Tag Archives: Frank Gore

The Colts’ Top Offseason Priority: Improve the Offensive Line

In professional football, the group of players who typically get the least amount of attention are the offensive linemen. Those players protect the quarterback and create openings for the running backs, so despite their lack of fanfare, those guys are extremely important to a team’s success.

A great example of how an offensive line can make or break a team would be the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. Going into the season, their offense was thought to be virtually unstoppable. They had Andrew Luck at quarterback, Frank Gore at running back, a bevy of talented receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

There was just one problem…everyone forgot that in order for all these dynamic playmakers to do their job, they would need quality pass and run blocking. The offensive line couldn’t provide the help that the “skill position” players needed, and as a result, the Colts offense was, well, offensive in 2015.

The point has now been hammered home that having all that offensive talent means nothing if Andrew Luck is on his back, or Frank Gore has nowhere to run with the football. The Colts understand this, but what can be done to improve the team’s offensive line play?

The Colts fired a number of their assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive line coach Hal Hunter. The Colts hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to replace him, with the hope that he can get more out of the group of linemen the Colts currently have on the roster. Philbin has a very good record as an offensive line coach, so this move has the potential to make a difference.

Indianapolis also needs to upgrade the talent on the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the Colts’ best lineman, but he had an off year in 2015 and will have to rebound. Left guard Jack Mewhort is young, but has shown he can do the job. Other than those two guys, the team’s group of offensive linemen is a bit shaky.

The Colts began the season with Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans and Lance Louis filling the other three line positions. During this time, the team was also experimenting by moving Mewhort to right tackle. The line play in the first two games of the season was awful, so changes began to be made.

All sorts of combinations were tried, but the bottom line is that none of them worked nearly well enough. The Colts have a particular problem with the center and guard spots, and this has to be addressed if the team is to return to contender status.

One bright spot for the future of the Colts offensive line came late in the season with the insertion of rookie Denzell Goode into the lineup at right tackle. Goode still needs experience, but his solid play gave indications that he may eventually be the answer at right tackle.

So, if Indianapolis is in “win now” mode as they seem to be, they need to bring in at least one quality center and one quality guard to upgrade the talent in front of Andrew Luck. Continuity on the offensive line is always a big plus, but when you don’t have good enough players in place, you have to make changes. One would hope that with Joe Philbin as their coach, the offensive line will gel, even with some new faces in 2016.

An excellent offensive line can make even mediocre players around them look good, and conversely, a poor offensive line can make Pro Bowl players around them look bad. The Indianapolis Colts know all too well about the latter, and they intend to change that before the fall of 2016.

Colts Win, but the Real Fun is Just Beginning

A few hours after this piece was originally published, the Colts announced that both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson had been awarded contract extensions that will run through the 2019 season. This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy in Pagano’s case (I am truly happy for him), but putting all feelings aside, read on for my take on how this should have gone down…

On Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Colts won a football game. Had this contest had (realistic) playoff implications, this might have been a significant story. However, despite beating the Tennessee Titans with two quarterbacks who weren’t on the roster a week ago, the game was no more than a subplot.

Now that the 2015 season is officially over for the Colts, the real intrigue begins. The Colts went from Super Bowl contender to non-playoff team during the course of the 2015 campaign…it was a wild ride. Everyone seemed to have a hand in the underperformance that swept through the Colts franchise this season: players, coaches and management alike. The team had to deal with numerous significant injuries during the year, but make no mistake about it, the wheels were falling off long before the injury bug hit. Colts owner Jim Irsay has stated that he wants “multiple Super Bowls” while Andrew Luck is the team’s quarterback.

They seemed very much on track over the last three years, but this season was a major flop. The big question now is: what should be done about it? As of this writing, there was no official news from Colts Headquarters regarding the status of head coach Chuck Pagano. Since last week, sources have reported that Pagano will be relieved of his head coaching duties by the Colts at season’s end. If that happens as is widely believed, it will be in the best interest of the team going forward. Chuck Pagano is a quality human being and there is a lot to like about the man, but if the Colts are truly “all in” to make a run at the Super Bowl with this team, Chuck Pagano is not the coach who will lead them there.

You really hate to see bad things happen to good people, but the reality is that Pagano is an average NFL head coach, at best. With that order of business out of the way, let’s move on to the status of general manager Ryan Grigson. Multiple sources are reporting that Grigson’s job is safe for now, at least until the Colts hire a new head coach. If Irsay lands a “big name” guy to lead the troops next season, the thought is that the new head coach in that scenario will likely want input into personnel matters.

