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The Cleveland Browns have not proven themselves adept at doing a whole lot well since the team returned to the field in 1999. The only thing the Browns have done consistently in these last 14 seasons is change. Front office to front office, players to players, coach to coach — the constant change has been the only theme with a team that can’t win.

Yes, there may be a correlation.

Because every time the Browns have had an organizational change, the coaches change and the players change and the approach changes. Fans have been treated to a never-ending carousel of people telling them that the right person has been hired and the right player acquired, only to hear the same thing about the next person hired and next player acquired.

The Browns have averaged 5.2 wins per season in the 14 they’ve been back. They’ve won 23 games the past five seasons. Rob Chudzinski will be the seventh head coach, Norv Turner the 10th offensive coordinator.

Tumult is the theme, epitomized by the fact that even the ownership changed in the past year, as Randy Lerner sold the team to Jimmy Haslam.

But in typical Browns fashion, Haslam’s Knoxville, Tenn., company — Pilot Flying J — became the subject of a fraud investigation that had the FBI and IRS conducting a raid on the business in April.

As they say in Cleveland … only in Cleveland.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 11th

Related: 2013 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

Offense
New CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi did some tinkering with the offense but did not perform an overhaul. Banner’s thinking was that the offense has some young talent, and it’s worth giving them an opportunity to grow. Translation: Brandon Weeden and company are on a one-year “show me” basis. If Weeden does not succeed in his second season, he won’t get another in Cleveland.

The Browns’ former brain trust of Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur saw little to be excited about in the 2013 quarterback class. So they took Weeden in the first round in 2012, no matter that he was 28 (and will be 30 this fall). The latest regime will give Weeden a chance, and they will give him a chance running an offense that is more vertical and down-the-field than Shurmur’s West Coast system. Also, the Browns will put Weeden in the shotgun more. He proved in college that he was comfortable working from that spot.

Weeden had moments last season, but they were too few — and he faded as a long and depressing season continued. But he also showed ability that prompted the Browns to draft him. If Weeden falters, however, the Browns will look to the draft to take yet another “franchise” quarterback.

Weeden has a solid offensive line in front of him with left tackle Joe Thomas a consistent standout. Running back Trent Richardson played much of  ’12 with cracked ribs, so he should be more consistent — and better able to live up to the expectations of a third overall pick. Richardson has to learn when a play is over, though, because he took too many extra shots fighting for yards that weren’t there. Richardson's health and durability is even more important with backup Montario Hardesty expected to miss the first two or three games because of a knee injury and Dion Lewis, who the team acquired from Philadelphia in a trade in April, also sure to miss time after breaking his leg in the second preseason game.

The Browns are justifiably excited about their young receivers. Josh Gordon had a solid rookie season after not playing college for two years because of issues with marijuana use. Greg Little struggled early but had a strong second half. The Browns added veterans Davone Bess and David Nelson to round out the receiving crew.

The biggest question on offense — other than relying on young players to grow — is at tight end, a position Chudzinski and Turner like to use a great deal. Jordan Cameron appears to be the choice to start, but he has only 26 catches and eight starts in his two seasons, with most of the starts due to injury to Ben Watson. Cameron has ability, but he also has to show more toughness and the willingness and ability to block.

Defense
The Browns spent two years drafting and building for a 4-3 defense. With new management and coaching, Cleveland moves to a 3-4 alignment with Ray Horton trying to implement a Pittsburgh system without Pittsburgh players.The coaching staff shrugs off the change to a “hybrid” 3-4 with different fronts and blitzes, but it’s complicated. And it might not be that beneficial. The one element of the team that Heckert built was the defensive front. Now that front has to transition to a two-gap system. And Jabaal Sheard, a pretty good 4-3 end, has to transition to a stand-up linebacker. Free agent signee Paul Kruger, Sheard, first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo and free agent signee Quentin Groves will be the rush linebackers, as Horton will try to mimic the Steelers’ zone-blitz scheme. Horton tried the same approach as coordinator in Arizona a year ago, and the players loved the system. Arizona finished 12th in total defense, 17th in scoring. Mingo sustained a bruised lung in the Browns' second preseason game, so his Week 1 availability could be in doubt depending on the severity of his injury.

Horton’s biggest challenge is finding a cornerback to start opposite Joe Haden. Haden has grown into one of the better cover corners in the league, but he needs to stay away from off-field problems. The Browns hope Leon McFadden, the team’s third-round draft choice, can step in. If he can’t, the Browns would have to rely on Buster Skrine, a young player who struggled in 2012.

Specialists
The one thing the Browns had going for them since 1999 was the consistent excellence of placekicker Phil Dawson. Not anymore.

Dawson, weary of losing and being franchised, signed with the 49ers as a free agent. The Browns never explained why they let their most popular player walk, and the decision looked more odd when they signed 35-year-old Shayne Graham (formerly of the Texans) to replace the 38-year-old Dawson. The Browns also let returner Josh Cribbs leave via free agency. The departure of Cribbs and Dawson took two of the most popular players from the team. Popularity doesn’t win games, obviously, but the loss of those two was emblematic of the change in regimes.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC North
Expectations for the 2013 Browns were set by their owner in March. At the NFL’s spring meetings, Haslam said (candidly) that the Browns would not go 13–3 this season. Give him credit for candor, and for accuracy. The Browns aren’t close to a 13–3 team. There are new systems on both sides of the ball and new playbooks. The Browns have talent, but they also have the uncertainty of their owner’s legal situation and the uncertainty of how committed the new front office and coaching staff are to these players. As the Browns have often proven, uncertainty rarely wins in the NFL.

Order your 2013 Cleveland Browns 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 (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (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)

 

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Cleveland Browns 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Monday, August 19, 2013 - 10:00
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They could be terrible. They could be OK. There is even a small chance they will be very good. The only thing certain about the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 is that they will be different.
Very different.

After 14 years, Andy Reid is off to Kansas City. Chip Kelly, the quick-thinking, fast-talking enigma who breathed high-scoring life into the Oregon football program, has taken his place. Nobody — not Kelly, not the Eagles, not the sharpest NFL observer — knows how this will turn out.


Will Kelly be another Pete Carroll or John Harbaugh, making the leap from college to excel in the NFL? Or will he be another Steve Spurrier or Bobby Petrino, overmatched and quickly sent back to the college ranks?


The early signs were mixed. Kelly opted to retain Michael Vick, the 33-year-old symbol of Reid’s final, futile years. But he also kept the immobile Nick Foles and added USC’s Matt Barkley in the draft. What do those contradictory moves say about Kelly’s offensive scheme? Kelly hired NFL lifer Bill Davis to run his defense, but neither the head coach nor the coordinator would commit to the kind of scheme they plan to run.



Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 11th

Related: 2013 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule Analysis

Offense
However he deploys them, Kelly at least starts off with some legitimate NFL playmakers at his disposal.
 Running backs LeSean McCoy, Felix Jones and Bryce Brown, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight ends Brent Celek, James Casey and rookie Zach Ertz give Kelly the opportunity to create all kinds of mismatches.


Wideout Jeremy Maclin was expected to be in that group as well, but he tore his ACL early in training camp and will be out for the entire season. It's now up to someone, whether that be Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson or Riley Cooper, to step up and try and replace Maclin's production. Chances are it will be a collaborative effort of some sort.

Kelly also begins with a solid, potentially excellent offensive line. A disaster area last year because of injuries, the line immediately improves with the return of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, veteran Todd Herremans and center Jason Kelce. First-round pick Lane Johnson should start at right tackle, allowing Herremans to return to guard. That would make for an athletic, agile unit able to push the tempo and get out into the second level, as Kelly likes.


The most pressing issue is just who this line will be protecting. With his mobility, Vick is the closest to the style of quarterback Kelly won with at Oregon. But Vick is injury- and turnover-prone. He started only 10 games last year, winning three of them. He threw 10 interceptions and fumbled the ball 11 times. He goes into the season on a one-year contract, which suggests he won’t be the quarterback by the time Kelly’s program peaks.


Foles had his moments as a rookie in relief of Vick. His release is as quick as his feet are slow, though, making him a terrible fit for a read-option offense. But Kelly has steadfastly insisted he can shape his offense around Foles. That position was reinforced when he drafted Barkley, the former USC star who dropped to the fourth round.


“We’re an equal opportunity scoring offense,” Kelly says, “whether we throw it across the line or run it across the line. If we can wing it, we’ll wing it.”

Accuracy is the quality Kelly values most in a quarterback. That would seem to favor Foles and even Barkley over Vick. But Vick can move, and that is almost indispensable in the modern NFL.
How will it play out? If he were under pressure to win right away, Kelly might have to go with Vick. With a little leeway to build his program, expect him to focus on developing Foles and Barkley. There is always the 2014 draft if neither steps up.



Defense
If the quarterback situation is a puzzle, at least there are pieces. Davis will be trying to create a defense almost entirely from scratch. Chances are, the entire starting secondary will be different. In free agency, the Eagles signed cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, along with safeties Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung. All but Williams have dealt with recent injuries, but that still makes them less dubious than the Nnamdi Asomugha-led secondary that allowed 33 touchdown passes in 2012.

Davis is expected to run a variation of the 4-3 under scheme he has used in previous stops. The alignment can look like a 3-4, and sometimes the personnel will line up in a true 3-4. The scheme will ultimately accommodate the players.


Up front, that means 2012 first rounder Fletcher Cox will be either a tackle or a 3-technique end. Veteran Isaac Sopoaga and rookie Bennie Logan will line up at nose tackle. Beyond that, a group of players — Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry — will either be ends or outside linebackers, depending upon scheme, skill and situation. Of the three, Cole has the most experience as a pure edge-rusher while Graham is most likely to evolve into a linebacker capable of dropping into coverage as well as getting after the quarterback.

Connor Barwin, a free agent pickup from Houston, will be relied on to rush the passer from the weak-side linebacker spot. DeMeco Ryans, arguably the team’s best defensive player as a middle linebacker last season, will bring his savvy and toughness to one inside spot. Mychal Kendricks, who had solid games early in his rookie season, is likely to be the other inside backer. Combined, they bring some much-needed physicality to the middle of the defense.

But there are many more questions than answers on this side. It will be a huge challenge for Davis to shape this group into a cohesive unit.

Specialists
Donnie Jones, who averaged 47.2 yards — with a net of 40.5 — last year in Houston, will shore up a position that was one of the Eagles’ many trouble spots in 2012.
Third-year placekicker Alex Henery is tough to get a read on. His career field goal accuracy of 87.9 percent is very good, and he made 22 consecutive kicks last year. But Henery has had few chances to make kicks under pressure, and he missed two in a close game at Tampa Bay in December. He will need to deliver in those situations as they arise.


New special teams coordinator Dave Fipp will have his hands full retooling coverage units that struggled in all phases. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jackson returning more punts, while nickel corner Brandon Boykin is likely to be returning kicks again.



Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC East
A quick turnaround is more than possible in today’s NFL. It has become the expectation.
Kelly has enough skill players to implement a formidable offense, especially if he is as good as his reputation as an innovator. He will have to settle on a No. 1 quarterback and go all-in with him. Scoring points should not be as tough as it was in Reid’s final seasons.


Can the Eagles jump back to elite status with a patchwork defense run by a coach who failed to excel in two previous stints as a coordinator? That is probably the bigger question, and the issue most likely to keep the Eagles from contending in 2013.

Order your 2013 Philadelphia Eagles 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 (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (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)

 

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Philadelphia Eagles 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Monday, August 19, 2013 - 10:00
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Alabama Preseason Top 10

1. Hoover Buccaneers
It’s not exactly a bold prediction to call for the Bucs to return to the state title game — Hoover has been there every year this century with the exception of 2008. Winning the game will be another matter, as the Bucs will look to replace a corps of senior leaders with a strong group of younger stars, including superstar senior Marlon Humphrey along with rising juniors Christian Bell and Darrell Williams on defense.

2. Clay-Chalkville Cougars (Pinson)
After a fourth-round playoff loss to Hoover to end last season, the Cougars will be out for revenge this fall, and they’ll have the weapons to pull it off. Clay-Chalkville returns quarterback Hayden Moore and running back Sidney Battle, and the Cougars boasted one of the state’s most stifling defenses last season.

3. Auburn Tigers
One of the state’s top producers of college talent, Auburn once again features a large crop of impressive athletes, including defensive end Rashaan Evans and cornerback/wide receiver Blaise Taylor.

4. Opelika Bulldogs
The surprise of the 2012 season, the Bulldogs shocked high school football fans with their unlikely run to the 6A state title game. They return cornerback Stephen Roberts (an Alabama commit) and tight end Jakell Mitchell (an Auburn commit).

5. Spanish Fort Toros
Coming off his second state title in the last three seasons, head coach Mark Freeman will look to fill the holes left by a strong senior class, including breaking in a new starting quarterback.

6. Carver Wolverines (Montgomery)
After making a run to the state semifinals last season, Carver loses Mr. Football winner Jeremy Johnson but returns defensive stars Shaun Hamilton and Jon Michael Edwards.

7. Calera Eagles
After a tough early exit from last year’s playoffs, the Eagles will enter the 2013 season with plenty of motivation and with one of the state’s top athletes in two-way star Ronnie Clark.

8. Muscle Shoals Trojans
The Trojans must reload after losing star defensive lineman Dee Liner and their top two rushers from last season’s undefeated regular-season run.

9. St. Paul’s Episcopal Saints (Mobile)
One of the powerhouses of the Mobile area, St. Paul’s will look to make yet another deep playoff run thanks to elite stars like linebacker Tre’ Williams and offensive lineman Joshua Casher.

10. Vigor Wolves (Prichard)
New head coach Ashley Johnson hopes to lead the Wolves back into the state championship discussion. Key players include running back Desherrius Flowers and defensive end Justin Thornton.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.30 – Colquitt County (Ga.) at Hoover
Alabama’s top program opens the season against one of the top teams in Georgia. The real intrigue centers around Colquitt County’s head coach Rush Propst, the former Hoover head coach who built the Bucs into a powerhouse program.

8.30 – Tanner at Madison Academy
Another intriguing opening weekend game features the defending state champions from the 2A and 3A divisions squaring off against each other. Tanner has lost just twice in the last three years. Madison Academy boasts several major college prospects.

9.13 – Thomasville at UMS-Wright
A rematch of one of the 2012 season’s most exciting games, a 49–42 shootout between the top two teams in the Mobile area. UMS-Wright pulled off the road win last year. Can Thomasville return the favor this season?

9.20 – Davidson at McGill-Toolen
Another big matchup between two of the Mobile area’s powerhouse programs. Last year’s game was a 29–28 thriller in favor of McGill-Toolen, but the Yellowjackets will be breaking in a new starting QB this season.

