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From a Rocky Who Is Not Italian, To An Italian Ending That Was Too Rocky For My Taste

Figured that with OTAs essentially over now and not much brewing at The Park until the weekend mini camp, we'd spend the week discussing some of the key players for the upcoming season, one day at a time. We kind of got started last week on the punters and kickers, before all kinds of news stuff broke out to get us on a different bent.

But this week I figured we'd look at people being asked to take a major step up, and start with Rocky McIntosh. He is expected to go from being a special teams guy last year to a starting LB this season, and judging from the smile on his face while we chatted recently, I'd say so far so good. (Also, I have to vent a bit about that lame ending to the Sopranos last night, that to me was more a precursor to a movie than any sort of true conclusion to these characters).

Okay, let's start with football.

I hear that Rocky is being looked at as a real weapon, someone who can be deployed in multiple ways, and is thriving under the tutelage of new LB Coach Kirk Olivadotti And has been a stud this off season. He has essentially lived at the facility, getting up to speed on the defense and all of his responsibilities after struggling to get a grasps of it last year after being picked in the second round. Also, Olivadotti is a more of a "luv 'em up," kind of guy and more touchy-feely than Dale Lindsey was, and the new approach is working well from what the players and others can tell out there.

Bottom line with this defense last year was that nobody made plays. Nobody. Short of Kedric Golston, you tell me who surpassed expectations on that D last season. It was a down year all around, from the coaches to the players; starters through the backups. But Rocky is definitely a guy who has the ability to change games - he provides another athletic presence missing a year ago and is a sure tackler.

On top of all of that, the dude plays with an edge. He hates the opposition for those four quarters on Sundays, and when he hits, it hurts. That physicality was lacking a year ago, too. Rocky has the wheels to do things in coverage now - his struggles learning the system limited his role greatly last season - and he will be allowed to get after the passer some as well, from what I gather.

I know the Bears had really high reports on him and thought he would be an upgrade over Briggs in time in their system, and the Redskins are utilizing a whole lot of Lovie Smith's stuff this season, so make of that what you will. Of course, the one red flag has always been Rocky's knees.

He had a scope in the off season and says he feels great now. But there are definitely concerns from within the organization that he could continue to experience knee problems and that it could be a degenerative condition over time. He will have to be monitored closely and the medical team will have to stay on top of it aches and pains.

But if he does manage to keep the knees in decent shape this could be a real breakthrough season for the kid. Rocky's wife is also expected a child soon, and if you remember postponed his honeymoon last off season to be around Redskins Park and prepare for his life in pro football. Perhaps he will be reaping rewards on the professional side as well as the personal side of things this year.

Randoms: Tom Shales, our TV critic, is a smart dude, way smarter than I am, but I think he may have been hoodwinked by David Chase on the Soprano's finale. Tom seems like the only guy in American who thought it was even a half-decent ending. TO me it played out like an extender trailer for the inevitable Sopranos movie. Nothing happened at all, it was a bunch of cat and mouse stuff, literally (I even thought the bit with the cat was rubbing that aspect in our faces), and everyone is still alive should the big payday in Hollywood unite the cast one last time. Hell, even Sylvio could wake up. Even Uncle Junior is around should they decide to include him in the cash grab that the movie would be. I thought it was the biggest cop out ever and one big tease, an hour long come on. In fact, the entire season was pretty lame. Could have just ended it after the previous season in hindsight. Lauren and I sat there, drinking red wine in the basement and sitting on the floor with the volume on low so as not to wake up Rocco sleeping nearby, and when the screen went blank we figured the TIVO cut off and it was a 90 minute episode or something. Most of the season was spent setting up silly sidebars that never led to anything - imagine how good this could have been without all the hours of filler (2 minutes of Meadow not being able to parallel park her car? Thanks for the memories.

So the shrink finally figures out she is being played and Christopher gets whacked ... other than that it was just too much AJ and too much toying with the audience this spring. Spoke to my main man Howard Bryant - another guy who has been locked into the show from the get-go, last night and we agreed completely that in the end, we were echoing the words of the great Johnny Rotten: "Did you ever feel like you've been cheated?" ...

Julio Lugo is killing me slowly. Tito, please, give me 2 or 3 games with Cora at short. Humor me, please ...

Seen some pretty good game during the Gold Cup, none of which included the US however, as drab soccer rules the day for them so far. Watching Mexico get worked all over the pitch and then lose on a late goal while playing a man short: Priceless. They could have suffered a draw against Cuba as well - the speed and counterattacking down the flank from Cuba has been a revelation and their keeper, Molina, has been a treat to watch, too. As under-whelming as the US has been, Mexico has been 10 times worse ... Chloe had a blast at the DC Untied game yesterday. Had to get back for nap time in the 75th minute - we left right as Ben Olsen, as classy a dude as there is on the local pro sports scene, capped his hat trick, but it was a great afternoon nonetheless. She loved the constant chanting and jumping, all the drums, the flags and the balloons. The game itself was pretty cool to her as well, but the mascot, Talon, left us hanging a bit. Don't think he ever made it to our side of the field. Sorry Talon, but right now you're pulling up the rear. The Oriole Bird is still her favorite, by far, with Louie (from the Bowie Baysox) a clear second.

By Jason La Canfora  |  June 11, 2007; 11:03 AM ET
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