He's next in line, but DeSean Jackson is keeping quiet

Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have knocked out a contract for Michael Vick, the expectation is that a deal for DeSean Jackson will follow.

But whatever is happening – or isn’t happening – in that regard remains a mystery. That’s just how the Eagles want to keep it and after a brief contract holdout at the start of training camp, Jackson has vowed to keep quiet.

I've got two years left on my deal,” Eagles president Joe Banner joked, according to the Allentown Morning Call, when he was asked if another big contract would follow on the heels of the one for quarterback Michael Vick. “We've always tried to keep those conversations confidential. We just think it's in everybody's best interest. We understand the interest, but I think it's best for the players and for us to keep whatever contract conversations we're having or not confidential.”

Fair enough. Is the team even engaged with Jackson’s agent Drew Rosenhaus in talks?

“Whatever conversations — or not — will be kept confidential,” Banner reiterated.

The Eagles are dealing with a tight salary cap situation even after doing a deal for Vick, which lowered his cap number for this season. Jackson is doing the right thing at the moment but we’ve got to believe if something isn’t resolved by midseason, we’ll be hearing from him again. Maybe a deal gets completed in the next few weeks.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Why is Torrey Smith struggling in Baltimore?

I’m not surprised that Torrey Smith is struggling with the Ravens. Transitioning to the NFL at the WR position is a process—sometimes a long one—that involves the Xs and Os of the game, plus the much-needed experience of working vs. pro defensive backs.

Torrey Smith Raves rookie Torrey Smith isn't going to transition to the NFL game overnight.

You don’t get that at the college level. Base coverages and CBs that will play off-man (with a soft cushions) vs. WRs that can run. It was too easy for Smith to use his elite speed and vertical concepts vs. ACC competition on Saturdays.

Not anymore. You have to beat press-coverage vs. DBs that are excellent with their hands. Adjust route schemes vs. Cover 2, Cover 3, etc. See pressure, run the hot route and win at the line of scrimmage.

That won’t happen today or even tomorrow for Smith. He needs more time to learn this game at the NFL level. Vertical speed is one thing, but the ability to run the entire route tree, understand the concepts of the playbook and produce are part of the job on Sundays.

However, it is far too early for Ravens fans to give up on this guy. One preseason doesn’t tell the entire story. Never has for a rookie. What you want to see is the improvement—every day.

The same reason both John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron stood up for their draft pick recently, with the head coach saying: “Just lay off the kid and let him develop and become the player that he’s going to be.”

I can agree with that. You talk to any NFL scout and they will tell you that the “arrow always has to be pointing up,” when it comes to rookies. Every practice you want to see them do something to improve their overall game in a positive way.

Remember, there is a reason the Ravens traded for Lee Evans. They need that vertical threat today in their game plan. Eventually it will be the rookie from Maryland—but he isn’t there just yet.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Ochocinco struggles to learn Patriots' system

Confidence and commentary are just two of the things wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has become known for over the course of his NFL career.

But as he has made the move from the lowly Cincinnati Bengals to the perennial playoff power New England Patriots, Ochocinco is finding out the transition isn’t as easy as he might have believed it would be.

According to the Boston Herald, Ochocinco is spending lots of extra time in the film room and studying his playbook because there is so much more he is required to know in order to operate successfully in Bill Belichick’s system.

Just three weeks in, Ochocinco admits it is a struggle at times, and that struggle appears to have the normally loose and loquacious wideout “tight and tense,” said Herald writer Karen Guregian.

“I think it’s my third week. Let’s be realistic,” Ochocinco said. “It’s the highest levels of football. It’s not easy.”

Follow me on Twitter @TitanInsider247 and@terrymc13

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

Ochocinco struggles to learn Patriots' system

Confidence and commentary are just two of the things wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has become known for over the course of his NFL career.

But as he has made the move from the lowly Cincinnati Bengals to the perennial playoff power New England Patriots, Ochocinco is finding out the transition isn’t as easy as he might have believed it would be.

According to the Boston Herald, Ochocinco is spending lots of extra time in the film room and studying his playbook because there is so much more he is required to know in order to operate successfully in Bill Belichick’s system.

Just three weeks in, Ochocinco admits it is a struggle at times, and that struggle appears to have the normally loose and loquacious wideout “tight and tense,” said Herald writer Karen Guregian.

“I think it’s my third week. Let’s be realistic,” Ochocinco said. “It’s the highest levels of football. It’s not easy.”