If so, Grigson will probably be fired, or offered a lesser role within the organization. What should happen?

Let’s not dance around the subject: Ryan Grigson is bad for the Colts, and should be fired. Grigson got far too much credit for the team’s turnaround when he came on board in 2012. Much of that turnaround was due to drafting QB Andrew Luck, who was regarded by most as the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since John Elway nearly 30 years earlier. Grigson has had numerous blunders during his tenure (trading for RB Trent Richardson and drafting LB/DE Bjoern Werner in the first round, for example). Even some of the moves that have worked out were not necessarily because of Grigson’s insight.

A prime example of this would be his drafting of Pro Bowl WR T.Y. Hilton in the third round in 2012. This fact seems to have been forgotten, but as Hilton was emerging as an offensive force, even Grigson admitted that when he drafted him, he did so with the notion that Hilton would be a good kick returner, and anything they got out of him otherwise would be a bonus. So, even some of Grigson’s good decisions were either no-brainers, or just plain lucky.

In terms of his approach, Ryan Grigson leaves a lot to be desired as well. He has a huge ego, and appears to be more of a ‘me’ guy than a ‘we’ guy. He has consistently overstepped his bounds as a GM, reportedly making decisions that are usually those of the head coach, such as who plays, how much they play and player discipline. Even though the potential dismissal of Chuck Pagano seems justified, his job was clearly made more difficult by his general manager’s antics.

Now that we have head coaching and front office vacancies in theory, should the Colts also look to make roster changes? Absolutely. In truth, there are probably more weaknesses on this team than there are strengths…perhaps a shocking statement made about a team thought of as “loaded” prior to the season, but accurate based on what we saw for 16 games in 2015.

The Indianapolis defense didn’t perform well this year. Pro Bowl CB Vontae Davis had an off year, but one would hope he can bounce back in 2016. The other starter at CB, Greg Toler, is talented but continues to play inconsistently…he’s also too injury-prone. The defensive line and pass rush need help, but the return (from injury) of promising rookie DE Henry Anderson will help those causes to a degree next season. The Colts finished the year a lowly 26th in total defense, so the production simply wasn’t there.

The Colts offense was an even bigger disappointment this past season. Yes, Andrew Luck missed nine games…but looking past that, there were many other issues at play. The offensive line struggled for most of the year, particularly in pass protection. WR Andre Johnson was supposed to be a key addition, but he was barely visible and looked like a shell of his former self (41 catches for 503 yards). RB Frank Gore was underutilized; he didn’t get a lot of carries and when he did, there were not many holes to run through.

Undoubtedly, there are problems in this organization at all levels. Stability is an important ingredient to success, but when you have the wrong people in place, change is necessary. There is a lot of work for the Colts to do this offseason, and that process begins today.

The Colts Maintain Their Pulse in Week 16

The battered and bruised Indianapolis Colts showed enough moxie this past Sunday afternoon to pull off an 18-12 win over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium. This victory was anything but pretty, but the way this season has gone for Indianapolis (7-8), they’ll take a win of any kind…beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

This was a game that the Colts were very lucky to win. Miami, now 5-10 on the year, outgained the Colts by nearly a hundred yards offensively, but there were some key moments that completely erased that advantage.

Indianapolis QB Matt Hasselbeck threw a first quarter interception that was negated by a holding call on Dolphins CB Brent Grimes. Later in the quarter, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill tried to hit WR DeVante Parker on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, but Tannehill was picked off by Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis. In the third quarter, Tannehill threw an apparent touchdown pass, only to have it taken off the board when WR Jarvis Landry was called for offensive pass interference on the play.

These three plays alone created an 18-point swing in favor of the Colts, but there was one last prayer they needed answered to pull this one out.

The Dolphins had driven to the Colts’ 5-yard line with under a minute to play, poised to find the end zone and score a likely game-winning touchdown. Instead, Tannehill threw the ball on three straight downs, misfiring each time. The fourth down play never got off the ground, as a mistimed snap caused Ryan Tannehill to be engulfed by the Colts defensive line before having any opportunity to get the ball out of his hands…and that was all she wrote for Miami.

Colts RB Frank Gore essentially carried the offense, rushing for 85 yards on 15 carries, including a nifty 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of yet another game, and third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst came in and did his job: he played unspectacular but mistake-free football.

