Articles By Braden Gall

All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News, Big East
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-sack-masters
Body:

History, and most every rational brain in sports, indicates that the quarterback position is easily the most important and valuable on any football roster. In order to protect the most valued member of the team, the NFL has proven that the left tackle is the second most important position on the field.

Therefore, any player who can neutralize and defeat said bookend tackle immediately becomes the third most important player, correct? Just ask the New England Patriots and Tom Brady about whether or not a truly elite defensive line can stop a historic passing attack? In 2007 or 2011?

The ability to pressure the quarterback and disrupt the offense by only using the defensive line can be the difference between victory and defeat. A dynamic pass rusher must be accounted for on every play, because if he is not, the entire offensive rhythm can be shattered.

So after watching third-down specialist Bruce Irvin get drafted in the first round this spring, Athlon thought it would rank the top sack masters in college football for 2012:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (SO)
There is no player in the nation with more raw upside than Clowney. He posted 8.0 sacks and five forced fumbles as only a true freshman who, frankly, didn't even know where to lineup at times. An advanced understanding of the game is the only thing left for this freak of nature to accomplish in his journey towards the NFL. Should he continue to develop his pass-rush repertoire and fine tune his skills, Clowney will find himself as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. And it might not even be close. He could easily turn into the most dominate defensive player in the game by the end of the year. Or maybe by Week 1 against Vanderbilt.

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (JR)
The 3-4 scheme is designed with players like Jones in mind. Todd Grantham has done a masterful job with the Georgia front seven and the biggest beneficiary has been Jones. A Butkus finalist, the in-state product led the SEC in sacks with 13.5 sacks and also posted 19.5 tackles for a loss. The only thing keeping this speedy edge rusher off the top slot is his lack of overall size. He isn't a traditional pass rusher and his scheme helps him more than most on this list.

3. Sam Montgomery, LSU (JR)
As only a sophomore, Monty landed on the All-American team after leading LSU in sacks. He may not be as quick as the much smaller Jarvis Jones and he may not have the eventual upside of a Jadeveon Clowney, but Montgomery might be the most complete defensive end in the nation. He is being projected as a top ten pick by NFL scouts for next year's draft and has proven to be one of the nation's most disruptive players. His 9.0 sacks were fourth-best in LSU history last fall and his 13.5 tackles for a loss further indicate his talent. And he was only a sophomore.  

4. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (JR)
There isn't a more prepared and fundamentally sound player in the game today. His NFL pedigree and up-brining shines through on every play and helped him lead his team in sacks (8.0) and tackles for a loss (16.5). Of course, his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame doesn't hurt much either. The Longhorns were — and will be again this fall — easily the most dominate defense in the Big 12 thanks in large part to Jeffcoat's ability to get into the backfield.

5. Denicos Allen, Michigan State (JR)
The Big Ten's version of Jones doesn't have the benefit of playing in a 3-4 scheme where he is allowed to blitz on a regular basis. That said, his quickness and explosiveness allowed him to get to the quarterback 11.0 times last fall, good for second in the Big Ten. His 18.5 tackles for a loss also led the team and placed him fourth in the conference. He is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, but he gets every ounce of energy out of his frame. 

6. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (JR)
Mingo is a near carbon copy of his end counterpart Montgomery. He might be a bit quicker and a bit more explosive than Montgomery, so if he can refine his craft to the fullest, he could end up much higher on this list. As only a sophomore, he finished with 8.0 sacks, 11 hurries and 15.0 tackles for a loss on a defense that led LSU to an unbeaten regular season record.

7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn (JR)
As only a sophomore with little help around him, Lemonier finished with 9.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Much like the rest of the SEC names on this list, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound rush end has first-round NFL potential and won't be around much longer should his success continue. His role in Brian VanGorder's system might be slightly different and it is unsure as to how it will effect his statistical production. But make no mistake, he is the best Tiger defender on the roster.

8. Alex Okafor, Texas (SR)
Certainly, both Texas ends benefit from each other, but Okafor is not slouch on his own. Like Jeffcoat, he is a projected first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and his stats nearly mirror his counterparts. The local product finished just behind Jeffcoat in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (12.0) last fall. Again, this is the best unit in the Big 12 and Okafor is a huge reason why.

9. Trevardo Williams, UConn (SR)
Williams is undersized for the true defensive end position, but he certainly makes it work. His 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame isn't ideal but he still managed to lead the Big East in sacks. In fact, his 1.04 sacks per game was good for second nationally and his 12.5 total QB takedowns finished fifth nationally. He also posted 15.0 tackles for a loss and helped the Huskies finish No. 1 against the run in the Big East.

10. Aaron Donald, Pitt (JR)
As only a sophomore, Donald registered 11.0 sacks to finish second in the Big East. His 16.0 tackles for a loss were tied for fourth in the league. He isn't as tall as most traditional ends (6-0), but uses excellent leverage and a powerful, 275-pound frame to get the edge.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (SR)
Posted 9.5 sacks a year ago but change in scheme could limit his totals this fall.

12. Josh Shirley, Washington (SO)
Looking for the next Bruce Irvin? This former linebacker could easily be the guy.

15. John Simon, Ohio State (SR)
Works harder, is stronger and tougher than maybe anyone in the nation. A terror in 2012.

14. Michael Buchanan, Illinois (SR)
Learned from nation's top sack artist last year (Whitney Merclius), had 7.5 of his own too.

15. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State (SR)
Stepped back last fall due to double-teams, so All-American needs to prove it once again.

16. Dion Jordan, Oregon (SR)
Freakish size and ability for the hybrid role. Needs to add consistency to his game.

17. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (SR)
Huge prospect (6-7, 265) could explode with Clowney on opposite side.

18. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (SR)
More consistent and dependable than Jenkins but also not as physically gifted.

19. Stansly Maponga, TCU (JR)
Registered 9.0 sacks and 13.5 TFL, but can he handle step up in competition?

20. James Gayle, Virginia Tech (JR)
Landed 7.0 sacks last fall as only a sophomore and could be on the nation's best defense.

Others to consider:

21. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
22. Travis Johnson, San Jose State
23. Margus Hunt, SMU
24. Wes Horton, USC
25. Art Laurel, Hawaii

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Ranking the Nation's Top Pass Rushers for 2012

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Sack Masters</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Path: /nfl/kansas-city-chiefs-2012-nfl-team-preview
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Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Kansas City Chiefs check in at No. 24.

The chaos calmed finally, and when it did, the Chiefs were eager to return to football — with one of the NFL’s more talent-rich rosters. The 2011 season was stained by injuries to key players, disagreements between former coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli, and ultimately the replacement of Haley with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel late in the season. The Chiefs hope 2012 will be a calmer time, a period that finally sees permanent results from four years of rebuilding.

Quarterback Matt Cassel is seen in Kansas City as one of the few unproven pieces, and the grousing was highlighted when the Broncos signed former Colts star Peyton Manning — and likely shot to the top of preseason AFC West predictions. 

In the meantime, the Chiefs spent their offseason building around Cassel. They fortified a weak offensive line, brought in veteran running back Peyton Hillis, and gave Cassel one more vote of confidence that, if all goes right, he can be the quarterback to lead the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in more than four decades. Even with better days seemingly on the horizon, this could be Cassel’s last chance. 

Offense

After missing on Manning, the team signed veteran Brady Quinn, an assertion that Cassel was still the Chiefs’ man. Cassel is an average NFL quarterback under most circumstances, but the Chiefs seemed to realize that his best chance at being something more — like he was in 2010, when he led the team to a division title and earned a Pro Bowl nod — was by surrounding him with solid pieces. The free agent acquisitions of right tackle Eric Winston, tight end Kevin Boss and running back Hillis give Cassel more talent to work with.

Still, there remains uncertainty even beyond quarterback. Running back Jamaal Charles, one of the NFL’s most electric rushers, and tight end Tony Moeaki suffered torn knee ligaments early last season, and it’s unclear if they’ll return with the same explosion and quickness. Charles is still seen as one of the league’s most talented rushers, but there will be no relief in Kansas City until he breaks his first long run, like those reminiscent of the 2009 and ’10 seasons. Charles estimated in April that he was “80 percent” healthy, admitting that the assessment was partly a motivational ploy. Hillis will be used in power running situations, making occasional appearances at fullback. Dexter McCluster and rookie Cyrus Gray also could get carries.

Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe also could be a mystery entering his sixth season. The Chiefs made him their franchise player, but he refused to sign his tender, skipped offseason practices and didn't report at the start of training camp. The Chiefs are in a pickle: Do they hand Bowe, an occasionally immature but supremely talented wideout, a huge contract and hope he handles it well, or simply hope that he signs his franchise tender, risking the absence of a player who had more than 1,100 receiving yards in each of the last two years?

The Chiefs spent two of their eight draft picks on receivers Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway, possibly as a backup plan if things don’t work out with Bowe. Steve Breaston is a solid second receiver, and second-year wideout Jon Baldwin will need to show growth from a rookie season plagued with injuries and poor decision-making.

Cassel will work behind a line with two new faces: Winston and second-year center Rodney Hudson, who’s expected to take over for Casey Wiegmann.

If Cassel plays close to his 2010 form, the Chiefs should be able to return fire against a division that’s suddenly full of star power. It won’t hurt if Charles and Moeaki are healthy.

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Crennel was giddy after the first round of the draft, when his team gambled and took nose tackle Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall pick. Poe has a high ceiling but a low floor, and some fans booed the pick at a team-hosted draft party, simply because Poe was seen as a college underachiever who excelled at the NFL combine. Crennel is confident that Poe, a 346-pounder with uncanny quickness, will be a perfect fit in the center of his three-man front.

If Crennel’s vision comes true, the Chiefs will have a solid line that opens playmaking opportunities for a terrific group of linebackers. Outside backer Tamba Hali has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushers, and inside backer Derrick Johnson, strong against the run and the pass, made his first Pro Bowl last season. The team has high hopes for second-year pro Justin Houston. The former third-round pick was a liability against the run last year, and he’ll have to improve in that area in order to realize his potential.

The strong play from the linebacking corps helped mask the troubles at safety last season. Eric Berry, one of the game’s top young defensive backs, tore his ACL in Week 1. Berry is terrific against the run but will need to improve in coverage to become an elite safety. Brandon Flowers, a terrific cover corner, is back for his fifth year as a starter. He will joined by Stanford Routt, signed to a three-year contract in the offseason after spending seven years with the Raiders. Third-year free safety Kendrick Lewis rounds out what should be a strong secondary.

That leaves the defensive line, and Poe won’t be the only question. His neighbors, ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, were both high draft picks who have yet to live up expectations. Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, has shown a slow reaction time and an inability to absorb blockers. Dorsey has improved each year, if slightly, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he’s still an uncomfortable fit as a 3-4 end. 

Crennel will continue coordinating the defense.

Specialists

Kicker Ryan Succop will return in his role a season after making 24-of-30 field goals, including three from 50-plus yards. He’s strong, cool and reliable enough to someday join Jan Stenerud and Nick Lowery as the most accomplished kickers in team history. Dustin Colquitt will remain the Chiefs’ punter.

The Chiefs have plenty of options for kick returners, but none has scored a touchdown since McCluster reached the end zone in the 2010 regular-season opener. Javier Arenas is the team’s primary punt returner, and Breaston, Wylie and rookie safety DeQuan Menzie also could get chances in the return game. McCluster remains a big threat, but the team is hesitant to use him on special teams when he is needed to contribute on offense. 

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC West

The Chiefs have a favorable schedule and improved depth at key positions. The barometer for the 2012 season should be a winning record; anything better will be a bonus and anything less will be a disappointment. But with Kansas City’s top playmakers on both sides of the ball coming off season-ending injuries, the dark cloud of doubt hangs over this year’s club.

Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Berry Suspects Bounty
Safety Eric Berry, one of the team’s more talented and intense players, tweeted in March that he suspected the Buffalo Bills might have a bounty on him on the day Berry suffered a season-ending ACL tear on a low block from the Bills’ Stevie Johnson. After the Saints bounty scandal broke, Berry took to Twitter: “Sometimes I sit n wonder if they had a bounty out on me ... oh well ... who cares. Either way u can’t hold me down.” Berry later backed off his assertion, saying it was “pretty much a joke,” before encouraging others to watch video of the play and develop their own opinions.

More Focus
Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs’ multipurpose player, spent his offseason making music and opening a sports bar in his native Florida. But his most important offseason goal was to improve his focus and cut down on fumbles, a continual problem in 2011. He said he re-evaluated how he finished the “last three inches” of each play, protecting the ball on his way to the turf.

The Switch
Rookie offensive lineman Jeff Allen is expected to move to guard after playing tackle throughout his high school and college career. It’s the opposite move made by Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who played guard before arriving in Kansas City. Allen said he would lean on his former teammate at Illinois, Jon Asamoah, for advice through the transition. Asamoah is the Chiefs’ starting right guard.

Coordinator Carousel
Brian Daboll became the Chiefs’ sixth offensive coordinator in as many years when he joined the team during the offseason. Daboll replaces Bill Muir, whose unit ranked 27th in the NFL in total offense with 310.8 yards per game. The constant changes have been most difficult on Cassel, who hasn’t had the same coordinator in two consecutive seasons since becoming a starter in 2008, at the time for the Patriots. The good thing for Cassel, though, is that Daboll was a Patriots assistant in the quarterback’s first two seasons.

Not A Spy
Running back Peyton Hillis, who signed a free agent deal with the Chiefs, has said a report that he considered retirement to pursue a job with the CIA was false — and meant to devalue his market price. Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards in 2010, is eager to bounce back after a tumultuous final season with the Browns. He rushed for only 587 yards in 10 games last season. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Kansas City Chiefs
No. 23: Wed., Aug. 1

Order your 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Kansas City Chiefs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Kansas City Chiefs 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:00
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-dual-threat-quarterbacks
Body:

Dual-Threat feels like a relatively modern term used to define college quarterbacks. Certainly, the proliferation of zone read options and Mike Leach spreads has created greater dychotomy within the offensive playbook than ever before. 

This trend of electric athletes who really aren't quarterbacks in the truest NFL sense of the word excelling in college is nothing new. Charlie Ward and Tommie Frazier made the quarterback position incredibly dynamic 20 years ago. And the triple option, wing-T offense has been churning across the college landscape for nearly a century.

However, when Michael Vick burst onto the scene with a rocket right arm packaged with an initial burst that would make Usain Bolt jealous, the game changed forever. The ability to be an efficient, consistent, down the field passer as well as an explosive running back has stretched the defense both vertically and horizontally. Since Vick, names like Vince Young and Tim Tebow have led teams to championships based on the ability to throw and run with equal effectiveness.

So who are the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation for 2012:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan (SR)
Certainly, Shoelace has some holes in his throwing game — and has missed some key snaps in key games. Yet, there is no better pass-run combination in the game today than Mr. Robinson. And as he proved at Big Ten Media Days, he is a true leader and role model for us all. The numbers very plainly speak for themselves: 4,931 yards passing, 3,229 yards rushing and 75 total touchdowns. He is the only player in history to be a part of the 2,500/1,500-yard club and returned Michigan to a BCS bowl last year. If he can stay healthy in 2012, he should be in New York come December.

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (JR)
From an NFL perspective, there is no better dual-threat talent in the nation than Thomas. At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, few defensive ends are as big as Thomas, much less guys under center. He may be the most powerful QB sneak-er in history (did you see the Georgia Tech game last year?). In his first season as a starter, he set a Virginia Tech single-season total yards record with his 3,482 yards of offense. This at a school with an incredible track record with dual-threats — Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, Bryan Randall, Tyrod Taylor. With question marks at offensive line and running back, Thomas will be called upon to carry even more of the offensive load in 2012.

3.  Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SO)
Urban Meyer isn't mixing words about his sophomore signal caller. He referred to Miller as the best athlete he has ever coached at quarterback, and this, obviously, includes names like Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. The game slowed down for Miller in the second half of 2011 and he nearly pulled-off a huge upset of Michigan in the Big House. As a true freshman, he threw only four interceptions (1,159 yards, 13 TD) and led the Buckeyes in rushing (715 yards, 7 TD). He has an electric first step and down the field potential that will remind people of Robert Griffin III.

4. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State (SR)
Gus Malzahn couldn't not have asked for a better quarterback to be ready and waiting when he arrived in Jonesboro. And Aplin couldn't have asked for a better scheme for his dual skillset. En route to a Sun Belt championship, Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 scores while leading his team in rushing (588 yards, 10 TD). Now, the power speed spread will only futher enhance Aplin's ability to punish defenses both on the ground and through the air.

5. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Klein clearly lacks the true pocket passing ability to be any higher on this list. That said, he might be the best running back on this list. His gritty, toughness and hard-nosed style is a pleasure to watch each Saturday. And it led to an NCAA record-tying 27 rushing touchdowns (by a quarterback) and Cotton Bowl berth last season. He completed only 57.3% of his passes for 1,918 yards, 13 TD and six INTs. Should he improve his ability to stretch the field with his arm, he could end up as the nation's top dual-threat QB. 

6. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
In his first season under center, Franklin didn't disappoint. From a yardage standpoint, few players posted bigger numbers than his 2,865 yards passing and 981 yards rushing. He scored 15 times on the ground and 21 times through the air. The key, as Mizzou transitions into the SEC, will be his health. His throwing shoulder was badly injured in the spring, and while he is healthy now, will be facing some of the top defensive fronts in the nation this fall.

7. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (JR)
Martinez needed to show mental toughness and maturity last season and it appears that he has finally mastered the huddle. The final step in his development will be the ability to complete passes accurately and consistently down the field in key situations. Otherwise, the raw talent is obvious. His first 10 yards go by as quickly as any runner in the nation as his 874 yards and 9 TD indicate. He managed 2,089 yards through the air, and with what could be the best receiving corps in the Big Ten, Martinez needs to show improvement in efficiency — i.e., a 13:8 TD:INT ratio and 56.3% passing clip. The upside is painfully obvious for Huskers fans.

8. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio (JR)
Fantasy players know all about the Bobcats quarterback, but the rest of the nation is only just now catching on. As only a sophomore, Tettleton threw 3,306 yards and 28 scores against only 10 interceptions while adding 10 more scores on the ground and 666 yards rushing. On a team that could be the MAC frontrunner in 2012, Tettleton is the star.

9. Kain Colter, Northwestern (JR)
Few players have ever had the statistical season that Colter produced last fall. No one number stands out, but his diversity and versatitlity were extremely rare. He led the Wildcats in rushing with 654 yards and nine touchdowns, finished with 43 receptions for 466 yards and three more scores as a receiver and completed over 67% of his passes for 673 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. In an offense known for overachieving signal callers, Colter has a chance to be the most talented and productive of the bunch.

10. Brett Smith, Wyoming (SO)
Dave Christensen has been known for his work with quarterbacks both at Missouri and Wyoming. And Smith could be his best pupil yet. As only a freshman, Smith lit-up boxscores to the tune of 2,622 yards passing and 710 yards rushing. He added 30 total touchdowns (20 pass, 10 rush) as he led the Cowboys to an eight-win season and bowl bid. He works hard and should only be that much better in his second season.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Cody Fajardo, Nevada (SO)
The WAC Freshman of the Year posted 694 yards rushing and 1,707 passing and 17 total TDs.

12. Bryan Bennett/Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO/FR)
Mariota has drawn Dennis Dixon comparisons and Bennett averaged over 10 yards per carry with six passing TDs and no INTs in spot duty last year. Both have electric dual-threat skills in a system perfectly suited for both.

13. B.J. Daniels, USF (SR)
Four years of starting should produce best season yet. 2011 featured 2,604/601 yardage splits.

14. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Rich Rodriguez' zone-read scheme is a perfect fit for 6-3, 200-pounder.

15. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Posted 1,448/525 yardage split to go with 22 TDs — and that was with Stephen Garcia hanging around.

16. Blaine Gautier, UL Lafayette (SR)
Awesome 2,958-23-6 passing line to go with 486 yards and three more scores on the ground.

17. Alex Gillett, Eastern Michigan (SR)
Led the improved Eagles in rushing (736) while adding 1,504 yards and 14 TDs through the air.

18. Riley Nelson, BYU (SR)
Threw 19 TDs and got 88 rushing attempts in first year as the starter. Forced Jake Heaps to Kansas. 

19. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (JR)
Takes over for Chandler Harnish in elite dual-threat scheme. Rushed for 246-3 in back-up duty last fall.

20. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota (SR)
Elite athlete (966 yards rushing last year) who is finally starting to develop as a passer.

Others to consider:

21. Nathan Scheehaase, Illinois (JR)
22. C.J. Brown, Maryland (JR)
23. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
24. Tre Roberson, Indiana (SO)
25. Kolton Browning, UL Monroe (JR)

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners
The Nation's Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Dual-Threat Quarterbacks</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 04:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/2012-college-football-awards-best-lockdown-cornerbacks
Body:

Darrelle Revis was a superstar do-everything athlete at Pitt. He was an electric punt returner and team leader. But what got him paid in the NFL is his ability to smother the opposition's best receiving weapon.

A truly great lockdown corner can completely change the complexion of a defensive scheme. Safeties only need to worry about half of the field. Linebackers play with more freedom. And quarterbacks have less fewer options. The bottom line, a pure coverman not only negates one of the top offensive playmakers for the other team, but he opens up the rest of his defense to make things happen. 

Here are college football's best pure lockdown cover corners in 2012:

1. David Amerson, NC State (JR)
Few corners have the 6-foot-3, 194-pound frame that Amerson brings to the outside. His range and size allowed him to shatter an NC State single-season record for interceptions last fall. In fact, his 13 picks also set an ACC single-season record. He claimed the Jack Tatum Award and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as well as landing on multiple first-team All-Amercan squads. He is projected by many as the top defensive back for the 2013 NFL Draft. The Greensboro, N.C. product has never missed a game in his 26-game career and is the nation's best — and fans can bet quarterbacks will stay away Amerson Island in 2012.

2. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (SR)
From Maben, Miss., Banks enters his final season as a preseason first-team All-American. He is one of the best tacklers at his position in the nation, as his 71 stops a year ago indicate. Banks also plays in the opposition's backfield with 8.0 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks a year ago. Like Amerson, his size, and physical style of play, is what makes him special at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. And like Amerson, has been tabbed by prognosticators as a first-round NFL talent. He led the Dawgs with five interceptions a year ago, bringing his career total to 12, and also returned 16 punts (166 yards). His three INT TD returns are tied for the NCAA's active career lead — two shy of the NCAA mark.

3. Nickell Robey, USC (JR)
In only two seasons at USC, Robey has quickly established himself as one of the nation's best. He has six career picks and has returned at least one for a touchdown in each of his two seasons. The track star from Frostproof, Fla., also returns punts and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors a year ago. He enters his third year with 111 career tackles and hasn't missed a start (24 games). He is a preseason second-team All-American this fall.

4. Quandre Diggs, Texas (SO)
As only a true freshman, the younger brother of former Longhorn star corner and NFL defensive back Quentin Jammer earned 11 starts in 2011. He posted 51 total tackles, four interceptions and averaged 19.5 yards per kick return en route to freshman All-American honors. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Diggs had size, the pedigree and the production needed to be a star for the next two seasons before moving onto Sundays. Diggs turned heads the second he stepped onto campus and could be a national star before 2012 is over.

5. Carrington Byndom, Texas (JR)
While Diggs may have more upside and raw talent, a case could be made that the 6-foot-0, 180-pound Byndom is the top shutdown corner in the Big 12. The Lufkin, Texas prospect earned first-team All-Big 12 honors after 58 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two picks. It will be interesting to see how Manny Diaz deploys his two elite covermen in 2012. 

6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State (SR)
The veteran of this list, the fifth-year senior enters his third season as the top coverman for Michigan State. The Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart named him the top defensive back in the Big Ten and the league's "Best Cover Corner" for 2012. From Akron, Ohio, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has a knack for making big plays (3.0 sacks, three INTs for 141 yards) and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall.

7. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State (SR)
The big-play corner from Astoria, Ore., has proven to be one of the nation's best without much acclaim. He has scored three times in his career, twice on interception returns and once on a punt return. At 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, Poyer has is beginning to get plenty of NFL draft buzz. His 16 total passes defensed (4 INT, 12 PBU) placed him eighth nationally. His special teams skills are amongst the nation's best as well — he ranked second on the team in all-purpose yards in 2010 and 2011.

8. Bradley Roby, Ohio State (SO)
Like Diggs, Roby has elite level upside. From Suwanee, Ga., the 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner played in all 13 games as a freshman, registering 47 total tackles and three interceptions last year. The Buckeye coaching staff is touting Roby as the most talented player in the defensive backfield and his emergence as a lockdown corner has allowed names like C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant to make big plays. 

9. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (JR)
The most noticeable attribute NFL scouts first mention with the Miami, Fla., prospect is his superior size. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, few players possess the speed, agility and quickness needed to play true cornerback. At first, Rhodes was overshadowed by the more hyped Greg Reid, but opposing quarterbacks learned quickly that throwing at No. 27 was much more difficult.

10. Dee Milliner, Alabama (JR)
NFL scouts drool when they watch Milliner on film. His 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame is a rarity at his position and with another great year could easily himself in the first round of the draft next spring. He made six starts last year on what many believe is the greatest modern defense ever assembled. He led the national champions in interceptions with three, including one in which he returned one for a touchdown.

The Best of the Rest:

11. Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State (SR)
Preseason third-team All-American, Brown lacks the NFL upside to land in the top 10.

12. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (JR)
Makes his biggest impact on special teams. His size hinders his ability to lockdown bigger wideouts.

13. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (JR)
Could be the best player on the ACC's best defense after All-ACC sophomore season.

14. Logan Ryan, Rutgers (JR)
Big East's top coverman posted 67 tackles and three interceptions on the league's best defense last fall.

15. Ricardo Allen, Purdue (JR)
Has started all 25 games in his career and led the team with three interceptions last year.

16. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (SR)
A junior college transfer, Malone made a instant impact in his first year with seven interceptions in 2011.

17. Micah Hyde, Iowa (SR)
Versatile prospect has played multiple positions and earned All-Big Ten honors last year.

18. Greg Reid, Florida State (SR)
Undersized return man is very similar in skillset to that of Mathieu. Including, minor off the field issues.

19. Desmond Trufant, Washington (SR)
Younger brother of Marcus, Desmond has started the every game (26) over last two seasons.

20. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma (SR)
Rebuilt Sooners coaching staff will allow veteran DB to achieve up to his potential in 2012.

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

2012 College Football Awards:

Top 25 Heisman Candidates

The Nation's Top Pure Lockdown Cover Corners

Teaser:
<p> 2012 College Football Awards: Best Lockdown Cornerbacks</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers check in at No. 25.

The mutiny that nearly occurred last season when the Buccaneers lost their final 10 games resulted in a 26-day head coaching search and the hiring of Rutgers boss Greg Schiano, who definitely runs a tight ship.

In the first voluntary veteran minicamp, Schiano barked orders at his new players during the first series of drills. “Football is a game of details,” Schiano shouted. “Toes on the edge!”

How well the Bucs toe the line under Schiano will determine whether he can avoid becoming just another college head coach who struggles making the transition to the NFL. To that end, he hired Butch Davis as special assistant to the head coach. Davis, the former North Carolina and University of Miami head coach, knows the trap doors to avoid, having coached the Cleveland Browns from 2001-04.

“I think a lot is made about college coaches that haven’t done well,” Schiano says. “But if you look at it, there are a lot of coaches who haven’t done well. It’s a pretty high turnover rate in this business. Throw the pro coaches in there as well.”

The changes didn’t stop with the coaching staff. The Bucs committed $140.5 million in free agent contracts, adding players such as Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Saints guard Carl Nicks. The draft netted three more projected starters. Now Schiano needs to get them all rowing in the same direction.

Offense

Quarterback Josh Freeman has re-dedicated himself this offseason, losing 15-20 pounds. Along with the shrinking waistline, Freeman hopes to reduce the number of interceptions he threw last season — 22, with only 16 touchdowns.

Freeman will have new weapons and a new voice in his helmet. Former New York Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan, who did a pretty good job with Eli Manning, takes over as the Bucs’ offensive coordinator. Both Sullivan and Schiano are proponents of a ground-and-pound offensive attack that sets up big plays on play-action.

The Bucs added some weapons that should make Freeman’s job a little easier. Jackson, who signed a five-year, $55.555-million deal (the fives are a nod to Freeman’s jersey number), will help stretch the field and give the Bucs a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Mike Williams, who was among the league leaders with seven dropped passes a year ago and saw his TDs fall from 11 to three, should thrive with the defense rolling coverage toward Jackson. The Bucs parted ways with tight end Kellen Winslow for a seventh-round pick in 2013. Dallas Cark, who missed 15 games in his final two years with the Colts, is the new starter.

Schiano prefers a ‘bell cow’ running back who can play all three downs. That’s why the Bucs traded back up in the first round to take Boise State running back Doug Martin 31st overall. The 5'9", 223-pounder is a good route-runner, can pass-protect and should emerge as a starter. LeGarrette Blount, who has been mostly a one-dimensional, inside runner, will still have a big role with the offense. But he has to eliminate turnovers, having fumbled nine times in two seasons, losing six.

Nicks is a road-grader who will team inside with another Pro Bowl guard, Davin Joseph. Jeremy Zuttah moves from center to guard.

Freeman improved in some areas last season, posting career highs in completions (346), completion percentage (62.8) and passing yards (3,592). But he admits he made bad decisions with the football. “Really, it was just pressing too hard,” Freeman says. “Sometimes you just try to force things.” Remember, Freeman is only a year removed from leading a much less talented offense to a 10–6 record with 25 TDs and only six INTs.

Related: Top Tampa Bay Buccaneers Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Under fired coach Raheem Morris, who doubled as defensive coordinator, the Bucs allowed a franchise-worst 494 points, ranked last in rush defense and allowed 30 touchdown passes. The collapse after a 4–2 start can partially be explained by injuries. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 overall pick in 2010, has played a total of 19 games in two seasons while producing four sacks. He tore his right biceps last season (after tearing the left biceps a year earlier) after six games and finished the season on injured reserve.

Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn led the Bucs with 7.5 sacks, but his draft classmate, end Da’Quan Bowers, tore his Achilles tendon in May. He could be lost for the season.

Among the Bucs’ worst decisions was to go with rookie Mason Foster at middle linebacker, coming off the NFL lockout without the benefit of an offseason. Tampa Bay wasn’t much better in the secondary.

Obviously, an overhaul was in order. Schiano hired Dolphins linebackers coach Bill Sheridan as defensive coordinator. Sheridan’s first shot at that job, as the Giants defensive coordinator in 2009, was a mess. The Giants gave up the second-most points in club history.

The Bucs have added talent. They traded down two spots to take Alabama safety Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in the draft. In the second round, they netted Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David, who should start at weak-side linebacker.

The Bucs signed Lions free agent cornerback Eric Wright and coaxed 37-year-old Ronde Barber to return for a 16th season. Barber may be ticketed for a position change at free safety.

Specialists

The Bucs can play the field position game with the best. Michael Koenen averaged 45.1 yards per punt and pinned 24 inside the 20-yard line (35.8 percent). He also is among the league’s best on kickoffs.

Placekicker Connor Barth set club records by connecting on 26-of-28 field goal attempts (92.9 percent), with half coming from 40-49 yards. No wonder the Bucs made Barth their franchise player, although he is hoping for a long-term contract and has not signed the tender.

The Bucs’ return game could be much better. Sammie Stroughter averaged 27 yards on kickoff returns while Preston Parker averaged 9.1 yards per punt return. The Bucs failed to produce a special teams touchdown.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC South

The Bucs were the youngest team in the NFL the past two seasons and needed discipline and direction. They will get that from Schiano and his staff. More important, the Glazer family decided to re-invest in their product, as witnessed by the large free agent spending spree. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay plays NFC East teams in three of their first four games, so a fast start will be needed. But if Freeman can return to his 2010 form, and the defense rises to the middle of the pack, a .500 or better record is not out of the question.

Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Grand Signing
Eric LeGrand watched the NFL Draft from his motorized wheelchair at his home in New Jersey. The former Rutgers defensive tackle, paralyzed trying to make a stop on special teams against Army in 2010, was excited to see his Scarlet Knights teammate, receiver Mohamed Sanu, selected in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals. “This was his class; he would’ve been in this draft,” said his mother, Karen LeGrand. “He watched the draft. He didn’t let it get to him. But he said to me at one time, ‘That could’ve been me.’” More than 1,100 miles away to the south, Bucs coach Greg Schiano was thinking the same thing. That’s why the former Rutgers coach telephoned LeGrand and offered him a contract with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. “This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance,’’ Schiano said in a release by the team. LeGrand announced his retirement on July 26 at the start of Tamapa Bay's training camp.

If You Can’t Beat ’em…
The Bucs spend thousands on their scouting department, scouring the nation in a search for talent. But this year, they found two of their draft picks in the same apartment. West Virginia linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy, who are roommates in Morgantown, were the fifth- and sixth-round picks of the Bucs, respectively. Schiano never beat the Mountaineers in 11 seasons at Rutgers. “Obviously, I know a lot about both the West Virginia kids playing against them for four years,” Schiano says. “They were both a royal pain in the rear.”

Slippery Fingers
Running back LeGarrette Blount will have a hard time holding onto his starting job, especially if he doesn’t get a handle on the football. Blount has fumbled nine times, losing six in his two pro seasons, something Schiano won’t tolerate. “No one who touches the football will get touches if they don’t protect the football,” Schiano says. “That is one of our core covenants — the ball. It’s so important, they named the game after it.” 

Cheap Shots
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman says he wasn’t surprised to learn about the NFL’s investigation into the Saints’ bounty system administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in which players were paid for hits that forced opponents off the field or out of the game, along with fumble recoveries and interceptions. “We just knew every time we played the Saints, they were going to take some cheap shots,” Freeman says. “I mean, it was always something we acknowledged. We knew Gregg Williams’ defenses were physical and they were going to get after you. Knowing what we know now, it’s not surprising that was the system that was set up for them.”

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Tues., July 31

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Tampa Bay Bucs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC South, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Tampa Bay Bucs official twitter account:

@TBBuccaneers (Followers: 71,675)

Top Bucs To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 30, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Arrelious Benn WR @ArreliousBenn 34,460
2. Gerald McCoy DT @Geraldini93 29,751
3. Ahmad Black S @AhmadBlack35 28,388
4. Vincent Jackson WR @VincentTJackson 25,048
5. Adrian Clayborn DE @AJaClay 23,632
6. Lavonte David LB @Braska_4 13,846
7. Amobi Okoye DT @AO_Fasho 7,564
8. Davin Joseph OL @DavinJoseph75 6,690
9. Doug Martin RB @DougMartin22 6,614
10. Preston Parker WR @PrestonParker87 6,577
11. Keith Tandy DB @kytandy 3,540
12. Jeremy Trueblood OL @JeremyTRUEblood 2,891
13. Najee Goode LB @All_Goode 2,735
14. Dan Orlovsky QB @DanOrlovsky7 929
15. Drake Dunsmore TE @D_Duns9 576

Keep up with the New Sombrero, Raymond James Stadium, @RJStadium (1,904)

The Buccaneers Beat:

Rick Stroud, Writer for Tampa Bay Times: @NFLSTROUD (8,037)

Stephen Holder, Writer for Tampa Bay Times: @HolderStephen (5,122)

Ira Kaufman, Tampa Tribune, also covers Bucs: @IKaufmanTrib (4,752)

Jenna Laine, Sports Xchange/Reuters: @JennaLaineBucs (3,043)

Roy Cummings, Tampa Tribune: @RCummingsTrib (2,306)

Buccaneers Blog Roll:

The Tampa Bay Times has its own beat blog here, the Lakeland Ledger's beat here and SB Nation's blog at BucsNation.com.