10.25 – Auburn at Opelika
These rivals split their two meetings last season, with Opelika eliminating Auburn from the playoffs. Both teams return key pieces on both offense and defense along with loads of SEC-level talent.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Racean Thomas, RB, Oxford
Senior, 5-11, 195

Thomas goes by the nickname “Rock,” and over the past two seasons, he has more than earned that moniker. He was named first-team All-State (Alabama Sports Writers Association) and second-team All-American (247Sports) as a junior for his 1,968-yard, 26-touchdown performance (combined rushing and receiving) that almost single-handedly propelled a young Oxford Yellow Jackets squad to six wins. As one of the top offensive playmakers in the Class of 2014, Thomas is likely to be the subject of an intense recruiting battle between Alabama and Auburn, though out of state schools have shown interest as well, including Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss. Thomas has the soft hands to contribute as a receiving threat while his solid frame and tackle-breaking ability make him an ideal running back in the SEC, where toughness is a must for a between-the-tackles runner. With a more experienced quarterback and offensive line in front of him, “Rock” could be poised for his best season yet in 2013.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Hoover
Senior, 6-1, 175

After Humphrey’s junior season — highlighted by four interceptions and 15 pass breakups — recruiting analysts raved about his astounding speed and quickness. Humphrey put those skills to use again during the spring when he broke numerous state and national track and field records. Widely regarded as the nation’s top cornerback in the class of 2014, Humphrey has also proven himself to be a dangerous special teams threat, blocking two punts and returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. At 6'1", 175 pounds, Humphrey also has the size to get physical with receivers in press man-to-man coverage, an asset that makes him a strong candidate for early playing time at the college level. Humphrey’s athletic prowess hardly comes as a surprise — he’s the son of former University of Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey. Many expect that the Crimson Tide legacy will end up in Tuscaloosa, but he has also shown significant interest in South Carolina as well.

 

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Teaser:
Marlon Humphrey and the Hoover Buccaneers are the best in Alabama.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 13:11
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Texas Preseason Top 10

1. Allen Eagles
The Eagles are a solid pick to repeat as Class 5A Division I state champions. Led by sensational junior quarterback Kyler Murray, who topped 2,000 passing yards and ran for over 1,500 yards and 42 total touchdowns, the Eagles will be a handful for teams to slow down. Allen’s defense has possibly the best tandem of linebackers in the state in Christian Sam and Tay Evans.

2. Katy Tigers
The lone unbeaten team in 5A a year ago, Katy has some holes to fill, but that’s nothing new for one of the state’s most tradition-rich programs. Rodney Anderson will take over at running back after making solid contributions as a freshman and sophomore. Katy won’t overwhelm you with athleticism, but the Tigers are always solid and well-coached.

3. Euless Trinity Trojans
Trinity is known for winning state titles in odd-numbered years (2005, 2007 and 2009). The Trojans once again will be massive in the trenches, and they have a bevy of experienced skill position players returning.

4. DeSoto Eagles
The always athletic Eagles are coming off their best season in school history. They’ll play one of the toughest non-district schedules in the country, ensuring that they’ll be prepared for the grind that is the 5A playoffs.

5. Cibolo Steele Knights
Despite losing their head coach this offseason, Steele is the unanimous selection as the top team in the San Antonio area. The Knights will be led by running back and Texas Tech commit Justin Stockton and a physical and athletic defensive unit.  

6. Austin Westlake Chaparrals
The Chaps are fresh off a surprise run to the 5A Division II semifinals a year ago, and coach Darren Allman returns one of the state’s most experienced squads. Westlake will have to battle five-time 4A champion Lake Travis (now in 5A) in district play.  

7. Southlake Carroll Dragons
Tradition-rich Southlake Carroll fell to DeSoto in the quarterfinals a year ago but is poised to reload. The Dragons have to replace quarterback Kenny Hill, who signed with Texas A&M, and four starters on the offensive line.

8. Houston Lamar Redskins
Lamar made a surprise run to the 5A Division I title game before falling to Allen. Hopes are high that the Redskins can repeat, as they are led by quarterback Darrell Colbert, who is an SMU commit.

9. Arlington Bowie Volunteers
Bowie posted an 11-2 record a year ago, and the Volunteers return a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball. They could employ a two-quarterback system under new coach Danny DeArman.

10. Galena Park North Shore Mustangs
Legendary coach David Aymond has another outstanding team returning, and the Mustangs will look to avenge a loss to Houston Lamar in last year’s quarterfinals. North Shore will be athletic and very physical on defense.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.30 – Allen at Southlake Carroll
Carroll will look to turn the tables on Allen in this top-10 matchup. Last year, Allen opened its new stadium with a win over the Dragons, who were the defending state champions. Now Allen is the defending champion going on the road.

9.14 – Euless Trinity vs. DeSoto
A neutral site showdown is a size vs. speed test as Trinity, with its bruising play in the trenches, takes on a DeSoto team considered among the fastest in the country. Trinity will be out for revenge after DeSoto knocked off the Trojans 42-21 in 2012.

9.20 – Austin Westlake at Cibolo Steele
A possible state championship preview pits two semifinalists from a year ago playing for bragging rights. Westlake is considered by most to be Austin’s top team, while Steele is considered the top team in San Antonio. Steele won last year’s game 35-10.  

9.27 – Cedar Park at Leander
The district opener for both teams will likely decide the 25-4A title. Cedar Park is the defending 4A Division II state champion, while Leander is fresh off an 11-2 campaign. It’s likely that both teams will be in the 4A top five when this matchup takes place.

10.4 – El Campo at Bellville
The 25-3A title will be on the line in one of the top small-school matchups in 2013. Division I state runner-up El Campo meets up with Division II semifinalist Bellville. Both teams love to run the football, so if you like the spread, this may not be your cup of tea.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Jerrod Heard, QB, Denton Guyer
Senior, 6-1, 193

What to do for an encore? That’s the question for Heard, who capped off a magical junior season with a jaw-dropping performance in the Wildcats’ 48-37 win over Georgetown in the 4A Division I state championship. Heard ran for 143 yards and five touchdowns and threw for 189 yards and two scores in the title game. The future Texas Longhorn led GHS to a 14-2 record in 2012 as he threw for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for another 2,138 yards and 35 touchdowns. Guyer, which also produced current Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh, could be poised for a second straight title with Heard running the show once again. “Things come naturally for him, whether it’s understanding the game or throwing the ball,” Guyer coach John Walsh says. “He’s just got that calm demeanor.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Hoza Scott, LB, La Porte
Senior, 6-2, 205

If you want a prototypical linebacker, there’s not a better candidate in the state than Scott. For the past three years, he’s terrorized opposing offenses in the Houston area, and he’s helped put the Bulldogs on the map as an elite team statewide. Scott has the perfect blend of size, speed and instincts, which he uses to make plays all over the field. The Texas A&M commit battled through some nagging injuries a year ago, but he’s healthy heading into his senior season. La Porte and state powerhouse Katy met in each of the last two years in the third round of the state playoffs, with the two teams splitting those meetings. Katy got the best of Scott’s Bulldogs a year ago, so leading La Porte to a possible regional and state title is of paramount importance for Scott before he makes the short trip to College Station.

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Teaser:
Texas' best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 13:07
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Ohio Preseason Top 10

1. St. Edward Eagles (Lakewood)
Simply put, St. Edward has been as successful as any program in the state at attracting and grooming top-level players in recent years. This season, the Eagles have to replace quarterback Ryan Fallon and running back Dwayne Aaron, among others, but there is plenty of returning talent as well as motivation after last season ended in a stunning 63-56 playoff loss in which Mentor scored the game’s last 21 points.

2. Archbishop Moeller Fighting Crusaders (Cincinnati)
The Crusaders can move the ball on anybody and will win their share of shootouts, but they will need to tighten up defensively in order to repeat as Division I state champs. Star linebacker Sam Hubbard, who has committed to Ohio State, helps that cause.

3. St. Ignatius Wildcats (Cleveland)
Jimmy Byrne anchors a powerful offensive line, and linebacker Kyle Berger is the playmaker of a stingy defense. Led by legendary coach Chuck Kyle, the Cats face a daunting schedule but appear headed for yet another 10-win season.

4. St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish (Akron)
LeBron’s alma mater is rife with speed and talent, especially at the skill positions, and promises to be explosive. Forget the Division III designation — this is simply one of the elite outfits in the state.

5. Glenville Tarblooders (Cleveland)
Coach Ted Ginn Sr. has reloaded and is primed for another shot at an elusive state title, this time in Division II. The defense is stocked with major college prospects; the offense, as usual, is jet-fast.

6. Colerain Cardinals (Cincinnati)
One of the top public school programs in the state, Colerain turned in an undefeated regular season and finished 12-1 in 2012. Many key performers, including slippery running back De’Tuan Smith, are back in the fold.

7. Central Catholic Fighting Irish (Toledo)
Toledo Whitmer played for the Division I state title last year, but Central Catholic has been the most consistent force in northwest Ohio in recent years and should only benefit by dropping from D-II to D-III.

8. Coffman Shamrocks (Dublin)
Coffman is the class of the best league in central Ohio, the Ohio Capital Conference, and is always a postseason threat. However, there is unfinished business after last year’s 9-0 start quickly became an unfulfilling 9-2 season.

9. Washington Tigers (Massillon)
Dripping with tradition and boasting one of the best fan bases in the state, the Tigers are ready to pounce again this season. Their drop to Division II could open the door to yet another state title.

10. Clinton-Massie Falcons (Clarksville)
Clinton-Massie has 213 male students, and about 50 of them are very good football players. The Falcons again are the class of Division IV and will thrive with a sophisticated offensive attack.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Coldwater at Columbus Bishop Hartley
This intriguing early-season matchup — and potential preview of the Division V title game — pits a pair of recent state champs. The Cavaliers could be riding a 16-game winning streak but will have to slow down electrifying Hartley running back Alonzo Saxton.

9.20 – Dublin Coffman at Hilliard Davidson
This is a central Ohio rivalry that has produced both euphoria and heartbreak. Last year, for example, Coffman rolled to a 33-10 win in September but committed four turnovers and fell 17-14 to the Wildcats in its playoff opener. More drama awaits.

10.25 – St. Vincent-St. Mary at Massillon Washington
Paul Brown Tiger Stadium will be rocking when these two area powers clash. Washington erupted late in last year’s 44-23 win. The Fighting Irish will return to the scene of the crime with revenge on their minds.

10.26 – Cincinnati Moeller at Lakewood St. Edward
You can’t do much better in October. The defending state champs travel to Cuyahoga County to take on powerful St. Ed’s in a Saturday night special. The trenches will feature disruptive Moeller defensive lineman Elijah Taylor against a top-notch offensive line.

11.2 – Cleveland St. Ignatius at Lakewood St. Edward
How’s this for a little doubleheader at home to end the campaign? Fans will be packed in for this battle for Cleveland-area bragging rights between a pair of state superpowers.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Parris Campbell, RB, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron)
Senior, 6-1, 179

Campbell already was a known commodity as a 15-year-old junior, but his bust-out performance came in front of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in the state title game when he racked up 165 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just 14 carries, leading the Fighting Irish to the Division III crown. He became the first recruit to commit to OSU after the 2013 National Signing Day and is now poised for a huge senior season. Last year, the slick tailback totaled 1,353 rushing yards and 28 TDs on 160 carries and added 13 receptions and three kick returns (two punts, one kickoff) for scores. His encore, at 16, figures to be impressive as well. “He is starting to become a pretty good football player,” SVSM coach Dan Boarman says. “He can run inside. We can put him in the slot and he’s able to catch the ball also.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Kyle Berger, LB, St. Ignatius (Cleveland)
Senior, 6-3, 215

The prospect Michigan coach Brady Hoke once mistakenly called “Alex” on a recruiting visit, Berger made a name for himself with a breakthrough 2012 season, showing he could attack from near the line of scrimmage as well as get outside. He’s as crafty as he is physical and has a penchant for game-turning plays. Why is St. Ignatius one of the premier teams in Ohio? Start with Berger, who is the point man on a defense that posted three shutouts and held foes to fewer than 10 points per game last season. He racked up 105 tackles and took up residence in opposing backfields with 10.5 sacks and an astounding 44 TFLs. Berger underwent offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia but should be full-go to terrorize teams again this fall. He committed to Ohio State in April over a host of schools including Michigan, Tennessee and UCLA.

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Teaser:
Ohio's best high school football teams, players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:57
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-california-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
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California Preseason Top 10

1. De La Salle Spartans (Concord)
Coach Bob Ladoueceur has stepped down at 58, taking his 399-24-2 record to a less-stressed role of mentoring running backs. The new coach is Justin Alumbaugh, who played at De La Salle and has been a top assistant the last 13 seasons. The Spartans return quarterback Chris Williams (29 total TDs in 2012) and 1,000-yard rusher Das Tautalatasi.

2. Junipero Serra Cavaliers (Gardena)
The Cavaliers rolled to a CIF State D-II Bowl rout over Oakdale and have the core group back, including All-America candidate Adoree’ Jackson, a defensive back, return specialist and receiver/slot gamebreaker. The D-line is anchored by Rasheem Green (6'5", 275).

3. St. John Bosco Braves (Bellflower)
The Braves return nine starters on defense, including linemen Damien Mama, Malik Dorton and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and nationally recruited linebacker Chandler Leniu, with the makings of a dominant unit to completely negate the run. Quarterback Josh Rosen, just a junior, passed for 2,082 yard and 22 TDs.

4. Centennial Huskies (Corona)
The Huskies rolled all comers last season before falling to De La Salle in the CIF State Open Bowl game 48-28. Few teams in the land run the spread quite like this one, with Robert Webber returning at quarterback along with running back Tre Watson, wide receiver Barry Ware and impact transfer lineman Austin Maloata from American Samoa. A return to the State Open game is within reach.

5. Folsom Bulldogs
A fast-rising state power in Sacramento County, the Bulldogs are spread-option wonders, having won the 2010 CIF State D-II bowl with a win over Serra behind the MaxPreps National Player of the Year, quarterback Dano Graves. Next in line is junior Jake Browning, who passed for 5,248 yards and 63 touchdowns in 2012. He joins 13 other returning starters.

6. Granite Bay Grizzlies
A Week 1 opener against Folsom will be telling for a program coming off a CIF State D-I championship win over Long Beach Poly. The defense is headed by linebackers Cameron Smith and Dylan Keeney and the Fly offense by back Tony Ellison. State Coach of the Year Ernie Cooper stepped down on the eve of summer.

7. Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits
Poly reached the state CIF Division I Bowl game and returns a wealth of talent, including defensive backs Iman Marshall and John Smith, defensive lineman Jason Fao and quarterback Tai Tiedermann.

8. Vista Murrieta Broncos
The Broncos have just two on-field losses in the past two seasons amid the rough-and-tumble Southern Section, including the 2012 playoffs to Corona Centennial. Vista returns top running back Kishawn Holmes (1,109 yards, 10 touchdowns) and wide receiver Colin Baker (7 TDs) and sack leader Curtis Bolton (10.5).

9. Mater Dei Monarchs (Santa Ana)
The Monarchs will rumble again with quarterback Chase Forrest, two-way impact leader Jonathan Lockett and speed on defense for longtime coach Bruce Rollinson.

10. Mission Viejo Diablos
Veteran coach Bob Johnson, a quarterback guru, has his main cogs back on offense in quarterback Ian Fieber and tailback Alex Sushesk.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Oceanside at Junipero Serra
A playoff-like setting will help kickstart the academic year between programs that each have state titles in the past three seasons. Oceanside has gone 105-15-3 the last nine years, while Serra boasts a fast, explosive, heavily recruited program.