Follow me on Twitter @TitanInsider247 and@terrymc13

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

Jahvid Best will get work in preseason finale

After sitting out the team’s third preseason game as a precaution because of a concussion, running back Jahvid Best will play Thursday night at Buffalo.

He was injured on a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Cleveland Browns in the second week of preseason, but Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz wants to get him at least a little bit of work before the regular season begins. There is a lot of optimism in Detroit this season but there are questions whether or not the team will be able to run the ball.

I'm just looking forward to playing again,” Best said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Whether I get a big shot or don't even get touched — hopefully I don't even get touched — I'm not worried about that at all.

“It's always important to me just to go out there and get a feel for everything. Just work on the timing and everything. Just get a feel for the flow of the game before the real season starts. And then we're all just full steam ahead.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune</em>

The NFP Big Board

A preseason breakdown of the top-50 senior prospects from the six major BCS conferences based off my summer of tape study.

Enjoy.

1. DE Quinton Coples: North Carolina (6-6, 278)
Can be as good as he wants to be in the NFL. The game comes very easy to him and he can be dominant in the NFL if he learns to use his hands/length better. The sky is the limit.

IrvinICONIrvin is a terror off the edge.

2. DE Bruce Irvin: West Virginia (6-2, 245)
A similar type athlete to Von Miller off the edge, but might be a little more natural as a pass rusher to be honest. Looks like an impact caliber kid as a 34-rush guy in the NFL, if he can continue to keep himself clean off the field. However, plays hungry and looks like he’s out to prove people wrong.

3. LB Courtney Upshaw: Alabama (6-2, 263)
I like him as a 34 outside backer who can play on the strong side, take on linemen at the point and also rush the passer. He’s at his best attacking downhill, using his strong hands to disengage and always is around the football. Looks like a year one starter to me at the next level with scheme versatility and impact potential.

4. WR Jeff Fuller: Texas A&M (6-4, 215)
An NFL ready receiver who should develop into a very capable number one threat at the next level.

5. QB Ryan Tannehill: Texas A&M (6-4, 220)
He’s smart, athletic, can make all the throws and the team really responded to him. His flaws are correctable and it’s crazy to think where this guy could be in five years with more experience and coaching. A potential franchise quarterback in my mind.

6. DT Alameda Ta’amu: Washington (6-3, 335)
This is the kind of guy who has the ability to anchor the middle of an NFL defense in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front. Needs to do a better job finding the football, but overall he looks like a starter you can win because of at the next level.

7. DE Melvin Ingram: South Carolina (6-2, 271)
A shorter, compact defender with a long set of arms, an explosive pop into contact and knows how to get after the quarterback in a number of ways. Plays fast in tight quarters and possesses an impressive pass-rushing repertoire.

8. DT Brandon Thompson: Clemson (6-2, 310)
A prospect who should be able to come in and win inside vs. the run game early on in his NFL career. Looks a bit limited as a pass rusher, but will be able to push the pocket and projects as a starting caliber 43 nose inside.

9. WR Michael Floyd: Notre Dame (6-3, 220) Wasn’t quite as dynamic as a pass catcher when he bulked up to 227, however, if he can lean himself out and improve on his stellar 2009-year, he could end up being the top wide out to come off the board come April.

10. CB Chase Minnifield: Virginia (6-0, 188)
A talented corner who can bend, re-direct, maintain balance out of his breaks and make plays on the football. Improved as the year went on in 2010 and looks like one of the more NFL ready corners in this year’s draft. Should be able to start in just about any scheme.

11. LB Lavonte David: Nebraska (6-1, 220)
He’s undersized, but really instinctive. Might be limited to more of a cover two type scheme only at the next level, but looks like a starting caliber weak side guy to me early in his NFL career.

12. CB Alfonzo Dennard: Nebraska (5-10, 205)
He’s strong/feisty, can press off the line and turn and run. Needs to clean up some technical flaws both in press and off the line, which hinders his balance. But can be a guy who could start both on the outside and play in the slot at the next level.

13. NT Josh Chapman: Alabama (6-1, 310)
Has the making of a starting caliber nose at the next level in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front. Can consistently anchor on contact, is long armed and tough to move off the football. Also, is a better pass rusher than given credit for.

14. WR Greg Childs: Arkansas (6-3, 217)
He knows what he is and plays to his strengths. Looks like a big, coordinated possession type receiver at the next level who can win in the three-step game and create some big plays for a team in jump ball situations as well.

