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In the Trenches - Part III
by Fritz Schlottman
July 11, 2003
 
<< Back to Part II

NFC EAST

On to Part IV >>

Dallas Cowboys
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Terry Glenn-GB
WR Zuriel Smith-6th Round
C Al Johnson-2nd Round
RG Justin Bates-7th Round
RT Ryan Young-HOU
TE Dan Campbell-NYG
TE Jason Whitten-3rd Round
RB Richie Anderson-NYG
RB Aveion Johnson-DET

Offensive Line: In 2002, no unit had more injuries than the Cowboys offensive line. By the midseason, they were signing free agents off the street, giving them three days of practice, and starting them on Sunday. Yea, it was that bad. Two rookies forced into service in 2002, 6th round pick C Walter Tyson and RG Andre Gurode will be expected to start this year. Reserve C Matt Lehr and reserve RT Javier Collins were forced into the starting line-up by injuries to the starters too often last year. Collins was one of those street free agents that stuck with the team.

The big off-season addition was RT Ryan Young who makes the intrastate move over from Houston to rejoin Head Coach Bill Parcells. Both are former Jets. Young was exposed by New York in the expansion draft and was a disappointment in Houston where he fought injuries. Young replaces Solomon Page who was signed by the Chargers.

Reports are that the team is still looking to add depth at the offensive line. They may be active in the waiver wire this August when teams start cutting down prospects.

TE: Nothing here for fantasy owners. The ever-reliable Dan Campbell was signed from the Giants. He joins 32 year old Tony McGhee as the team’s two starting tight ends. Between the two, McGhee is the bigger receiving threat, which tells you all you need to know about Dallas’ tight end situation.

RB: RB Troy Hambrick finally gets his shot at being the number one in Dallas. Unfortunately for Hambrick, he must not have gotten the news that Parcells was the new head coach. Hambrick reported this spring a tiny bit over weight, like 265 lb.

It seems the new head coach is not amused. As any of his ex-players can tell you, Parcells runs things his way… not the Cowboys’ way, Jerry Jones’ way, his way. Ahh, to be a fly on the wall when The Big Tuna went “old-school” on him. Hambrick may be number one on the depth chart for now, but if he can’t get his act together Parcells won’t hesitate to replace him with Michael Wiley or Aveion Carson. Sportsline is reporting that Hambrick is spending hours a day on the bike, trying to lose the pounds. It’s also reported that several assistant coaches are lurking nearby to provide “inspiration”.

WR: Who would have ever thought that WR Terry Glenn and Bill Parcells would ever spend another training camp together? Once referring to Glenn as “she”, Parcells has openly questioned Glenn’s toughness and commitment in the past. Now Glenn, after one forgettable season in Green Bay where he couldn’t score fantasy points with Brett Favre throwing him the ball, will get an ear-full from Parcells when he drops a pass or takes a play off. If you’re tempted to draft Glenn, just remember there’s history between the player and his head coach- Glenn’s going to be on a short leash this year.

If Glenn can’t get along with Parcells, then who? The two most likely to inherit his starting position are former free agent Ken-Yon Rambo and 2002’s second round pick Antonio Bryant. Both are the big, tall physical types more likely to do the kinds of things the crusty new head coach will expect from his players.

QB: Already Parcells has openly stated that he isn’t satisfied with his quarterback situation. Lucky for potential starters (Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter) the head coach has also flatly stated that he isn’t interested in signing a quarterback that can’t win him a divisional title just to win a few more games this year. This is going to be one of those situations were the player that pisses Parcells off least might start each week.
Defense 2003 Additions
SLB AL Singleton-TB
MLB Bradie James-4th Round
LCB Donald Mitchell-TEN
RCB Terence Newman-1st Round
RCB BJ Tucker-6th Round

Defense: Parcells is a win with defense kind of a coach and he’s starting to get the tough-nosed kind of players that he wants already. Last year, the team added S Roy Williams who was a fantasy stud in 2002. This year, they got the cover man they wanted in CB Terence Newman. Newman is behind Dereck Ross on the depth chart but may get a chance quickly as Ross is reportedly thinking about surgery this summer after a shoulder injury in minicamp. It’s not clear how many months he would miss. Then there’s that shooting thing…

Nothing wrong with the Cowboys defensive line either. Greg Ellis is one of the more underrated defensive ends and DT La’Roi Glover and DE Ebenezer Ekuban are better known players. Reportedly, the team is trying to find another defensive end to bring into the rotation.

