NFL Nation: Eight in the Box 051013

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one highly drafted or highly paid player from each AFC South team who needs to show something during the remainder of the offseason?

Houston Texans: I can’t find a highly paid or highly drafted player who could be in jeopardy. Shiloh Keo was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and ranked as a Wade Phillips favorite. Keo played in every game last year, even seeing time as the often-used third safety when Quintin Demps fell out of favor. But Keo is limited, primarily because he’s slow. The Texans replaced Glover Quin with Ed Reed, which doesn’t really affect the bottom of the safety depth chart. Demps is an unsigned free agent who won’t be back. Second-round pick D.J. Swearinger will be the third safety. Keo and Eddie Pleasant are the fourth and fifth safeties now, and the team had five on the roster at the end of last season. But a good player at the back end of another position could prompt them to keep just four, which could put the limited Keo in jeopardy if he doesn’t perform well in camp.

Indianapolis Colts: A team that didn’t have a true nose tackle option last season because of injuries and personnel deficiencies will have a glut this summer if everyone remains healthy. Now they have Aubrayo Franklin and 2012 fifth-rounder Josh Chapman, who’s back from the knee injury that kept him out last year. They also have new fifth-round draft pick Montori Hughes as well as Ricky Jean Francois, a versatile lineman who can man the middle on occasion. I don’t expect Martin Tevaseu to stick, and if the rest of that pack remains healthy, one player who will need to have a solid camp to make his case to stay is Brandon McKinney, who’s due $1 million this year. Brought in as a free agent from Baltimore last year, he too is coming off a serious knee injury. He’s expected to be ready for camp but could have already lost some ground in organized team activities and minicamp.

Jacksonville Jaguars: While the Texans don’t have a highly paid or highly drafted veteran who could be in trouble because they have drafted well and their roster is solid, the Jaguars don’t really have one because they are young and largely unproven. They already parted with an expensive guy who wasn’t worth his contract in strong safety Dawan Landry. Tight and Marcedes Lewis ($4.2 million base this year) and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu ($1.8 million) are overpaid based on recent production, but the Jaguars have money and don’t have promising replacements for either.

Tennessee Titans: I don’t think right tackle David Stewart is in jeopardy. But he’s coming off a down year when he committed too many penalties, is recovering from a broken leg, has an ankle that seems to be a lingering concern and is due a $5 million base salary. I’m not sure Mike Otto or Byron Stingily, the team’s two primary backup tackles, are starting-caliber guys. But the team did visit with free agent Eric Winston, who worked with offensive line coach Bruce Matthews in Houston. If Winston remains on the market and Stewart doesn’t look ready to bounce back, perhaps the Titans would still consider adding Winston and allowing him to slug it out with Stewart. That could be an epic battle.

Eight in the Box: Key offseasons

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each NFC West team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Arizona Cardinals: Inside linebacker Daryl Washington is an easy choice. The Cardinals expected to build around Washington, Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson on defense. Washington has become the weak link in that chain after incurring a four-game suspension for substance abuse and assault charges stemming from an incident that allegedly left the mother of his child with a broken clavicle. Washington cannot undo what has been done. All he can do is work hard, stay out of trouble and begin to repair his reputation inside and outside the organization.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers' first-round pick from 2012, receiver A.J. Jenkins, has reportedly focused on gaining needed strength after making zero impact in games last season. The next step is making a positive statement through his play at organized team activities, minicamps and training camp. Here is what 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said about Jenkins when the team drafted him: "I defy anybody to look at that tape and tell me that there's something wrong with it, that there's something that he doesn't do well." Here is what Harbaugh said when asked about Jenkins at the team's 2012 rookie camp a few weeks later: "I think that whole group of receivers really looked good. Out of shape, that's the bad news. Good news is that it's a very talented group of those young receivers. You could tell that right away. But the bad news is we've got to get them in shape. I don't know exactly what all these guys have been doing in the last six months." By June, Harbaugh was lauding Jenkins' conditioning, speed and route running. Compliments are nice. The proof this offseason will be in whether Jenkins earns a meaningful spot in the receiving rotation.