ThePewterReport.com has a large following @PewterReport (7,404).

Follow the cleverly named What the Buc? blog, home of passionate, honest and direct fan-based Tampa Bay Buccaneers coverage.

There are plenty of of Bucs blogs to track: BuccaneersGab.comThePewterPlank.com as well as the @BucsBuzztap account as well.

The ESPN NFC South blog is run by Pat Yasinskas and you can follow him @ESPN_NFCSouth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
No. 24: Tues., July 31

Order your 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Tampa Bay Bucs Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Tampa Bay Bucs Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Tampa Bay Buccaneers Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, NFC, NFC West, NFL
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Arizona Cardinals check in at No. 26.

There’s only one storyline for the Arizona Cardinals this season: Can Kevin Kolb play? The Cardinals have the pieces in place — an emerging defense, a dynamic receiving combo, two quality backs — to challenge the San Francisco 49ers for supremacy in the NFC West. But none of that will matter if Kolb isn’t the quarterback the Cardinals thought he was when they acquired him from the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2011 season. It’s not that the Cardinals have lost faith in Kolb; they just haven’t seen enough to know whether he’s the long-term answer at quarterback or the embodiment of a disastrous trade.

If Kolb can play like he did when he outperformed Michael Vick to be the Eagles’ opening day starter in 2010, the Cardinals have the talent around him to be a playoff team. If he’s the skittish, injury-prone quarterback he was last season, the franchise will be set back five years.

Offense

With the exception of the unproven Kolb, the Cardinals certainly have the skill players to be a force in the NFC. The first-round selection of Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd gives Arizona a much-needed No. 2 receiver and, more important, should provide Larry Fitzgerald more room to operate in the middle of the field. The Cardinals didn’t have anyone who could stretch a defense, so opponents would simply shift a safety to Fitzgerald’s side and double-team him every play. Floyd’s presence should counter that gambit.

The one-two punch also exists in the backfield. Beanie Wells is a powerful runner who played through pain to rush for 1,047 yards last season. He can make tacklers miss and is a powerful goal line threat. He might not get as many carries this year, however, because of the presence of second-year pro Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Cardinals were raving about Williams’ home run ability during training camp. He and Wells give Arizona the best running back combination in the NFC West.

The questions, of course, are whether Kolb can get the ball to Fitzgerald and Floyd, and whether the much-maligned offensive line can keep the quarterback upright and open enough holes for Wells and Williams.

Kolb has the talent. But he needs to stay in the pocket longer rather than run at the first sign of trouble. He also needs to be more accurate with his throws. In his first season as a starter, Kolb completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,955 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games.

Of course, Kolb’s skittishness is also due to the fact the line provided him little protection. Arizona should be solid up the middle, but Levi Brown has to provide better protection at left tackle, and the Cardinals have to hope fourth-round draft pick Bobby Massie can play immediately at right tackle. Otherwise, Kolb will be running for his life again, and the talents of Fitzgerald, Floyd, Wells and Williams will go to waste.

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Few people outside of Arizona may have noticed, but the Cardinals were one of the better defenses in the league the second half of the 2011 season. They didn’t allow more than 23 points in any of the final eight games after giving up 20 points or more in six of the first eight games.

The transformation, which occurred when the players became more comfortable playing the blitzing, pressure schemes of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, is why Arizona went 7–2 over its final nine contests.

Arizona has deluxe playmakers at all three levels: Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell up front, soon-to-be-All-Pro Daryl Washington at inside linebacker, and safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback Patrick Peterson in the secondary.

There are a couple of concerns on the defensive side of the ball. Nose tackle Dan Williams has yet to play up to his status as the club’s first-round pick in 2010. He has the talent to be an elite run-stuffer, but he needs to lose weight and take the game more seriously.

Also, the Cardinals didn’t have a single player with double-digit sacks in 2011, so it’s imperative young outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield provide some pressure. Acho could have a breakout year. He had seven sacks as a rookie, and the coaching staff raves about his intelligence and approach to the game.

The Cardinals also need to force more turnovers, which should happen naturally as the defense matures. Arizona had just 10 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles.

Specialists

The Cardinals have arguably the best return game in the NFL. The new kickoff rules somewhat negated the impact of LaRod Stephens-Howling, but he’s still a threat to go long every time he touches the ball.

There’s no arguing the point that Peterson is the best punt returner in the world. All he did as a rookie was return four punts for touchdowns, tying an NFL record. Peterson has no fear — one of his returns was a 99-yarder in overtime to beat the St. Louis Rams — and if he makes the first tackler miss, watch out. It will be a shock if teams punt the ball to him this year.

Arizona’s kicking game isn’t quite as dramatic, but it’s solid. Dave Zastudil averaged 45.2 yard per kick and dropped 24 punts inside the 20. Veteran placekicker Jay Feely made 19-of-24 attempts, but he missed two of six from 30-39 yards. That shouldn’t happen.

Final Analysis: 3rd in the NFC West

It’s almost impossible to predict how the Cardinals will fare, because the uncertainty at quarterback is so great. But in some ways, this is a make-or-break year for Arizona. If Kolb performs well, Arizona should make the playoffs and challenge the 49ers for first place in the NFC West. If he doesn’t, Arizona likely will release him after the season and start anew its search for a franchise quarterback.

There’s also some question whether the regime of coach Ken Whisenhunt will survive if the Cardinals stumble to a third straight non-winning season. Whisenhunt is a quality coach and has brought some much-needed stability — and success — to the organization, but it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and team president Michael Bidwill isn’t the most patient of men.

Here’s the best-case scenario for this season: Kolb settles down, Arizona’s offensive line is just good enough to give him time to get the ball to Fitzgerald and Floyd, and the Cardinals make the playoffs as a wild card.

Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Tweet This
The Cards never know what defensive tackle Darnell Dockett will say on his Twitter account, which is why it’s so fun to follow. In 140 characters, he’ll ruminate about the Cardinals, the NFL, social issues, his body, fashion, etc. His Twitter isn’t for the politically correct crowd, but for a few laughs — and groans — @ddockett is the place to be.

Growing Up
First-round draft pick Michael Floyd was suspended from the Notre Dame football team after a drunk driving incident. But by all accounts Floyd learned from his mistake and matured both as a person and a leader. Rather than enter the supplemental draft, he stayed in school for his senior year and earned his degree in sociology.

Role Model
Floyd couldn’t have found a better home than the Cardinals. Arizona desperately needed a No. 2 receiver, and he already had formed a tight bond with wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Both players are from Minnesota, and the two have worked out together. Fitzgerald will take Floyd under his wing and give him a place to live: Fitz has let several teammates stay with him in the past.

What Did They Talk About?
In April, former Soviet Union head of state Mikhail Gorbachev was in the Valley to speak at a fundraiser for the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Gorbachev needed to get to New York after the speech, and lo and behold, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, who’s a licensed pilot, was heading there in his private plane. So, he gave Gorbachev and his party a lift.

Favorable Slate
The Cardinals should send a bouquet of roses to the NFL schedule-maker. Arizona plays three of its first four games at home; it has consecutive road games just once; and it caught favorable dates for two possible cold-weather games: It’s at New England on Sept. 16 and at Green Bay on Nov. 4. The only downside to the schedule: Only three of the final eight games are at home.

Levi’s Coming
Fans were surprised when the Cardinals re-signed left tackle Levi Brown in the offseason. Brown hasn’t lived up to expectations since being selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, and the prevailing wisdom was both sides needed to part ways. But Arizona didn’t think there was a better option in free agency, and Brown said there was “unfinished business” in Arizona.

A “Big” Steal?
The Cardinals may have lucked out when Ole Miss tackle Bobby Massie fell to them in the fourth round. Massie was projected to be a second-round pick. The 6'6", 316-pound Massie will get every opportunity to be the starting right tackle, and he’ll have plenty of motivation. He was mystified by his drop in the draft and said, “It just makes me hungry.”

The Nickname
Running back/kickoff returner LaRod Stephens-Howling has one of the coolest monikers in the NFL. He’s known as The Hyphen. Simple, but sweet.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Mon., July 30

Order your 2012 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Cardinals 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 08:05
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Cardinals, NFC, NFC West, NFL
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Arizona Cardinals official twitter account:

@AZCardinals (Followers: 19,285)

Top Cardinals To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 27, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
  Larry Fitzgerald WR @LarryFitzgerald 1,322,050
  Alfonso Smith RB @FonzoAZ46 162,491
  O'Brien Schofield DE @Ob_Scho 153,734
  Darnell Dockett DT @DDockett 111,283
  Jay Feely K @JayFeely 61,365
  Patrick Peterson DB @The_Real_P2 50,641
  Beanie Wells RB @BeanieWells26 46,493
  William Gay CB @WilliamGay23 38,959
  Kevin Kolb QB @KevinKolb_4 20,435
  Stewart Bradley LB @StewBradley 20,008
  Adrian Wilson S @Adrian_Wilson24 19,088
  Calais Campbell DE @Campbell93 17,332
  Adam Snyder OL @ASnyds68 12,811
  Ryan Williams RB @LilSweetness34 12,675
  Sam Acho LB @TheSamAcho 10,996
  Todd Heap TE @ToddHeap86 10,187
  Quentin Groves LB @QuentinGroves 9,915
  James Sanders S @JamesSanders36 8,815
  Daryn Colledge OL @DarynColledge71 8,771
  Crezdon Butler CB @ButlerBoy28 6,932
  Stephen Williams WR @SteveWill_14 5,465
  Rashad Johnson S @49foyamind49 5,286
  Dan Williams DT @MrDanWilliams 4,941
  Andre Roberts WR @ARob12_Cards 4,444
  Michael Adams CB @MeezyBaby27 3,431
  A.J. Jefferson CB @AJJefferson 2,450

In case you wanted to follow arguably the greatest Cards QB in history, Kurt Warner, check him out @Kurt13Warner. His 265,845 followers tops the current roster.

Additionally, if you Cardinals fans want to keep up with the University of Phoenix Stadium, check out @UOPStadium.

The Cardinals Beat:

Darren Urban has covered the Arizona Cardinals for 13 seasons: @Cardschatter (23,562)

Kent Somers, Beat writer for The Arizona Republic: @kentsomers (12,567)

Arizona Sports 620, flagship radio station of the Arizona Cardinals: @AZSports620 (9,387)

Dave Pasch, ESPN & Arizona Cardinals broadcaster: @DavePasch (2,783)

Jody Jackson, Sports reporter and anchor for Fox Sports Arizona: @Jody_Jackson (3,002)

Craig Morgan, Fox Sports Arizona: @cmorgancbsfoxaz (1,263)

Cardinals Blog Roll:

Check the SB Nation's Cardinals site RevengeOfTheBirds.com.

A couple of other must-bookmarks are RaisingZona.com, CardinalsGab.com and @AZCardsBuzzTap.

The ESPN NFC West blog is run by Mike Sando and you can follow him @ESPN_NFCWest

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Arizona Cardinals
No. 25: Mon., July 30

Order your 2012 Arizona Cardinals Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Arizona Cardinals Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Arizona Cardinals Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/college-football-national-champions-do-preseason-rankings-matter
Body:

Who is the sleeper team to watch in 2012? Who is a national title darkhorse? Who can come out of nowhere and shock the college football world?

Every year, college football analysts and experts at Athlon Sports rank all 124 teams and project how we feel the final standings will look. This year, the USC Trojans are our pick to beat the LSU Tigers for the 2012 BCS National Championship.

We also compile our list of potential national championship sleepers each year. Teams who are built to potentially run the table and surprise the preseason pollsters.

But when trying to pick your national title winner — or pinpoint those capable of making a historic run — there are a few figures to consider. Preseason rankings may seem arbitrary to some of you, but every BCS National Champion has been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. And it has been nearly three decades since an unranked team won the AP national title.

Be Ranked In the Preseason Top 20
Only one team ranked outside of the AP Top 20 has ever won a BCS National Championship. The Auburn Tigers of 2010, behind junior college transfer and relative unknown commodity Cam Newton, began the year ranked No. 22 in the nation. The Tigers are the lowest ranked preseason team in the BCS era to win the title and are the first team outside of the top since 1990 to even clinch a share of the title. Additionally, Oregon began 2010 outside of the top 10 at No. 11 — making the 2010 BCS National Championship game the only national title contest in the last 30+ years to features two teams that began outside of the top 10 in the preseason polls.

Really Though, Be Ranked In The Top 10
Four times in 14 years has the national champ come from outside the preseason Top 10. In addition to Auburn, Oklahoma in 2000 was ranked 19th, LSU in 2003 was ranked 15th and Ohio State was ranked 13th. Only three additional teams since 1984, Notre Dame in 1988 (13th) and Michigan in 1997 (14th) and Georgia Tech in 1990 (UR), have won the national title starting outside of the top 10. And Tech didn’t claim the AP title in 1990.

Unranked Champions Don't Happen
Since 1982, the year I was born, only twice has a team unranked in the preseason gone on to win the AP/BCS national championship. The 1984 BYU Cougars and the 1983 Miami Hurricanes are the only champs to start the year outside of the Top 25 and finish on top since 1982. Technically, Georgia Tech claimed a share of the national title in 1990 after beginning the season unranked. However, it didn’t claim the AP title that year, preseason No. 5 Colorado did.

The Top 5 Is the Place To Be
Four of the last five national champions were ranked in the top five in the AP preseason poll. Alabama in 2009 and Florida in 2008 were No. 5 — although, it should be noted that Athlon Sports had the Gators No. 1 in 2008 — while LSU in 2007 and Alabama in 2011 both began No. 2.

In fact, 16 times in the last 32 seasons has the national champion begun the year in the top five. This means, according to Athlon Sports’ rankings, that there is a 50% chance that Alabama, LSU, USC, Oregon and Oklahoma will win the title. It also means there is only a 50% chance that the champion comes from the other 119 teams. Both the 2003 and 1997 split champs were outside of the top five and both the 1991 champs were inside the preseason top five. The 1990 championship featured one unranked team (Georgia Tech) and one top five team (Colorado).

No. 1 Is Good, But Not That Good
So where is No. 1 in all of this you ask? The USC Trojans in 2004 were the last AP preseason No. 1 team to claim the national championship. In fact, since 1982, only three preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to win the title. Florida State in 1999 and 1993 were the only two other teams to match the ’04 Trojans of wire-to-wire dominance. In fact, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn't even played in the national title game since 2006 when Ohio State lost to Florida. More teams have lost the national title game as preseason No. 1's than have won it in the BCS era. Yes, six trips (of 14) to the BCS title game is extremely accurate — and obviously most fanbases would take a guarenteed trip to the title game — but more times than not that team loses (2-4). Which, frankly, is all that matters.

No. 2 Is the Spot
Four of the last 12 national champions began the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason, more than any other preseason rankings by a wide margin. Eight times has the No. 2 team played in the BCS National Championship game, more than any other slot. Of the 28 total BCS title game teams, nearly 30% have started the season as the No. 2 team in the AP poll. And who is likely to be preseason No. 2 this fall? Either LSU or Alabama is a pretty good guess. And yes, that would give the SEC a seventh straight championship as well as a second

Where Not To Be?
The preseason number you don’t want your team to be? Third or fourth. No team in the BCS era has won a title beginning the year ranked No. 3 or No. 4. Florida in 1996 was the last preseason No. 4 team to claim the title and Miami in 1991 was the last team ranked No. 3 in the preseason to win the big prize. So for Athlon, this knocks out Alabama (No. 3) and Oregon (No. 4). Elsewhere inside the top 10, sixth hasn't won a title since 1997 and ninth hasn't clinched the championship since 1992. For good measure, eleventh hasn't won a title in the last 32 seasons.

What do all these numbers mean for college football in 2012? Maybe not much. But the stats do indicate that preseason polls are extremely accurate measuring sticks when attempting to pinpoint the quest for the Crystal Ball. So buy your Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine here!

Here is a quick list of how each of the national champs have ranked in the preseason:

Year Team AP Rank BCS Runner-Up AP Rank
2011 Alabama No. 2 LSU No. 4
2010 Auburn No. 22 Oregon No. 11
2009 Alabama No. 5 Texas No. 2
2008 Florida No. 5 Oklahoma No. 4
2007 LSU No. 2 Ohio State No. 10
2006 Florida No. 7 Ohio State No. 1
2005 Texas No. 2 USC No. 1
2004 USC No. 1 Oklahoma No. 2
2003* LSU No. 15 Oklahoma No. 1
2003* USC (AP) No. 8 -- --
2002 Ohio State No. 13 Miami No. 1
2001 Miami No. 2 Nebraska No. 4
2000 Oklahoma No. 19 Florida State No. 2
1999 Florida State No. 1 Virginia Tech No. 11
1998 Tennessee No. 10 Florida State No. 2
1997* Michigan (AP) No. 14 -- --
1997* Nebraska No. 6 -- --
1996 Florida No. 4 -- --
1995 Nebraska No. 2 -- --
1994 Nebraska No. 4 -- --
1993 Florida State No. 1 -- --
1992 Alabama No. 9 -- --
1991* Miami (AP) No. 3 -- --
1991* Washington No. 4 -- --
1990* Colorado (AP) No. 5 -- --
1990* Georgia Tech Unranked -- --
1989 Miami No. 3 -- --
1988 Notre Dame No. 13 -- --
1987 Miami No. 10 -- --
1986 Penn State No. 6 -- --
1985 Oklahoma No. 2 -- --
1984 BYU Unranked -- --
1983 Miami Unranked -- --
1982 Penn State No. 8 -- --

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> College Football National Champions: Do Preseason Rankings Matter?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Miami Dolphins check in at No. 27.

