Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season is in the books, which means the judging can begin.
Of course, that's a bit of an exaggeration, as it's actually tough to base much off just one week of game action, especially in this league. Still, it is possible to begin to gauge how some of the adjustments and personnel moves made during the offseason will play out on the turf, specifically with regard to teams that overhauled a particular position group. The new guys are no longer just unfamiliar names on a roster or fresh faces on the practice field. Now they've gotten a chance to show whether they'll be able to make an impact against real, live opponents -- or if there's reason to worry.
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As the season-opening excitement of Week 1 gives way to the now-we're-in-it grind of Week 2, let's check in on some of the overhauled position groups around the NFL. Are the early returns encouraging, or does the first reel of film show signs of trouble to come? Below, you'll find seven overhauled position groups, ranked according to how good I feel about them.
Note: Obviously, many position groups underwent major changes this offseason, and it would be impossible to cover them all. These are merely the groups that struck me as worth discussing.
1) Miami Dolphins' offensive line
The moves they made: Miami entered the season with five new starters on the line: free-agent signee Branden Albert at left tackle, former Cardinal Daryn Colledge at left guard, former Colt Samson Satele at center (filling in while Mike Pounceyrecovers from hip surgery), former Ram Shelley Smith at right guard and first-round draft pick Ja'Wuan James at right tackle.
Early verdict: Looking very good. In Sunday's upset win over the New England Patriots, the line successfully protected Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked just once all day; compare that to last season's opener, in which he was brought down by the Cleveland Brownsfour times. Needless to say, the current pace must project as quite a relief for Tannehill, coming off a season in which he took an NFL-high 58 sacks. The Fins also improved on several other facets of the offensive game. In 2013, they averaged just 90 rushing yards per game (26th in the NFL), 312.9 yards overall (27th) and posted an average time of possession of 28 minutes and 42 seconds. Against the Pats, they ran for 191 yards, racked up 360 net yards overall and held the ball for 30:27. Don't forget to give credit to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
What I need to see going forward: This unit must continue to build on its encouraging opening performance. Things should get easier if Pouncey can find his way back to the field.
2) Denver Broncos' pass defense
Early verdict: On the upswing. Roby came through in a big way Sunday night, racking up seven tackles and breaking up a pass to shut down Indy's late comeback bid. With Ward coming aboard, Denver was able to shift Rahim Moore to free safety, and he responded with two crucial picks. Ware also made his presence felt, chipping in 1.5 sacks. The eyebrow-raising 354 passing yards allowed aside, this was an encouraging showing, especially with regard to the stuff we saw from Roby.
What I need to see going forward: Fewer yards allowed. Of course, one has to consider that Denver was facing a top-five quarterback in Andrew Luck, but still; that's a lot of yards to give up.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars' receivers
Early verdict: Reason to be hopeful. Jacksonville still has plenty of work to do, but the offensive futility of 2013 -- in which the Jags averaged 10.75 points per game in the first half of the season and just 7.75 points per contest through Week 4 -- seems to be firmly in the past. Lee turned in a solid six-catch, 62-yard performance on Sunday, and, of course, Hurns turned heads with a 110-yard, two-touchdown afternoon. The positive signs by this group from the first half of the loss to Philly -- the underdogs jumped out to a 17-0 lead -- run counter to the disappointment of the second half; I'd say this rookie crop of pass catchers is definitely an upgrade.
What I need to see going forward: The Jags have to produce more and start actually outscoring people, which means notching more big plays in the passing game. They missed injured receiver Cecil Shorts on Sunday. Shorts was really the only consistent thing they had going in the air last year -- and when he returns, Shorts should benefit greatly from the presence of his new colleagues.
4) Oakland Raiders' quarterback position
Early verdict: Better luck next time out? Carr, who was brilliant in the Raiders' preseason finale, was not exactly good against the New York Jets on Sunday. But then, he wasn't exactly bad, either. He should've had a better afternoon, but his line -- 20-of-32 passing for 151 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions -- was acceptable, especially for a man making his first ever regular-season start. And we shouldn't discount the potency of the opponent; Rex Ryan improved to 8-1 against rookie quarterbacks playing their first game during his tenure as head coach of the Jets. Gang Green succeeded in mostly keeping the ball out of Carr's hands, easily winning the time of possession battle (34:50 to 25:10).
What I need to see going forward: It might be a bit too obvious to state, but Carr must eventually start winning games. Oakland's Week 2 opponent, the Houston Texans, are pretty good against the pass. If Carr can manage something like 275 yards and connect on a couple of scoring passes, that would be encouraging.
5) Washington Redskins' receivers
Early verdict: Outlook hazy.Against the Texans on Sunday, Jackson caught eight balls, but only gained 62 yards -- a clip of just 7.8 yards per catch (less than half his average for the 2013 campaign). Roberts was targeted three times and caught one pass, though it did go for 22 yards. Garcon grabbed 10 passes, but piled up just 77 yards. And, perhaps most glaringly, Washington did not score a single receiving touchdown. The Redskins also lost promising young tight end Jordan Reed to injury.
But maybe the issue is not with the new receiving corps, which is, on paper, impressive; maybe it has more to do with quarterback Robert Griffin III, who did not look like someone worthy of being drafted second overall.
What I need to see going forward: These players have the ability to make plays and score points, and the Redskinsmust do better in both areas; six-point outings obviously will not cut it. While timing might be a bit of an issue, I think ultimately it's up to RGIII to step up -- or Washington might have to change quarterbacks.
6) San Diego Chargers' cornerbacks
Early verdict: Cautiously optimistic. While the Chargers did put together a short playoff run last season, I think they recognized that if they were going to really get anywhere, they'd have to do something with their defense. And I consider Verrett and Flowers to be considerable upgrades at the cornerback position. San Diego allowed Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer to throw for a lot of yards (304) in Monday's tough loss, but we should remember that the Bolts held Arizona to 18 points, partially through satisfactory pass defense.
What I need to see going forward: Monday's yardage total is a concern, and the coming weeks -- after the Seahawks visit in Week 2, San Diego faces a string of less-than-accomplished passing attacks in the Bills, Jags, Jetsand Raiders -- will be telling. If the corners can help the Bolts slow Percy Harvin this Sunday, that would be a significant victory.
7) Chicago Bears' defensive line
Early verdict: Storm clouds gathering. In 2013, the Bears' D-line struggled mightily, posting just 31 sacks -- tied for 31st in the NFL -- and contributing to a defense that gave up a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, the overhauled unit did not step up the pace in Sunday's overtime loss to the Bills. Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel was not pressed much, taking just one sack, while Chicago yielded 193 rushing yards -- including Fred Jackson's 38-yard burst to essentially clinch the Bills' victory. Folks underestimate Buffalo, but you'd still hope to see a better performance from this Bears unit. Jeremiah Ratliff, who had five tackles, is probably the only lineman who played up to expectations. It's a cause for concern when two players you're counting on for a lot -- Houston and Allen -- combine for just two tackles. If I were the Bears, I'd be worried.
What I need to see going forward: Houston's a tough, try-hard guy, but he simply got blocked on Sunday. Both he and Allen have to pick it up and be the difference-making defensive ends they were expected to be. Ferguson must improve against the run and make an impact on the stat sheet.