Forward: James Carpenter, Zach Miller, Golden Tate
Backward: Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane
Carp doesn't have to do much to move forward. It all hinges on being healthy obviously. But in his limited healthy play, he was pretty dominant. In my mind, all he needs to do is pretty much play 8 games and it should be a massive move forward.
I felt Zach Miller was ascending his game as Wilson started to become a more dynamic/attacking passer. The offensive line is now solid enough that he can be liberally used in the passing game. His production last year coincided with Russell's elevation of his play in the last 8 weeks of the season. I see that continuing. I also see a reduction in 2 TE formations this year with the arrival of Harvin. So Zach is going to be featured much more prominently as an everydown TE.
Tate really had a great year. And more than that, Russell's passer rating when targetting Tate was outstanding. In virtually every passing zone (short/med/long and right, middle, left). Tate was amazingly consistent and clearly he and Russell have achieved a high degree of trust. Normally, one would expect Harvin's arrival to vamp opportunity from existing receivers. But this offense isn't about the quantity of targets. But the quality. The target numbers are very modest. Tate is the kind of WR who can really maximize limited targets. Especially if coverages are going to focus on Harvin. He might get 15 less targets, but each reception is going to be with much looser coverage. Tate can turn that into huge YAC.
Irvin is a guy who just got put on notice. We needed pass rush in 2012. We spent a first on Irvin. That didn't solve our woes. We need pass rush in 2013 (again). We just got 2 DEs (Bennett being DT/DE). But Avril looks like a direct competitor to Irvin once Clemons comes back. If he doesn't, it's assumed here that we will draft/trade for a LEO. Every time Pete or John talk about Irvin, it's tight lipped coach speak. He's developing. They're happy with him. But our moves belie that public facade.
The look on Pete's face, and the tone in his voice after the Atlanta game when Irvin failed spectacularly to be even a semblance of a LEO, instead of 'the ideal LEO' can't be discounted. These moves look like the moves of a guy that doesn't trust his DE. We can slap a LB jersey on Avril. Try and obfuscate his role. But Avril is an outside speed rusher. That's really all he is. He is equally bad at defending the run. He is in essence, Bruce Irvin. In almost every way. Either Irvin elevates his game or he's playing special teams. Because there is one position and 2 identical guys now competing for it.
Bryant/Mebane. Age. Lack of depth. History of sapping injury. This team hasn't invested in either position in years. Branch is still unsigned. Even if he comes back, our bigs need to have a youth infusion. With a guy(s) capable of being trusted to play significant snaps.