15. OLB Travis Lewis: Oklahoma (6-2, 233)
He’s a bit undersized and doesn’t tackle as well as you would like inside the box. However, he’s a good run and hit backer who plays the run well and will be able to make plays vs. the pass game in the NFL. Looks like a day one starter to me as a 43 backer, either on the weak side or possibly in the middle.

16. DT Kheeston Randall: Texas (6-5, 295)
Is an impressive bender for his size with the skill set to start as either a 34 DE or 43 one gaping tackle. Could develop into an impact defensive lineman if he works at it.

17. TE Coby Fleener: Stanford (6-6, 248)
An impressive pass catcher who can win both down the field and underneath vs. man coverage. Has the frame and flexibility to develop into a solid blocker as well and looks like a future starting caliber NFL TE.

18. OT Zebrie Sanders: Florida Stat (6-5, 307)
A natural athlete who can bend and is coordinated/patient into contact. Possesses a good amount of upside as well and looks like a starter on either side of the O-line at the next level.

DatkoICONDatko and Sanders are a talented pair of teammates.

19. OT Andrew Datko: Florida State (6-6, 315)
Has some technique work to do in pass protection, but is a gifted athlete who can bend, re-direct and block in space. Looks like an NFL caliber starting left tackle, but might need a year to adjust and get stronger. Is a similar, yet better prospect in my mind than Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo.

20. OT Levy Adcock: Oklahoma State (6-5, 322)
Needs to clean up his footwork in pass protection, but he’s coordinated, can bend and should improve with time. Looks like a guy who is ideally suited to play right tackle, but I could see him being effective as a guard or left tackle as well. Should be able to start at a number of spots early on.

21. OLB Zach Brown: North Carolina (6-2, 230)
A run and hit backer with impressive athleticism and range. Possesses solid instincts and is a better read and react linebacker than given credit for, but is still not elite in that area. Nevertheless, looks like a starting caliber 43 weak side guy who would be ideal in a cover two scheme.

2
2. OC Mike Brewster: Ohio State (6-4, 305)

A seasoned starter who displays good size, hand placement and bend for the position. Looks like at worst, a dirty starter in the NFL that you can win with.

23. OG Lucas Nix: Pittsburgh (6-5, 310)
A good athlete for the position who can win in the pass game and seal lanes inside as a run blocker as well. Has some upside as a power player moving opposing linemen off the ball and looks like a capable starter in the NFL.

24. OG Kevin Zeitler: Wisconsin (6-4, 320)
A tough, strong in-line guy who you can run behind and also has some coordination on the move. Not as effective in the pass game, but can mature into an average NFL pass blocker if he learns to get off the ball more consistently. Looks like a gritty type starter early on in his NFL career.

25. C Ben Jones: Georgia (6-3, 316)
I think he would be better suited to play guard at the next level because of his struggles to hold his own inside when asked to quickly snap, step and get a push in the run game. However, is a coordinated athlete on the move, can mirror through contact and looks like a dirty starter. But, isn’t the type of top tier center prospect many are making him out to be at this stage.

26. OG Cordy Glenn: Georgia (6-5, 348)
A massive guard prospect who struggles with leverage in the run game. But can keep the pocket clean inside in pass protection because of his size/strength and natural athleticism. Moves well for his size and looks like a potential starter inside for a team who values bigger guard prospects.

27. TE Michael Egnew: Missouri (6-6, 245)
Has a big frame and the skill set to learn to play with his hand on the ground, but is going to need time. However, can come in from day one and be used as an “off the line Y” and create miss matches in the pass game.

28. DE Brandon Lindsey: Pittsburgh (6-2, 250)
A good athlete with a strong frame who knows how to reach the quarterback in a number of ways. Has some upside and looks ideally suited as a 34 OLB at the next level with a starting caliber skill set.

29. RB Cyrus Gray: Texas A&M (5-10, 200)
An instinctive, well put together back with natural running skills inside. Isn’t ever going to be a cowbell at the next level and isn’t overly dynamic in the open field. But can certainly be productive in a two back system in the NFL.

30. DT Kaleb Ramsey: Boston College (6-3, 302)
A strong kid who plays low, uses his long arms well and can routinely overpower on contact. Isn’t ever going to me an impact pass rusher, but can push the pocket and has some two gap ability as a 43 tackle. More of a 43 nose but is versatile enough to see reps at a number of spots in either a 43 or 34 front.

