chiefs spent much of the offseason building around their quarterback, and although that strategy is nothing new in Kansas City, it at least looks promising. Extending Bowe was a no-brainer and should’ve been done last year. Drafting Knile Davis to help ease the burden on running back Charles — and he was burdened often in 2012 by Crennel — was a smart move. Charles remains the Chiefs’ most explosive player. The question this season will be how his body will respond to having 285 carries last season, 55 more than his previous career high. At 26, he’s still young, but with an ACL surgery in 2011 and a continual pounding last season, one of the more interesting storylines will be how Charles holds up — and how Reid’s staff uses its best big-play threat, in the backfield and in the passing game.

This point was reinforced when Charles went down during training camp with what turned out to be a foot sprain. Although the injury isn't expected to impact his Week 1 availability, it's even more critical now for either Davis or Shaun Draughn or someone on the roster to emerge as a reliable second backfield option.

The Chiefs also made several moves in an effort to upgrade their offensive depth, including adding wide receiver Donnie Avery and veteran tight end Anthony Fasano during the offseason. The team also traded Jon Baldwin to San Francisco for A.J. Jenkins during training camp in an exchange of recent first-round wide receivers (Baldwin in 2011, Jenkins in ’12) that have yet to accomplish anything on the field.

But perhaps most important, the team also created a mess for itself at left tackle this offseason. Branden Albert, the starter since 2008 and the team’s franchise player, publicly said he wouldn’t move to another position. Regardless, the Chiefs drafted Fisher at No. 1 and now have two left tackles. Although the team will try to trade Albert, the best bet is that Fisher will start at right tackle as he adds weight — he’s listed at 6'8" and 305 pounds — and adjusts to the NFL grind. After that, the Chiefs can decide whether to part ways with Albert or sign the veteran and keep Fisher on the right side, though the top pick is a massive price for a right tackle.

The team’s interior line is solid, but with no projected starter with more than three years experience, a veteran presence is lacking. And that could make life difficult for Smith and Charles — and, by extension, Reid, who will be granted only limited patience by a Chiefs fan base scorned before by big names who won elsewhere but couldn’t bring success to Kansas City.

Defense
The defense will either be the heartbeat of a surprise team or the reason the Chiefs again struggle in the AFC West. The team’s linebackers are among the NFL’s best, but a defensive line whose best player is the underwhelming Tyson Jackson? That’s a situation no coach or coordinator wants to be in, but it’s one the Chiefs are faced with.

Outside linebacker Justin Houston showed last year that he could be one of the AFC’s better pass-rushers and a complement to Tamba Hali, a team leader and an elite rusher. Derrick Johnson has emerged as one of the league’s best all-around inside linebackers, and he’ll be asked this season to mentor rookie Nico Johnson, who played for Nick Saban at Alabama.

If this sounds promising, it should, but that line is still a question. The Chiefs were unable to upgrade the position during free agency or the draft, and it’ll depend on three questionable draft picks — including two first-rounders — from the previous regime to see them through this season. Jackson is only a serviceable player, and the departure of Glenn Dorsey should elevate Allen Bailey, who has been only a situational player, into the starting lineup. Last year’s top pick, nose tackle Dontari Poe, was a pleasant surprise despite a poor draft-night grade, and the Chiefs need him to continue making progress. Still, the line is the shallowest position on a team that has, for years, tried to make improvements along its defensive front. Yet again, this will likely be the team’s top priority during the 2014 offseason.

Confidence in the Chiefs’ secondary falls somewhere between the linebackers and linemen. There’s talent, but there was so much movement during the offseason that it’s difficult to know how well the defensive backs will jell. Strong safety Eric Berry is a promising defender entering his fourth season, and cornerback Brandon Flowers is one of the league’s most complete corners. But cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, brought in as free agents, are imperfect. Reid has indicated that rookie Sanders Commings could start at free safety, pushing aside the talented but injury-prone Kendrick Lewis.

Specialists
Dustin Colquitt has a new contract as the league’s highest-paid punter, and kicker Ryan Succop has the talent to become one of the best at his position.

The Chiefs will take their chances at kick returner with Draughn and Dexter ­McCluster, who has big-play capability but problems with fumbles. The team traded Javier Arenas, its punt returner the past three seasons, to Arizona and will either let McCluster and Draughn handle both jobs or try a new face in a return game that has improved little.

Final Analysis: 2nd in AFC West
Reid has made no promises of a playoff appearance, and that’s the smart play for a team with plenty of holes — but also plenty of potential. If the Chiefs are somehow in contention, it’ll mean Smith has adapted quickly to Reid’s offensive scheme, the defensive line has played better than the roster suggests it will, and the secondary and offensive line have quickly found chemistry and comfort. That’s a tall order.

More likely is another year of growing pains but with some noticeable progress. Eight wins may be the barometer, which, after 2012, seems just fine. Bowe, Hali, Johnson and Charles aren’t getting any younger, but if Reid and Dorsey continue the smart, methodical approach they’ve leaned on so far, brighter days are ahead for this suffering franchise and fan base.