9.13 – Corona Centennial vs. Long Beach Poly (at Mission Viejo)
Speed kills, and it’ll scorch the field here with a unique showdown of Southern California heavies that are nationally ranked in a recruiting haven. Long Beach Poly has a speed-machine program that has sent more talents to the NFL than any other high school in the land — ever.

9.13 – Freedom at Granite Bay


All-America tailback candidate Joe Mixon of Freedom tests the D of the defending state Division I champion Grizzlies of Placer County, who are led by 6'3", 230-pound linebacker Cameron Smith.

9.14 – Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) at Mission Viejo


A titanic inter-state rumble brings the national power Ironmen from the East, sporting an 89-5 record since 2005, against a decades-long West Coast power.

9.20 – Del Oro at De La Salle
Tradition-rich and fear-no-one Del Oro of the Sac-Joaquin Section braces for a team that has gone 384-7-2 against NorCal foes since 1984. DLS has the talent to win its fifth successive CIF State Open championship in extending a remarkable legacy.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Joe Mixon, RB, Freedom (Oakley)
Senior, 6-2, 210

With a mixture of power, speed and burst, Mixon is a 5-star recruit with seemingly the entire country in pursuit, including USC, Oklahoma, Cal, Notre Dame, Texas and Oregon. He has a second gear, and then he has the end zone in sight. Mixon rushed for 1,134 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore and went for 1,443 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior last fall for a team that was often pass-heavy. Mixon went for 188 yards and four touchdowns against Castro Valley, and he scored in every game. He also had 18 receptions for 383 yards and six scores for a team that went 9-3, won the Bay Valley League championship and reached the second round of the North Coast Section D-I playoffs. Mixon knows the heat is on, and he embraces it, saying, “I’m ready for a big year. The whole team is. We’re excited.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Williams, LB, Junipero Serra (Gardena)
Senior, 6-1, 205

Soft-spoken out of cleats and shoulder pads, Williams screams ability in heading a national powerhouse program. Able to move sideline-to-sideline and close in a hurry, Williams had 158 tackles, including eight sacks, and two interceptions to help propel the Cavaliers to a 14-2 season and a CIF State Division II Bowl rout over Oakdale. Williams dominated spring and summer combine events and is closing in on 40 scholarship offers. Heading the list as of June: LSU and Alabama. Surrounded by playmakers on defense, he’ll look to stout defensive lineman Rasheem Green to occupy blockers while he flies to the football. Williams says he and his teammate crave the challenge of 2013, “We’ve all got a target on our backs. We love it. I’m ready to help this team win.”

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Teaser:
The top 10 high school football teams in California, plus Preseason Players of the Year and can't miss matchups.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:48
All taxonomy terms: High School
Path: /high-school/2013-georgia-high-school-football-top-10-and-preview
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Georgia Preseason Top 10

1. Norcross Blue Devils
The Blue Devils return 16 of 22 starters from an undefeated state championship team. They have four players with major college offers, led by defensive end Lorenzo Carter, one of the top prospects in America. Versatile threat Myles Autry can play in the backfield or at receiver and accounted for 20 touchdowns last year. The big questions come at quarterback and running back.

2. Sandy Creek Patriots (Tyrone)
Sandy Creek is almost a sure thing to win the Class AAAA crown. The Patriots are 56-2 with three state titles over the past four years, and they should be the biggest favorite in any classification. Quarterback Cole Garvin, receiver Demarre Kitt, defensive lineman Chris Williams, tailback Eric Swinney and linebacker Khari Lain all have FBS offers.

3. Gainesville Red Elephants
The best player in the state resides in Gainesville: quarterback DeShaun Watson. The electric Clemson commit holds most of the state passing records after leading the Red Elephants to their first state title.

4. North Gwinnett Bulldogs (Suwanee)
The Bulldogs have won 10 games or more each year since coach Bob Sphire arrived in 2006. They can announce themselves as a prime contender if they thrive against an opening stretch against Camden County, Grayson and Norcross.

5. Colquitt County Packers (Moultrie)
The Packers return nine starters on defense and 15 overall, and they’ll need the experience to navigate a brutal schedule that includes Grayson, Lovejoy, Carver-Columbus, Lowndes and Camden County. They have advanced to the state semifinals in each of the past four years.

6. Camden County Wildcats (Kingsland)
Camden County never enters a season without a goal of winning a state title. The Wildcats have won three titles over the past 10 years. But the architect of the program, Jeff Herron, left for Prince Avenue Christian. His offensive coordinator, Welton Coffey, takes over.

7. North Cobb Warriors (Acworth)
The Warriors should be able to score on just about anybody with the return of junior quarterback Tyler Queen. He passed for 2,607 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 925 yards and 20 touchdowns. They must replace 15 starters off last year’s semifinalist team.

8. Lovejoy Wildcats
The Wildcats did the improbable, replacing several key starters and navigating a move up in classification to play for a second straight state title. They replace 14 starters, but the program is one of the best in the state.

9. St. Pius X Golden Lions (Atlanta)
St. Pius played in its first state championship game since 1968 last year, losing to Buford in the title game. The Golden Lions will need to replace their quarterback and fullback — the two most important players in their offense. Daniel Crochet and Nick Ruffin return after All-State junior seasons on defense.

10. Tucker Tigers
Top recruits Detric Dukes (linebacker) and Elisha Shaw (defensive tackle) could make Tucker the top contender to dethrone Gainesville in Class AAAAA.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.24 – Camden County vs. North Gwinnett
There are plenty of great games in the season-opening Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome, but this game may have the most intrigue with the debut of new Camden County head coach Welton Coffey, who takes over for Jeff Herron. North Gwinnett begins a brutal stretch with games at Grayson and Norcross following this one.

8.24 – Booker T. Washington (Fla.) at Norcross
Apologies to Colquitt County coach Rush Propst’s return to play his old team at Hoover (Ala.), but this matchup is the best one for a Georgia team taking on an out-of-state opponent. The Blue Devils will try to win their 16th straight against Florida’s defending Class 4A champion.

9.6 – Colquitt County at Lovejoy
Lovejoy won 12 straight games last year following its 14-7 early season loss to Colquitt County. Both teams advanced to the semifinals — Lovejoy lost to Norcross in the title game — and this game could provide a similar boost to the winner.

9.6 – Buford at Gainesville
Two of the state’s champions meet in a rematch of Gainesville’s 19-15 win over the Wolves in 2012. Both teams will be among the favorites to repeat, with Buford seeking a sixth state title in seven years. Gainesville quarterback DeShaun Watson and Buford linebacker Korie Rogers are both committed to Clemson.

10.11 – Stephenson at Tucker
These two powers — separated by less than 10 miles — had never played before Stephenson’s 13-6 win last season. Both teams figure to be in the Class AAAAA title chase again this year.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Deshaun Watson, QB, Gainesville
Senior, 6-3, 195

What didn’t Watson do in 2012? The Clemson commit led the Red Elephants to their first-ever state championship, and he did so by rewriting the state’s record books. He already holds the state’s career records for passing yards (9,360) and passing touchdowns (108), giving him a chance to create some near-untouchable career marks as a senior. In leading Gainesville to the championship, Watson passed for 4,021 yards and rushed for 1,430 yards and became only the second player in state history to toss 50 touchdown passes. He added 24 touchdowns on the ground. The Red Elephants averaged 49 points per game in the playoffs, including a game of 61 points against a Kell secondary that featured two FBS defensive backs. Watson welcomes back one of his top two wide receivers in Rodney Lackey.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Lorenzo Carter, DL, Norcross
Senior, 6-6, 220

The Blue Devils didn’t enter last season with the same hype as other powers, but they quickly became one of the top contenders for a championship during a five-game stretch in which the defense didn’t allow more than a touchdown. Much of the progress during that stretch could be credited to the playmaking ability of Carter. The hulking defensive lineman finished the season with 136 tackles, 50 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. He played huge in the big games, including making 12 tackles, five tackles for a loss and forcing a fumble in the championship game win over Lovejoy. Carter, who also helped Norcross win a basketball state title, has even bigger expectations placed on him as a senior. He’s the top prospect in the state, and many of the national recruiting services list Carter among the top-10 prospects in the nation, regardless of position.

 

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Teaser:
Georgia's best high school football teams, players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:44
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Florida Preseason Top 10

1. Miami Central Rockets
Miami Central boasts the most talented roster in Florida. The defending 6A state champs return 10 on offense, including two of the top three running backs in the nation in Florida commit Dalvin Cook and Miami commit Joseph Yearby. Miami commit Trevor Darling (6'5", 300) leads the offensive line, and junior Da’Vante Phillips is one of the state’s top 2015 wide receivers.

2. Booker T. Washington Tornadoes (Miami)
The defending Class 4A champs lose just three offensive starters and only five on defense. Coach Ice Harris’ son, Treon, leads the way at quarterback, and the roster is loaded with elite talent, highlighted by wide receiver Lamar Parker, defensive end Chad Thomas and defensive back Nigel Patten. The Tornadoes certainly know the way to the Orlando Citrus Bowl, the site of the state title game.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (Fort Lauderdale)
Star wide receiver Corey Holmes is joined by Ely transfer wideout Devante Peete (Class of 2015) to give Western transfer quarterback Wade Freebeck another weapon. Freebeck missed several weeks during the summer with a broken thumb, so Jake Rizzo could also see snaps.

4. University School Suns (Fort Lauderdale)
Transfers at quarterback (Sean White) and linebacker (Richard Yeargin) as well as junior running back Jordan Scarlett lead the way for the Suns, who are making the move from 3A to 4A for the 2013 season.

5. Apopka Blue Darters
The 2012 8A champs boast a father-son combo with head coach Rick Darlington and hard-nosed quarterback Zack Darlington. The Darters have nine returning starters on defense, including standout defensive linemen Isaiah Buehler, Anthony Ellis and Eric Jackson.

6. First Coast Buccaneers (Jacksonville)
Quarterback De’Andre Johnson (a Florida State commit) and linebacker Sherrod Pittman are a pair of juniors who will lead the Bucs as they move up to Class 8A this fall. First Coast has lost only twice in the last two years.

7. Manatee Hurricanes (Bradenton)
The Hurricanes were ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation much of last year, but St. Thomas Aquinas took care of that. Manatee still has some weapons, led by D-tackle Demarcus Christmas, a Florida State commit.

8. Plant Panthers (Tampa)
It was a down year for Plant, which failed to make its annual state title-game trip. But after turning down a job with USF, coach Robert Weiner returns to get things back in order.

9. Sandalwood Saints (Jacksonville)
The Saints have two Florida State commits — linebacker Kain Daub and defensive end Blake McClain. With a few newcomers and some big-time underclassmen, Sandalwood could challenge.

10. Oviedo Lions
The Lions move up to Class 8A after making the 7A quarterfinals last year. The top weapons are back, led by quarterback Chris Davis Jr. and defensive end Tyree Owens, both seniors, and a slew of junior studs.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

8.30 – Miami Central at Plantation American Heritage
This game features the top three running backs in the state with Heritage’s Sony Michel (Georgia commit) and Central’s dynamic duo of Dalvin Cook (Florida commit) and Joseph Yearby (Miami commit). Unfortunately for Michel, he’ll face one of the state’s top defenses.

9.6 – Miami Central vs. Booker T. Washington (at Sun Life Stadium)
It’s early for this showdown of the state’s top two teams, but these two will play each other anytime, anywhere. They met on the same Dolphins turf last year, with Central rallying behind Joseph Yearby, who played quarterback, for a 37-26 victory.
 
11.1 – Jacksonville First Coast at Jacksonville Sandalwood
Prospects abound in this one, and three of them are already committed to Florida State in Sandalwood linebacker Kain Daub and defensive end Blake McClain and First Coast quarterback De’Andre Johnson. The First Coast offense should give Sandalwood a big test in this key Class 8A district matchup.

11.1 – Oviedo at Orlando Timber Creek
Junior running back Jacques Patrick leads Creek against an Oviedo team that has five players with FBS offers. This will either be for the district title or a clash for second place to determine who stays home for the playoffs.

11.8 – Fort Lauderdale University School at Miami Central
This is a county battle for the ages pitting Broward and Miami-Dade schools. Defending 6A champ Central hosts 3A champ University, which moves to 4A. The scheduling is odd, with the state playoffs beginning the next week, but these teams will be ready for this epic showdown.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Sony Michel, RB, Plantation
Senior, 5-11, 205

Michel is a special running back who has been starting for the Patriots since his eighth-grade year, when he ran for 1,825 yards and 18 touchdowns. He followed his debut varsity season with another 18 touchdowns and 1,264 yards as a freshman, but he missed his sophomore season with a torn ACL. He was back at it again last year, churning out 1,667 yards and 21 more touchdowns. Michel committed to Georgia in April, and the Bulldogs can’t wait to get him between the hedges. With his recruiting behind him, he can focus on the 2013 season, and he’ll be looking for the 2,000-yard mark. He’s ranked by many recruiting websites as the No. 1 running back prospect in Florida and the No. 2 running back in the country behind everybody’s No. 1, Leonard Fournette of New Orleans.

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Dillon Bates, LB, Ponte Vedra (Ponta Vedra Beach)
Senior, 6-3, 220

The epitome of a football player, Bates has been molded by a big-time role model. Former Dallas Cowboys safety Bill Bates is his dad, and the elder Bates has instilled some of the same characteristics that kept the old man roaming the Cowboys’ defensive secondary for 15 years in the NFL. Dillon Bates is disciplined, hard-hitting and intelligent on the field. He gets after the ball and covers the run and pass with equal efficiency. He’s one of the best pass-coverage linebackers in the state, and against the run, Bates sheds blockers as well as anyone. He’s already announced his top five college choices, with dad’s alma mater Tennessee sitting on top. He also likes, in order: Florida, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina. He had 63 tackles and three interceptions last year after recording 100-plus tackles as a sophomore.

 

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Teaser:
Florida's best high school football teams, preseason players of the year and games to watch.
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:35
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After four straight non-playoff seasons, you can say this about the Dolphins: They are decidedly different. Jeff Ireland, the holdover general manager, spent the offseason deploying owner Stephen Ross’ cash and his draft pick stash to transform the roster, leaning on input from second-year coach Joe Philbin. Gone are many players — such as Jake Long, Karlos Dansby, Reggie Bush and Davone Bess — who gave the Dolphins plenty of good games in recent seasons, but collectively, weren’t good enough.

Miami will have at least nine new starters, including free agent signings Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe, and first-round pick Dion Jordan. Even with all the additions, though, the Fins still might have issues in the secondary and along the offensive line, and they still need second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill to take a giant leap forward.

“There’s no doubt I feel like we’re a better football team,” Ireland says. “I think we’ve gotten faster in a lot of different areas. I think we’ve added some playmakers.”

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 12th

Related: 2013 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

Offense
Do the Dolphins finally have their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino? Maybe. Aided by the presence of his former Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, Tannehill ascended to the starting spot as a training camp rookie, and rarely looked overwhelmed by the assignment. Even so, he had little surrounding talent, and his overall performance was uneven, best evidenced by his underwhelming passer rating of 76.1. Miami actually slipped in points and yards per game from the previous season, when Matt Moore, now the backup, was the primary quarterback. Tannehill has the arm strength, mobility and feel for the position, and Sherman expects big improvement in his quarterback’s second season.