Indianapolis’ much-maligned defense held down Miami’s rushing attack, and made enough plays against Tannehill and his receivers to keep the Colts in the game, although they did give up 329 passing yards on the day.

Miami did everything they could to give this one away, but the Colts did capitalize on the Dolphins’ errors, so Indianapolis does deserve some credit for being opportunistic.

Despite the victory, the Colts playoff chances are slim…the Houston Texans are responsible for that (they blew out Tennessee 34-6 on Sunday). Houston continues to hold a one-game lead over the Colts, and it would take a myriad of things to happen for Indianapolis to wiggle into the playoffs now.

This was a win the Colts badly needed. Even if the playoffs are out of reach, they needed this to gain some momentum and confidence. However, there’s a problem with the way the Colts deal with winning games like this.

There has been a pattern this season of head coach Chuck Pagano overreacting to his team’s victories. He gave an inspirational and emotional speech earlier this season after a come-from-behind win over the Titans. Yes, the Tennessee Titans. Pagano repeated this act after Indianapolis picked up the ‘W’ over a Miami team who was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

Why is this a problem? It shows everyone how low the bar is set, and honestly, wreaks of desperation. There’s a saying in sports, “act like you’ve been there before.” Pagano acting like the Colts just won the Super Bowl each time they beat an also-ran is weak. He’s trying to convince his team that they accomplished something significant, and perhaps, hoping his boss (Jim Irsay) is fooled by this as well.

It’s not working, Chuck.

Jim Irsay’s goal is for the Colts to win multiple Super Bowls in the “Andrew Luck Era.” Surely he knows that will never happen with a head coach like Chuck Pagano. Pagano is a man of character and strength, and a very good NFL assistant coach…there’s a lot to like about Chuck Pagano. The simple fact is: he’s over his head trying to lead an NFL franchise to the Super Bowl, which is where the Colts want to go and believe they can go.

Yes, Indianapolis came out on top in this game. But, when you put it all in perspective, this victory rings very hollow.

The Sad Decline of the Indianapolis Colts Continues

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “Super Bowl” and “Colts” in the same sentence. Looks like it’s going to be a lot longer before we hear it again.

The Houston Texans came into Lucas Oil Stadium and wrested the division lead away from the Colts by virtue of a 16-10 triumph on Sunday afternoon. The Texans (7-7) now hold a one-game lead over Indianapolis, who fell to 6-8 with two games remaining in the regular season.

For the third straight week, the Colts held an early lead before imploding. After trailing 10-0 in the first half, Houston scored 16 consecutive points to win their first ever game in Indianapolis (the Texans were 0-13 coming into this contest). The Colts had an unprecedented 16-game winning streak within the division snapped last week against Jacksonville; now they’ve lost two in a row against the AFC South.

The quarterback matchup in this game was not exactly one for the ages: backup QB Matt Hasselbeck going for Indianapolis, while Houston had to play their third-string signal caller, T.J. Yates. Neither quarterback played particularly well, and when Yates went down with a non-contact knee injury after scrambling late in the second quarter, things looked even worse for the Texans.

Enter Brandon Weeden, the former starting QB in Cleveland, but currently number four on the depth chart in Houston. Weeden was the hero in this one, coming off the bench to go 11-for-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown after Yates’ injury. Most importantly, Houston scored all 16 of their points with Weeden at the helm, as he gave the Texans the shot in the arm they needed after falling behind early 10-0.

The Colts offense was anemic, gaining a paltry 190 yards for the game. QB Matt Hasselbeck had a tough day in more ways than one, going 17-for-30 for only 147 yards, and feeling pressure and taking hits from the Texans’ defense all afternoon. Indianapolis RB Frank Gore ran hard, but had nowhere to go, averaging 2.8 yards on 16 carries.

Aside from Brandon Weeden’s heroics, Houston didn’t exactly light it up either. The Texans’ running game was mostly held in check, other than Alfred Blue’s 41-yard run in the second quarter, which didn’t actually lead to any points for Houston.

The turnover battle was even, but the Colts only lost fumble was a very costly one. Indianapolis was driving late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10, when WR Griff Whalen took a short pass from Hasselbeck and coughed it up after a good hit by Houston CB Johnathan Joseph…this effectively ended the Colts’ hopes.

Indianapolis did get the ball back one more time, only to have Matt Hasselbeck throw a deep interception on the first play of the drive when he “misinterpreted the angle” WR Donte Moncrief took on his route.