Order your 2013 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)ChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Kansas City Chiefs 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

On New Year’s Day 2012, the Vikings stumbled across the finish line of the most miserable season in franchise history. That day’s home loss to Chicago completed a 3–13 collapse. And with the defeat coming only two days after Adrian Peterson underwent surgery on torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, nothing but misery surrounded the franchise.

The disorienting freefall left many wondering just how steep the climb back to relevance would be. Yet by this past New Year’s Eve, the Vikings were headed back to the playoffs and Peterson was completing an astounding comeback season — of the MVP variety — rushing for 2,097 yards and carrying his team through a four-game winning streak to close the year. In abbreviated form, that summarizes the underdog conquest of the 2012 Vikings.

So now what? After all that, how will Peterson and the Vikings handle the heightened expectations brought on by their own brilliance?

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 9th

Related: 2013 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

Offense
So long as Peterson is around, the game plan will be run first, run second, throw when necessary. But even with that predictability, opposing defenses have found little to slow the MVP. Look back at the second half of last season, with Percy Harvin lost to a season-ending ankle injury in the ninth game and Christian Ponder lapsing into a funk that saw him throw for just 443 yards with four turnovers in three November games. All Peterson did in his final eight games was average 165 rushing yards per contest and 6.7 yards per carry while scoring nine touchdowns.

He was physical. He was elusive. He was a one-man show in a one-dimensional offense.

But now comes a quest to find balance. And after trading Harvin to Seattle, the team quickly signed Greg Jennings before drafting Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round to help revive the passing attack. The anticipation is that Jennings’ enthusiasm and professionalism will become a catalyst for both Ponder and Patterson. Ponder needs Jennings to be his new go-to receiver, a crisp route-runner with obvious intelligence whose presence alone should keep defenses from constantly stacking up against Peterson.

Patterson, meanwhile, will rely on Jennings to learn more about being a pro. After only one season of major college football, Patterson is widely considered raw. And even the Vikings aren’t setting grand expectations for Year 1: They don’t need Patterson to emulate his childhood hero, Randy Moss, whose jersey number (84) he’ll wear. Patterson may do his most damage out of the gates as a returner but has the combination of size, speed and athleticism to be a game-breaker once he absorbs some of the nuances of the NFL game. And coordinator Bill Musgrave also understands the need to be imaginative in creating touches for the rookie.

All the playmakers should benefit from the offensive line stability, with the same quintet that started all 16 games in 2012 back together for another year. Left tackle Matt Kalil, who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, may be one of the league’s best in pass protection and proved last season he’s underrated as a run-blocker. Center John Sullivan, a 2008 sixth-round pick, continues to improve and is the leader of a unit that may be as smart as it is nasty.

As for Ponder? The Vikings have delivered the same directive he had in 2012, asking him to avoid drive-killing sacks and game-changing interceptions without growing overly conservative. Ponder’s late-season rebound provided positive reinforcement. With a playoff berth on the line in Week 17, Ponder beat Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, 37–34, throwing three TDs with a career-best 120.2 rating.

Defense
In his first year as a coordinator, Alan Williams mixed up the defensive calls and improved the 4-3 attack. But the unit still finished in the middle of the pack in total defense (16th, 350.0 ypg) and points allowed (tied for 14th, 21.8 ppg). And there are big holes to plug with the exits of cornerback Antoine Winfield and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Heading for training camp, the Vikings were still searching to identify a top candidate at middle linebacker, dabbling with the idea of moving Erin Henderson inside after he started the past two seasons at weak-side linebacker. But despite Henderson’s athleticism and tenacity, there are worries about his habit of wandering out of place with a thirst for making the big play. Strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway might be the most consistent player on defense, a tackling machine who always does what’s asked. The team also signed former Packer in Desmond Bishop, who missed all of last season with a torn hamstring, in June. If he can show he's healthy and effective, Bishop will only deepen the Vikings' linebacking corps.

But the Vikings’ edge still starts up front where their line is both accomplished and aging. Three standout veterans — Jared Allen, 31; Kevin Williams, 33; and Brian Robison, 30 — all are heading into contract years. And it would not be a surprise if this were the last hurrah for both Allen and Williams as Vikings. Allen battled a torn labrum in his shoulder last fall and saw his sack production fall dramatically, from 22 in 2011 to 12 last season. But the internal belief is that he is still a pass-rushing force who commands plenty of attention.

Everson Griffen is an emerging force whose athleticism and versatility were evident in his eight sacks plus a 29-yard interception return touchdown. And there is excitement about the athleticism and burst that rookie tackle Sharrif Floyd will bring.

The secondary remains young but eager with second-year safety Harrison Smith emerging as an always-in-the-right-place playmaker who uses his instincts to excel in pass coverage while also bringing a hard-hitting edge. Pairing rookie Xavier Rhodes opposite Chris Cook at cornerback should give the Vikings a chance to play man-to-man more regularly. Both players are big, physical and quick, prerequisites in a division with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and all those playmakers in Green Bay.

Specialists
The new punter will be Jeff Locke, a left-footer out of UCLA who was drafted in the fifth round. The decision to use a Day 3 draft pick on a punter might have been more head-scratching had the Vikings not hit the jackpot a year earlier by selecting kicker Blair Walsh in Round 6. As a rookie, Walsh responded with one of the best seasons by a placekicker in NFL history — 35-of-38 on field goals, 10-of-10 from 50 yards and beyond, 53 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs. Walsh’s leg strength and poise were evident throughout, and his inclusion in the Pro Bowl and on the All-Pro team were well-deserved.

