NFC East: 2011 back to work FYI

Redskins back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
2:13
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Redskins held a ton of player-organized workouts, and they seemed to go very well. Organized by defensive leaders London Fletcher and Lorenzo Alexander and inspired by the camps the Redskins teams of the past ran to great effect during labor stoppages, the Redskins' workouts were well-attended and well-directed. There were days when Fletcher would call plays from a piece of paper he kept in his pocket, trying to help the defense run some of the 3-4 looks that were installed (but not quite mastered) last year. They brought fans out of the stands to run drills with them and generally just had a good old time. It'll be interesting to see if all of that lockout-time bonding pays dividends once the games start to count.

Biggest challenge: Figuring out the quarterback situation. Donovan McNabb is surely gone as soon as they can move him. They didn't draft a quarterback in April, and shortly after the draft head coach Mike Shanahan said he liked the idea of John Beck as his starter. Whether it's Beck or Rex Grossman, who ran the offense late last year when the McNabb plan blew up, the Redskins will be going with an imperfect solution at the most important position on the field. Will it be a season-long nightmare that forces them to draft a quarterback high in next year's draft? Will it be a revolving door with one guy starting one game and the other the next? Will the defense play well enough to overcome it? Will Beck surprise and play better than everyone (except, apparently, Shanahan) thinks he can? Many questions, still no answers yet. At least soon they can start running drills and see what they actually have back there.

Haslett's second season: Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett came to town with Shanahan last year and converted the Redskins from a 4-3 defensive team to a 3-4. It was not an easy transition, and many of the pieces that were in place didn't fit well into the new scheme. Now, every coach who knows about it says it takes two years, not one, to fully transition to the 3-4. So we should see improvement in the way the Redskins play defense in 2011. They still need to add some pieces on the line, find a cornerback or two, and they may need a linebacker if Rocky McIntosh leaves and Alexander can't be a full-time starter on the inside. But the pre-lockout addition of O.J. Atogwe at safety and the drafting of outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan in the first round were good moves. Along with the year of experience the returning guys got last year, they could help the Redskins put together a respectable defense sooner than you might expect.

Key players without contracts for 2011: OT Jammal Brown, CB Phillip Buchanon, DE Kedric Golston, QB Rex Grossman, LB Rocky McIntosh, WR Santana Moss, C Casey Rabach, CB Carlos Rogers

Giants back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
2:12
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Giants didn't hold as many player workouts as some other teams did during the lockout, but quarterback Eli Manning organized a few camps here and there, and did some work in various locations with some of his receivers. The good thing for the Giants is that they're bringing back the same coaching personnel they had last year and won't have to spend an inordinate amount of time learning any big new schemes. They're a veteran team that knows how to get itself ready for the season, and Manning and the other team leaders have basically trusted that the guys were keeping themselves in shape and would be ready to go whenever the lockout ended. We'll find out whether that trust was justified.

Biggest challenge: The Giants' biggest post-lockout challenge is in the front office, where contracts must be signed for several key free agents of their own before they can hit the market and figure out what they need. Ahmad Bradshaw, Mathias Kiwanuka, Steve Smith, Kevin Boss and Barry Cofield are among the key 2009 and 2010 contributors who can be free agents, and it's unlikely the Giants will be able to keep them all. Of that group, Cofield is the most likely to leave, as they consider him more replaceable than Kiwanuka and their key offensive players. It'll be interesting to see whether another team comes hard after Boss and/or Bradshaw, because losing one or both of those guys could dramatically alter the Giants' offseason priority list. And then there's the Osi Umenyiora issue. He says he wants a new contract or a trade. They can and probably will tell him, "Tough luck," but if they do, they have to wonder how much trouble he'll make for them in training camp.

Bill of health: There are a number of health and injury issues worth watching as the Giants get back to business. Smith is coming off a major knee injury, and they don't know how ready he'll be. He's a key component in the passing game, and Manning looked a bit lost at times last year when Smith wasn't available to him. The offensive line also had health issues in 2010, and it's an aging unit that probably could use a reinforcement or two in free agency, lest the health problems flare up again and threaten to sink a whole season. Being a veteran team is likely to help the Giants from a readiness standpoint in this shortened offseason, but with age and experience come other potential pitfalls. The Giants will need to make sure to ease some guys into training camp so they don't end up hurt.

