NFL Nation: Antonio Pierce
But he also says he always wanted to go into coaching, so the opportunity to become head coach at Long Beach Poly High School in California was perfect for him. Pierce will be announced as that school's head football coach Thursday afternoon. He'll continue to work as an ESPN studio analyst, with his assistant coaches handling practices on days he's in Bristol. (Former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell, who works at ESPN and also coaches high school football in Jacksonville, has a similar arrangement.) And Pierce said some of his assistants will be former NFL players, including former Giants running back Derrick Ward and former NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He said he'd also solicit the help of Long Beach Poly alums like DeSean Jackson, Winston Justice and Willie McGinest.
"I know how much it means to kids to see somebody who came from their situation and who's made it that far," Pierce said. "I always joked around that if I knew 5 percent of what I know now when I was in high school, in terms of technique, watching film, all of that, I would have been so much better."
Pierce has a son at the school but is not himself an alum, as he was born in Long Beach but raised in Compton. He said he expects the fact that he's a former NFL player with a Super Bowl ring to help him get the attention of his new charges, but "one thing I don't have is a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) title, so that's still a goal of mine."
"I remember watching and just thinking, 'That's it,'" Kiwanuka said after New York Giants practice Friday. "'They're going to retire No. 94 at Boston College, but it's not going to be for me.'"
The two are now Giants teammates. And while Kiwanuka is going to play defensive end this year, he spent the past two years as a linebacker, in the meeting room with many of the linebackers who are getting attention this summer for being ... well, not very exciting. The Giants' linebacker crew is something of a mishmash of undrafteds, underdrafteds and retreads out of which the team is hoping to find something reliable. But while the group may not look like anything special from the outside, there are things about each player that the team likes. So I asked Kiwanuka to break down some of the guys with whom he spent so much time the past couple of years, starting with his fellow Boston College Eagle.
"He's a very cerebral player, and I hate to say that about somebody, because then it sounds like maybe he's not as good of an athlete. But I went to BC and he wore 94, so I was tuned in the second he stepped on the field. He's every bit as good of an athlete as you're going to find on the field. The difference is that he has that middle linebacker mentality, meaning that when he goes in to study, he studies the entire offense and he studies what our defenses are and where we can be hurt, so he knows when he walks out there what the calls are and what the checks are going to be before he even gets the call a lot of the time. So he's a solid middle linebacker.
"Since I've been here, we've had Antonio Pierce and we've had Chase Blackburn, and I think Mark Herzlich is right in that same category. A.P. and Chase could tell you ... I'd say maybe 50-50 chance, but they could tell you a decent amount of what the play was going to be, run or pass. And in our division, I think they could tell you,like, which direction the run was going to go and what possibilities of which gap it was going to be through. And he's up there."
(Note: Herzlich is competing with Dan Connor for the starting middle linebacker job, but Kiwanuka didn't feel as comfortable breaking down Connor, since Connor wasn't on the team last year and he doesn't know him as well.)
"He's probably one of the faster linebackers out there. I think he's got the capability of playing nickel in some systems, so it gives us a lot of versatility in terms of what you can do, specifically, on passing downs. You leave him on the field, he can cover any receiver the offense is going to put out there. He also blitzes like a big-time linebacker and he can stop the run, too. I think he has Pro Bowl-caliber play in him. As long as he stays healthy, he'll be good.
"You can put him on your best pass-catching receiver or your receiving tight end and he'll more than hold his own. But what I'm saying is, you can also put him on a legitimate slot receiver and leave him out there and he'll do his job."
(So, what does Williams still need to work on?)
"It's just mental. He came in as such a good athlete that he could recover from a lot of situations that he found himself in, and as he gets older, he has to learn that people are going to read and scout him and he's going to be a focal point of who you need to beat in order to get get past the Giants defense. So people are going to be targeting him and he needs to be more disciplined in his reads, but he'll get there."
"Up and comer. I think maybe he didn't get as much time on the field last year, but he's a spectacular athlete. I think in his first preseason game you saw that he was all over the field. He's another one of those guys in the field that I think has it all put together, just needs to go out and do it on Sundays. Definitely the kind of guy who could be a three-down linebacker, for sure."
"He's a veteran. He's a speed guy. If you put him out there and somebody's going to try to turn that corner on him, you see the wheels turn. I think he's proven what he can do on the field. He was a high draft pick and this and that, so everybody knows he has the intangibles. It's more about fitting into the system and getting comfortable with it."