The last three minutes of this game continued what has been a pattern of late with the Colts – key moment, key mistake(s).

Now that the AFC South lead has vanished and a playoff berth is becoming unlikely, what do we make of the 2015 version of the Indianapolis Colts? It would be easy to blame this disappointing season on injuries, particularly when your star quarterback has missed significant time on the field…but that’s not why this team has underachieved.

It all starts with a flawed roster, a fact that was previously covered up by QB Andrew Luck’s emergence as an NFL star. Even he could not continue to perform at a high level with a struggling offensive line in front of him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson chose not to address the offensive line to any large degree in the offseason, and it’s coming back to haunt the team now. In general, Grigson has just had far too many “misses” in the draft and in free agency, and they’ve led Indianapolis to where they are now.

Another key issue is coaching. Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach, has not proven to be a top-flight coach in either game preparation or motivation. Consistent errors such as penalties and turnovers, especially at crucial times, are the mark of a poorly-coached team. As the season has worn on, the team is also playing with less and less desire and enthusiasm.

What a difference in outlook from Week 1 to now. The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to win the AFC Championship this season, now, they’ll have to finish strong and hope for some help just to barely make the playoffs – in a weak division. Unless something spectacular (and unexpected) happens, some heads are going to roll when this train wreck of a season is over.

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: a Postmortem

For the Indianapolis Colts, this past Sunday began with good news…they saw their two closest division rivals, Houston and Jacksonville, go down to defeat. The Texans fell in Buffalo 30-21, while the Jags lost a 42-39 shootout in Tennessee.

The good news continued as their game against the Steelers commenced, when Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Then, there was, well…the rest of the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers sliced and diced Indianapolis en route to a 45-10 drubbing on Sunday night. The Colts were able to hang tough for most of the first half, holding a 10-6 lead late in the period. But from that point forward, the Steelers completely dominated play.

Pittsburgh (7-5) will likely need to earn a Wild Card berth to advance to the playoffs, and the way they played in this game, they absolutely looked the part of a playoff team. The Colts (6-6), by virtue of playing in the AFC South, continue to hold the division lead, despite this forgettable performance.

Last season, Pittsburgh handed Indianapolis a resounding defeat as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Big Ben didn’t generate the same kind of numbers in the rematch, but that’s deceptive, to say the least. Roethlisberger was brilliant again, going 24-for-39 for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis played some zone coverage early in the game in an attempt to slow down the Steelers passing game, but it didn’t work. When they went back to man-to-man, you guessed it: that didn’t work either. The Colts had no answer for anything Big Ben and his offense wanted to do on this night.

To add insult to injury, RB DeAngelo Williams was just as effective against the Indianapolis defense, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries. Let’s not forget, Williams is filling in for injured starter Le’Veon Bell…it’s nice to have quality depth, isn’t it?

Did anything go well for the Colts in this contest? Not really. Their offense was almost as inept as their defense, although RB Frank Gore had a solid outing, given that there was very little room to run against a tough Pittsburgh rushing defense.

Indianapolis’ offensive line couldn’t buy any time for QB Matt Hasselbeck to find his receivers, which was key for both teams – Pittsburgh’s defense against the pass has been poor most of this season, so that was the Colts’ best chance to compete in this game, and they could never get untracked due to the poor protection up front.

The Steelers certainly look the part of a playoff contender, but where does this leave the Colts? Actually, this hapless showing doesn’t change much for this team. They are still battling to fend off Houston (and perhaps Jacksonville) for the division crown, still sitting in first place, in fact. So, Indianapolis is still in position to make a run at the playoffs.

The more important question may be: if the Colts do win the division, can they make any noise once they get to the playoffs?

The overall talent on the roster, particularly if QB Andrew Luck returns and plays to his potential, says yes. But upon closer examination, Indianapolis just has too many holes to be a solid Super Bowl contender. The offensive line has been shuffled around all season in the hopes of finding an effective combination, but they have mostly been a liability. One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, WR Andre Johnson, has been invisible in this offense. The defense has shown promise at times, but injuries and inconsistent play have left them searching for answers as well.

A healthy and effective Andrew Luck can cover up a lot of deficiencies, but his ability to get healthy or play effectively are very much in question right now. It seems that Indianapolis has played with fire for years now, counting on their young quarterback to make everything “right.” What we are seeing now is what happens when the many weaknesses this team has are no longer being disguised by one dynamic player.

