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Whispers from around the NFL - Pro Football Weekly - 6/30/2003


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Pro Football Weekly

Monday, June 30

Updated: July 1

1:46 PM ET

Although new Dolphins QB Brian Griese threw an interception at each of his first three practices, we hear that he's shown up at individual meetings with Norv Turner ready to learn and full of questions about the offense. He's certainly putting in high-quality time to learn the Dolphins' scheme.

Jaguars coaches want WR Jimmy Smith to drop 10 pounds before training camp.

Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and WR Todd Pinkston are putting in extra time together this offseason. Pinkston put up much better numbers last season with backup QBs Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley, and McNabb wants to establish better timing with his go-to receiver.

We hear there could be something to the rumors that the Niners might consider switching to a 3-4 defense because it better suits their overall personnel. However, they have concerns about how their undersized defensive ends might handle such a scheme.

Our Seahawks sources tell us the team has been very impressed with rookie PK Josh Brown's leg strength, but that newly acquired P Rodney Williams has looked a bit shaky.

Although the athleticism and speed of Shawn Barber is sure to improve the Chiefs' LB corps, some Kansas City insiders are interested to see how well he'll be able to cover tight ends and running backs for an extra couple of seconds without the presence of Hugh Douglas and the pass rush he was used to in Philadelphia.

Rookie CB Julian Battle has more than a few people excited in Kansas City. The third-rounder out of Tennessee showed good closing speed, timing and change of direction in minicamps, not to mention plenty of swagger that got the attention of coaches and receivers.

The rookie year of Chiefs DT Ryan Sims was basically a wash after a training-camp holdout and an elbow injury that cut his season significantly short. But Chiefs defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has been impressed by Sims' work ethic and the great shape he was in during offseason workouts. "His movement and everything looks good," Robinson told PFW. "What I like is that he works hard. And he's a good athlete. Our expectations are where they were a year ago, except that he's in his second year, and he looks like it."

Ray Rhodes favored a lot of zone coverage to go with his zone blitzes, but under new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, the Broncos will employ more aggressive man coverage that includes cornerbacks playing up at the line of scrimmage, a tactic that has Deltha O'Neal, among others, encouraged.

The Raiders' Charles Woodson on past injuries and entering a contract year: "I struggled last year, and I had problems with a toe injury the year before. Those things hindered my progress. If I had two good years on top of what I did in my early years, everybody would say I'm the best cornerback, hands down. I'm still one of the best, even with the injuries, but I've got to get back on top. That's where I belong."

A lot of eyes will be on rookie RB Justin Fargas when Raiders training camp opens. He showed good vision and speed in minicamps and should get a chance as a kick returner and possible backup to Charlie Garner.

The Patriots are in preliminary talks with the agent for C Damien Woody to get him signed to a new contract before the start of training camp. Woody's contract is up at the end of the 2003 season, and the Patriots would like to keep him around.

Although it's a ways away at this point, if Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis were offered and should accept the head-coaching job at the University of Washington, we could see former Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin and current Patriots RB coach Ivan Fears being considered as possible replacements.

New England tried Jarvis Green at nose tackle during minicamp, with Richard Seymour and first-round pick Ty Warren as the defensive ends, and we hear they weren't disappointed with the early results.

The league rejected the appeal of Jets DT Josh Evans, so he has been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance-abuse policy for the third time. No word on how long the suspension will last, but the precedent set by players such as Dale Carter says that Evans' suspension will last no fewer than eight games. Although no official word has been released as to how Evans violated the policy, rumors have floated through the New York media that Evans actually missed a test, which counts as a positive test in the policy's rules.

Steelers OLT Marvel Smith, the recent recipient of a six-year, $26 million contract extension, told PFW that RB Jerome Bettis looks to have lost 25-30 pounds and "looks like he did when I first got here." Smith's rookie season was 2000, when Bettis rushed for 1,341 yards. Smith, Pittsburgh's new left tackle, tells PFW he is striving for consistency at his new position. Right tackle looks to be manned by Oliver Ross, whom Smith said had taken nearly all the practice reps on the right side as of mid-June.