The Dolphins believe Tannehill will have more help, even after letting Bush, their leading rusher and most dynamic playmaker, leave for Detroit. Lamar Miller, a fourth-round pick in Tannehill’s draft class, flashed some potential as a rookie, and he will get the chance to carry the backfield burden. Daniel Thomas, a former second-rounder who has had trouble staying healthy or upright in his two seasons, is also in the mix.

Brian Hartline was re-signed to a rich contract after a breakout season in which he and Tannehill quickly developed chemistry, even if it didn’t produce points. Now he can settle into the more appropriate role of second receiver. The top guy? That will be Wallace, who got nearly $30 million in guaranteed money to scare safeties, stretch the field and score touchdowns. Wallace’s contract is relatively small in the first season, but it quintuples in size in 2014. To be worth that, he will need to do something he didn’t in his fourth and final season in Pittsburgh — top 1,000 yards — and at least match his career average of eight touchdowns. At tight end, Dustin Keller signed a one-year deal to replace the departed Anthony Fasano, but the former Jet sustained a serious, season-ending knee injury in the Dolphins' second preseason game. Now the team will look to Charles Clay, fourth-round draft pick Dion Sims and 2012 third-round selection Michael Egnew for production from the position.

Mike Pouncey, one of the league’s better centers, will be expected to lead the line, especially after Long, the former No. 1 overall pick, resisted a late Dolphins effort and signed with St. Louis. Richie Incognito, a wild card in prior stops, has actually been a steadying influence in Miami, and the massive John Jerry showed progress at the other guard spot last season. Jonathan Martin was the regular at right tackle as a rookie and, after bulking up in the offseason, likely will move to the left side to make room for veteran Tyson Clabo.

Defense
Over the past two seasons, the Dolphins ranked sixth and seventh in points allowed, hardly the sort of statistics that cry for a major overhaul. Still, there was some softness beneath the surface, with too few game-turning plays made when it mattered, especially on the edge and in the secondary. Kevin Coyle, in his second season as defensive coordinator, has been given plenty of new pieces to integrate into the 4-3 scheme he introduced in 2012.

The strength remains on the defensive front, where the electric Cameron Wake made the transition to putting his hand in the dirt and put up great numbers (15 sacks) without his teammates mustering much support. That was the inspiration for Ireland’s decision to deal an extra second-round pick, move up nine spots, and grab the ultra-athletic Jordan. He played defensive end in high school, and finished his Oregon career as an outside linebacker. Ireland characterized Jordan as an every-down player, though that will depend on how quickly he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery and whether he can hold up against the run.

Miami should be set inside, with space-eater Paul Soliai and the versatile Randy Starks, though Starks missed some conditioning sessions due to a contract issue.

The biggest offseason surprise came at linebacker. Few expected Miami to dump both Dansby and Kevin Burnett, after both had been productive — though, in Dansby’s case, overpaid — during their Dolphins tenures. In an effort to get younger and faster, Miami aggressively pursued Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe and Oakland’s Philip Wheeler, and got them both. Wheeler can play all three positions, and Ellerbe emerged as one of the most reliable performers on the Ravens’ Super Bowl squad. The third linebacker is Koa Misi, who has flashed ability but needs to provide more productivity.

The starters at safety likely will be the same with Chris Clemons re-signed to pair with Reshad Jones, who had a breakout season at age 24. Jones led the team in interceptions and the secondary in tackles and the team rewarded him with a four-year contract extension in early August. Prior to Philbin’s first training camp, it appeared the Dolphins were set for years at cornerback, with the players (Vontae Davis and Sean Smith) they had drafted in the first and second rounds in 2009. Now, neither is on the roster. Instead, Miami will pair a veteran signing (Brent Grimes) and a second-round rookie (Jamar Taylor) to see if that works. It’s better, but there still isn’t much depth.

Specialists
If Brandon Fields hasn’t been the best punter over the past four seasons, he’s been in that conversation. No worries there. Kicker, however, has been a different story, which is why the Dolpins drafted Florida's Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round. The coaching staff obviously has liked what it has already seen from the rookie, as incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter was released during training camp, meaning the job belongs to Sturgis. Marcus Thigpen was an undrafted find last season, and he will be the primary returner again.

Final Analysis: 2nd in AFC East
For the first time in a while, there appeared to be a clear offseason plan for the Dolphins — throw picks and cash at a variety of problems, notably the lack of support for Tannehill and the speed on both sides of the ball. How will that translate to wins? That largely depends, as it always does, on the quarterback. If he makes the leap that his coaches project, Miami can compete for a playoff spot. If not, there will be more calls for Ireland’s ouster and Philbin will be under pressure early in his tenure.

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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)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Miami Dolphins 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Friday, August 16, 2013 - 11:00
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Two significant obstacles stand between the Redskins and the next step in their turnaround: The fitness of quarterback Robert Griffin III’s right knee and the $18 million salary cap penalty the club is serving in 2013. Washington could hardly enjoy its first NFC East division championship in 13 seasons because Griffin had surgery on Jan. 9 to revise the reconstruction of his ACL and repair his lateral collateral ligament and medial meniscus. Griffin’s status for the regular season won’t crystallize until training camp, and even then, questions will remain about his ability to stay healthy.

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ salary cap sanction hindered efforts to sign free agents to bolster the first string. Washington’s contingency plan was to retain 21 of 22 starters from last year’s squad. That offense led the NFL with 6.2 yards per play, so the continuity could serve the Redskins well if Griffin is healthy. Defensively, though, the secondary needs an infusion of talent. Those problems make defending the division title difficult, though not impossible.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 12th

Related: 2013 Washington Redskins Schedule Analysis

Offense
Griffin expected to miss at least the Redskins’ offseason program because of his knee injury. Spring practices would have helped him evolve as a drop-back passer. Coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle, didn’t force Griffin to drop back frequently during his rookie year because they opted to highlight what he did well at Baylor — line up in the shotgun and use his legs to help set up simple throws. The Shanahans believe Griffin will develop into one of the NFL’s best throwers, but that process is delayed.

There’s also the matter of Griffin’s durability. Coaches are emphasizing the importance of throwing the ball away and sliding, but those self-preservation methods detract from Griffin’s explosiveness and his ability to turn negative plays into positive gains.

Overall, though, Griffin is extremely dynamic when healthy. He protects the ball and became a more accurate passer as his rookie season progressed. He can make every throw, and his running ability allows Washington’s option package to keep defenses guessing.

Fellow second-year quarterback Kirk Cousins has the coaches’ confidence if Griffin can’t play. His tendency to make throws based on instincts can be problematic, but he is smart and well-prepared.

It would be surprising if running back Alfred Morris duplicated his 1,613-yard rookie season because Shanahan knows Morris would wear down if he fed him another 335 carries. Morris will get most of the touches because he has good vision and footwork in the one-cut system, and he usually gains yards after contact. Roy Helu missed virtually all of his second NFL season because of a foot and toe injury that required surgery in the spring. Fifth-round draft pick Chris Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee at Florida State last October and hopes to be ready for training camp.

Washington’s receivers should be even better this season. The sprained right foot that cost Pierre Garcon six games is almost fully healed. Joshua Morgan had a plate and seven screws removed from the right ankle he had surgically repaired in 2011. They might be the most physical receiving duo in the NFL. Tight end Fred Davis can be a dynamic weapon if he returns as expected to full fitness from tearing his left Achilles tendon last October.

The Redskins return all five starting offensive linemen. Tyler Polumbus, Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos will compete to start at right tackle. Polumbus, the incumbent, struggles at times with footwork and leverage in pass protection, but he moves defenders in the run game.

Defense
Washington’s secondary is the team’s greatest source of uncertainty, so getting strong safety Brandon Meriweather back healthy from a torn ACL in his right knee is imperative. His speed enables the Redskins to disguise coverages, and he plays balls in space well.

Free safety presents the biggest question. Tanard Jackson, last summer’s first-stringer, remains suspended indefinitely until at least Aug. 31, so Washington can’t count on him. Incumbent Madieu Williams was the only starter not re-signed; he lacked range in deep coverage. The Redskins could move Meriweather to free safety and fill strong safety with the committee approach they used last season in place of Meriweather. Reed Doughty is a smart player whose tackling ability and physicality suit him well in the box. Jordan Pugh replaced Doughty in passing situations, when his speed in the deep secondary was required.

Coordinator Jim Haslett could go another direction and play sixth-round rookie Bacarri Rambo. He has collegiate experience playing strong and free, which meets the interchangeability requirement the Redskins have for their safeties. Unfortunately, fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas is no longer an option as the rookie will miss all of 2013 after sustaining a season-ending Lisfranc injury in his first preseason game.

Two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo returns to aid the pass rush. He is recovered from the torn left pectoral muscle that cost him 14 games last season. His strength, speed and technique help him push the pocket.

The front seven remains an asset, particularly against the run. It must generate a more formidable pass rush with only four rushers. Defensive end Adam Carriker’s recovery from a season-ending quadriceps tear in Week 2 was delayed by a setback in March. His strength makes him an important part of the line rotation in the nickel package. Without him, others have to do extra work, so the Redskins hope he’s back for training camp.

Specialists
The Redskins’ greatest loss in free agency was Pro Bowl special teamer Lorenzo Alexander. He constantly commanded double teams by opposing kickoff and punt return units. Kai Forbath is an accurate field goal kicker, but his kickoffs fall short of desired distance. As long as he’s making field goals, though, his job is safe. Punter Sav Rocca can be inconsistent, but he’s capable of long punts when necessary. Richard Crawford shined as a punt returner late last season because of his fearlessness getting up the field. Niles Paul isn’t an explosive kick returner, so his hold on that job is tenuous.

Final Analysis: 4th in NFC East
The Redskins return all but one starter from the team that overcame significant injuries en route to 10 wins and the division title. Their success hinges on Griffin’s health, but the Redskins are well-coached and deeper than they’ve been in years. If Griffin is healthy all season, they could contend. If not, they could have trouble breaking the .500 mark.

Order your 2013 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)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

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Virginia Preseason Top 10

1. Ocean Lakes Dolphins (Virginia Beach)
The Dolphins ended a banner 2012 season on a down note, falling in the Group AAA Division 6 championship game. That four-point loss to L.C. Bird should be plenty of motivation for starting quarterback Walter “Churchie” Harold and 1,000-yard running back Brandon Simmons, who return to bolster the offense. On defense, lineman Derrick Nnadi anchors a unit that recorded six regular-season shutouts and held 14 of 15 opponents to 15 or fewer points.

2. C.D. Hylton Bulldogs (Woodbridge)
The Bulldogs, state semifinalists last season, welcome back Travon McMillian, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 1,313 yards, ran for 1,194 yards and accounted for 28 TDs as a junior. Lineman Brian Roberts and defensive back Lawrence Hunt also could help Hylton challenge for its first state title since 2002.

3. Oscar Smith Tigers (Chesapeake)
After the Tigers missed the state tournament for only the second time in six seasons, prized lineman Andrew Brown and 1,000-yard back DeShawn McClease hope to spearhead a return to form for a team that won state titles in 2008 and 2011.

4. Lake Taylor Titans (Norfolk)
Blue-chip recruit Jalyn Holmes, a tight end and defensive end, joins a host of returners from a Titans squad that last season finished 15–0 and won the school’s first state championship.

5. Lloyd C. Bird Skyhawks (Chesterfield)
The Skyhawks won their first Group AAA Division 6 state championship, carried by 2,000-yard rusher Paul Robertson, who graduated. But quarterback Terrance Ervin (1,549 passing yards, 23 TDs) and most of his receiving corps are back.

6. Phoebus Phantoms (Hampton)
The Phantoms’ running game got an unexpected offseason boost when running back Marshawn Williams, a Virginia Tech recruit, transferred from cross-town rival Hampton. And Phoebus has motivation after falling short of a fifth straight state title.

7. Hermitage Panthers (Richmond)
Dapper coach Patrick Kane, who sports a red tie during games, must replace Michigan-bound star running back Derrick Green. But he has stout lineman Marius Young and the motivation of a surprising loss in last year’s playoff opener.

8. Stone Bridge Bulldogs (Ashburn)
The Bulldogs rolled into the state championship game unbeaten before a heartbreaking six-point loss — the team’s fourth in a state final since 2005. Playmaker D’Ante Yarborough, a 1,000-yard receiver last season, and lineman Connor Smith are back.

9. Lake Braddock Bruins (Burke)
The dynamic pass-and-catch combo of quarterback Caleb Henderson and wide receiver Aramis Alexander have the Bruins eyeing a trip to the state tournament for the first time since a championship game appearance in 2009.

10. Briar Woods Falcons (Ashburn)
Quarterback Trace McSorley has guided the Falcons to three consecutive state titles. But McSorley’s quest for a four-peat will have to come in a more competitive division after the state’s realignment for 2013.

Five Can't Miss Matchups

9.6 – Oscar Smith at Lake Taylor
This season opener matches perennial Southeastern Virginia powers who haven’t played in years. Oscar Smith won Group AAA Division 6 state crowns in 2008 and ’11, while Lake Taylor was 15-0 and won its first Group AAA Division 5 state title last season.

9.27 – Phoebus vs. Hampton
The cross-town rivals often hook up at Darling Stadium during the regular season to decide the Peninsula District title before a trip to the state tournament. Hampton (1995-98) and Phoebus (2008-11) are the only Virginia teams to win four straight state titles.

9.27 – Gate City at Union
A name change — Powell Valley became Union in 2011 — hasn’t diminished this rivalry between two small schools tucked into the southwest corner of the state near the Tennessee border. The teams played for the first time in 1959.

10.18 – Woodbridge at C.D. Hylton
These neighborhood rivals square off in a regular-season game that features two of the state’s top recruits on the field at the same time: Woodbridge defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand and Hylton quarterback Travon McMillian.

11.9 – Woodberry Forest at Episcopal
These boarding schools played for the first time in 1901, and more than 100 years later the rivalry — referred to simply as “The Game” — is still going strong.

2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Caleb Henderson, QB, Lake Braddock (Burke)
Senior, 6-4, 223

Henderson has ripped defenses for more than 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and he’s not finished. Henderson, committed to North Carolina, returns for his senior season after throwing for 2,435 yards and leading Lake Braddock to the playoffs as a junior. He threw for 240 or more yards six times in 2012, including a season-high 310, and added some versatility with 453 yards and nine touchdowns rushing. In two seasons as a starter, Henderson has thrown 46 touchdown passes. Henderson “has a howitzer for an arm,” Lake Braddock coach Jim Poythress said. “Scan the high school ranks and that is not often seen. On top of that, he can run well enough to be elusive in the pocket and to gain some yards if things break down. Then, when you consider he is a coach’s son, you get an intangible that should only help.”

