Mike Detillier's Football World
Over the past six summers, I have written about which NFL teams others in the league wanted to face the least in each upcoming season.
In most cases, first impressions of teams are best. The impressions are not yet tainted by hype, over evaluation or by the opinions of the masses. While piecing together my annual NFL draft book in the spring, I spoke to 15 different league scouts, coaches and general managers about which team they donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t want to play in 2005.
During that six-year span, all but once did the league coaches and executives picked a team that either played in the Super Bowl or in a conference championship game that season. Last season was the only year in which the team selected by this group did not make it into late January. The choice last season was the Ravens, a 9-7 team loaded with talent on the defensive squad, that had a very strong special teams unit and a rugged running game led by Jamal Lewis.
But the Ravens fell apart late in the season after getting little production out of their young quarterback Kyle Boller.
Lewis also had some off-the-field issues that seemed to erode away his skills.
Not only did the Ravens not make it to the AFC Championship game, but they didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t even make the playoffs. Over the past six years, this yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s balloting was closest, but the team most didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t want to play was the Indianapolis Colts, who polled six first-place votes. The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots took four first-place votes. The remaining first-place votes went to the Steelers with three. The Eagles and Chargers each got one first-place vote. Interesting enough is the fact that all five NFL pro personnel directors picked the Colts to win their first Super Bowl title in 2005.
"If you remember right, I selected the Patriots to repeat last season, and I feel strongly that the Colts will finally win it all this season," the NFC pro personnel director said. "When you scout this team, they virtually have no weaknesses on offense. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league. I know he doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t have the rings on his fingers that Tom Brady does, but this guy is just incredible to watch and he is surrounded by players that compliment his play so well. Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark are all outstanding receivers, and Edgerrrin James is still one of the leagueÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s best all-purpose backs. The great untold story is the fact that their offensive line is just average at best, but Howard Mudd (the ColtsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ offensive line coach) pieces together a real strong fort around Peyton each and every year. Why I think they will win it this season is that they have steadily gotten better on defense. They have acquired some good athletes on defense (Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders and David Thornton), and their special teams are very good. If they get home-field advantage for the playoffs, nobody will beat them out of a Super Bowl spot."
One NFC defensive coach feels the Colts are the toughest team to scheme for because they have so many top quality players on offense.
"I really donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t know how good they are on defense", the veteran defensive coach said. "Dwight Freeney is a super pass rusher, and the young kid, (Robert) Mathis, has some strong up-the-field moves, but if that team gets better on defense, it will be because they draft a couple of hot-shot performers on defense, and they are instant starters."
Note: The Colts selected Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson and Illinois cornerback Kelvin Hayden with their top two draft choices in 2005.
"I feel the Colts will win it all this season, just like the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999, with a great offense that just overruns everyone. Because of the real quick offensive scheme they run, it is hard to slow down Peyton. Just watch how many big plays they hit upon with quick passes to the receivers, and they break a tackle, and they are off to the races. Harrison, Wayne and Stokley all run so well after the catch. They donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t run a lot of different plays to be honest. They run many of the same plays, but out of a host of different sets or alignments. Manning does a great job finding a weakness in a defense or a player out of alignment, and he makes you pay the price. The Patriots have matched up well against them because they are real physical with their receivers off the line of scrimmage, and they play smart football on defense. They just donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t make the stupid mental mistakes others make against them when Manning calls audibles or what looks like audibles at the line of scrimmage. We keep telling our guys when we play them to just play their spots, but you can bank on it that four or five key times in a game we will have a person get out of position, and Manning finds that crease and hits a homerun strike. I just hate playing against those guys."
One NFC director of player personnel said the Colts have such balance on offense that it becomes a major challenge to slow them down.
"Most teams in this league either have excellent receivers and just an average running game or a strong running attack and just one key receiver on offense. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s not the Colts. When you try and scheme on them on defense to stop the pass they give you a mouthful of Edgerrin James. Peyton (Manning) is the best quarterback in the game today, but he is immensely helped by the fact that he has a very strong runner with power like Edgerrin. James on the other hand is helped by the fact that they spread your defense out so much. He has some open running lanes he wouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t see with other clubs. The scary part of this offense is that it could be better this season than last year. Everyone talks about Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and both are very good players, but if the Colts can keep Brandon Stokley healthy all year and tight end Dallas Clark continues to develop his overall skills, they could be even better than last year. Right now, the Colts, not the St. Louis Rams, are "The Greatest Show on Turf." To be honest, if I was to pay premium dollar to see one team play football this season it would be the Indianapolis Colts."
One AFC scout, who actually selected the Patriots as the team he would not like to see on his schedule, had an interesting note on the Colts.
"I have been around for some time and, to be honest, the Colts of today are the Dallas Cowboys of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Cowboys of that era had just as much talent as the teams they lost to in championship games or Super Bowls. But losing so many of those key games ate away at their confidence, and it affected their play, until they finally were able to just win one. In my opinion, the hardest part for the Indianapolis Colts is to match up against the Patriots late in the season, and it has become a mental hurdle they have failed to jump over. The Patriots have lost a piece or two each and every year, but they win the close games during the season because they play with such great confidence. For a team with such great success they really do play the game with a sense of fear. That is really a key in football today and in years past. The really good teams fear losing, and they detest that feeling as a unit. There are about four to five teams in the league today with the similar overall talent of the Patriots, but they donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t play team football like they do, and they donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t play the game with same level of confidence. I will say this, that if the Colts donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t make it to the Super Bowl this season it will be real tough for this same group to get there together."
Most NFL team executives, scouts and coaches I polled gave the Colts the nod as the team they least want to see on their schedules.