31. LB Emmanuel Acho: Texas (6-2, 240)
Isn’t a dynamic straight-line athlete, but plays faster because of instincts. Is a good tackler, can shed blocks and plays stronger than his frame would indicate. Has the versatility to play a number of spots in a 4-3 scheme or get some looks inside in a 34. Looks like a future starter in the NFL either way.

ToonICONToon is a better athlete than given credit for.

32. WR Nick Toon: Wisconsin (6-2, 215)
I like his size, short area quickness and ability to adjust to the football. Isn’t a guy who is going to create consistently down the field. But, knows how to gain enough separation, pluck and create after the catch. Looks like a prospect who can play on the outside as a legit number two wide out running the inward breaking routes, just isn’t ever going to be a dynamic playmaker.

33. OT Markus Zusevics: Iowa (6-5, 300)
A “plus” run blocker who more than held his own in the pass game. Quickly gets off the football, generates a snap into contact and improved his pad level sitting into his stance as the year went on. Looks like a starting caliber offensive lineman –either at guard or tackle- in the NFL with a year or two of seasoning.

34. CB Jamell Fleming: Oklahoma (5-11, 191)
He’s a balanced, coordinated kid who keeps his feet under him when changing directions and can turn and run. Doesn’t give up much separation, knows how to make plays on the football and if he can improve as a tackler looks like a guy who warrants a starting job in the NFL down the lin

35. DT Devon Still: Penn State (6-4, 311)
I can see why some talent evaluators have this guy ranked so high because the talent is most definitely there. However, I have some concerns about his motor and overall passion for the game that make me think he might not ever live up to that gifted physical skill set. Can be as good as he wants in the NFL and is capable of playing at a number of spots in both a 43 and 34 front. But, needs to put it all together.

36. WR Dwight Jones: North Carolina (6-4, 225)
Really came into his own during the second half as the year. Runs well, accelerates quickly for a big receiver and possesses natural fluidity to his game as well. Needs to improve as a route runner, but the talent is there for this guy to be a play making type starting wide out in the NFL.

37. DE Trevor Guyton: Cal (6-3, 289)
A guy who can fill a number of roles on a defense. He’s a naturally powerful kid who can anchor and overwhelm vs. the run game. Needs to improve his hands and awareness, but the upside is there for him to move up boards in a big way with a strong senior year.

38. WR Juron Criner: Arizona (6-4, 215)
He’s a talent, there is no doubt about that. However, the key in determining his draft stock if where he’s at mentally. If healthy he can be a legit starting wide out on the outside early in his NFL career.

39. DB Robert Golden: Arizona (5-11, 200)
Might be limited to more of a cover two/click and close type scheme, but he does have some developing press coverage skills. Also, has a lot of value as a safety as he can anticipate in the deep half, drive on throws under him and play over a receiver in nickel situations. Looks like a dirty starter either at safety or corner.

40. SS Tony Dye: UCLA (5-11, 206)
Isn’t an elite athlete, but plays faster than he times. Will tackle consistently and is coordinated in coverage. Looks like a potential special teams stud who with some time should be able to fight his way into a starting line-up as a strong safety.

41. SS Harrison Smith: Notre Dame (6-2, 214) He’s a thicker kid who can really tackle, gets good jumps in the pass game and will make plays on the football. Is a little tight by NFL standards, but his instincts are very good and he should earn a starting job at the next level as a strong safety.

42. DT Kendall Reyes: Con
necticut (6-4, 299)

A strong kid with a good amount of athletic upside. Isn’t the kind of pass rusher you want as a three technique. However, looks like a potential starter as a one gap nose and if he improves his hands, has the anchor and skill set to play as a 34 DE as well. Lot of natural talent and untapped potential to his game.

43. CB Coryell Judie: Texas A&M (5-11, 188)
He’s a naturally gifted athlete with good range and great ball skills. Displays enough fluidity and balance to develop as a man-to-man corner, but looks ideally suited for a cover two type role at this stage that allows him to attack the football and create turnovers. An eventual starter in that type of scheme.

44. S Markelle Martin: Oklahoma State (6-0, 198)
A gifted athlete with a good burst and range in the deep half. However, wastes motion out of his breaks and isn’t a very good open field tackler. Possesses slightly above-average instincts, but will make more plays on the football when he tightens up his footwork. A potential starter only at this stage because of his intriguing athleticism.