Final Analysis: 2nd in NFC North
The team seems to be on an upward arc. But in an ultra-tough division, a return to the playoffs will require the Vikings to navigate a much tougher schedule while finding contributors to plug holes left by Harvin and Winfield. Peterson’s bid to repeat as MVP will be key. More significant will be Ponder’s ability to take the next step in his growth.

Order your 2013 Minnesota Vikings Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)ChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Minnesota Vikings 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

For the first time since 2004, this is not Lovie Smith’s team. Marc Trestman was imported from the Canadian Football League with the hope that he could make the Bears a more frequent participant in the postseason. That’s something Smith was able do only once in his final six seasons, including 2012, when the Bears went 10–6 but missed the postseason on a tiebreaker.

The Bears are not in a rebuilding mode, and they ­shouldn’t be, considering their 29–19 record over the last three seasons. But they will have different looks on both sides of the ball, even though new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will play a 4-3 with some Cover-2, similar to what the Bears ran in the past.

The Bears parted ways with eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher when neither side would budge from the team’s offer of $2 million for the future Hall of Famer, who is 35. There were, however, some positive additions on the other side of the ball. For the first time since quarterback Jay Cutler was acquired, before the 2009 season, he has a Pro Bowl left tackle protecting his blind side: free agent pickup Jermon Bushrod. On the same day the Bears acquired the former Saint, they added Martellus Bennett, giving Cutler a tight end known for his pass-catching skills for the first time since Greg Olsen was traded in July 2011.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 10th

Related: 2013 Chicago Bears Schedule Analysis

Offense
Cutler is in the final season of a five-year, $49.7 million deal, and he’s unlikely to get another big deal from the Bears without adding to his career playoff victory total of one.

In his fifth year with the Bears, Cutler has been provided with more talent on the offensive line than he’s ever had in Chicago. Bushrod is the key, bringing the stability and consistency that was lacking. Guard Matt Slauson, a starter the previous three years with the Jets, was also added in free agency, replacing Lance Louis, who signed with the Dolphins. Then the Bears used their first-round pick on guard Kyle Long and their fifth-rounder on tackle Jordan Mills.

Bennett, a complete tight end and a talented receiver, represents a huge upgrade at the position. Together with big, strong wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quick, elusive running back Matt Forté, Cutler has more offensive firepower at his disposal than ever before. GM Phil Emery acquired Marshall before the 2012 season for only a pair of third-round picks because of off-the-field problems, which the 6'4", 230-pounder says were a result of undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder. Emery’s gamble paid off with the most prolific pass-catching season in franchise history (118 receptions, 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns). The Bears hope to be less dependent on Marshall, although he still figures to be the go-to guy.

The protection in front of Cutler will look a lot different. J’Marcus Webb will compete with journeyman Jonathan Scott at right tackle. Gabe Carimi, the 2011 first-round draft pick who was a bust at right tackle in 2012, will get a chance to compete for a spot at guard, along with Slauson and Long. The Bears hope they can get a 12th year out of Roberto Garza at center.

The run game is in the more-than-capable hands of Forté, the primary ball-carrier and a productive pass-catcher. He had more than 50 catches in each of his first four seasons before dipping to 44 last season, when the offense de-emphasized his role in the passing game. Burly but agile Michael Bush is a nice complement to Forté and an effective short-yardage option.

If they stick to Trestman’s plan of using Devin Hester almost exclusively as a return specialist, the Bears need to find a deep threat. They had one in Johnny Knox, but he was unable to come back from a spine injury in 2011. Last year’s second-round pick, 6'3", 216-pound Alshon Jeffery, is more than a possession receiver, and tough Earl Bennett is a reliable underneath target, but there’s no one to stretch the field vertically.

Defense
The window is closing on a talented but aging defense, led by three players in their early 30s — seven-time Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. Urlacher is gone, as is Nick Roach, the strong-side starter for most of the past five seasons. Former Bronco D.J. Williams was brought in to play the middle, and James Anderson takes over for Roach. But both were signed to one-year contracts, and Williams is 31 and Anderson turns 30 in September. Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, the second- and fourth-round picks, respectively, could represent the Bears’ future at linebacker. Williams injured his calf early in training camp, which provided even more reps for Bostic, who could end up the starter by Week 1.

Tillman’s running mate, feisty little Tim Jennings, also made the Pro Bowl last season on the strength of an NFL-best nine interceptions. Ninth-year veteran Kelvin Hayden is back to play the nickel, but for now, the only proven depth consists of Zack Bowman, who has started only four games since 2009.

The safety position showed an uncharacteristic continuity last season. Strong safety Major Wright and free safety Chris Conte both started every game, until Conte missed the finale with a hamstring injury. In the previous eight seasons, the Bears had made a combined 54 lineup changes at the safety position. There is plenty of depth with veterans Tom Zbikowski and Craig Steltz and youngsters Brandon Hardin and Anthony Walters.

