|Posted by TheBEEZER 23 Hours Ago
Okay, today we ask, who do you think was the best all-time MLB Catcher?
Hello and welcome to another Wednesday of deep thoughts. I hope that everyone had a great end to 2012. I generally lay very low on the last day of the year and this year was no different. It is always tough for me to immediately look back to determine if the legacy of the year will be good or bad. The bad always seems to stick with us, but I will have many fond memories of 2012.
For those of you that enjoy fantasy sports, I have set up a playoff league for the Gab and others…if you send me a message with your email address; I will send you a message. There is no draft, you chose 20 players that you think will score the most points in the playoffs.
BOB mentioned in his blog yesterday about his desire to focus on the sport and not the drama surrounding the sport. I think that this is a very interesting comment as the drama is what the media believes that fans want. Over the Christmas holidays, I watched a replay of the famous Ice Bowl of 1967, between Green Bay and Dallas. When I originally watched the game, I was just a kid. Much has changed since that cold day in Wisconsin. On that day, how many of those watching had an interest in the drama surrounding the game? My guess is very few. When you attend a sports event in below zero temperatures, you have to love the game. I suspect that we will look back at the game of the 60’s and 70s and realize that those were the “golden years” of professional football. We all realize what has caused the change…money. The very thing that allows us to watch our favorite game, has given impetus to the increase in hype. Today’s vocabulary is proof of hype…swag, and street cred are words that motivate today’s athletes. The media feeds on this and we end up with reality TV and people like Honey Boo Boo. This is not the kids fault, it is what they know. It strikes me that it is up to those of us that remember a different way to keep the memory alive. This may sound somewhat idealistic. In reality, I know the NFL will never be what it was, but should we not forget that there was a different way…just the same.
Last Sunday, the Cowboys faced an elimination game with the Redskins. Although I hoped that they might figure out a way to win, I suspected otherwise. This has been a very difficult year for the Cowboys defense, as they just have not been able to stay healthy. Tony Romo had a very good year. He won games when they were almost hopeless. Romo got the blame when receivers ran poor routes. Romo kept plays alive while running for his life. When Dallas lost, he got the blame…even when it was not his fault. It is easy to place the Redskins loss on Romo. It is impossible to ignore those three interceptions without acknowledging his poor play. But, what many fail to see is the terrific game plan of Jim Haslett and the Skin defensive staff. Washington blitzed early and often, with Dallas only sporadically able to slow the pass rush. The last interception was a misread by Romo. Blitzing linebacker Rob Jackson fooled Romo. His first two steps signaled a blitz, when in reality he was only feigning a rush. Romo thought the outlet pass to Murray was uncovered…he was wrong. Throughout his career, Romo continues to be just a bit off. From his botched handling of a winning field goal to his well publicized vacation with Jessica Simpson. There is a local sports talk guy that describes Romo as a successful child living in a very dysfunctional family. Romo’s family of course is his Cowboy team. The dysfunctional structure begins with Jerry Jones and trickles down. Would Tom Brady have three super bowls if he played for Dallas? Would New England have won those Super Bowls with Tony Romo at the helm? That is a very good question as well...
I was reading a bit of the Sports Pickle this afternoon. I don’t read it much, but usually find something sports related that is pretty damn funny. As most of you know, I am not a big hockey guy. Even so, I still have watched the hockey lockout with some interest. Radatz wrote a great blog last week about the hockey lockout and what the long term prognosis of the NHL might be. I found this brief report to be very amusing:
News from December 28th
"The NHL made a new offer to the NHL Players' Association on Friday in hopes of saving a season on the brink of cancellation.
The league's proposal increases limit on player contracts to six years from the previous offer of five years and increases the year-to-year salary variance, among other things. The main sticking point, however, remains when the owners and players will cripple the sport again with another lockout.
"The NHL insists, and will not budge on this, that the next lockout be in 2017-2018," said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. "However, the players want it no earlier than 2021-2022, which is not something we are comfortable with. More than eight years of labor peace? Not on our watch."
Commissioner Gary Bettman insists that any more than seven consecutive full seasons will cause the NHL's revenues, ratings and popularity to grow too large, leaving the league with "difficult decisions on how to share the wealth."
Bettman, and the owners, believe it is better to "essentially shut hockey down every few years to reset our fiscal books and keep everything nice and small."
I read this and think that Bettman and the owners are complete idiots if they think that fans will continue to follow the game with built in lockouts. Then I read this next report and now think that it is a put on?
News from December 27th…
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald snagged a pass on a slant pattern in practice today, avoided a defensive back and turned into open field towards the end zone. He then picked up speed at about the 20 yard-line and sprinted right through the end zone and out of the team's practice facility and off down the road.
He was last spotted on I-10 heading west, still carrying the football and running full speed, a few miles from the California border.
"I wish he hadn't decided to run away forever, but I actually expected it to happen a long time ago," said head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "The fact he stayed here this long shows what a great guy he is. I wish him nothing but the best. And it can really only get better for him away from here."
Reminds me of Forrest Gump…run Larry run!
So…what do you think that Aaron Rodgers got for Christmas? It would be something really cool, right?
Here is news from December 26th…
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers came to practice the day after Christmas showing off a brand new football he had received as a gift.
"Check it out, guys," said Rodgers, as his teammates gathered around. "My mom got it for me. It's an official NFL ball. The same size and everything used in the NFL. But it's my very own."
Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell said the football was "awesome" and that it made the junior Nerf football he had received from his parents "look lame."
Rodgers said he didn't even ask for the football or put it on his Christmas list, but it turned out to be his favorite gift.
"My mom knows how much I like football," said Rodgers. "I've played on a team for a lot of years now. I guess she just assumed I'd like a real, official ball. And she was right. I love it!"
I got the same gift…when I was 11. Hilarious!
That’s all I have today, but I will leave you with a bit of Jack Handey…
In my opinion anyone interested in improving himself should not rule out becoming pure energy.
"Why is it that we will laugh at a man in a clown outfit, but we won't laugh at a man just walking down the street carrying a clown outfit in one of those plastic dry-cleaner bags?"
Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave a few deep thoughts of your own…
The NFL has been called the "Not For Long" game for decades, and this fact has accelerated since free agency was introduced. Rosters of teams are frequently encountering some amount of personnel turnover, no matter how much success was had in the previous season.
The one position a franchise seeks stability at most is the quarterback position. This player handles the football on most plays, and many are expected to be amongst the most important leaders of their teams. The quarterback also typically enjoys one of the largest salaries on the payroll once he becomes a starter.
The annual draft brings a plethora of collegiate athletes who want to be the next Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana or Tom Brady. A type of leader who wins many titles on their way to gridiron immortality by being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 2012 season should be no different than others in the NFL, meaning there will be quite a few teams trying to find their next franchise quarterback. Then there are others who would like to strengthen the position by bolster the bench in case an injury occurs to their incumbent starter.
Here is a peek at a few of those teams that will most likely look to improve their roster at such a key position.
The Colts are well in the lead for the right to select Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, considering the team has failed to win a single game so far this season. The team might might miss future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning immeasurably this year, but Manning will be 36 next year.