45. OLB Sean Spence: Miami (5-11, 224)
A gifted sideline-to-sideline athlete who looks natural in space and can make plays off his frame. Size is a concern, but looks like a starter in a cover two scheme who can play three downs in the NFL

CrickICONCrick plays too high to be a top-tier prospect.

46. DL Jared Crick: Nebraska (6-6, 285)
Isn’t a guy who can hold up vs. the run inside in the NFL and isn’t a dynamic pass rusher either. However, as a base DE I can see him finding a home with some versatility on 3rd down. Looks more like a rotational NFL lineman to me and potential starter only.

47. WR Ryan Broyles: Oklahoma (5-11, 187)
Isn’t a legit number one type wide out and isn’t a guy who I would even play on the outside routinely in the NFL. However, demonstrates the polish and quickness needed to separate underneath and should be a solid contributor early inside for an NFL offense.

48. OLB/SS Kenny Tate: Maryland (6-4, 220) I’m not a huge fan of taller safeties, so in my mind his best spot might be to add weight and play as a 43 OLB in the NFL. He’s an athletic, naturally powerful kid who uses his long arms to shed and tackles well on the football. Plus, he’s got good ball skills and instincts, and I can definitely see him making plays sideline-to-sideline as a cover two backer.

49. OL Kelechi Osemele: Iowa State (6-5, 354)
A big, thick kid with natural strength, athleticism and can bend. However, looks better suited to kick inside to guard where he can play in tighter quarters and focus on his technique more so than worrying about speed off the edge.

50. QB Brandon Weeden: Oklahoma State (6-4 218)
His age will likely keep him from going as early in the draft as his talents deserve. But there isn’t a throw this guy can’t make and he has the skill set and mental make-up to mature into a potential starter with some time.

Follow me on twitter: @WesBunting

Drew Brees says Saints talking extension for him

Peyton Manning’s contract extension came along just in time.

Ditto Michael Vick’s new deal.

It’s all going to help Drew Brees, who said his agent Tom Condon and the New Orleans Saints remain in talks about a new contract for the team’s undisputed leader. Brees is entering the final season of a $60 million, six-year contract.

I did see it,” Brees said of Vick's contract, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It looks like a nice contract. Obviously I don't know any of the details other than the six years and $100 million.”

Maybe Brees is the next quarterback to join the $100 million club, although the Vick numbers are inflated by a final year that will void.

“They've been in discussions,” Brees said. “That's been ongoing.”

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Are the 49ers taking a big risk with Gore?

When Frank Gore was a rookie, he took a basic Lead Strong, used his vision to cut back vs. a Cover 2 front, hit the alley and ran right past the safety—on the way to a long TD. A big time play.

That safety now chasing from behind? The one that couldn't close the gap?

Frank GoreICONDid the 49ers take a future risk by signing Gore to a three-year extension?

Yeah, that was me.

I blamed it on ACL rehab (which was a lie), but I had no chance of cutting the angle to Gore. And to be honest, I didn’t expect him to cut back and use his speed to jump to the second level of the defense like that.

But here’s my question: after signing a three-year extension in San Fran on Tuesday, can Gore still do that on a consistent basis?

He is now 28-years old and has taken some hits. Add in the injuries (fractured hip in 2010) and I am wondering if the RB is worth that type of investment.

Gore is going to cash out with $21-million million in new money ($13 million guaranteed). Not near the contract that the Panthers handed out to DeAngelo Williams (5-years, $43-million, $21 million guaranteed), and still less that I expect to see the Bears pay out to Matt Forte—eventually.

But as I have said before when discussing the contract situation with Chris Johnson and the Titans, RBs just don’t last. Those treads on the tires wear down and the hits start to add up. Open field speed (plus the quickness in the hole) begins to diminish.

When that happens, it is time to make a switch at the position with young, fresh talent.

No question that Niners fans should be excited that a contract is done. Now they get their guy back on the field without talk of guarantees or holdouts. And when healthy, Gore can play some football. Runs with low pad level, can cutback against pursuit and goes hard through the hole.

But don’t kid yourself, because there is some risk involved here. San Francisco just handed out some guaranteed money to a player with an injury history. And he plays a position that doesn't always give you the return on your investment.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Are the 49ers taking a big risk with Gore?

When Frank Gore was a rookie, he took a basic Lead Strong, used his vision to cut back vs. a Cover 2 front, hit the alley and ran right past the safety—on the way to a long TD. A big time play.

