NFL Nation: Anthony Alridge
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's much easier for me to defend Jason Campbell when he plays like he did last night. The Redskins lost to the Patriots in the final seconds of a preseason game, but they appeared to gain much-needed confidence in the process. Campbell was 13-of-22 for 209 yards and a rushing touchdown, but the most important thing was that he looked poised the entire time. We saw what he can do when the offensive line gives him a little time.
|AP Photo/Nick Wass|
|Marko Mitchell caught a touchdown pass in front of cornerback Jamar Love during the second half of Friday night's game.|
After he called it a night, Campbell told Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that the offense couldn't "dink and dunk" its way down the field and be successful. And that's why you see coach Jim Zorn calling for so many downfield passes. I thought Post columnist Mike Wise summed it up pretty well after last night's game. OK, let's take a closer look at what took place:
Tom Brady and Randy Moss pretty much toyed with DeAngelo Hall. It wasn't an awful performance by the defense at all, but Hall was clearly in over his head against Moss. I realize he's going to make a lot of cornerbacks look bad, but you would hope Hall wouldn't get completely overwhelmed. When receivers such as Terrell Owens, Moss and Larry Fitzgerald showed up, it was always nice to have Shawn Springs on the field. Unfortunately, he now plays for the Pats. The best news for the Skins? They don't have to see Moss again -- unless it's in the Super Bowl. The good news for the defense is the three turnovers. In the second half, linebacker Rocky McIntosh made a superb play to tip the ball away from the tight end and allow LaRon Landry to go the other way. Also a really nice play on the ball by rookie corner Kevin Barnes. He's got some really good skills. This draft class is looking better all the time.
The Skins had 15 penalties for 113 yards? REALLY? Amid some of the positive aspects from this game, the penalties have to be driving Jim Zorn nuts. And you can't really pick on one unit. The defensive tackles may want to work on lining up in the right spots and you should start eliminating the false starts along the offensive line at this stage in the preseason. The 15-yard penalties will get you beat, and that's what happened when Hall grabbed Moss' facemask. The Skins' defense had a chance to get off the field at that point, but the penalty gave the Patriots another shot. You can't do that with one of the most potent offenses in the league.
There's no way in the world you can keep Marko Mitchell off the roster -- and why would you even try? He's big and he makes important catches. He froze a defender on a little hitch and go in the second half, and Colt Brennan found him for a 33-yard touchdown. Patriots cornerback Jamar Love never had a chance. The guy keeps getting in the end zone, and he's become perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the preseason for the Redskins. He offers what quarterbacks like to call a wide strike zone and he appears to be learning how to beat jams near the line of scrimmage. He could be a real threat near the goal line because of his body control and hands.
Colt Brennan didn't perform well enough to overtake Chase Daniel -- at least in my opinion: The same things that made Brennan one of the most prolific passers in the history of college football can also get him in big trouble. He's supremely confident and he thinks he can fit a ball into any space. But he has to be smarter when he's around the goal line. For the second time in as many games, Brennan made a horrible decision near the goal line. He forced a pass that was picked off by Jonathan Wilhite and returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Brennan tried the old "I was just trying to make a play" excuse after the game, but that doesn't hold water. He basically surrendered 10 points with that ill-advised throw -- seven to the Patriots and three that he took away from the Skins. I liked that he came right back with the touchdown to Mitchell, but it wasn't enough to overshadow the interception in my mind. I do like the way Brennan handles screens. He's athletic enough to spin away from trouble and dump the ball to Marcus Mason on the run. Not as easy as it looks.
Hated to see Mason get the bruised ribs in the fourth quarter. It's hard to recover from those when you're taking a lot of punishment at running back. I think Mason's put himself in position to challenge Ladell Betts for the backup role. He's more explosive than Betts in my mind, and he's a better change-of-pace back. Mason puts more pressure on defenses -- both on the ground and through the air -- than Betts.
Hello, Anthony Alridge!: I've been waiting to see this guy all preseason. The former University of Houston star -- as proud U of H alum Nantz noted several times -- has elite speed. He's only about 5-foot-9, but as you saw Friday night, no one can seem to get a clean shot on him. I know he was going against the Patriots' backups, but Alridge still popped off the screen. I hope the guy gets a shot. Last year, the Redskins didn't have enough depth at running back. But with Mason, Dominique Dorsey, Betts and Alridge, they look a lot better this season.
Does Chad Rinehart frustrate you guys as much as he does me? I thought he had his moments, but the guard just sort of looks lost at times. On a play in the second half, he let a Patriots defensive tackle race right past him. The p
layer ended up being flagged for hitting Brennan too low. But that never happens if Rinehart does his job. It's like he never he even made an attempt at the guy. I'd hoped Rinehart would be a lot farther down the road at this point. Too many mental mistakes from what I'm seeing. Zorn will want to cut Rinehart after watching that play. Not saying he will, but the thought will cross his mind.
I'm not sure why Zorn doesn't run the ball inside the 10-yard line. In the second half, I kept wondering why Zorn wouldn't let Mason or Alridge have a chance to run the ball near the goal line. He seemed intent on letting Brennan find someone in the end zone. That would've been a good test for the offensive line to try to plow it in there.