After another uninspiring season, owner Steve Ross initially sought to snare the biggest fish in order to create a splash in the fragmented South Florida sports market, while placating a fan base angry about his retention of unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland. He recruited free agent coach Jeff Fisher, who turned him down as Jim Harbaugh had the offseason before. He made a pitch to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but Manning never seemed to take the Dolphins’ situation seriously. And so, instead, Ross had to settle for a ripple, with the hiring of former Green Bay offensive guru Joe Philbin to pace the sidelines, the drafting of Ryan Tannehill to someday take the snaps, and the re-signing of Paul Soliai and Cameron Wake to anchor the defense.

“What we talked about was building a foundation, building a program, building a football team that could deliver sustained success over a period of time,” Philbin says of interviewing with Ross. “I’ve coached in the National Football League for nine years and college for 19. I don’t know if you ever go into a game where you don’t feel like you have a chance to win.”

The Dolphins have a chance to win a couple more games this season, but due to the limitations of the offensive talent base, grander accomplishments will have to wait.

Offense

While he wasn’t the primary play-caller, Philbin did design the offensive gameplans for a Packers team that led the NFL in points scored en route to a 15–1 regular-season record. Now he takes over a team that finished 20th in the NFL in scoring.

Clearly there is work to do, especially after the Dolphins dumped their leading receiver, talented but troubled Brandon Marshall, for two third-round choices. Marshall’s statistics were misleading — his 1,214-yard total could have been higher if not for plenty of critical drops. Still, his departure leaves Brian Hartline, who has good hands and decent speed, and solid slot man Davone Bess as the most experienced returnees. Neither will have defenses sweating.

The Dolphins added another wide receiver in June when they signed Chad Johnson (who is no longer Chad Ochocinco after legally changing his last name, again) to a one-year deal. Johnson gets the chance to not only play for his hometown team, as he was born and raised in Miami and played at Miami Beach High School, he also will get a chance, perhaps his last one, to resurrect his NFL career. Johnson, 34, appears to be on the tail end of a productive career, as he caught only 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown in 12 forgettable games with New England last season.

Philbin has made it clear that he would prefer to spread the ball around rather than be reliant upon one receiver. That means opportunities for raw second-year speedster Clyde Gates, holdover tight end Anthony Fasano, promising H-back Charles Clay, rookie tight end Michael Egnew and even Reggie Bush split wide.

Bush will work plenty out of the backfield as well, after proving skeptics wrong with a strong season as a feature back. Rather than wearing down, Bush played better as the season progressed, finishing with a 5.0-yard average. Ideally, he’ll get more help this time from Daniel Thomas, the 2011 second-round pick who had trouble staying healthy as a rookie. Lamar Miller, a natural runner from Miami, also could get a look.

They will work behind an offensive line that needs a full return to health for cornerstone left tackle Jake Long and continued development from second-year center Mike Pouncey. The other three spots are somewhat in flux. Veteran Richie Incognito will get the first look at left guard, and second-round pick Jonathan Martin has a chance to step into the right tackle spot voided by long-time (but declining) fixture Vernon Carey.

So who will they protect? Matt Moore returns as the stopgap starter, after relieving the ineffective and injured Chad Henne and then outperforming expectations in 2011. The Dolphins were 6–6 under the mobile journeyman. His inaccuracy makes him a less than an ideal fit for Philbin’s style of offense, so the Dolphins will also open the competition to David Garrard, a Pro Bowler in 2009 who sat out last season with a back injury.

Eventually, Miami will turn to the rookie Tannehill, who has the skill set to become a franchise quarterback. Tannehill has an advantage in that he will be learning under his college coach, Mike Sherman, the Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator. Several factors make it possible that he plays early — his familiarity with the system, his ability to make short and intermediate throws on the move and Dolphins fans’ desperation for a savior.

Related: Top Miami Dolphins Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Miami’s defense deserved better in 2011, consistently keeping the score close only for the offense to squander chances. Much of the unit is back, though it will often be aligned differently, as new coordinator Kevin Coyle brings more of his 4-3 schemes from Cincinnati.

That change will affect several key players — Wake will move from linebacker to defensive end and Soliai from nose tackle to defensive tackle. In any case, it’s critical for the Dolphins to find and develop more playmakers.

Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will each enter their fourth seasons at cornerback, and while they combined for six interceptions, Miami is searching for more consistency, especially from Smith. Richard Marshall takes over in the slot for Will Allen, but the Dolphins may have some issues at safety without Yeremiah Bell, who had slowed some but was considered a team leader. Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones still have much to prove at safety.

Up front, Miami should be solid, at least in terms of its starters. Wake’s sack total slipped, but he remains one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers. Soliai is a run-stuffer. Randy Starks is a solid all-around player. And Jared Odrick, in his first full season, had moments where he lived up to his first-round selection. 

The linebackers are led by Karlos Dansby, who is adept in coverage and made a lot of tackles but not as many game-turning plays as his contract suggests. Kevin Burnett played well after a slow start, and former Patriot Gary Guyton joins the group. This is a big year for Koa Misi, another Ireland draft choice who hasn’t made much impact.

Specialists

For several years, this has been both a compliment of an individual and a criticism of an organization: Punter Brandon Fields, at times, has been the Dolphins’ most dangerous player. He turned in another excellent year, repeatedly flipping field position. Kicker Dan Carpenter was spottier at times, but he did connect on 13-of-16 from beyond 40 yards. Miami has several options to take back kicks, with Bess and occasionally Bush in line to return punts.

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC East

Hopes were high when Bill Parcells arrived in 2008, bringing Ireland and Tony Sparano with him, and winning the AFC East with an 11–5 record. Miami is 20–28 since, and only Ireland remains, though he’s been hearing “Fireland” chants for quite a while. The fan base may have lost patience with him, but it is likely to give Philbin some leeway, as he tries to implement an exciting offense to go with an already-decent defense. He promises that he and his staff will teach “with enthusiasm, with clarity, with simplicity and accuracy.” The most accurate prediction for this team? That would be something around six or seven wins.

Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Reggie Takes Manhattan
Reggie Bush finally emerged into the feature back spotlight in 2011, rushing for 1,086 yards. During the offseason, he happily shared the spotlight, not with another runner, but with Kelly Ripa. Bush twice appeared as a guest host on LIVE! With Kelly, interviewing the likes of Tom Selleck.

Mourning A Friend
By the time Junior Seau signed with the Dolphins in 2003, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas were already established stars. Still, both admired and followed their new teammate. So it was no surprise that, in the wake of his suicide, both released statements saying they were “devastated.”

Exciting Addition
On its own, drafting a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) in the first round for the first time since 1983 (Dan Marino) would have created a buzz. Then Tannehill appeared with his wife Lauren at the press conference. Lauren, a beautiful blonde, is a former Texas A&M cheerleader and a model.

Pulling Right
Steve Ross, like the man from whom he bought the Dolphins (H. Wayne Huizenga), has made no secret of his political preferences. During the offseason, Ross and his wife Kara hosted a $2,500 per person fundraiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at Ross’ Palm Beach, Fla., home.

Um, No Pressure
Ross once said at a high school event that Chad Henne “has been the greatest quarterback the University of Michigan has had, and I’m sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history — and you know what that will mean.” At Tannehill’s press conference, Ross said, “Let’s hope that someday we can retire this number.”

Down To One
Bill Parcells came to the Dolphins as a supposed savior. The failure of his tenure is best embodied by his first draft. After the recent offseason, which was run by Jeff Ireland (who collaborated with Parcells on that draft), eight of the nine players picked are no longer with the team. The only exception is Jake Long, taken first overall.

New Leaf
­The Dolphins have been secretive and combative in recent years where the media is concerned. This offseason, though, chief executive officer Mike Dee, new coach Joe Philbin and Ireland made introductory stops at several local outlets. That’s what happens after your season ticket sales plunge, and two other local teams (Heat and Marlins) start stealing attention and sponsors

Revolving Door
Don Shula coached 392 regular-season games over a 26-year period. Since he was forced out at the end of the 1995 season, six different full-time coaches have coached the last 256 games over a 16-year period. And now Miami turns to Philbin, the seventh coach.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Fri., July 27

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Miami Dolphins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Miami Dolphins 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 08:01
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, NFL
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Miami Dolphins official twitter account:

@MiamiDolphins (Followers: 143,800)

Top Dolphins To Follow:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 26, 2012

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Reggie Bush RB @Reggie_Bush 2,524,123
2. Vontae Davis DB @VontaeDavis21 126,546
3. Tony McDaniel DT @TonyMcDaniel78 107,353
4. Mike Pouncey OL @MikePouncey 101,560
5. Nolan Carroll CB @CarrollCity 60,253
6. Reshad Jones S @ReshadJones9 41,179
7. David Garrard QB @DavidGarrard9 33,698
8. Ryan Tannehill QB @RyanTannehill1 28,133
9. Brian Hartline WR @BrianHartline 25,642
10. Davone Bess WR @DavoneBess 22,638
11. Josh Kaddu LB @JoshKaddu 22,169
12. Sean Smith CB @SeanSmith24 21,817
13. Cameron Wake DE @Kold91 20,134
14. Guy Guyton LB @GaryGuyton59 19,991
15. Lamar Miller RB @MillerTime_6 13,317
16. Jamaal Westerman DE @JamaalWesterman 12,705
17. B.J. Cunningham WR @BJCunningham 12,273
18. Anthony Fasano TE @Anthony_Fasano 8,252
19. Randy Starks DT @Starks94 7,838
20. Clyde Gates WR @EdmondGates 6,184
21. Roberto Wallace WR @Roberto_Wallace 5,735
22. Legedu Naanee WR @Naanee11 4,871
23. Kheeston Randall DT  @KRan409 3,037
24. Rishard Matthews WR @_RMatthews 1,720
25. Jonathan Martin OL @J_Martin71 996

The quarterback issues for the Dolphins since Dan Marino have been very well documented. But you can still keep up with the Hall of Fame quarterback and Miami Dolphins legend: @DanMarino (78,520).

You can also follow Mike Dee, Miami Dolphins CEO: @MikeDeeFins (3,485)

The Dolphins Beat:

Omar Kelly, Columnist, blogger for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: @OmarKelly (20,099)

Armando Salguero, Miami Herald columnist: @ArmandoSalguero (16,878)

Ethan Skolnick, Palm Beach Post: @EthanJSkolnick (16,679)

Izzy Gould, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @IzzyGould (12,284)

Ben Volin, Beat writer for The Palm Beach Post: @BenVolinPBP (9,519)

Mike Berardino, Beat writer for Sun Sentinel: @MikeBerardino (7,674)

Ken LaVicka, Beat reporter for ESPN 760: @KLV760 (3,137)

Brian Biggane, Palm Beach Post sports writer who covers the Miami Dolphins: @bbiggane (1,572)

Jesse Agler, Miami Dolphins radio host: @finsjesse (5,911)

SunSentinel Dolphins, Sun-Sentinel Dolphins reporters: @SSMiamiDolphins (2,958)

Dolphins Blog Roll:

The Daily Dolphin, The Palm Beach Post's Dolphins blog

Sun Sentinel's Miami Dolphins blog

The SB Nation site covering Miami, The Phinsider, is run by Kevin Nogle and he can be followed @ThePhinsider   

Follow the Dolphins Buzz every day @DolphinsBuzzTap and visit DolphinsGab.com as well as PhinPhanatic.com.

The ESPN AFC East blog is run by James Walker  and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCEast

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Miami Dolphins
No. 26: Fri., July 27

Order your 2012 Miami Dolphins Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Season Preview
Related: 2012 Miami Dolphins Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall and Mark Ross

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Miami Dolphins Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Cleveland Browns check in at No. 28.

Losing takes a toll — on everyone. Players, fans, the front office, everyone. In Cleveland, an angry and frustrated fan base wanted offseason action. It didn’t get it in free agency, where the Browns bypassed the quick — and expensive — fix. It might have gotten it on draft night, when the Browns cast their lot with a new running back and a new quarterback, both of whom are expected to start immediately.

One trade and two picks left the Browns with a new offense and a new approach. Running back Trent Richardson is expected to provide the steady, tough, dependable play the team lacked last season. At 28, quarterback Brandon Weeden became the oldest player ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Immediately the team talked about Weeden starting, and an offense that was miserable in 2011 was betting its chances for revival on two draft picks. The schedule and division are brutal, but the Browns believe a top runner and new passer will bring them closer to competitive than they’ve been in a long time.

Offense

The Browns were woeful in 2011, scoring only 13.6 points per game and finishing 29th in total yards per game (288.8). The league’s top two offenses — Green Bay and New Orleans — outscored them by three touchdowns per game. That’s bad.

Something had to be done, and the team identified four areas that needed fixing: running back, receiver, right tackle and quarterback. The quarterback situation was an endless offseason debate, with a good portion of the fan base believing a better supporting cast would help last year’s starter, Colt McCoy.

The organization did not agree. Despite professing fondness and appreciation for McCoy, the Browns first tried to trade up not with Washington but with Indianapolis for the pick that would be Andrew Luck. The Colts quickly rebuffed that effort. Then the Browns tried to acquire the draft pick that would be Robert Griffin III, but could not finish the trade. Then it took a 28-year-old rookie with the 22nd pick in the first round of the draft.

It’s a measure of the Browns’ struggles that the team looked on Weeden’s age not as a weakness — like most of the league — but as a strength. While most teams saw a guy who would be 29 in October and perhaps 31 by the time he “got it,” the Browns saw an experienced and mature player more capable of stepping in right away than a 21- or 22-year-old coming out of college. That’s how badly they wanted someone who could play right away.

The Browns believe that Weeden’s experience in minor league baseball taught him a lot about being a pro. They believe that will translate into on-field success sooner than the normal rookie learning curve would indicate.

Weeden’s every measurable is better than McCoy’s. He threw for 71 touchdowns the last two season while completing just under 70 percent of his throws at Oklahoma State. But he will face a difficult task, with six in-division games against the defenses of the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. He’ll also travel to face the Giants and Broncos. 

One advantage Weeden will have that McCoy did not: Weeden will hand off to a talented and gifted running back in Richardson, who is also a rookie. The Browns liked the former Alabama star enough to give up three late-round picks to move up from fourth overall to third to ensure his selection. It was a smart move — especially after they didn’t get their guy from the Colts or Redskins.

Weeden’s biggest challenge: Learning a new offense while adjusting from a shotgun-spread to working under center. He will have a rookie right tackle in second-round draft pick Mitchell Schwartz of Cal and the same group of receivers that led the league in drops a year ago.

Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and the rest will have to do better. The Browns believe experience and a better quarterback will help the receivers. They also believe a better running game will help the quarterback. Coach Pat Shurmur calls it synergy, something the Browns lacked almost completely last season.

The Browns are asking a lot of three rookies by expecting them to step right in and change the offense. But things were going nowhere fast with the folks from last season. Results may not be immediate, but this was an offense that needed a drastic overhaul, and it got one.

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Because the Browns were so focused on the offense in the offseason, their moves to improve the defense were more, shall we say, subtle. Basically the Browns added two players to a defense that gave up 147.4 rushing yards per game but still ranked 10th overall.
In free agency, the Browns added two journeymen defensive ends — Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker. Rucker is penciled in to start opposite Jabaal Sheard. Parker will fit in a rotation. Same with third-round pick John Hughes, a surprise choice out of Cincinnati. In the three linemen, the Browns wanted to add depth to a unit that has three legitimate starters — Sheard and tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. Whether that makes for great improvement is up for debate.

The Browns’ linebackers are solid, but not spectacular. Cornerback is a concern. Joe Haden’s play dropped off noticeably as 2011 progressed, and it’s very possible Dimitri Patterson could push aging veteran Sheldon Brown to safety.

The Browns’ defense felt pretty good about itself in 2011, primarily because of its overall ranking and because it only allowed 19.2 points per game. But the run defense numbers seem to undermine the overall rankings. It’s tough to be an effective defense without stopping the run. How this group improves at that facet of the game will determine how it fares in 2012.

Specialists

The Browns’ tradition of having outstanding specialists continues. The team has placed the franchise tag on placekicker Phil Dawson two years in a row for good reason. He is one of the finest, most dependable kickers in the league. While others work in domes or warm weather, Dawson succeeds in the cold, wind and elements on Lake Erie. The punting competition will be settled in preseason camp. Josh Cribbs is an outstanding returner, but he’s also 28. Rookie Travis Benjamin could challenge Cribbs in the return game.

Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC North

The Browns will go as far as a 28-year-old rookie quarterback can take them, but it won’t be far. The mountain Cleveland has to climb within the division is enormous — Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati were all playoff teams last season. The Browns have the third-toughest schedule in the league and an opening six games that would make a veteran worry. The Browns could be improved in 2012, but they still might not win seven games.

Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Brown and Out
Rarely has one team done so little for so many. Since the expansion Browns started play in 1999, they have won a total of 68 games. That’s an average of only 5.2 wins per season. Is it any wonder the fan base is beyond frustrated?

Next Man Up
If Brandon Weeden is the opening-game starter for the Browns, he will be the fifth different starter on opening day in the past five years. The list reads this way: Weeden, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Weeden also will be the 16th player to start at quarterback for the Browns since 1999. That list includes Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Anderson, Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and McCoy.

The Rookie
Weeden is not just old; he’s the oldest player ever drafted in the first round. His age when selected: 28 years and 195 days. Nobody counted the hours.

Proud Legacy
Trent Richardson joins a team with a history of backs that includes Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Marion Motley. But no Browns back has ever been taken as high as Richardson was in the draft, when he went third overall. Jim Brown weighed in on the possible selection of Richardson before the draft with some words of serious caution. Said Brown of Richardson: “I think he’s ordinary.” OK, then.