That safety now chasing from behind? The one that couldn't close the gap?

Frank GoreICONDid the 49ers take a future risk by signing Gore to a three-year extension?

Yeah, that was me.

I blamed it on ACL rehab (which was a lie), but I had no chance of cutting the angle to Gore. And to be honest, I didn’t expect him to cut back and use his speed to jump to the second level of the defense like that.

But here’s my question: after signing a three-year extension in San Fran on Tuesday, can Gore still do that on a consistent basis?

He is now 28-years old and has taken some hits. Add in the injuries (fractured hip in 2010) and I am wondering if the RB is worth that type of investment.

Gore is going to cash out with $21-million million in new money ($13 million guaranteed). Not near the contract that the Panthers handed out to DeAngelo Williams (5-years, $43-million, $21 million guaranteed), and still less that I expect to see the Bears pay out to Matt Forte—eventually.

But as I have said before when discussing the contract situation with Chris Johnson and the Titans, RBs just don’t last. Those treads on the tires wear down and the hits start to add up. Open field speed (plus the quickness in the hole) begins to diminish.

When that happens, it is time to make a switch at the position with young, fresh talent.

No question that Niners fans should be excited that a contract is done. Now they get their guy back on the field without talk of guarantees or holdouts. And when healthy, Gore can play some football. Runs with low pad level, can cutback against pursuit and goes hard through the hole.

But don’t kid yourself, because there is some risk involved here. San Francisco just handed out some guaranteed money to a player with an injury history. And he plays a position that doesn't always give you the return on your investment.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

2011 Big 12 preview

The National Football Post continues its College Football Kickoff Week with the third of six BCS conference previews. Today, the Big 12.

Let’s take a look at how the conference could shake out this season, in order of strength of team.

Oklahoma: Head coach Bob Stoops has his team positioned as the No. 1 team in both the USA Today and AP Top 25 polls, and the Sooners are No. 2 in the NFP’s preseason Top 25 poll. Despite losing offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to the head-coaching job at Indiana, the offense is in good hands with co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. The duo will keep this offense productive behind quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles. And while all-purpose DeMarco Murray has departed, Roy Finch and Co. will be running behind an experienced offensive line. Defensively, the Sooners started to play better as the 2010 season came to a close, but OU will have to weather the storm without star linebacker Travis Lewis for about the first third of the season, while end Ronnell Lewis remains questionable because of a personal issue. If the Sooners get by Florida State in Tallahassee, only the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State stands between them and a trip to New Orleans.

Brandon WeedenICONBrandon Weeden leads a prolific Cowboys offense.

Oklahoma State: Like rival Oklahoma, the Cowboys will continue to roll offensively despite the loss of Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia. New coordinator Todd Monken has not changed much, as there wasn’t a whole lot to tinker with on this explosive offense. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon lead a returning pack of starters on offense, and either one could find himself with a seat in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony at the end of the season. Running back Kendall Hunter is tough to replace — he was one of the more underappreciated backs in the country — but sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will form a productive 1-2 combo in the backfield. Randle recorded 89 all-purpose yards per game last season while Smith’s straight-ahead style helped him find the end zone seven times in 2010. The major question for the Cowboys is whether or not Bill Young’s defense is good enough to claim a Big 12 championship. OSU needs to be better defensively on third down, and that starts with getting a consistent pass rush from the front four. If not, we could see the Cowboys live and die with the blitz.

Texas A&M: Are the Aggies the most hated team in the Big 12? Well, more than likely, as it looks increasingly like A&M is this year’s Nebraska — one foot out the door en route to the SEC. On the field, Mike Sherman’s squad should enjoy a productive season with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running backs Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and receivers Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu headlining a prolific offense. But it will be up to second-year coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s defensive unit to give A&M a chance at a league title. Linebacker Von Miller will be difficult to replace, but the Aggies have a veteran-laden defense that should be more comfortable in their scheme. Most importantly, the entire secondary that started the Cotton Bowl game against LSU is back.

Missouri: James Franklin takes over for Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, and the dual-threat signal-caller is about the only question mark on a Missouri squad going under the radar nationally. Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith should help make up for the loss of defensive end Aldon Smith, and there is good depth all around up front. The secondary also returns two starters from a unit that played much better last season. We know that the offense will do its part, as is always the case in Columbia. But Mizzou will be an intriguing squad this fall because of its defense, as we saw in the highly anticipated game against top-ranked Oklahoma last fall.