The linebacking corps lost Kevin Hardy to free agency. Dallas went out and signed AL Singleton from the Tampa Bay Bucs to replace him. He joins Dat Nguyen and Dexter Coakley on a pretty good unit.

Is this the year the Cowboys’ defense quits underachieving? Only time will tell. In 2002, fantasy owners thought this was going to be a pretty good unit and were disappointed. This year expectations aren’t running as high and the Cowboys defense brings a lot of value if they can perform up to last year’s promise.

New York Giants
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Willie Ponder-6th Round
WR David Tyree-6th Round
WR Kevin Walter-7th Round
C Wayne Lucier-7th Round
RG David Diehl-5th Round
TE Vishante Shiancoe-3rd Round
FB Jim Finn-IND
RB Dorsey Levens-PHI
RB Brian Mitchell-PHI

Offensive Line: The 2002 edition of the New York Giants had question marks all over their offensive line. The one know commodity (C Dusty Zeigler) only played two games for the G-Men and this squad still managed to finish fifth in the league in total offense.

2003 has brought more changes. Dusty Zeigler has been waved, RT Mike Rosenthal has moved on to Minnesota, and RG Jason Whittle signed with Tampa Bay. The Giants have been playing Ian Allen at RT and Tom Hopkins at RG during camp. Reports are good so far as both players seem impressive. Hopkins is battling Barrett Brooks and David Deihl for a starting spot. Chris Bober, originally drafted as a tackle but forced to start at center when Zeigler couldn’t go, will play center again this year. Reserve LT Jeffrey Hatch has also been impressive.

TE: Jeremy Shockey and his caddies. There is some buzz about Visanthe Shiancoe having impressed players and coaches, but he remains an unknown commodity after having played at tiny Morgan State against lesser competition. The word is his blocking needs improvement but he excels as a pass catcher.

WR: Ike Hilliard got a little more inspiration this year. The 30 year-old wide receiver says he’s happy to be signed and at camp. Injured half way through the 2002 season, the former Gator receiver will be challenged this summer by Tim Carter, Ron Dixon, and three late round draft picks. He’s probably happy not to be looking for work at this point.

RB: Where do I begin with RB Ron Dayne? After trying unsuccessfully all winter to get traded, “No Gain Dayne” took a pass on the Giants “optional” (read mandatory) off-season conditioning program. He was the only player not to show without an excuse. To make matters worse, he didn’t return the team’s phone calls. Quote Dayne, “I don't think I want to talk about why I wasn't here. Am I in coach Fassel's doghouse? I don't know, you should ask him. But I don't think that could cut down my playing time much more." Ah, want to bet, Ron?

The Giants brought in three backs this off-season: Dorsey Levens, Jim Finn, and Bryan Mitchell. Dayne’s chances of making the Giants opening day roster are marginal.

QB: Kerry Collins is the clear starter.
Defense 2003 Additions
DT William Joseph-1st Round
DE Keith Washington-DEN
DE Osi Umenyiora-2nd Round
LCB Roderick Babers-4th Round
FS Charles Drake-7th Round
CB Frank Walker-6th Round
CB Ray Green-FA

Defense: Getting one of the draft’s most highly rated defensive tackles (William Joseph) was to have solidified New York’s interior defense. Unfortunately, subsequent events have changed that assessment.