So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth -- this is a teammate, with an interest in pumping these guys up. But I thought it was worth finding out from someone on the inside what it is the Giants see in terms of potential when they look at their linebacker corps.
“The Giants are a family,’’ Petitgout said. “It’s something tough to accept, like when a girlfriend dumps you. They know when your time is up. Some guys may buck the trend and have a good couple years after that but if you’ve been there a long time, they know your medical history, they know your aches and pains, they usually make the right decision. I basically had a time bomb in my back and when I went to Tampa it went off. The Giants knew what they were doing.’’
Reese is rarely wrong. As a former scout, his eye for talent isn’t confined to youngsters. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss haven’t done a thing and haven’t stayed healthy. He traded away Jeremy Shockey. He did not re-sign Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward or Amani Toomer. He cut Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie. He didn’t think Antonio Pierce's neck was sound enough to continue playing. He passed on bringing back Plaxico Burress. In the same purge that caught Petitgout, Reese also jettisoned Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. Did any of these players prove Reese wrong?
Pretty amazing list. Combine this idea with what we wrote about here Thursday -- the Giants' organizational belief in developing young players in their system so they're ready to take over when it's time for the veterans to go -- and it's easy to see that Reese has a definite plan and is sticking to it. Will it work? No way to know. If the Giants are in something of a rebuild mode, they're going to need many of their young players to be as good as the team thought they'd be when it drafted them. And not even Reese, with all of his track record, can predict how players are going to play. The point is, even as things change with the Giants and people come and go, it's still easy to see the consistency with which they operate, and it has served them well.
It happened Saturday, one day before the Rams visit Detroit for their first regular-season game under coach Jeff Fisher.
The Rams' deal with Laurinaitis locks into place building blocks at every level of their defense. They re-signed defensive end Chris Long following his 13-sack showing in 2011. They also used a 2012 first-round pick for defensive tackle Michael Brockers and a 2011 first-rounder for defensive end Robert Quinn.
Veteran Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins are the building blocks in the secondary, where safety Quintin Mikell also remains signed for the long term. Trumaine Johnson is another rookie corner in the rotation.
Laurinaitis, a second-round choice in 2009, is signed through 2017, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Long, a first-rounder from the 2008 class, is signed through 2016.
The Rams have the NFL's youngest roster by average age. They also have leaders at every position on defense. Long will mentor Brockers and Quinn. Laurinaitis is the leader at linebacker (the team still needs young talent at that position, in my view). Finnegan will mentor Jenkins and Johnson.
"We have guys that are veterans and you are pairing them with young guys and I think that is important," Laurinaitis said from training camp last month. "You don't want just a young guy to be the biggest guy in a room. You want him paired with people so that he gets it: 'OK, this is how I show up, this is how I'm accountable, this is how I'm a pro, this is what’s expected of me. I think it’s important. They’ve done a great job of really filling this roster out."
Middle linebackers have flourished in the system Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis have installed. London Fletcher, Antonio Pierce, Mike Singletary and Jonathan Vilma are a few of them. Laurinaitis wants to be next.
"When you think of those players, you think very intelligent, very good leaders, guys who are durable and accountable," Laurinaitis said. "When the quarterback makes a check, the mike backer has to be able to make a countercheck and just have a feel for a football game.
"I relish that role, I relish that responsibility. I love the fact that the coach is going to say to me, 'If you see something on the field, you make the call. You’re not going to be wrong, you’re the one playing, you make the call.'
"And then maybe I make a bad check in practice, but it’s not, 'Hey, you did the wrong thing.' It's, 'Hey, why did you make that call?' Well, I made it because I thought it was this. They say, 'Oh, well, why don’t you look at this guy, he’ll tell you it’s pass, he’ll tell you it’s run.'
"It's an interaction. It’s not just a 'we’re right, you’re wrong.' That is an inspiration to me. It’s a big responsibility and I love it."
ESPN NFL analyst Antonio Pierce, who played for the Redskins in 2004 when Gregg Williams was their defensive coordinator, had some thoughts on the audio of Williams' pregame speech that was released Thursday. Antonio sat down with Rachel Nichols for a discussion that aired on "SportsCenter," in which he said the stuff he heard in the Williams speech sounded very much like speeches he'd heard throughout his NFL career, including from Williams.
"It took me back to 2004, honestly. I know the tone. That was Gregg Williams. I love him for it. I loved his approach to the game. If I had to play for him today, I would, no problem."
Fine. Understood. The opinions of our former-NFL-player analysts are very much worthwhile, and it's good of them to be open about sharing them. But they're all missing the most important point in all of this.
This discussion has moved beyond the issue of bounties, well beyond the issue of what kind of motivator Williams is, and it needs to move beyond the issue of how common these speeches are. We get it. This stuff gets brought up. Players are made aware of opposing players' injuries so that they might take them into consideration when they decide how and much and how hard to hit them.
Happens from high school on up. We all completely get that this is common practice and has been for a long time.
But the real point in all of this is that it has to change, along with many other time-tested aspects of physical football, to fit in with today's player-safety-conscious NFL. You can argue that the league is hypocritical. You can argue that it was late to the party. You can argue that all of the player-safety initiatives and related discipline are a reaction to the proliferation of lawsuits by former players who claim the league ignored or covered up serious injuries for years. All of that is absolutely true. But what's also true is that, whether fans like it or not, player safety has become a paramount issue in today's NFL, and it's not going the other direction anytime soon.
That being the case, the idea of a motivational speech that urges players to target opponents' specific injuries is either outdated or must become so. If you're a defensive coordinator, and you're watching what's going on the past couple of days and weeks, and you're smart, you're leaving that kind of stuff out of your pregame speeches from this point forward. It's entirely possible to fire up your players without mentioning anything about concussions or ACLs, and given what's happened to Williams and the Saints, smart coaches are going to realize that and stop talking like this. Because whether you or I or anyone who's ever played football like it or not, the NFL is going to be very interested in knowing who does and who doesn't.
But then Umenyiora shows up for the final game of the season, finally healthy enough to play in the same game as Pierre-Paul and Tuck, and we are reminded. He flashes his game-disrupting speed off the edge, sacks Tony Romo twice and reminds everybody about the way the Giants' defense was supposed to work all along. Is he better than Pierre-Paul? Debatable right now. But if Umenyiora is the third-best pass-rusher on his team, as Eagles running back LeSean McCoy famously tweeted last summer, then his team has one heck of a pass rush.
I think that's a really good way to put it: Gives them a chance. There's this rush today all of a sudden to compare these Giants to the 2007 version that finished the year hot, put together a run and knocked off the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And I understand. Comparisons like that are what we do. Plus, same quarterback, same coach, some of the same players we all know won't be affected by playoff pressure... and a defensive front capable of getting pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. That's what wrecked Tom Brady's undefeated season, and the Giants the last couple of weeks have played defense well enough to remind people of the way they played it that year.
"The way those guys rush, it's just like blitzing," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said. "For them to get up there and rush the way they rush, that takes a lot of pressure off of us in the back end."
Which is the plan, of course, but let's not get too crazy here. The Super Bowl champion Giants of four years ago were a much more complete team than this one is. They had the fourth-best rushing offense in the NFL that year, for example, averaging 134.3 yards per game on the ground. This year's Giants were the worst rushing offense in the league, at 89.2. That year's team had Antonio Pierce playing middle linebacker a spot currently manned by rookies when it's manned at all. And whatever you want to say about this year's great pass rushers, not one of them is at least to this point in his career Michael Strahan-great.
Four years ago, the play of the defensive line elevated the Giants from "good playoff team" to "world champion." This year's defensive line, if it can continue to play the way it played Sunday night, elevates the Giants from "mediocre, flawed team that got outscored by its opponents in the regular season" to "team that might be able to make some noise." The 2007-08 run was a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Even if the Giants do make another one this year, it will stand on its own in team history, built more on clutch performance by this year's stars than on a four-year-old formula for success. But they will need the defense to make it happen.
"We have a very good offense, an outstanding quarterback, and as long as we're able on defense to help keep the team in the game, we have a chance to do something special," Umenyiora said.
A chance, yes. Eli Manning and his receivers can put points on the board with anyone -- yes, even the Packers and the Saints. The question is whether the defense can keep the other team from scoring more. The Cowboys' receivers were consistently beating the Giants' defensive backs Sunday night, but the Giants' pass rush didn't give Romo enough time to find them. That's the formula. If they can't get to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan consistently and violently on Sunday afternoon, Ryan and his receivers will torch them. If they do that and can't get to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the following week in Green Bay, Rodgers and his receivers will torch them.