The Colts may very well end up winning the AFC South and playing in the postseason. However, unless a lot of things come together for this group at just the right time, they won’t be playing in January for very long.

Indianapolis Colts: State of the Union and Week 13 Preview

Going into the 2015 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts were considered a strong Super Bowl contender by virtually every media outlet. A strong 2014 campaign that ended with a loss in the AFC Championship Game, along with the additions of WR Andre Johnson and RB Frank Gore had pundits convinced that this team was ready to take the next step.

After 12 weeks, the ride has been anything but smooth for the 6-5 Colts. This season of promise began with a dismal loss in Buffalo. The following week, another disappointing performance resulted in a Monday Night Football defeat at the hands of the Jets, leaving Indianapolis with an 0-2 record, and a lot of questions.

The Colts finally broke through in a comeback win over Tennessee in Nashville, but QB Andrew Luck sustained injuries that would keep him out for the next two games. The Colts turned to backup QB Matt Hasselbeck, hoping he could keep the team’s head above water until Luck was ready to return. In one of the more inspiring stories of the NFL season thus far, Hasselbeck has done far more than anyone expected from a 40-year-old backup quarterback.

Hasselbeck won those two games as the starting QB, and after Luck returned and sustained further injuries that have returned him to the shelf, all Hasselbeck has done is come back in and do what he has done all season – guide Indianapolis to victories. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 at the helm of the Colts offense this season, and one could argue that he has been the team’s MVP to this point.

Indianapolis has suffered from a number of maladies that have led to their mediocre record after 12 weeks, injuries aside. When he was playing, Andrew Luck was having by far his worst NFL season. There is a great deal of debate as to why Luck has struggled, but it appears to be a combination of things. The offensive line played poorly in the first few games, which led Luck to have to hurry his reads. Coupled with the fact that the team was getting behind early in games, Luck had to take chances in an attempt to get the Colts back into games, and that was leading to more turnovers than touchdowns.

Some of the other factors holding Indianapolis back include a defense that has not performed well, and a great deal of drama with the coaching staff. There is friction between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, and the offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) was fired earlier this season. None of this is a recipe for a Super Bowl contender, to be certain.

Despite everything, the Colts are currently in first place in the AFC South…playing in a weak division may be the key to a playoff berth for this underperforming group. If Indianapolis can win the division and sneak into the playoffs, this could be a dangerous team – their play of late has again given hints of that potential.

So, onto Week 13…what can we expect against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night? QB Ben Roethlisberger has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Seattle last week, but he will not face Andrew Luck, as he is still sidelined with abdominal injuries and a lacerated kidney. Statistically, the matchup looks like this:

Pittsburgh

Indianapolis

Offense: Overall

4

22

Offense: Pass

5

17

Offense: Rush

8

26

Defense: Overall

23

26

Defense: Pass

31

27

Defense: Rush

7

24

 

Pittsburgh’s offense is superior to that of the Colts in both passing and rushing. The Steelers are more vulnerable defensively, but they’re still a little better than Indianapolis overall. Pittsburgh’s rushing defense is solid; where they are weak is against the pass. Can Matt Hasselbeck exploit the Steelers DBs? That will likely be key to the Colts’ chances on Sunday night.

Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot, so the intensity/motivation should be high on both sides. The game will be played in Heinz Field, and frankly, the Steelers are just a better team, particularly with Andrew Luck (and his talent and comeback ability) on the sideline. The Colts will struggle to stop the Steelers offense, and the Colts will have a tough time running the ball, putting a lot of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck to make plays. It looks like Hasselbeck’s storybook run will end in Pennsylvania on Sunday night…he’s done a great job stepping in and guiding the Colts offense in Luck’s absence, but asking so much of him will finally catch up to Indianapolis in Week 13.

Duke Johnson’s Legacy

Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee. These are the names that come to mind when thinking of Miami Hurricanes running backs. In five or ten years, will Duke Johnson be one of those names? Johnson, now Miami’s all-time leading rusher, had an illustrious college career statistically, but I’m not sure he will be viewed in the same breath as previous Hurricane greats.

Looking at the list of Miami’s leading rushers in the school’s history, a list Duke now sits atop, there are plenty of other names that stand out as well. Ottis Anderson, James, Portis, McGahee, Frank Gore. How does Duke Johnson stack up amidst these other Canes? These other greats all seem to have one thing that makes them stand out. Anderson set the bar for Miami running backs, totaling 3331 yards on the ground during his time in the mid to late 70s. Anderson only experienced one year with a winning record during his four years at The U, but when you set a record that stands for 36 years, that will sustain your status as one of the school’s greats.