Not only does Manning's age make the selection of Luck even more important, the fact that the veteran is struggling to heal from a neck injury has his future in doubt. But the Colts would like to get a few more years from Manning, considering they had signed him to a huge contract extension before the season began.
If Manning returns at a starters level, it helps Indianapolis. Not only would they have their fiery leader back, Luck could sit and learn from one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history.
If Manning's neck injury prevents a full return, Luck is skilled enough to step in right away and play at an NFL level. Luck has quite a few similarities to Manning.
Both are not only students of the game, but they are both the sons of former NFL quarterbacks. They have basically lived and breathed the gridiron since the day they were born.
Rarely does a team have the ability to transition from a Hall of Famer to a possible future great. The Green Bay Packers are experiencing this now, and the Colts would surely love to follow in their footsteps and hoist a Super Bowl trophy with their young quarterback one day.
It seems a certainty Miami will use their 2012 draft pick on a quarterback. The only question will be if they go with Matt Moore another year at starter, as they develop the rookie, or throw the kid to the wolves immediately.
The Dolphins will most likely have a new head coach next year, as well as waive Chad Henne. Henne, who had started 31 out of 34 games before being hurt early this year, appears to be better served to find newer surroundings. Moore, who has started since, has been serviceable at best.
Perhaps the Dolphins fans are tiring of a franchise that is seemingly rebuilding each season the past decade, but the team is still looking for the next Bob Griese or Dan Marino. They will eye talents like Matt Barkely, Landry Jones, and possibly Robert Griffin. If Miami continues to struggle in 2011, many experts feel Barkely will be the selection very early in the 2012 draft.
Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan knew they were gambling with the likes of Rex Grossman and John Beck at quarterback this year. On a team full of holes and looking to rebuild, Allen concentrated on filling the roster with a very sound draft.
With a season shortened by a strike, the Washington brass may not have felt comfortable trying to develop a rookie quarterback in such a short amount of time. Training camp is crucial for a young player to learn his organization from top to bottom.
After watching the current Redskins quarterbacks stumble and bumble around so far, many expect the team to finally draft a quarterback in Shanahan's third season. Some think the team also didn't do so in 2011 because there were no quarterbacks they were in love with.
It is possible Washington replaces both of their current quarterbacks via free agency and the draft in 2012. Possibly grabbing a veteran to man the helm as the kid develops, setting up a view of progress in the two last years of Shanahan's contract the following year.
After a fast start, the Redskins are on a dreadful losing streak currently. If this continues, the team will sit pretty high up in the draft order. Other teams with lesser records, the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins, are expected to also draft a quarterback in 2012.
If, as expected, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkely are off the board by the time Washington picks, the team will be left with Landry Jones and Robert Griffin. Griffin is more athletic, the type of quarterback Shanahan has had success with in the past. Landry is experienced and precise.
Both have accurate guns and many collegiate starts under their belts, so the Redskins would win big drafting either player. This draft may be the time for Shanahan and Allen to put their Redskins legacies on the line by finally grabbing their franchise quarterback.
Colt McCoy is the starter, and the young player is on a struggling team that is desperately trying to get good talent around him while learning a new offensive system under a new head coach. All three Browns quarterbacks on the 2011 roster are small, standing about six-foot tall each.
Seneca Wallace is the veteran that serves as the top reserve. He is mostly known for his legs than arm. Thaddeus Lewis is a raw prospect in his second season with the team.
Cleveland could take a flier on Ryan Tannehill as early as the third round. After spending his first two years of college at wide receiver, the 6'4" Tannehill has ocassionally displayed a skill set that will impress teams. He is extremely raw, but very athletic and a hard worker.
With McCoy entrenched as the starter, Cleveland can afford to spend a few years developing this intriguing project. Tannehill is the type who could greatly award a coach's patience down the road.
Kevin Kolb has not played well since the Cardinals traded a lot to get him this season. His backup, second-year pro John Skelton, has played better. Journeyman Richard Bartel is third on the depth chart, while the young Max Hall is spending 2011 on the injured reserve.
It is unlikely the Cards dump Kolb, but owner Bill Bidwell is known for his frugality and Kolb becomes a free agent at the end of the year. This factor could have Arizona to go with Skelton next year.
If that happens, Arizona may not be comfortable with Hall and Bartel as the main reserves. The team could look at an experienced player like Chandler Harnish in the later rounds, or even look at local hero Nick Foles early on.
Kansas City Chiefs
Matt Cassel hasn't impressed everyone since the Chiefs traded for him in 2009 and handed him a contract worth $61 million over six years. Even if he continues to start, the reserves behind Cassel are from from impressive.
Journeyman Tyler Palko, who has 35 passing yards since turning pro in 2007, is the top backup. Rookie Ricky Stanzi, drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, sits on the bottom of the depth chart.
Cassel is now hurt, so Palko will get his audition. The Chiefs erratic 2011 season could take a turn for the worse now, which could force them to think about bringing more quarterbacks into training camp next year.
Gettin a veteran free agent seems most logical, but there could be an interest in getting a solid player like Kirk Cousins or Brandon Weeden later in the draft if Palko plays poorly. Weeden is the 2011 version of Chris Wienke, meaning he is going to be a 28 year old rookie, so his age could cause his draft stock to drop down into the later rounds.
Tavaris Jackson is starting now, but his play has been inconsistent. Charlie Whitehurst, his reserve, has been horrible whenever he has played. Josh Portis is an athletic and raw rookie prospect Seattle has kept on the roster this year.
Pete Carroll is still rebuilding his team, turning over personnel at a rapid rate. Yet he hasn't gone after a quarterback in the draft he wanted to start. This could be the year he uses a first round draft pick for the position.
Seattle is struggling right now, but so are 10 other teams with records the same or worse than the Seahawks 3-6 mark. There are no guarantees that Seattle would get to Matt Barkley, who was recruited to play at USC by Carroll just a few years ago.
The only other quarterbacks considered a first round talent after Luck and Barkely is Landry Jones and Robert Griffin. Both are big with strong arms that have excellent accuracy. While Seattle could gamble with Jackson in 2012, now may the time for Carroll to get his quarterback of the future.
Oakland has basically mortgaged their future into Carson Palmer at quarterback, but the backup quarterback position could be an issue in 2012. Jason Campbell, who began the season as the starter until an injury to him prompted the Raiders to trade for Palmer, may want out to find a starting job elsewhere next season.
Kyle Boller probably won't be on the team next year, considering how poorly he played when Campbell went down. Oakland used a supplemental draft choice on Terrelle Pryor, a project who is most likely years away from being ready to contribute.
Getting a free agent veteran to carry a clipboard is most likely the direction the Raiders will go next year if Campbell leaves the team. Al Davis has passed away, but his legacy lives on. There is a chance the team might grab a kid after the draft to see if they can develop a competent reserve for Palmer in the years ahead.
It seems almost a certainty that Kyle Orton will leave the Broncos at the end of the year. Reserve Brady Quinn seems destined to remain a bench player for however long he stays in the NFL.