No Luck
Team president Mike Holmgren admitted that he talked to the Colts twice to see if they might trade out of the first spot so the Browns could draft Andrew Luck. The Colts declined. Holmgren said talks were brief. “I believe I was in the swimming pool at the owners meetings and I had a drink in my hand,” he said. No word on whether the drink had an umbrella. For the record, Holmgren was joking.

Former Bosses
It’s unclear what it means, but the Browns may have more former head coaches on their staff than any other team. Pat Shurmur’s staff includes offensive coordinator Brad Childress (Minnesota), defensive coordinator Dick Jauron (Chicago, Buffalo) and senior defensive assistant Ray Rhodes (Philadelphia, Green Bay).

No Offense
Statistics sometimes tell the story. The past four years, the Browns offense has ranked 29, 29, 29 and 31 in a 32-team league. In scoring, the Browns the past four years have ranked 30, 31, 32 and 30.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Thur., July 26

Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Cleveland Browns 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC North, Cleveland Browns, NFL
Path: /nfl/cleveland-browns-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Cleveland Browns official twitter account:

@OfficialBrowns (Followers: 97,795)

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 25, 2012

Top Browns To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Josh Cribbs WR @JoshCribbs16 116,330
2. Colt McCoy QB @ColtMcCoy 101,897
3. Joe Haden CB @JoeHaden23 91,514
4. Brandon Weeden QB @BWeeden3 54,516
5. T.J. Ward S @BossWard43 32,338
6. Mohamaed Massaquoi WR @MoMass11 26,422
7. Carlton Mitchell WR @C_Mitch18 23,091
8. Phil Taylor DT @PhilTaylor98 22,140
9. Usama Young S @Usama_Young28 20,761
10. D'Qwell Jackson LB @DQ52 19,180
11. Brad Smelley TE @BradSmelley 18,053
12. Dan Gronkowski TE @DGronko 17,126
13. Evan Moore TE @EvanMoore89 13,990
14. Travis Benjamin WR @TravisBenjamin3 13,556
15. Chris Ogbonnaya RB @ChrisOgbonnaya 11,035
16. Jordan Norwood WR @JordaNorwood 10,738
17. Brandon Jackson RB @BJackson32 9,631
18. Buster Skrine CB @BusterSkrine 8,969
19. Frostee Rucker DE @FrostRuck 7,191
20. Reggie Hodges P @Reggie_Hodges 6,882
21. Chris Gocong LB @ChrisGocong 5,699
22. Emmanuel Acho LB @TheManAcho 5,076
23. Mitchell Schwartz OL @M_Schwartz72 4,090
24. Brian Schaefering DE @BSchaefering 3,833
25. Trevin Wade CB @TwoStarWade 2,995
26. Eddie Williams FB @RealEWilliams 2,446
27. Billy Winn DL @Billy_Boi_90 1,798

The Browns Beat:

Mary Kay Cabot, Beat writer for Cleveland Plain Dealer: @MaryKayCabot (29,977)

Tony Grossi, Analyst for ESPNCleveland.com, ESPN 850 WKNR, 1540 KNR2: @TonyGrossi (21,996)

Daryl Ruiter, Beat reporter for 92.3 The Fan: @RuiterWrongFAN (4,585)

Nate Ulrich, Beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com: @NateUlrichABJ (4,527)

Tom Reed, Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer: @treedPD (3,528)

Pat McManamon, Writer for FOXSportsOhio.com: @PatMcManamon (2,998)

Scott Petrak, Writer Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette: @ScottPetrak (1,634)

Browns Blog Roll:

Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation's Browns Blog: DawgsByNature.com

Fresh Brownies, blog by Steve Doerschuk, sports writer for The Canton Repository

A few others to check out: Orange and Brown Report, Dawg Pound Daily.com, BrownsBuzzTap and BrownsGab.com

The ESPN AFC North blog is run by Jamison Hensley and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCNorth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Cleveland Browns
No. 27: Thur., July 26


Order your 2012 Cleveland Browns Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Cleveland Browns Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Cleveland Browns Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-bests-busts-and-waiver-wire-july-24
Body:

Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and a Weekend Rundown every Thursday. We took a week off due to All-Star festivities, but we are back and better than ever.

Top 25 fantasy baseball hitters of last week (7/16-7/24):

  Name Team Pos. R HR RBI SB BA OPS
1. Jason Kubel ARI OF 8 6 11 0 .346 1.508
2. Ryan Zimmerman WAS 3B 8 4 10 0 .406 1.301
3. Mike Trout LAA OF 10 3 5 1 .448 1.397
4. Buster Posey SF C/1B 5 2 13 0 .517 1.378
5. David Wright NYM 3B 5 4 8 1 .379 1.303
6. Melky Cabrera SF OF 11 2 4 0 .448 1.322
7. Brandon Phillips CIN 2B 6 2 8 2 .357 1.010
8. Miguel Cabrera DET 1B/3B 7 3 5 1 .381 1.292
9. Albert Pujols LAA 1B 6 3 7 0 .370 1.211
10. Carlos Gonzalez COL OF 4 3 7 2 .292 1.081
11. Carlos Gomez* MIL OF 4 1 3 5 .286 .944
12. Cody Ross* BOS OF 5 3 9 0 .320 1.106
13. Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF 7 2 7 0 .324 .910
14. Ryan Doumit* MIN C/OF 5 3 7 0 .320 1.066
15. Yoenis Cespedes OAK OF 4 2 3 1 .455 1.293
16. Aaron Hill ARI 2B 7 1 4 1 .345 .923
17. Adrian Gonzalez BOS 1B/OF 4 2 8 0 .357 .928
18. Danny Espinosa* WAS 2B/SS 5 1 5 1 .375 .960
19. Jesus Montero* SEA C 4 1 9 0 .385 1.029
20. Matt Kemp LAD OF 5 2 6 0 .357 1.043
21. Carlos Beltran STL OF 5 2 6 1 .273 .897
22. Brandon Crawford* SF SS 4 2 9 0 .304 .969
23. Lorenzo Cain* KC OF 3 2 9 0 .348 .972
24. Ryan Howard PHI 1B 3 3 7 0 .333 1.357
25. Chris Young ARI OF 4 1 5 2 .333 1.151

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Strange But True

Watching Ichiro take at-bats in a Yankee uniform  — against his old team at that — was one of the more surreal sights I've seen on a baseball diamond in years. While he is a huge intangibles pick-up for the Yankees, one has to believe that he will turn his fantasy season around too now that he is within the Pinstripers line-up. He played right field and batted eighth in his Yankee debut Monday night. He wen 1-for-4 with a stolen base. He will shift to left when Nick Swisher returns. One can only expect his production to go up hitting in front of Russell Martin, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. Without the pressure of having to carry an offense, Ichiro is all but certain to boost his career-low .261 batting average with plenty of runs and stolen bases. He might be worth trading for if you are in need of those two categories.

The Waiver Wire

The Reds' Todd Frazier has delivered a tasty .882 OPS all season and is getting playing time for Joey Votto at the moment. He has the versatile 1B/3B/OF eligbility and was my pick-up of the week on a team that needs help at 3B and in the power column. The Nats' Danny Espinosa added SS to his title as he fills in for Ian Desmond. His roto line is always enticing with the big hit always coming in the BA category. Yet, he is on fire over his last eight games getting 14 hits in 31 ABs. He is the top add in most leagues currently. Looking for some more pop? Cody Ross has 16 bombs in 238 at-bats and has eight homers since returning from the DL. The .892 OPS plays in any format. Looking for a sneaky call-up? Danny Hultzen has been solid for Triple-A Tacoma and could be in a Mariner uniform soon, while Travis Snider will get the call for Toronto now that Ben Francisco is in Houston. He is a career .308 minor league hitter with a career .910 OPS. The Angels should be calling-up prized prospect Jean Segura as well after his .294/.346/.404 season in Double-A Arkansas. He will provide speed in place of Erick Aybar.

Top 20 fantasy Starting Pitchers of last two weeks:

  Name Team IP W K ERA WHIP
1. Doug Fister* DET 15.0 2 18 1.20 0.47
2. Jordan Zimmerman WAS 18.0 2 16 0.50 0.72
3. Felix Hernandez SEA 17.0 2 15 0.53 0.71
4. Justin Verlander DET 16.0 2 14 1.13 0.69
5. Hiroki Kuroda NYY 21.1 2 20 2.53 0.80
6. Ben Sheets* ATL 12.0 2 11 0.00 0.92
7. David Price TB 14.1 2 15 1.26 0.98
8. Madison Bumgarner SF 14.0 1 13 1.93 0.50
9. Tim Lincecum SF 15.1 1 17 1.20 0.87
10. Jeff Samardzji* CHC 13.0 1 14 0.69 0.85
11. Paul Maholm* CHC 15.0 2 9 1.20 0.87
12. Lance Lynn STL 13.0 1 15 0.69 1.00
13. Johnny Cueto CIN 13.0 2 12 0.69 1.31
14. Barry Zito* SF 14.0 1 11 1.93 0.71
15. Clayton Kershaw LAD 14.0 1 13 1.29 1.00
16. Carlos Villanueva* TOR 12.1 2 13 2.19 1.14
17. Wade Miley ARI 12.2 2 15 2.84 1.11
18. Matt Garza CHC 10.0 1 10 0.00 1.00
19. Ryan Vogelsong SF 13.0 1 13 1.38 1.00
20. Erik Bedard* PIT 13.2 1 15 1.32 1.17

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Top 5 Spot Starts for the Week (Tues. - Sun.):

1. Ivan Nova, NYY: Seattle (Wed.)
Posted eight quality starts in nine trips to the bump and has 36 K and 13 ER over his last six starts.

2. Michael Fiers, MIL: Washington (Sat.)
Has allowed 3 ER in last five starts with 34 Ks. Shut down the Reds and Cards in last two.

3. Jarrod Parker, OAK: at Baltimore (Fri.)
Just tossed 8.0 with one run against Yankees. Won four of last five starts.

4. Jonathon Niese, NYM: at Arizona (Fri.)
Posted 5 quality starts in last six with three wins and 11:0 K:BB rate over last two.

5. Ben Sheets, ATL: Philadelphia (Fri.)
Has yet to allow a run in two starts with only seven hits and 11 K in 12.0 innings.

Keep a close eye on the Mets-Diamondbacks Thursday affair as top pitching prospect Matt Harvey will make his major league debut. He has posted 268 Ks in 245.2 career minor league innings.

Top 20 fantasy Relief Pitchers of last month:

  Name Team IP W SV K HLD ERA WHIP
1. Huston Street SD 12.1 1 7 18 0 0.00 0.41
2. Aroldis Chapman CIN 11.1 0 9 27 0 1.59 0.62
3. Rafael Soriano NYY 12.2 0 11 17 0 1.42 0.95
4. Craig Kimbrel ATL 11.0 0 7 20 0 1.64 0.36
5. Ryan Cook* OAK 10.2 2 6 11 0 1.69 0.66
6. Kenley Jansen LAD 13.1 0 7 18 0 0.68 0.83
7. Fernando Rodney TB 11.0 0 7 12 0 0.00 0.64
8. Joel Hanrahan PIT 10.1 1 9 8 0 1.74 1.16
9. Jason Motte STL 8.1 1 7 10 0 1.08 0.96
10. Casey Janssen TOR 10.0 0 6 14 0 1.80 0.80
11. Tom Wilhelmsen SEA 12.2 0 5 12 0 0.71 1.03
12. Kyle Kendrick* PHI 19.2 2 0 16 0 2.29 0.97
13. Brad Lincoln* PIT 13.0 0 1 15 3 0.69 0.62
14. JJ Putz ARI 9.0 0 5 8 0 0.00 0.89
15. Dale Thayer* SD 12.1 2 0 10 3 0.73 0.89
16. Sergio Romo* SF 8.2 1 2 7 4 0.00 0.58
17. Sean Doolittle* OAK 12.1 0 1 15 2 0.00 0.73
18. Jerry Blevins* OAK 9.1 2 0 9 4 1.93 0.64
19. Octavio Dotel* DET 11.0 2 0 16 1 2.45 1.00
20. Steve Cishek* MIA 10.2 0 2 11 5 0.00 0.75

* - less than 70% owned in Yahoo! leagues

Keep up to date all season long with Athlon Sports' Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Baseball Bests, Busts and Waiver Wire: July 24</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-sanctions-did-ncaa-get-it-right
Body:

I don’t say this often, if ever, but the NCAA did a great job sanctioning Penn State University's massive cover-up of arguably the worst scandal in college football history.

Are there concerns that Mark Emmert overstepped his bounds with this display of unprecedented raw authority? Possibly. But I doubt this type of situation ever rears its ugly head again. At least, that is what I hope. Then again, maybe that is what the NCAA, and the rest of the country, needed. I applaud Penn State and the Big Ten for signing off on this type of swift and corrective measures.

The wound needs to be closed for good.

Eight months of slow-drip child abuse news is essentially over for the innocent Penn State faithful. Yes, civil suits will be served and appropriately settled in favor of the victims. And ideally, those involved in the cover-up will be sent to prison for a long time.

But Monday’s announcement of “unprecedented sanctions” against Penn State football signifies the end of a brutal process for Nittany Lions fans who did nothing wrong through all of this (besides the obvious over-zealous rioting). And hopefully, it means everyone involved, including the abused, can finally attempt to move forward.

We must make sure not to forget the victims in all of this. It will happen too quickly — especially, once football games start. And no, I'm not just talking about those vicitims associated with Jerry Sandusky. I am speaking of the on-going battle against child predators taking place in every American city. This was the exact reason I wrote last week vehemently opposing the Death Penalty.

Which is where my only real issue with the NCAA punishment lies. Here are the penalties facing Penn State and how I would have done it differently:

$60 Million Fine
This was easily my most satisfying arm of the penalties — and also where I would make the most changes. Combined with the $52 million the Big Ten will withhold and subsequently donate, Penn State will eventually contribute $112 million over five years to an endowment which will help fund programs that prevent child sexual abuse and also assist victims of such acts. It should have been $200 millon. Hell, why not $300 million? The Penn State endowment is $1.8 billion and what dollar figure can you place on peace of mind? Or a child’s safety? I would have sacrificed scholarships and bowl bans for as great a monetary contribution to the fight against child molestation as possible. I love the angle here and how it was implemented, but this could have and should have been a much bigger figure.

Four-Year Postseason Ban
I am on board with bowl and Big Ten title bans. I would have made it three years, however. This would allow the incoming freshman class the opportunity to play in a bowl game as a senior. The other sanctions have assured PSU won’t be competing for conference titles anytime soon, so why not give an innocent collection of students athletes one final shot at the postseason as seniors?

Four-Year Scholarship Limitations: 15 per year, 65 overall
This is easily the harshest and most influential of the penalties. Lower level football programs are allowed 63 scholarships and taking 20 away on any given year (down from 85 at any one time) will cripple the ability to build depth and compete at a high level. I would have kept the per year limit at 10 — meaning you can sign a max of 15 per year — but would have reduced the total limit from 20 to 15. This would give PSU a max of 70 scholarships at any given time. The ability to recruit at PSU will already be crushed due to public relations, negative recruiting, postseason bans and more. This team will be, at best, a 3-5 win team for the next four seasons and that will organically cost PSU millions in lost revenue — money that won’t go to the welfare of children. It simply is lost in the ether of potential earnings. I would have lightened this blow a bit if it meant donating more dollars to the fight against child abuse.

Vacating Wins From 1998-2011
Vacating wins, records and awards is by far the weakest action the NCAA can levy against a member institution. It means virtually nothing. You cannot go back and change what took place on the field. We all know who won the 2004 BCS National Championship. We all know who won the Ohio State-Arkansas Sugar Bowl. It doesn’t impact the athletic department’s bottom line and it doesn’t impact recruiting whatsoever. Do you think Hakeem Nicks cares more about his Super Bowl ring or how many catches the NCAA recognizes he posted at North Carolina? Having said this, if it helps just one victim sleep better one night a year because Joe Paterno’s name isn’t sitting atop the NCAA’s record book, then I am fully on board.

Related: Penn State Players: Where Should They Transfer?

Players Are Allowed To Transfer Without Restriction
This one is easily the trickiest and most difficult to pinpoint. Players didn’t sign up for this type of situation and should be allowed to change their career paths if they so choose. That said, I am not comfortable with coaches from 123 other schools having free reign to “recruit” Penn State football players for the next two years. I would have allowed any player to make a one-time decision over the next two months with a deadline of August 30. Until then, players can switch teams all they want free of penalty. But if you make a decision to stay committed to Penn State University by the first weekend of play, then you must adhere to your decision and fall back into line with regular NCAA transfer rules. The players won’t, and shouldn’t have to, protect themselves from the greedy clutches of rival coaches, so the NCAA should have.

Monday’s announcement marks the end of a brutal and terrifying saga that hopefully has changed the arrogant, self-serving, greedy culture that existed in State College. And I can only hope that Emmert’s forceful action gives every major institution — which most certainly includes fans — pause before automatically deifying coaches and players for winning lots of games.

We must demand that this warning shot transcends sports and echoes through every boardroom and hallway of this country.

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Related: 2012 Athlon Sports Penn State Team Preview

Teaser:
<p> Penn State Sanctions: Did the NCAA Get It Right?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 06:38
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Indianapolis Colts check in at No. 29.

It’s as if the Mayflower vans returned to Indianapolis. The Colts’ cornerstones, who once made this franchise a perennial Super Bowl contender, have relocated. There hasn’t been this much movement since that 1984 arrival from Baltimore. Almost overnight, after a 2–14 collapse, owner Jim Irsay’s intuition told him to part with Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only four-time MVP, who underwent four neck/spine surgeries in 21 months. Vice chairman Bill Polian, a six-time NFL Executive of the Year, was replaced by 40-year-old general manager Ryan Grigson, who had an eye for spotting talent in Philadelphia. Uninspiring head coach Jim Caldwell was supplanted by fiery Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

The Colts begin anew with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and so many roster spots to fill around the promising Stanford quarterback. Fans be advised — everything can’t be fixed overnight.