Did the Skins not think the Patriots would blitz? In the second half, a linebacker for the Patriots (Guyton?) came clean from the right side. It's like the Redskins were shocked that Bill Belichick might send an extra rusher.
H.B. Blades is a bad man: How great was that stick he put on Fred Taylor? You don't want to get caught running high when Blades is anywhere around. He absolutely destroyed Taylor, causing him to spin in the air like a merry-go-round.
With 4:30 left in a meaningless games, I find myself shouting at Brennan: When your team's in field goal position, how in the world do you take a sack? This might have been the point when I actually knew Daniel would make the team ahead of Brennan. Just a bone-headed play right there. Once you've escaped the pocket and don't see anything, fling it out of bounds. That play set up Shaun Suisham's miss from 52 yards. Everyone can try to pile on my man Suisham, but that was all Brennan's fault.
What's the deal with the coverage? You're in a close game in the fourth quarter and you let Patrick Chung just shred the punt coverage unit? The punt certainly wasn't high enough (46 yards in length), but someone has to at least force Chung to make a move. He darts toward the sideline and coverage completely fell apart. Bad, bad play right there on special teams.
I'll be keeping my eye on the Cowboys and Giants this evening. Thanks for your continued interest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
They simply liked Hillis as a football player. They liked him as an under-the-radar tailback. But they didn't think of him as a starter in the NFL. They liked him equally well as a soft-handed fullback who could be a receiving threat out of the backfield. They also liked him as a potential H-back. The Broncos looked at the big, fast kid from Arkansas who was best known as the lead blocker for Darren McFadden and Felix Jones and they saw a Dallas Clark-like player.
Denver saw a lot they liked in a player they had a fourth-round grade on. When Hillis was still available in the seventh round, Denver -- which thought it had solved its need at running back in the fifth round by taking Arizona State rookie Ryan Torain -- jumped at the chance to take him. They didn't know where they'd play him, but they knew they got a good player.
With four games remaining in the season and a playoff berth looming for the 7-5 Broncos -- whose magic number to win the AFC West is two heading into Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- Hillis has become much more than a good football player.
He has become a savior of their offense. If not for Hillis, the balanced attack for which Denver is famous wouldn't be possible.
After season-ending injuries to Torain, Michael Pittman, Andre Hall, Anthony Alridge and an injury to Selvin Young, the Broncos broke the emergency glass and inserted Hillis in the lineup as a tailback. They had no other choice.
And he has been flourishing.
"We knew he was an athlete when he first stepped foot here in Denver, the way he can catch the ball and the way he can run with the ball, we knew we had somebody special," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall told reporters in the locker room Thursday. "There definitely hasn't been a dropoff at running back since he's been back there."
The Broncos are used to this type of sudden impact at this position. Denver has had nine running backs rush for 100 yards in a game since 2004, the most in the NFL.
Hillis has made an instant impact. His rushing totals increased in each of his past four games. He had 129 yards on the ground in Denver's 34-17 road upset over the Jets on Sunday. He is averaging 4.8 yards a carry and he has four rushing scores.
With McFadden struggling all season because of turf toe injuries and Jones done for the season in Dallas, the lead blocker for the two first-round picks from Arkansas is stealing the show in the NFL. Hillis' early success after an obscure college existence reminds some in the NFL of the situation Brandon Jacobs endured while at Auburn. He was overshadowed by Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams before he transferred to Southern Illinois. Now Jacobs is making a for himself.
Hillis, 22, is certainly making a name for himself in Denver. His teammates love the happy runner with that lovable southern twang. Hillis won over his teammates in Cleveland on Nov. 6 when he converted a first down on fourth-and-short with a second-effort run. The play ignited a Denver comeback that was the spark to a streak in which the Broncos have won three of four games despite all of the injuries at tailback and on defense.
"I'm just glad I have come in here and fit in," Hillis said. "I think some people might be surprised but I feel like I'm a versatile guy who could come in here and help and I hope that's what I'm doing."
The Broncos are winning and Hillis, who is 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, is a big reason why. Quarterback Jay Cutler said Hillis, who has 4.5 speed, is a perfect Denver running back.
"I think this running scheme is kind of designed for him," Cutler said. "It is one cut, get downhill, get your five or six yards and every once in a while you can break a 30- or 40-yarder if you get up on the safeties. He has done a good job. He is a smart kid, and I think we have used him effectively. We have tried to play off his strengths. We haven't put him in the position where we have had to ask him to do things he can't do. He has stepped up to the challenge and has been fun to watch."
The Broncos aren't necessarily looking at Hillis as a stopgap answer at tailback. There are those in the Denver organization who believe he will have a role as a tailback next season. The team also likes Torain and he will get a chance to play when he recovers from a knee injury. And it wouldn't be a surprise if Denver added a veteran. But there will be room for Hillis.
"He has proven that he can play tailback," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said."He is better with the ball in his hands at the tailback position running the football or catching the pass out of the backfield. He is going to get a chance to play more tailback because of what he has done and how he can break tackles."
Hillis, a star high school tailback in Arkansas, wasn't expecting the chance to be a running back in the NFL, but he isn't ready to let it go, either.
"I hope I get to continue to play tailback," Hillis said. "But I'll do anything the team wants me to do."
And that's exactly why the Broncos drafted him in the first place.
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