NFL Nation: On the radar NFC 7110

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.

There’s a chance some of you have never even heard of Rip Scherer. If you haven’t, go ahead and put him on your radar.

He’s the quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers and that could ultimately put him in a position to influence whether John Fox, who is in the last year of his contract, stays or goes.

[+] EnlargeRip Scherer
AP Photo/Mike McCarnWith such young quarterbacks, Rip Scherer will have to do a lot of teaching in training camp.
Scherer joined the Panthers last year after long-time quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy took a promotion with Denver. Scherer wasn’t able to solve the problems that started for quarterback Jake Delhomme at the end of the 2008 season, but I don’t think you can hang that on Scherer. Whatever Delhomme’s problem was, it was something within him. Delhomme’s gone now.

That means Scherer is starting with essentially a fresh slate. Matt Moore is the only quarterback with any experience and he’ll go to camp as the heavy favorite to open the season as the starter. The Panthers have high hopes for second-round draft pick Jimmy Clausen, but it probably would take a horrible preseason by Moore and a great one from Clausen for there to be a switch at the top of the depth chart. Rookie Tony Pike and Hunter Cantwell will be battling for the No. 3 job.

That’s a lot of youth and that means Scherer will have to do a lot of teaching. After a lengthy run as a college assistant, Scherer worked as head coach at James Madison and Memphis and first worked in the NFL in 2005 when he joined the Cleveland Browns, where he learned the same system coordinator Jeff Davidson now runs in Carolina.

There is no doubt Moore and Clausen have some talent, but it’s going to be up to Scherer to get them “coached up’’ quickly. With a very strong running game, a good offensive line and wide receiver Steve Smith, steady, mistake-free play could make a quarterback a big success in this system. Scherer’s job is to have Moore and/or Clausen ready.

On the radar: Buzz Players

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
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.

As much as we like to downplay offseason practices, they almost always focus our attention as training camp approaches. For reasons not always explainable, some players head to summer vacation surrounded by the proverbial buzz.

This spring is no different, so with training camps about a month away from opening, let's nominate a Buzz Player for each NFC North team:

Chicago Bears

Bowman
Bowman
Player: Cornerback Zack Bowman
Comment: The Bears moved Bowman to the left side, ostensibly making him their No. 1 cornerback after a six-interception season in 2009. Those who covered the Bears' open practices reported Bowman was an interception machine. Can Bowman take the leap to elite status in 2010?

Detroit Lions

Follett
Follett
Player: Linebacker Zack Follett
Comment: Follett has gotten as much ink as any Lions player this offseason, becoming a bit of a cult hero for his off-kilter personality and accessibility to fans. That's gotten him on the radar. But as the Lions plug him into Ernie Sims' old weak-side position, can the guy play? We're about to find out.

Green Bay Packers

Nelson
Nelson
Player: Receiver Jordy Nelson
Comment: The Packers' top draft pick in 2008, Nelson has 55 receptions in 29 games over the past two seasons. Nelson appeared to have taken a significant step this spring, however, and might make it difficult for the Packers to keep him off the field. Starter Donald Driver is 35. Just sayin'.

Minnesota Vikings

Webb
Webb
Player: Quarterback Joe Webb
Comment: I think Webb is as surprised as anyone to have been switched back to quarterback after most NFL teams projected him as a receiver. He could be part of a larger power play to free up the Vikings' third quarterback position, but there is no doubt people are talking about his combination of size and athleticism. We should know by the end of training camp if the buzz is well-founded.

On the radar: Jason Smith

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
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.

Right now, much like a large portion of the Rams’ offensive line, Jason Smith is fighting an injury (toe), but forecasting him to take a substantial step forward does not seem out of line at this point. In a massive understatement, St. Louis needs him to develop in a big way -- and soon.

[+] EnlargeJason Smith
Jeff Curry-US PresswireThe Rams are hoping to see improvement from tackle Jason Smith.
This year, Smith moves to his more natural left tackle spot. I found it very curious that he wasn’t put there from the start last season and that decision may have stunted his development, as did injuries during his rookie year. But moving him where he was drafted to play was a step in the right direction -- as was drafting Rodger Saffold to man the right tackle spot. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, Saffold and Smith should all grow up together in this offense. While it may result in more hits than Bradford or management would like in 2010, it is a very stable long-term plan.

St. Louis also got rid of Richie Incognito and Alex Barron. Both linemen are very talented, but their approach to the game can be questionable. Getting such potential bad influences out of the offensive line meeting room was a wise long-term decision.

Smith has all of the tools you look for. His size and feet are superb, but more polishing with his technique against speed rushers would be a good idea. He didn’t flourish in his rookie season, but he didn’t appear overwhelmed either. Smith had a few bad games, but nothing catastrophic. Now he understands the speed of the game and what is expected of him at this level. Smith has had a full offseason to dedicate himself to develop into a top-notch starting left tackle.

But injuries to Smith and this entire line just can’t be ignored. As a rookie, he just wasn’t on the field very much. While St. Louis looks to have very solid prospects at both tackle spots and reliable veterans at left guard and center, the turnover with this unit on a week-to-week basis last year was very difficult to overcome. Continuity and having a great understanding of your linemates is paramount to success up front in the NFL. We just haven’t seen that of late, but there is hope for sure -- not only for Smith, but for the entire front wall.

On the radar: Romo's next step

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
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.

As many of you might recall, last year's offseason theme for the Dallas Cowboys was a "Romo friendly offense." Doesn't that seem like 10 years ago now?

[+] EnlargeTony Roma
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTony Romo has taken on a more vocal role with the Cowboys this offseason.
Well, things worked out pretty well for that offense as Tony Romo led the Cowboys to their first playoff win in 13 years. The debacle in Minneapolis left a sour taste, but '09 was obviously a step forward for the organization. Now, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is asking Romo to take an even bigger step in the process.

Jones and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett now believe that Romo has the ability to raise everyone's level of play. Now that he's no longer defined by December swoons, there's a belief that he's capable of getting this team to a Super Bowl. This offseason, Romo has taken more of a vocal role on the team.

In '08 and even to a certain extent last season, Romo sort of took care of his business and hoped that his teammates would do the same. He's taken a different approach to the 2010 season. When his pal Miles Austin skipped the first two weeks of voluntary workouts, Romo jumped on the phone and told him it was time to come back to Valley Ranch. Players such as veteran linebacker Keith Brooking have told me that they've noticed a change in Romo.

In practices, he's offering the defense feedback and he's not afraid to get in someone's face if they make a mistake. It seems like Romo's success in the playoffs, albeit limited, has given him more credibility with his teammates. I realize there's a perception that Romo's more interested in playing golf and hanging with celebrities, but that's not reality.

In the offseason, he'll devour sports books and then try to figure out how to apply it to his game. He read a Johnny Unitas book a few years ago that changed the way he thought about the quarterback position. Romo realized that his actions in practices and in the locker room truly mattered and that he would set the tone for his teammates.

Now, he has more confidence than ever. I think he may be poised for his first All-Pro season with the Cowboys. But get back to me in December on that one.

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