Right now, though, it looks as though the Giants can get to the quarterback -- maybe as effectively as they have all season. And if they can do that, then yes, they will have a chance.
The question: Should the 49ers move up to second? What about the Steelers?
ESPN's Merril Hoge rolled his eyes when Antonio Pierce suggested the 49ers would finish 12-4 and earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Hoge said he thought the 49ers would come up short against elite teams, including the Saints. He pointed to the weak NFC West.
"I'm sorry, Merril," Pierce said. "I'm going to have to cut you off. They have only beaten one team in their division. The other five wins, outside their division. Tampa Bay, Detroit. They've played some good teams and put a smacking on them."
I'm inclined to rank the 49ers second behind Green Bay this week. Would they beat the Steelers the way Ben Roethlisberger is playing right now? Would they have beaten New England, as the Steelers did Sunday? I'm not sure, but they're 6-1 overall, 3-0 on the road and own multiple victories over winning teams, including Detroit, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
With 10 minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter Sunday at Ford Field, Detroit Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson drove Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Will Svitek back into the pocket. Svitek stepped on quarterback Matt Ryan's left ankle, leaving Ryan writhing on the field in pain.
Receiver Roddy White said that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cliff Avril behaved in a way that caused him to lose "a whole lot of respect" for them. White said Avril "was kicking at [Ryan's] feet and said, 'Get him off the field.'"
Falcons center Todd McClure said: "I had respect for Suh before the game. But when Matt was on the ground, the things [Suh] was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don't do. [He said], 'Get the cart' and several other things that I can't repeat."
Via Twitter, Avril said: "Come on, I'm not in the business of hurting not one guy on the field... I would never taunt anyone on an injury."
Suh has yet to respond, as far as I'm aware.
Are White and McClure accurately depicting what Suh and/or Avril said and did? Are they exaggerating? Short of an NFL Films audio emerging, we might never know for sure. But this episode will only add fuel to the debate about the way Suh plays the game, and if he and his teammates are too often pushing the edge of aggressiveness and moving into the realm of being chippy or dirty.
Suh likened himself to Shaquille O'Neal this summer, suggesting he gets penalized based on his superior strength relative to opponents. Whether he likes it or not, he's also being judged by players and officials based on his reputation. There's nothing he can or should do about his strength, but if he acted the way the Falcons say he did after Ryan's injury, he's going to lose whatever benefit of the doubt he still maintained with officials and the league office.
One of the most notorious players in recent NFL history was safety Rodney Harrison, who is now an NBC analyst. Sunday night, Harrison said: "I don't think [Suh] is a dirty player, but I've talked to guys around the league, and they say he is a dirty player. The bad thing about that is it takes away from how good of a player you are. You don't want that reputation. He's too good of a player, and plus it hurts your team."
In the video below, ESPN analyst Antoino Pierce said: "If those things were said, that's wrong." But he also added that the Falcons' offensive line should take some ownership of the situation as well: "You have a job to do as an offensive lineman. If you don't want them to be dirty or hit your quarterback, keep him away."
That would give the former New York Giants receiver plenty of time to get on a roster and play a full season. If a labor standoff doesn't compress the summer workout schedule, Burress also would have a good chance to learn the new offense by opening day.
Would Burress be a fit in the AFC East?
Before we consider each team, let's project the kind of receiver Burress will be.
His 34th birthday is in August. He hasn't caught an NFL pass since November 2008. Even before he went to prison after accidentally shooting himself at a Manhattan nightclub, his average yards per catch diminished four straight years.
Still, he's 6-foot-5 and always a threat to sky over defensive backs.
"When you look at him on the field, the guy is tall," ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck said Monday. "He's got long arms. One of the things the Giants loved to do is they'd get on [the opponent's] 45 and take a shot. With the way the rules are set up in the National Football League, it's absolutely perfect for a guy like Plaxico Burress, whose got the long arms, got the reach, who understands how to use his body.
Hasselbeck said Burress' employment prospects could be helped by Michael Vick's successful return from prison. Vick seemed to have grown from the experience. Maybe Burress did, too.
Next to Hasselbeck on the "NFL Live" set was former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, who claimed prison might have helped Burress in another way. Pierce won a Super Bowl ring after Burress caught the decisive touchdown to deny the New England Patriots' perfect season.
