All-Indispensable Team (cont.)
Cleveland Browns, Shaun Rogers
There are times when Shaun Rogers plays like one of, if not the best defensive tackle in football. And then there have been times when he has taken paid leave, on the field.
After an offseason of controversy, as Rogers reportedly told teammate Shaun Smith that he wanted to be traded and missed workouts, Rogers looks fit and hungry again. It would be huge for the Browns defense and make everyone better on the defensive side of the ball if the good Rogers, all 6-4, 350-pounds of him, shows up every week.
In practices and scrimmages thus far, Rogers has dominated anyone the Browns offense has put in front of him. Without him, the rebuilding Browns defense crumbles. Rogers simply must be on the field for the Browns to have any chance. The rest of the defensive line, mostly average players or has-beens, depend on Rogers to be the anchor. And Rogers' presence is crucial to the linebackers.
Denver Broncos, Brandon Marshall
Oh, boy, things are getting ugly in Denver. With Kyle Orton getting off to an atrocious start as the new starting quarterback and fans actually calling for Chris Simms, every day has been an adventure in futility.
Yes, I said Chris Simms. That's how bad it's been.
You know it's bad when the saving grace and calming influence is the guy who just beat a misdemeanor battery charge and calls himself, "The Beast." But it's true. If Marshall keeps his head and plays to his best level in this contract year, Orton (or Simms) becomes a better quarterback and Josh McDaniels a better coach.
The Denver wide receiving corps beyond Marshall and Eddie Royal is subpar at best. With his size, talent and ability to physically beat defensive backs to the ball, Marshall remaining healthy is crucial.
Houston Texans, DeMeco Ryans
As much as the Texans have become a popular pick to make their first playoff appearance in 2009, the fact is they may have made a run last year if Ryans hadn't played the entire season with a shoulder and ankle injury. After the season, it was determined Ryans' injuries were much worse than anyone let on.
Ryans' production dropped in 2008 from his Pro Bowl 2007 season, and it directly affected the performance of the Texans' defense. His total tackles, solo tackles and tackles behind the line of scrimmage all fell off, although Ryans still led the Texans.
Not counting the usual bumps and bruises associated with playing the most violent position on the field, if Ryans stays healthy, the Texans will play a meaningful game in December for the first time in their existence.
Indianapolis Colts, Jeff Saturday
Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd characterized the offensive line's 2008 performance as mediocre. That's generous. Time and again quarterback Peyton Manning bailed out his offensive line with quick throws or smart audibles at the line that lessened the damage in 2008. The Colts line was awful, failing to pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher for just the second time in 12-years. At the heart of the issue was the Pro Bowl center, Saturday, missing games and fighting a calf injury all year.
The 2009 campaign has begun auspiciously, too, with Manning getting sacked three times in six snaps in the Colts' first preseason game. Still, two linemen were held out and it was just a preseason game. Saturday has taken improving the line's play personally. If he stays healthy himself, things already get better.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Maurice Jones-Drew
There's little secret to the Jaguars' much hoped-for improvement in 2009. They have to go Austin Powers and get their Mo-Jo back. That is, Jones-Drew is the unquestioned leader and heart of the offense. At 5-7, he's going to take a pounding. Can his body withstand the grind of being an every-down back? That's the $31 million question in Jacksonville.
With such an investment in Jones-Drew, clearly the Jags are going to try and use Mo-Jo's talents as many ways as possible. That's a good thing, considering his explosiveness and (thus far) durability. But it could be a bad thing. I don't care how tough a man he is, or how strong he is, at 5-7, he's simply not as big as every other player in the league. Can he take 16 games of getting tackled, hit and dragged across the NFL?
Kansas City Chiefs, Larry Johnson
This is just not a very good team. That's why there's a new GM in Scott Pioli, a new coach in Todd Haley and a new quarterback in Matt Cassel. The Chiefs are going nowhere anytime soon.
But if they want to keep things respectable, establish a new identity and maybe even surprise a team or two as they try to head back to the top of the AFC heap, Johnson could show the way. Getting LJ to play hard and be a good citizen is Haley's top priority. It would be quite the statement to everyone in the organization if Haley can get LJ to buy-in, so to speak.
So far, so good. Johnson says he's a different guy. He says he's going to be dominant. If he can stay that way, and healthy, Johnson could show the way for backups Jackie Battle and Jamaal Charles and help the Chiefs get off on the right foot.
Miami Dolphins, Joey Porter
There's a premium on pressuring the opposing quarterback in the AFC East and it is only going to be more important in 2009. The Dolphins, 11-5 a year ago -- will surprise no one in 2008; Tom Brady is back in New England; the Bills have Terrell Owens; and the Jets are feeling good about rookie Mark Sanchez.
Porter simply MUST stay on the field this year. After a monster 17.5-sack season, Porter will be reunited with Jason Taylor on the Dolphins' defense. In the attacking 3-4 of coach Tony Sparano, the combination of Taylor and Porter could wreak havoc on every team Miami faces.
Every aspect of the Dolphins defense gets better when Porter is bringing the intensity and playmaking ability. The secondary comes away with more turnovers. The defensive front sees fewer double-teams. Opposing possessions are shorter.
Without him? Not so much.
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