St. Louis Rams: Brian Quick, like Jenkins, is a highly drafted second-year receiver looking to make a greater impact in 2013. Jenkins was the 30th overall pick and a player the Rams also liked very much. Quick was the 33rd overall pick and a player the Rams compared to Terrell Owens from a physical standpoint. Scouting reports suggested Quick might need a season to absorb the NFL game as a relatively raw talent from Appalachian State. Quick finished his rookie season with 11 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Fifteen drafted rookie wide receivers had more receptions. Fourteen had more receiving yards. Eight had more receiving touchdowns. Seventeen played more offensive snaps. Quick should be ready to take a big step forward now that he has as much or more experience in the offense than any wideout on the roster. That should become apparent through various offseason camps.

Seattle Seahawks: Veteran defensive end Red Bryant is already a proven force on the Seahawks' defensive line. Re-establishing himself from health and physical conditioning standpoints should be a priority this offseason. We should get a feel for where Bryant stands on these fronts by watching him move at offseason practices. Bryant played through a foot injury last season. He had trouble moving laterally and his game obviously suffered. Last offseason, the Seahawks gave Bryant a contract worth $7 million per season. This offseason, they need to know Bryant is doing everything he can to bounce back in 2013. They need to know he's in good shape for a huge man.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each AFC West team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Denver Broncos: Rahim Moore, safety: Moore will be closely watched to see if he can bury the memory of his colossal gaffe against Baltimore in double overtime in the 2013 AFC playoffs. Moore inexplicably allowed Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones get behind him as the Ravens tied the game on a 70-yard desperation bomb in the final seconds of regulation. The Broncos thought Moore, a second-round pick in 2011, made great strides in his second season. They still believe in him. The team has been supportive of him this offseason, and Moore is saying all the right things. Still, he has to show his teammates and coaches in practices that the mistake is truly behind him.

Kansas City Chiefs: Jon Baldwin, receiver: Baldwin simply needs to get better. He was a first-round pick in 2011. Baldwin is superbly athletic and he has big-play ability. Yet he has made little impact in the regular season. He was terrific in training camp last season. This year, he needs to show new coach Andy Reid that he can perform in his system and that he is ready to become a consistent player. If Baldwin can make an impact, it will give a huge boost to the Chiefs’ offense.

Oakland Raiders: Matt Flynn, quarterback: Flynn has a chance to make the Raiders his team. Flynn has started two games in the NFL, and he will be 28 next month. He was expected to be the starter in Seattle last year, but he lost the starting job to Russell Wilson in training camp. The Raiders have Terrelle Pryor and drafted Tyler Wilson in the fourth round. Flynn will be given every opportunity to keep the starting job, but he must gain the trust of his coaching staff and teammates. That means Flynn must practice well and take command of the offense as soon as possible.

San Diego Chiefs: Ryan Mathews, running back: Mathews is the starting tailback. But he has to gain the trust of the new coaching staff and the belief of his teammates, who have seen him deal with injuries since he was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Mathews is a talented player and he has had success, but injuries have slowed him. He needs to show this offseason that he is strong, confident and ready to stay healthy. If Mathews has another season filled with injuries, the Chargers will probably look for a new lead back next year.

Eight in the Box: Key offseasons

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each AFC East team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

New York Jets: Perhaps no AFC East player has a brighter spotlight on him this offseason than embattled Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Quarterback competitions are always interesting, but quarterback competitions in New York are taken to another level. Sanchez is in a five-way battle with fellow veteran David Garrard, highly touted rookie Geno Smith and backups Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. Sanchez is the incumbent looking to keep his job, which he’s had for four seasons. But Sanchez led the NFL in turnovers the past two seasons, which contributed to back-to-back non-winning seasons in New York. The Jets have treated Sanchez with kid gloves for a majority of his career and have not brought in legit competition before. But first-year general manager John Idzik did not draft Sanchez and has no ties to the 2009 first-round pick. The quarterback derby is wide open. Whoever can learn new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast system faster this offseason will have the inside track in training camp.

