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Vets feeling heat with rookies on board

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted May 04, 2010 @ 10:32 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

The draft is in the rearview mirror, but not for everyone. Several veterans’ positions with their respective teams now have changed dramatically based on what has happened. Out with the old, in with the new — it happens every year at this time.

Minicamps are going on coast to coast, and those shiny new rookies are looking the part in shorts and helmets. They won’t all succeed, but that doesn’t mean their presence doesn’t point out some teams’ dissatisfaction in the veterans that these rookies might one day replace. Here are five veteran players who should be most concerned with their status, given what their teams did in the draft.

Panthers QB Matt Moore

When the Panthers released Jake Delhomme, it appeared that Moore had a firm grasp on the starter’s job. After all, the team had no other quarterback with NFL starting experience and no first-round pick. Plus, other needs appeared more pressing than quarterback.

But the surprising fall of Jimmy Clausen to the Panthers at No. 48 changed the dynamics of the situation completely. Head coach John Fox now has changed his tune slightly, saying that Moore is the starter going into training camp, but it is clear that he’ll have to fend off Clausen.

It’s way too early to suggest that Clausen will win this job to start the season, but he has more natural ability than Moore and comes from an offense with plenty of overlap. Jeff Davidson learned much of his craft in New England under then-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who, of course, was Clausen’s coach at Notre Dame.

Change has been a theme this offseason in Carolina, and it may only be a matter of time before Clausen is a big part of the new-look Panthers.

Cowboys WR Roy Williams

As if Williams weren’t already within the crosshairs in Dallas, he now finds himself looking squarely down the barrel of the gun, with rookie WR Dez Bryant in the fold. Williams has done little to date. In 25 games (20 starts) with the Cowboys, he has only 57 receptions for 794 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s fewer catches and yards than Miles Austin had in his nine starts last season.

Bryant comes with some baggage, but most of his problems at Oklahoma State were overblown. He’s immature and carries quite a bit of responsibility and expectations heading into his rookie season, but he’s more talented than Williams and will have a great shot of beating him out in training camp.

As long as Bryant can earn Tony Romo’s trust by running consistent routes and getting open — things Williams has failed to do consistently since arriving — he should flourish. This offense is still based on the pass (the Cowboys threw it 57 percent of the time last season), and even with Austin and TE Jason Witten there, Romo should have plenty of passes to throw the rookie’s way.

Giants DE Osi Umenyiora

If you think things are fine between Umenyiora and the Giants, think again. The veteran is still at odds with the coaching staff — even though there’s a new defensive coordinator in Perry Fewell — about what happened last season. Umenyiora was benched for poor play, and based on the tape it was the right call. He was poor against the run, and his pass rush slowed down after a solid start. But ask Umenyiora, and he believes he should be starting.

The drafting of DE Jason Pierre-Paul might have been independent of this whole situation, just as taking Mathias Kiwanuka four years ago when the team had Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Umenyiora was a matter of not passing on the best pass-rush talent available. But neither is it a vote of confidence for the disgruntled veteran.

Although Tom Coughlin said on draft weekend that Umenyiora would not be traded, there’s no guarantee he’ll return to the starting lineup or see a major increase in snaps. As Fewell said last week, he’s not married to the idea of rotating all of his defensive linemen — in other words, the best players will play the majority of the snaps. “You know, all those guys have an opinion of what they’d like to do,” Fewell said. “I would like for their dreams to come true, too. If they want to start, hey, prove it. We’re going to have a lot of football, a lot of practice. Let’s just prove it, and I think that’ll take care of itself.”

Lions RB Kevin Smith

There were whispers coming out of Detroit last season that the serviceable, hard-running Smith might not be in the future plans of head coach Jim Schwartz. Not that he didn’t like Smith, but that the Lions felt they could do better. Smith simply doesn’t ring up big plays, and all the bruising he took with a heavy workload in college has hurt him some in the pros. Now Smith is coming off ACL surgery, and the team isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to go at the start of training camp.

Enter Jahvid Best, who not only has that explosive speed Smith lacks but who also has been cleared medically after a college career with hip, foot, elbow and toe injuries. Not to mention a concussion when he landed on his head. The Lions took Best ahead of some talented defensive players because they believe he’s just as dangerous as C.J. Spiller at half the cost.

They also think Best can return Smith to the role he appears made for: a change-of-pace inside runner who gets 8-12 carries a game. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is not out of a job here. He just might not be the Lions’ starter for very long. Of course, because Best has excellent receiving skills, you could see him and Smith (once he’s healthy, of course) on the field at the same time. We’ll just know who the real threat of the two is.

Broncos QB Kyle Orton

Welcome back from Saturn. Did you hear that the Broncos took Tim Tebow in Round One of the draft? Yes, it appears that Orton’s lot in life is being known as the guy whom NFL teams are perennially trying to replace. Just good enough to be a starter but not gifted enough to be thought of as a player whom teams can build around.

Orton is coming off his best season, with 21 TDs, fewer than one turnover commited per game and nearly 4,000 yards passing. But that didn’t stop the Broncos from making one of the boldest moves in the club’s draft history by taking Tebow near the bottom of the first round. Orton probably won’t lose his job any time soon, but he is far from guaranteed anything. All it will take is a losing streak, and you know whom the columnists and fans will be calling for. Hint: His name is not Brady Quinn.

You can win with a quarterback such as Orton, but it requires a coach to believe in him. Right now, Josh McDaniels believes in Tebow long term. He might believe in Orton for the time being, but how long is that for, exactly? At least Orton got a few new toys in rookie WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to play with … for one season, anyway.


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