Even in this new era, it seems like the same scenarios, the Offense is loaded and very productive, the O-line is a major questionmark and the Defense, each year, is trying to get to that same level:
DE- The biggest addition of the off season was Jones-who brings talent,production and flexibility to a unit that really needed it. Jones and Redding will be the starters on the outside, with Jean-Francois being the top backup
DT/NT- There are a group of guys who have yet to take the spot and claim as theirs, Chapman seems to be the most likely starter, Hughes has off the charts potential, Pendleton played good last year and McKinney was brought back, with a renewed sense of making it happen and in great shape. Chapman, like Hughes has great upside and can really make a difference in this unit and the defense if he can play at a high level. There is a lot of flexibilty in the D-line group/rotation, as guys will move around , from down to down, depending on the situtation.
OLB- Everybody is aware of the Mathis situation and I don't feel the need to address that , it is not going to be easy to replace your top defender, even moreso vs the teams that we will have to play, during his 4 game suspension. There are guys who will need to step up bigtime, during that stretch and the remainder of the season. There is, as of now , no consistent pass rush threat, other than Mathis. At the top of that list is last years rotation of Walden and Werner, they both need to raise the level of their games, Walden showed flashes and was better vs the run, than as a pass rush threat and Werner also had his moments, but coming into year #2 as the top pick in last years draft, needs to be a difference maker. At least one of those 2 players, preferably both of them will need to step up for this defense to reach the level it wants to achieve. Another guy in the mix is draft pick Newsome, who has the body type and skill set Mathis brought into the league. Cam Johnson is another guy who will add depth. Adongo is up to 270 lbs, which with his off the charts physical tools and that kind of size, could re invent the position, in the near future he needs to become a productive player and not just a feel good story. Studabaker has opened some eyes and has some upside
ILB- There is a ton of talent-potential and depth on this unit. Freemen is a Pro Bowler, waiting to happen. Free agent signee D'Qwell Jackson is a very productive veteran presence, I really like McNary and ex-CFL player-Muamba could be another "find" and Sheppard is in the mix as well, draft pick Andrew Jackson has all the tools and has the look of the prototypical ILB
CB- Davis, needs to take his Pro bowl talent level and show up, for 16 games, he can be 1 of the best in the league, but has yet to take his game to that level, on a consistent basis. Toler, is a good CB, will have great games and games where he will get beat, needs to be on the field for 16 games, in today's passing league, secondary's can be exposed when they are not all full strength. Butler is the best of the rest and will prob play in the nickle package. Draft pick-Purifoy, could be a steal, if he can keep the off field isssues that dropped him down in the draft, a thing of the past. Gordy adds depth and a group of young unknowns will compete for roster spots this summer
S- Prob the biggest questionmark entering camp, Bethea is gone and WILL be missed. Landry made the Pro Bowl in '12 and played like a jouneyman,most of the time last year, NEEDS to show up (no pun intended-he didn;t show up for OTA's) and who will replace Bethea-Howell seems to be the most likely guy, who played well in spot starts last year or free agent signee-veteran Adams. Sergio Brown, one of the leagues top special team players, is in the mix and wants to become a full time player. In the secondary there are always alot of young unknowns fighting for roster spots as backups and usually make the team on the their special team performance.
ST- The kicking team is as good as it gets in the NFL, with Vinatieri and McAfee returing, long snapper Overton coming off a Pro Bowl season. The coverage units were better than previous years, but still has a ways to go to be considered a strength. The return game has also been a weakness for many years, there is a long list of potential contributers for those spots
summary- the offense is set, as stated before-the O-line will deternmine how good it will be. The defense is much more of a question mark as they conitnue to try to get that unit to an elite level, not all of those questions will be answered, it's not realistic to think that everyone that needs to step up-will. If Walden and/or Werner step up , the starters stay healthy and Howell (or somebody) can fill Bethea's shoes and Landry "shows up" that will make the defense much better, if that doesn't happen.......it's a good thing, the offense is loaded ( again)