Tough call

Manning's return presents difficult challenge for Lovie

August 25, 2009, 11:45 AM

By: Jeff Dickerson

Just finished going back over my notes from Monday, and found a few items that slipped through the cracks.

Danieal Manning returning from a hamstring injury presents an interesting decision for Lovie Smith. Only two safeties can start; so who is the odd man out among Manning, Kevin Payne and Al Afalava?

Based on how well Afalava has performed this summer, it's hard to fathom Smith pulling the plug on the rookie. Even Afalava's teammates acknowledge the job the rookie's done in the preseason.

"I knew he could play watching him back when he was in college," said Manning. "He's a gifted athlete, and he's going to play a lot."

Some suggest since Manning already handles nickel back and kickoff return duties, he's the most logical choice to step aside. But remember, Smith announced Manning would start only a few days before camp, and the two worked together non-stop this offseason. Plus, Manning is easily the most gifted person to play the position, and he's done his best to put in the work despite being sidelined.

"I stay after [practice] a lot," said Manning. "I do work with Gill [Byrd], ask questions here and there, talk to the guys who have been playing it [free safety] for a while and see what I can do."

Why would Smith second-guess his decision after only a few weeks?

Payne did a nice job versus the Giants, flashing some coverage skills down the field. But is he a better candidate to compete with Afalava at strong safety?

So many questions remain about the secondary.....and we haven't even touched on cornerback. That's why Lovie gets paid the big bucks.

Tommie Harris is such a lightning rod, it was only natural for a group of us to try and follow up with the defensive tackle coming off the practice field.

After watching the film, how do you feel you did in those 15 snaps?

Tommie Harris: I got a good grade. I did well.

What did you see from the defensive line overall as a group?

TH: Great question. I truly do like what I've seen from our defense.

How do you feel after Saturday?

TH: Great question. I feel well after Saturday. I feel great.

Believe me, those questions weren't exactly great, but neither were the answers. Harris is the biggest wildcard of the 2009 season. Anybody who tells you they can accurately predict what kind of impact Harris will have is (a) clairvoyant or (b) a liar.

•Here's the standard rule of thumb in the preseason: it's never as good or bad as you think. We sung the praises of the wideouts after Saturday night's game, but as expected, receivers coach Darryl Drake found a few things to complain about in the meeting room.

"We missed some coverages, blocks and a couple of hot routes," said Devin Aromashodu.

Anybody else immediately flash to scene in Wedding Crashers when you hear the phrase "hot route"?


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?