Now lets see if the Colts can get by the team they least want to see on their schedule -- the Patriots -- especially in mid to late January.
SAINTS CLOSE IN ON HAKIM
The Saints appear to be closing in on acquiring veteran wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim.
Over the past few weeks, Hakim was torn between the Chiefs and Saints. Earlier last week, Hakim looked as though he was all but sure to be reacquainted with his former Rams head coach Dick Vermeil in Kansas City. But issues over money and playing time soured Hakim on the Cheifs, and he now appears to be on the verge of becoming a Saints player.
The addition of Hakim would be good for the Saints. I have always felt Hakim was a chip-type player. While there are just a few stars in the league who dominate, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s the ability of teams to put those role-type players in the right spots to get maximum production out of them. The former San Diego State star has been at his best when used as a third wide receiver or slot-type end.
While most Saints fans remember Hakim for his infamous fumble as a Ram on a punt that help seal New OrleansÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ first playoff victory ever in 2000, Hakim made his mark as a slot-type end playing in between star receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in St. Louis.
In his first four seasons with the Rams, Hakim caught 148 passes and scored on 16 receptions.
Those are solid numbers for a third receiver. HakimÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s main strengths as a receiver is his quickness and his excellent ability to run with the ball after the catch. He parlayed those strengths into a big free-agent contract with the Lions in 2002 that earned him about $3 million a season, but the Lions made the mistake in thinking Hakim was a No.1 receiver. That just was not the case.
The premium or No.1 type cornerbacks in the NFL were very physical with Hakim off the line of scrimmage, and they basically zapped away his quickness and his ability to get separation as a receiver. In the league today, you want a slot receiver who can take full advantage of going against another teamsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ third or fourth options at cornerback.
At 28, Hakim still has the quickness to excel as a third wide receiver, despite his tendency to drop some very catchable balls at times. For the Saints, the addition of Hakim would be the veteran insurance policy they have been looking for just incase something happens to Joe Horn. But more importantly, it would provide the club with a player who could use his niche-type skills as a productive slot receiver and give former LSU receiver Devery Henderson another season to develop his NFL skills. Hopefully for the Saints, Hakim can overcome the injury concerns a few teams have had about him and he can provide the Saints with some solid production as a third wide receiver.
The move would make a lot of sense.
GRANGER TO BE HONORED
Former Oberlin High School star running back Hoyle Granger will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday. Granger was a top all-around athlete who earned all-state honors twice in football at Oberlin. He scored 199 points and averaged 12.5 yards per carry as a senior.
The "Crunchin Cajun" also won state titles in track in the 100-yard dash (10.3) and the shot put (48-7.05) and he was a district MVP in basketball. He went on to a very successful college career at Mississippi State where he led the Bulldogs in rushing three straight seasons and earned All-SEC honors each of those years. The hard-charging fullback was a fifth-round pick of the Houston Oilers in 1966 and quickly made his mark in the American Football League. Granger played six seasons with the Oilers and ranks as the teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s No. 2 all-time rusher with 3,514 yards.
Only NFL Hall of Fame halfback Earl Campbell has more. But Saints fans will always remember that Granger was part of one of the most lopsided trades in Saints history, and that is really saying something. In late January 1971, Granger, along with offensive tackle Terry Stoepel, defensive end Charlie Blossom and a second-round pick in the 1971 draft, was dealt from the Oilers to the Saints in exchange for wide receiver Ken Burrough and defensive tackle Dave Rowe.
Ed Hughes, the head coach of the Oilers during the 1971 season and who later was part of Dick NolanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s staff with the New Orleans Saints, recalled that deal as being one of the best trades in the history of the Houston franchise.
"Both those clubs were real bad in those years, and when you were dealt to either one it was like you were being sent to the football version of Siberia," Hughes said. "Saints head coach J.D. Roberts really wanted to get rid of (Ken) Burrough. He had been a high first-round pick just the year before they traded him, but Burrough had sustained a real bad toe injury that basically cost him the entire season. J.D. thought the guy was just not real tough, and he wanted him off the team. I had a coaching friend on the Saints squad that told me that BurroughÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s injury was legitimate and that was good enough for me. My hesitation brought on another surprise because J.D. threw Dave Rowe into the deal just to sweeten it up, and he was a starting defensive tackle for the Saints."
Burrough went on to develop into one of the top wide receivers in the game in Houston. The former Texas Southern star played eleven seasons with the Oilers, and caught 408 passes for 6,906 yards, 47 touchdowns and averaged 16.9 yards per reception during his career.
After confirming that Burrough was well, Hughes didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t hesitate a second in dealing away the former All-AFL fullback.
"I knew pretty quickly that (Hoyle) Granger had played his best football in the league," Hughes said. "He was a good player earlier in his career, but the injuries and his hard charging style had taken their toll, and he only lasted one season with the Saints before they cut him and he returned to play one more football season in Houston. Stoepel and Blossom were cut during training camp that season, and the Saints ended up picking Grambling offensive guard Sam Holden (who played just two seasons as a reserve on the Saints club) with the second-round selection."
VITAL GETS PROMOTION
Former Nicholls State running back Lionel Vital has been named the new national scouting director for the Baltimore Ravens. Over the last five years, Vital was an instrumental part of the scouting department of the three-time Super Bowl winning Patriots.
In New England, Vital was the assistant director of college scouting, and he spent most of his scouting talents the past five seasons judging the Top 100 college players in the nation.
Mike Detillier is an NFL analyst based in Raceland.
RE: Mike Detillier
exactlly what I have been saying roleplayers.
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