DT Keith Hamilton was stopped May 22 on a highway in New Jersey and charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana, assorted drug paraphernalia and an open container of an alcoholic beverage. That’s a no-no with the police and with the league. Even if his lawyer cuts a good deal, if he pleads to a felony then he’s likely to be suspended for part of the season under the league’s substance abuse policy. Under the glare of the New York media, I wouldn’t expect this incident to get swept under the rug making a suspension all but a certainty.

Thankfully, the Giants had the foresight to bring in several other defensive line players. In addition to the rookie Joseph, New York signed DE Keith Washington from Denver who will contribute right away. If Hamilton is gone for any length of time, then a rotation of Joseph, Lance Legree, and Cornelius Washington will have to hold down the fort.

Philadelphia Eagles
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Billy McMullen-3rd Round
LG Jeremy Bridges-6th Round
TE LJ Smith-2nd Round
FB Jon Ritchie-OAK

Offensive Line: No changes from 2002.

TE: LJ Smith was brought in to replace Chad Lewis in the not so distant future. A fantasy disappointment in 2002, Lewis is 31 years old and probably has no more than one or two years left in the tank.

RB: This is going to get really wild before the summer is done. Starting runningback Duce Staley is entering the final year of his deal and he wants the team to sign him to a $2.2 million extension. He’s chosen to miss spring camp to make team management aware of his unhappiness with his contract situation.

The question is does anyone besides Staley and his agent care? Unfortunately for the veteran runningback, the Eagles have an embarrassment of young ball carriers all looking to get more playing time. Team management has already said that it would like Correll Buckhalter to get more touches, as he’s a better runner than Staley and his contract’s less expensive. Then there is last year’s rookie sensation Brian Westbrook who’s no slouch hauling the pig’s bladder either. Staley would like to get paid for the 1,000 rushing yards he had in 2002, but that doesn’t seem likely. Eventually, he’ll have to report, although he may not be very happy all year.

WR: No changes in 2003.
Defense 2003 Additions
LDE Jerome McDougle-1st Round
MLB Mark Simoneau-ATL
WLB Nate Wayne-GB

Defense: Again, more unhappiness with contracts. Pro Bowl CB Bobby Taylor wants a new deal and is holding out…and much like Duce Staley, he’s screwed. With Al Harris gone from last year’s secondary, 2002’s number one pick and number two picks (Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown) are waiting in the wings behind Taylor. They’re younger, less expensive, and hungry for more playing time. Naturally, the team wants to see how things work out this season before deciding if they will resign Taylor and he’s not very happy about it.

If all the contract squabbling wasn’t enough, the Eagles defense has seen major personnel changes this spring. The team lost two starting, impact linebackers (Shawn Barber and Hugh Douglas) and their replacements (Nate Wayne and Mark Simoneau) aren’t of the same caliber.

Don’t expect the same kind of top shelf fantasy numbers from the Eagles defense this year. Rookie DE Jerome McDougal has a lot of talent, but he may not contribute right away. The front seven may struggle to produce the same kind of gaudy sack numbers fantasy owners have grown accustomed to.

Washington Redskins
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Taylor Jacobs-2nd Round
WR Lavernues Coles-NYJ
WR Patrick Johnson-JAX
LG Dave Fiore-FA
RG Randy Thomas-NYJ
RT Derrick Dockery-3rd Round
QB Rob Johnson-TB
QB Gibran Hamdan-7th Round
RB Trung Canidate—STL
RB Chad Morton-NYJ

Offensive Line: The Redskins spent $100 million last year and didn’t end up with much to show for all that cash shoveled into the fire… so, back to the drawing board. The time fired its Director of Football Operations and college scouting director, ending any pretense that anyone but Daniel Snyder was calling the shots.

Undeterred by 2002’s disappointment, Snyder went out and signed 15 more veterans this year, most on the offensive and defensive line. Dave Fiore and Randy Thomas go into training camp as the team’s new offensive guards. Solid at tackle, the center of the ‘Skins line was weak last year and changes need to be made so I can’t fault Snyder here. Brendon Stai was cut outright and David Brandt was sent to the Packers to make room.

RB: Stephen Davis’ departure for Carolina has opened the door for three runningbacks-Trung Candidate who was acquired in a trade with the Rams and returning ball carriers Ladell Betts, and Kenny Watson. All are the sub-six foot types with speed to burn. Candidate goes into camp as the starter, but has a habit of playing himself into the coach’s doghouse by fumbling the ball and making mental mistakes. At 205 lb., he’s also not the guy you don’t want picking up 240 lb. blitzing linebackers. At 220 lb. Betts has a little more meat to put between QB Ramsey and harms way and his versatility may give him more playing time. Watson is on the outside looking in right now, but that doesn’t mean much with Spurrier who seems to consult a coaching mood ring before filling in the line-up every week.

WR: The Old Ball Coach must have seen enough of his former Florida Gators players. Not one of them remains on the Washington roster this year. I guess the rest of the NFL must know a thing or two about evaluating talent, eh coach?

Spurrier must have gotten the opportunity to watch plenty of film on former Seminole Laveranues Coles. The Redskins’ new speedster will line up across from 2002-fantasy breakout receiver Rod Gardner. The New York Jets will have the opportunity to pay the ‘Skins back for hosing them in free agency right away. The two teams meet on opening day.
Defense 2003 Additions
LDE Peppi Zellner-DAL
LDT Jermaine Haley-MIA
RDT Brandon Noble-DAL
LDE Regan Upshaw-OAK
CB Alex Molden-WAS
FS Matt Bowen-GB

Defense: More changes for the Redskins. First, the team will have its fifth defensive coordinator in five years and will have to learn it’s fifth playbook and different play terminology for the same period. You would like a little continuity among your coaching staff, but that doesn’t seem to interest the Redskins right now.

Second, the Redskins biggest task will be replacing DT Daryl Gardener. Even though Gardener was often unable to practice and had to be shot up before games ( bad back), when he was on the field he was the team’s best defensive linemen. DT Brandon Noble, DE Peppi Zellner and DE Regan Upshaw were brought in to bolster the line, but Upshaw (probably the best of the three) will still need to push the aging Bruce Smith for playing time. The Redskins aren’t bashful about discussing their unhappiness with DT Dan Wilkinson. The team wants him to take a pay cut, which doesn’t seem unreasonable considering how little production they’ve gotten for their $3.5 million base salary. Unfortunately, with him in the middle of their line-up their run defense is questionable, without him it may be a disaster. The team will watch the waiver wire to see if another Daryl Gardner gets cut, but right now there are no adequate replacements on the free agent market.

Finally, this will mark the first time the ‘Skins secondary didn’t have Darrel Green on the field. The torch has been officially passed to CBs Champ Bailey, Fred Smoot, and Alex Molden who have big shoes to fill.

While the cornerback situation looks good, safety is another matter. Matt Bowen joins the team from the Packers (where he wasn’t a starting safety) to team with Ifeanyi Ohalete. Last year’s starter, Sam Shade; was cut in the off-season.

The Redskins better get it right this year because they’ve dug themselves a massive trench in year’s ahead. Right now, the team will struggle to sign either Champ Bailey or LaVar Arrington under the cap next year. This rocket may blow up on the launch pad before it ever gets off the ground. Thanks, Danny for all your help.

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Bobby Wade-5th Round
WR Justin Gage-5th Round
RG Bryan Anderson-7th Round
TE Desmond Clark-MIA
QB Kordell Stewart-PIT
QB Rex Grossman-1st Round
RB Brock Forsey-6th Round

Offensive Line: the site of much ugliness last season, the Bears front wall was hit by a tidal wave of injuries. By the end of the year they had 11 players (ten starters) on injured reserve. Throwing inexperienced bodies on the field contributed greatly to the Bears fall from 13-3 in 2001 to 4-12 last year.