Up front, 3-technique tackle Henry Melton went to his first Pro Bowl, partly due to his six sacks, and 2010 fourth-round pick Corey Wootton had a breakout season, winning the left end job at midseason and contributing seven sacks. Shea McClellin, the 2012 first-round pick, played in the end rotation and showed pass-rush potential. Stephen Paea started 14 games at nose tackle but doesn’t have the ideal size for the position and is best playing in a rotation. There is very little depth inside.

Specialists
Placekicker Robbie Gould missed the final three games of 2012 with a calf injury, but he’s as reliable as they come, ranking sixth in NFL history in field goal percentage. His kickoffs have gotten longer every season, as has his proficiency at long field goals. Punter Adam Podlesh allowed just 84 return yards on 81 punts. The Bears are counting on a return to form in the return game from Hester, who slumped badly as a punt returner last season but was solid on kickoff returns. Hester failed to score on a return for the first time in three years.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC North
The Bears have an almost-all-new coaching staff, and a lot of the personnel also has changed. But Tucker’s 4-3 scheme is not expected to look much different from the defenses of the previous nine years. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and Trestman will run their version of the West Coast offense with a priority on getting rid of the ball quickly. This was a 10–6 team last season that barely missed the playoffs, so anything less than postseason participation will be considered a disappointment.

Order your 2013 Chicago Bears Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)ChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Chicago Bears 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/san-diego-chargers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

There’s nothing like snapping the fans to attention by making a radical regime change and drafting Manti Te’o. That’s what the Chargers did after missing the playoffs for the third straight season and watching attendance sag. Citing the need for a “culture change,” team president Dean Spanos finally bowed to the fans’ wishes and fired Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. He replaced them with 40-year-olds Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco, who are in their first head coaching and general manager gigs, respectively.

Telesco began rebuilding a roster that had grown stale because of Smith’s unproductive drafts and a wild free agent binge prior to the 2012 season. Among his many moves, Telesco got rid of left tackle Jared Gaither, who’d earned the nickname “The Big Lazy,” and drafted Te’o, a move sure to give the Chargers much more national exposure than they otherwise would merit. Still, returning the Bolts to their days of dominating the AFC West could take the new brain trust a few seasons.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 10th

Related: 2013 San Diego Chargers Schedule Analysis

Offense
The Chargers hope Philip Rivers can pull out of a slide that’s seen him commit 49 turnovers the last two years combined. Not only will Rivers be running a new system under McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, but there are also still big questions about the line. Rivers was under siege much of last season, leading to 49 sacks and 22 turnovers. Fans are concerned that Rivers might have a hard time staying upright again this season.

Telesco spent his first-round draft pick on Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker, but the new GM failed to upgrade the critical left side of the line in the draft. The Chargers had left tackle Bryant McKinnie in for a visit before he re-signed with Baltimore. So going into training camp, the No. 1 left tackle protecting Rivers’ blind side is King Dunlap, a free agent pickup from Philadelphia. Dunlap is big (6'9", 330), but he had a hamstring injury last year, and the Philly line struggled. The Chargers’ string of bad luck at left tackle started when Marcus McNeill retired due to a neck injury and continued when Gaither got the heave-ho because of his poor work ethic and injury troubles. The left guard is projected to be Rich Ohrnberger, one of Telesco’s three free agent acquisitions on the line. With Fluker set to start at right tackle, Jeromey Clary will move to right guard. Fluker was considered one of the best run-blockers in college last year, but he’ll need to improve his pass-blocking.

Another player who needs to bounce back big is running back Ryan Mathews, who broke both collarbones last season and failed to fix his fumbling problem. Five defensive players on his own team had as many or more touchdowns than Mathews, who scored only once. Telesco added free agent Danny Woodhead to help at running back.

The Bolts have already gone through a fair amount of attrition at wide receiver before the season has even started. Danario Alexander was signed in mid-October and ended up being one of the team’s most productive receivers, but he tore his ACL in early August and is lost for the season. Malcom Floyd, the team's leading receiver last season, sustained his own knee injury shortly afterwards, but he is expected to ready to play by Week 1. San Diego drafted Cal’s Keenan Allen in the third round in April, but the team really needs Vincent Brown to bounce back from a fractured ankle and more production out of Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem, provided both end up on the final roster. Tight end Antonio Gates bounced back from a painful foot injury but will be playing his 11th season.

While Turner called his own plays and often struggled with game management, McCoy was praised for hiring former Cardinals head coach Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator.

Defense
Te’o instantly became the most intriguing player on the Chargers’ roster when Telesco traded up to get him in the second round of the draft. Telesco said he wasn’t worried by the star linebacker’s poor showing in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, his being involved in a hoax involving a fake girlfriend or his poor 40-yard dash times. After looking so bad against Alabama’s powerful run game, Te’o will have to prove that he can make it in the NFL, both physically and mentally. With veteran Takeo Spikes a salary cap casualty, Te’o will play inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme alongside Donald Butler, who had a breakthrough season in 2012.

San Diego was counting on second-year linebacker Melvin Ingram to help replace Bulter, but he tore his ACL back in May and it's unknown if he will be able to return at any point this season. The Chargers signed former Indianapolis Colt Dwight Freeney to a two-year deal following Ingram's injury. Freeney has 107.5 career sacks, but the 11-year veteran is 33 years old and managed just five sacks last season. San Diego needs him to re-establish himself as a pass-rushing presence from his outside linebacker position.

