A few random thoughts from Week 4 of the preseason:
-- St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) is going to do some special things in the NFL because of his ability to hit small targets downfield, even when he's throwing across his body or on the move. There are those who were justifiably concerned about Bradford's ability to take hits and still make plays at the next level. After all, in his one great season (2008) at Oklahoma, he was basically taking target practice behind the best offensive line in college football. But when he has a clean pocket, and even when he has to roll out, he really impresses with the way he throws into tight windows. It's a bit early to compare, but I feel comfortable saying that embryonic versions of Tom Brady(notes) and Matt Ryan(notes) come to mind.
-- The Redskins' 3-4 defense is going to work for two reasons: First, the front office went about putting the right personnel on the roster to fit when new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett wants to do (the Haynesworth debacle aside, and they inherited that). Second, Haslett's multiple fronts and different secondary looks will allow defenders who are better when they're allowed to be aggressive - like endbacker Brian Orakpo(notes) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) - do what comes naturally. The unsung players here might be nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu, who excelled for the Carolina Panthers when he was healthy, and rookie ILB Perry Riley(notes), who's just the kind of downhill thumper the ‘Skins will need. This was the defense I took in the Football Outsiders staff fantasy draft, and I don't think I'll regret the move.
-- If Byron Leftwich's(notes) knee injury is as bad as expected, and Ben Roethlisberger(notes) winds up with a four-game suspension, I think the Steelers would be smarter to find a way to make Dennis Dixon(notes) their full-time starter as opposed to having Charlie Batch(notes) in there and bringing in Dixon for specific option packages. In my opinion, a Batch/Dixon switchoff would mirror the way the Philadelphia Eagles have mishandled the Michael Vick(notes) situation. If you only ever use one quarterback in option packages, you are absolutely giving the opposing defense an advantage when you bring him into the game. The Dolphins are able to run the Wildcat so effectively because it doesn't require special personnel, and there are multiple options. If Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians can put together some pseudo-spread stuff that works for Dixon, I don't think it would be too much of a transition for the team. Pittsburgh already runs a lot of heavy shotgun sets with short cluster clearing routes, often out of trips and bunch formations.
-- There are a lot of people who desperately want Tim Tebow(notes) to be a successful NFL quarterback, but from what I have seen, it's going to take a good long while before that happens. I'm willing to overlook his problems under center - those are common to shotgun quarterbacks. But his mechanics are still extremely jittery, he lacks a feel for play action, that hitch in his throw is still there, and he often looks as if he's pushing the ball deep. That said, he does make some excellent downfield completions, and he's a real threat to take off and run. I've already seen defenses cheat up in intermediate zones to account for that. Tebow can be a credible player and a productive option soon - even this season - but it will be in other ways. There's a reason the Broncos signed Kyle Orton(notes) to an extension.
-- I think the Oakland Raiders will surprise a lot of people this year for a number of reasons, and Jason Campbell(notes) is one of them. That said, if Campbell can't go in Week 1 for any reason, Oakland is in pretty good hands with backup Bruce Gradkowski(notes). I really like how Gradkowski (who reminds me a lot of Jeff Garcia(notes)) understands the timing of shorter passes, runs effectively out of trouble by keeping his eyes forward and on any open receiver, and keeps the game controlled. Gradkowski succeeded last year when the Raiders finally pulled the trigger on JaMarcus Russell(notes), and I think he can be a good fringe/emergency starter in the NFL.
-- Opposing offensive lines are already double-teaming Detroit rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh(notes), which is no surprise. So far, Suh has looked every bit the player the Lions hope he will be. But another first-year tackle to watch is Cincinnati's Geno Atkins(notes), a fourth-round pick out of Georgia. Atkins led the NFL in sacks this preseason with 4.5, and he's attracting extra blockers like a first-rounder. At 6-1 and 290 pounds, Atkins can play the one-technique, the three-technique, and he can go face up with a guard in a base front. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been doing some really interesting things with personnel this preseason - switching tackles and ends based on opponent and situation - and Atkins should benefit from that flexibility.
-- The Seattle Seahawks traded Josh Wilson(notes) to the Baltimore Ravens because they have a great deal of faith in rookie cornerback Walter Thurmond(notes), but the Raiders took Thurmond to school on Thursday.
-- The 49ers have been looking for a handcuff for Frank Gore(notes) for years, and they might have finally found one in Anthony Dixon(notes). The rookie from Mississippi State is the kind of big power back that Mike Singletary likes, but like Gore, he matches that power with the ability to break runs downfield.