2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Woodbridge
Senior, 6-4, 255

Karibi Dede has yet to coach Hand in a game, but he’s already impressed. Dede, hired after last season, has gotten to know Hand during the offseason and has watched plenty of film on his star pupil. “The first thing about him is on the field he has a dominating presence,” Dede says. “It doesn’t matter where he lines up on the defensive front. He’s a kid who’s like a man among boys, and he’s a physical kid who delivers a punishing blow.” Hand delivered plenty of them last season despite drawing constant attention from offensive linemen. He had 78 solo tackles, including 28 for a loss, and collected 16 sacks. That followed an 84-tackle, 21-sack sophomore season. Dede can’t wait to get a first-hand look before Hand graduates and moves on to one of his college suitors. “He’s a phenomenal and unique player,” the coach says.

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Paradise lost would be the way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first year under coach Greg Schiano. The resort atmosphere disappeared, replaced by more rules and regimentation than a boot camp.

“We had one big thing we had to do. We had to establish a culture in the building,’’ Schiano says. “Sometimes, you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run. I think that happened as the season went on.”

A 6–4 start collapsed into a 1–5 finish, mostly because of a wildly inconsistent defense that was first against the run and worst against the pass.

GM Mark Dominik spent the offseason retooling the secondary by signing 49ers free agent safety Dashon Goldson, swinging a blockbuster trade for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and drafting Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks in the second round. Revis Island may have relocated to Tampa Bay, but it’s still going to be a very inhospitable place.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Josh Freeman set single-season club records for passing yardage (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) last year. But 10 of his 17 interceptions came in three games, leaving the Bucs still to wonder whether to make a long-term commitment to their enigmatic quarterback, who enters the final year of his contract.

Freeman will benefit from one of the best guard tandems in the NFL. Davin Joseph returns from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in 2012, and Carl Nicks has recovered from a foot injury that limited him to seven games.

But you can bet the offense will run through Doug Martin, who ranked second among rookies with 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and a score. Receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are terrific big-play targets for Freeman, but the Bucs could use a better tight end than Luke Stocker and don’t have a slot receiver.

Tampa Bay traded running back LeGarrette Blount to New England and will go with free agent Brian Leonard, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, and Miami rookie Mike James to round out the backfield. The team also added former Cleveland and Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis to the mix before the start of training camp, although the one-time 1,000-yard rusher may have a hard time making the roster.

Freeman should thrive in the second year of the system under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. The Bucs will do more to move the pocket and change his launch sites, because he can be very accurate on the move. He also has a new quarterbacks coach in John McNulty, who had the same position with the Arizona Cardinals and coached with Schiano at Rutgers.

But Schiano still is hedging his bets a little with Freeman long-term. Perhaps that’s why NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is here.

“The reality is this is a performance-based game … to say you’re married (to a player), well, nobody is married to anyone in this game,’’ Schiano says of Freeman. “They’re not married to me. You’ve got to win or I’m not going to be the coach.”

Defense
It’s extremely unusual for a defense to play in polar-opposite ways against the run and the pass. Statistically, Tampa Bay had the best run defense in the league in 2012. Perhaps that’s because opponents preferred to travel by air. The Bucs fell just 38 yards shy of setting the NFL record for the most passing yards allowed.

With so much scorched earth in the secondary, the Bucs knew they needed an overhaul. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was suspended for four games last year for illegal use of the stimulant Adderall, was traded at midseason to the New England Patriots. Eric Wright, who lost four games for the same reason, was forced to take a one-year, restructured contract, and then was subsequently traded to the 49ers in July for a conditional 2014 draft pick. Wright, however, failed his physical, which nullified the trade and led to his eventual outright release by the Buccaneers.

Dominik began the makeover by signing Goldson to a five-year, $41.25-million deal. A few weeks later, he persuaded the Jets to part with Revis for the 13th overall pick and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2014. Revis still is recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 3 last year but is expected to be full go by training camp. If he is 90 percent as good as the old Revis, it could be scary for the NFC South. The Bucs finally will have a player to match up with the Falcons’ Julio Jones or the Saints’ Marques Colston.

The Bucs will benefit from the return of right defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who was lost for the season because of a knee injury after only a few games. Da’Quan Bowers, who battled back from a torn Achilles to play 10 games a year ago, should be a powerful bookend. Rookies William Gholston and Steven Means fortify the pass rush.

But the rush is anchored by man in the middle Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall choice in 2010. McCoy finally put together a full season, finishing with five sacks, and was named to his first Pro Bowl team.

Tampa Bay lost starting nose tackle Roy Miller to Jacksonville and its leading sackmaster Michael Bennett to Seattle. But the Bucs seem confident in veterans such as Derek Landri and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim as well as Illinois nose tackle Akeem Spence, a fourth-round pick.

The linebackers are solid with Mason Foster and Lavonte David, who led the team in tackles as a rookie. The Bucs have to replace Quincy Black at strong-side linebacker. He was released after suffering nerve damage following a hit on San Diego running back Ryan Mathews.

Playing in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton means having to stop big plays in the passing game. The Bucs also face Tom Brady this year. But the first game of the season will be at MetLife Stadium against the Jets. What better place for Revis to make a statement that he is back?

Specialists
The Bucs' kicking game sustained a big blow in July when Connor Barth tore his Achilles playing in a charity basketball game. Barth, who hit on on 28-of-33 field goal attempts last season, will be replaced by veteran Lawrence Tynes. Tynes connected on 33-of-39 field goal attempts for the Giants last season, but he doesn't have near as strong a leg as Barth (six made FGs from 50+ yards in 2012). Punter Michael Koenen, who also handles all the kickoff duties, needs to pick it up after only netting 37.4 yards in 2012.

Long-snapper Andrew Economos re-signed, keeping the Bucs’ battery intact. What the team could use is some return yardage. Cowboys free agent Kevin Ogletree has a chance to bring back punts and kickoffs this year.

Final Analysis: 3rd in NFC South
If Revis is Revis again once his knee heals, and he plays the entire season, the Bucs have the main ingredient for an antidote to the Falcons’ and Saints’ passing games. Freeman, as usual, will be the key. Avoid two of the three meltdown games, and the Bucs could sneak into the postseason after a five-year hiatus.

Order your 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaeneers 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)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

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Six starters fled the Jets in free agency, including their top running back and two safeties. Their best player, one of the great shutdown cornerbacks in football, was traded to Tampa Bay just prior to the draft. Their big free agent signing was a 35-year-old quarterback who retired in May. Owner Woody Johnson fired his general manager right after the 6–10 season but retained Rex Ryan for his final contract year, turning him into a lame-duck coach.

This has all the makings of a rebuilding season at best and a mess of a year at worst.

Despite heading into a win-or-else season with an uncertain quarterback situation, offensive backfield in flux, and an exodus that left the defense in shambles, Ryan doesn’t look at 2013 as a rebuilding season.

“I think (other teams) should be worried about us a lot more than they are,” Ryan says. “We’ll see what kind of team our opponents get to play, and I’m excited about it.”

He might as well be. A winning record seems like a daunting challenge, especially in light of a five-game stretch starting in Week 5 against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Even without the Tim Tebow albatross, Ryan has plenty of pressure on him in 2013, not the least of which is his job security under a new GM. The quarterback position is no closer to being solved, and the rest of the offense is just as underwhelming. Meanwhile, the Jets were dealt a psychological blow with the trade of lockdown corner Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers. This has all the makings for another long year in New York.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 13th

Related: 2013 New York Jets Schedule Analysis

Offense
Ryan’s enthusiasm could turn to despair quickly if keeping Mark Sanchez around backfires. Sanchez, to whom former GM Mike Tannenbaum handed a three-year extension with $20.5 million of guaranteed money prior to last season, took the first snap of minicamp, though second-round draft pick Geno Smith is poised to give him some competition in the summer. The Jets signed veteran David Garrard in March and had planned on giving him a legitimate chance to win the job, but he announced in mid May that he was retiring due to ongoing issues with his knees. So that leaves Sanchez as the likely Week 1 starter, but he may struggle in new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s system. Timing and touch are essential in the West Coast offense, areas in which Sanchez has shown little comfort level the past two years.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, he won’t have many targets out there. Jeremy Kerley is good, and when healthy, Santonio Holmes is better. But Holmes is returning from season-ending foot surgery and will take a limited workload through training camp. The team did bring back former Jet wide receiver Braylon Edwards and also signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. to add to its pass-catching options.

The running back picture became much more interesting when the Jets traded their fourth-round pick to New Orleans for bruising veteran Chris Ivory. He can punish a defense and has a 5.1 yards-per-carry career average. But injuries and his failure to exhibit significant receiving ability out of the backfield could make him miscast in Mornhinweg’s system. The Jets might end up starting free agent pickup Mike Goodson, whose pass-catching ability complements a 4.5-yard career average. Holdover Bilal Powell is also a candidate. He caught 17 passes and rushed for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a backup last year. Whatever they do, the Jets have to improve their 3.8 yards-per-carry average, which ranked 23rd in the league. In the end, Goodson — with his ability to run and catch — may be the best option, but his May 17 arrest on weapons and gun charges have complicated things, to say the least.

The offensive line is also in transition, with underachieving Vladimir Ducasse likely to move into the right guard spot to replace Brandon Moore, who departed in free agency. Willie Colon, a seven-year veteran who started 11 games at left guard for the Steelers last year after missing all but one game the two previous seasons, signed with the Jets in the offseason. He should help improve the blind side.

Defense
After a dramatic trade-him-or-don’t-trade-him decision in the front office, the Jets eventually sent Revis to Tampa Bay for the No. 13 pick in the 2013 draft and a conditional selection in 2014. The Jets then used the ninth overall pick to draft a corner in Alabama’s Dee Milliner. The Jets only partially replaced the other key personnel losses, starting with free agent acquisition of former San Diego linebacker Antwan Barnes, who had 18.5 sacks over the last three seasons. He dropped from 11 sacks in 2011 to just three in an injury-shortened 2012. But he is familiar with Ryan, having played for him in Baltimore in 2007. That’s a plus, since Ryan will return to calling his own defensive plays. And Ryan will need Barnes to boost a pass rush that tied for 25th last year with only 30 sacks. Barnes is also fast enough to cover the tough tight ends found in the AFC East, such as the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and former Jet Dustin Keller in Miami.

Muhammad Wilkerson showed signs of becoming a defensive line stalwart in his second year, compiling five sacks, 70 tackles and three forced fumbles at end. This year, Wilkerson will have to fight through a slew of double-teams unless the Jets somehow find some inexpensive players to replace Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito. Best case would be for last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Quinton Coples, to take over DeVito’s spot.

Right cornerback Antonio Cromartie stepped up and had a great year once Revis went down with a torn ACL, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again. But the middle of the secondary is rife with inexperience in Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. At least free agent acquisition Dawan Landry — brother of departed safety LaRon Landry — will provide coverage skills and durability after recording 100 tackles in 16 starts for Jacksonville last year.

Specialists
Kicker Nick Folk was re-signed for his fourth season in green after going 21-of-27 on field goals. His 93 points tied him for 26th in the league. Robert Malone, the league’s 19th-ranked punter, returns after a franchise-record 45.8-yard average on 61 punts (38.5 net).

Joe McKnight likely will handle kickoff returns again after bringing back 39 for a 27.5-yard average (third-best in the league) that included a 100-yard TD against the Texans. The punt return game, handled mostly by Kerley last year, will need more yardage and fewer fair catches.

Final Analysis: 3rd in AFC East
It’s always bad medicine for an owner to change his general manager and keep his head coach. Ryan is entering the final season of his contract with a number of troublesome contracts, unfulfilled Super Bowl expectations and an unresolved quarterback quandary. The head coach may be optimistic, but the team’s roster indicates otherwise.

Order your 2013 New York Jets 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)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

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Doug Marrone, the former Syracuse head coach, is off to a banner start with the Buffalo Bills. Channeling some of that college spirit, Marrone ordered up two 20-feet-tall banners picturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to hang behind the goal posts of the team’s field house.

For a team stuck in a perpetual rebuilding phase (13 seasons missing the playoffs) and working on its sixth coach since 2000, that’s probably as close as the Bills are going to come to the Super Bowl for awhile. But players appreciate Marrone’s attempt at an attitude adjustment.

“If you are not shooting for the Super Bowl, what are you shooting for?” center Eric Wood says. “That is a good message to have around.”

No doubt. Several regulars have been jettisoned from Chan Gailey’s roster that eked out six wins in the rugged AFC East, and a full-blown overhaul is underway. The offense must identify a starting quarterback, and the defense is starting from square one. The Bills simply remain years away from being relevant.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 14th

Related: 2013 Buffalo Bills Schedule Analysis

Offense
After turning the page on Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills made Florida State’s EJ Manuel the only quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Taking Manuel at No. 16 — many critics said it was too high — anoints him as the team’s starting quarterback of the future. The only question is: When will that future be?

Marrone intended to hold an open competition in training camp between Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb, who signed as a free agent after his release by Arizona. At 6'4", 237 with 4.55 speed, Manuel has eye-popping physical gifts that new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, known for his creativity out of a West Coast philosophy, can’t wait to incorporate. Unfortunately, the rookie injured his knee in the second preseason game and had to undergo a surgical procedure on it. While the team considers this just a minor setback, Manuel will miss the remainder of the preseason, which all but guarantees that Kolb will at least begin the season as the starting quarterback.

Whether it's Kolb or Manuel under center, they will have at their disposal a supporting cast that features several game-breaking players. But there are also major holes to fill at left guard and tight end.

Fourth-year running back C.J. Spiller is coming off a breakout season in which he gained 1,244 yards on just 207 carries (6.0 average). Veteran Fred Jackson, 32, can punish defenses with his hard, downhill style, but injuries have taken a toll.

Wide receiver Stevie Johnson topped 1,000 yards receiving for a team-record third consecutive season. After ranking 25th in passing, Buffalo made upgrading speed and depth at receiver a major goal. Second-round pick Robert Woods (USC) and third-round pick Marquise Goodwin (Texas), an Olympic long jumper, join second-year deep threat T. J. Graham as players with a golden opportunity to make an impact.

Buffalo boasts a strong offensive line led by Wood at center, guard Kraig Urbik and tackles Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears. But the team must find a replacement for left guard Andy Levitre, who signed a lucrative deal with Tennessee as a free agent. The tight end position is in a state of flux with Scott Chandler coming off ACL surgery.

Defense
After fielding three of the franchise’s five worst defenses in terms of yards and points allowed (what else really matters?) under Gailey, the Bills had no choice but to turn the page on a long list of veteran players. Departing via retirement or outright release were Nick Barnett, Shawne Merriman, Terrence McGee, George Wilson and Chris Kelsay.

Newcomers include linebacker Manny Lawson (free agent, Cincinnati), defensive tackle Alan Branch (free agent, Seattle) and three rookie draft picks — linebacker Kiko Alonso and safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.

The Bills allowed 362.9 total yards per game (22nd in the league) and were especially bad against the run (145.8 ypg, 31st). Taking control is coordinator Mike Pettine, the architect of several strong defenses for the rival New York Jets. While Pettine uses a base 3-4, his schemes are varied — he’ll use up to seven defensive backs, and he’s not afraid to blitz frequently.

Buffalo’s front seven shouldn’t be the pushover it was a year ago. Defensive end Mario Williams, last year’s prized free agent who signed the richest NFL deal ever for a defensive player, finished with 10.5 very quiet sacks. He figures to be turned loose by Pettine, who will look to Pro Bowl tackle Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Branch to stop the run. Dareus had a down year dealing with the death of his brother but should be more mentally focused.