Like the offense, the defense has both playmakers and some holes, although Telesco made more moves on this side of the ball due to the salary cap and his desire for a younger roster. While Smith was panned for many of his draft picks in recent years, he did do well in adding some good, young players on defense. Ends Corey Liuget, a first-round pick in 2011, and Kendall Reyes, a second-rounder in 2012, have fans excited with their dominating play. Liuget had seven sacks and Reyes had 5.5. One problem is the hole in between them. Antonio Garay was allowed to leave as a free agent, leaving Cam Thomas as the only defensive tackle on the roster. The Chargers also lost Shaun Phillips, who led them with 9.5 sacks.

San Diego will turn over three-quarters of its secondary. Only free safety Eric Weddle returns as a starter. The Chargers, who haven’t had a thumper at strong safety since Rodney Harrison was released more than 10 years ago, will turn to Brandon Taylor, a third-round pick in 2012. Marcus Gilchrist and free-agent acquisition Derek Cox will be the new starters at cornerback after Antoine Cason left for Arizona and Quentin Jammer became a free agent.

Specialists
After an off-and-on role with the Chargers, Nick Novak finally stuck as the kicker. He was signed four weeks into the 2012 season after Nate Kaeding got hurt, and he hit 18-of-20 field goal attempts in the final 13 games. He was 16-for-16 inside 50 yards, and his 90 percent conversion rate was the third-highest for a season in team history. Kaeding was eventually put on injured reserve and then released, ending a run in which he became the most accurate regular-season kicker in NFL history. Kaeding’s playoff misses, however, still rankle fans. Punter Mike Scifres remains a key player with his powerful left leg, and Mike Windt returns as long snapper.

Final Analysis: 3rd in AFC West
Chargers fans should brace for the possibility that the Bolts could miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Telesco doesn’t like the word “rebuilding,” but it’s hard to deny that he has a pretty big project on his hands. He has vowed to rebuild via the draft rather than through expensive, splashy and unpredictable free agent signings, so his plan for reshaping the roster could take a few seasons.

With two-time AFC West champion Denver and Kansas City making their share of big moves, the Chargers might have to settle for finishing ahead of the lowly Oakland Raiders.

Order your 2013 San Diego Chargers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)ChicagoAtlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
San Diego Chargers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Funny, Overtime
Path: /overtime/baseball-fans-day-these-guys
Body:

Two Pirates fans showed their support for the team through a pair of enormous foam Pirates hats, going the extra mile at PNC Park during a game against the Diamondbacks. Surprisingly, they were not mobbed by women.

Teaser:
Two Pirates fans showed their support for the team through a pair of enormous foam Pirates hats, going the extra mile at PNC Park during a game against the Diamondbacks.
Post date: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 08:48
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/100-twitter-accounts-every-college-football-fan-should-follow
Body:

College football is well-represented in the Twitterverse by people who know the game intimately and aren't afraid to tell you about it. We took a(nother) look at the lengthy list of CFB-oriented Twitter accounts and whittled them down to 100 that are definitely worth a follow.

These tweeting all-stars are sure to entertain, educate and occasionally enrage. Let us know your favorites (and anyone we missed).

ESPN
No doubt if you're any kind of college football fan you're familiar with ESPN's stable of college football reporters, columnists and broadcasters. Here are the best on Twitter:


@McMurphyESPN (1)

Brett McMurphy was a good get for the Worldwide Leader, and as he was with CBS Sports, he's a prolific breaker of news via Twitter, even when it involves his employer.

 

@TravHaneyESPN (2)
Travis Haney is on the national beat, though most of his work is behind the ESPN Insider paywall. He drops enough knowledge from his travels on Twitter to entice readers to fork over a few more bucks to the Worldwide Leader.

@cbfowler (3) and @ESPN_ReceDavis (4)
A pair of total pros who anchor ESPN's college football coverage night and day.

@notthefakeSVP (5)
From ESPN's radio empire, Scott Van Pelt brings a mix of humor, knowledge and insight. The Maryland grad will spend the next year brushing up on the Big Ten.

Conference bloggers (6)

It’s tough to pick out one, but this is a good place to start to follow your favorite team or league: @ESPN_ACC (Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson), @ESPN_BigTen (Adam Rittenberg and Bryan Bennett), @ESPN_Big12 (David Ubben and @Jake_Trotter), @ESPN_Pac12Blog (Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell), @ESPN_SEC/ @AschoffESPN (Edward Aschoff and Chris Low), @Matt_Fortuna (Notre Dame) 

@ESPNStatsInfo (7)
A must-follow during Saturday’s action if you’re interested in a deep dive into the numbers.

CBS SPORTS

Verne Lundquist can’t be found on Twitter and Gary Danielson hasn’t Tweeted since 2011. These will be good follows anyway.

@BFeldmanCBS (8)
Bruce Feldman is a prolific and informative tweeter with a history of breaking news via the medium. Few carry as much in-depth knowledge as Feldman.

