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Football Changes and Shifts

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/03/2007

The NFL preseason is over, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything about the upcoming season. Quite the opposite. There were plenty of changes that took place that required notice. For instance, the Jacksonville Jaguars have changed their offensive philosophy. We associate head coach Jack Del Rio with Woody Hayes and his “Three yards and a cloud of dustâ€쳌 offense.

Buckeye Woody never liked the forward pass, once remarking that three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad. But with the heat on Del Rio after an 8-8 season, he’s junked the old offense by adding offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the former Boise and Arizona State head coach. Koetter brings in a wide open spread offense and that’s all we saw of the Jags in preseason. Which means get ready to see a lot of it now that the games are real. What does this mean to sports bettors? The Jaguars were 3-1 over the total this August.

The Carolina Panthers have also made changes on offense, though not as dramatic. New offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson has brought in zone blocking and there is more versatility to the offense. In Carolina's exhibition opener against the Giants, the Panthers' offense appeared to do whatever it wanted. But losses at Philadelphia and against New England followed, and it was clear that changing the team's mind-set and philosophy would take some time.

"Each day that I think we're ahead, we fall back a little," Davidson said last week. "And each day that I think we're behind, we push forward a little bit." They are still looking for consistency, something that is going to take time (if it happens at all in 2007).

One of the problems has been that right guard Jeremy Bridges, a projected starter, is suspended for the first two regular-season games, and the Panthers looked to find a group that works well without him. Added Davidson, "I'm not worried about Game 3, sure. I'm also worried about Game 1." While trying to find that line combination for the opener at St. Louis on Sept. 9, the Panthers shifted center Justin Hartwig to right guard but he struggled. They quickly moved him back to center.

Davidson also added that the only way he knows to install his offense is by working on one small aspect of it each day, getting that right and then moving on to the next day. All of which will take time.

Speaking of offensive lines, the Jets had all kinds of problems in preseason. That’s because veteran guard Pete Kendall was unhappy with his contract and the Jets finally traded him to the Redskins late in August. The Jets feel like they've rid themselves of a distraction, but after he was traded the offensive line struggled the next two games.

Kendall was the best left guard the Jets had on their roster. The trade has left the Jets without a proven starter on the roster to replace him. Kendall was seeking a $1 million raise to bring his salary to a $2.7 million, which he's now getting from the Redskins. Now this is a very young O-line, with last year’s rookies left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold still learning.

Adrien Clarke, the journeyman with four NFL starts who was inserted ahead of Kendall, was demoted quickly. Then the Jets tried rookie sixth-round draft pick Jacob Bender, from Division I-AA Nicholls State. It also remains to be seen how this will affect the Jets' locker room, as Kendell was a team leader and well liked. The Jets have serious concerns about protecting Chad Pennington, who has been injury-prone in his career. In fact, 2006 was the first time Pennington stayed injury-free. And they open against the talented Patriots defensive front, the one that added LB Adalius Thomas. They’d better hope the O-line comes together quickly!

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