NFL Nation: On the radar NFC 62410

On the radar: Cadillac Williams

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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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.

If you look at the numbers Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams put up last season, they’re not bad. He carried 211 times for 823 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeCadillac Williams
Fernando Medina/US PresswireConsidering the circumstances, Cadillac Williams had a very impressive 2009 season.
If you then look at the circumstances, Williams’ numbers actually were very good. Coming off his second major knee injury, Williams did all that behind a team that was the worst in the NFL for the first half of last season. While changing offensive coordinators and not knowing from week to week who would be the starting quarterback, Williams put up a lot of those numbers behind an offensive line that wasn’t as good as it was billed to be and on an offense that usually was throwing more than anybody wanted because the Bucs were always trying to catch up.

Take all that into consideration and look forward. It’s not hard to imagine Williams turning in a bigger year in 2010. He’s completely healthy now and he’s the unquestioned starter at running back. The Bucs have shifted Earnest Graham over to fullback and Derrick Ward, who was signed last year with the dream of him becoming the feature back, has shown he’s just a backup.

Williams’ heart has kept him way ahead of Ward on the depth chart and made him a favorite of the coaching staff. With the Bucs expecting to have more stability on offense now that Greg Olson and Josh Freeman are firmly established as the coordinator and quarterback, Tampa Bay should be able to have at least some sort of rhythm on offense.

Look for Williams and a more consistent running game to be a big part of that rhythm.
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.

As he wrapped up mandatory minicamp this week, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy refused to rule out the possibility of acquiring a veteran outside linebacker. (I also didn't see where he ruled out bungee-jumping from the top row of Lambeau Field, but I haven't caught up on all of the news stories yet.)

Keith Bulluck
Don McPeak/US PresswireSigning a veteran free agent like Keith Bulluck would go against the norm for GM Ted Thompson.
"We'll continue to evaluate that and watch what goes on around the league," McCarthy said -- of the linebacker situation, not bungee-jumping.

We all know how rarely the Packers seek veteran help from outside the organization. If you look at their roster, you see only one veteran free agent who signed this offseason. And that was safety Charlie Peprah, who spent three seasons with the Packers before joining the Atlanta Falcons last year.

But the Packers' personnel remains in flux at left outside linebacker, and they even gave defensive end Cullen Jenkins some reps there during minicamp. It's been expected that Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga would compete for the starting role in the base scheme, and the truth is that defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses so many sub packages that he can cover for an uncertainty at one position.

So would the Packers break from their usual practices and seek veteran help? ESPN's Adam Schefter recently ranked veterans Adalius Thomas and Keith Bulluck as the best free agents remaining on the market, and Thomas has extensive experience in the 3-4. A trade is also a possibility.

But I think the Packers are in no rush to make a move. The history of general manager Ted Thompson suggests the Packers would prefer to evaluate their current group in the early stages of training camp before looking outside the organization.

On the radar: Beast RB rotations

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
1:00
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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 NFC East teams have an embarrassment of riches at certain positions. The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants are remarkably deep at wide receiver and some of the league's elite pass-rushers reside here. But running back is sort of a mixed bag, so let's compare the different rotations in the Beast in this week's edition of "On the radar," which is now syndicated in more than 37 countries and East Texas.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Geoff Burke/US PresswireThe Giants are hoping Brandon Jacobs can return to his form from 2008.
In Washington, Mike Shanahan must be hoping for a magic time machine, preferably one that returns his backs to the '06 season. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were at the top of their games four seasons ago, but they've been in steady decline since. Actually, Portis had an excellent first half of the season in '08 before trailing off because of injuries. I think the Redskins have the weakest group of the four teams. There's not a home-run threat in that bunch, which makes life easier on opponents.

I think the Cowboys will have the best unit if Marion Barber and his leaner frame can stave off injuries. He's looked a lot quicker in practice sessions this offseason and there's a chance he regains his '07 form, which led to a lucrative contract extension. Felix Jones is the biggest home-run threat in the division because of his speed and quickness. Offensive linemen don't have to hold their blocks as long when Jones is in the backfield. And with Tashard Choice as the third back, the Cowboys could have something similar to what the Giants featured during their Super Bowl season ('07).

I have the Giants and Eagles neck and neck at running back. Ahmad Bradshaw's going to be the X factor because he has the potential to be a dominant back. But there are questions about his durability after watching him hobble around in protective boots last season. If Bradshaw's truly 100 percent, he's capable of being the best running back in the division. Seriously. I think some of us have forgotten those carries during the Giants' playoff run.

Brandon Jacobs will have a hard time holding on to his starting spot, but he's a proud enough player that he might find a way. He was too tentative last season. He gave the Giants their offensive identity in '07 and '08. Like Barber, he needs to somehow regain that form. I think Gartrell Johnson has a good shot to be the third running back. It just seems like Andre Brown has fallen too far behind in his developmental process following a ruptured Achilles tendon in last year's training camp. You don't hear about a lot of backs making full recoveries from that particular injury.

With the Eagles, I'm anxious to see how LeSean McCoy handles the feature role. He's obviously started games in the league, but he had Brian Westbrook around to point him in the right direction. McCoy needs to become more consistent catching the ball. If he's able to do that, he has the potential to be a Westbrook-type player. I watched Mike Bell a couple of weeks ago and he's a little quicker than I remembered. I think he could be one of the most underrated pickups of the offseason. And we all know what Leonard Weaver can do from the fullback spot.

With a new quarterback in place, the running game will be more important than ever for the Eagles. Now we'll see if Andy Reid changes his approach. I have my doubts.

On the radar: Surprise injuries

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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.

A sore hip bothered Kurt Warner at Arizona Cardinals camp last summer. It wasn't a big deal.

[+] EnlargePatrick WIllis
Brett Davis/US PresswirePatrick Willis has already practiced after his offseason knee surgery and will seemingly be ready for training camp.
Two summers ago, the Seattle Seahawks downplayed Matt Hasselbeck's bad back because they didn't know the full extent of the problem. That one turned out to be more serious than expected.

Having the right feel for each injury situation can be tough. I'm sure a surprise injury or two will become a story after NFC West teams report for training camps in late July.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (knee), St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (back), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (knee) and Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (pectoral) are among the high-profile NFC West players coming off surgery rehabs. Their situations will bear monitoring.

The following players ended last season on injured reserve (some are no longer with NFC West teams):

Arizona Cardinals

Matt Ware, Mike Gandy, Justin Green, Cody Brown

San Francisco 49ers

Tony Pashos, Ricky Schmitt, Thomas Clayton, Jeff Ulbrich, Walt Harris, Kentwan Balmer, Curtis Taylor

Seattle Seahawks

Tyler Roehl, Walter Jones, Kevin Houser, Brandon Frye, Tatupu, Mike Hass

St. Louis Rams

Marc Bulger, Adam Carriker, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Eric Bassey, C.J. Ah You, Brooks Foster, Gary Gibson, Jacob Bell, Daniel Fells, Chris Massey, Bradley Fletcher, Laurent Robinson, Keenan Burton

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