The plus side of injuries....Opportunity?

Recently, discussion has centered on the season-ending injuries to Melvin Oliver and BJ Tucker.  While neither is a starter, this will certainly affect the depth of this team.  This was looking to be the first season under Nolan where there would be legitimate competition for the 53 roster spots, as opposed to finding any available bodies.  While the team has only lost a pair of backups, it's early enough to worry about further losses.

As injuries occur, the easy road consists of whining and complaining and spouting off a bunch of "Whoa is me" rhetoric.  While I certainly get pissy about injuries, a little time and reflection on the situation provides me with optimism going forward.  There are 2 reasons for said optimism.  First and most obvious is that our starters are still healthy (knock on wood).  Second is the opportunity to see what the younger and less utilized guys can do.  

Obviously I'd prefer the team stay 100% healthy, but that is never the case in football.  Instead, some guys that would be playing all special teams will get an opportunity to show their stuff in limited regular time.  Consider the injuries to Melvin Oliver and BJ Tucker.  Oliver didn't make a huge impact last year, but he was a guy that the team was counting on to play some solid minutes.  The team is looking out a large rotation on the defensive line and every body counts.  The signing of Sam Rayburn clearly indicates that.  With Duckett moving to the offensive line, we're going to see plenty of Rayburn, along with Joe Cohen, Ray McDonald (if no knee surgery), and some combination of Aubrayo Franklin, Ronnie Fields and Isaac Sopoaga between nose tackle and the end positions.  I keep hearing that Franklin is going to start at nose tackle, but then the world wide leader and nfl.com show Fields ahead of Franklin in their depth charts.  Any ideas on that?

While I'm never happy with an injury, I'm a little more optimistic about our prospects after BJ Tucker's injury.  Considering circumstances he was looking at being no more than our 4th cornerback, if even that considering the competition Donald Strickland, Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson.

Most of us agree that Brown could turn into a steal considering his character issues (speaking of which, check this out).  I think a guy with a chip on his shoulder like Brown will be looking to prove his talent, in which case he could make a solid backup corner this year and maybe a starter down the road.  Donald Strickland is certainly a capable nickel and dime corner but I don't see him as a long term impact answer.  Tarell Brown, on the other hand, intrigues me with what he can bring to the table.

My plan has been to put out a projected depth chart prior to the start of training camp, and then update it as we get closer to the season.  For the purposes of this post, I'm putting out my predictions for how I think the cornerback depth chart looks by the last few games of the season (barring no major injuries):

  1. Nate Clements
  2. Shawntae Spencer
  3. Walt Harris
  4. Tarell Brown
  5. Donald Strickland
  6. Dashon Goldson
I consider myself somewhat of a Shawntae Spencer apologist.  He's had injury issues and never made the leap that I really think he's capable of.  However, I think Harris takes a step back in productivity this year and at some point in 2008 Tarell Brown is our primary backup cornerback.  So basically, this post boils down to two things.  In spite of his injuries and sometimes lack of production, I remain a big Shawntae Spencer fan.  And while 5th round picks don't often turn into big time superstars, I think Tarell Brown is a guy who could really make a long term impact.  Frank Gore fell to the third round becaue of injuries, Tarell Brown fell to the fifth because of "character issues," that might be a bit exaggerated.  I'm not saying Brown is going to end up like Gore.  However, I think part of the optimism of being the fan is comparing situations and hoping for the best.  Expect plenty of mentions of Tarell Brown in the coming years on my part.
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