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Training Camp Should be a Hoot

More by Ed Fulda
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I know it's still early. After all, the team is still going through the "voluntary" practices and mini camp is coming up soon. This, however, will be the most important training camp the team has gone to since 1989 and the team that comes out of it will be under the microscope all season. Not that anyone is overly worried about the offense other than the fact that several key players are well over 30 years old. The defense is a totally different matter, however.

Head Coach Dick Vermeil and his staff have yet to field even a mediocre defense. Last year's decision to only re-sign all its own free agents backfired disastrously. Money, and lots of it, was spent this off season to acquire the kind of players needed to finally fix the defense. The question is whether it was enough.

The defensive line will look only slightly different this season. DE Carlos Hall, obtained in a trade with the Titans, was a nice addition but his lack of size relegates him to a supporting role. Hopefully, he can spell Jared Allen and Eric Hicks effectively enough to give the team a reliable 3-man rotation. At defensive tackle, the team desperately needs the light to click on for Ryan Sims. Junior Siavii needs to stay healthy. Lionel Dalton can't revert to the level of effort that he displayed in Denver and Washington.

Major changes are in store at linebacker. Rookie Derrick Johnson will end up starting at some point during the season. Kendrell Bell will be an impact player if - and that's a big if - he can stay healthy. Scott Fujita needs to play more aggressively. Keyaron Fox was noted for his athleticism, speed, and aggressiveness in college but did little his rookie year. Kawika Mitchell can't afford to play like he did last season. He must tackle better and he has to be able to make his reads more quickly. I would not be surprised if Mitchell loses his starting job to Rich Scanlon before training camp ends, but Scanlon is also very young and has even less experience than Mitchell does. Boomer Grigsby may end up being the answer in the middle, but his rookie contributions will be limited to special teams. Unfortunately, I just can't see Mike Maslowski making it all the way back from his knee injury. I expect Shawn Barber to open the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List and possibly stay on it for the entire year. Depth will

The secondary will also see major changes. Patrick Surtain finally gives the team a legitimate cover corner. Eric Warfield, provided he isn't suspended by the League for substance abuse, should prove to be an adequate number 2 corner. Dexter McCleon, who was horrendous as a starter, moves to his more natural spot as the 3rd corner. Julian Battle's season-ending injury means that Alphonso Hodge will have to be the 4th corner. William Bartee, an incredibly slow-to-develop player, is being moved to safety in an attempt to get some production from him. Sammy Knight will be the new starter on the strong side while last year's starters, Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods, will battle to see which one starts at Free Safety. Back ups Willie Pile and Shaunard Harts also return.

Overall, the talent level on defense has improved. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of questions to be answered and there is a good chance that this will turn out to be year one of a multi-year rebuilding plan. Still, it should prove to be a really interesting camp to watch.

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