These Ducks Need Seasoning
YARMOUTH, ME - Entering their fourth year of existence, the Mallards have annually suffered from the high expectations that owner Steve Dugas' other franchise, the Merry Men, set with 6 wins in their rookie season and a division title in their sophomore campaign. The Mallards struggled to win 6 games combined in their first two seasons amid suggestions that Dugas was attempting to lose games on purpose by not persuing a quality quarterback. However, a mid-season trade for Ben Roethlisberger quelled those rumors last season as the Mallards won a franchise-high 5 games and finished out of last place for the first time in team history.
Critical Question Facing Owner Steve Dugas
Who's going to play wide receiver? With Deion Branch as their only legitimate threat to score any points from the position, and his future up in the air with a prolonged hold-out, the Mallards will be in a constant struggle to fill the wide-out position in 2006. After promising 2004 seasons, both Keary Colbert and Brandon Stokley were victims of circumstance last season, and many wonder if their stand-out seasons were flukes. The rest of the corps consists of young players with little (if any) experience that will be called on to contribute from Week 1.
Player to Watch
Steven Jackson, RB - With Marshall Faulk knocking on retirement's door, Jackson is a star in the making in St. Louis. A big punishing back, Jackson will benefit from the departure of Mike Martz and should pile up yards in the fourth quarter from an exhausted defense. 2006 could be Jackson's break-out campaign that vaults him into the top 5 at his position.
Projected Starting Lineup
Roethlisberger, Jackson, McGahee, Branch, Stokley, Pope, Brown, Bell
At first glance, the Mallards look like strong contenders for the NFC East crown, with promising young players at every position. However, upon closer inspection several red flags are raised about this team. At quarterback, Roethlisberger may be settling into this generation's Troy Aikman. While piling up wins in the NFL, Big Ben has broken the 12 point barrier only once in his YFFL career. Like Aikman, his steady yet unspectacular play may trick owners into overvaluing him.
With questions at the WR position, the Mallards will need big weekly contributions from their running backs. While Jackson looks like a future star, Willis McGahee is a brittle back that plays in the grueling Buffalo weather every winter, and Mike Bell was a boom-or-bust pick that could rush for 1300 yards or lose his job by Week 2.
Good teams in the YFFL receive consistent scoring from reliable sources. The Mallards are still a young team and although they have made some progress last season with 5 victories, their roster is still coming into their own as NFL players. If the White Guys are the surprise of the conference, the Mallards will be the disappointment as they take 1 step backward before possibly taking 2 forward in 2007.
4-9; 485 points; 4th NFC East