Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Florida State Player to Watch: Christian Jones

Florida State football is back. As Coach Jimbo Fisher begins his second year at the helm, the Seminoles return 18 starters, possess the nation's top incoming class and have high hopes for new quarterback EJ Manuel. Needless to say the Noles are already in the BCS Championship discussion.

Manuel must control the offense and have a standout year in order for the Seminoles to dominate. On the other side of the ball is a player who is poised to have a breakout year and be the difference maker Florida State needs, linebacker Christian Jones.

At 6'4", 236 (look for his playing weight to eventually be 240) many describe him as a physical freak. As the "Sam" (strong side) linebacker, his size, strength and athletic ability will come in handy going up against opposing tight ends.

A Florida State legacy, his dad and brother both played football for the Seminoles, Jones has elite natural pass rushing abilities and above average coverage skills at this stage in his career that will only get better with experience. That is what linebacker coach Greg Hudson and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops are counting on.

Last season, playing sporadically behind senior Mister Alexander, Jones racked up 18 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.

A likely starter in 2011, Coach Fisher has high expectations for Jones. "Somebody blessed him in the body with ability. He has a lot of size, potential, range, instincts and toughness. He's a big body that can play in space. That's rare. I think he has the potential to be a very good player."

According to Tomahawk Nation, Jones looked good in coverage in Florida State's annual Gold and Garnet spring game. That's good news for Seminole fans, as Jones defensive play will be crucial for a successful season.

Even teammate Nigel Bradham is excited to see how Jones will fare this upcoming year. "I'm really interested in seeing how Christian is going to do. I know he's going to do well."

At the end of the regular season Coach Fisher and the Seminoles hope to be in BCS contention. Christian Jones may very well be a catalyst that helps propel them into the national spotlight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011 Preview: Miami Dolphins Defense

These days all eyes are on the Miami Dolphins offense, but it is the defense that teams should be on the lookout for.

Second year defensive coordinator Mike Nolan gives Miami fans reason to smile. With a year under their belt the chemistry between players and coach should be even stronger. Plus the players have had a year to learn Nolan's scheme and should be more productive executing it.

The Dolphins finished the 2010 NFL season ranked 6th in overall yards allowed and tenth in sacks. Not too shabby, especially considering how young this defense is. Twelve players who figure to play a prominent role in 2011 are in the early part or prime of their career. Basically Nolan has young talent at his disposal.

The solid anchor of the defense is the line. Coach Sparano echoed that sentiment stating, "That group was the only one on my football team I knew what I was getting every game."

The return of 2010 first round pick Jared Odrick, who sat out last season due to injury, adds depth to an already strong defensive line. Randy Starks earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 and some believe nose tackle (and franchise tag player) Paul Soliai should have been in Hawaii as well. Add the ever improving Kendall Langford to the mix and it is obvious the defensive line is among the teams greatest strengths.

It is hard to talk about team strengths without mentioning the linebacking corp. These guys were impressive last season and should build on that this year.

The front office made a smart move bringing Karlos Dansby into the fold. Not only is he a great player, but his leadership skills are important for this young defense. Look for Dansby to make more noise this season.

In just his second year in the NFL, Cameron Wake emerged as one of the leagues premier linebackers. The Pro Bowler ranked 3rd in sacks recording 14.

Rounding out the linebacking corp are Koa Misi and team defensive leader Channing Crowder.

Wreaking havoc in the secondary are play maker Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. With teams shying away from Davis' side look for them to take shots at Smith. After dropping several potential interceptions last year Smith must have better hands this season. If he does many believe he will have a breakout year.

And don't forget about Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell. He has great instincts and is a solid tackler.

The defense will benefit from a stronger offense. If Miami can put points on the board it should free up the defense to play more aggressively. Playing from behind makes it hard on a defense to really play loose.

Creating turnovers will be defensive focus. Last year the defense struggled in this area, this year they want to turn up the pressure. If they can capitalize on turnovers in 2011, Miami may just compete in the loaded AFC East.