Bengals DB coach Kevin Coyle recently told PFW that FS Lamont Thompson, a bust last season as a rookie, "really stepped up his play in the spring." The Bengals' safety picture is cluttered and competitive, with six players having a legitimate shot at starting. The CB picture is also slightly muddied, though Coyle singled out free-agent signee Tory James for playing well in the spring.

Despite losing OLB Jeff Posey early in the offseason, Texans insiders have been encouraged by the play of the LB corps with Charlie Clemons in the lineup and think the unit could be stronger than it was in 2002.

Despite being the most accurate kicker in NFL history, we hear Colts PK Mike Vanderjagt is expected to face a serious challenge from Brett Conway.

Titans brass are peeved that OT Brad Hopkins injured his knee playing in LB Keith Bulluck's charity basketball game last month. The knee swelled up in minicamp, and he subsequently had it scoped on June 27 but is expected to be ready for training camp. Jeff Fisher already had called him out for not working out at the Titans' facility as much as the team would like.

According to a team source, the Bears are interested in Georgia Tech RB Tony Hollings, who has entered his name in the supplemental draft. However, the Bears aren't expected to give up more than a fifth-round pick. The thinking is that Hollings, who is coming off a serious knee injury, won't be in a position to help a team this year even if he checks out medically. Having missed minicamps and given his injury status, Hollings would gradually work into an NFL system.

The Packers will carry five quarterbacks when training camp opens this month, and there is a good chance four will make the roster. Eric Crouch is the most likely fourth quarterback. His roster spot is contingent on his ability to return kicks and punts. One team source speculated the odd man out could be veteran Doug Pederson, leaving NFL Europe sensation and second-year vet Craig Nall as the No. 2 and Akili Smith No. 3.

Defensive coaches in Minnesota have been overjoyed with the performance of many of their young defensive backs. S Jack Brewer and CB Eric Kelly, a one-time starter who may not even compete for the No. 3 job, have particularly impressed the staff, as has second-year DB Brian Williams. Williams may beat out Ken Irvin to start at right cornerback, but Kelly's play makes Williams' move back to his natural position of safety more likely. However, Brewer and second-year S Willie Offord will begin training camp competing at free safety to allow Williams to work on his cover skills at cornerback. A team source added that, contrary to reports, LCB Denard Walker looked good at minicamp.

Don't be surprised if Redskins rookie OG Derrick Dockery makes a push for a starting spot this season. The team has a glut of guards to compete for the starters' spots, but the coaching staff loves Dockery's physical nature, and he showed more athleticism at the minicamps than the staff thought he had.

Redskins WR Taylor Jacobs has picked things up pretty quickly. He has impressed the coaching staff with speed and good hands. He could challenge for the No. 3 WR spot.

Look for Rams rookie WR Shaun McDonald to push Troy Edwards to the limit for the No. 3 WR job, in addition to figuring prominently in the team's kick-return plans. We hear head coach Mike Martz loves what he's seen from the fleet-footed fourth-round pick up to now.

No matter what they might say, we hear the Cardinals remain quite concerned about the physical condition of OTs L.J. Shelton, who underwent surgery on his right foot this offseason, and Anthony Clement, who missed nearly the entire 2002 season with a triceps injury. Don't be surprised if Shelton, who is entering his contract year, uses the new contract that Steelers OT Marvel Smith recently signed (six years, $26 million, $6 million signing bonus) as a barometer for a new deal.

We hear DT Wendell Bryant, the Cardinals' top draft pick last year, isn't that far ahead of Arizona's rookie interior linemen.

After undergoing surgery last January to remove bone chips from his left ankle, we hear 49ers fourth-year DLE John Engelberger looks a lot quicker and stronger than last season, when he registered his only sack in the playoff win over the Giants.

Some insiders were surprised at the extension Panthers DT Brentson Buckner recently signed (four years, $8.35 million), mainly because he is considered the least-talented of Carolina's four linemen. But we're told the Panthers see Buckner as a quasi-coach on the field, making sure DE Julius Peppers and DT Kris Jenkins are positioned correctly on each play, and Buckner's brains help the Panthers almost as much as his physical skills.