Texas: Mack Brown used his team’s 5-7 disastrous 2010 campaign to reassess the program, and he struck gold by bringing in new coordinators Bryan Harsin from Boise State and Manny Diaz from Mississippi State. Now the question is whether he will get the desired results. On defense, Diaz will work with plenty of talent such as four-year starter at safety Blake Gideon, linebacker Emmanuel Acho, end Alex Okafor and tackle Kheeston Randall. And with that talent, Diaz will present the opposition with multiple looks — a controlled chaos that will wreak havoc on offenses. Speaking of offense, the Longhorns clearly must perform better than they did last fall. While all the talk was about the competition for the starting job under center, which was won by Garrett Gilbert, the Longhorns’ fate rests in the hands of a rushing attack that must be more productive behind an offensive line that needs to play more physical. Can top 2011 recruit Malcolm Brown make an instant impact?

Texas Tech: Tommy Tuberville is putting his stamp on the Red Raiders as he enters his second season replacing Mike Leach. Upon arrival in Lubbock, the former Auburn head coach stated that he wanted to run the ball more effectively while keeping the passing attack just as potent. The team has good backfield depth, especially after bringing in their best batch of backs perhaps in decades in the latest recruiting class. And expect more sets with tight ends. Of course, the Red Raiders have too many weapons to stray away from their customary aerial attack, so new starting quarterback Seth Doege will have plenty of chances to put up numbers. The real issue in Lubbock is on defense, where new coordinator Chad Glasgow must get his unit to play faster than it did in 2010. The former secondary coach at TCU may need another recruiting class, however, to bring more speed and better playmakers into the program. But the Gary Patterson disciple is too good of a coach not to take a horrid defensive unit and make it respectable.

Robert Griffin IIIICONRobert Griffin III and the Bears will score points. But can they stop the opposition?

Baylor: The Bears have one of the nation’s elite players in Robert Griffin III, and the dual-threat signal-caller has playmakers all around him on offense. Expect an exciting season for RGIII, who would be more well-known nationally if he didn’t play in Waco. But the real question is whether new coordinator Phil Bennett can shore up a defensive unit that was embarrassed in its bowl loss to Illinois. The Bears are solid up front with nose guard Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and ends Gary Mason, Jr., and Tevin Elliot. But how will Baylor do against the pass? The Bears will employ a nickel back position this season in their new scheme.

Kansas State: Junior Collin Klein will be Bill Snyder’s starting quarterback in Manhattan after winning a competition that went down to the wire. Klein, who is an accomplished rusher, will get help in the backfield from Tennessee transfer Bryce Brown. Many football fans, especially those in Knoxville, are wondering if Brown will develop into a top-tier running back. John Hubert and Angelo Pease could also receive a nice amount of carries unless Brown races away from the pack. They will be running behind an offensive line that replaces three starters. Can the defense play well enough to get this team to a bowl game for the second year in a row? That’s the bi
g question, especially against the run. Opponents averaged 231.4 yards per game last season against the Wildcats, which was the second-worst in the country. Junior tackle Meshak Williams must be the leader of the defensive front, while freshman Ian Seau — nephew of former NFL All-Pro Junior Seau — could contribute as well.

Iowa State: Austen Arnaud’s eligibility finally ran out in Ames, so the offense will be led by new signal-caller Steele Jantz, who has a great name and should be exciting to watch this fall. But who will step up on offense to give Jantz some playmakers? Aaron Horne broke out this spring at receiver, hauling in eight catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. But the Cyclones will need more firepower, especially to compensate for a defense that recorded just 11 sacks in 2010. Linebacker Jake Knott is the best player on the unit and fourth-year starter Leonard Johnson is one of the best cover corners in the league, but Iowa State faces a difficult slate of games in 2011.

Kansas: Head coach Turner Gill has stressed throughout the offseason the need for more speed on the field. He wants the Jayhawks to play much faster in all phases — offense, defense and special teams. Kansas was grilled in most of its contests in 2010, and it’s going to take time for Gill to get things turned around in Lawrence. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb, running backs James Sims and Darrian Miller and receiver Daymond Patterson should continue to mature, but will they deliver enough explosive plays to allow this offense to score points? Five of their seven conference losses last season were by 28 points or more. Becoming more competitive in 2011 is a good start on the road to respectability.

Check out the 2011 Big East preview
Check out the 2011 SEC preview

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave