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NFL Preview #2 – The Players Continued   Share

24 Aug 2010

Last week we covered some offensive players you should know about this year.  One, Brett Favre, decided to not retire and is playing one more year with the Minnesota Vikings.  We’ll see whether that was a good decision, for him and the team, as the season goes on.  You can be sure he’ll stay in the spotlight.  I’ll tell you this – if three of your buddies from the office came to your house and flew you back to town in a private jet because you thought about retirement, then threw $25 million your way, you’d at least consider sitting back down in your cubicle writing TPS reports. 
Defensive players generally don’t garner the headlines offensive players do.  Rarely do they make plays on their own.  Rarely do they get a chance to strut around the end zone in front of the cameras.  Rarely do they become difference makers on a team.  The irony is that a common football saying is that “defense wins championships.”  In my time I can’t think of a National Football League (NFL) team that won the Super Bowl with a great offense and a mediocre defense.  I can think of one that had a pedestrian offense, but a stellar defense (look up the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV back in 2000).  I have no idea why the NFL insists on using Roman numerals to enumerate the Super Bowls, but I do know about a couple defensive players you will want to know about this year.
Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis is a linebacker who plays for the aforementioned Baltimore Ravens.  As a linebacker, he plays on the defense just behind the defensive linemen.  Linebackers generally aren’t down on all fours and primarily either drop back after the snap to disrupt a pass or serve as the primary tacklers on running plays.  Ray Lewis is the quintessential linebacker.  Initially thought to be too small at 6’1” and 250 lbs, he has easily been the best linebacker to play the sport in recent memory.  He has been selected to the Pro Bowl (like an all star game) 11 times, the most for any player at his position.  He has led his team in tackles for 11 straight years, been named NFL defensive player of the year twice, and selected as the Super Bowl MVP as a defensive player, only the second to ever do so. 
Lewis is one of the most intimidating players at his position and serves as the emotional and de facto leader of the defense.  He also invented one of the best dances an NFL player has come up with.  He did have one little oopsie in 2000 at a Super Bowl Party.  Lewis was involved in an altercation with three of his friends against another group of folks, resulting in the stabbing death of two people.  Lewis agreed to sell his buddies out in exchange for a lesser sentence and was only sentenced to probation.  His buddies were actually acquitted. 

This year, Lewis will continue to lead his defense and could very well be pivotal in getting his team back to the Super Bowl.  The Baltimore Ravens are considered by many to be a Super Bowl contender.  They finally have an offense that can put points on the board.  Defense wins championships, but not if you can’t get a couple points on the board.  If Baltimore is able to put together enough games to make the play-offs, you can bet Ray Lewis will be the guy whose picture is plastered on all the headlines.
One Liner:  “Lewis might eat half the offense if they can’t get it together this year.” Referring to the offensive woes the Ravens have had despite one of the consistently best defenses in the league.

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Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu plays strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  A defense generally fields two safeties at a time, a strong and a free safety.  The strong safety is generally more physical and typically serves to defend against pass plays.  Polamalu is one of the most distinctive players on the field because of his long hair that comes half way down his back.  He is of Samoan decent and keeps his hair long in observance of his tradition.  He’s also one of the most dynamic players in the NFL.  He is wildly popular because of his aggressive play and his soft-spoken side.  He is seen as a beast on the field, but displays a quiet demeanor during interviews.  Polamalu is such a lynchpin on the team that in 2007 he was given the largest contract of all the Steelers.

This year, Pittsburgh looks to return to their winning ways, but have a tough road ahead.  Their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger (covered in NFL Preview #1) is serving a 6 month suspension.  If the Steelers are to make it to the play-offs, it will be partially on the back of Polamalu.  Troy is a game changer like few defensive players are today.  When you watch a game, it seems like he’s playing every position at once.  He rarely is out of position and nearly always makes the play.
One Liner:  “If the Steelers had 11 Polamalus, they’d win the Super Bowl with an offense made up of high school clarinet players.” Referring to how good Polamalu is.
Albert Haynesworth
Leroy has already reported on Albert Haynesworth and the drama surrounding him.  You can read his article here, so I’m just going to continue with what is becoming ridiculous.  Albert Haynesworth the gift that just keeps on giving (if you’re Jay Leno or a sportswriter).
After finally passing the conditioning test, Haynesworth has continued to be a problem.  Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has relegated him to the second team defense until he shows he can play first string.  Haynesworth has responded with complaining about more owies, sitting out practices, and complaining about not being first string.  In recent interviews after a pre-season game, the frustration was evident on both sides.  Coaches said that big Al’s time off from practice was because of headaches.  Offended because Haynesworth thought his injuries were more serious, he mocked the coaching staff saying, “I guess they’ll tell you headaches again.”  Now the Washington Post is reporting that he has a condition called rhabdomyolysis.  Whatever.  The Redskins said they weren’t aware of the condition and Coach Shanahan told the media that he’s not going to get away with not practicing and then being able to play.  In the same vein, big Al was insulted to be playing with second stringers, noting that he’s a ninth year pro.  He also said that he won’t show up for training camp again next year.
This is a classic case of a new coaching regime holding a player to a standard he isn’t used to.  Coach Shanahan has been around a long time and won’t be budging.  Haynesworth can continue to complain about his relegation to the bench, but unless he starts to perform, he’ll be paid a lot of money to guard the Gatorade cooler.  This drama will end in one of two ways.  Either Haynesworth will finally get over his “condition” and perform for the team, or he’ll get traded.  In the end, he really isn’t a game changer for a defense like Ray Lewis or Troy Polamalu are. Right now he’s only causing more problems. This should serve as interesting drama for the next few weeks.

Personally, I think it’s great to see the over-paid, self-absorbed football player taught a little about being a member of a team.  Way to go, Coach – I’m with ya.
One Liner:  “I think rhabdomyolysis is a condition where you just can’t stop crying.” Referring to Albert Haynesworth’s reported condition, preventing him from giving 100% effort.

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