In particular, Chicago’s ground game was brutal. In 2001, opposing teams knew the Bears were going to run the ball and still couldn’t do anything to stop it. In 2003, opposing teams knew the Bears were going to run the ball…and the Bears offense couldn’t do anything to stop it. They couldn’t run and the couldn’t protect their fragile quarterbacks either, not a winning combination.

Changes were made. Big Cat Williams was cut in the off-season opening a rather large hole at tackle. Mike Gandy, the teams third round pick from 2001 will be called on to take over on the corner. The rest of the starters, LG Rex Tucker (missed 11 games last year), C Olin Kreutz, RT Chris Villarrial, RT Marc Columbo (missed six games in 2002) all return for 2003. This is one of the better-paid units in the league and the Bears’ faithful hope for a return to 2001’s form…and just a few less injuries.

TE: Desmond Clark joins the team this year. He was with the Dolphins in 2002 where he was a disappointment after coming over from the Broncos were he was productive in 2001. Clark is the only “name player”, if you can call him that, at the position. Regardless, he’s their best receiving option and may end up with better stats then starters John Davis or Dustin Lyman. Davis is still fighting a back problem and Lyman is rehabbing an ACL graft.

WR: Marcus Robinson’s body finally gave out. A fantasy gold mine a year after playing in NFL Europe, Robinson has fought knee and back problems since lighting up the league.

Now, if only one of the Bears’ other highly paid receiver would step-up and break-up, this team may shake its stodgy image. Alas, both Dez White and David Terrell (missed 11 games in 2002) have done little to justify the high expectations that came with them. White has spent three years on and off the bench getting chances to play and blowing it. Terrell doesn’t seem to have the maturity it takes to excel in the league. One of these guys needs to live up to expectations and take some of the pressure off Marty Booker if the Bears are going to split the difference and go .500 this year.

RB: It’s funny how much difference a year makes. Last year at this time RB Anthony Thomas was a late first, early second round fantasy pick. This year, he’s the Hans Blick of the NFL and writers can’t wait to take their shots at him.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. He probably wasn’t Rookie of the Year material in 2001 when the Bears offensive line was blowing holes in the opposition’s defensive front for him to stroll through and he probably isn’t as bad as 2002 when he was dodging tacklers in the backfield. But as long as writers are lowering expectations, he may be undervalued this year… if he wins the starting job from Peterson.

QB: You know things are bad when a team starts an off season by cutting it’s first string quarterback. QB Chris Chandler would have been justified had he thought he was getting the ax after last season. I bet he was as surprised as anyone when he heard it was QB Jim Miller that was let go. Actually, no one would have blamed the Bears had they whacked both of them. Neither could stay healthy and poor free agent Henry Burris got thrown into games to run for his life.

Just when you figured it couldn’t get any worse, enter Kordell Stewart. The Bears, in a moment of either visionary enlightenment or pure insanity, decided to sign the mercurial ex-Steelers signal caller for five million over two years. Makes you want to drink just thinking about it. Not exactly rocket scientist material, Stewart struggled for seasons to learn an offense, looking dazed and confused all preseason and September before setting down and just being disappointing until the next spring when he would be confused all over again. Unless the Bears offense is simplified to handing the ball out and a play called “just go out” expect a rough road this summer. Unfortunately, the word is that Stewart is having problems learning the offense (where have I heard that before). Rex Grossman may get a start sooner rather than later.
Defense 2003 Additions
LDT Ian Scott-4th Round
RDT Tron LeFavor-5th Round
RDE Michael Haynes-1st Round
MLB Lance Briggs-3rd Round
LCB Charles Tillman-2nd Round
FS Todd Johnson-4th Round

Defense: Obviously the team’s biggest loss was Rosevelt Colvin taking the big money and heading to New England. Bryan Knight, the teams fifth round draft choice from a year ago will get the first shot at taking the rush linebacker spot. Mike Caldwell and Joe Odom will also have a shot at winning the starting job.