@dennisdoddCBS (9)
CBS' national college football columnist Dennis Dodd can be infuriating, but he's never not interesting.

@JFowlerCBS (10)
A young gun on the CBS college football staff. He’s not a “bad guy” on Twitter or otherwise, despite what Urban Meyer may say.

 


@MrCFB (11)
Referring to yourself as Mr. College Football may seem a little self-aggrandizing, but after years in the SEC trenches, Tony Barnhart's earned the right to pat himself on the back.

CBSSports.com’s bloggers (12)
For news and hard analysis, go to the ESPN blog network. CBSSports‘  Eye on College Football bloggers share news and viewpoints, but they’re a little bit of an edge here. Viral videos and colorful jabs are welcome with @TomFornelli, @Chip_Patterson and @JerryHinnen.

@jppalmCBS (13)
Two things no college football fan can live without: Bowl projections and BCS tidbits. One thing to remember: Don’t blame the messenger.

@GreggDoyelCBS (14)
One of CBS’ national columnists, Doyel rarely pulls punches (shaddup). He doesn’t care if you disagree with him. He can rip someone with the best of them, but he’ll also write a piece that pulls at the heartstrings.

 



SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

@slmandel (15)
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel describes himself as a "Writer, author, lover, humanitarian and college football writer for SI.com." We can only vouch for the college football part. Guy's a fountain of information and opinion, although he doesn't always seem to welcome criticism very cheerfully. Of course, who does?

@Andy_Staples (16)
Mandel's SI colleague is a college football savant and full-time BBQ expert who's also equal parts funny and astute.

 



@SIPeteThamel (17)
Thamel has a nose for news that has infuriated a handful of fanbases (Hi there, Big Blue Nation).

Campus Union bloggers (18)
Sports Illustrated’s bread and butter is news and features, but the Campus Union/SInow pair of @MartinRickman and @ZacEllis focus on quick-hitters and other college football oddities.

 

 



USA TODAY

@PaulMyerberg (19)
Myerberg would have difficulty hitting Athlon magazine word counts with his extensive team previews. Nevertheless, he condenses his prodigious knowledge into 140-character chunks.

 



@GeorgeSchroeder (20)
Another USA Today scribe, Schroeder freely dispenses observations on a variety of topics, not just college football. He's moving away from Oregon, though, so no more Springfield police log.

@DanWolken (21)
Wolken isn't shy with strong opinions. A shame he won’t have Gordon Gee to kick around anymore.

NATIONAL VOICES

@YahooForde (22)
The Forde-Yard Dash remains a college football staple.

@DanWetzel (23)
A thorn in the side of the NCAA, Wetzel isn’t someone you want sniffing around your organization. Now that he’s achieved Death to the BCS, what’s next?

@MattBrownSoE (24)
Brown heads up college football coverage for Sports on Earth, USA Today’s version of Grantland, for long-form pieces and advanced analysis. His breakdowns of each of college football’s top 10 quarterbacks was a must-read this offesason.

 



@Bachscore (25)
The Wall Street Journal follows college football a little differently than most. Rachel Bachman brings quality reporting and analysis to business, legal and NCAA issues.

@RalphDRussoAP (26)
You might associate the Associated Press with relics of a different time, but AP college football writer Ralph Russo's Twitter feed, delivered in Brooklyn-ese, is anything but stale.

@Matt_HayesSN (27)
Another national college football columnist bringing views from around the country.

@CFTalk (28)
A one-stop shop for injuries, lineup changes, transfers and other new.

BLEACHER REPORT
 

@KegsNEggs (29)
Adam Kramer bills himself as "Founder and gatekeeper of Kegs ‘n Eggs. Lead College Football Writer for Bleacher Report. Advocate of FAT GUY TOUCHDOWNS, #MACtion and Las Vegas tomfoolery." Nothing to add to that, except to recommend a follow.
@BarrettSallee (30)
Bleacher Report's lead writer for all things SEC, Sallee will fill your Twitter feed with reactions and analysis all over the Southeast.

@InTheBleachers (31)
Michael Felder's feed is aptly named. His careening from college football to other tangents is perfect bleacher talk.

SB NATION

@JasonKirkSBN (32)
The college football editor at SB Nation never runs out of clever quips about the goings on in college football.

@38Godfrey (33)
Steven Godfrey is a long-form “writerer/journamalist” (and Athlon contributor) who knows his way around SEC and Sun Belt football.

@DanRubenstein (34)
Sarcastic college football observations, Oregon fandom and ‘90s trivia. What more could anyone want?

@TyHildenbrandt (35)
Rubenstein’s co-host on the @SolidVerbal podcast will be worth following if only to watch to watch the Notre Dame fan squirm with Tommy Rees leading the team.

 

COMIC RELIEF

@edsbs (36)
Spencer Hall (formerly Orson Swindle) brings us The Fulmer Cup, the Curious Index and a twisted look at college football because, well, college football is always a little twisted.

 



@celebrityhottub (37)
Another member of the "Every Day Should Be Saturday" empire, “sir broosk” regales with absurdist observations, never failing to bring the funny on college football and anything else that springs to mind.

@HollyAnderson (38)
Former Every Day Should Be Saturday and SI Campus Union writer has taken her talents to Grantland. She made Bill Simmons take an interest in college football. That’s saying something right there.