Don't get too excited by the positive reports about the recovery of Panthers RB DeShaun Foster from microfracture knee surgery. Foster is running in a straight line, but the team is nowhere near allowing him to cut on the knee, and the Panthers aren't expecting much of anything out of Foster this season.

Insiders say the Saints believe they may have found a diamond in the rough in the form of WR Derrick Lewis, who was with the practice squad last season and has really impressed the coaching staff in workouts. Lewis has been described as having the best hands on the team.

How safe is Saints head coach Jim Haslett in terms of job security? One insider said that Haslett could go 0-16 and still wouldn't lose his job this season, mostly because owner Tom Benson likes Haslett and believes that the team will be successful once it gains more experience.

Look for Bucs DT Anthony McFarland to take on more of a leadership role on the defensive line this season if he signs a lucrative contract extension, which is expected to be completed by the time training camp opens July 18.

Falcons rookie WR LaTarence Dunbar has impressed coaches in workouts with his willingness to take responsibility for his mistakes. For instance, after misjudging the ball on a fly route and having the ball bounce off his face mask, Dunbar immediately dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups, muttering, "The ball is my friend. The ball is my friend."

Falcons head coach Dan Reeves has been trying to turn more duties over to his assistant coaches, including allowing offensive coordinator Pete Mangurian more flexibility with putting together the team's game plan, but we're told Reeves will still be the guy calling the plays on Sundays.

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Don't be surprised if Redskins rookie OG Derrick Dockery makes a push for a starting spot this season. The team has a glut of guards to compete for the starters' spots, but the coaching staff loves Dockery's physical nature, and he showed more athleticism at the minicamps than the staff thought he had.

Yeah, we'll see about that. Beating out a crusty old vet like Fiore ain't easy. Fiore doesn't want to move to center, so he's gonna make it hard for the rookie to beat him. I love these articles about how well offensive linemen are doing in minicamps. They aren't even hitting! All he has to do is shuffle his feet a lot and pretend to block. The jury is still out on Dockery -- he'll get lots of preseason reps, and then we'll have a better idea. Man he was a great pick.

Redskins WR Taylor Jacobs has picked things up pretty quickly. He has impressed the coaching staff with speed and good hands. He could challenge for the No. 3 WR spot.

He "could challenge" for the #3 spot? ****, isn't he pencilled in as the #3 already? It would be a serious disappointment if he doesn't emerge as the #3. You don't spend your second-round pick on a guy who's so far down the depth chart that he rarely sees the field... oh wait the skins did that last year with Betts. Oh well.

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The NFL Combine is overrated anyways

Oh, I'll agree that folks pay way too much attention to hundredths of seconds there.

But if you think of Draft Day as the Super Bowl that college players have spent four years working towards, then the combine is the NFC championship.

Everybody knows that, when they get there, there are going to be these specific events, and how well you do on them can easily make (or cost) you $2M. The "draft rumour" people quoted several scouting types as saying (about Dockery) "This is the biggest day of his football career (so far), he's known about it four years in advance, and his attitude is 'Who cares? Why put out any effort?'" A lot of folks said that his attitude was a lot more important than his bench press.

(At least, I remember folks making comments like that about somebody who had the attitude that the combine wasn't important, so he wasn't going to try. I think it was Dockery.)

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Todd Pinkston is McNabb's go-to guy? HA!

You would have thought that by now that #1 draft pick "fast" freddie mitchell would have emerged as a threat, but too bad he's too small to play in this league.

When you look at the receivers picked around where gardner was taken: moss, terrell, mitchell, robinson (am i forgetting anyone?) we sure did come away with the best guy.

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the key to getting Dockery on the field may be to convince Fiore to move to center. he left SF because they wanted to move him to center and he thinks his natural position is at guard.

however, a line with him at center and Dockery at guard would be potent at the point of attack. Fiore is one of the strongest players in the NFL and the knock on Larry Moore is that he is a good technician but limited physically.

I have no doubt that Dockery would help the run game, one wonders at 330 though what he is like in pass protection? :)

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The comments about Shawn Barber seem a little...uneducated. He played with the Iggles for ONE YEAR. Before that, he covered people quite often with the Skins (if I remember correctly) and did a decent job (again, if I remember correctly). I actually miss him, I really liked Barber....

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