The Bills need more production from their linebackers, who accounted for just five of the team’s 36 sacks. Outside backers Lawson, Nigel Bradham, Arthur Moats and Jerry Hughes, a former first-round pick acquired in a trade with the Colts, will be counted on to create havoc. Alonso could start in the middle as a rookie.

The secondary is led by Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, who is coming off a strong rookie season, and Leodis McKelvin. Byrd, who tied for the AFC lead with five interceptions, was designated the club’s franchise player, and the team is hoping to get a long-term deal done. The strong safety spot is wide open with converted corner Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams in the mix.

Specialists
Placekicker Rian Lindell had his sights set this season on becoming the Bills’ all-time career scoring leader, as he needed just 32 points to pass Stevie Christie (1,011). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that will happen, as the Bills cut the 13-year veteran during training camp. Lindell's release means the kicking job belongs to sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins, who became the NCAA’s career points leader during his career at Florida State. Last year, Shawn Powell replaced all-time Bills punter Brian Moorman and established a team record for punting average by a rookie at 44.0 per attempt. McKelvin and Brad Smith are the top return specialists. McKelvin, who was retained for a four-year, $20-million deal, led the NFL in punt return average at 18.7 yards with two returns for scores.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC East
After 13 seasons without playing in the postseason, it’s hard for even the most fervent fan to be optimistic that another coaching change will mean anything. Marrone does represent a fresh face and the promise of young ideas. The addition of Manuel as a potential franchise quarterback does make the team more interesting to follow. Pettine, a well-respected coordinator, will make the defense better. But in a rugged AFC East dominated by New England and with a schedule much more difficult than in 2012, it will take more than one offseason to undo all the mistakes of the last decade in Buffalo.

Order your 2013 Buffalo Bills 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)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Ron Rivera’s third season as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach may be his last if the team can’t make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. Team owner Jerry Richardson made Rivera wait six agonizing days after the 2012 season before deciding that the former NFL linebacker for the Chicago Bears deserved another shot at leading the team in 2013. Rivera had been put on notice that he was on the hot seat following the Panthers’ disappointing 1–5 start that cost longtime general manger Marty Hurney his job. The new decision-maker is Dave Gettleman, who had been with the N.Y. Giants organization since 1998.

The Panthers dug themselves too deep of a hole to make the playoffs last year but did finish 5–1 over the final six games to end up with a 7–9 record. They managed top-12 rankings in both total offense and total defense and will build this year’s team around quarterback Cam Newton on offense and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on defense. With Rivera’s fate likely hanging in the balance, this could be the year the team makes a leap. For the popular coach’s sake, it better be.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 14th

Related: 2013 Carolina Panthers Schedule Analysis

Offense
It starts with Newton, who will have a new offensive coordinator this year since Rob Chudzinski was the surprise choice for the Cleveland Browns’ head job. Mike Shula was promoted from quarterbacks coach to replace “Chud,” who was running the zone-read in 2011 with Newton well before it became such a hot NFL trend.

Newton became a slightly more conventional quarterback in 2012, as his rushing TDs went down and his time in the pocket went slightly up. He remains very effective as a dual-threat quarterback — he led the team in rushing with 741 yards — but the Panthers would like to cut down on the number of hits he takes. He is already protecting the ball better, having thrown a team-record 176 straight passes in 2012 without an interception.

Ageless wide receiver Steve Smith had his seventh 1,000-yard season in 2012 and, at 34, will remain the Panthers’ biggest receiving threat in 2013. He has found new life with Newton, but the question is how much longer he can stay effective. The Panthers badly need Brandon LaFell — their clear No. 2 receiver now — to emerge more frequently in 2013. Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn, two veteran free agents, will likely compete for the No. 3 job. Tight end Greg Olsen is Newton’s favorite target other than Smith and possesses some of the best hands on the team.

Newton can hand the ball off to three solid backs in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. The Panthers have so much money invested in that trio that there has been speculation one of them must go given the club’s constant salary-cap problems, but the team has managed to keep them so far. Williams is the game-breaker, Stewart the between-the-tackles bull and Tolbert the short-yardage specialist who hopes to take that burden off of Newton. As of the beginning of training camp, Williams was the only one of the three not dealing with an injury with Stewart still recovering from offseason surgery on both ankles and Tolbert dealing with a hamstring issue. This also presented an opportunity for sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner to get some meaningful reps in practice and show the coaching staff what he brings to the table.

The offensive line is the biggest question on this unit. Left tackle Jordan Gross still has good feet but doesn’t have many years left. Center Ryan Kalil is one of the league’s best, but the other three spots all have question marks. Every team’s defensive game plan involves going after Newton, and whether this group is up to the task of protecting him will have much to do with how the season goes. If Newton were to go down, veteran backup Derek Anderson would direct the team. He’s a good thrower, but the team would then be forced to use a much more conventional offense.

Defense
Kuechly’s outstanding rookie year was the biggest revelation in 2012, a year in which the Panthers improved to 10th in total defense — 18 spots better than they had been a year before. Kuechly took over for injured middle linebacker Jon Beason early in the season and played so well he ended up as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is a tackling machine and led the NFL in tackles, becoming the first rookie to do so since San Francisco’s Patrick Willis in 2007.

After that year, Kuechly isn’t going anywhere even though Beason is trying to return after major injuries short-circuited each of his last two seasons. Like Kuechly, Beason is a very fast, side-to-side linebacker who can play in all situations when healthy. Strong-side linebacker Thomas Davis made a tremendous comeback in 2012 after three ACL surgeries on the same knee and will man that position once again. Free agent signee Chase Blackburn will provide depth and a steady locker-room presence.

The Panthers’ defensive front should be one of the team’s strengths. In 2012, defensive ends Charles Johnson (12.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (11) gave Carolina its first pair of double-digit sackers since 2002. Hardy has faced some maturity issues but seems to have picked up some of Johnson’s quiet resolve. At defensive tackle, veteran Dwan Edwards will be joined by a pair of top-50 draft picks — Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Both will help by keeping blockers off Kuechly, who does his best work when he’s free to roam.

The secondary is where the most questions lie. Gettleman restructured a lot of it with some under-the-radar free agent signings in 2013. Cornerback Drayton Florence and strong safety Mike Mitchell are low-profile veterans who will both have a chance to start. Cornerback Josh Norman started for 12 games as a rookie in 2012 and then got benched, but Gettleman likes his potential. Charles Godfrey is the leader in the back at free safety. Captain Munnerlyn is an undersized but tough nickel cornerback. Whether this group can survive repeated attacks by the franchise quarterbacks of the NFC South is key.

Specialists
This is a middle-of-the-pack group at best. Placekicker Graham Gano came on in 2012 after the Panthers cut ties with Olindo Mare, who was one of Hurney’s real miscalculations. Brad Nortman had an uneven rookie year as the team’s punter and needs to improve. Ginn, who returns kickoffs and punts, should add a splash of excitement for the first time since Smith handled those jobs early in his career and perhaps spell the end of the Armanti Edwards experiment.

Final Analysis: 4th in NFC South
In their first two years under Rivera, the Panthers have gotten off to horrible starts that doomed the season. They can’t afford to do that again. Newton and Kuechly are fine cornerstones on which to build, and there are fewer holes on this team than you would likely expect from a squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008.

Order your 2013 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)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Carolina Panthers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /40-weirdest-team-nicknames-sports
Body:

We're all for tradition, and honoring your region with your team nickname, but some of these are just plain weird. Here they are in no particular order of weirdness.

 

1. Jordan (Utah) Beetdiggers

This nickname inspires fear. If you're a beet. 

 

2. Conway (Ark.) Wampus Cats

A Wampus cat is a fearsome creature from folklore. Doesn't stop it from sounding stupid.

 

3. Camas (Wash.) Papermakers

4. Kimberly (Wis.) Papermakers

Maybe they can get Dunder-Mifflin to sponsor their uniforms.

 

5. Badger (Wis.) Badgers

The Badger Badgers? Too bad Duany Duany, Longar Longar and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje didn't play there.

 

6. Newburgh Free Academy (NY) Goldbacks

Anything with "backs" attached to the end seems like a slur.

 

7. Butte (Idaho) Pirates

No comment.

 

8. Grafton/St. Thomas (ND) Spoilers

Isn't the nickname "Spoilers" a concession that you suck and can only hope to spoil a good team's season?

 

9. Mt. Pleasant (RI) Kilties

They've managed to take the word "kilt" and make it even more effeminate.

 

10. Bellows Free Academy (Vt.) Bobwhites

A bobwhite is a quail that is commonly killed and consumed. Doesn't even have much meat on it.

 

11. Cairo (Ga.) Syrupmakers

Sweet and sticky are not adjectives I want applied to my football team.

 

12. Red Bank Catholic (NJ) Caseys

The school took its nickname from a former Monsignor. It makes me think of Casey Anthony. Or Kasey Kasem.

 

13. Glenville (Ohio) Tarblooders

A tarblooder was apparently a railroad worker who laid ties and cemented them with tar. When you have to explain it, it loses some impact.

 

14. Austin Westlake (Texas) Chaparrals

They're called the "Chaps" for short. Wonder if they're assless.

 

15. Dunbar (Md.) Poets

It's a nod to the school's namesake, but Poets? Aren't they the guys the football players should be pummeling?

 

16. Mt. Clemens (Mich.) Battling Bathers

Not sure you want to combine football and bath time in your nickname.

 

17. St. Mary's Prep (Mich.) Eaglets

18. Rockhurst (Mo.) Hawklets

Baby birds, even eagles and hawks, don't exactly inspire fear. Hell, they can't even fly.

 

19. North Little Rock Charging Wildcats

Adding "Charging" seems like overkill. And is a Wildcat really known for charging?

 

20. Salesianum School (Del.) Sallies

This simply can't be real, can it? Was Nancies already taken?

 

21. Punahou (Hawaii) Buffanblu

It's not some native Hawaiian bird of prey or anything. Believe it or not, this nickname comes from the school's colors: buff and blue.

 

22. Shelley (Idaho) Russets

Yes, Idaho is known for potatoes. Doesn't mean you have to incorporate it into your nickname. Would be like calling a Chicago team "the Gang-Related Murders."

 

23. Watersmeet (Mich.) Nimrods

In the Bible, Nimrod was a mighty hunter. Nobody knows their Bible anymore. Today, a nimrod is merely a moron.

 

24. Orofino (Idaho) Maniacs

Many think that the team was named for the local mental hospital. Unfortunately, that's not true. It was merely the frenetic style of play the hoops team used to be known for.

 

25. Teutopolis (Ill.) Wooden Shoes

They're particularly loud on the basketball court. But slow.

 

26. Chattanooga (Tenn.) Central Purple Pounders

Sounds like a prison team.

 

27. Mars Area (Pa.) Fighting Planets

Sort of a "War of the Worlds" theme.

 

28. Beaver (Okla.) Dusters

A Beaver Duster sounds like something you'd order online. On a secure site.

 

29. Yuma (Ariz.) Criminals

I hope this isn't truth in advertising.

 

30. Freeburg (Ill.) Midgets

Surprised that the little people lobby hasn’t gotten hold of this one.

 

 

 

 

31. Webster University Gorloks

The students at Webster came up with this one. Sounds like a Lord of the Rings character.

 

32. UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

Big, slimy and disgusting. Kind of like a pregnant Kardashian sister.

 

33. Columbia College Fighting Koalas

Putting "fighting" in front of an adorable, cuddly creature like a koala doesn't make it any scarier.

 

34. Presbyterian Blue Hose

I guess it's better than the Presbyterian Depressed Prostitutes.

 

35. Scottsdale Community College Fighting Artichokes

Ridiculous. Everyone knows artichokes are peaceful vegetables.

 

36. Rhode Island School of Design Nads

Yes, it's a joke, right down to the anatomically correct mascot and the "Go, Nads!" cheer.

 

37. Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs

I'd avoid the hot dogs at the ballpark.

 

38. Savannah Sand Gnats

Annoying sand-based insects are an overlooked genre for mascots.

 

39. Montgomery Biscuits

Hot, buttery and delicious. Paula Deen's favorite team.

 

40. Hillhouse (Conn.) Academics

I guess it's one way to flip the saying, "They're known for academics."

 
Teaser:
40 Weirdest Team Nicknames in Sports
Post date: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/should-i-sign-autograph-flowchart-college-football-players
Body:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
 
Source: Fox Sports
Teaser:
It's not easy being a college football athlete. Just ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel who's garnered a lot of unwanted attention from the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. That's exactly why the fine folks at Fox Sports decided to step in and help out athletes with this handy-dandy flowchart. We think it should be mandatory reading for every high-profile college football player.
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 16:31
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was just warming up last year when he overhauled the scouting department and made a few changes to his roster. The heavy lifting on what is clearly a complete reconstruction project in Oakland began after the Raiders capped a disheartening 4–12 season in Year 1 under McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.

When he was hired by Raiders owner Mark Davis, McKenzie said he inherited some “out of whack” contracts that he’d have to deal with in order to bring fiscal sanity and flexibility to the Raiders. So after last season, he whacked wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, free safety Michael Huff and linebacker Rolando McClain, three players drafted in the top 10 by the late Al Davis.

McKenzie traded quarterback Carson Palmer to Arizona after the veteran declined to take a big pay cut and replaced him with the more affordable Matt Flynn, acquired in a deal with Seattle. He also cut highly paid defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and made no effort to re-sign defensive tackle Richard Seymour or punter Shane Lechler.

By next season, most of the Raiders’ massive amount of “dead money” should disappear, and they’ll have plenty of salary cap room to pursue free agents or lock up their own players. This season, they’ll try to survive with a Moneyball-like roster packed with affordable players, many of them on one-year contracts.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 15th

Related: 2013 Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Offense
The Palmer era in Oakland ended after less than two full seasons, and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s second stint with the Raiders lasted only one year. Knapp’s zone blocking scheme never fit running back Darren McFadden’s downhill running style. Shortly after the season ended, Allen fired Knapp, acknowledging his own mistake of promoting a system that didn’t fit his personnel. New Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano will rely on a power running scheme that’s suited to McFadden and a less complex offense that shouldn’t take the Raiders so long to pick up.

But the question remains: Can McFadden stay healthy? He missed the final nine games in 2011 with a Lisfranc foot injury. Last year he missed four games with a high ankle sprain. He’s missed 23 games over five seasons because of injuries, and now he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Palmer passed for 4,018 yards last season but was traded to the Cardinals in a move to save money and get younger. It’s highly debatable, however, whether the Raiders passing attack will be better with the unproven Flynn. That’s assuming Flynn can win the job, something he couldn’t do last year in Seattle when third-round draft pick Russell Wilson was named the starter after a stellar preseason. The Raiders will likely have a package of plays for quarterback Terrelle Pryor designed to take advantage of his running ability, but he has one career start and has yet to prove he has enough passing accuracy or arm strength to be an NFL starter.

The Raiders haven’t had a clear-cut No. 1 receiver who puts fear into opposing defenses since Tim Brown was in his prime. That will likely be the case again this season with the wildly inconsistent Denarius Moore the top returning receiver. Tight end Brandon Myers, who led the team with 79 catches, signed with the Giants as a free agent, and returning tight ends Richard Gordon and David Ausberry have combined for 12 career catches in two seasons.