@ClayTravisBGID (39)
Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Travis entertains and inflames with his SEC-centric observations. Prepare to get angry, although Travis' affection for those he lampoons takes some of the edge off. The last year has seen Travis post about butt-chugging, dumbest fanbases, a catfight, ruminations on Johnny Football and the occassional breaking news.


@KevinonCFB (40)
Phildelphia-based writer Kevin McGuire has news and views for all over the country. He knows his stuff.


@SteakNStiffArms (41)
Football and food. What more is there to the Internet? Elika Sadeghi covers both with a Big Ten emphasis. To follow her is to love her.

@DanBeebe (42)
Remember when the Big 12 almost collapsed? The Fake Dan Beebe does. He’d be bitter, but he’s enjoying #buyoutlife. No one taunts the current and former Big 12 membership better.

@lsufreek (43)
The reason GIFs were invented.

PLAYERS AND COACHES

@CoachHand (44)
This is why Twitter is awesome: No one would have predicted Vanderbilt’s offensive line coach to be a must-follow, but here we are. Hand beats the drum on Twitter for Vandy, Nashville and the SEC while offering words of wisdom for everyday living. Not your usual coach-speak.

@Coach_Riley (45)
Oregon State’s Mike Riley is more and more of an outlier in the college football profession ... in a good way. He’s not paranoid. He’s approachable. And he’d prefer his players feast on In-N-Out Burger.

 



@LSUCoachMiles (46)
Les Miles once spent the entire course of a Miami Heat game Tweeting at himself. Pretty much what you’d expect.

@Coach_Leach (47)
Who knew the Washington State coach was such a cinephile?

 



@JManziel2 (48)
Johnny Manziel, you may have heard of him and his Twitter feed.

@aaronmurray11 (49)
Judging by his posts from the Milledge Run, the Georgia quarterback is enjoying his final year on campus.

 



@10AJMcCarron (50)
Exhibit A for why he’s the consummate Saban quarterback:

 


 

@TajhB10 (52)
We wanted to highlight a handful of Heisman conteders, but Clemson shut down Twitter for its players. See you in December, Tajh.

RECRUITING

@JeremyCrabtree (53)
A senior writer with ESPN’s Recruiting Nation, Crabtree has covered recruiting more than just about anyone. A great follow for the big picture in college football’s second season.

@TomLuginbill (54)
ESPN’s top eye for college football prospects is good at interacting with readers with #AskLoogs hashtag. Go ahead and ask him about a player or issue.

@BartonSimmons (55)
A national analyst at 247Sports, Simmons is knee-deep in recruiting knowledge from evaluations to commitments.

@Niebuhr247 (56)
A former Rivals and current 247 analyst, Niebuhr is as active on Twitter as anyone. You won’t miss anything in recruiting on his feed.

@jcshurburtt (57)
Another can’t-miss voice from the 247 stable. He’s their National Recruiting Director and happy to take questions from readers.

@rivalsmike (58)
Mike Farrell is simply the Godfather of recruiting. Trust us, that’s what his Twitter bio says.

@adamgorney (59)
Rivals.com’s recruiting expert out West

@rivalsjason (60)
No look at recruiting would be complete without someone keeping an eye on the state of Texas. Jason Howell is Rivals’ guy for the Lone Star State.

@BrandonHuffman (61)
Completing the roundup of recruiting names is Scout’s national expert, Brandon Huffman.

MEDIA WATCHDOGS

@jasonrmcintyre, @tyduffy and @thebiglead (62)
McIntyre and the Big Lead have their fingers on the pulse of the media transaction wire. Follow him for all the news and trends that will impact your consumption habits.

@bkoo and @awfulannouncing (63)
Ben Koo and Awful Announcing cover plenty of media trends, but college football fans will take special interest in the Pammies — a collection of Saturday’s best verbal snafus unfortunately named after ESPN’s Pam Ward.

@bubbaprog (64)
Deadspin’s Tim Burke is a must-follow on Saturday for his collection of videos, images and GIFs. Miss a key play, chyron fail or sideline shenanigans, Burke’s your guy. Oh, and he helped break the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story.

@mattsarz (65)
If your team is being broadcast sometime or somewhere, Matt Sarzyniak knows.

NICHE INTERESTS

@SBN_BillC (66)
A writer for SB Nation’s Football Study Hall, Bill Connelly is college football’s top advanced statistics guru. Follow him to get smarter.

@smartfootball (67)
If you prefer a more cerebral take on the game, this feed's for you. Editor Chris Brown's also a Grantland contributor if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

@DarrenRovell (68)
Athlon once named him the No. 1 follow in all of sports, but college football fans will take particular interest in Rovell (who has since moved from CNBC to ESPN) after he reported on Johnny Manziel’s involvement with college athletics’ shadow autograph industry.

@SportsBizMiss (69)
Kristi Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and now she reports on sports business for ESPN. Want to know how much college athletes would really make off jersey sales? Dosh does.

@JimMWeber and @LostLettermen (70)
Jim Weber keeps up with college athletes past and present. His site and Twitter feed is a mix of where are they now and what’s new.

