The Schein Nine  

 

Mike Glennon headlines NFL folks facing make-or-break season

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It's minicamp season. Teams across the NFL are squeezing in as much preparation for the 2017 campaign as possible before the summer break. Real, live football games might still feel like they're a ways away, but team practice time is a limited commodity. And kickoff looms just around the corner in the minds of many -- particularly those who'll enter the coming season under heavy pressure to produce.

Between players and coaches, there are numerous individuals in a glaring spotlight. It's time for each of them to provide positive returns, or else ...

This edition of the Schein Nine highlights the NFL figures facing a make-or-break season in 2017.

1) Mike Glennon, quarterback, Chicago Bears

One of the biggest "what ifs" in the NFL from the recent vintage ...

What if Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik started their final season in Tampa Bay with Glennon (a draft steal in the third round) under center, instead of waiting for Josh Freeman to predictably fail? What if Lovie Smith had a clue and started Glennon in the QB's sophomore season with the Buccaneers (given how he'd performed down the stretch in Year 1), instead of foolishly handing 35-year-old Josh McCown the reins?

Sure, all of these botched moves eventually allowed Tampa Bay to draft Jameis Winston -- and Bucs fans are understandably excited about the third-year quarterback (and the highly promising offense, as a whole) entering the 2017 season. But it's still interesting to ponder what would've happened with Glennon in Tampa Bay, had he been given a fair shake.

And just when you thought my guy Glennon finally would be getting a true chance to lead a franchise -- with Chicago handing him a lucrative three-year deal back in March -- the Bears muddled up everything by trading up in April's draft and eschewing defense to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 overall, almost guaranteeing Glennon will never get a legit opportunity to be the man.

Glennon, at age 27 and in Year 5, finally was set up in a situation where he could prove his worth ... until the Bears yanked it away like Lucy pulling the football on Charlie Brown. Glennon's future already feels "broken" with Chicago. His replacement is already in place. His receiving corps is bare. He'd have to perform at an absurd level for the Bears to keep the No. 2 overall pick on the bench for the foreseeable future. This season could be make-or-break for Glennon's star-crossed career. He must put some quality play on tape to continue being a starter -- in Chicago or elsewhere. And sadly, the Bears have put him in a position to fail.

2) Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

The problem with Bortles is that he struggles with the forward pass. That's an occupational hazard for a quarterback. Doug Marrone has publicly supported Bortles. In a related story, Marrone's general manager -- David Caldwell -- is the guy who reached on Bortles with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. Marrone was just promoted from interim coach to full-time head coach, but it's understandable if he's still a little nervous about long-term job security. Enter Tom Coughlin, who has no ties to Bortles and won't stand for poor play and decision making.

These Jags have talent all over the roster, on both sides of the ball. They appear to be ready for prime time at every position -- well, except one: quarterback. Kind of an important spot. And Bortles' career record of 11-34 doesn't inspire much confidence. Neither does his backslide in 2016.

It's time for Blake Bortles to refine his throwing mechanics and smooth out his play, or else his alliterative name will be saddled with another "B" word: bust.

3) Chuck Pagano, head coach, Indianapolis Colts

In January, the Colts wisely brought in the widely respected Chris Ballard to take over as general manager. And what do new general managers typically like to do? Hire their own coach. So you can bet Pagano's on notice entering his sixth season as the Colts' head man.

The Colts still seem woozy from the 45-7 beatdown courtesy of the Patriots in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. They've gone 8-8 in each of the two seasons since then, missing the playoffs and failing to take advantage of a highly underwhelming AFC South. More. 500 football -- and wasting of Andrew Luck -- cannot be tolerated. Pagano's a defensive-minded coach, but the Colts' unit hasn't ranked in the top 25 in total D since 2014.

I'm not convinced that a playoff bid and early exit will be enough to save Pagano's job. This team needs to re-establish itself as a true contender in the AFC. Or else Ballard will go looking for his own guy to man the headset.

4) Dom Capers, defensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers

I believe Dom Capers, with a wealth of experience in this league, is a wise defensive mind. But results are results -- and lately, the results have been quite uninspiring.

In Capers' first two seasons with Green Bay, 2009 and 2010, the Packers ranked second and fifth in total defense. Oh, and Green Bay won a Super Bowl. Since then? The Pack have ranked 32nd, 11th, 25th, 15th, 15th and 22nd last season. Just not good enough.

I give Mike McCarthy credit for explaining last month why Capers is his guy. And I do blame Ted Thompson for failing to restock Capers' cupboard with defensive talent. But if the Packers fail to make the Super Bowl and the defense holds them back ... Look out, Dom.

5) Ereck Flowers, left tackle, New York Giants

The No. 9 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft has been a human turnstile at tackle. And he committed three more penalties as you were reading his.

Last year, a wilted and frustrated Flowers shoved a reporter who accurately had written how poorly he was playing. Flowers eventually apologized for the incident. Now he's gotta make things right on the field of play.

First-round picks are allowed extra time to deliver a return on investment, but that time is running out for Flowers with the Giants. Big Blue needs a bounceback season from 36-year-old QB Eli Manning. That won't be possible if he's under extreme duress all game long.

6) Eric Ebron, tight end, Detroit Lions

Drafting Eric Ebron over Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald was always insane. But you at least thought the tight end could give Matthew Stafford a mismatch nightmare in the middle of the field. Eight touchdowns in three seasons isn't the kind of production that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

The former No. 10 overall pick wasn't horrible last season, with 61 catches for 711 yards in 13 games. But consistency remains a major issue when it comes to his hands, his health and his game-to-game production.

The Lions picked up Ebron's fifth-year option in May, but it's guaranteed for injury only. If Ebron fails to establish himself as a building block this fall, Detroit GM Bob Quinn could cut the cord next offseason.

7) Sheldon Richardson, defensive lineman, New York Jets

Remember when Richardson was a superstar in the making? He followed up a Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign with a Pro Bowl bid in 2014. That seems like ages ago.

Now, he's become toxic -- a disinterested underachiever with off-the-field issues. And the retooling Jets can't give him away.

Not only is this make-or-break time for Richardson as a Jet, but as an NFL player. He needs to show production -- and, just as crucially, accountability. Still just 26, this guy has way too much talent to be at a career crossroads.

8) Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills

Watkins just can't stay healthy. And it is such a shame. I thought he had superstar potential before the 2014 NFL Draft. Remember the hands and athleticism and body control?! The guy has flashed spectacular play at the NFL level. In 2015, he eclipsed 1,000 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 13 games.

I'm still not giving up. But the Bills might have to if 2017 is another waste of a year. And they know it. That's why they didn't pick up his fifth-year option.

9) Luke Joeckel, left tackle, Seattle Seahawks

Part of the horrendously weak 2013 NFL Draft class, Joeckel wore out his welcome in Jacksonville. The Jags let the No. 2 overall pick walk after last season, which ended with Joeckel on injured reserve due to knee surgery.

Seattle signed him on a one-year prove-it deal in March. Now he'll be tasked with protecting Russell Wilson's blind side on an offensive line that failed the quarterback (and the running game) last season. Joeckel has a unique chance to become entrenched on a contender -- or, if he plays like he did with the Jags, be out of the league!

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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