Aside from the injuries sustained by the offensive line, no other unit got beat up more in 2002 than the Bears defensive line. The two anchors in the middle, Ted Washington (gone 14 games) and Keith Traylor were out injured for most of the year. Traylor still can’t practice on his injured knee. He doesn't have to go very far, but he still needs two good legs to stand on. Bryan Robinson will have to start until Traylor can run.

Without the two big guys in the line-up at tackle, the Bears defense was very ordinary in 2002. Teams ran the ball effectively and the secondary (the cornerbacks in particular) was exposed. Chicago will have to clamp down on the run again if they’re going to be an improved unit this year.

Detroit Lions
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Shawn Jefferson-ATL
WR Charles Rodgers-1st Round
WR Travis Anglin-7th Round
WR David Kircus-6th Round
LT Ben Johnson-7th Round
FB Brandon Drumm-7th Round
RB Shawn Bryson-BUF
RB Artose Pinner-4th Round

The biggest change in Detroit has to be at Head Coach. The Lions finally gave in to conventional wisdom and hired a proven field general. Mooch may have his detractors, but you can’t argue with his win-loss record with some pretty poor teams.

Offensive Line: A very under rated unit that gave up only 20 sacks for all of last season. Taking into account that the Lions were playing from behind most of last season and opponents knew Detroit was going to put the ball in the air, leading the league in sacks surrendered was a great accomplishment. All five starters return for 2003 and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be one of the better units this year.

WR: The Lions added several players at wide receiver this spring. Shawn Jefferson was signed to give the team veteran depth while first round pick Charles Rodgers learns the ropes. David Kircus is a tall rookie from Saginaw Valley with 4.4 speed that has been impressive in minicamp. Kircus will likely have minimal impact this year and will fight it out for the fourth receiving spot.

No news out of the Lions on the progress of Rodgers, which normally means bad news. The team would like him to challenge starters Hakim and Schroeder who drop far too many passes for the West Coast Offense. It’s common for coaches to talk up new players to help out the season ticket sales, making the team’s silence all that more disturbing to me. It may be a sign that he’s still learning the offense and likely not ready to challenge for a starting job. Stay tuned.

RB: James Stewart was a curious free agent signing when he joined the team from Jacksonville. A big back that doesn’t have great receiving skills and needs a lot of carries to get into the flow, Stewart never fit the West Coast Offense. He somehow managed to survive the previous coaching regime only to have the Lions hire more competent proponent of the West Coast Offense as a replacement. Now Stewart’s starting job is in more jeopardy than ever. The team would like a smaller, faster, better receiving back to win the job this summer so keep you eyes on Detroit for a sleeper runningback to emerge.

QB: Joey Harrington proved that, if you gave him time to throw the ball he could step in as a rookie and be productive at this level. With another training camp under his belt, he should only improve this year.
Defense 2003 Additions
LDE Corey Redding-3rd Round
SLB Boss Bailey-2nd Round
MLB Earl Holmes-CLE
MLB Walli Rainer-JAX
WLB James David-5th Round
CB Blue Adams-7th Round
CB Dre Bly-STL
CB Chris Watson-BUF
FS Terrence Holt-5th Round

Defense: The Lions declined to offer former starting LB Chris Claiborne a big new contract in the off-season and watched as he was signed by their division rivals (Vikings). Detroit went out in free agency and picked up two serviceable replacements in Earl Holmes and Wali Rainer. Holmes will play first downs and short yardage as he’s too big and slow at (don’t look down at the scale) over 250 lb. (okay, maybe more like 280-300) to cover receivers out of the backfield. Rainer will come in on passing downs. He’s not much smaller than Holmes but at age 26, he probably has more jump than the 30-year-old former Steeler/Brown. Ironically, it was Holmes that replaced Rainer in Cleveland.