"He was in jail for two years, and that's a lot of time for that body to heal up," Pierce said. "Plaxico had some ankle, some knee injuries. You sit around for two years, your body starts to heal.
"There's some teams out there ... that would love to have his services."
The AFC East could be a destination. I reached out to Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson for his thoughts on the four rosters and whether or not there would be room for a receiver like Burress.
"I really don't know what he will be able to provide," Williamson said. "He obviously will be the same size when he returns and should continue to use his big frame well, especially near the goal line. It is speculation as to what he will be like athletically, but I have to think that his big play ability and suddenness will be greatly compromised."
Their receiving corps looks solid, but it can be upgraded. Lee Evans has been a disappointment, but defenses must account for him at all times. Steve Johnson had a breakout season with more than 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Roscoe Parrish had the best season of his career even though a broken wrist sidelined him after just eight games. Undrafted rookie David Nelson stepped up late in the year when injuries provided an opportunity. Interest in Burress: Low.
The Dolphins have invested heavily in Brandon Marshall, and Burress probably offers a similar skill set at this stage. They are tall, possession receivers who don't stretch the field (anymore). The Dolphins also have their slot receiver in Davone Bess. While Burress could help the Dolphins' woeful red-zone offense, what they need is a speedster who can help Chad Henne blow the top of coverages on occasion and loosen things up for Marshall and Bess underneath. Interest in Burress: Medium.
New England Patriots
The Patriots, as Williamson noted, are in a similar situation as the Dolphins. The Patriots have Wes Welker and Deion Branch plus tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Their greatest need in the passing game is a lightning bolt to help Tom Brady keep defenses honest. Brandon Tate and Taylor Price are burners, but they are young and haven't established themselves as capable. Interest in Burress: Low.
New York Jets
The Jets seemingly present the greatest possibility for Burress in the AFC East. "That could be a fit," Williamson said. "I could see them taking the risk. And after free agency departures, Burress might be attractive. Plus, they are in win-now mode." Points well taken. The Jets might not be able to re-sign all of their free-agent receivers: Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan have shown with Holmes, Edwards and Antonio Cromartie they're open to second chances. Interest in Burress: High.
The short and simple answer to that question is yes. It’s more complicated than that, but around the Giants' minicamp these days there is no parsing out blame for last year’s 8-8 collapse or responsibility for this year’s full recovery.
Former Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora, standing in front of his locker, was asked who was under extreme pressure to ensure that the Giants find a way back to the top of the NFC East. He answered: "Everybody and everything around here. ... We must win."
But Coughlin? He’s just two years removed from putting another piece of Super Bowl hardware in the Mara family trophy case. But after spending nearly $86 million on salary and bonuses to fix the Giants' defense last season, team president and CEO John Mara was uncharacteristically caustic, saying he was "unhappy with everybody."
Facing a near player revolt, myopic defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan was fired after one miserable season. Enter the fiery -- but unproven -- Perry Fewell from Buffalo.
The Giants then used five of their seven 2010 draft picks to repair a defense that surrendered 41 or more points in three of its final four games. The Giants finished 3-8 in their final 11 games.
This spring, Mara signed free agent Antrel Rolle, a Pro Bowl free safety from the Arizona Cardinals. So far, Rolle seems to be settling down a secondary that last season allowed 27 completions on balls thrown 20 yards or more -- tied for second most in the league.
Asked recently whether he was happy now with the team, Mara told ESPNNewYork.com: "We should be a better team than we were last year. We better be."
US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:
My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:
1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.
I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.
This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.
With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.
Cowboys win prediction in April: 12
2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.
With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.
It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.
I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.
Giants win prediction in April: 10
3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.
Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.
The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.
Eagles win prediction in April: 9
4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.
McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.
I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.
Redskins win prediction in April: 8
Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
Now that Jerry Jones has released left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, there's more of a sense of urgency at those spots in the draft. The Cowboys will replace Adams with Doug Free, but they could still take an offensive tackle or guard at No. 27 overall. Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Devin McCourty are two players the Cowboys really like late in the first round.
There's a belief that safeties Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin could get the job done in a pinch, but the Cowboys will focus on that position in the draft. Last year's approach involved saving money -- if you can believe that. The Cowboys' first picks were Nos. 69 and 74. The only true impact player from the '09 draft was kickoff specialist David Buehler. In this year's draft, the Cowboys need to select players who can have a more immediate impact. If an offensive tackle starts to slip in the first round, don't be surprised if the Cowboys are there to catch him.
