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Five Players to Watch: Chris Gray

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We'll alternate between players set to breakout and players set to breakdown. Gray is mos def the later. Times a 1,000. No other player on the roster generates a good junkie fear from me like Chris Gray. That's because for the past few weeks his high wire act, treading that geometrically thin line that has suspended him above retirement, has vanished and left Gray hurtling in free fall. That's right, I'm calling my shot: I no longer wonder when Gray will sickeningly thud against the hard floor of reality, only when.

Logic says it won't happen against the Panthers. Unlike most teams, the Panthers stick their nose tackle on the offensive right side. Maake Kemoeatu is your run of the mill 350 pound tub of goo defensive tackle. He doesn't record sacks (0) and rarely makes a play behind the line of scrimmage (4). He also obeys the laws of physics, and as such, tends to stay at rest, despite the behest of his legs and the opposition right tackle. All that mass makes it tough for teams to run behind right tackle (8th best).

It's foolhardy to expect Gray to blow holes against the flimsiest defensive tackles, much less Carolina's slow but stout tackle rotation. The question then isn't what Gray can do to improve my abject opinion of his play, but what he can avoid doing. Gray allowed another horizontal defender to break free for a sack, the Saints Hollis Thomas. Thomas is a considerably better pass rusher than Kemoeatu, but given the circumstances of Thomas' sack, Gray being pushed to the ground and then walked over, I think Kemo's game. For Hawks fans Sunday presents a few possibilities from Gray: He floats free from failure thanks to weak opposition, he's beat but hardly noticed in an otherwise lopsided contest, he allows one of the league's worst pass rushers to harry Matt Hasselbeck. Whatever the outcome, watch Gray and know that Pat Williams won't be so forgiving.