Flyboys: Jets wideouts among most NFL’s improved units

Rex Ryan is the uber-optimist. His glass isn’t half full; it’s spilling over the brim.
 
So it’s not surprising that Ryan is gushing about his group of wide receivers. In fact, he thinks it could be the most improved unit on a Jets team that advanced to the AFC championship game last season in his first year as coach.
 
There are plenty of targets for second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, beginning with starters Braylon Edwards — "I’m expecting a monster year from him," Ryan said — and Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Holmes, an offseason acquisition from the Steelers. Then there are Jerricho Cotchery, David Clowney and Brad Smith, who Ryan referred to as "kind of like a Swiss Army knife for us" because of his versatility.
 
"You look at our wide receiver corps," Ryan said. "That’s about as good as anybody’s in the league."
 
Here are nine other units that coaches are expecting to step up big in 2010:
 
Chargers front seven

Coach Norv Turner would like to see more production from this group. Despite myriad injuries on defense, the Chargers still managed to produce 35 sacks in ’09, but Turner wants the Chargers to turn up the pressure on quarterbacks even more.
 
"In terms of someone observing us," he said, "I would like to think that when the year is over, they’re going to look at it and say we got a lot better up front on defense."
 
Falcons secondary
 
Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, Chris Owens and Chevis Jackson are young players who should have a much better understanding of the Atlanta system in their second or third year. Then you add cornerback Dunta Robinson, a free-agent addition from Houston, and safety William Moore, who missed most of his rookie season last year because of injuries.
 
No wonder coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have high expectations.
 
49ers offensive line
After allowing 150 sacks over the last three seasons, it was obvious the 49ers weren’t getting the job done up front. With their first two draft picks, they selected Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis and Idaho guard Mike Iupati, a couple of players who will turn up the competitive heat, if not start, on the line.
 
"I really like what I’m seeing there," coach Mike Singletary said.
 
Lions defensive line
 
During the offseason, the Lions traded for Corey Williams, signed free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafted Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick. The return of Jared DeVries, who missed the ’09 season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, plus the continued development of players such as Cliff Avril, Turk McBride and Sammie Hill should also help this unit.
 
"Just personnel-wise, we’re more settled than we were last year," second-year coach Jim Schwartz said.
 
Texans running backs
There figures to be plenty of competition at this position. Steve Slaton, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie in ’08, is hoping to rebound from an ’09 season during which he suffered a neck injury, developed a fumbling problem and ran for only 437 yards. Arian Foster, an undrafted rookie in ’09, turned some heads with his performance in the final two games. Rookie Ben Tate will also be in the mix.
 
"The group has the potential to be excellent," coach Gary Kubiak said. "But it’s a young group, so you’re worried about consistency, you’re worried about maturity. But if we can find those two things, it has a chance to be the most improved area."
 
Vikings offensive line
 
Once considered one of the best O-lines in the league, it has become mediocre the last couple of seasons. If left guard Steve Hutchinson can regain his form coming off of shoulder surgery and right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan can take a step forward in their second seasons as starters, this could become a top-10 line again.
 
Chiefs secondary

This is a young group that is still developing. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers are entering their third seasons. Free safety Eric Berry, expected to be a playmaker in the middle, and strong safety Kendrick Lewis are rookies who could start. Coach Todd Haley believes these players can step up this season.
 
"I think they’re poised to do it," he said.
 
Bengals wide receivers
Cincinnati’s wideouts lacked consistency last season. They also didn’t produce enough explosive plays for coach Marvin Lewis’ taste.
 
"There weren’t enough of them," he said, "and we didn’t make hay when we had them."
 
So the Bengals added Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens to a mix that already included Chad Ochocinco. Lewis hopes they can contain their explosiveness to the field — and not let it spill over to the sideline or locker room.
 
Buccaneers offensive line
 
It’s one of the biggest lines in the league, but its performance was underwhelming last season. After watching the group during the offseason, coach Raheem Morris thinks it will be much better.
 
"I look forward to how much they’re going to improve this year," he said.    
 