In the past, the Cowboys have emphasized need over value out of necessity. In this year's draft, I think staying at No. 27 and going with the best value is what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. Releasing Hamlin and Adams certainly changed the dynamic heading into the draft, but it also provided some clarity.
New York Giants
General manager Jerry Reese almost never gets caught reaching in a draft. He doesn't normally go for project players in the first three rounds, although Ramses Barden is certainly the exception. This year's approach has to be a little different, though. The Giants were exposed on defense in several areas last season.
They can't afford to simply take the "best-player-on-the-board" philosophy. The Giants need help at linebacker and defensive tackle. And another pass-rusher would be nice. I'd be very surprised if the Giants took an offensive player at No. 15 overall. If Rolando McClain out of Alabama is there, look for Reese to take him. He's exactly the type of player Reese and Coughlin love -- remarkably intelligent and a natural leader. After losing Antonio Pierce, the Giants need more players like that.
With the Sheldon Brown/Chris Gocong trade, the Eagles are now thin at cornerback and linebacker. And it's not as if they had an embarrassment of riches at those positions before the trade. In the past, the Eagles have been very open to moving down in the first round. And with the depth of talent in this year's draft, that's certainly a possibility. But at No. 24, something tells me the Eagles will stay right there and draft the best cornerback or safety available. They've taken a long look at Texas' Earl Thomas, but I don't know if he'll be available at that point.
The Eagles need more firepower at linebacker, so that's also an option in the first round. They've spent the past couple of drafts bolstering their offense with speed at the skill positions. Now it's time to start retooling that defense. I'd be very surprised if the Eagles don't take a defensive player at No. 24.
Mike Shanahan continues to meet with quarterbacks despite the blockbuster trade for Donovan McNabb. I recall McNabb not enjoying a certain draft pick in '07, so it will be interesting to see whether Shanahan addresses the quarterback position in the draft.
Of course, the draft focus now turns to left tackle. The Redskins don't have a viable candidate there unless they sign the aging Flozell Adams. And general manager Bruce Allen said on a local radio show that he's talked to Adams' agent. But I still think left tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is the way to go for the Redskins at No. 4 overall. The Redskins will have to wait until Saturday to pick again unless they somehow land a second-round pick in a trade.
So in reality, the Redskins will only find one immediate starter in this draft. And by the way, Shanahan needs to start drafting some larger inside linebackers. As I've said many times, London Fletcher is not going to hold up in this defense for very long. Part of that is age, but most of it is size.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.
Since the Cowboys haven't made a single move in free agency, nothing has changed. They certainly didn't feel a sense of urgency to outbid the Giants for safety Antrel Rolle or the Eagles for free safety Marlin Jackson. But it wouldn't surprise me if the Cowboys addressed their need at safety with a veteran such as the Rams' O.J. Atogwe. At the No. 27 spot in the draft, you might have a shot at either South Florida's Nate Allen or USC's Taylor Mays. But I don't think the Cowboys will go either direction.
In conversations with folks at Valley Ranch, the offensive line is what gets mentioned the most. If the Cowboys can identify a talented offensive tackle or guard late in the first round, that's the direction they'll go. There's also the possibility they'll try to trade down because this appears to be a relatively deep draft. Obviously, place-kicker continues to be a glaring need. But after that, it's still offensive line, safety, inside linebacker and then probably wide receiver. With the rise of Miles Austin and the intrigue of Kevin Ogletree, I could see the Cowboys waiting until later in the draft to grab a wide receiver. After all, both Austin and Ogletree were undrafted players.
New York Giants
The Giants addressed a major need with the signing of Rolle, although I'm not sure he's worth $15 million guaranteed. Now they can focus on shoring up their linebacker situation. Second-year player Clint Sintim is expected to start at strongside linebacker, but there's a gaping hole at middle linebacker with the release of Antonio Pierce. It doesn't look like Jonathan Goff is quite ready to fill the position from within, so the Giants will be hoping that Alabama's Rolando McClain slips to them at No. 15. Outside of the defensive tackles from Oklahoma and Nebraska, I think McClain may have been the best defensive player in the country. He's incredibly smart and has tremendous size and athleticism. This just seems like a Jerry Reese pick to me.
The Giants also need to figure out their situation at defensive tackle. You have to think Chris Canty will have an easier time after battling injuries in '09 and perhaps Rocky Bernard will finally show up. But you can't simply depend on those things. The Giants probably will take a defensive tackle in the draft and then they'll look at some offensive linemen. It's probably the end of the road for Kareem McKenzie at right tackle. The Giants need to continue drafting and developing young offensive linemen and I think that will be a priority for Reese. At running back, you have to wonder how Andre Brown will look returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon. It's hard to find a lot of running backs who've made successful comebacks from that particular injury.
The Eagles have a potential solution at safety with Marlin Jackson, but it's still a position of need. You can't depend on Jackson being able to recover from his second ACL surgery in as many years. But I don't expect the Eagles to take a safety at No. 24 because Allen and Mays aren't blowing anyone away. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Eagles select a cornerback in the first round. It's a huge position of need with Sheldon Brown starting to break down a little bit and Joselio Hanson taking a step back after his suspension. This secondary had no chance against Tony Romo and the Cowboys late in the season, and that has to be fixed.
The Eagles also need more help in the pass rush. I know they traded for Darryl Tapp on Tuesday, but he put up pedestrian numbers for the Seahawks. If a pass-rushing defensive end starts slipping next month, the Eagles will be ready to pounce. The Eagles also need to think about a long-term solution at center with Jamaal Jackson coming back from a torn ACL. I know that Baylor center J.D. Walton is projected to go in the second round and he's the type of athletic player Andy Reid likes. I also know that the Eagles think a lot of versatile guard/center Nick Cole, who filled in nicely at right guard last season.
And don't be surprised if the Eagles go after a running back in the later rounds. Mike Bell is a young player, but the Eagles could still use more juice at the position.
After a slow start to free agency, the Redskins are now sifting through a list of former stars -- and signing some of them. Larry Johnson was one of the best running backs in the league -- four years ago. He's an odd "complement" to Clinton Portis because both players sort of bang around between the tackles. There's simply not much change of pace. That's why I feel like running back is still a position of need in the draft.
A lot of Redskins believe that quarterback is the biggest position of need, but I tend to think left tackle should be the bigger priority. Washington didn't really give Jason Campbell any chance last season, but he still put up decent numbers. With Chris Samuels retiring, it's time to find a long-term solution at left tackle. I think you take Russell Okung at No. 4 and never look back. But Mike Shanahan will be tempted by Jimmy Clausen. He knows he played in a pro-style offense and he won't get caught up in all this talk about Clausen coming off as cocky during the combine. Don't you want your quarterbacks to have a little swagger?
The signing of nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu might be one of the most underrated signings of the offseason. If he can return to his form of '08 (pre Achilles tendon injury), then new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can be more creative with Albert Haynesworth. You also have needs at linebacker, safety and cornerback. London Fletcher is an excellent player, but he wasn't made for the 3-4. He'll be eventually be phased out of the defense -- and it might happen sooner than some of you think. General manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan will be looking for bigger players at inside linebacker. I think Rocky McIntosh will be fine, but Fletcher will have a tough time taking on some of the enormous centers and guards in the NFC East.
The Giants’ pass rush was middle of the road last year. That is unacceptable considering the talent they have at the defensive end position and the overall resources they dedicated to their defensive front last offseason. Did this dip in production stem from coaching or the players? Surely it was a little of both, but with Perry Fewell taking over the defense, expect a step up from the perimeter rushers. Fewell stresses fundamentals and is considered a players’ coach. One worry up front is the defensive tackles’ run defense, which clearly was not up to par.
There are issues at linebacker though. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was released, which is a move I agree with. Never the most physically gifted player, it appears as though what Pierce did have from an athletic standpoint began to fail him. Much more range and playmaking ability is needed in the middle against both run and pass, especially considering the tight ends and pass-catching running backs in the NFC East.
The Michael Boley experiment on the outside did not yield enough overall, but he was particularly poor against the run. Boley is more of a run-and-hit player and running at him directly exposes his weaknesses. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub package linebacker; they need to create competition for his starting weakside spot on early downs.
While the Giants have several mediocre options for both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, I don’t see a lot of upside with that crew outside of Boley. On the strong side, Danny Clark isn’t flashy, but he is tough and effective. He is an unrestricted free agent and hopefully the Giants lock him up, but his backup, Clint Sintim, does has more ability, speed and potential. However, neither of these two project well to the middle or weak side.
