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ESPN Insider- Scouting Inc. : Palmer, Rogers poised to emerge (breakout 2nd year pla)


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Palmer, Rogers poised to emerge

By Todd McShay

Scouts, Inc., for ESPN Insider


The transition from college football to the NFL is not always smooth. Players like Arizona WR Anquan Boldin are exceptions to the rule.

Although rookies need the most help on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom, their off-seasons are significantly shorter. Rookies are finding agents while veterans are taking part in workout programs designed by their teams to maximize their physical potential. Rookies have to adjust to the 16-game schedule and they often hit a wall late in the season or sustain injuries. In addition, a rookie may be ready to play but is buried on the depth chart and doesn't get an opportunity. Coaches will almost always go with a veteran over a rookie in a dispute over playing time.

As a result, many players often don't start enjoying success until their second season. Here are ten players, who didn't have great first years, but appear poised for breakout seasons.

Minnesota MLB E.J. Henderson

Henderson didn't start a game but he often replaced Greg Biekert when the Vikings went to their Nickel and Dime packages. He played well enough to make Biekert expendable and Henderson will move into the starting lineup this season. Although he isn't as stout at the point of attack as Biekert, Henderson has much better range and will make plays from sideline-to-sideline. He can also stay with most backs in man coverage so he doesn't need to be replaced on obvious passing downs like many other interior linebackers.

Dallas TE Jason Witten

Witten improved his route-running skills over the course of last year, and he should continue to progress during the offseason. He will benefit from the addition of Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson is a possession receiver, who is at his best running short-to-intermediate routes, and he will draw some of the underneath coverage away from Witten. In addition, the Cowboys' commitment to the running game will set up play-action and Witten has the burst to get behind any linebackers that hesitate because of the play fake.

Detroit WR Charles Rogers

Rogers got off to a strong start before breaking his collarbone during a practice in early October. The injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season. He is expected to make a full recovery and should benefit from the additions the Lions made with their two first-round picks. RB Kevin Jones should improve a Detroit running game that was the worst in the league last year, and prevent opponents from dropping seven or eight men into coverage on every down. WR Roy Williams will bring speed to an inconsistent receiving corps.

Tennessee RB Chris Brown

Eddie George is a possible June 1st cut and Brown will become the primary back if George is released. Even if the veteran stays on the roster, Brown should get more carries this year as the Titans will look to keep an aging George fresh late in games. Brown needs to work on his blocking and receiving skills but he runs with good power and has enough lateral mobility to exploit cutback lanes.

Philadelphia DE Jerome McDougle

With the departure of Hugh Douglas to Jacksonville, McDougle faced a great deal of pressure heading into his rookie season. Unfortunately, he bruised a hip, sustained a high-ankle sprain and sprained a knee during the final preseason game. McDougle missed the next eight games and has yet to record a sack. In his second season, McDougle, who should be healthy, will have Jevon Kearse to draw attention away from him on passing downs and he has the explosiveness to take advantage.

Indianapolis TE Dallas Clark

Clark actually posted decent numbers last year and even had a 100-yard receiving game against the Jets, but he missed the final six games of his rookie season with a fractured fibula. The Colts like versatile tight ends capable of shifting to the backfield or receiver in the two-tight end sets they frequently run. Clark is an excellent fit and now that he has a year's experience in this offense he should be extremely productive, especially if he can stay healthy for 16 games.

Carolina OG Bruce Nelson

Nelson provided quality depth behind OC Jeff Mitchell and started one game last year. Mitchell will return in 2004 but the retirement of Kevin Donalley and the departure of Jeno James through free agency left two vacancies at guard. Free-agent signee Adam Meadows would have likely competed for one of those jobs but he will move to tackle because of the release of Todd Steussie. Nelson impressed the Panthers' coaching staff with his work ethic last year to earn the starting right guard job and he has the tenacity to make the most of the opportunity.

New England DE Ty Warren

Bobby Hamilton signed with Oakland leaving a void at left defensive end and Warren is expected to replace him. Warren actually started four games last year but he lined up at defensive tackle when the Patriots went to the 4-3 defense and Ted Washington was out with a fractured leg. Now that Warren will line up at defensive end in the base 3-4 defense, he should be extremely stout against the run. In addition, his versatility makes him an excellent fit for New England's multi-front defense. Warren will move inside to tackle in certain passing situations and he has enough quickness to develop into a productive interior pass rusher.

Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer

Palmer spent last year on the sidelines learning the Bengals' offense and improving his ability to read defenses. The year of preparation should pay off. With Cincinnati's explosive three-receiver sets creating favorable matchups, Palmer should have a strong year. It also helps that head coach Marvin Lewis and backup Jon Kitna, the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year last season, have made it clear that Palmer is the starter.

Arizona WR Bryant Johnson

Johnson began last season as the Cardinals' No. 1 receiver and he struggled to create separation against opposing team's top cover corners. Boldin's emergence and the addition of Larry Fitzgerald, means Johnson will be the No. 3 receiver this season. He will get plenty of single-coverage opportunities working against No. 3 or 4 corners as a result. It's also important to note that new head coach Dennis Green wants to use more multiple-receiver sets next year so Johnson should play a big role in the offense despite losing his starting job.

# One name that may be conspicuous in its absence from the list is Buffalo RB Willis McGahee. McGahee has as much talent and potential as many of the players listed above but he is playing behind Travis Henry who has rushed for 1,300 yards in each of the least two seasons. In addition, the Bills' decision to draft Lee Evans is an indication that they will use more three-receiver sets meaning fewer carries for both Henry and McGahee.

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