Camp opens tomorrow though there will be no real action until Saturday.� Here are some keys I�ll be looking at this summer:
Quarterback, the search for #2:� Kordell is the incumbent; we know what Graham has to offer and we know that it is not enough.� Tee Martin gets high marks for leadership, intangibles, athleticism and arm strength.� The rap on this man has been accuracy, especially on the short ball; Toy and Ward project as RAC-aces but only if the ball arrives on time and in-stride.� To be a legit #2, Martin has to show he can consistently hit a receiver on the move.� He needs to show he can read a defense too but, with the vanilla-only schemes purveyed in mid-summer ball, there�ll be no judging his progress in that area.��
Tommy Maddox hit long and short in the XFL but there is a real question whether the 2001 Xtreme could have beaten the 2000-01 Sooners or Seminoles.� It is a different game in the NFL and the difference is all about speed.� In the XFL, Maddox had success against D-backs who aren�t quite quick enough to be training camp fodder.� Probably, the 2nd half of any pre-season game will be a step-up for Tommy.�� However, if either he or Tee is to be tested as viable alternatives at #2, they�ll have to get some 1st half opportunities this summer, against 1st unit defenses.
Running back, inter-modal transport: There�s been a lot of talk about Coach Mularkey�s revised passing attack but what about the run game?� Other than Watters and Smith, the Bus has made more trips than any RB in football.� Bettis has a 6-year deal but, if the Stillers want more than a couple years service from this man, they�ll have to cut his carry totals down.� Bettis fits the power-I but neither back up does; Amoz lacks size and Fu lacks durability.� All this suggests that the Stillers are headed towards some alternative, whether a change-up back ala Pegram or a change-up base formation featuring both Fu and Amoz. They�ll have every opportunity to work either deal during pre-season because, probably, the Bus won�t get 15 carries between now and the opener. ����
Fullback, the search for the next John L. Williams:� Rod Frazier is 5�-11�, 255#.� That�s Kreider-height with 13# added; maybe Rod can block.� Frazier went to pass-happy Florida; maybe he can catch the ball.� I�d like to see this player emerge as a multiple purpose FB; with Kurpeikis, this is the man I�d most like to see make it as a rookie FA.
WR, money for nothing:� The Stillers have $2.163M/year in bonus dollars dedicated to Spike and Toy; add their combined salaries and you�re talking real cash.� RFA Hines Ward and Bobby Shaw are currently listed as starters at this position; combined, the Stillers will pay these players something around $1.22M this year.� If the FO was correct in drafting Edwards and Burress, then the Stillers may be playoff contenders now but if not, not.� If �Toy and Spike are ready now, then the FO could shop Shaw or Ward to, say, the Chiefs for, say, CB Pat Dennis.� ��
OL, the search for the next Strzelczyk:� Keydrick Vincent is 6�-5�, 330#. Vincent played LOT at Mississippi but lacks the agility to do so in the NFL.� He is currently listed as a ROT but has the bulk to move inside.� The Stillers have need for a OT/G; Keydrick is #3 on my rookie FA watch list.� Strzelczyk spent a couple years on the PS before making the regular roster, maybe Vincent is the next Justin, maybe the next Orlandini.
NT, Hampton or bust:� If Casey can�t figure it out, Clancy is not a viable alternative.� Even booster-extraordinaire Bob Labriola figures that KVO will move back inside with either Sullie or Combs pressed into service at DE.� Hampton will get every opportunity �and I think he�ll do fine.� Until last year, Coach Cowher sat his rookies but, in 2000, Spike and Marvel started from day one and so will Casey.� My guess is that Hampton will finish 3rd in the NFL D-side ROY ballot; Carter, Morgan or Archuleta will win� Further, Hampton will be the D-side captain by 2004 but, ultimately, Kendrell Bell will be the better player.
DE:� Reportedly, Combs is up to 294# or so.� That�s good news; last year, this man lacked speed, bulk and strength.� Now, he�s bigger anyway and, while
neither KVO nor Smith are exceptional POA players, Combs� development could give the Stillers a much need 2nd two-gap player to pair with Hampton.
LB:� The future resides with Porter and Bell; while neither has the state of the art speed Urlacher and Arrington bring, both are pretty close to that level.� I can�t think of a team that has two LB with this kind of speed.� Porter has to learn to play the run better and Bell, if he is to be the coverage backer, has to learn cover.� That accomplished, the D-Head will have to figure a way to get both of these players on the field, but off the LOS, on every down.
CB:� Coming out of college, Hank Poteat was regarded as a quality man-up cover back.� Given the Stillers contractual issues at this position, they�ll need this man to confirm that evaluation, if not now, then very shortly.
S:� Purportedly, Logan was brought in to compete with Alexander at FS.� Logan is an athlete; Alex was the QB in the 2000 secondary.� Why not both?� Logan is 6�-0�, 209#; SS Lee Flowers is 6�-0�, 211#.� Logan is big enough to play SS and is much faster than Flowers.� Work Logan at both spots; if he can play SS, then the Stillers will have a man there with Lake-esque speed and will have a valuable trade chip in Lethon Flowers.