NFL Nation: On the Radar 60310 AFC

On the radar: Pats WR Brandon Tate

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The Patriots’ patience with Brandon Tate really might pay off as early as 2010, Tate's second in the league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Tate
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaAfter missing much of his rookie year due to injury, could Brandon Tate could be poised for a breakout?
After sustaining a significant knee injury at the University of North Carolina, Tate more or less redshirted during his rookie season. While in college, Tate was mostly a returner and didn’t make a name for himself until later in his career, as the Tar Heels had a ton of talent at the position, and then he sustained the knee injury. But when Tate strutted his stuff as a wideout, he was extremely productive and impressive.

Now he might be ready to explode onto the scene, and it would not shock me one bit if he was the opening day starting wide receiver opposite Randy Moss. Tate is someone you need to know.

So what is to like so much about this young wideout? Quite a bit, assuming he is recovered from his injury and has studied up on the position.

Tate isn’t the biggest guy, but he has good height and a frame that could hold more weight and muscle. He has a lot of potential to be a very crisp route runner with excellent stop/start ability and lateral agility. He really can come out of his breaks well and is quick to accelerate, but also shows very good body control and overall balance in his game. He also catches the ball cleanly away from his body and is a pretty reliable hand-catcher.

Tate can make the highlight-reel grab as well. He is an explosive player who also can be very dangerous as a returner. Tate is excellent with the ball in his hands and provides quite a bit after the catch.

If/when Tate does get the chance to start, he obviously will not be the focal point of opposing defenses. But considering his supporting cast -- especially Tom Brady, who I think is poised for a huge year -- it will not be long before defensive coordinators around the league know all about this young man’s abilities.

On the radar: John Estes

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

Jacksonville needs better play from the center position, and undrafted rookie John Estes from Hawaii has a shot to make an impact in the middle of the Jaguars’ offensive line.

[+] EnlargeMeester
Tom Cammett/Getty ImagesBrad Meester, above, may need to fight off undrafted free-agent center John Estes at center.
Brad Meester, 33, has battled a lot of injuries. But even when he was on the field last season, Meester’s run blocking was a problem. Replacing him makes a lot of sense, but at the minimum, Jacksonville needs to put pressure on its current starting center’s hold on the job.

If Meester is replaced, the most likely scenario would be for Uche Nwaneri to move from guard to the pivot. Considering the volatility of this offensive line last year, Nwaneri -- while far from spectacular -- should be considered rather dependable. Plus, Jacksonville did just trade for Justin Smiley, creating is a bit of a logjam at guard with Vince Manuwai and Kynan Forney. So moving Nwaneri seems like a logical move after the acquisition of Smiley.

But where does Estes fit in -- and, to a lesser extent, Cecil Newton, who is a year older than Estes? If Nwaneri can prove that he is the best option for the starting center spot, Meester could be shown the door, which would open up a possibility for one of these youngsters. Estes is the guy I would expect to take advantage of that opportunity.

Estes isn’t a particularly big offensive lineman and Jacksonville certainly does value size up front, but he moves well and is tough and durable while playing the game with a bit of a mean streak. He isn’t extremely powerful, but was a four-year starter, is very aware in protection and has a good feel for maximizing his leverage advantage. There are tons of examples of offensive linemen who enter the league and prove very difficult for their coaching staff to cut from the roster. Estes might just be next.
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

[+] EnlargeDarrell Stuckey
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesRookie safety Darrell Stuckey has the chance to contribute right away for the Chargers.
Darrell Stuckey is going to be an interesting player to keep an eye on this summer.

The safety was a fourth-round pick by San Diego. The early offseason camp returns on the Kansas product have been strong. He was sharing starting repetitions during last week’s minicamp with veteran Steve Gregory.

Stuckey has a chance to become a significant contributor right away. He can take advantage of Kevin Ellison’s legal issues. The Chargers had Ellison stay away from minicamp last week after he was arrested for allegedly having 100 Vicodin pills in his possession.

The Chargers are clearly upset with Ellison. He could be released.

Ellison was a sixth-round draft pick last year. He started the final nine games of last season. Still, the Chargers drafted Stuckey to give him an opportunity to take Ellison’s spot. In the aftermath of Ellison’s arrest, Stuckey clearly has to be considered a frontrunner to start.

Stuckey is a big, strong player who has good instincts. He has a chance to play early and Ellison’s off-field issues will expedite his opportunity.

On the radar: Mike Wallace

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

Last offseason, a surprise rookie from Ole Miss flashed tremendous speed and reliable hands during Pittsburgh Steelers' practice.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMike Wallace had 39 catches for 756 yards and six touchdowns during his rookie season.
Several months later, third-round pick Mike Wallace introduced himself to the rest of the NFL with a standout season, recording 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns.

This year, Wallace has been arguably the best receiver for the Steelers during practices with Hines Ward coaching from the sidelines. Wallace routinely makes plays now that he's getting more opportunities with the first-team offense. With Santonio Holmes traded to the New York Jets, it will be important for Pittsburgh's second-year standout to make the jump from a backup receiver to a starter.

Wallace owes a lot of his quick development to Ward, who remains in his ear during practices. Like Plaxico Burress and Holmes in the past, Ward knows how important it is to have two productive receivers in Pittsburgh’s offense.

"Anything I do, he's watching," Wallace said of Ward this week. "So it's kind of hard to be perfect with Hines out here."

Wallace continues to work on his routes; route-running was the knock on him coming out of college. Pittsburgh utilized Wallace's strengths last year by making him a deep threat as the third receiver. But this season Wallace must be more polished running short and intermediate routes as a starter.

Timing also is something to watch in training camp. Wallace and the receivers are working with Ben Roethlisberger, who has a conditional six-game suspension, as well as Byron Leftwich on the first team this spring. Dennis Dixon also is expected to get a chance to work with the starters at some point, as the team figures out how to divide snaps.

"They're all good quarterbacks, so it doesn't really matter to me," Wallace said. "Anyone of them lines up, I'll be ready to go."

Wallace is confident that he's ready to step into the starting role. Based on last season and his steady growth this offseason, there's no reason for the Steelers to think otherwise.

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