Offense

Coordinator Bruce Arians favors a two-tight end scheme, and the Colts added two of the best in the 2012 draft in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Fleener was Luck’s go-to guy in college because he’s 6'6" and fast. Allen will be physical in shedding coverage. That’s key, because an offensive line no longer anchored by center Jeff Saturday has been patched together and will need time. Luck will want to take advantage of as many three-step drops as possible.

When looking at Luck, think Manning with mobility. He learned from Manning, who had a young Luck at his passing camp as a student and counselor. He prepares like Manning, too. Before the draft, the rookie spent three weeks studying NFL film with former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, an old-school guy who gushed about the young passer.

Pagano has insisted from Day 1 that he wants to run. Delone Carter is a second-year bruiser who emerged as a starter but lost the job because of fumbles. Donald Brown can bounce it outside with his speed but has never lived up to being a first-round pick. Rookie Vick Ballard could be a quicker Carter. In theory, sure, the idea is to take pressure off Luck so he ­doesn’t have to throw 40 times per game, which would expose him to aggressive pass rushes.

The Colts came up a few million dollars short of overpaying to re-sign wide receiver Pierre Garcon. They instead brought back Reggie Wayne, who offered to fly to California to work out with Luck while the quarterback completed his college degree. Slot receiver Austin Collie is effective, one year removed from a spate of concussions. After that, it’s iffy. Former St. Louis second-round pick Donnie Avery assures he can still burn, but he didn’t show it with Tennessee last year. Rookie receiver/returner T.Y. Hilton is so fast, the Colts moved up into the third round to draft him. But he’s also small, and it’s always uncertain how little guys will hold up.

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Pagano repeatedly utters the term “hybrid” to describe this gradual transformation to a 3-4 scheme. So sometimes the Colts will show the familiar 4-3 with Pro Bowl pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as ends. Then they shift to a 3-4 with the bookends becoming outside linebackers. Mathis was re-signed because he was born to fly around like this. Freeney’s adjustment is wait-and-see. The Colts reportedly tried to trade him; he’ll count $19 million against the cap in the final year of his contract, and moving him would save $14 million. The Colts’ all-time leading sack man stayed because he still gets after the quarterback. If he doesn’t succeed as an outside linebacker, he will become a situational pass-rusher or they could shift him back to end, admittedly a different role in a 3-4. They need more than the 19 tackles he made last season.

Pagano added familiar faces from Baltimore in end Cory Redding, safety Tom Zbikowski and tackle Brandon McKinney. Redding gets decent pocket pressure and is responsible against the run. Zbikowski lost his job with the Ravens and is anxious for a second chance. The hunch is that rookie nose tackle Josh Chapman (316 pounds) will eventually beat out McKinney. Chapman is incredibly strong and is an ideal plugger.

This secondary is worrisome. Cornerback Jerraud Powers is excellent, when he’s not hurt. He’s missed 10 games in two seasons and is entering a contract year. The other corners are Kevin Thomas, Brandon King, Chris Rucker and Terrence Johnson — all relatively young and unproven. Thomas had the job in minicamp, but stay tuned. The fact that the Colts were frustrated by just missing on a couple of cornerbacks in the draft reinforces that they feel a need to upgrade the position. Perhaps steady safety Antoine Bethea can help the corners, while Zbikowski, who boxes to stay in shape, will thrive as a run-stopper.

Inside linebacker Pat Angerer is a tackling machine; his 148 ranked fourth in the league. But even an obvious plus is an indication of how this defense is in the evolutionary stages. At 235 pounds, he’s more ideal for the outside, but the Colts don’t have guys who fit the bigger, stronger inside linebacker profile.

Specialists

Adam Vinatieri showed he was worth the new contract he signed before the 2011 season as he hit on 23-of-27 field goals, including 52- and 53-yarders. Punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee has excellent hang time and boomed 41 touchbacks in 63 kickoffs. The Colts haven’t had a great returner in ages. They hope Hilton is that answer. Irsay made it clear to his new regime the need to fix “ridiculous” special teams, be that covering kicks or returning them, something that had become “a broken record.”

Final Analysis: 3rd in the AFC South

Opponents enjoyed a 103.9 passer rating last season, so a Colts optimist will suggest that it can’t get much worse. Don’t be so sure. While the Colts could show progress in this new hybrid defense, not getting to the quarterback enough will expose an already shaky secondary. If this defensive transition implodes, take heart, fans. The release of big contracts for the likes of tight end Dallas Clark, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and even a $10 million hit this season for Manning means roughly $40 million in dead cap money this year, but it sets up the Colts as big spenders in free agency in 2013. Compensatory picks will help provide another big draft class. The Colts can address their defensive needs.

A weak schedule with the likes of Cleveland, Miami and Buffalo at home suggests that outscoring some foes is doable. Luck has enough talented targets, and the play-calling should protect him while the line and run game shake out. The team’s 99.6 yards rushing per game ranked 26th, but the Colts trailed most of the time. They managed 4.2 yards per carry, which would be enough to help Luck. Manning went 3–13 as a rookie with proven stars like wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Marshall Faulk. Luck will find a way to win a few, then the Colts will tinker again and take the next step toward building a playoff contender in 2013.

Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Not Ready For Primetime
Once a night-game favorite, the Colts have 15 kickoffs at 1 p.m. The only deviation is an 8:20 p.m. Nov. 8 visit to Jacksonville on NFL Network. The Colts had four primetime games in 2011 — a fifth at rival New England was flexed to the afternoon. Talk about a dose of reality. By the way, Peyton Manning’s new team, Denver, has five primetime games.

Build The Monster
New head coach Chuck Pagano set the agenda for offseason conditioning by issuing blue T-shirts to players with the slogan, “Build The Monster.” Fans bought in, too, immediately asking when the shirts would be marketed for purchase.

First-round QBs
Andrew Luck is the seventh quarterback the Colts have selected in the first round of the draft. He joins George Shaw (1955), Bert Jones (1973), Art Schlichter (1982), John Elway (1983), Jeff George (1990) and Peyton Manning (1998).

Don’t Say the ‘R’ Word
Players made it clear in minicamp that they do not accept the term “rebuilding” to describe the team’s sweeping changes. “If you want to think we’re rebuilding, whatever, think it,” Angerer says. “We’ll fight your ass. Let’s go.”

Irsay Still Loves Twitter
Colts owner Jim Irsay isn’t shy with 164,000-plus Twitter followers. Amid speculation that pass-rusher Dwight Freeney was on the trading block, Irsay tweeted, “The only people hoping for trade with Free#93 are the ones that have to play against us…he’s MAYHEM with plenty of gas left in the tank!” When Peter King of Sports Illustrated criticized the Colts for using their first four picks on offensive players, Irsay tweeted, “Hey Peter King, we had NO defense, unlike now, in 1998, n B Polian took 4 Offensive picks n looking back at ur comments then, u said Great Draft!”

Not tackling Twitter
One of the few players who insists he won’t waste his time on Twitter is linebacker Pat Angerer. “I don’t care what I do,” he says. “I don’t think anybody else would care what I’m doing today.”

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Wed., July 25

Order your 2012 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Indianapolis Colts 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:41
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Indianapolis Colts official twitter account:

@NFLColts (Followers: 87,223)

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 24, 2012

Top Colts To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Pat McAfee P @PatMcAfeeShow 61,041
2. Dwight Freeney DE @DwightFreeney 50,286
3. Robert Mathis DE @RobertMathis98 42,501
4. Tom Zbikowski S @TommyZbikowski 33,770
5. Jerraud Powers CB @JPowers25 21,613
6. Antoine Bethea S @Tweez41 21,373
7. Donnie Avery WR @DonnieAvery 16,994
8. Drew Stanton QB @DrewStanton 15,164
9. Anthony Castonzo OL @AnthonyCastonzo 11,421
10. Coby Fleener TE @CobyFleener 11,013
11. A.Q. Shipley OL @aqshipley 7,149
12. Cory Redding DE @Redding93 7,142
13. Brandon McKinney DT @BMcKinney96 7,059
14. Dwayne Allen TE @DAllen83 5,953
15. Deji Karim RB @KingKarim35 4,239
16. Kevin Thomas CB @Datboiquito 4,231
17. Chandler Harnish QB @CHarnish8 3,496
18. Joe Lefeged S @JLefeged35 2,634
19. Jarred Fayson WR @JFayson 1,587
20. Jake Kirkpatrick OL @JKirk76 1,543
21. Mike Tepper OL @MikeTepper79 1,454
22. LaVon Brazill WR @BrazillLaVon 856

I find it amazing how well the kickers and punters do in the twitter-sphere. Especially, ones who get arrested for swiming drunkingly down the Broad Ripple canal with little to no attire. Boom Stick is right.

There is, without a doubt, one NFL owner who stands above all the rest when it comes to twitter. And that, of course, is the Colts' Jim Irsay. His random torts, rants and general goofiness is well worth the follow: @JimIrsay

The No. 1 overall pick and savior of the Colts franchise hasn't joined the twitter-lution just yet. However, you can follow his head (@AndrewLucksHead) and his MVP campaign (@Luck4MVP).

The Colts Beat:

Phillip B. Wilson, Indianapolis Star sportswriter: @pwilson24 (9,833 followers)

Mike Chappell, Colts beat writer for Indianapolis Star: @mchappell51 (4,745)

Tom James, Colts beat writer for Terre Haute Tribune-Star: @TribStarTJames (1,147)

Reggie Hayes, Columnist for The News-Sentinel who covers the Colts: @reggiehayes1 (691)

Nate Dunlevy, AFC South Correspondent for Bleacher Report: @natedunlevy (3,534) 

Colts Blog Roll:

While Phillip Wilson covers the team for the great Indy Star, the blog to bookmark is ColtsInsider.com

Every NFL team has a "buzztap" twitter following and the Colts version is, of course: @coltsbuzztap (20,731)

The SB Nation blog to visit each day is StampedeBlue.com and can be followed @StampedeBlue. Brad Wells is the head blogger for the site and twitter handle.

Others to be sure to follow are @ColtsFanClub (13,749), @ColtsGab, ColtsAuthority.com and @MyColts (4,119)

The ESPN AFC South blog is run by Paul Kuharsky and you can follow him @ESPN_AFCSouth

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Indianapolis Colts
No. 28: Wed., July 25

Order your 2012 Indianapolis Colts Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Indianapolis Colts Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Indianapolis Colts Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:40
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Minnesota Vikings check in at No. 30.

Immersed in one of the darkest times in franchise history, the Vikings are looking for even the slightest optimism to energize the fan base. This reclamation project could take awhile. Save a few moving parts, this is still the same team that has one divisional win since 2010. But the Vikings have done enough through free agency and the draft to improve from last season’s 3–13 collapse. After more than a dozen free agent signings and 10 draft picks, depth should bolster positions of need such as cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line.

It’s not every player’s fault the Vikings fell apart last season. Some of the game’s brightest wear purple on Sundays. But let’s be honest: The Vikings entered the offseason with far more questions than answers.

That’s just fine with the three monsters in the NFC North that have made a recent habit of devouring the Vikings. 

Offense

Whether Adrian Peterson recovers from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for Week 1 or Week 8, the Vikings can’t wait for the game’s best rusher to play savior. The league’s 28th-ranked passing offense must catch up with the rest of the league — and it has a fighting chance to do just that.

Hopes hinge on quarterback Christian Ponder, who throws well on the move and converts key third downs but has struggled with decision-making late in games. It’s all about timing with Ponder — when to have confidence in his strong arm and when to be conservative.

Ponder should have more to work with this year. As should do-it-all receiver Percy Harvin, who is best suited for the slot but will be used all over the field once again.

Receiver Jerome Simpson’s elite athleticism makes him worth the risk of a one-year deal despite his three-game suspension to start the 2012 season. Simpson’s arrival allows veteran Michael Jenkins, a reliable possession receiver who sometimes struggles to beat man coverage, to slide into the third receiver spot.

The Vikings have invested in tight end help, hoping the John Carlson-Kyle Rudolph combination channels the Gronk-Hernandez show in New England. Carlson is good against zone coverage and is more quick than fast, but he won’t blow by anybody. Rudolph’s ridiculous hands and pass-catching radius offset his lack of speed. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the team’s best red zone option.

When it comes to instant improvement, look no further than the offensive line. First-round left tackle Matt Kalil has the agility and technique to be an elite pass-protector and allows Charlie Johnson, who’s tough but limited at tackle because of short arms, to slide to left guard. Couple the new left side with center John Sullivan (who improved his strength to handle nose tackles) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (a solid run-blocker who struggles with speed-rushers but is motivated entering a contract year), and the offensive line should keep Ponder upright more often than it was able to last season.

The Vikings are counting on Toby Gerhart, who thrives off carries in bulk and can wear teams down with a bowling-ball mentality. But if Peterson misses extended time, the Vikings will miss terribly his ability to take over games. Expect Peterson’s pass-catching role to increase upon his return. 

Related: Top Minnesota Vikings Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Not even four Jared Allens up front could have masked Minnesota’s historically bad secondary a year ago, when opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a 107.6 passer rating.

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams should have more help, but the Vikings are choosing to count on third-year cornerback Chris Cook, who twice found legal trouble in 2011. Corners who are 6'2" with natural ability to cover on an island are hard not to play. Reliability is Cook’s issue. Veteran Antoine Winfield turned 35 in June but is still one of the team’s better tacklers and, when healthy, wreaks havoc in the slot. 

The Vikings are counting on two rookies — safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson — to help revamp the secondary. The speedy Robinson has adequate coverage ability but must prove he’s polished. Smith is polished but must prove he has adequate coverage ability. Second-year safety Mistral Raymond wasn’t ready last season but should compete for a spot this year. 

The strength of the defense remains up front, where Allen, tackle Kevin Williams and end Brian Robison return to a unit that tied for the league lead with 50 sacks. Despite getting overpowered at times, Robison is an emerging end with above-average quickness. Williams has played through injury the last two seasons and can still dominate games at times. He’ll need help from Letroy Guion, who’s expected to start at nose tackle despite four uneven seasons. Coaches believe his move from three-technique tackle to nose will best utilize his 6'4", 303-pound frame to gobble up rushing lanes. 

Questions persist at linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley, the replacement for E.J. Henderson, has limited experience and is coming off hip surgery. Brinkley is an aggressive hitter and solid against the run, but can he consistently cover tight ends? 
Chad Greenway is solid in coverage, but despite being a sure tackler and team leader, he was quiet in the big-play department a year ago. Maybe a better secondary can help clean up the backfield mess that left linebackers vulnerable. 

Erin Henderson can play in nickel or base packages and has major upside. In the past, he’s been prone to leave his gap in search of a home run play. 

Specialists

Kicker Ryan Longwell was released, opening the door for sixth-round pick Blair Walsh, who has a tremendous leg but was inconsistent in his final season at Georgia.

Harvin is the Vikings’ best kick return option, but he’s too valuable on offense. Third-string running back Jordan Todman or fourth-round receiver Jarius Wright could help matters. Robinson returned punts in college and might compete with last year’s return man, Marcus Sherels. 

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC North

The Vikings are rebuilding at the worst possible time, with all three NFC North rivals capable of double-digit-win seasons. But things can’t get much worse than in 2011, when an 0–4 start despite dominating teams in first halves deflated the entire season, and injuries plagued several positions. After losing nine games by seven points or less, this team seems due for a few breaks. If the Vikings stay healthy and produce a top-15 offense, six wins are a starting point. The running game is still stout, the defensive line is still among the league’s top 10, and a veteran-laden locker room is tired of losing. But two of the biggest concerns from a year ago — sub-par play at receiver and in the secondary — are still relatively uncertain. It’s hard to win that way, unless a few young players surprise.

Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Family Affair
First-round left tackle Matt Kalil has been groomed for success. His dad, Frank, played one season with the Buffalo Bills and four years in the now-defunct USFL. His mother, Cheryl, was Miss California in 1981. Brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the Panthers. The spotlight should be no problem for the Vikings’ new tackle.

Call of Duty
Coach Leslie Frazier got a call from well-respected Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome around the time the Vikings were wrapping up a 3–13 season. Newsome’s message? Trust the process, keep working and things will turn. Frazier, entering his second full year, believes the Vikings have great potential.

Just Short
The Vikings were one of eight NFL teams without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver in 2011. Injuries limited Adrian Peterson to 970 yards, well short of his 1,446-yard yearly average through his first four seasons. Percy Harvin led all Vikings receivers with 967 yards. 

Building Chemistry
Quarterback Christian Ponder has wasted little time getting to know his veteran teammates since joining the team in 2011. He’s been hunting with linebacker Chad Greenway and center John Sullivan in Greenway’s hometown of Mount Vernon, S.D. He’s cooked barbecue with tight end John Carlson. And he’s golfed with several teammates. 
Top this Speaking of Allen, don’t expect last year’s sack leader with 22 — a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record — to predict a sack total for 2012. Allen believes if he’s trying to get sacks, he won’t get sacks. Beating left tackles with technique and relentless play is Allen’s primary concern on the field. The rest takes care of itself.

Window Closed
After four straight years ranking in the top two in rushing defense (2006-09), the Vikings fell to ninth in 2010 and 11th last year. Minnesota’s going on its third nose tackle in as many years and will have difficulty cracking the top five again. 

Teammates for Life
The Vikings’ pair of fourth-round receivers, Arkansas’ Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, have known each other since the third grade growing up in Warren, Ark. “They are reminding me, ‘Coach, we’ve always been winners. Everywhere we went,’” Frazier says. “I said, ‘Hallelujah!’ We’ll take that.” 