With that hole filled, the Lions turned their attention to the hole at cornerback. Both starters from 2002 (Todd Lyght and Eric Davis) moved on, which probably is a good thing considering how they played last season. Both were too old and too slow when they were signed in 2002 and played that way for much of the season. Dre Bly was added in free agency and he will be teamed with Chris Cash at the other corner.

The much-traveled pair of SS Corey Harris and FS Brian Walker will team in he middle of the field. Again, the Lions are throwing a pair of over achieving 30+ year old players on the field as a patch until the team can find younger, more competent starters. Needless to say that Detroit will struggle with opposing passing games again this season.

Green Bay Packers
Offense 2003 Additions
WR DeAndrew Rubin-7th Round
WR Carl Ford-7th Round
LT Marcus Spriggs-FA
LG Grey Ruegamer-NE
RT Brennan Curtin-6th Round
FB Nick Luchey-CIN
RB Lamar Smith-CAR

Offensive Line: The Packers suffered more than their share of injuries last year and the offensive line was one of the hardest hit units. Both starting tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tausher, are still recovering from injury and did not participate in minicamp. It remains to be seen if they will be healthy for the first preseason game. I neither can go than Jerry Wisne and Kevin Berry become the Packers starters. The more likely scenario is to have C Mike Flanagan play one tackle again and bring in either Frank Winters or Bill Ferrario to play center.

WR: Terry Glenn has come and gone. His less than memorable 2002 season with the team was a disappointment to Packer fans and to fantasy owners who were tempted by the potential of a Favre to Glenn combination. See, character does matter. Green Bay’s made an unfortunate habit of trying to find a receiver in camp, fortunately for them Donald Driver worked out even if Glenn didn’t.

In a two horse race, Robert Ferguson and Jevon Walker will get their shot at starting. Ferguson was a second round pick from 2001 while Walker was a first round pick in 2002. Both have the size and athleticism the Packers are looking for and both have the potential to be number one options but one of them needs to step up and make their mark this summer. If there is a clear winner, he may be one of 2003 best late round fantasy draft picks.

RB: The Packers took no chances this off-season and signed veteran Lamar Smith. In 2002, injuries plagued Green Bay’s runningback corps with Ahman Green, Nejeh Davenprot, and Tony Fisher all seeing considerable action. Green, when healthy, is the starter and a quality fantasy starter, but his lack of durability prompted the team to sign another runningback to the roster.

QB: Don’t look any further than Bret Favre. An iron man among NFL quarterbacks, the Packers signal caller once again showed last season that he can and will start through injury. Given his toughness, there’s no reason to waste space discussing his back up.
Defense 2003 Additions
LDE Chuckie Nwokorie-TEN
RDT Kenny Peterson-3rd Round
SLB Hannibal Navies-CAR
SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer-5th Round
MLB Nick Barnett-1st Round
WLB Steve Josue-7th Round
CB Al Harris-PHI
CB Chris Johnson-7th Round

Defense: Major changes on the defensive line. Green Bay lost T Gilbert Brown (cut), Billy Lyon (MIN), and Vonnie Holiday for 2002’s squad. With only Joe Johnson as a returning starter, the Packers were in deep trouble.

Time will tell if they’ve successfully plugged the gap. Cledius Hunt will move from reserve tackle to starter this year. Hunt is over 300 lb. but he’s not even in the same weight class as the departed Gilbert Brown who’s posterior could be spotted by orbiting Russian cosmonauts. Rod Walker was acquired in a trade with Tennessee and is immediately projected at the other starting tackle. Finally, a member of the all name team, Chuckie Nwokorie was signed from Indianapolis to be the starting LDE. Not exactly household names, but the free agent market for starting defensive linemen was hot this off-season.