This story appears in July 30’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com. 
Rex Ryan is the uber-optimist. His glass isn’t half full; it’s spilling over the brim.
 
So it’s not surprising that Ryan is gushing about his group of wide receivers. In fact, he thinks it could be the most improved unit on a Jets team that advanced to the AFC championship game last season in his first year as coach.
 
There are plenty of targets for second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, beginning with starters Braylon Edwards — "I’m expecting a monster year from him," Ryan said — and Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Holmes, an offseason acquisition from the Steelers. Then there are Jerricho Cotchery, David Clowney and Brad Smith, who Ryan referred to as "kind of like a Swiss Army knife for us" because of his versatility.
 
"You look at our wide receiver corps," Ryan said. "That’s about as good as anybody’s in the league."
 
Here are nine other units that coaches are expecting to step up big in 2010:
 
Chargers front seven

Coach Norv Turner would like to see more production from this group. Despite myriad injuries on defense, the Chargers still managed to produce 35 sacks in ’09, but Turner wants the Chargers to turn up the pressure on quarterbacks even more.
 
"In terms of someone observing us," he said, "I would like to think that when the year is over, they’re going to look at it and say we got a lot better up front on defense."
 
Falcons secondary
 
Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, Chris Owens and Chevis Jackson are young players who should have a much better understanding of the Atlanta system in their second or third year. Then you add cornerback Dunta Robinson, a free-agent addition from Houston, and safety William Moore, who missed most of his rookie season last year because of injuries.
 
No wonder coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have high expectations.
 
49ers offensive line
After allowing 150 sacks over the last three seasons, it was obvious the 49ers weren’t getting the job done up front. With their first two draft picks, they selected Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis and Idaho guard Mike Iupati, a couple of players who will turn up the competitive heat, if not start, on the line.
 
"I really like what I’m seeing there," coach Mike Singletary said.
 
Lions defensive line
 
During the offseason, the Lions traded for Corey Williams, signed free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafted Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick. The return of Jared DeVries, who missed the ’09 season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, plus the continued development of players such as Cliff Avril, Turk McBride and Sammie Hill should also help this unit.
 
"Just personnel-wise, we’re more settled than we were last year," second-year coach Jim Schwartz said.
 
Texans running backs
There figures to be plenty of competition at this position. Steve Slaton, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie in ’08, is hoping to rebound from an ’09 season during which he suffered a neck injury, developed a fumbling problem and ran for only 437 yards. Arian Foster, an undrafted rookie in ’09, turned some heads with his performance in the final two games. Rookie Ben Tate will also be in the mix.
 
"The group has the potential to be excellent," coach Gary Kubiak said. "But it’s a young group, so you’re worried about consistency, you’re worried about maturity. But if we can find those two things, it has a chance to be the most improved area."
 
Vikings offensive line
 
Once considered one of the best O-lines in the league, it has become mediocre the last couple of seasons. If left guard Steve Hutchinson can regain his form coming off of shoulder surgery and right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan can take a step forward in their second seasons as starters, this could become a top-10 line again.
 
Chiefs secondary

This is a young group that is still developing. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers are entering their third seasons. Free safety Eric Berry, expected to be a playmaker in the middle, and strong safety Kendrick Lewis are rookies who could start. Coach Todd Haley believes these players can step up this season.
 
"I think they’re poised to do it," he said.
 
Bengals wide receivers
Cincinnati’s wideouts lacked consistency last season. They also didn’t produce enough explosive plays for coach Marvin Lewis’ taste.
 
"There weren’t enough of them," he said, "and we didn’t make hay when we had them."
 
So the Bengals added Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens to a mix that already included Chad Ochocinco. Lewis hopes they can contain their explosiveness to the field — and not let it spill over to the sideline or locker room.
 
Buccaneers offensive line
 
It’s one of the biggest lines in the league, but its performance was underwhelming last season. After watching the group during the offseason, coach Raheem Morris thinks it will be much better.
 
"I look forward to how much they’re going to improve this year," he said.    
 
This story appears in July 30’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com. 

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