Aisle-Seat RB
While recovering from his torn ACL this offseason, running back Adrian Peterson spent lots of time in airplanes because of his choice to rehab in two places: at Minnesota’s practice facility and his offseason home in Houston. “I stick to the plan wherever I am,” said Peterson during the offseason. “In both places, I’m being pushed hard and I’m pushing myself hard. So, I think it’s working out well.”

Rock Bottom
Want to improve in 2011? Try improving this stat line: NFC North quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler combined to complete 72.3 percent of their passes for 1,457 yards, 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Vikings last season. 

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Minnesota Vikings
No. 29: Tues., July 24

Order your 2012 Minnesota Vikings Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top Minnesota Vikings Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Minnesota Vikings 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/minnesota-vikings-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Minnesota Vikings official twitter account:

@VikingsFootball (Followers: 128,009)

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 22, 2012

Top Vikings To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Adrian Peterson RB @AdrianPeterson 269,168
2. Jared Allen DE @JaredAllen69 180,004
3. Kyle Rudolph TE @KyleRudolph82 176,262
4. Christian Ponder QB @CPonder7 89,623
5. Jamarca Sanford S @Sanford33 77,482
6. Percy Harvin WR @Percy_Harvin 75,581
7. Chris Kluwe P @ChrisWarcraft 46,730
8. Joe Webb QB @JoeWebb_14 18,855
9. Brian Robison DE @Brain_Robison 16,585
10. Jerome Simpson WR @Rome081 14,119
11. Erin Henderson LB @50ErinHenderson 13,341
12. Jasper Brinkley LB @JasperHitman54 11,273
13. Geoff Schwartz OL @GeoffSchwartz76 10.383
14. Chris Cook CB @Monsta_20 7,156
15. Chris Carr CB @TriplCarr 6,399
16. Jordan Todman RB @JordanTodman 5,433
17. Brandon Burton CB @BrandonBurton36 4,481
18. Chris DeGeare OL @ChrisDeGeare 2,991
19. Jerome Felton FB @JFelton45 2,190
20. Everson Griffen DE @EGriff97 1,639
21. Mickey Shuler TE @Mickey_Shuler 1,252

It's awesome that the punter for the Vikings is not only the No. 7-most followed player, but that his handle involved his love of Warcraft. 

The Vikings Beat:

Dan Wiederer is the Vikings beat writer for the Star Tribune: @StribDW

Jeremy Folwer and the rest of the Pioneer Press staff who covers the Vikings can be followed @VikingsNow

Vikings Blog Roll: 

TheVikingAge.com is the self-proclaimed "most flavorful Minnesota Vikings blog" on the web: @TheVikingAge

TheVikingShip.net can be followed @TheVikingShip

Visit www.dailynorseman.com for "the internet's best site dedicated to the Minnesota Vikings." Follow the SB Nation Vikings site @DailyNorseman

Want to run your mouth about the Purple People Eaters? Try @VikingsGab

How about @VikingsFanClub: An independent twitter account by the fans, for the fans.

Also be sure to check out @PurplePride, @VikingsUpdate and @VikingsBuzzTap

The ESPN NFC North blog is run by Kevin Seifert and you can follow him @ESPN_NFCNorth

Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview
Related: 2012 Minnesota Vikings Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Minnesota Vikings Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-tight-ends
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 9:30 a.m. CT, July 20, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Tight Ends

Rank Previous Top 150 Rank Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 19 Rob Gronkowski NE 26 44 14 13 14 14 17 25
2. 2 23 Jimmy Graham NO 28 38 22 20 20 21 20 29
3. 3 55 Antonio Gates SD 42 54 56 68 49 53 62 63
4. 5 65 Jason Witten DAL 48 58 69 72 63 72 51 80
5. 4 66 Aaron Hernandez NE 39 66 93 61 55 70 68 70
6. 6 68 Vernon Davis SF 56 76 61 65 60 77 66 79
7. 7 71 Jermichael Finley GB 64 72 87 59 57 74 69 83
8. 8 87 Fred Davis WAS 83 106 108 71 66 102 78 106
9. 10 94 Tony Gonzalez ATL 85 84 105 83 103 103 92 112
10. 9 96 Brandon Pettigrew DET 98 98 115 81 98 116 74 92
11. 12 107 Jacob Tamme DEN 121 91 132 86 102 112 96 -
12. 11 115 Brent Celek PHI 74 114 140 89 114 - 123 126
13. 13 116 Jermaine Gresham CIN 71 124 - 87 110 - 108 138
14. 16 124 Owen Daniels HOU 124 139 134 103 118 - 129 125
15. 14 125 Jared Cook TEN 134 135 123 93 126 - 141 124
16. 15 126 Dustin Keller NYJ - 133 - 88 128 125 120 134
17. 17 139 Coby Fleener IND 123 131 - 124 132 136 - -
18. 18 Kellen Winslow SEA - - - 133 - - 125 -
19. 19 Greg Olsen CAR - 137 - 135 - - 150 142
20. 20 Martellus Bennett NYG - 143 - 142 - - - 150
21. 23 Kyle Rudolph MIN - 137 - - - - - -
22. 22 Ed Dickson BAL - 146 - 144 - - - -
23. 21 Scott Chandler BUF - - - 140 - - - -
24. 24 Anthony Fasano MIA - 150 - 146 - - - -
25. 25 Marcedes Lewis JAC - 148 - 149 - - - -
26. 26 Heath Miller PIT - 147 - - - - - -

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, St. Louis Rams, NFL
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The St. Louis Rams check in at No. 31.

Like a sequel to a bad movie, The Rebuilding III is now playing in St. Louis. The Rams are on their third head coach in the past six years and have had their roster gutted once again. The Rams can only hope things go better under Jeff Fisher than they did under predecessors Steve Spagnuolo (10–38) and Scott Linehan (11–25). Spagnuolo and Linehan were newbies — they had never been head coaches at any level prior to St. Louis. Not so, obviously, with Fisher. Prior to taking the 2011 season off, he had been head coach of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise for 16 full seasons.

Because of his experience and past success — including a Super Bowl XXXIV loss 13 seasons ago against the team he now coaches — Fisher doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He exudes confidence and toughness. Those characteristics have been in short supply lately around Rams Park, where Fisher and GM Les Snead are working toward the franchise’s first winning record since 2003.

Offense

The road to respectability starts on offense, where the Rams were the league’s lowest-scoring team in two of the past three seasons. Quarterback Sam Bradford took a step back during an injury-plagued 2011 after earning Offensive Rookie of the Year laurels a year earlier. Bradford enters 2012 with his third scheme and his third offensive coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer) in as many NFL seasons. There are some similarities between the Schottenheimer playbook and the West Coast scheme Bradford ran as a rookie under Pat Shurmur, so the transition may not be too daunting this time around.

Any hopes for a more productive offense rest simply in better pass protection and more playmakers. The only major addition on the offensive line is at center, where former Green Bay Pro Bowler Scott Wells will add savvy and toughness. Otherwise, the Rams need third-year left tackle Rodger Saffold to revert to his rookie form, and right tackle Jason Smith to stay healthy and be sounder in his technique.

It’s largely up to the draft class of 2012 if the Rams are to show any improvement at the skill positions. Second-round wide receiver Brian Quick provides a large target and the ability to make big plays both with his size and his route-running. Fourth-rounder Chris Givens, with his 4.3 speed, provides an element the Rams haven’t had in a while — someone who can get over the top and stretch defenses. When healthy, Danny Amendola is an effective slot receiver who excels at the third down catch. If Steve Smith returns to anything resembling his Pro Bowl form of 2009 as a New York Giant, the Rams could have a credible pass-catching unit.

Fisher obviously likes to run the football, and the tandem of three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson and second-round draft pick Isaiah Pead will get plenty of work. Jackson, who rushed for 1,145 yards last season, remains an intriguing blend of speed and power at 236 pounds; Pead provides a shifty change of pace, weighing in at 193. 

Related: Top St. Louis Rams Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

Mainstays Chris Long at end and James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker are the only returning starters in the front seven. After splitting time with James Hall a year ago at the other end position, 2011 first-round pick Robert Quinn gets his first crack at being an every-down player. Quinn has good pass-rush skills but must prove he can hold up against the run play-in and play-out. Fisher has a couple of brutes at D-tackle in Dolphins free agent pickup Kendall Langford and No. 14 overall draft pick Michael Brockers. The defensive line is loaded with potential, but Brockers and Quinn are raw and must develop quickly.

Laurinaitis remains an underrated force in the middle, active against the run and very good in coverage. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a free agent pickup from New Orleans, brings physicality and good speed to one of the outside linebacker spots. And it looks like veteran Mario Haggan will man the other outside position. The team signed several promising rookie free agents who will have a chance to make the team. This position may not totally shake out until the end of the preseason.

The secondary, particularly at cornerback, could be one of the most improved units on the team. Former Titan Cortland Finnegan — an All-Pro in 2008 — brings the attitude and aggressiveness that Fisher looks for in his corners. Draft picks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson fit that mold as well but must show that their college off-the-field issues are behind them. With Bradley Fletcher, who has 22 starts in three NFL seasons, coming off knee surgery, and raw but talented Jerome Murphy in the mix, the Rams have the potential for solid depth.

Because of the indefinite suspension of Gregg Williams for his role in the New Orleans bounty scandal, the Rams won’t have a defensive coordinator this year. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis is expected to handle the bulk of those duties, with help from Fisher.

Specialists

As if there weren’t enough question marks on the depth chart, the Rams plan to enter 2012 with a rookie punter and kicker. For several seasons, the Rams had one of the league’s better punter-kicker tandems in Donnie Jones and Josh Brown. Both veterans had sub-par 2011 seasons. In salary cap-related moves, Jones was allowed to leave in free agency and Brown was cut. Enter sixth-round draft pick Greg Zuerlein at kicker and undrafted rookie John Hekker at punter. Zuerlein had a phenomenal senior season at Missouri Western, making 21 consecutive field goals, including nine of 50 yards-plus. But it’s a big jump from Division II to the NFL. Handling the pressure will be a big part of the transition for Zuerlein and Hekker, who averaged 44 yards per kick last season at Oregon State. Two more rookies, Pead and Jenkins, may end up handling the return chores.

Final Analysis: 4th in the NFC West

In a division where San Francisco appears loaded for a Super Bowl run, and Seattle and Arizona are making steady improvements, the Rams won’t be overnight sensations. They have gone from one of the league’s oldest teams to one of its youngest since Fisher took over. Fisher, GM Snead, and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff are building for the long haul. They know a quick fix is impossible, and there will be growing pains along the way with this young and largely unproven roster. 

Because of the talent gap, they took chances on several draft picks with top-tier talent but shaky pasts. So there’s a boom-or-bust quality to the draft class that makes it difficult to handicap. The absence of Williams on defense won’t help the progression on that side of the ball. 

Make no mistake — there will be a different culture under Fisher at Rams Park. His teams tend to play physical, inspired football. He accepts nothing less. Even so, Fisher’s track record of squeezing everything possible out of a roster will be put to the test this season.

Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

No Mountain High Enough
It will be an uphill battle to reach respectability for coach Jeff Fisher and the Rams in his first season in St. Louis. Then again, he’s used to these sorts of challenges. During the spring of 2011, Fisher climbed Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation: 19,341 feet) as part of an NFL effort to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Fathers and Sons
Coaching Rams football is truly a family affair. Fisher’s son Brandon is assistant secondary coach for the team. The son of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau Sr. — Paul Boudreau Jr. — is assistant special teams coach. Linebackers coach Blake Williams is the son of suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (father Marty) and special teams coach John Fassel (father Jim) are the sons of former NFL head coaches. 

My Offseason Adventure
A true renaissance man, running back Steven Jackson swam in shark cages off the coast of Africa and attended World Cup games in past offseasons. He once toured New Zealand just prior to a devastating earthquake. This offseason, he roamed South America and attended a Hollywood boot camp for aspiring filmmakers.

V-i-c-t-o-r-y
Members of the Rams’ draft class showed some talent way back in elementary school, though not on the field. Seventh-round linebacker Aaron Brown of Hawaii won a spelling bee in the third grade. Wide receiver Chris Givens of Wake Forest went one grade better: He won a spelling bee in the fourth grade.

London Calling
The Rams play their first game overseas — regular season or preseason — since the franchise relocated to St. Louis in 1995 when the team crosses the Atlantic to meet New England on Oct. 28 in London’s Wembley Stadium. Team owner Stan Kroenke already knows his way around Great Britain — he owns the Arsenal soccer club of the English Premier League.

Happy Birthday Rams
From Crazylegs Hirsch to the Fearsome Foursome to the Greatest Show on Turf, this marks the 75th football season for the Rams, a colorful and storied franchise that has called Cleveland, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis home since that first kickoff in 1937. Among its many distinctions, the Rams were the first team in the NFL to have helmet logos. They were designed by one of the team’s players, halfback Fred Gehrke, in 1948.

How The Mighty Have Fallen
During their improbable run to the Super Bowl XXXIV championship during the 1999 season, the Rams’ quick-strike offense had 50 touchdown passes during the regular season and playoffs. In 2011, the Rams had nine TD passes for the entire season.

Mr. Consistent
Even with the team’s struggles in the win-loss column, Jackson has been as steady as it gets in the backfield. The ninth-year running back will be seeking his eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season. Only five players in NFL history have had more than seven 1,000-yard seasons in a row.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: St. Louis Rams
No. 30: Mon., July 23

Order your 2012 St. Louis Rams Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

Related: Top St. Louis Rams Top Twitter Accounts To Follow 
Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> St. Louis Rams 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC West, St. Louis Rams, NFL
Path: /nfl/st-louis-rams-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the St. Louis Rams official twitter account:

@STLouisRams (Followers: 67,763)

There is a fine art to commanding a powerful twitter audience and some players can do it better than others. You don’t have to be a star player to be a twi-xpert. But here are some of the most followed Ram players for 2012 (PS, apparently much like Sam Bradford, you have a lot of receiving options to choose from...):

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 20, 2012

Top Rams To Follow:

  Name Pos. Twitter Followers
1. Steven Jackson RB @SJ39 155,086
2. Steve Smith WR @SteveSmithWR 82,229
3. James Laurinaitis LB @JrLaurinaitis 39,135
4. Cortland Finnegan CB @CortFinnegan 19,309
5. Danario Alexander WR @D_Alexander84 18,128
6. Jerome Murphy CB @Aagent23 13,787
7. Kendall Langford DT @KendallLangford 12,375
8. Trevor Laws DT @TrevorLaws 11,943
9. Isaiah Pead RB @IPead 10,141
10. Austin Pettis WR @Austin_Pettis 8,695
11. Jo-Lonn Dunbar LB @JoLonnDunbar 8,074
12. Brandon Gibson WR @BGibson04 5,127
13. Quintin Mikell S @QMikell27 5,020
14. Greg Salas WR @GregSalas1 4,433
15. Robert Quinn DT @RQuinn94 4,244
16. Chris Givens WR @CG1three 4,000
17. Trumaine Johnson CB @TruJohnson2 3,823
18. Bradley Fletcher CB @BFletch32 3,654
19. Craig Dahl S @CraigDahl43 3,286
20. Brian Quick WR @Workaholic_BQ 3,193
21. Rodger Saffold OL @Rodger_Saffold 3,040
22. Quinn Okinnaka OL @MooseNation69 2,391

Moose Nation is a particular favorite as he is a self-proclaimed "THUG." Or Totally Humble Under God. An interesting and positive twist. Additionally, Pro-Football-Reference.com lists star defensive end Chris Long as owning @CL9One, but a quick visit to the page indicates that it is no longer active.

The Rams Beat:

Jim Thomas, Rams beat writer for St. Louis Post-Dispatch: @jthom1 (7,966)

Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist: @miklasz (39,058)

Ron Clements, CBS Sports Rams Reporter: @ron_clements (1,527)

Howard Balzer, Sirius XM NFL Radio: @hbalzer721 (7,601)

Tony Softli, Rams Sideline Reporter for Rams Flagship Station 101 ESPN: @softlistl (6,811)

Brian Stull, Co-Host of The Stully and Rammer Show on 101 ESPN: @stullystl (5,527)

STLToday is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and this is their official Rams landing page.

Rams Blog Roll: 

The SB Nation Rams' affiliate is TurfShowTimes.com and you can follow them @TurfShowTimes.

Every team has a "buzztap" account that keeps fans up to date with content from all web sources. Follow the Rams edition @RamsBuzzTap.

ESPN's NFC West blog is run by Mark Sando. You can follow him @ESPN_NFCWest.

Other Rams blogs to follow include RamsGab.com (@RamsGab), the Rams' edition of ProFootballZap (@STLRamsZap) and RamsHerd.com (@RamsHerd).

Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Season Preview
Related: 2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> St. Louis Rams Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-2012-nfl-team-preview
Body:

Athlon Sports is counting down its 2012 NFL preseason Power Rankings with in-depth team previews, schedule analysis and more as the start of the NFL season draws near.

The Jacksonville Jaguars check in at No. 32.

Change came swiftly and decisively to Jacksonville in the past six months with a new owner (Shad Khan), a new head coach (Mike Mularkey) and what the Jaguars are hoping is a re-energized team that will look to improve last year’s 5–11 record and emerge as a playoff contender. The energy around the facility is different this year. Players can feel it on and off the field. Khan is improving the team’s facilities, from the practice field to the locker room to the weight room.

Above all, though, there’s a very clear understanding that winning is the only thing that will change the organization.

Offense

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Jaguars’ selection of Justin Blackmon with the fifth pick in the draft, fans erupted into a thunderous cheer at the team-sponsored draft party in Jacksonville. For the first time in years, the team’s first-round pick was met with virtually unanimous approval. In selecting Blackmon, a gifted 6'1", 215-pound wide receiver who caught 232 passes in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State, the Jaguars have given second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert some much-needed help.