For now most fans and media are focused on the offense. Who will be the quarterback? What will Miami's backfield look like? But it very well may be the defense that gives the team a chance to contend this season.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Dolphins and Ricky Williams May Need to Create Perfect Harmony

"I'd love nothing more than to finish my career winning a Super Bowl with the Dolphins, but that's gonna take some cooperation from others." This tweet is courtesy of Miami running back Ricky Williams, the same player that in January said it was time to move on from the Dolphins. What a difference five months and the lockout can make.

Williams has changed his tune several times over the last five months. In January he said it was time to move on. In March he basically said he would have fun wherever he played, whether it be in Miami or elsewhere. In April he said if the Dolphins want him to stay and make a fair offer it would be hard to turn down. Cut to the above tweet in June. The question is what should Miami do?

It's no secret the Dolphins want fresh legs in the running back corp, but they may need a veteran to teach these young guys, such as recently drafted Daniel Thomas, the ropes. Veteran leadership is important because the longer the lockout goes on, the less time for the newbies to become acclimated to playing in the NFL or for free agents to become comfortable playing for a new organization.

Miami may have a different offensive playbook under new coordinator Brian Daboll, but don't think for a second that Williams doesn't have something to offer. Last year he rushed for 673 yards (averaging 4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Not bad for a 33 year old.

What Miami may want to consider is the veteran experience Williams brings, a sentiment he stressed when talking to WQAM-560. "I have things to offer that a rookie can't offer. I think I bring positivity. I think I bring leadership. I've proven I can play at a high level consistently."

Whether or not the Dolphins head office agrees, we'll have to wait and see. Afterall Williams had some pretty harsh words for teammates and coaching staff back in January when he was sure he would never put on a Dolphins uniform again.

It may be in the end the Dolphins admit the importance of locker room leadership and sign Williams for one year, but Williams may have to compromise on the financial terms

With no player contact allowed it's hard to tell which way the brass is leaning. Pat Kirwan of brings out an important point, "With 29 backs taken in the recent draft it doesn't leave many teams looking to spend big bucks in that position... there really aren't many willing to pay much in free agency for a veteran, especially if the next contract brings the back past his 30th birthday."

Williams himself said they haven't shown much interest in resigning him, but just as he changed his tune, so may the Dolphins.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Meet Gabbert's New Best Friends

It has been said that a tight end can be a quarterback's best friend. Why is that? A tight end may not be as dynamic as a wide receiver or running back, yet are usually the one the quarterback dumps the ball to when in trouble.

According to Rams General Manager Billy Devaney, "The tight end is a real nice safety valve for the quarterback to have. If you've got to spit the ball out fast it's a comfort knowing you've got a sure handed tight end as a receiver even if he's not running down the middle of the field. If you have someone like that who knows how to read blitzes and knows how to get open, that becomes a quarterbacks best friend."

Luckily for Blaine Gabbert, if he gets the nod to start, the Jacksonville Jaguars have an strong, experienced tight end corp. General Manager Gene Smith believes they are a winning group. "Winning at tight end in a very real sense is about versatility, depth, improvement and experience."

One of the Jaguars most durable and reliable leaders is Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis. Known as one of the NFL's better blocking tight ends, he emerged as a receiver last season racking up 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a force to be reckoned with, a reality not lost on Gabbert.

In an interview following the draft Gabbert had this to say about Lewis, "He's a great player, having a big athletic tight end like that helps you out. We had a great tight end in Missouri as well and having a guy like that can get a mismatch on a linebacker and stretch the middle of the field puts stress on the defense. Anytime you have a guy like that, like Marcedes. that's definitely a comfort for the quarterback."

Smith also had high praise for No. 2 tight end Zach Miller. "Miller has the potential to continue to develop and in a more pass oriented offense could put up numbers on the scale of some of the NFL's better receiving tight ends."

That bold statement potentially puts Miller in the company of exceptional pass-catching tight ends such as Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and the man known every year in my fantasy league as Capt. Witten (of course I'm talking about the Cowboy's Jason Witten).

Rounding out the tight end trio is blocking tight end Zach Potter. As defenses continue to run creative blitzing schemes having solid tight ends handling the pressure is important. Smith is confident the tight end position is one of his teams most reliable areas.

In Jacksonville there will be a close watch on the competition between David Garrard and Gabbert. Regardless of who wins, there is a strong tight end corp ready for either quarterback to rely on.

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