Buffalo Bills: Veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb is in a similar spot to Sanchez. Signed as a free agent, he has a chance to win the starting job but must compete with rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel and veteran Tarvaris Jackson. Kolb has had a lot of ups and downs in stops with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. He will get his third opportunity to lead a team, this time under first-year head coach Doug Marrone. The competition is hard to predict. Kolb might be a slight favorite to win Buffalo’s starting job in Week 1 because of his experience. But if Kolb is beaten out by a rookie (Manuel) or a journeyman (Jackson) in training camp, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Bills cut ties with Kolb. A majority of Kolb’s two-year, $13 million contract is incentive based and not guaranteed.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have put veteran cornerback Dimitri Patterson on the hot seat via the draft. Miami drafted two cornerbacks -- Jamar Taylor and Will Davis -- in the second and third rounds, respectively. The rookies will make the 53-man roster, but Patterson’s spot is not guaranteed. The former Cleveland Browns cornerback joined the Dolphins as a late-season waiver claim. Patterson didn’t get to show much in his two games with Miami last season and must really impress the coaching staff this offseason. Otherwise, the Dolphins could release Patterson and save on his $4.6 million salary. Agreeing to take a pay cut also would be an option for Patterson.

New England Patriots: New Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was added this offseason to a crowded backfield. He was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a seventh-round pick and track standout Jeff Demps. Blount joins tailbacks Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and return specialist Leon Washington. Blount could add power and a short-yardage threat to New England's offense, which needs both those things. But Blount fell out of favor in Tampa and has had issues in the past. The Patriots took a chance to see whether Blount could turn around his career. But New England also is never afraid to cut players who do not fit.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each NFC North team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Chicago Bears: Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi was the No. 29 overall pick of the 2011 draft, a left tackle at Wisconsin whom the Bears decided to install at right tackle as a rookie. There was some thought that Carimi could eventually find his way back to left tackle with the Bears, but a knee injury knocked him out for the season after two games. Carimi couldn't regain his footing last season, was benched and moved to guard because of an emergency personnel situation. Now the Bears are looking at him exclusively at a position he might not be physically suited for. The Bears' new coaching staff has no ties to Carimi as a first-round pick and he will have to demonstrate a level of comfort this offseason to give himself a chance to compete for a job -- either as a starter or a backup -- in training camp.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Bill Bentley was a third-round draft choice last season and earned a starting job out of training camp before a shoulder injury limited his effectiveness and eventually ended his rookie season. Since then, the Lions have re-signed veteran cornerback Chris Houston, used a second-round draft choice to acquire Darius Slay and expressed excitement about the development of two other cornerbacks drafted alongside Bentley: Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. Slay is recovering from knee surgery and might not have a chance to impress coaches right away, but Bentley will need to make sure he doesn't get lost in the shuffle this offseason to ensure a legitimate chance to win the starting job alongside Houston.

Green Bay Packers: Derek Sherrod was selected three slots below Carimi in the 2011 draft. The Packers viewed Sherrod as a potential long-term replacement for left tackle Chad Clifton but worked him at guard and right tackle before he suffered a gruesome multi-fracture of his leg late in Week 15. He missed all of the 2012 season and recently had a second surgery to address lingering issues. The Packers hope he can be cleared to do at least some work this spring so they can determine whether to count on him for their right tackle competition. If he can't get back to non-contact practices 18 months after the injury, there is reason to be concerned if he ever will.