After that are the lights out pro prospects whose dominance only lasted a couple years at Miami before running off to the NFL. #3 on Miami’s all-time rushing list is Edgerrin James. James amassed 2960 yards on 6.0 ypc to go with 32 rushing touchdowns in his three years at the school. Along with being an incredible NFL talent, James also has a moment that you think about when thinking of his time at Miami. In 1998, he led an unranked Miami team to an upset of #3 UCLA on the last game of the season by rushing for a school record 299 yards. These types of moments and games help cement your place among a school’s greats.

And what about other Hurricane running backs? Clinton Portis dominated at his time at Miami from 1999-2001. Portis accumulated 2523 yards to the tune of 5.7 ypc while splitting time with Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. All Portis did was help lead the Hurricanes to their last national championship.

McGahee was also on that championship team and although his reign as Miami RB king was short-lived (2001-2002), it was more than made up for on impact. Besides being a part of that 2001 championship team, his Heisman-worthy 2002 campaign helped the Canes get back to the BCS championship game. McGahee rang up the best season in Miami history for a RB, totaling 1753 yards, 6.2 ypc, and 28 touchdowns. But more than just his stats, there were two games that Miami wouldn’t have won without him. Down 6 with 6 minutes to go against rival Florida State, McGahee took a screen pass 68 yards to set up the game winning score. Later that year, in the final game of the season, McGahee tore up Virginia Tech, scoring six touchdowns in a shootout to keep Miami’s championship hopes alive.

Keeping the NFL pipeline going was Frank Gore. Though Gore doesn’t have the cumulative rushing totals that others do, he’s remembered for having a blistering 9.1 yards per carry in 2001. After missing the 2002 season because of a torn knee ligament, he still came back to be a productive college back and have a great NFL career.

So where does Duke Johnson stand in all of this? It’s hard to look back at Johnson’s Miami career and point to one game/impactful season that stand out the way previous Miami running backs have. Obviously this isn’t all Johnson’s fault. He was often the lone bright spot for a school who only had one season better than 7-5 during his time there. An electrifying player who since his first game as a freshman gave fans a reason to watch Miami games during a time when Miami has been the definition of mediocrity.

But with all the excitement Duke brought, it’s hard not to think of the negative moments of his career. One of those was last year, when Johnson suffered a broken ankle against Florida State. Not only did the injury end his season, it ended any hopes Miami had for a comeback in that game, and ended the funnest half-season stretch for Canes fans in a decade. The team went into a tail-spin after that. The other moment happened this past Saturday. Though Johnson had an amazing season (1652 rushing yards on 6.8 ypc, 421 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns), it had the unceremonious of all unceremonious endings. With less than 6 minutes to go and down by 3, Duke Johnson got his foot caught under a pile, causing not only an injury but fumbling the ball away, leading to a short field and touchdown for South Carolina that effectively ended Miami’s chances in the game.

Now while it will be hard not to remember those times when thinking of Johnson’s Miami career, personally I’ll remember him for the excitement he brought to a team that had little else to get excited about. But for all the records he set, on a national level it will be easy to forget his Miami greatness, especially if his rushing record doesn’t stand for decades the way Ottis Anderson’s did. A successful pro career would help. Johnson could score any time he touched the ball and as a Miami fan, I have nothing but hopes for a great pro career for Duke and thanks for giving me something to look forward to on Saturdays on a team that gave me little other reason to.

Fantasy Football and the NFC West

I was having a hell of a time compartmentalizing all of the nonsense in my brain into a well-organized column with good flow. So, I’ve decided to breakdown all the top stories in the fantasy football world division by division. If I was a betting man – which I am – I’m still putting my money on this coming out very messy and chaotic – just a notch above William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in the sense-making department – but here goes…

Marshawn-LynchWe are going to start in the NFC West, and in doing that we might as well start with the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. For me, there is very little fantasy appeal in this offense – the defense on the other hand promises to be the highest scoring DST in fantasy this year – but who cares, it’s a DST. Marshawn Lynch reported to training camp July 31st after holding out for a little under a week. I have to imagine he reported due to the ‘Hawks cavalier attitude to his absence – plus the 1.5 million dollar raise he received. Russell Wilson, when asked about Lynch’s holdout, seemed alarming at peace with the idea, focusing the conversation more on Robert Turbin and the ultra-talented second year back Christine Michael, because they were the backs that HAD reported to camp.

Nevertheless Lynch is there and will again push for 300 carries IF he remains healthy. It’s a big if considering Lynch has toted the rock 901 times the past three seasons and will turn 29 in April. He remains locked in as a first rounder and a strong RB1, those concerns and the ‘Hawks wanting to pepper in more of Michael, keeps him out of top five considerations for me.

Doug Baldwin is probably the safest bet of the WR corps, which is a shame. He will be thrust into playing the X receiver in this run-first offense now without Golden Tate, and look to improve on the underwhelming but solid 50-778-5 line he posted last year. As for Percy Harvin, he is supremely gifted, but won’t see the volume of targets you would want in a guy you’ll more than likely have to draft in the 5th or 6th round. Coupling that with his injury history and that he is penciled in as Seattle’s kick returner makes him a low upside WR2/3, unless of course you’re in a kick return yardage league, which is dumb.

Russell Wilson remains a low-ceiling QB1, considering he’s thrown the ball just 393 and 407 in his rookie and sophomore seasons respectively. The fact that Wilson should flirt with 100 carries 500 rushing yards and 3-5 rushing touchdowns is the only thing keeping his name out of the QB2 conversation. Jermaine remains a guy to keep an eye on taking over as the Z receiver in 3-wide sets, 4 of his 22 receptions last year went to touchdowns, he also caught touchdowns in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. His stand alone value is there but capped by lack of volume, although if Harvin or Baldwin were to go down, the 6’1″ 210 pound 24 year old could be in for a breakout season being an every down receiver.

The San Francisco 49ers are a team that also does not intrigue me much from a fantasy perspective. Except for Colin Kaepernick, and he was even one of the more disappointing quarterbacks in all of football last year, speaking in fantasy terms. After putting on the performance of a lifetime against Green Bay in the 2012 playoffs, and then opening the 2013 season against those same Packers, lighting them up again to the tune of 412 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 of 39 passing – Kaepernick was on his way to Canton. And then… ugh. He failed to throw over 200 yards in his next four games, completing under 50% of his passes in 3 out of 4 of those games while throwing 4 interceptions and contributing very little with his legs. He ended up righting the ship a bit and took the Niners to the NFC Championship game while posting very Russell Wilson-esque regular season line. Still what sets Kaepernick apart, and frankly puts him above Russell Wilson is his massive arm strength and gazelle-like break-away speed, which makes him a threat to score from any part of the field at any point in any game. Any. The guy has a gear that a lot of players – not quarterbacks… players – just do not have. Throw in the anomaly of Stevie Johnson, a hopefully full-time Michael Crabtree and their brand new toy from Columbus, you have Colin Kaepernick as a steal as his current ADP projects him as the 10th QB off the board in most drafts.

As for San Francisco’s new toy from Columbus, I am referring to the young man Carlos Hyde. The Niners have made no bones about their plan to scale back Frank Gore‘s carries this year, going as far as putting a number to it. Bill Williamson reported from Niners camp that they plan to shave off about 50 carries from Gore’s regular workload, putting him right at that 220-230 mark, leaving Hyde to pick up that work considering he and Jewel Hampton are the only other healthy running backs on the depth chart as it is currently constituted.

San Francisco has been weary of Gore and his age even though he has played all 16 regular season games the past 3 seasons. This is evident because they have spent round 4 or higher draft picks on running backs the past four years – Hunter, James, Lattimore, and Hyde in that order – what sets Hyde apart from the others is that he a legit feature back at 6′ and 235 lbs. While he will serve primarily as Gore’s handcuff in most formats, Hunter being lost for the year and James missing 4-6 weeks makes Hyde’s standalone upside higher than anyone else available at his current 10th round ADP. You do not have to have Frank Gore in order to draft this kid.

What do ya say we stop in St. Louis for a cup of coffee…?

Not much to see here kids. As I continue to write this column I’m finding it less and less sensible to have started with the super boing NFC West. Oh well, I’m not turning back now and please allow me to quote the great Kumar of White Castle, “We’ve come too far.”

