Bucky Brooks
Thursday March 6th, 2008

Asante Samuel's move to the Eagles was met with criticism in some circles. But when you examine his skills merging into the Eagles' scheme, it appears to be an ideal fit for the player and team. Samuel, who had 16 interceptions the last two seasons, is a ball-hawking corner who excels at "reading the three-step".

He shows exceptional closing quickness, and his ability to anticipate routes is uncanny for a young player. Although the Patriots' scheme put Samuel in favorable situations, he still ranked as one of the game's premier cover corners. Possessing a clear understanding of his strengths, Samuel and agent Alonzo Shavers made sure to emphasize "fit" over money when examining his free agent options. Shavers said, "We viewed this move as similar to Deion Sanders' move from San Francisco to Dallas in the mid-'90s". He then added, "Asante wants to be a piece of the puzzle, not the focal point of the defense."

Though some have chided Samuel for choosing Philly over New England (among others), Shavers believes the "the overall philosophy of the organization made the Eagles the ideal fit for Asante".

In coordinator Jim Johnson's scheme, Samuel will get an opportunity to fill an important role in the Eagles' defense -- which was missing a playmaking corner who could handle errant throws dictated by high-pressure schemes. In fact, Samuel's skills as a ballhawk will greatly improve a defense that recorded only 11 interceptions last season. Samuel's presence within Johnson's five- and six-man pressure schemes will serve a dual purpose: He'll have plenty of opportunities to jump the short routes, thus giving the Eagles' defense more scoring chances. Plus, with every interception, Samuel will be in line for bigger paydays. Included in Samuel's six-year, $57 million contract are several playing incentives that could boost the value of the pact to $61.4 million.

• The Browns' overhaul of their defensive line gives coordinator Mel Tucker a lot of flexibility with his base packages. By acquiring Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, the Browns added a pair versatile players with experience playing inside or outside on the line. Williams is capable of playing any of the three line positions in the Browns' 3-4; and Rogers has the ability to play nose tackle or left end. With Shaun Smith and Robaire Smith also possessing the flexibility move inside or outside, the Browns may incorporate some 4-3 looks into their packages.

As the Patriots' defensive coordinator from 2001-2004, Romeo Crennel engineered a defense that seamlessly morphed from a 3-4 to hybrid 4-3; so it would not be surprising to see the Browns feature similar tactics in 2008.

• Buffalo's acquisitions of Marcus Stroud and Kawika Mitchell garnered headlines, but the unheralded signing of defensive tackle Spencer Johnson may be the biggest reason the Bills' defense dramatically improves next season. Johnson -- signed away from the Vikings for five years and $17 million -- gives the Bills a quick interior tackle with the explosiveness to be a disruptive player at the "one" or "three" technique.

Johnson excels as a run defender but has developed better-than-average pass rush skills as an interior player. With Stroud occupying double teams on the other side, Johnson's versatile set of skills should allow the Bills to control the middle of the line, while freeing linebackers Mitchell and Paul Posluszny to shoot gaps against the run. The Bills' defense ranked 31st in yards allowed last season, but that should change with Johnson and Stroud controlling the middle.

• The flurry of trades involving defensive tackles is very surprising given the difficulty in finding quality interior players. Former Pro Bowlers Marcus Stroud, Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers were all involved in trades over the weekend -- despite being regarded among the top players at their position.

One personnel executive involved in one of the transactions said, "Whenever you have an opportunity to get a true 'one-technique,' you have to investigate the deal regardless of the flaws surrounding the player." He went on to say, "To win a championship on defense, you must be strong up the middle and having a dominant big guy inside is essential."

Though each aforementioned player has struggled with weight, injury and effort issues, they all are capable of dominating the game when locked in. In fact, each member of the trio is only a few seasons removed from Pro Bowl distinction and in the prime of their careers (all under 30). Therefore, it will be interesting to see how well each player plays for his new team -- and if their former ones eventually regret the decision to dismiss a Pro Bowl-caliber talent.

• The Jets' rebuilt offensive line has the potential to become one of the league's best next season. Seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and Damien Woody join a lineup that features a pair of up-and-coming stars (Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson) upfront to create a physical unit capable of excelling in the "smash-mouth" philosophy preferred by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Last year's unit never recovered from the sudden departure of Pete Kendall, and Thomas Jones' disappointing season can be attributed to the O-line's ineffectiveness, particularly Kendall's replacement Adrien Clarke. While Faneca provides a major upgrade over Clarke, the addition of the versatile Woody gives the Jets several options for shoring up the right side of the line. With the offensive line firmly in place, the Jets' offense has the potential to move into the upper half of the league.

• The signings of Bernard Berrian and Donte Stallworth to big-money deals caused a bit of a stir in league circles, but the "speed receivers" appear to be great fits for their respective teams. Berrian, who inked a six-year deal worth $42 million (with $16 million guaranteed), gives the Vikings an established deep threat on the outside to complement their top-ranked rushing attack.

Last season, defenses used eight-man fronts exclusively against the Vikings, and the lack of speed on the perimeter prevented them from attacking the single coverage with deep throws. Berrian thrived as a vertical playmaker in the Bears' run-oriented offense the past two seasons, and his penchant for big plays is perfect for the Vikings' offense. With Berrian on the outside, defenses will be less inclined to exclusively play single-high safety looks against the offense. This should open up the field for Adrian Peterson and create better passing lanes for QB Tarvaris Jackson.

Despite playing for his fourth team in four years, Donte Stallworth is an ideal fit for the Browns. Stallworth, who agreed to a seven-year, $35 million deal with $10 million in guarantees, gives the Browns a speed receiver to open up the field for Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. Teams have mistakenly identified Stallworth as a No. 1-type receiver, but his skill-set (speed and explosiveness) best suits him to play a complementary role. With Edwards and Winslow garnering most of the defensive attention, Stallworth should terrorize nickel and dime corners on the backside, off a variety of vertical routes.

Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson ranked third in the league last year with 53 completions of more than 20 yards, but the addition of Stallworth should boost the number of big plays from the Browns' offense.

• The Jaguars' signing of Drayton Florence is indicative of the changing defensive philosophy under new coordinator Gregg Williams. The Jags were primarily a cover-2 team under his predecessor Mike Smith, but Williams prefers an aggressive defense that mixes in a variety of man- and zone-blitzes with their standard two-deep zones.

Though this aggressive style puts more pressure on the secondary, the addition of Florence gives the Jags arguably the best secondary in the division. Florence joins Pro Bowler Rashean Mathis, highly regarded Brian Williams and Reggie Nelson in the back end. While each specializes in a different style of play (Florence excels in "press" coverage, Mathis is a "ball hawk", and Williams is an instinctive playmaker), their overall versatility and cover skills provides Williams the flexibility to attack offenses with a variety of looks, including "Cover-0" (all-out blitz without deep safety help).

This move is the Jags' latest attempt to match up with the perennial AFC South champion Colts. Indianapolis has won the last five division titles and enjoy a 7-3 record against the Jags during that period. Peyton Manning has averaged 267 passing yards per game with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions against the Jags during the 10-game span. According to a Jags official, "We need to do a better job of matching up with the Colts, and Florence gives us the ability to do more things against their base and three-receiver sets".

The Jags hope to match Florence and Mathis against Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison on the outside, with Brian Williams locking up with Indy's Dallas Clark or Anthony Gonzalez in the slot.

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