Minnesota Vikings: Joe Webb has a cult following among Vikings fans (and some media members) because of his off-the-charts athletic ability. The Vikings gave him a handful of reps earlier in his career at receiver and kick returner before making him their backup quarterback in 2012. That experiment failed, resulting in the free-agent acquisition of Matt Cassel. Now it's on Webb to find a way to make himself valuable, perhaps at another position, this offseason. It's possible the Vikings will simply make him their No. 3 quarterback, but for his long-term career prospects, it's probably time for Webb to dig in elsewhere as well.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each AFC North team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Baltimore Ravens: Cornerback Jimmy Smith. Most Ravens first-round picks start as rookies. Smith hasn't established himself yet, and he's entering his third season. The 27th overall pick of the 2011 draft, Smith has the size and speed to be a top-tier cornerback. He just hasn't shown the toughness or consistency to warrant a place on the field. Smith's best game last season was the Super Bowl, where he successfully defended San Francisco's final two passes of the game (depending on your interpretation of pass interference). The Ravens are going to need Smith to carry that over into this offseason; Lardarius Webb is coming off a season-ending knee injury and Cary Williams went to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Smith could put himself in position to take over the starting job from Corey Graham.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick needs to show he'll be ready when training camp starts at the end of July. Injuries sidelined him for most of the offseason last year, and a bone spur in his knee limited him to five games (and a total of four tackles) last year. Kirkpatrick had another procedure on the knee four months ago, and the hope is he'll be fully recovered for training camp. It's been a disappointing start to his career, which has been magnified by the fact guard Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals' other first-round pick from a year ago, has looked like a Pro Bowl player already. The Bengals need to know they'll be able to count on Kirkpatrick come summer. He'll have a chance to compete against Terence Newman for a starting job.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Brandon Weeden. Many first-round quarterbacks are given some time to develop. That's not the case for Weeden, who wasn't drafted by the current Browns decision-makers. The expectation is that Weeden will enter training camp as the starter. But nothing is guaranteed, especially when Weeden has yet to get a strong vote of confidence from either chief executive officer Joe Banner or head coach Rob Chudzinski. The Browns signed veteran backup Jason Campbell, which puts pressure on Weeden. He'll have to earn the starting job, and the competition begins in these offseason workouts. Weeden has to show growth from last season, when he ranked near the bottom of the league in completion rate (57.4 percent) and near the top in interceptions (17).

Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive tackle Mike Adams. Although the Steelers are currently undecided on who will start at left tackle this season, Adams could get the first crack at protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side in these offseason camps. The 2012 second-round pick has to prove he can stay healthy. He sprained his MCL in the preseason opener, but to his credit, he returned five days later. Adams' rookie season then ended in November after he suffered an ankle injury. In 10 games at right tackle, he allowed seven sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. If Adams struggles, the Steelers could move him back to right tackle and flip Marcus Gilbert to the left side.

Eight in the Box: Key offseasons

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each NFC East team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Dallas Cowboys: DT Jay Ratliff

He missed 10 games in 2012 due to injury. He cursed out the team's owner after a game. He got busted for driving under the influence mere weeks after friend and defensive linemate Jerry Brown was killed in an accident for which friend and defensive linemate Josh Brent is facing intoxication manslaughter charges. He costs $4.072 million against the salary cap for a team that struggled all offseason to find cap room. It's kind of a miracle Ratliff is still on the roster. One of the reasons the Cowboys decided to switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment was their belief that Ratliff would thrive as one of two defensive tackles in Monte Kiffin's defense, and in order to overcome all of the good reasons they have to get rid of him, Ratliff could stand to look as healthy and dominant as possible this offseason on that defensive line.