If the uncertainty on the Packers defensive front wasn’t enough, there were more changes at linebacker. Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne are no longer with the team. The teams first round draft pick, MLB Nick Barnett better be a good study because he gets thrown straight away into the starting lineup. At 236 lb. he’s a little undersized to be taking on NFL guards or even fullbacks but will have to play and play well given the situation on Green Bay’s defensive line. Hannibal Navies also joins the team. He played 2002 with the Carolina Panthers.

The only change in the secondary (thankfully) was the addition of Al Harris. Harris was the fifth cornerback for the Eagles and will get his chance to start this season with Green Bay. S Marquees Anderson has apparently beaten out former number one pick Antuan Edwards for the starting safety spot alongside Darren Sharper.

Minnesota Vikings
Offense 2003 Additions
WR Keenan Howry-7th Round
WR Nate Burleson-3rd Round
RT Mike Rosenthal-NYG
QB Gus Frerotte-CIN
RB Onterrio Smith-4th Round

Offensive Line: A good line got better with he addition of Rosenthal. His addition moved former starters Everett Lindsay and Kelly Lewis to the reserves. 2002 rookie T Bryant (Mount) McKinnie now has at least a partial season under his belt and he wasn’t that bad last year. The big youngster missed all of camp and half of last season in a contract holdout. Having a full camp under the 343-lb. youngster will make him that much better this year. This is a very big, very young unit that may develop into the NFL’s best squads in a hurry.

TE: Having Jim Kleinsasser play both the tight end and fullback positions got mixed review at best. This year the Vikings may use him exclusively as their blocking tight end. With RB Michael Bennett having a breakout season in 2002, the Vikings have brought in a block first tight end coach to make sure Minnesota remains among the league’s best rushing offenses.

WR: Derrick Alexander was a huge disappointment last season, both for Minnesota who thought they were getting a stud receiver and for fantasy owners who were looking for a fantasy sleeper. Fortunately for Alexander he’ll get a shot at redeeming himself this year as D’wayne Bates didn’t exactly light up opposing defenses either. If, and it’s a big if, either of these guys can become the second receiving threat Minnesota’s needed since Chris Carter played in the Metrodome, then they instantly become fantasy starters.

RB: Michael Bennett had off-season surgery to clean up some knee damage. The Vikings expect him to be fully recovered by the start of the season. Nevertheless, the team drafted Onterrio Smith at the position. A number of NFL types are very high on the University of Oregon product, but Minnesota has to sign him, something the Vikings have had problems with in the recent past.
Defense 2003 Additions
DT Kevin Williams-1st Round
DT Billy Lyon-GB
SLB Chris Claiborne-DET
SLB Mike Nattiel-6th Round
MLB EJ Henderson-2nd Round
CB Denard Walker-FA
CB Ken Irvin-NO

Defense: The Vikings more or less scrapped their defense in the off-season. After struggling for the past several years including the night game against the Seahawks were RB Shaun Alexander embarrassed them on national television, enough was enough. Tyrone Carter, Patrick Chuckwurah, Jim Nelson, Talance Sawyer, Ronnie Bradford and others were shown the exit.

Only MLB Greg Biekert remained from the starting linebackers. Former Falcon Henri Crockett and former Lion Chris Claiborne will join him. Claiborne must play the SLB position this year after playing he MLB position in 2002. Claiborne’s problems with his weight and conditioning may have contributed to Detroit’s lack of interest in resigning him. There’s little doubt Claiborne’s big enough to play over the tight end but he will struggle to cover backs and tight ends in space. Crockett will be called on to pressure the quarterback. Fortunately for the Vikings, their defensive line can generate pressure on the quarterback without having to bring the heat. At least from a “name” standpoint, the team appears to have improved their roster at this position.

When they’ve played well, the Vikings secondary was merely bad. When they’ve played badly (and there have been many such times in the recent past) they’ve been nothing short of brutal. Too often they let opposing receivers run free in the secondary and then were left sprawling on the field flailing their empty arms helplessly when called on to come up and tackle. That may not change that much this year as the team concentrated on rush defense in the off-season, but there’s only so much a team can fix in a year.

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