Tim Tebow can't throw or read defenses, but he can win games. Some critics are not sold that Broncos president John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback, is sold on Tebow a the future at the key position. Tebow could alleviate any purported issues by continuing to win.
If they keep Tebow, they still need to get a backup besides Quinn. That may require Denver selecting a quarterback in the mid-rounds of the 2012 draft. If the Broncos rather jettison Tebow or bench him, they will have the conundrum of using a first round pick on either a signal caller or continue building the defense.
Kellen Moore is a lefty like Tebow, and he also has the most wins by a starting quarterback in NCAA history. A gritty and cerebral type, he could provide a decent backup on a team. He could go anywhere from the third round on.
If Denver decides to go in a different direction than Tebow, an athletic type like Robert Griffin III could interest Elway. Nick Foles could be there in the second round, because he may take longer to develop, while Griffin appears destined for the first.
Matt Schaub is the starter, but he is often battling injuries. Houston has had a history of picking up discarded first round flops to back him up, ranging from Rex Grossman to Matt Leinart.
T.J. Yates was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, so the Texans may eschew from grabbing another project to develop. Schaub is hurt again, this time for the rest of the year, so Leinart will become the starter.
If Leinart fails, Houston might look into the free agency market to get a better veteran on the bench. But a failure could also bring a change at the head coaching slot, so a new administration may decide to go with young players.
Dominique Davis is an interesting project who might last until the later rounds of the 2012 draft. Unlike the three current Texans quarterbacks, Davis is athletic.
New York Jets
Mark Sanchez, as erratic as he is, should hold the staring job once again in 2012. But getting some youth in the backup slot may not be a bad idea.
Sanchez's top reserve is 41 year old Mark Brunell, whose NFL career should be nearing an end this year. The Jets have journeyman Kevin O'Connell, who has 28 career passing yards since being drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft.
It isn't a bad idea to consider drafting a quarterback in the later rounds. Case Keenum, who has the most passing touchdowns in NCAA history, should be there.
The future is now with rookie Blaine Gabbert, who has been struggling mightily as he tried to go for the spread offense, which he played in college, to the pro set in Jacksonville. His only backup is journeyman Luke McCown.
McCown began the season as the starter, but quickly lost it after horrendous play. The Jags are not molding anyone on the practice squad, so they need to consider upgrading the backup job through the draft.
Since they used their 2011 first round pick on Gabbert, Jacksonville could wait late in the draft in 2012 before grabbing a quarterback. Ryan Lindley is just one of a few to consider, despite the fact he has struggled in his senior season.
New York Giants
Eli Manning has the starters job unquestionably. David Carr, the first overall draft choice of 2002, has been his backup in three of the last four years. Yet Carr will be 33 years old before the 2012 season starts.
Rookie Ryan Perrilloux sits on the practice squad, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to get another youngster in camp to see if Manning could groom them into a serviceable player down the road. Yet the Jints may not want to waste a draft pick, opting to look in the free agents pool.
E.J. Manuel is a huge kid who could go undrafted, as could people like Jacory Harris The Giants wasted draft picks in the recent past on guys like Andre Woodson and Rhett Bomar and got nothing in return, so they could stand pat with Carr and Perrilloux.
Green Bay Packers
Rumors of backup Matt Flynn departing at seasons end began awhile ago. He has been called the next Matt Cassel, even if he has less NFL experience than Cassel did when he switched teams in 2009.
Flynn has been a reserve since 2008, thrown 86 career passes, and lost the only game he has started. Yet there are rumblings his services will be sought after when he becomes a free agent at the end of this year.
If that happens, the Packers could opt to go with Graham Harrell. A journeyman on their practice squad, there is a chance he will hold the honor of backing up star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson could look at this position in the later rounds, where interesting projects like Dan Persa or Jarrett Lee will sit. Lee is from LSU like Flynn and the pairs collegiate careers parallel each other somewhat.
Yoooooooooo! Dis iz 7thStoneFromTheSun wunce again. Yo? I took a beeting las weak, going 7-8 . I iz now 87-58 overall. Lets gets two it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers
Da Pack GOT to lose one, don't dey? Tampa Bay is on da brink of losing playoff dreems, so dey knead dis. Yet I tink Aaron Rodgers is da Buc's Freddy Krueger.
Packers 30 Buccaneers 20
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
A great rivalry, but dese too teems ain't goin nowhere dis yeer. Da Skins are at rock bottom, so da em while dey iz down dere.
Cowboys 31 Redskins 16
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns
A massive battle of 3-6 teems. Wake me when it's over.
Jaguars 17 Browns 14
Cincinnatti Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
Game of the Week
I love dis game. I love defense. It is as close as yous iz gunna get two old skool football in dis NFL.
Da Ravens rank third in both points and yards allowed in da NFL. Cincy ranks fifth best in both categories themselves. So dere ain't gunna be a ton of points scored, even if both teems didn't have da incunsistent offenses dey currently got.
Ravens 16 Bengals 13
Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions
Detroit kneads two keep winning cuz da Pack is undefeewted and da Bears are tied with dem in second place. Da Lions got to shut down Panthers rookie superstar Cam Newton.
Lions 27 Panthers 20
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
Wif da Jets sucking, da Bills playoff hopes iz still alive. Dis iz a must win hear.
Bills 34 Dolphins 17
Oakland Raiders @ Minnesota Vikings
Da Raiders was gunna actually begin play in Minnesota in 1960 for da AFL, but da NFL stopped it by creatin da Vikings. Since den, da Raiders have won nine of 13 matchups, witch includes a Super Bowl win in 1977. Oakland keeps dat theme goin, though AP will keep it close.
Raiders 27 Vikings 24
Seattle Seahawks @ Saint Louis Rams
A battle for da best draft pik cuz neither teem is goin nowhere dis yeer.
Seahawks 24 Rams 20
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
Da Niners iz running away wif da NFC West. It cuntinues.
49ers 23 Cardinals 14
Tennesee Titans @ Atlanta Falcons
A battle of 5-4 teems teetering on the edge of the playoff race. Da Falcons have been a disappointmint, while da Titans have played better den expected. Still? I'm goin will Atlanta hear.
Falcons 31 Titans 16
San Diego Chargers @ Chicago Bears
Da Bears iz hot, winning four straight. Da Bolts got a loser head coach. See where I'm heading?
Bears 26 Chargers 24
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants
Da Igglez have showed no heart dis yeer, while a injured Jints squad has pretty much wn da NFC East allreddy by playin wif heart. It's a wrap.
Giants 23 Eagles 21
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
Da Chiefs are on a yo-yo ride two nowhere dis seesun. Da Pat's sit on top of da AFC East despite having a terribul defense. I tink it stays dat way.
Patriots 37 Chiefs 17
1. Green Bay Packers
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. New York Giants
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Chicago Bears
7. Houston Texans
8. New England Patriots
9. Detroit Lions
10. Cincinnati Bengals
11. Baltimore Ravens
12. Atlanta Falcons
13. Dallas Cowboyss
14. Oakland Raiders
15. Buffalo Bills
16. Tennessee Titans
17. New York Jets
18. San Diego Chargers
19. Philadelphia Eagles
20. Denver Broncos
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
22. Seattle Seahawks
23. Kansas City Chiefs
24. Arizona Cardinals
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
26. Carolina Panthers
27. Minnesota Vikings
28. Washington Redskins
29. Saint Louis Rams
30. Cleveland Browns
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Indianapolis Colts
OK, I iz on my way two dis turkey farm so I can get a Thanksgiving dinner reddy. I got dis hunny cummin over for a taste and yous knows I iz all about stuffing da bird. Capeesh? As dey say in Ol' Messico = A.M.F.
Thoughts from Island Girl
None of us are irreplaceable and if you don't believe me, check out an old ball player or over the hill actress. Ricky Henderson couldn't let go. Evander Holyfield too. Roy Jones and Oscar De LaHoya should have retired much earlier than they did and both ended up tarnishing their legends. A lot of women do this too. From boob jobs to facelifts and collagen, the fountain of youth is too enticing. Sadly though, they become garish reminders of people trying to hold on too long.
In White Oleander, the character Claire, an aging actress quipped, that if a producer things you are getting old, he calls you classic. Brett Favre is a classic in every sense of the word. And there is nothing wrong with that, but it is time to make way for a very good younger quarterback.
I had the opportunity recently to see 'Good Will Hunting'. In the story the main character 'Will', made fun of Robin Williams ex-wife, who died a horribly painful death from cancer. Robin knew love just as Brett Favre knew how to throw a football. But like the character Williams played, Brett has to let go too. Aside from Aaron's dark black unibrow, he is a young lion. It is time for him to cut his teeth on Super Bowl Sunday in Jerry Jone's house of disappointment.
I really do like Green Bay in this game. I like both quarterbacks but it seems that Aaron is arguably the game's best passer at this time.. Good luck to both teams and my pick is Green Bay 23-17.
While several former and current NFL players complain about the toughness of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, his teammates vehemently defend Cutler and claim there was a sound reason for Cutler leaving his team early in the third quarter of a 21-14 NFC Championship loss to the Green Bay Packers.
When Chicago mortgaged their future on Cutler in 2009 by dealing two first-round picks and a second-round draft selection, along with quarterback Kyle Orton, to attain his services, they expected a franchise quarterback to lead them to the promise land. Though he struggled in his first year with the Bears, he took them within one game of a Super Bowl appearance in his second season.
Critics have said he is not an upper echelon quarterback, but his 2010 statistics were not far off those who are considered the best at the position. The Packers Aaron Rodgers is one of those lauded as a top tier quarterback, yet Cutler had just five less touchdown passes and five more interceptions than Rodgers in 2010 with a lesser talented receivers corps.
That does not ease the anguish of Bears fans after Cutler completed just six of 14 passes for 80 yards before bowing out of a loss to their arch rivals. The media has spent their time since his departure trying to find the moment Cutler hurt himself, something Cutler himself was unable to pinpoint. Critics also wonder why Cutler was allowed to walk to the locker room at halftime instead of having his injury treated.
Bears center Olin Kruetz thought he saw Cutler hobbling towards the locker room, so the question has to arise if Cutler failed to mention his injury to the Bears training staff or if anyone else failed to alert them considering it appears they failed to notice the hitch in Cutler's gait themselves. "I know my body", he said, “I was going to keep playing but, you know, they made the decision that giving Todd (Collins) a shot would better suit the team.”
The critics were also found in the Bears own clubhouse after the defeat. "I don’t see a brace on that knee. Do you?”, said one Bear player left unnamed.
Whomever the blame is temporarily laid on, Cutler, the Bears coaches, or training staff, the problem mostly symbolizes the modern day NFL quarterback that Roger Goodell has molded. One who is so coddled that he is considered gutless when he stands on the sideline claiming his knee aches yet surrounded by cameras when his team wins because of a superior defensive effort.
The game today has very few leaders willing to pull a Johnny Unitas and hobble out onto the gridiron in order to be there when his team needs him most. A player willing to gamble his contract, endorsements, and football future all for a shot at winning a championship ring.
One Packer the Bears fans disliked but respected was Brett Favre. Favre was built like other legendary Green Bay leaders who defeated Chicago too often for their fans tastes. Packer Hall of Famers like Arnie Hebner and Bart Starr who were renowned for their gritty leadership as much as any other intangible they had that made them champions. Like them, Favre built his legend on picking up his slammed carcass off the turf and winning the game at the end.
Part of the reason the Bears fans dislike for Favre is the fact they haven't had a tough quarterback of their own for a long time since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman retired in 1950 after having won four championships. Bill Wade was fairly tough at times, leading them to a title in 1963, but he was a Bear for only for six years and split time with Ed Brown and Rudy Bukich most of his career. Jim McMahon led Chicago to a title in 1985, but he was hurt and missed several games in each of his seven seasons with the team.
Luckman's 14,686 passing yards still leads all Bear quarterbacks 61 years after he retired. A yardage total Drew Brees has almost surpassed in just his last three years with the New Orleans Saints. Cutler was brought in to finally topple Luckman from the top of the Bears passing yards mountain, but now there are members of the media questioning if he will return next year after his latest actions.
Caleb Hanie was put on the field with a erroneous gamble by the Bears coaching staff that luckily paid off almost to a Super Bowl showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the 39-year old Collins, most likely playing in his last NFL game, failed miserably in a few passing attempts, Chicago inserted a second-year pro who had 14 career passing attempts that resulted in eight completions and an interception.
The problem was that the move happened before the third quarter ended, thus nullifying Cutler and Collins from the rest of the contest. If Hanie had been hurt from that point on, Chicago would have been stuck with inserting another position player behind center. Hanie stayed upright and almost led his team back, going 13-of-20 for 153 yards and a scoring pass. He also threw a key pass that led to another score, but tossed two key interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown and the other sealed a Packers victory.
The next six months should find Cutler hiding from the voracious Chicago press if his knee does not require any surgical procedure. Many will question whether or not Cutler has that rare intangible to be a champion, even though he took his team just 60 minutes away from playing for one. Critics will point out how he failed to win much in college or in his three seasons with the Denver Broncos.
Giving Cutler credit for a nice season goes away with him standing along the sideline when his knee was reportedly keeping him from playing. Bears fans respect toughness. They have legends like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after excelling on the field with injuries that included them playing several seasons on one good leg.
Maurice Jones-Drew, the Pro Bowl halfback of the Jacksonville Jaguars expected to get a few MVP votes this year said," All I'm saying is that Cutler could have finished the game on a hurt knee. I played a whole season on one."
But this is how the Bears quarterbacks have been since Luckman left. Long before Goodell put a protective bubble around the position to hinder the defenses. These rules almost ruined the NFC Championship, which was supposed to be lauded as an intense defensive battle between the two longest running rivals in NFL history. When Bears Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers hit Rodgers with a clean shot in any other era but the Goodell Era, he got a 15-yard penalty that luckily resulted in no points for Green Bay.
Chicago still houses a generally young team with enough experience to load up for another run next year. This will be boosted by a sound draft, but the luck of staying healthy and having lucky breaks like they had the first game of the season is a trick hard to replicate. It also would be the second season Cutler would be under offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system, assuming Martz returns.
The only way for Cutler to shed his new branded label is to win. Much like how Ben Roethlisberger has quelled the chatter of his sexual assault charges by taking the Steelers to a third Super Bowl in his young career, or how Michael Vick quieted talk of his past by being successful with the Philadelphia Eagles this year.
But Chicago fans need Cutler to accomplish this for many more years every game to break the revolving door around the quarterback position. He will be just 28-years old when the next season kicks off and he has been durable enough to miss just one start the last four years, which occurred this season.
All Bears fans need is at least one Super Bowl win over the next seven years where he takes practically every snap. If Cutler does this, he should top Luckman on the passing yards list thanks to the offensive-friendly rules of the game now. He'll never surpass Luckman in their hearts, even with multiple titles and an induction into Canton, but even doing well gets you a life long pass in the hearts of the loyal Bears fans. McMahon is proof of that even though he never played more than 13 games in a season for the Bears.
The teams future is still mortgaged on Cutler even though it appears to some that he went on vacation at a crucial time. Though a few lucky breaks are needed, he is under contract with the team until 2013. If he fulfills his potential, let alone expectations, Cutler could very well have the Bears on the verge of a Super Bowl again. What he does with it remains to be seen, but it would be almost on par with almost every other quarterback that followed Luckman that his NFL epitaph has the 2010 NFC Championship Game Bailout engraved on his resting stone.
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Pros : Pete Carroll has to be a viable candidate for Coach of the Year. Sure, winning the NFC West was no great feat in 2010, but no one expected Seattle to win many games even with a pretty weak schedule.
With his left tackle struggling with ankle injuries all year, his veteran quarterback again missing time with injuries, and a team near the bottom of the league on both sides of the ball, it is amazing that a team that is thought to be years away from completing a rebuilding job could host a playoff game.
New Orleans did very well for a team holding the banner of defending champions despite having several key injuries most of the year. They lost running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush for large chunks of year, as well as tight end Jeremy Shockey. Rookies Chris Ivory and Jimmy Graham played so well that the Saints ship kept sailing smoothly.
While the defense wasn't as opportunistic as last year, they were stellar. New Orleans ranked fourth in yards allowed this season. While they intercepted just nine balls this year, they did force 23 fumbles. That is just two less than in 2009.
Cons : Seattle does nothing well. The quarterbacks have tossed six more interceptions than touchdowns, and their leading rusher has just 573 yards in the second worst running game in the league. Though rookie Earl Thomas and the unexpected return of Mike Williams were very nice stories, there aren't many areas of the football field to get excited about for Seahawks fans.
New Orleans also does not have a good running game, ranked 28th this year. Thomas and Ivory are now gone because of injury, leaving it up to a bunch of unknown entities. Some might expect Bush, but he has never been an effective running back. His game is catching passes and kicks. Quarterback Drew Brees has chucked 22 interceptions this year, which is twice as much as last year.
What To Watch For : Seattle needs the special teams to win this, something the unit has done before for the team. This won't be a smash mouth game, because neither team is worth much on the ground. Expect them both to go to the air often.
The defense will have to win this one, because the pass rush and secondary will be tested often. These two teams met at New Orleans just before Thanksgiving, and the Saints walked away with a 15 point victory behind Brees four touchdown passes and 99 yards from Ivory. Seattle managed just 58 yards on the ground in 18 attempts.
Expect similar results on the scoreboard.
Saints 34 Seahawks 17
New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts
Pros : The Jets can run the ball pretty good at times. They will feed LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene often, passing only when there are too many defenders in the box. Though the Jets are far from great passing the ball, Mark Sanchez showed some improvement in 2010.
The defense is stifling, giving up the third least yards in the league and sixth least amount of points. While they only picked off 12 passes in 2010, New York did have 40 sacks and force 23 fumbles.
The Colts being here speaks of quarterback Peyton Manning's greatness. As his team crumbled around him from injuries, Manning played catch with anyone who could suit up. He had one rough patch in 2010 where he tossed 15 interceptions in about a month, but he was mostly solid the rest of the season and just added to his legacy.
Cons : Tomlinson hasn't had an effective running game since the fifth week of the year, and Greene hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since the fourth week. When the pair is ineffective, the Jets get in trouble trying to rely on Sanchez. Sanchez is a system quarterback who needs a good ground game to simplify things. Factor in his injured arm, New York will be in very big trouble if the Colts stop the run.
Stopping the run has been an issue for the Colts this year. They are the 25th worst team on yards allowed on the ground. They also struggle mightily to run the ball, where they rank 29th. The recent return of two veterans hurt much of the year return just in time for this game.
What To Watch For : The Jets need to ground and pound the Colts. Not only does this keep Manning off the field, but the Jets offensive line is much bigger than the Colts smallish defensive line. A good running game will especially help New York in the fourth quarter.
Indianapolis goes as Manning goes, but the return of halfback Joseph Addai could be vital. Addai is not only the best running back the Colts have, but he is also able to catch the ball. Though the Jets have four good cornerbacks, the safeties are questionable. Manning will try to exploit this weakness by throwing to the tight ends and backs.
Many expect this game to go to the wire. It is a rematch of the 2009 AFC Championship, and these teams haven't seen each other since then. Both have a lot to prove here, especially the Jets. Head coach Rex Ryan has talked Super Bowl all season to the media or anyone who would listen.
While there may not be many turnovers in this game, any made could end up being the difference between winning and losing this game.
Jets 27 Colts 24
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs
Pros : While Ray Rice carries the offense, the defense continues to carry the entire Baltimore franchise. Though the pass defense isn't as solid as it has been in the past, the run defense is the fifth best in the NFL. Baltimore has also allowed the third least amount of points. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been inconsistent with his accuracy, but he has more weapons to throw to and threw only 10 interceptions.
Kansas City loves to run the ball, and they do it well. They have the top rated running game in the NFL and have been near that spot all season. Though the passing attack is underrated in the shadow of the running game, Kansas City typically goes as far as halfbacks Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones take them.
The Chiefs defense is also underrated. Their pair of Brandon's at cornerback, Flowers and Carr, have defended an impressive 37 balls combined. Rookie safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis appear to have very bright futures.
Cons : The Ravens secondary was having issues until Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed returned. He covers a lot of mistakes made. If Rice isn't going good, his reserves have not stepped up and performed like they have in years past. This forced Flacco to try to force things, and that has generally not caused a positive result.
Kansas City shocked the NFL world not only by winning the AFC West, but by winning it so early. They have the 30th ranked passing attack, yet they did throw a minuscule eight interceptions in 2010. They have won with good balance on defense while a good offensive line has led the way on offense. They have just one good receiver threat in Dwayne Bowe, so rookie tight end Tony Moeaki will need to be big Sunday because Bowe will face a double-team all day.
What To Watch For : Kansas City has to run the ball. Baltimore would like to as well, but they have four good receivers and a top-notch tight end if forced to throw. The Chiefs have a good run defense, but it isn't on the level of Baltimore's. Yet against top runners like Frank Gore, Maurice Jone-Drew, Chris Johnson, and Steven Jackson, they have up 43, 47, 58, and 67 yards respectively. Yet they are vulnerable, as the 161 and 106-yard efforts by Denver's Knowshon Moreno showed this year.
If Rice is stopped, Willis McGahee or Le'Ron McClain must pick up the slack. There is a question if the Chiefs have enough defensive backs for the Ravens as well. Rookies like Javier Arenas should get tested.
Baltimore is a veteran team that knows how to win a playoff game. That might make the difference here.
Ravens 23 Chiefs 20
Green Bay Packers @ Philadelphia Eagles
Pros : While tossing for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 scores, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has only 11 interceptions. He has done this with such an anemic ground attack that he is second on the team in rushing.
The Packers were absolutely devastated by injuries this season, but that did not prevent them from giving up the second fewest points in the NFL with the tenth highest scoring offense. The defense was fifth best in yards allowed, whole the offense was ninth best in yards gained.
Philadelphia's season started scary. They traded legendary quarterback Donovan McNabb so Kevin Kolb could start. Kolb was knocked out in the first game of the year, which happened to be against Green Bay. Michael Vick, a year removed from the disgrace on imprisonment, came to the rescue by playing the best football of his life.
Vick tossed just six interceptions while tossing 21 scores, over 3000 yards passing, over 600 yards rushing, and scoring nine more times. He is a front runner for Comeback Player of the Year, and he probably will get several MVP votes as well. He has three excellent weapons to throw to, and Philadelphia has a 1,000-yard running back to lean on.
The coaches on both sidelines have starred all year. While Mike McCarthy and Andy Reid deserve major kudos, the assistant coaches have also been stellar. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg might be the best at what they do in the NFL today. Vick's progress and the defensive excellence of Green Bay can be attributed to these men.
Cons : Green Bay struggles to run the ball, relying very heavily on Rodgers. Though the young quarterback has carried the load, he did suffer two concussions because he takes so many hits from handling the ball so often. Halfback Brandon Jackson needs to step up in the playoffs.
Philadelphia can score, they are the third highest scoring offense in the NFL in 2010. Defense is their issue. This inconsistent unit is ranked 21st in points allowed as well as 15th in both rushing and passing yards allowed. They haven given up 24 or more points in 11 games this year.
What To Watch For : The quarterbacks are in the spotlight here, but the running game could hold the key. If Jackson or Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy get 100 yards, their team should win. If neither do anything, expect Rodgers and Vick to gun it out.
The best defense should prevail here.
Packers 30 Eagles 24
Your 2010 NFL All-Rookie Team :
Quarterback : Sam Bradford, Saint Louis Rams
He gets this spot easily, yet almost by default.
Jimmy Clausen, of the Carolina Panthers, was second amongst rookies with 299 passing attempts in a mostly horrid season for the youngster. Cleveland's Colt McCoy could have had this slot, but he was unable to stay healthy when called upon.
Bradford threw for 3,512 yards and 18 scores against 15 interceptions. He accomplished this on a team that was hit hard by injuries to their wide receiver corps. The Rams won three games total in the previous two seasons combined, but Bradford led them to seven victories this year while taking every snap.
Yet he came up real small when Saint Louis needed him most.
In their regular season finale against Seattle, where the winner would grab the AFC West title and get into the playoffs, Bradford couldn't get his team into the end zone against a very bad Seahawks defense. While throwing an interception on 36 attempts, he gained just 155 yards on 19 completions.
Next season will be one to watch for Bradford. Not only should all of his receivers be healthy, the Rams may draft him a few more weapons for the sake of depth at the least. His future is looking decent so far, ask Saint Louis fans who never expected to see their team get so close to a playoff berth in 2010.
Running Back : LeGerrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While having a long, strange trip on the gridiron, Blount has excelled on the field on every level. After two 1,000-yard seasons in junior college, he went to Oregon University and promptly gained over 1,000 yards in 2008. He missed the 2009 season after punching an opponent in the first game of the year.
The NFL was skeptical of Blount's ability to control his anger, so no one drafted him for the 2010 season. The Tennessee Titans signed him as a free agent, but cut him on the last day of preseason after signing a veteran linebacker to add depth on defense. His highlight was a training camp fight, which is an extremely common occurrence, after having his helmet ripped off in a drill.
Tampa Bay signed him right away, but didn't actually play Blount until the third game of the season. After 10 carries for 30 yards in his first two games, the Buccaneers began to give him the ball more in week seven.
He had four games of over 100 yards, but never carried the ball more than 26 times and had just three games of 20 or more carries. His biggest game may have come against Seattle, where he ran for a career-best 164 yards that was the most rushing yards in a single game by a rookie in 2010.
Blount is the only rookie in the 2010 season to rush for over 1,000 yards, getting 1,007 total. He wasn't used much in the passing game, catching just five balls all year. His six rushing touchdowns were the second most by an NFL rookie, and he averaged five yards per carry.
Blount was not only a big reason why the surprising Bucs won 10 games this year, but he can maybe be viewed as a savior to the young team. Tampa Bay had issues at the halfback position before he took over. Cadillac Williams is a veteran best used in the pass game, and the rest of the group is unproven. Injuries hit the position hard, and fullback Earnest Graham's 20 carries this season was the third most on the team.
Though the quarterback crazy media might push Bradford as Offensive Rookie of the Year, Blount is the most deserving of this award in 2010. Unfortunately his past might be held against him when the votes are tallied.
Running Back : Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints
The defending champion Saints came into 2010 expecting to use Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton and Reggie Bush as their ball carriers. In training camp, the undrafted Ivory impressed the coaches and made the squad after Hamilton suffered a season-ending injury in a preseason game.
Then Thomas and Bush got hurt with the type of injuries that let them contribute little to the team this season. Ivory was called up in the third game of 2010 and became the primary carrier in a backfield where he split carries with veteran Ladell Betts and others.
His career-best total of 23 carries was the only time this season where he had more than 15 carries, but the lack of touches did not prevent him from rushing for 100 yards twice. One was a 158-yard explosion against the Buccaneers.
Ivory missed two games and had just 14 carries in the last month of the season. Part of the reason was a foot injury, yet Thomas and Bush had also returned to start touching the ball more often.
Despite all of this, the 716 yards Ivory rushed for are the second most by a rookie this year. Yet he caught just one ball all year. As the Saints go in the playoffs, Ivory might get used in short yardage situations even though he led the team in rushing yards and scores at a 5.2 yards per carry average.
He bailed a Saints team out of trouble by coming out of virtually nowhere this year, and his impact could be a big reason the Saints get to defend their championship.
Wide Receiver : Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL has had three guys named Mike Williams play wide receiver, and there are three players in the league now with the name. But no other Mike Williams had a bigger year than the rookie in Tampa Bay.
Despite a promising start to his career in college, Williams was suspended in 2008 and quit football after seven games in 2009. This caused him to drop to the fourth round of the draft before the Buccaneers snagged him.
He scored in his first NFL game and kept going. Catching a ball in every game this year from a second-year quarterback learning the game himself, Williams led all rookies with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He accomplished this by being a good route runner with the ability to get deep. With a long of 58 yards, Williams averaged 14.8 yards per catch on the season on a young receivers corps. He also outperformed second round pick Arrelious Benn, who had 25 catches himself this season.
The future looks very bright for the young Buccaneers. As the kids get older and learn the game better, they have a good chance of winning more than the 10 games they won this year. Mike Williams should be right in the middle of this surge.
Wide Receiver : Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati Bengals
When Cincinnati drafted Shipley in the third round, there was a question of how much playing time he would get. The Bengals starting receivers, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, demand the ball often and create chaos when they feel slighted. Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are a pair of third-year players the team is excited about, and Jermaine Gresham is a tight end drafted in the first round.
Shipley still found a significant niche on the team. His 52 receptions were the second most by all rookie wide receivers, and 30 catches were good for first downs. Though he missed one game due to a concussion, he had two receptions of over 40 yards. Only three rookies had one more.
Dez Bryant of the Cowboys deserves mention, but he didn't have to fight for passes to get thrown at him like Shipley did. Bryant still had less receptions and first downs, but did score three more times than Shipley did.
Owens is as good as gone, and Ochocinco may follow now that Simpson and Caldwell showed what they could do after the geriatric loudmouths decided not to play the last two games of the year. Shipley will probably stay in his third down slot role, but he certainly was much more productive this year than many expected.
Tight End : Ron Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Though Gronkowski shared snaps with fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez and veteran Alge Crumpler, his 10 touchdown receptions are the most by any rookie tight end and the second most by any rookie. His 11 receptions of 20 yards or more was also the second most by any rookie in 2010, and his 30 first down catches is also second amongst all rookie tight ends.
The 13 yards per catch he got in 2010 leads all rookie tight ends with 14 or more receptions. His 42 receptions are the fourth most by rookie tight ends in a season where many excelled. Hernandez had 45 himself while Kansas City's Tony Moeaki had 47 and Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham led the way with 52 this year.
Gronkowski's 546 receiving yards were just 10 less than Moeaki, the leader amongst rookie tight ends this year. Besides Gresham, Moeaki and Hernandez, several other rookie tight ends had excellent seasons. Jimmy Graham of the Saints, Andrew Quarless of the Packers and Michael Hoomanawanui of the Rams all were important members of their teams.
Gronkowski's brothers, Dan and Chris, also play in the NFL. While there are several to pick from at this position, none that can be called the wrong selection, I chose him because of the total impact of his catches.
Though he split time, Gronkowski made the most of every opportunity. Whether it was stretching the seam, moving the chains or putting points up on the board. It has to make Patriots happy knowing they have two excellent youngsters at this position for the next several seasons.
Offensive Tackle : Rodger Saffold, Saint Louis Rams
Exciting things are happening in Saint Louis, and maybe the offensive tackle slots are the most fun to watch.
The Rams drafted Jason Smith with the first overall draft pick in 2009, then moved him to the right side so Saffold could man left tackle. Both players are 6'5" and 306 lbs and athletic. Saffold has played so well that NFL general managers have said they regretted passing on him in the draft.
Though the Rams dumped a bunch of money into their rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, it will be up to Smith and Saffold, who protect Bradford's blind side, to keep him upright and injury-free to earn his keep.
Offensive Tackle : Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
With a nod to San Francisco's Anthony Davis and Green Bay's Brian Bulaga, Williams has fought through a difficult year of nagging injuries and poor blocking by his teammates.
Though he missed just two games, he was dinged up most of the year. The Redskins were in huge trouble when perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels suffered a career-ending injury last season.
Williams stepped in right away and quickly proved he has Pro Bowl ability, hopefully manning the position for many years to come.
Guard : Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers
Iupati showed 49er fans right away why he was a first round pick. He started every game and showed tremendous ability at left guard. He also has the ability to play offensive tackle.
Though the Niners struggled on offense in 2010, Iupati was not the reason. He generally wins his blocks, especially while run blocking.
He and Anthony Davis were drafted in the first round this year to help the offensive line. They started every game and have given San Francisco no reason to regret drafting either one.
Guard : John Jerry, Miami Dolphins
This third round draft pick earned a starting job in the beginning of the season for two games until he was replaced for four games. He was reinserted into the lineup in week eight and stayed there the rest of the season.
At 6'5" 328 lbs., Jerry is a mammoth guard who the Dolphins hope can help them for many seasons to come. He has gotten off to a pretty good start thus far.
Center : Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh drafted Pouncey to start, and he has done so all 16 games. The Steelers brass loves him so much that they are even mentioning him in the same breath as Hall of Famer, and Steelers legendary center, Mike Webster.
High praise indeed, and nothing more can be added in superlatives after that.
Defensive Tackle : Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
The runaway winner of the 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suh led all rookie linemen with 66 tackles and 10 sacks. He also found time to intercept a ball and return it 20 yards, defend four passes and score a touchdown off of a fumble recovery.
Suh is a huge reason why the Lions, who on two total games in the previous two years, won six games this year and lost seven by 27 total points. Detroit finished 2010 strong with four straight wins, giving hope that the playoffs are not far away for a franchise that hasn't reached that level since 1999.
When they do, Suh will most likely be leading the way.
Defensive Tackle : Tyson Aluala, Jacksonville Jaguars
Alualu was second amongst all rookie defensive tackles with 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was one the few consistent Jaguars on an otherwise anemic Jacksonville defense.
He was also durable, playing in all 16 games. Jacksonville now has young defensive tackle duo in Alualu and Terrance Knighton that they hope can one day be at least as effective as John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were earlier this decade when the pair went to multiple Pro Bowls.
Defensive End : Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
Not only did Houston lead all rookie defensive ends with 39 tackles, but he led all rookies with two fumble recoveries. He also chipped in five sacks and forced a fumble.
The youngster has the ability to line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage for Oakland. He earned the starting job at left defensive end immediately and was only shut out without a stat in one game all year.
He gives the Raiders a reason to be excited for their future.
Defensive End : Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
No one has ever questioned the talent Dunlap possesses. Yet, after a disappointing college career that also had issues off of the field, most questioned his work ethic. He dropped to the second round of the draft over this before the Bengals tabbed him.
He was brought along slowly at first, not playing in four of the first five Bengals games, then eventually spotted in certain situations before earning more snaps. He turned it on in the 12th week, getting 8.5 of his 9.5 sacks in the final six games.
His 9.5 sacks led all rookie defensive ends and was the second most by any rookie. If he can keep up his current pace, the Bengals have a future superstar. The only question is if he can keep his head and heart into the game.
Outside Linebacker : Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins
Misi might not get a lot of notice because his bookend, Cameron Wake, had a great year that put him in the Pro Bowl, but the second round draft pick has done well himself.