@coachingsearch (71)
During the season, Pete Roussel follows what coaches are saying and doing like none other, but he’s indispensable once the coaching carousel starts for his nuggets from the top of college football to Division II grad assistants.

@footballscoop (72)
Scott Roussel (Pete’s brother) runs a competing site full of coaching scuttlebutt. Between the two of them, you won’t miss a hiring or firing from around the college football world.

@bylawblog (73)
A former compliance director at Loyola Marymount, John Infante is the most knowledgable voice in the media when it comes to the gargantuan NCAA rulebook.

@pollspeak (74)
The polls are infuriating. Pollspeak knows where you should direct your anger. They look through the AP ballots each week to publicly shame the most extreme voters.

 


@HeismanPundit (75)
His self-descriptor says it all: CBSSports.com writer/Heisman voter breaking down the politics of the most prestigious award in sports, plus hard-hitting college football commentary & analysis. What more do you want?

 

REGIONAL INTEREST

@SEC_Logo (76)
A news aggregator that’s all things SEC. Not affiliated with the SEC, but this feed probably should be on the payroll.

@JonSDS (77)
Saturday Down South’s Jon Cooper analyzes SEC football from top to bottom and left to right — predictions, depth chart news, practice reports and player rankings.

@Josh_Ward (78)
A radio host in Knoxville and writer with MrSEC.com, Ward brings SEC news from around the Southeast with a Tennessee bent.

@wesrucker247 (79)
When there’s an award for covering an athletic program in continuous tumult, it may be called The Rucker. And half of Wes Rucker’s followers seem to hate him for it.

 



@finebaum (80)
SEC country’s top radio voice takes his show to the World Wide Leader. You can’t spell WWL without PAAAAAAWWWL.

@MattScalici (81)
A sports producer at AL.com, he’s a go-to source for all things Alabama. Pro tip: You may want to pay attention to the upstart CrimsonTide

@CecilHurt (82)
Cecil's been covering Bama since the Bear's last season. That makes him a suitable go-to guy for all things Tide-related. Not bad with the one-liner either.

@BTNTomDienhart (83) and @BTNBrentYarina (84)
Veteran reporter Tom Dienhart sends dispatches from Big Ten campuses year-round, and editor Brent Yarina shares Big Ten insights from all over the internet. Two must-follows from the Big Ten Network team.

@TeddyGreenstein (85)
Teddy has one of the best self-descriptions on Twitter: "lover, fighter, Chicago Trib sportswriter." Kind of says it all. A go-to follow for Big Ten news, though the Second City writer tilts a bit to Northwestern and Illinois.

@11W (86)
Eleven Warriors is your source for all things Scarlet and Grey. It's the largest free Ohio State sports source on the internet, and they've extended their footprint to Twitter in a big way.

@BCastOZone (87)
Another source of Ohio State news, Brandon Castel at The-Ozone.net is heavy on recruiting news. When Urban Meyer is involved, that’s a worthy follow.

@Sean_Callahan (88)
The publisher of HuskerOnline.com, Sean Callahan has seen the Nebraska program suffer through some uncharacteristic struggles the last several years. But unlike the team, Sean's coverage is consistently solid.

@ACCSports (89)
Someday, maybe soon, ACC football will be relevant, and when that day comes, Jim Young is poised to rule. He's your ACC source on all things football and basketball.

@D1scourse (90)
Another key writer from ACC country, Patrick Stevens keeps a close eye on Maryland, but his feed is full of great statistical discoveries.

 



@BryanDFischer (91)
Prolific Tweeter now writes for the Pac-12 Networks. A go-to source for West Coast football news and more.

@Mengus22 (92)
Louisville fan, blogger and radio host Mark Ennis has carried water for the maligned Big East over the years (he ran SB Nation’s Big East Coast Bias blog). Needless to say, this will be an interesting season for him.

@BlatantHomerism (93)
An Oklahoma fan who knows his way around the college football landscape.

@GBHunting and @cuppycup (94)
All things Texas A&M and Johnny Football. With GIFs.

@HustleBelt (95)
One word: #MACtion

 



@Miller_Dave (96)
There are plenty of names for ESPN, CBS and SI worth following for college football, but don’t let National Football Post’s Dave Miller fall through the cracks.

@TheOregonDuck (97)
If you follow only one college football mascot, make sure it’s the one who can dance to Gangnam Style and befriend spiders.

 



@CapitalOneBowl and @RussellAthBowl (98)
Don’t like the bowl system, that’s fine. These two accounts keep their Orlando-based games entertaining all year long. Give credit to these bowls to creating a public persona apart from the old men in fancifully colored blazers.

 



@ChaseGoodbread, @DanGreenspan and @MikeHuguenin (99)
NFL.com has expanded their college football coverage with writers covering the NFL Draft year round. If you want to know what the No Fun League thinks of your favorite college players, start here.

@AthlonSports, @AthlonMitch, @AthlonSteven, @BradenGall, @DavidFox615 and @AthlonDoster
And last but not least, the Athlon Sports team.

 

List and bios compiled by Rob Doster and David Fox.

Teaser:
These tweeters will keep you entertained, educated and occasionally enraged
Post date: Monday, August 19, 2013 - 15:00

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