Commentary

Passing excess likely to continue

Mailbag: Do Lions need RB insurance? Are we underselling Cardinals?

Originally Published: August 6, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Jamin in Winnipeg, Manitoba, wonders whether the success of passing games might be coming to an end, citing the fact teams are acquiring bigger corners and faster safeties.

I'd say no, but I can tell you in my recent tour of training camps, I'm seeing a great crop of young cornerbacks. Stephon Gilmore in Buffalo looks like a potential star. Jimmy Smith leads a great group of coverage corners in Baltimore. The Rams have a great, young corner in Janoris Jenkins. The Eagles are back to man-to-man coverage and are loaded. So are the Seahawks.

Football trends go in cycles. Historically, defenses catch up to offenses, but recent rule changes will make it hard to completely shut down passing offenses. For safety reasons, the NFL is legislating against hitting defenseless receivers in the middle of the field. Now, a smaller receiver such as DeSean Jackson can go across the middle without total fear of being destroyed by a safety.

Because of that, it's tough for defenses to protect the middle of the field. This is one of the reasons tight ends are having a field day in the middle of the field. It's the same thing for wide receivers.

The current crop of quarterbacks gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately enough to take advantage of these changes. Sure, defenses will eventually slow passing offenses, but they won't completely stop them.

This will remain a quarterback-driven league.

From the inbox

Q: Why haven't the Lions brought in Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant? Although they know how Mikel Leshoure practices, they don't know how he'll do after his Achilles injury or against other defenses in real game situations. Jahvid Best might not come back this year and they have to face that fact.

Gary in Dallas

A:I believe they think Kevin Smith is every bit as good as Benson or Grant for their offense, but the longer the Best concussion issues linger, the more signing one of the two might become a consideration. Best remains out and no one knows if or when he will be active. Leshoure is suspended the first two games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. It's pretty clear the Lions are waiting for Best to get healthy so he can be the backup. They aren't panicking yet.

Q: I still can't understand why the Cardinals are not being respected as a realistic contender to make the playoffs. The Cards won eight games with Kevin Kolb/John Skelton at the helm, so is it really that unfeasible to win one, maybe two more, especially with the improvements they have made?

Justin in Mesa, Ariz.

A: Ken Whisenhunt is a good coach and gets the most out of his players. But it's the quarterbacks who give teams positive expectations. At the moment, the Cardinals are still trying to determine if Kolb is the right man to be the starter. He wasn't great last year. He's still struggling this year and might lose the job to Skelton. If Kolb can establish himself as a legitimate playoff starter, the Cardinals will get more respect.

Q: Do players get any compensation for training camp? I've been watching reruns of "Hard Knocks" and always wondered what happens to the players who are cut. They come to camp, then need to go back to real life just like that. Are they given any compensation during the weeks or month they are with the team?

Jordan in York, Pa.

A: Players are paid for each week's participation in training camp. They get their salaries only if they make the team. They are also paid for the participation in the offseason program. On top of that, there are workout bonuses that could be anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 an offseason.

Q: First, I am wondering what the rules for compensation are for players drafted in the supplemental draft in the new CBA? Second, with the supplemental draft already over, what options does CB Greg Reid have now that he has been dismissed from FSU?

David in Colorado Springs, Colo.

A: In many ways, the compensation for supplemental picks is the same as the college draft. It hasn't changed in the new CBA. The Browns took wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of the supplemental draft. He was given a $971,209 cap slot. The Browns' second-round pick in the college draft, Mitchell Schwartz, got a $940,153 slot. As for Reid, if there are enough players who qualify for a second supplemental draft, the league could hold one in September. Often that doesn't happen. Reid might have to go to another school or wait for next year's draft.

Q: I am wondering how NFL coaches decide how much time to play starters during preseason. Do starters play until they are successful, and then give way to later strings, or for longer? Are coaches most intent on testing every player on the squad as much as they can, or just the ones they know the least? Or is the goal just to win?

John in New York

A: Coaches gradually try to get their starters work in the preseason, but they fear injuries the most. That's why a normal strategy is to use starters for about 15 plays or a quarter in the first game. They might use them for a half in the second game. Coaches try to use the starters most of the third game to get a preview of the regular season. Although it's the goal of every coach to win, a preseason victory doesn't mean much. The key is staying healthy and using the games to evaluate personnel.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Lewis
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireMarvin Lewis' credibility and coaching have helped the Bengals remain viable.

Q: I'm not sure if Marvin Lewis is the solution or part of the problem in Cincinnati. Besides perhaps working cheap, why should he be continually renewed?

Fred in Tampa, Fla.

A: Simple: He's a good coach. Plus, he's willing to be loyal to the Brown family. Lewis is able to recruit some veterans from other teams to sign as free agents. He has a solid defensive scheme. Plus, he's able to hire a good coaching staff. I know it may be tough to accept that the Bengals haven't won a playoff game under Lewis. I contend they wouldn't be able to sniff the playoffs without him.

Q: I agree strongly with your column about the bad timing of the Browns' sale if anyone significant is replaced in the front office. The Browns finally look like they are heading in the right direction and can't afford changes now. If the Browns are left intact, they should be much better by 2013.

Keith in Cleveland

A: I do believe Jim Haslam will be a good owner for the Browns, but this organization needs stability. There has been so much instability over the past few years with Randy Lerner that, according to sources, the Browns had $90 million to $100 million in dead money from front office and coaching moves over the years. Lerner was paying off a lot of people who didn't work out. Mike Holmgren cleaned up those financial messes and established a quality front office team. Haslam needs to consider keeping as many as possible.

Q: Carolina has one of the most exciting players in the league (Cam Newton) and he has the ability to put points up very quickly. However, Carolina has two very good RBs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) who were seldom used in 2011. Would it not make more sense to have the QB do less running than the RBs? Will Carolina try to save its QB from possible injury by actually using its RBs?

Jeff in Powers, Mich.

A: Both backs can and will make the job easier for Newton, but you don't want to take away his running skills. Like Michael Vick and other running quarterbacks, Newton can do a lot of damage with his feet. He's great outside the pocket. If no one is open, he can run and he's hard to bring down. Newton proved to be durable last year. You don't want to change a good thing too much.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer