Steelers' Dixon headlines Week 1 bill; 10 things to watch for (cont.)
Brad Jones, OLB, Green Bay (No. 59)
With the Packers going to Philadelphia, and the Eagles unveiling their new quarterback, you can expect the two outside linebackers in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' aggressive scheme to be sent early and often to harass Kevin Kolb. Clay Matthews, third in defensive rookie of the year voting last year, you know. Jones, the seventh-round pick from Colorado last year, you don't. He doesn't have the quickness or raw strength of a classic Capers OLB, but he'll have a big chance Sunday to impact the game with a sack or by rushing from a spot Kolb won't expect.
Tebow, QB, Den.: 2-5 for 16 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; 3 rushes for 9 yards, 1 TD
Right. I see Tebow playing around eight snaps in his NFL debut in Jacksonville, including some in a red-zone series. Coach Josh McDaniels is going to play Tebow as much as he deserves to play. It's almost going to be a weekly audition.
1. Mike Shanahan's imprint on the Redskins. And his coordinators' imprint, too. I see Jim Haslett unleashing some heavy blitz packages on Tony Romo, and I wonder how in-sync Kyle Shanahan and Donovan McNabb will be as McNabb starts the next phase of his career. I look for some growing pains on offense, but overall I look for Mike Shanahan's imprint to show. He's had a year to study for this game, and he won't be out-coached.
2. Albert Haynesworth's body language and playing time. We're all curious if the Haynesworth-Redskins shotgun wedding can be saved. Curious, I said. Not everlastingly fascinated. I'll be happy when this story's put to bed. It's really starting to bore me. Is Albert happy? Is he getting traded? How many snaps will he play? Will the new regime play to his strengths or continue to just tick him off? Wake me when it's over.
3. Whether the Raiders are contenders or their usual crushingly disappointing selves. Oakland's first-unit D played great in the summer, but then again, so did Detroit starters the year the Lions went 0-16. This year there's hope that more defenders than just Nnamdi Asomugha can play at a top level. The one guy I'm interested in seeing take the step to impact-player level: 6-5 defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, who had four sacks and lots of promise as a rookie out of Wisconsin a year ago.
4. The care and feeding of Chris Johnson. Last year, in his 2,509 yards-from-scrimmage season (2,006 rushing, 503 receiving), Johnson had 408 touches, a figure way above the norm in a league where only three running backs even averaged 20 carries or more in 2009. I wondered aloud to Jeff Fisher if he thinks he's doing the right thing continuing to give it to Johnson so much.
"I know that after his year last year, there was no residual effect,'' Fisher said."He missed one practice all year. Every time he gets the ball in practice, he goes through the line and runs 50 yards downfield. Right now, I don't see wear-and-tear being a factor.''
It most often isn't in year two or three. Fisher's the kind of guy who, in baseball, would abhor the mania about pitch counts. And he may be right. No one ever told Mike Ditka that Walter Payton was carrying it too much, and Payton ran it like Bob Gibson threw it -- 'til the cows came home, seven times averaging more than 20 carries a game.
5. Wes Welker's impact on the Pats. The Patriots list the backup security guy on the injury report usually. That's how reliable their injury-reporting is. The fact that Welker wasn't on the report Thursday indicates he had to have participated fully. Think how amazing it is that Walker shredded the ligaments in his knee just nine months ago, and now, despite him saying he doesn't think he's near his old self, he's running as fast and with the cutting ability that we got used to seeing during his three straight 100-catch seasons.
6. Tony Gonzalez catching his 1,000th pass against the vaunted (and healthy) Steeler D. He's got 999. When Matt Ryan found that out after the Falcons' final game last year, he thought he should have fed him one more ball. I can tell you Gonzalez thought that too -- but he never made a big deal of it. A tight end with 1,000 catches. What is this game coming to?
7. Lots of rookies, but, on offense, Dexter McCluster most of all. The Chiefs had their offseason eye on an offensive difference-maker out of the backfield. They missed out on Darren Sproles when the Chargers retained him. They got one in McCluster, who, beginning Monday night against the Chargers, should line up in just about as many spots as the poor umpire who doesn't know where the heck he is.
8. ... and on defense, Ndamukong Suh. The Lions are giddy with excitement over Suh. Sometimes in training camp, Jim Schwartz thought he was watching Warren Sapp in his third year and not Suh in his first when he witnessed the havoc Suh created from the interior defensive line. The Bears will see it firsthand Sunday at Soldier Field.
9. Darrelle Revis. I just want to see if he walks on water or the new Meadowlands field.
10. Peyton Manning running the Colts' hurry-up with the slight delay of the new umpire positioning. This could be the tempest-in-a-teapot that last year's Cowboys low video board was supposed to be entering the season. The way I look at it is Manning will just figure another way to torment defenses if he can't be as fast as he was when the umpire was exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. In other words, I don't think we'll be talking about it much Monday morning.
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