|Winslow Townson / Associated Press|
|Gerris Wilkinson could replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker for the Giants ... if he can stay healthy.|
As a parent whose job it is to cover professional football for a living, I happen to have a warped sense of timing and planning. Instead of seeing the new school year approaching, I'm charting training camp dates, rookie contract signings and whether Brett Favre will join the Vikings before my kids start school in mid-August.
There is still some idle time before my roles get intertwined, so before I start hitting up the back-to-school sales and getting my guys their shots and all that stuff, I thought I'd explore some percolating personnel issues heading into training camp. There won't be any more T.O. or Favre here (thank me later please).
Here is an examination of some potential position slugfests featuring a group of players who have, for the most part, flown under the radar.
Darius Reynaud, RB, Vikings: For the past two seasons, Reynaud has played wide receiver. The 5-foot-9, 201-pounder has been moved to tailback, where he's been dubbed by one team source as "a natural." Reynaud was recruited to West Virginia as a running back but he moved to wide receiver because Steve Slaton was The Man in the backfield. Third-year back Albert Young and rookie Toby Gerhart will battle it out to be Adrian Peterson's backup, but Reynaud is a different type of player -- one who clearly can catch, since he was a wide receiver. He also has the shake none of the bigger backs possess.
Helping Reynaud is the fact that he's been a punt and kickoff returner, which makes him even more valuable. More than compete with Young and Gerhart for playing time, Reynaud will battle former Boise State RB Ian Johnson, who boasts a somewhat similar skill set. Johnson is well-liked by coaches but could be destined for a second season on the practice squad. The abundance of talent at running back could make things difficult at roster cutdown time.
What could be intriguing is if Minnesota opts to carry two big backs and a change-of-pace back, possibly resulting in Young being let go. The training camp competition is going to be fierce, all in the name of getting scant touches behind the workhorse that is A.D.
THE NEW GUYS
Morgan Burnett, S, Green Bay; Nate Allen S, Eagles: While much of the talk will be about high first-round draft picks making impacts with their respective teams, these two non-first-round rookie safeties could be key figures in their respective teams' push to the Super Bowl.
Burnett, a third-rounder from Georgia Tech, has been impressive in summer drills -- and he's the type of player who should look better in pads. He has the ability to cover and provide run support, which makes him the ideal interchangeable strong/free safety that allows defenses to mask coverages and schemes. With defensive coordinator Dom Capers expanding the 3-4 scheme in its second year, having as many interchangeable parts as possible only helps.
Burnett is powerfully built (6-1, 210) and should also be a contributor on special teams.
Incumbent Atari Bigby, a restricted free agent, sat out offseason workouts in hopes of securing a better contract. By doing so, he allowed Burnett to work with the starters -- a move that could cost Bigby his job. It doesn't help that Bigby has been bothered by injuries, playing in just 20 games the past two seasons, and starting 17. Bigby did have four interceptions last season.
Allen, a high second-round pick from South Florida, will get every opportunity to step into the position that Brian Dawkins once ruled in Philadelphia. He is a speedy, rangy player who worked with the first team this offseason. If he shows up once contact starts, he will join Quintin Mikell on the back end of a young and potentially potent defense. Veteran Quintin Demps could push Allen, but the Eagles might not have a ton of faith in the once promising player who didn't step up last season after Dawkins signed with Denver as a free agent.
THE USUAL SUSPECT
Gerris Wilkinson, MLB, Giants: Wilkinson's promising career has been saddled with injuries and the inability to get on the field much since being drafted in 2006. Somehow, he's emerged as a potential starter at middle linebacker for the Giants, who parted ways with longtime standout Antonio Pierce, who has since retired.
Wilkinson was moved from outside linebacker and shared time with Jonathan Goff on the first unit during offseason workouts. Goff seems to have an edge over Wilkinson and rookie Phillip Dillard -- he has really impressed, one teammate told me -- but the coaching staff has yet to settle on anyone. Wilkinson's return to the inside, where he played in college, seems to have reinvigorated him. If he is physical, can show that he is a three-down player and stay healthy, he could emerge as the surprise starter.
Kroy Biermann, DE, Falcons: I remember watching Biermann get handled by one offensive lineman after another during the first week of his rookie minicamp in 2008. He seemed destined for the practice squad -- at best. Two weeks later, he was holding his own. I found it hard not to pull for a guy who didn't get down on himself and worked as hard as he did to gain his footing in such a short period of time. He spent much of the season as a special teams player but he also managed two sacks during Atlanta's push to the postseason.
In 2009, as a situational pass rusher, Biermann garnered five sacks. His seven career sacks are five more than Atlanta's 2008 first-round pick (8th overall) Jamaal Anderson. Biermann's tireless motor and ambition are similar to those of former Falcons DE Patrick Kerney. Biermann should begin taking more snaps away from Anderson, who is being shifted to DT on passing situations.
A player who could be following Biermann's lead in Atlanta is second-year DE Lawrence Sidbury. There is a buzz about the former Richmond standout and if Sidbury and Biermann can bolster DE John Abraham and rookie OLB Sean Weatherspoon, the optimism in Atlanta could very much be for real.