Four starters on the offensive line were set to return, but left tackle Jared Veldheer, the anchor of this group, sustained a partially torn triceps on Aug. 3 and opted for surgery. He is expected to be out at least three months, which does leave open the possibility of a late-season return. While the loss of Veldheer obviously hurts, the hope is that the line as a unit will fare better blocking in a power running scheme. The Raiders kept right guard Mike Brisiel, a former Texan who had a disastrous, injury-plagued 2012 season after signing a big free agent contract. They re-signed right tackle Khalif Barnes.

Defense
It wasn’t until late last season that the Raiders started catching on to the aggressive, multiple defense that Allen and rookie defensive coordinator Jason Tarver installed. Only three starters from that defense — strong safety Tyvon Branch, left end Lamarr Houston and weak-side linebacker Miles Burris — are still on the roster, and Burris could lose his job to former Miami Dolphin Kevin Burnett. So Allen and Tarver had better hope the newcomers are quick studies, or they could be in for another rough start.

McKenzie did most of his work in free agency on the defensive side, adding eight potential new starters: linebackers Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava and Burnett, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, defensive tackles Vance Walker and Pat Sims and defensive end Jason Hunter. McKenzie also brought long-time Raider and the team's first-round pick in 1998, free safety Charles Woodson, back into the fold. Of those, only Roach, Maiava and Burnett received multi-year contracts. That trio of linebackers should help make up for the loss of talented strong-side backer Philip Wheeler to Miami as a free agent.

Last year, McKenzie signed cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, a pair of veteran free agents coming off injuries. Both were injured early in the season and barely saw the field. This year he signed Porter and Jenkins, two younger corners trying to get their careers back on track, and used his top draft pick on Houston corner D.J. Hayden, who should start as a rookie. Porter started just four games last year for Denver during a season marred by a concussion and a seizure. Jenkins has 48 career starts but started just twice last year for Dallas. Porter and Young should adapt quickly to the Raiders’ defense.

McKenzie did little to help the Raiders’ low-voltage pass rush, which is still in desperate need of a force off the edge.

Specialists
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski, one of the NFL’s most accurate long-range weapons, returns for his 14th season, but Lechler left as a free agent and signed with Houston after 13 years with the Raiders. Lechler was a seven-time Pro Bowl punter and was named first-team All-Pro six times, but he had an off year in 2012 after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Marquette King, who spent last season on injured reserve as a rookie free agent, is a more affordable option. He has a big leg but lacks consistency and NFL experience.

Explosive return man Jacoby Ford missed the entire 2012 season with a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery. He has a franchise-record four kickoff returns for touchdowns. If he recovers fully, Ford will likely take over the punt return duties, too.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC West
After winning only four games in 2012, the Raiders appear headed for another painful season. They’ve missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and will need a miracle to stop that streak this year. The defense should be a little better. How could it be worse? On offense, the Raiders will need McFadden to stay healthy and Flynn to exceed expectations to have any chance of surpassing last year’s win total.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
Buffalo (8/14)Baltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolina (8/14)St. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Oakland Raiders 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/mountain-west-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes-2013
Body:

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 Mountain West 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.

Mountain West Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes for 2013

Air Force

“May be in store for a down year. But when he’s had those kind of predictions, Troy (Calhoun’s) done pretty well.” …

“The new quarterback, Kale Pearson, is not real good right now.” …

“They are graduating a bunch of guys. May be a year when they take a step back.”…

“Matchup wise, I felt for them last year. Athletically they weren’t close. But they’re still capable of winning six to eight games each year.”…

“Calhoun outcoaches guys. He does a really good job.”…

Boise State

“Best offensive line in the league.”…

“They’ve done a good job in recruiting. They might have the best looking team in the league. It wasn’t always that way there. They can go up against BCS teams now and they don’t look much different.”…

“On the lines, they have guys that can play anywhere.”…

“The quarterback was not a great one. It’s tough to replace Kellen Moore.”…

“They are really good on defense. Losing a lot of good defensive tackles, a safety and a corner that will hurt. But they play well as a unit.”…

Colorado State

“Wasn’t real impressed with their personnel. Dave Baldwin does a good job schematically and he’ll get his guys going. I like Jim McElwain, but offensively, I didn’t think they had anybody that you felt you had to double team.”…

“You could basically run whatever you wanted to run.”…

“Probably not in the top half of the league personnel wise.”…

“Didn’t really seem to be settled on the quarterback position. They played two young guys, so maybe if they choose one and see what he can do, they can have more success.”…

Fresno State

“Derek Carr is driven to be really good. Could be the best quarterback in the league. Doesn’t play particularly well when pressured. Sometimes instead of feeling the pressure and stepping into it and keeping his eyes on the field, he’ll get whacked and kind of start to look at the rush But he can read coverage and put the ball spots.”…

“Davante Adams is a legit 4.5 kid, really smooth in and out of breaks. He’s an NFL guy.”…

“They’ve got four receivers who can play.”…

“They are solid on the D line and in the secondary. Will have linebackers to replace, and losing Phillip Thomas will hurt.”…

Hawaii

“That’s kind of an enigma. I really like Norm Chow. Their kids didn’t always play real hard.”…

“It’s a tough trip coming from Hawaii to the mainland.”…

“Defensively they had injuries. They didn’t look like the Hawaii teams from 2005-06 that had those big Polynesian kids.”…

“From the change in schemes from run-and-shoot to West Coast, it appeared kids hadn’t totally bought in to what they were trying to do.”…

“The QB is average at best. Couple of good skill kids. O-line’s not bad. Just looked disjointed.”…

Nevada

“The skill is still good.”…

“It surprised me Stefphon Johnson decided to leave early. I thought he was one of best running backs in the league but I didn’t think he was an NFL guy.”…

“Offensive line was a pretty physical group. They coach that pistol scheme pretty well.”…

“Will be interesting to see what Brian (Polian’s) going to do there. Chris Ault kind of ran the offense. Say they’ll keep running pistol stuff, but I don’t know how committed to it they really are.”…

“Their defensive line wasn’t upper echelon but overall, they are probably top three or four in the league personnel wise.”…

New Mexico

“Bob Davie did a tremendous job getting them to where they could compete again.”…

“They didn’t have a quarterback that could throw. They were running triple option stuff. It was like playing Air Force twice.”…

“They are as bad as anybody in our league personnel wise on defense.”…

“Tailback Kasey Carrier is a really good player, and the offensive line got better.”…

“Eventually they’ll get a quarterback who can throw and pass and they’ll be dangerous. Bob can coach. They are well-prepared.”…

San Diego State

“Receivers might be one of best groups in the conference. Offensive line one of the best, too.”…

“With Bob Toledo coming in, it will be interesting to see how they change.”…

“Defensively, Rocky Long does his stuff. They are going to blitz and play man coverage. Throw it all day and they won’t change.”…

“They need to replace corner Leon McFadden, who is really good.”…

“They don’t have a bunch of draftable guys but play better as a team.”…

“Adam Dingwell went to Boise and Nevada and won.”…

San Jose State

“They proved they can play. They were in a really good scheme offensively. Their first halves were really fun to watch from how well they schemed up easy touchdowns, and as a result they were a better first half team than second half team.”…

“The quarterback, David Fales, is really good. Big arm. Was accurate. Was just a good overall football player.”…

“Defensively, they did a good job but didn’t play really many good offenses. That always helps to be a good defense.”…

“Mike Macintyre is a big loss. He’s a talented coach. They played hard and physical for him.”…

UNLV

“The tailback, Tim Cornett, is a decent player. I assume they’ll be giving him the ball a lot, because I just don’t know if they have a quarterback. Maybe Nick Sherry, given another year, can get the job done. But he committed far too many turnovers (17 interceptions to 16 touchdowns).”…

“I don’t know if they have the personnel to turn it around there.”…

“It’s an uphill climb, especially in a league that’s getting better and should be solid overall next year.”…


Utah State

“They do a really good job. Matt Wells, the new coach, made a really big difference. Offense went from good to great under him. They’ll be a little bit more open than they’d been in the past.”…

“Their talent wasn’t lacking. Had lots of guys who could be successful in the NFL.”…

“It’s basically a three-man front defensively, not sure what they’ll be now. Pretty creative bunch.”…

“Biggest thing people would be surprised about is they can play with anybody. Should have beaten Wisconsin.”…

“Their corners were really good. Their whole deal on defense is being really physical. There’s an artform to holding. You can be a really good DB if you can learn to do it without getting flagged. They don’t get flagged.”…

“Was hard to find a weakness with this team.”…

Wyoming

“Interesting team. Thought a year ago they might be top three or four in the conference. Won eight games the year before. But the QB, Brett Smith, got hurt and wasn’t quite physically where he needed to be. He couldn’t move real well when pressured -- either got rid of it or took a sack. The year before he was making guys miss.”…

“At skill spots they’re about average, up front average and defensively below average.”…

“If Smith is healthy, they can be upper division team.”…

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12 Things You Should Know From College Football's Offseason

Teaser:
Mountain West Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:09
Path: /nfl/detroit-lions-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

So maybe the Detroit Lions haven’t arrived, after all. A year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, they found themselves back in the NFC North cellar again, wondering what happened to all the momentum they’d built in the three years since that infamous 0–16 season. Injuries and off-field distractions, including several player arrests, helped derail a team that overestimated its talent level and underestimated the effects of complacency. That, coupled with a salary-cap crunch, prompted major changes heading into 2013, with general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz — a year after signing a contract extension — both on the hot seat. The team brought in a new front office voice in former Denver Broncos GM Brian Xanders, revamped the coaching staff with a half-dozen new assistants, and made a big splash early in free agency, adding three new starters, including running back Reggie Bush. “Anytime you only win four games, you better have a sense of urgency that you better get it turned around,” Mayhew says. “You better get it going in the right direction quickly.”

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 15th

Related: 2013 Detroit Lions Schedule Analysis

Offense
Matthew Stafford signed a three-year, $53 million contract extension in July, locking up the 2009 No. 1 overall pick through 2017. With this big payday now secure, the team hopes that a bounce-back year on the field will follow. Stafford followed a record-breaking 2011 with some more eye-popping statistics in 2012. But a new NFL record for pass attempts in a season (727, surpassing Drew Bledsoe’s 1994 total of 691) only highlighted the Lions’ offensive struggles, as injuries — and insubordination, in Titus Young’s case — decimated the receiving corps, and the running game lacked any explosiveness behind an aging offensive line.

Mayhew says counting on Jahvid Best to return from his concussions was “probably my biggest mistake,” a sentiment that was cemented with the oft-injured running back's release in July. Before that, however, the GM moved quickly to address his backfield by making the Bush signing the top priority in March. The dynamic back provides a big-play threat out of the backfield, and someone who’ll have defensive coordinators “sitting there scratching their heads and wondering where he’s going to be, where he’s going to line up,” says Stafford. At the very least, he’ll give offensive coordinator Scott Linehan more flexibility in his play-calling as he tries to free up Calvin Johnson, who still somehow managed to break Jerry Rice’s receiving yardage record last season despite being double- and triple-teamed.

There should be opportunities for Mikel Leshoure, a bigger back two years removed from a torn Achilles, and Joique Bell, a pleasant surprise in his first significant NFL action last year.

Finding another wideout to replace Young, whose erratic behavior finally got him released in February, remained on Mayhew’s to-do list, particularly with Nate Burleson coming off a broken leg and Ryan Broyles rehabbing another torn ACL this offseason. And the Lions need better production and fewer drops from tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

The biggest question mark, though, is on the offensive line. After three years with a static starting five, the Lions must replace both tackles and the right guard. Riley Reiff, last year’s first-round choice who was used mostly in jumbo packages as a rookie, should get the nod at left tackle. Unproven backups Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox get first crack on the right side. Rookie Larry Warford could start immediately at right guard ahead of Rodney Austin and Bill Nagy. Nagy, claimed off injury waivers from Dallas last summer, also could push undersized veteran center Dominic Raiola, one of the few remaining holdovers from the Matt Millen era.

Defense
For the Lions’ defense, it’s time to bring the noise. And that’ll start up front, where rookie end Ziggy Ansah now gives the Lions three top-15 picks on the defensive line from the last four draft classes. Alongside tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, Ansah will be asked to make an immediate impact this fall, and he won’t be asked kindly. Veteran line coach Jim Washburn, one of the NFL’s more vocal and intense characters, was brought in by Schwartz to help get more out of the wide-nine technique both men swear by. Jason Jones arrives from Seattle as a free agent to help replace the departed Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. With Jones, Ansah, fourth-round pick Devin Taylor, fourth-year pro Willie Young and 10-year veteran Israel Idonije, the Lions will have five pass rushers who stand 6'5" or taller.

Inside is where the Lions boast a pair of potential Pro Bowlers. Suh bounced back in a big way last season, and Fairley, after a pair of offseason arrests, showed more of the talent he’d flashed in an injury-plagued rookie season.

The defense as a whole simply didn’t make many big plays. Some of the blame falls on the linebackers, who had one interception all season. Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are back, with Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whitehead likely fighting for the other starting job outside.

But most of the breakdowns came from a secondary that again got stuck in an injury-generated revolving door. Safety Louis Delmas, plagued by knee tendinitis, played in only eight games, but he remains one of the team’s emotional leaders. For the first time in his five-year career, he’ll also have a first-rate partner, as the Lions made Houston’s Glover Quin — a versatile and durable former cornerback the Texans wanted to keep — their other top priority in free agency. Chris Houston returns to man one corner spot, while rookie second-round pick Darius Slay, the fastest cornerback in this year’s draft, should challenge Bill Bentley for the other starting job.

Specialists
There’s a new special teams coordinator (John Bonamego) and a completely new look. For the first time since 1992, the Lions will have a new kicker. Jason Hanson opted for retirement rather than a new contract for the veteran minimum, and the Lions signed a relative youngster in 38-year-old David Akers to replace him. Akers, a six-time Pro Bowler, has something prove after lingering issues from hernia surgery contributed to inconsistent results last season in San Francisco. Hanson’s longtime holder, punter Nick Harris, is gone, too, after the Lions ranked last in the NFL in net punting average in 2012. His replacement looks to be rookie Sam Martin. The return game will be in new hands, too, with several options on the roster — Mike Thomas, Bell and Bush, among others — and a likely free agent fix to come.

Final Analysis: 4th in NFC North
No more excuses. That’s the bottom line in Detroit, where the decision-makers have had plenty of time to retrofit their roster, and the premium talent has had enough time to develop. But after last year’s pratfall, and the veteran departures that followed, the big question might be whether the young stars are ready to lead, and not just perform.

Order your 2013 Detroit Lions Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
Buffalo (8/14)Baltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolina (8/14)St. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Detroit Lions 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: High School, Overtime
Path: /best-fictional-high-school-football-players
Body:

It’s no surprise that high school football has made multiple appearances on both the big and small screens. The sport produces enough drama, humor, heartbreak and glory to fill a thousand multiplexes. Here are some of the fictional high school gridiron stars who made a lasting impression on us.  

