And down the stretch they come. Faster than you can say "Black and Blue," we’re heading into the final three weeks of the 2009 regular season. We have one team qualified for the playoffs (Minnesota), another on the doorstep (Green Bay) and two who have been eliminated (Chicago and Detroit).
As we move into this period of diverse goals and different directions, I think we can all agree there are some players we’d like to see more of before closing the book on 2009. My choices are below, but by all means, feel free to add to this list in the comments section.
I kept in mind that the Vikings and Packers must have winning foremost on their agenda, while the Bears and Lions have a bit more flexibility.
AromashoduPlayer: Chicago receiver Devin Aromashodu
What we’ve seen so far: An 8-catch performance Sunday against Green Bay in his first extended action of the season, including a touchdown over Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. In six other appearances, Aromashodu had two catches.
Why we should see more: Aromashodu established a connection with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in training camp and Cutler has lobbied for him to play all season. I don’t think we’re looking at the second coming of Brandon Marshall, but at 6-2 and 201 pounds, Aromashodu offers a bigger target than the rest of the Bears receivers. A strong December showing would give us reason to believe he could contribute regularly next season, perhaps as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.
AdamsPlayer: Chicago defensive end Gaines Adams
What we’ve seen so far: Nada. Nothing. El zip. In seven games this season, Adams has four tackles and no sacks.
Why we should see more: Normally, I would be fine with Chicago burying him on the depth chart. But lest you forget, the Bears gave up their 2010 second-round pick to acquire Adams from Tampa Bay. As of right now, that pick would be No. 41 overall. The Bears can’t afford to give up on him. Even if they’ve decided Adams needs an offseason to bulk up, as many believe, they should still throw him on the field and let him work on the technique he’s ostensibly learning from defensive line guru Rod Marinelli.
GilbertPlayer: Chicago defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert
What we’ve seen so far: Even less than Adams. Two games. No tackles. No sacks.
Why we should see more: The Bears need to play Adams, but they also need to get Gilbert some action so to hedge against Adams flaming out. The Bears’ top 2009 draft choice, Gilbert has practiced at end and tackle. If the Bears part ways with Tommie Harris this offseason, Gilbert would be a candidate to replace him as well. It would be nice to have some idea if Gilbert is miles away or just far away from making a consistent impact.
BrownPlayer: Detroit running back Aaron Brown
What we’ve seen so far: Elite speed and some glimpses of big-time playmaking ability. Some of it came in the preseason, but Brown did score on a 26-yard screen pass against Cleveland last month. Not surprisingly, he has made his share of rookie decisions and earned a trip to the bench as recently as Sunday at Baltimore.
Why we should see more: If the Lions refused to play everyone who made mental mistakes, they would have trouble fielding a team. Brown is a playmaker on a team that can put only a few others in that category. With starter Kevin Smith lost for the season, I know I’d much rather see what Brown can do with extended playing time than watch veteran Maurice Morris carry the load.
RajiPlayer: Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji
What we’ve seen so far: Steady improvement after overcoming a holdout and a number of leg injuries. Raji remains somewhat hobbled, but like many Packers defensive players, he has been getting the hang of the team’s 3-4 scheme. In 11 games, he has 19 tackles and one sack.
Why we should see more: Veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett has been slowed by a hamstring injury, giving the Packers a perfect opportunity to transition Raji into that role. While Pickett has been a big part of the Packers’ strong run defense this season, Raji has superior quickness and greater ability to make game-changing plays in the backfield. Oftentimes, rookie defensive linemen emerge as forces in the latter part of a season and/or in the playoffs. Raji should get his opportunity to do so.
ReynaudPlayer: Minnesota returner/receiver Darius Reynaud
What we have seen so far: Excellent open-field running ability, both in the preseason and regular season. He’s averaged 11.2 yards on 20 punt returns and filled in nicely for Percy Harvin on kickoff returns last Sunday.
Why we should see more: Harvin’s migraine issue makes his status uncertain. Reynaud can’t match Harvin’s rare skills, but he can give the Vikings a decent alternative on both special teams and offense. I’d rather see Reynaud working in the slot than veteran Greg Lewis, who is a better outside receiver.
TaylorPlayer: Minnesota tailback Chester Taylor
What we have seen so far: His usual ability to make defenders miss on third-down receptions, along with fresh legs when he gives Adrian Peterson a breather.
Why we should see more: Many of us are expecting the Vikings to return to their roots as the playoffs approach, which means more power running and less downfield passing. It only makes sense to incorporate Taylor into the mix more often if that’s the case. The Vikings could also bust up some tendencies if they run more often with Taylor in the game rather than have him signal that a pass is on the way.