New York Giants: RB David Wilson

The Giants let Brandon Jacobs leave as a free agent last offseason and released Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason, which means their running game has been completely overhauled. Wilson, their 2012 first-round draft pick, needs to be a big part of what that running game becomes this year. He showed last season that he has a quick burst and big-play capability, and he became a force on kick returns. Wilson should get the opportunity this offseason to show that he can handle the responsibilities of a No. 1 feature running back. With the Giants, those responsibilities include blitz pickup and pass-protection duties. If Wilson shows advancement in those areas and the ability to handle regular carries, he could keep Andre Brown in a goal-line role and decrease the team's need to find a third-down back with Bradshaw-like blocking ability. If not, the Giants could be tinkering with their run game all year.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick

Vick is the clear favorite to win the Eagles' starting quarterback job. He has considerably more NFL experience and more 2013 upside than any of his challengers. He still has the arm strength, the speed and the athleticism to offer the Eagles something at the quarterback position that no other team in the league has -- the stuff that has made coach after coach dream of what's possible since he was lighting it up at Virginia Tech. However, Vick will turn 33 next month and also has a well-established reputation as an injury-prone, turnover-prone risk-taker who holds the ball way too long and doesn't read defenses effectively. New Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said he needs a quarterback who can make quick decisions and unload the ball in a hurry. Vick will surely get the chance to show he can do that, and it's possible a scaled-down offense that leans more on the run game than Andy Reid's did will help. But if Vick struggles in the preseason with his decision-making and timing, he could lose the job to Nick Foles or Matt Barkley or Dennis Dixon. And if that happens, he could lose his roster spot, too.

Washington Redskins: LB Brian Orakpo

After a second consecutive season ended early due to a pectoral muscle injury, the Redskins' 2009 first-round pick finds himself having to prove something that was never an issue in his first two seasons -- that he can stay healthy. By now, Orakpo was supposed to have established himself as a disruptive pass-rushing force on par with the best in the league. He hasn't been able to do that, in large part because of those injuries. He has one year left on his contract, and there has been talk that he could get an extension prior to the start of the season, which is an appealing idea to the Redskins since they likely could get him at something of a discount due to the injuries. But if he struggles with health or effectiveness in the preseason, that's liable to make the Redskins think twice about a preseason extension, and to turn 2013 into a make-or-break year for Orakpo.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a key player from each NFC South team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:

Atlanta Falcons: Drafted in the first round in 2009, Peria Jerry was supposed to be a dominant defensive tackle. That got thrown off track very quickly when Jerry tore up his knee in the second game of his rookie season. He has come back but never has been close to being the player he was before the injury. The Falcons have accepted that Jerry is only a role player. But Vance Walker left via free agency, and they would like Jerry’s role to increase this season. They want him to be the top option in the rotation behind starters Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. This is the final year of Jerry’s contract. If the Falcons aren’t completely sold on what they see in Jerry during the rest of the offseason program and preseason, they could bring in a veteran defensive tackle.

Carolina Panthers: It is blatantly clear that it is now or never for wide receiver Armanti Edwards. The Panthers gave up a future second-round pick to draft Edwards in the third round of the 2010 draft. The hope was that the former college quarterback could be an effective receiver and return man. To date, Edwards has five career receptions and hasn’t been able to hold on to the return job. The acquisitions of return specialist Ted Ginn and a growing list of young receivers seem to put Edwards very much on the bubble as training camp approaches.

New Orleans Saints: Safety Malcolm Jenkins might be the most perplexing player in this division. A first-round pick in 2009, Jenkins seems to possess every talent (physical skills, work ethic and intellect) necessary to be a star. Yet Jenkins really hasn’t had much of an impact. Maybe new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will figure out a way to get Jenkins finally to play up to his potential. But the Saints used a first-round pick on Kenny Vaccaro, and they want to get him on the field. Maybe the arrival of Vaccaro will light a fire under Jenkins.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The team is putting a lot of eggs in Da’Quan Bowers' basket. After letting Michael Bennett depart through free agency, the Bucs have made it clear they’re counting on Bowers to be their main pass-rusher. The potential is there for that move to work out well. Bowers has rare physical skills and quickness. But injuries slowed him in his first two seasons. He needs to show the Bucs he can handle the wear and tear of starting for an entire season.

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