Key players without contracts for 2011: TE Kevin Boss, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, LB Keith Bulluck, DT Barry Cofield, S Deon Grant, DE Mathias Kiwanuka, C/G Adam Koets, WR Steve Smith.

Eagles back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
2:10
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Eagles held a series of player-organized workouts throughout the summer, but quarterback Michael Vick was only there for a couple of days' worth, opting most of the time to work out on his own. They have a new defensive coordinator in Juan Castillo (who was their offensive line coach) and a new defensive line coach in Jim Washburn, so there are likely to be new aspects of the defense they'll have to learn quickly once the coaches can get their hands on them.

Biggest challenge: Constructing that defense. The Eagles need a new cornerback to play alongside Asante Samuel, and they'll probably aim high and try to get Nnamdi Asomugha. It appears as though they're ready to let Quintin Mikell walk, since they appear to think rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett is ready to start right away opposite Nate Allen. But they could add a veteran there to work with the young guys or in case Allen's not fully healthy. They also need to figure out the linebacker situation around potential free agent Stewart Bradley. And Washburn will lobby to add a pass-rushing end and maybe another piece or two along the line. Before the Eagles can set about installing anything new on defense, they'll need to know who the players are who'll be responsible for putting the plans into action.

Vick's backup: The Eagles' first order of post-lockout business is expected to be the trade of backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. Assuming they can get the return for Kolb that most people seem to believe they can (a first-rounder plus, or maybe an established cornerback or linebacker), they'll ship him out of town to Arizona or Seattle or whichever team comes with the best offer. But after that, they'll need to find a veteran quarterback to sit behind Vick and step in if and when the starter gets hurt. Vick has never played a full 16-game season, and his style lends itself to potential injury. And while they like Mike Kafka long-term, he's probably not as ready as Kolb would be to step in and win a game if Vick can't go. Look for the Eagles to explore several possibilities for this role, including the Titans' Vince Young, who might be a perfect fit.

Key players without contracts for 2011: K David Akers, LB Stewart Bradley, G Nick Cole, RB Jerome Harrison, CB Ellis Hobbs, LB Akeem Jordan, S Quintin Mikell, P Sav Rocca, LB Ernie Sims

Cowboys back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
2:09
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Cowboys held some of the best-attended and best-reviewed player-organized workouts in the league -- at least before quarterback Tony Romo, who was organizing them, took off to get married in May. Given the names and the ages of the people on the roster, there's reason to believe the Cowboys will be in shape and hungry to get going when they finally get to training camp and head coach Jason Garrett begins putting them through their paces. Assuming Romo and electric second-year wideout Dez Bryant are fully healthy (and they quickly make sure the left side of the line is under contract), the offense should be ready to go. The question is how quickly they can learn new coordinator Rob Ryan's defense, especially with as many defensive newcomers as they expect to have.

Biggest challenge: That new defense. Ryan is bringing in a whole new scheme and will have precious little time to make sure his new charges learn it. It's nothing as radical as changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4, since Dallas already ran a 3-4 under Wade Phillips. But there are a lot of intricacies to what Ryan is trying to coach on defense, and those normally would have been addressed beginning with May minicamps that never happened. Dallas will also be adding at least one new safety and cornerback to the mix and may see major changes on the defensive line depending on the way free agency works out. So Ryan will be teaching the defense not only to the guys currently on the roster, but to some who still aren't.

Tony's team: Lots of attention will focus on Romo. Expectations were sky-high for Dallas a year ago, and the 1-7 start wrecked them all. Cowboys fans (and ownership) are hungry for a Super Bowl title and see no reason the team shouldn't be able to compete for one in the near future. But the quarterback position is key, and people still have their doubts about whether Romo is capable of leading that kind of run. He played brilliantly down the stretch in 2009 as the Cowboys claimed the NFC East title. And while his interception total was a bit high, he was playing well last season before the injury that knocked him out for the second half. This could be the year for Romo to prove to his doubters that he's taken that step forward as a leader. Teammates spoke highly of the job he did keeping things organized during the lockout. That could be a sign of big things to come. If Romo can stay healthy, he should build on what he accomplished in late 2009.

Key players without contracts for 2011: DE Stephen Bowen, OT Doug Free, DE Jason Hatcher, G Kyle Kosier, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears

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