The new offensive staff spent much of the offseason analyzing Gabbert, who struggled as a rookie. He completed barely over 50 percent of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Coaches noticed errors in his footwork and saw a pocket presence that needed improvement. They believe that he will take a major step forward after having the benefit of a full offseason to work with his teammates and coaches.

If he doesn’t progress, the Jaguars are better prepared this year than they were in 2011. This year’s backup, Chad Henne, has extensive starting experience with the Miami Dolphins. Henne, a former second-round pick who spent four seasons with the Dolphins, missed most of the 2011 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. His ailment was first called a separated shoulder, but the injury was more severe than originally thought. He’s healthy now and refreshed by his relocation from Miami to Jacksonville.

But last season’s passing offense, which produced 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, was as much about the Jaguars receivers as it was about their quarterback. Jacksonville took a very public stance about needing to upgrade that group, and their 2012 receiving corps will look completely different. Last year’s No. 1 receiver, Mike Thomas, likely will serve as the slot receiver this season. Free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in his only season with the Cowboys, will be the team’s top target, at least at the start. Blackmon will in time be the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver, but the team will allow him to adjust to the NFL.

Maurice Jones-Drew, coming off his third straight season with at least 1,300 yards, will once again receive the majority of the carries. Jones-Drew’s 1,606 yards last season were the best single-season total in franchise history, and his average of 4.7 yards per carry was his best since his rookie season.

The changes in the coaching staff are expected to energize the offense as much as the new personnel. The Jaguars hired the formerly retired Jerry Sullivan, a widely respected receivers coach whom Larry Fitzgerald tried to lure to Arizona. Greg Olson will be the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach. Bob Bratkowski is the offensive coordinator. They’ll all work under the direction of the offensive-minded Mularkey. The only holdover from last year’s offensive staff is line coach Andy Heck.

Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow

Defense

The Jaguars’ defense underwent a dramatic change from 2010 to ’11. Its task in 2012 is to sustain the excellence it showed last season.

Mularkey retained defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and gave him the title of assistant head coach. Most of Tucker’s staff returned as well, with the exception of defensive backs coaches Thom Kaumeyer and Cory Undlin.

The linebacking group returns intact, with starters Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Session back for their second season together. Session, however, missed seven games last season with a concussion that landed him on IR. He has been cleared to return after seeing a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. Backup Russell Allen signed a three-year deal, and the Jaguars added linebacker Brandon Marshall out of Nevada in the fifth round of the draft.

The defensive backs are a bit of a question mark. Both starting safeties, Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery, return, as does right corner Derek Cox. The Jaguars released nickel back Drew Coleman after only one season with the team. Coleman had a strong 2011 season but became the odd man out when the Jaguars signed Aaron Ross, a starter on the Super Bowl champion Giants. Ross will compete with Rashean Mathis, who is coming off a torn ACL, for the start at left corner. The loser of the competition will be the nickel back.

The Jaguars entered the draft looking to bolster their defensive line, with a specific need of adding a pass-rusher to help out starting end Jeremy Mincey. They added end Andre Branch in the second round and tackle Jeris Pendleton in the seventh. Another question mark is defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. He had eye surgery in early April and is expected to miss all of the offseason.

Specialists

A third-round pick became the subject of ridicule league-wide when the Jaguars took punter Bryan Anger. The jokes don’t bother Anger; he and his brother even shared a laugh over a story in The Onion that mocked the pick. Anger’s leg looked strong during the team’s rookie minicamp, but it’s still a stretch to use a pick that early on a punter.

The Jaguars franchised kicker Josh Scobee after he made 23-of-25 field goals last season, but Scobee did not sign the franchise tender and wants a long-term deal.

The return game wasn’t overly productive in 2011. Thomas will handle punts again after averaging 4.6 yards with a long of 28 yards. DuJuan Harris is the primary kickoff return specialist. He averaged 22.0 yards last season.

#f00">Final Analysis: 4th in the AFC South

The Jaguars season hinges on Gabbert’s development. He has more weapons this season, and he has 14 games of experience as a starter. It’s not quite make-or-break, but there will be pressure on the second-year pro to produce.

Even if Gabbert does take a step forward, the Jags will have a tough time returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The defense is solid and the offense figures to be better, but the Jags look like a team with a ceiling of about eight wins.

Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Outside The Huddle

Jags Navy
New owner Shad Khan’s 223-foot yacht docked on the St. John’s river in downtown Jacksonville for several weeks after he bought the Jaguars. Khan and his family stayed on the yacht, rather than in a hotel. According to its website — yes the yacht has its own site — it has a crew of 17, including three stewardesses, a chef, a sous chef and a masseuse/beauty therapist. The yacht is for sale at an asking price of 85 million euro, or available for rent at $600,000 per week plus expenses.

Going for the Gold
Cornerback Aaron Ross, acquired in the offseason from the Giants, has been given permission by the Jags to miss some of training camp to attend the London Olympics, where his wife, Sanya Richards-Ross, is the favorite to win the 400 meters. Ross was not able to watch her run in the Beijing games in 2008.

Brain Trust
The Jaguars’ staff includes five current or former offensive coordinators: Running backs coach Sylvester Croom, receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach Greg Olson, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and head coach Mike Mularkey, who came to Jacksonville after a stint as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

Turning a Corner
The Jaguars made a dramatic improvement in forcing turnovers last season, improving from 31st in the league to seventh in fumble recoveries and 23rd to 13th in interceptions.

MoJo Rising
Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jags’ first ever NFL rushing champion. Before he earned the distinction with 1,606 yards last season, the team hadn’t had a player finish in the top three in rushing.

MASH Unit
The Jaguars had an NFL-leading 25 players on injured reserve at the end of the season. They placed 31 players on the list, but six were released or given injury settlements.

Handy Comparison
Blaine Gabbert’s passer rating of 65.4 was the lowest among the four first-round rookie quarterbacks who played last season — Carolina’s Cam Newton, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder and Tennessee’s Jake Locker, who only played in five games. Both rookie first-round quarterbacks to play in 2010 — Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford — had higher passer ratings than Gabbert in his rookie year. In 2009, all three rookie first-round quarterbacks — Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman — had lower quarterback ratings than Gabbert did last season.

2012 Athlon Sports NFL Power Rankings and Team Previews:

No. 32: Jacksonville Jaguars
No. 31: Fri., July 20

Order your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
Related: Top Jacksonville Jaguars Twitter Accounts to Follow
Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 NFL Team Preview</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/jacksonville-jaguars-top-twitter-accounts-follow
Body:

Keeping up with your favorite team can be an all-consuming task. We’re here to help indulge that need to follow all aspects of the NFL on Twitter.

For all 32 teams, we’re picking the best Twitter accounts for each franchise. They run the gamut from players, coaches, executives, traditional media, bloggers or simply accounts that keep us informed and entertained.

Whether you’re a Twitter neophyte or simply trying to spice up your feed for football season, we’re here to help. And it all starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars official twitter account:

@JaguarsInsider (Followers: 48,350)

There is a fine art to commanding a powerful twitter audience and some players can do it better than others. You don’t have to be a star player to be a twi-xpert. But here are some of the most followed Jaguar players for 2012:

Note: Followers as of date of publication, July 19, 2012

Top Jaguars To Follow:

1. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB: @Jones_Drew32 (273,927)
2. Laurent Robinson, WR: @LaurentRobinson (102,962)
3. Justin Blackmon, WR: @JustBlack81 (48,000)
4. Blaine Gabbert, QB: @BlaineGabbert (42,984)
5. Marcedes Lewis, TE: @MarcedesLewis89 (23,469)
6. Josh Scobee, K: @JoshScobee10 (16,170)
7. Rashad Jennings, RB: @RashadJennings (10,737)
8. Cecil Shorts III, WR: @CecilShortsIII (6,878)
9. Courtney Greene, S: @MrGreene36 (6,419)
10. Zach Miller, TE: @Zmiller86 (6,341)
11. Andre Branch, DE: @BranchNout90 (5,506)
12. Uche Nwaneri, OG: @Chukwu77 (4,921)
13. Terrance Knighton, DT: @YouGotRoasted96 (4,407)
14. Eugene Monroe, OT: @TheSeventyFifth (4,221)
15. Jeremy Mincey, DE: @MrMince94 (4,206)
16. Will Rackley, OC: @WillRackley (3,940)
17. Dawan Landry, S: @DLan504 (3,758)
18. DuJuan Harris, RB: @Ol_Sly_Foxx (2,297)


And rookie punter Bryan Anger doesn’t have a twitter account but he does have an official fan page, @AngerNation. It’s the “first official fan page of the next jaguars great.”

Jaguars Writers:

Tania Ganguli covers the Jaguars beat for the Florida Times-Union and should be your top follow: @taniaganguli (10,381)

Vito Stellino, Florida Times-Union sportswriter: @vitostellino (4,537)

Gene Frenette, Florida Times-Union sportswriter: @GeneFrenette (2,638)

Jaguars Blog Roll: 

BigCatCountry.com: SB Nation has an excellent collection of fan-run and fan-generated websites. The Jags edition can followed @BigCatCountry (2,395).

Blogger @Bloguin_Shane runs the twitter account for TheJaggernaut.com.

FanSided's Jacksonville site, BlakcandTeal.com, can be followed @BlackAndTeal (238)

Be sure to check out Jaguars360.comJaguarsGab.com, which can be followed @JaguarsGab (451), and Jaguars101.com.

ESPN's AFC South blog is run by Paul Khuharsky. You can follow him @ESPN_AFCSouth.

Other Jaguars twitter accounts:

Jags owners Shahid Khan has toyed with the idea of joining twitter but has yet to take the plunge. His son, Tony Khan, has had no such problems adapting to social media. Follow him @TonyKhan (3,720).

Every team in the NFL has a 'buzztap' twitter account that updates fans on web content and more. Follow the Jags editions @JaguarsBuzzTap (9,099).

Also follow @JaguarsCom (2,550), @Jaguars_NFL_ (2,584), @JaguarsMovement (2,235) and @JaguarsFanSvcs (1,179).

Just don’t add @JaguarUSA, unless you love car porn – aka gloriously high-resoltion photos of some of the most beautiful motor vehicles made today.

Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Season Preview
Related: 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars Schedule Analysis

- by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Teaser:
<p> Jacksonville Jaguars Top Twitter Accounts To Follow</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Board, Fantasy, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /nfl/2012-nfl-fantasy-football-rankings-wide-receivers
Body:

The 2012 NFL Fantasy Season is officially here. Mock drafts abound. Rookie round-ups are complete. Bye week cheat sheets are everywhere. The creative juices are flowing with hysterical team names. Positional rankings are popping up everywhere. And the ever-important Athlon Sports 2012 Big Board, the most accurate consensus top 150 list of fantasy footballers on the web, continues to take shape.

New to our Big Board is NFL.com's initial NFL fantasy rankings as we have expanded from seven lists to eight. We also added a "Previous" column to indicate the previous ranking. Athlon, with special help from FantasyRundown.com, will continue to broaden and deepen its trademark consensus Big Board and positional rankings all summer long.

CBS: CBSSports.com (Updated: 7/13/12)
PFF: ProFootballFocus.com (Updated: 6/26/12)
ESPN: ESPN (Updated 6/20/12)
FFT: FFToolbox.com (Updated 7/15/12)
Y!: Yahoo! Sports (Updated 6/23/12)
NFL: NFL.com (2012 Debut)
FOX: FoxSports.com (Updated 5/31/12)
AS: Athlon Sports (Updated 7/1/12)

Updated: 8:30 a.m. CT, July 19, 2012

Athlon Sports Fantasy Football Positional Rankings: Wide Receivers

Rank Previous Top 150 Player: Team CBS PFF ESPN FFT Y! NFL FOX AS
1. 1 5 Calvin Johnson DET 7 6 7 4 4 8 6 5
2. 2 11 Larry Fitzgerald ARI 16 9 10 19 10 12 16 10
3. 3 13 Andre Johnson HOU 13 15 11 26 28 15 12 18
4. 4 16 Roddy White ATL 19 8 15 32 17 18 23 16
5. 5 21 Greg Jennings GB 23 14 16 36 23 20 22 24
6. 6 22 Wes Welker NE 24 28 20 25 30 17 24 23
7. 7 28 AJ Green CIN 32 31 26 27 24 26 33 26
8. 9 29 Hakeem Nicks NYG 35 12 25 28 39 33 30 27
9. 8 30 Mike Wallace PIT 31 39 19 30 29 28 29 28
10. 11 31 Julio Jones ATL 34 22 33 22 31 23 42 30
11. 10 32 Victor Cruz NYG 38 26 29 29 26 36 46 32
12. 12 35 Jordy Nelson GB 30 57 39 37 33 35 44 31
13. 13 36 Steve Smith CAR 46 43 40 41 34 24 39 40
14. 14 38 Brandon Marshall CHI 51 49 35 45 27 34 38 35
15. 16 40 Dez Bryant DAL 59 32 41 40 47 38 45 37
16. 15 41 Marques Colston NO 55 24 46 42 44 39 52 39
17. 18 44 Demaryius Thomas DEN 37 20 63 51 41 32 49 60
18. 17 48 Miles Austin DAL 53 36 48 55 36 48 55 52
19. 19 49 Percy Harvin MIN 50 46 55 48 48 37 48 56
20. 20 50 Dwayne Bowe KC 61 34 57 63 51 46 50 57
21. 21 51 Jeremy Maclin PHI 60 45 59 57 46 49 58 50
22. 22 53 Vincent Jackson TB 65 40 53 52 67 57 56 53
23. 23 56 Kenny Britt TEN 73 18 74 49 54 52 65 74
24. 24 58 Brandon Lloyd NE 68 59 47 62 56 51 59 62
25. 27 62 Antonio Brown PIT 75 6 66 77 68 84 53 67
26. 26 69 DeSean Jackson PHI 63 74 71 69 71 78 71 61
27. 28 70 Stevie Johnson BUF 72 50 60 64 64 67 127 59
28. 30 74 Torrey Smith BAL 76 65 82 76 80 76 91 72
29. 25 76 Robert Meachem SD 81 62 77 70 81 73 98 85
30. 29 77 Eric Decker DEN 80 55 68 104 74 66 85 99
31. 31 80 Pierre Garcon WAS 109 71 80 82 84 83 89 82
32. 32 84 Reggie Wayne IND 78 51 103 94 83 79 106 98
33. 33 88 Anquan Boldin BAL 90 85 94 99 99 91 84 86
34. 35 89 Denarius Moore OAK 91 78 84 106 93 86 111 84
35. 34 92 Sidney Rice SEA 87 69 98 101 86 134 83 97
36. 37 97 Lance Moore NO 93 90 91 118 109 96 94 87
37. 36 98 Santonio Holmes NYJ 102 122 89 102 87 90 81 108
38. 40 102 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK 117 82 106 113 95 99 119 105
39. 38 103 Justin Blackmon JAC 106 134 113 92 108 110 95 96
40. 42 106 Michael Crabtree SF 111 119 96 120 115 100 114 109
41. 39 108 Malcolm Floyd SD 112 103 85 112 104 114 116 146
42. 41 109 Titus Young DET 92 95 112 100 137 119 122 121
43. 44 110 Greg Little CLE 114 80 - 109 91 104 137 118
44. 43 114 Mike Williams TB 119 105 120 97 100 142 121 123
45. 46 120 Laurent Robinson JAC 135 111 118 108 131 130 93 -
46. 48 121 Nate Washington TEN 126 100 125 - 124 107 131 119
47. 47 129 Michael Floyd ARI 141 93 131 129 120 - 130 -
48. 49 130 Santana Moss WAR 104 - - - 121 115 144 111
49. 45 132 Mario Manningham SF 136 - 128 107 144 117 118 -
50. 52 135 Doug Baldwin SEA - 116 - 121 134 126 - 122
51. 51 141 Vincent Brown SD 144 - - 111 138   134 120
52. 53 145 Davone Bess MIA - 88 - - 140 - - -
53. 50 147 Reuben Randle NYG - 113 117 - - - - -
54. 57 148 Randy Moss SF 118 145 135 - - - 136 -
55. 58 149 Austin Collie IND 148 97 - 147 143 - - -
56. 62 Brian Quick STL 142 108 - - 147 150 - -
57. 54 Brandon LaFell CAR 137 132 - 127 - - - -
58. 55 Jacoby Ford OAK 139 136 - 125 - - - -
59. 56 Nate Burleson DET 133 - 133 - 139 - - -
60. 65 Jonathan Baldwin KC 149 - 144 141 - 146 - -
61. 61 Alshon Jeffery CHI - - - - 145 - 140 -
62. 63 James Jones GB - - - 139 - - - 147
63. 66 Kendall Wright TEN - 142 - 145 - - - -
64. 60 Leonard Hankerson WAS - 149 139 - - - - -
65. 64 Danny Amendola STL 145 - - - - - - 145
66. UR Chad Ochocinco MIA - 140 - - - - - -
67. UR Golden Tate SEA - 141 - - - - - -
68. UR Jason Avant PHI - 144 - - - - - -
69. 67 Jabar Gaffney NE - - - - - - 145 -
70. 71 Emmanuel Sanders PIT 147 - - - - - - -
71. 69 Deion Branch NE - - - - - - - 148

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall

Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Fantasy Content:

Athlon Sports Big Board: Top 150
2012 NFL Fantasy Football Athlon's Top 250
2012 Fantasy Football Mock Draft I
2012 Bye Week Cheat Sheet
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: QBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: RBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: WRs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: TEs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DLs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: LBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: DBs
Athlon Sports Fantasy Positional Rankings: IDP Top 75

Related: Order your Athlon Sports 2012 NFL Preview Magazine Here

You can preorder your award-winning Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine here.
Teaser:
<p> 2012 NFL Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 08:30

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