Stef Djordjevic, CB, All the Right Moves

Matt Saracen, QB, Friday Night Lights

Ricky Baker, RB, Boyz n the Hood

Vince Howard, QB, Friday Night Lights

Rifleman, QB, All the Right Moves

Charles Jefferson, DL, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Jonathan Moxon, QB, Varsity Blues

Billy Bob, OL, Varsity Blues

Wendell Brown, RB, Varsity Blues

Charlie Tweeder, WR, Varsity Blues

Smash Williams, RB, Friday Night Lights

Hastings Ruckle, WR, Friday Night Lights

Dallas Tinker, OL, Friday Night Lights

Tim Riggins, FB, Friday Night Lights

A.C. Slater, ATH, Saved by the Bell

Vinnie Salvucci, RB, All the Right Moves

Ray “Voodoo” Tatum, QB, Friday Night Lights

David Green, QB, School Ties

Randall “Pink” Floyd, QB, Dazed and Confused

Landry Clarke, K, Friday Night Lights
 

Teaser:
Friday Night Lights, Varsity Blues and All the Right Moves dominate the all-time high school football team.
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 15:01
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2013-percy-harvins-injury-impact-seattle-seahawks-offense
Body:

When you lose a player like Percy Harvin for basically the whole season, it hurts. It doesn't hurt Seattle nearly as much as it did Minnesota last year — the Seahawks, after all, nearly made the NFC title game without him — but that's a big talent sidelined.

Of course, we don't care about that here.  We're only worried about our fantasy teams, and Harvin is a huge loss on that front. Like with the Seahawks, however, the impact might not be as big as you think.

Fantasy football players were drastically over-drafting Harvin early this summer, taking him mid-to-late Round 3 among the top 10 fantasy wide receivers. He's certainly good enough to finish in that range, but Seattle boasted the league's run-heaviest offense in 2012. No team attempted fewer than the Seahawks' 405 passes. No team ran it more than their 536 carries.

Conventional wisdom would say that Seattle expected to throw it more after trading for the league's best slot receiver. Head coach Pete Carroll said otherwise.

"We really expect to have a very balanced attack again," he told the Everett Herald in April. "The numbers will come out pretty equal with run and pass. We don't expect to change that ratio much."

Maybe they'd get closer to 50-50, but Seattle never planned to go pass-heavy. That obviously would have lowered the ceiling on Harvin, who inflated his numbers the past 2 years by being the only dependable receiving option in Minnesota. Our projections over at DraftSharks.com had him falling short of 80 catches before the injury.

Only two of the top 15 fantasy receivers in non-PPR scoring last year caught fewer than 83 balls. Vincent Jackson landed inside the top 10 with 72 receptions by adding 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns. Julio Jones joined him by racking up 1,198 yards and 10 TDs to go with 79 catches. Harvin would have had a lot of trouble generating such big yardage or approaching 10 TDs. Thus, cracking the top 15 would have been tough. It would have been even tougher in PPR.

Beyond the run-heavy scheme, Seattle already had Golden Tate and Sidney Rice catching passes.  Rice led the team with 50 catches last season, and Tate followed with 45. No other Seahawk caught more than 38 balls.

Those small numbers might suggest Harvin could come in and dominate the receiving categories, but the team still planned to spread it around.

"We're not counting on tilting the field toward one guy or the other," Carroll told the Seattle Times early in the offseason.  "I'm not thinking that way. We're just going to go play football."

OK, so we've established that Harvin began the fantasy season overrated. But his absence still significantly impacts the rest of the offense. How much? Let's break down the noteworthy players.

WR Golden Tate

Back in the spring, Tate looked like a talented wideout bound to have trouble finding consistent targets as Seattle's likely No. 3 option. Suddenly, however, he looks like a potential fantasy football breakout player.

In addition to Harvin's surgery, Rice traveled to Switzerland late in July to get a special knee treatment. He has since returned to practice, but that kind of pursuit suggests at least nagging pain that could develop into something more at any time. Rice has missed three games or more in four of his six seasons, so it's easy to anticipate missed time.

Tate saw just 67 targets to Rice's team-leading 82 last year. (Tate missed one game.) But his terrific 67.2 percent catch rate easily topped Rice's 61.0 percent, and Tate also beat his teammate by 0.3 yards per catch.  That helped him tie Rice for the team lead with seven TD receptions.

Russell Wilson will have trouble repeating his 26 touchdowns amid just 393 pass attempts. That 6.6 percent TD rate ranked second only to Aaron Rodgers in 2012. But Wilson proved adept as a deep-ball passer, and Tate led the team with 22 deep targets (20 yards or more downfield), according to Pro Football Focus. Nine of those balls proved catchable, and Tate snagged all nine for 343 yards and three touchdowns.

Now he's heading into a contract year, and Carroll has had nothing but praise for the fourth-year wideout. Tate has climbed way up fantasy football draft boards since Harvin's surgery, but he remains an intriguing value with a 10.03 average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator. That makes him the 42nd wideout off the board, on average, which is still reserve territory. Tate's quite capable of delivering starter numbers.

WR Sidney Rice

If he's healthy, Rice should certainly battle Tate for the team target lead once again. The whole "if healthy" thing pushes him behind his teammate, though.

Last season marked just the second time in his six-year career that Rice made it through a full 16 games. His 15.0 yards per catch sat lower than his rates from any of the three previous seasons.

But that's not enough reason to dislike Rice. He's sure to continue benefitting from Wilson's stellar — and still developing — play at quarterback. Rice will simply be held back by the target ceiling in Seattle. Harvin's absence undoubtedly leaves more passes on the field, but can Rice get to 100 looks even in a fully healthy season in 2013? I doubt it. And that's why he sits near the bottom of WR4 territory in fantasy drafts, now about half a round behind Tate in ADP.

QB Russell Wilson

Harvin's absence probably hurts Wilson more than anyone else, but he'll be OK.

From Week 8 on last year, Wilson ranked third among fantasy quarterbacks. But he did so thanks to an 8.3 percent touchdown rate over that span. That's not nearly sustainable. Since 2000, only four quarterbacks have produced a rate of 7.5 percent or better over a full season: Peyton Manning in 2004, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in 2007, and Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Even Wilson's 6.6 percent rate for the whole season will be tough to duplicate.

He'd have had an easier time generating top-level efficiency with Harvin inside to counterbalance the deep threats of Tate and Rice on the edges. That setup made top 5 upside seem possible — though not probable — for Wilson. Instead he sits near the bottom of QB1 territory with a lower ceiling.

Anyone else?

Tight end Zach Miller could be in line for more work ... if he could get healthy. Miller sits on the physically unable to perform list and has already dealt with knee trouble and plantar fasciitis (foot) this year. It's tough to expect a big jump from him after two disappointing seasons in Seattle.

The team changed its mind on Early Doucet after just one practice. Rookie Chris Harper carries long-term upside but likely won't prove much of a factor in 2013. Doug Baldwin remains on hand but probably won't come close to his rookie-year production again because the team has better options now.

The running backs could find a few more targets, but Marshawn Lynch hasn't caught more than 28 passes in a season since 2008, his second year in Buffalo. He has only reached 200 receiving yards twice in six seasons. I'm not ready to boost my passing-game expectations for him — or call Christine Michael or Robert Turbin a sleeper for your flex position.

Conclusion

Harvin's surgery only makes it easier to expect Seattle to continue its run-heavy ways. An emerging Tate figures to find a few more targets lying around, thanks to the absence of his team's new top receiving talent. Rice should as well but still doesn't look like a safe bet to start for your fantasy squad. Wilson continues to look good, just not as good as he did before.

Most unfortunate, though, you can no longer count on some misguided league mate to over-draft the former Vikings star.

This article was written by Matt Schauf and provided to Athlon Sports courtesy of DraftSharks.com. Online since 1999, Draft Sharks won the 2010 and 2012 FSTA awards for the most accurate fantasy football projections in the industry.

Related: Fantasy Football 2013: Where Should You Draft Montee Ball?

Teaser:
Fantasy Football 2013: Percy Harvin’s Injury Impact on Seattle Seahawks’ Offense
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: videos, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/jason-dufner-celebrates-pga-win-best-way-possible%E2%80%A6
Body:

Jason Dufner was all smiles after winning this year's PGA Championship. And why wouldn't he be? He just took home a boatload of cash ($1.4 million) and he has a super hot wife. In fact, he celebrated his win on the 18th by hugging and smacking her butt.   

Jason Dufner pats his wife's butt after PGA Championship win

Teaser:
Jason Dufner pats his wife's butt after PGA Championship win.
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 11:09
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Jaguars owner Shad Khan began the housecleaning 15 hours after the worst season in franchise history concluded with a thud at Tennessee. And fans still think he waited too long to act.

Starting Dec. 31, Khan changed the course of the team he bought from Wayne Weaver less than a year earlier. General manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey were fired less than two weeks apart, replaced by David Caldwell and Gus Bradley, respectively.

It will be up to Caldwell, the new general manager who was previously Thomas Dimitroff’s chief assistant in Atlanta, and Bradley, who was previously Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator in Seattle, to spark a franchise that has struggled not only to win, but also to be interesting.

Out of the playoffs since 2007 and possessing only three winning seasons since 1999, the Jaguars are Team New this year — the longest shot on the preseason board to win the Super Bowl. New management. New head coach. New coordinators. New uniforms. New players. And a new vibe.

But it might not translate into a winning record right away.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 16th

Related: 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Offense
If he so chooses, quarterback Blaine Gabbert has excuses around every corner for his 5–19 career record. No stability on the coaching staff. Offensive line under-performance. A bad running game. Playing before he was ready. But nobody says the NFL is fair, which means this is Gabbert’s last chance to become the Jaguars’ present and future triggerman.

With an unimpressive free agent and draft class, the Jaguars chose to build around Gabbert entering this year instead of tossing him to the sideline. Some of the moves could resuscitate an offense that scored more than 24 points just once last year.

Reasons for optimism: The return to health of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed the last nine games of 2012 with a broken foot, and the expected next step in production for receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.

The Jaguars have switched to a zone-blocking scheme in the running game, partly to take advantage of Jones-Drew’s decisive cutback style. It’s the same system he ran in at UCLA. If he regains the form that made him the 2011 NFL rushing champion, it should result in a play-action game that will make defenses play honest instead of pressuring the edges and making Gabbert step up into traffic.

Shorts and Blackmon are a formidable duo at receiver — when they’re on the field together, which they won’t be for the first four games. Shorts is the downfield threat and Blackmon the third down possession weapon. But Blackmon is suspended for the first four weeks for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. In his place, newcomer Mohamed Massaquoi likely becomes a starter. A potential X-factor was acquired in the draft — former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who will get work at running back and slot receiver.

A key will be the Jaguars’ offensive line. Last year, the team rolled through five left guards and two right tackles and allowed 50 sacks. Drafted No. 2 overall, Luke Joeckel will move to right tackle, and the Jaguars will get Will Rackley (ankle) back at left guard. If the group can stay healthy, it will give offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch options to keep defenses off balance.

Defense
The primary goal for Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich is to create more pressure on the quarterback and be more stout against the run. The Jaguars’ 20 sacks last year were the NFL’s fewest, and they were 30th in stopping the rush.

Hallmarks of Bradley’s system in Seattle that he hopes to bring to Jacksonville are getting pressure without blitzing, relying on cornerbacks to play press-man coverage, using only one safety in center field and allowing the “Leo” player — a defensive end who lines up on the non-tight end side — to create havoc on the quarterback.

The Jaguars believe they have some of the talent required. Up front, they overhauled the interior, signing Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks to team with Tyson Alualu. At end, Jason Babin and Andre Branch will play the Leo spot in a two-point stance to take advantage of their speed.

Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside backer Russell Allen return and need to be better in coverage. A way to mask that deficiency would be to use Posluszny as a pass-rusher; he showed a knack for creating pressure on delayed blitzes last year. Up for grabs in training camp will be the weak-side linebacker, a three-down player who must be able to play the run and cover. Geno Hayes will enter the summer as the favorite, but there are doubts about his speed.

The secondary has been revamped. Free safety Dwight Lowery is the only returning starter, and rookies Johnathan Cyprien (strong safety) and Dwayne Gratz (cornerback) are expected to be first-teamers. Cyprien, who will often play close to the line to take advantage of his tackling, could be the enforcer the Jaguars have lacked for years. Seahawks veteran Marcus Trufant signed in May and will play one corner. The common trait among the cornerbacks — Trufant, newcomer Alan Ball, Gratz  and projected nickel back Mike Harris — is that they all bring a physical element to coverage.

Specialists
The Jaguars were horrid in the return game last year, and Caldwell has taken steps to improve it. In free agency, he signed Justin Forsett to be a backup running back but also a kickoff returner. And in the draft, the Jaguars used a fourth-round pick on South Carolina’s tiny terror Ace Sanders, who is 5'7" but has the speed and instincts to make things happen on punt returns. He represents an immediate upgrade and potential field-position-flipping player. Robinson will get a shot on kickoff returns even though he didn’t perform that role at Michigan.

Placekicker Josh Scobee and punter Bryan Anger both return. Scobee enters his 10th season with the team and is the franchise’s all-time leader in points and field goals. Anger was the controversial third-round pick in 2012 of former general manager Gene Smith. But he can produce — he has a strong ability for a young punter to get off kicks that have equal parts hang time and placement to negate the league’s top return men.

Final Analysis: 4th in AFC South
Until they get consistent play from the quarterback position, the Jaguars will be running uphill in the competitive AFC South. If Gabbert can take a huge step forward in his development in his third year, it’s conceivable the Jaguars could improve to the six-win level, which would give them momentum entering the offseason. Things could be ugly early, which will test the always-upbeat Bradley. The Jaguars play four of their first six on the road, and one of their first-half “home” games is against San Francisco in London.

Order your 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
Buffalo (8/14)Baltimore (8/26)Houston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
Miami (8/16)Cincinnati (8/27)Indianapolis (8/23)Kansas City (8/21)
New England (8/30)Cleveland (8/19)JacksonvilleOakland (8/13)
NY Jets (8/15)Pittsburgh (8/28)Tennessee (8/22)San Diego (8/20)
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
Dallas (8/22)Chicago (8/20)Atlanta (8/27)Arizona
NY Giants (8/30)Detroit (8/13)Carolina (8/14)St. Louis (8/23)
Philadelphia (8/19)Green Bay (8/29)New Orleans (8/26)San Francisco (9/3)
Washington (8/16)Minnesota (8/21)Tampa Bay (8/15)Seattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Jacksonville Jaguars 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Monday, August 12, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/breaking-bad-loves-athlon-sports
Body:
If you're a fan of the show "Breaking Bad" like we are, you probably enjoy all of the intense twists, turns and amazing moments. If we had to pick our favorite, however, we'd point to Season 4, Episode 3 ("Open House") when a bedridden Hank Schrader was surprised by wife Marie with his favorite fantasy football magazine, namely Athlon Sports. Obviously Hank has great taste. 
 
The AMC show finishes its final eight episodes, beginning this Sunday, Aug. 11. We're really hoping they do a fantasy football draft scene with Hank and Walter. 
Athlon Sports magazine featured on "Breaking Bad"
 
Teaser:
"Breaking Bad" Loves Athlon Sports
Post date: Friday, August 9, 2013 - 17:30

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