Having a new coordinator could yield immediate results, but Fewell’s scheme is based a great deal on speed and range. With that in mind, New York needs to find one linebacker with elite playmaking abilities, maybe Rolando McClain in the draft or Karlos Dansby in free agency.
I see safety as the No. 1 personnel need here, followed immediately by a difference-maker at linebacker. A nose tackle-type would be third, as the foursome of Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty, Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins were all underwhelming, but there is ability among this defensive tackle rotation. Robbins can push the pocket, but more was needed from him stopping the run and his stamina is questionable. He is an unrestricted free agent and could be replaced. A second linebacker to battle for a starting spot would be ideal.
This sounds like a long list, but the Giants are set on the offensive side of the ball, so expect their resources to be dedicated to fixing this once-proud defense.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
"I was shocked at first, but I'm not the one up there up in the office, and they said they felt they needed to go in another direction," Pierce told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Thursday. "They said it wasn't my health, or the way I played, but just that -- that they were going in another direction. We left everything smooth and peaceful and I'm happy about that -- I felt like I said everything I needed to say to them. I've loved my time in New York and won't have anything but good feelings about being with this team."Pierce was the emotional leader of the defense on the '07 Super Bowl team. And even as his ability seemed to fade in '08 and '09, players still looked to him for leadership. He was in the New York area to have an MRI on the herniated disk in his neck when he stopped by to visit with coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese. Here's something interesting that Pierce told Nichols:
"I have no wish list," he said. "If I had a preference, it would be to stay in the NFC East, since I know the division so well. But I just want to go somewhere I can help a good team."Pierce was about to enter the final season of a six-year, $26 million contract. At 31, it's not like he'll command a huge contract with another team. But I think a team will sign him to a one-year deal to see if he can overcome the bulging disk in his neck. Even after being placed on injured reserve last season, Pierce remained on the sideline and encouraged his teammates. And it's his influence in the locker room that will be remembered most by the Giants. Players such as Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka fed off Pierce's emotion.
In talking to Mike Garafolo from the Star-Ledger this afternoon, Pierce didn't show any animosity toward the Giants. In fact, he appears to be showing a lot of grace:
"If there’s anything anybody wants to know about me, it’s that I know for a fact I left a stamp on this organization, this city, my teammates," said Pierce. "I know I made guys better, I know they learned from me. I know I taught them lessons and I learned lessons from them. It was perfect. It maybe didn’t end the way I wanted it to end. If anything’s disappointing, it’s that. Am I angry? I’m not angry. I’m very positive about everything. I feel that my career is far from short and over. I just have to do it elsewhere."
“When we brought him in here, we were interested in A.P. for all of the dimensions he brought to the table -- his leadership qualities, his natural charismatic ability to rally the troops, he loved football, he’s a very smart football player -- he took great pride in studying the tape and knowing what everybody did on defense,” Coughlin said. “He had the ability to communicate assignments on defense as the leader in the huddle. He was a three-time elected captain here with the New York Giants. He demonstrated great leadership. He has been an outstanding football player. Think of the screen play against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game and the tremendous play that he made. Had he not made that play who knows where that ball would have gone?”So where do the Giants go from here? Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn have taken turns filling in for Pierce, but it's not like either player really distinguished himself. It wouldn't surprise me if the Giants thought about taking a linebacker with the No. 15 pick overall.
They'll certainly find a player with fewer injuries and more speed than Pierce. But it will be virtually impossible to replace the competitive spirit that he brought to the Giants over the past five seasons.
If you asked me where Pierce is going to end up, I'd point to the Rams first. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo has immense respect for his former linebacker. And just because I know you'll ask, I don't think he'd be a good fit in Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme.
14:57 4th Qtr Chicago 17 Detroit 31 4:30 PM ET Philadelphia Dallas 8:30 PM ET Seattle San Francisco
1:00 PM ET Washington Indianapolis 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Houston 1:00 PM ET Cleveland Buffalo 1:00 PM ET San Diego Baltimore 1:00 PM ET New York Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Oakland St. Louis 1:00 PM ET New Orleans Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Carolina Minnesota 4:05 PM ET Arizona Atlanta 4:25 PM ET New England Green Bay 8:30 PM ET Denver Kansas City