I’m only going to touch on a couple players here because for me the Ram’s offense as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. The star of the show is Zac Stacy. The Rams RB situation was a muddled one at this time of the year last year and quite frankly one to avoid in St. Louis’ quest to find Steven Jackson’s successor. With Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham, and Zac Stacy all seeing first team work and failing to stand out one way or the other. The picture became clearer week five against Jacksonville when Stacy received 14 carries after handling a total of 1 in the previous four weeks combined. He ran aggressively and decisively for 78 yards behind an improved but still very confused offensive line. Stacy did pretty much the exact same thing the following week in Houston and after catching a ball in the flat and converting it into his first NFL touchdown week seven against a stout Carolina Panthers defense, Stacy was ready to make a name for himself.

The next four weeks, Stacy compiled 91 carries for 410 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also snatching 10 grabs for 62 yards. He continued to run the ball effectively for the rest of the year despite playing through a host of injuries and is locked in as a 3 down back for St. Louis and a high end RB2 in 2014. The offensive line is still a bit of a cause for concern for Stacy but he didn’t have much trouble running through it last season and you also have to wonder about the front offices confidence in him given that they selected Auburn star Tre Mason in last mays draft but he apparently has a long ways to go and is buried behind Cunningham on the depth chart. The job is Stacy’s and I expect him to prove that he deserves it this year, if he already hadn’t.

Now before we head to the desert I simply have to talk a little bit about Kenny Britt. With a new knee, new team, old friend and old cuts Kenny Britt could be one of the candidates for fantasy’s bounce back player of the year award – if such an award existed, of course. Britt has fled the seemingly toxic situation in Tennessee and rejoined his old coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and apparently looks as good as he ever has. At 6’3” 223 pounds and still only 25 years old, Kenny Britt’s routes at Ram’s camp has looked crisp, his cuts have been quick and very strong, he looks like the player that got off to a insanely hot start in 2011 posting lines of 5-136-2 and 9-135-1 in the first two games with Fisher before tearing his ACL. If Britt can get back to even within shouting distance of that physical form where in which he was simply over powering and dominating every corner that dared to line up across from him, he can flirt with WR2 status, especially with such a lackluster group of wide outs competing for targets. There aren’t too many players in the 15th round that offer upside even close to Britt.

Now things get a little less boring…

The Arizona Cardinal’s position players are the ones that excite me most out of any in the NFC West, and quite frankly maybe in all of football. Let’s start at RB with Andre Ellington. Drafted in the 2013 draft out of Clemson, last year Ellington started primarily serving as a change of pace option for Rashard Mendenhall, playing mostly obvious passing situations and third downs – I threw “obvious” in there because using the term “passing situation” when in reference to a Bruce Arians coached offense is the epitome of ambiguity.

In weeks 1-7 Ellington totaled 28 carries and 20 receptions for 179 yards and 190 yards respectively, being used in that role. In seeing the explosiveness Ellington displayed in Dabo Sweeney’s high powered offense translate to the NFL seemingly without issue for him, the Arizona coaching staff then made an effort to guarantee they got the ball in to Ellington’s hand in the form of more carries. After Exploding in week 8 for 154 yards on 15 carries, Ellington continued to handle about 10-12 carries a game from there on out on his way to 118-652-3 and 39-371-1 rookie lines, averaging 5.5 yards for carry and 9.5 yards per reception. Oh yeah, and without losing a fumble. With Rashard Mendenhall out of the picture, a somewhat improved offensive line and 8-10 more pounds packed on to his 5’ 9” frame, Ellington should be in store for close to a full workload right around 200 carries and 65 catches in a pass-happy offense. Bruce Arians’ “bell cow” is screaming up draft boards, and with good reason.

Another guy I look to benefit greatly from Arians’ aerial attack is 3rd year wide out Michael Floyd. We’ve all heard it by now that Floyd is turning heads left and right at Cardinals camp and has been the unequivocal standout star thus far. With Andre Roberts off to D.C., Floyd becomes the unquestioned number two option for Carson Palmer leaving Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie Jaron Brown duking it out for reps in three wide receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald figures to play a lot of slot and work underneath the coverage, coverage that Ginn has the ability to blow the top off allowing more room to work on those short and intermediate passing routes, leaving Floyd in my mind to play somewhat of a featured role in this offense, with Ginn and Fitzgerald working primarily as specialists. At 6’ 2” and 220 pounds Floyd has shown incredible strength and superior high-pointing ability in the two years he has been in the league and I believe the stars are aligned this season for Floyd breakout. He is firmly in the cream of all the WR2s and given his stature, talent, and assumed volume, he is likely to produce as a WR1.

That’s it, that’s the NFC West and its impact on Fantasy Football. To see the all of the conference Fantasy Football Forecasts, check out my author profile!

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