He leads all rookie outside linebackers in sacks with five, and his 41 tackles are the third most amongst rookie OLBs. He has also forced two fumbles and pounced on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
At 6'3" 251 lbs., Misi is a excellent physical specimen for the strong side linebacker slot. He hits with tremendous force, yet has the athleticism to run down opponents.
Wake, though 28 years old, is in his second NFL season after an amazing journey that led him through the CFL at one point. He and Misi could be quite a force for several years to come.
Middle Linebacker : Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders
McClain has shown why he was a first round draft pick this year. His 85 tackles are the second most by any rookie middle linebacker, just three behind the leader. He also has half a sack, an interception, and seven defended passes.
The Raiders defense wasn't great this year, especially against the run. McClain, along with safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff, were extremely busy all year. Too often having to tackle opponents that had already gained several yards.
This is an area Oakland needs to fix for 2011, but they can depend on McClain being there to stop the run regardless.
Pat Angerer of the Colts deserves mention because he led all rookie middle linebackers in tackles, and Darryl Washington of Arizona also deserves mention.
Outside Linebacker : Kavell Conner, Indianapolis Colts
Many NFL fans may not realize that Conner leads all rookie outside linebackers in tackles. His 57 tackles are 15 more than the next rookie OLB.
He was almost an afterthought when drafted in the seventh round. After sitting out the first game, he had five tackles in the second week before doing nothing until week 10.
Since then, he has been on a tear, getting 52 tackles in the last eight weeks. It was a huge help to a Colts team that has defensive linemen who cannot stop the run, as well as the fact the linebacker corps was besieged by injuries as the season progressed.
Conner is not asked to blitz or even defend against the pass, but he has been a much-needed tackling machine for the Colts when opponents run the ball.
Strong Safety : T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
The Kansas City Chiefs Eric Berry, with his 92 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, 13 defended passes, and a touchdown, will certainly get some Rookie of the Year votes.
Ward, however, led all NFL rookies with 123 tackles. He also picked off two balls and defended 12 passes. Cleveland struggled this season, and part of the reason was their mediocre offense.
The defense was decent, ranking 13th in points allowed. Ward and fellow rookie Joe Haden give the team hopes for the future after excellent rookie years. Haden led the team with six picks and his 24 defended passes was tied as the most by all rookies.
Ward was the run stopper the team needed this year, and Cleveland will look to bolster their front seven in the off season to help him. If this is accomplished, Ward can help out on the pass more.
The Browns expect great things from their young secondary, and Ward is an important piece to that equation.
Free Safety : Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
It really is no surprise Thomas gets this slot, most expected he would before he was even drafted. Not only did his five interceptions lead all rookie safeties, but his 75 tackles led all rookie free safeties.
While his 12 defended passes show the ability has Thomas against the pass, his 64 solo tackles also show how sound a hitter he is in technique.
Philadelphia's Nate Allen, Tampa Bay's Cody Grimm and the Chiefs Kendrick Lewis all showed their excellent abilities this season, but Thomas was head and shoulders above all rookies at free safety.
He is a huge reason the Seahawks made the playoffs, and Seattle fans can get ready to see Thomas do more as his career goes along.
Cornerback : Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
The Patriots knew coming into this year that they had a young secondary with a bright future, and their 2010 first round pick quickly led the way.
McCourty, whose brother Jason plays cornerback in Tennessee, started immediately and soon was the star of the secondary.
His seven interceptions and 24 defended passes led all rookies, and his 82 tackles was the second most by all rookie cornerbacks. With the other cornerback slot on the Patriots struggling all season, McCourty stepping up was a big boost that helped New England procure the best record in the 2010 season.
If Darius Butler ever plays to his potential, he and the rest of the secondary in New England (McCourty, Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather) could star for years ahead. Even so, the future of McCourty alone is very bright by itself.
Cornerback : Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans
It can't be easy to try to bookend a Pro Bowler, but Verner did a fine job teaming up with Cortland Finnegan.
After sitting on the bench the first two games this year, Verner was called upon due to starter Jason McCourty's injury. He posted five games of double-digit tackles, including a streak of four games to close the season.
His 101 tackles led all rookie cornerbacks, and he showed he was much more than a sound tackler by picking off three passes and defending 14 passes. He also forced a fumble and led all rookies with two fumble recoveries.
When McCourty got healthy, he could not regain his starting job because of the job Verner did.
It has to make Titans head coach Jeff Fisher happy knowing he has three good cornerbacks on his roster, especially with a rookie like Verner so readily available in run support while performing so well against the pass.
Kicker : Clint Stitser, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have employed the only two rookie kickers this year. Aaron Pettrey was the other, and he lasted two games. Stitser replaced him for the last five games of 2010. He missed one field goal in eight attempts, including a career long of 47 yards, but missed two of 10 extra point attempts.
Punter : Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots
Though his 58 punts are the second most by a rookie this year, 14 less that Matt Dodge of the Giants, his 14 forced fair catches led all rookies and his 19 punts inside the 20-yard line was just one less than Dodge. Dodge has 35 punts returned for 535 yards and two scores, as opposed to the 179 yards allowed on 25 returns by Mesko.
While the 44.8 yards per punt average by Dodge led all rookies, Mesko averaged 43.2 and his 38.4 net average was the best by all rookies that outdistanced Dodge and Robert Malone of the Buccaneers by several yards.
Kick Returner : Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans
Oakland's Jacoby Ford, who returned three kicks for touchdowns, surely deserves mention here, but Mariani was selected to the Pro Bowl and averaged over a yard more per return on seven more attempts.
He led the NFL in combined kickoff and punt return yards, and was second in the NFL in kick return yards. Mariani's 1,859 yards off kickoff and punt returns are the 18th most in NFL history. He led the NFL in kick returns, and was second in combined kickoff and punt returns.
Not only did his 60 returns for 1,530 yard and 42 returns of 20 or more yards lead all rookies, but his four returns of 40 or more yards tied Ford as the most amongst rookies. His 25.5 yards per return average was also the most by any rookie with 22 or more returns.
Besides Mariani and Ford, rookies like the Redskins Brandon Banks, Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, Jacksonville's Deji Karim and Baltimore's David Reed also stood out as kick returners this season.
Yet it was Mariani who led the way of this excellent class, as his Pro Bowl nod certainly indicates. He scored once on both a kickoff and punt return this year as well.
Punt Returner : Brandon Banks, Washington Redskins
Mariani might be able to claim this slot too, considering he averaged 12.2 yards on 27 returns.
Banks, however, averaged 11.3 on 38 attempts and led all rookies with six returns of 20 yards or more. He also fair caught seven less balls than Mariani, despite being five inches shorter and 41 pounds lighter.
The diminutive Banks also averaged 25.1 yards on 46 kick returns, including a 96 yards return for a score. The undrafted rookie was third in the NFL with 431 punt return yards, which led all rookies.
Though he had a few punt returns for touchdowns called back by penalties, the 271 return yards he got in week eight set a Redskins record. He also found time to block a field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri, even though he stands 5'7" and weighs 149 lbs.
One word to describe Banks is fearless, but exciting also works. He gives Washington a special teams weapon they have lacked since the legendary Brian Mitchell left the team after 1999.