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PFW Whispers for July 28 including note on Skins punting situation...

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July 28, 2003

We hear Kevan Barlow and Fred Beasley, expected by many to comprise the 49ers’ backfield of the future, do not get along well at all. Word is Barlow’s locker, which was situated next to Beasley’s last season, has been moved to another corner of the locker room.

The Cowboys had been quietly working on a new deal for DE Greg Ellis, who is in the final year of his contract. The negotiations have broken off for now; the team would like to sign him to a deal similar to the one Vonnie Holliday received from Green Bay.

Mike Shanahan acknowledged recently that his new quarterback, Jake Plummer, has a stronger arm and is quicker and more athletic in the pocket than the Broncos first realized.

Observers at the Rams’ training camp tell us new ORT Kyle Turley was getting the upper hand on DRE Leonard Little in one-on-one drills more often than not. They also say new C Dave Wohlabaugh was making a good early impression.

We hear new Cardinals FS Dexter Jackson was having some problems initially adjusting to the high altitude at the team’s Flagstaff, Ariz., training camp.

Panthers head coach John Fox literally knocked on wood when it was pointed out to him that his team didn’t seem to have any distractions heading into training camp and were relatively injury-free.

The way we hear it, Bucs rookie QB Chris Simms has impressed his teammates with the toughness and poise that he has shown, and with his ability to learn quickly when head coach Jon Gruden gets in his face.

Saints head coach Jim Haslett is relieved the team has finally opened an indoor practice facility at its Metairie, La., training center because Haslett will finally have the peace of mind to know that he won’t have to uproot his team in the event of bad weather and practice in the Superdome, something that has severely disrupted the Saints’ schedule in the past.

Saints QB Aaron Brooks is being rated as 100 percent back to full strength by team insiders, but Brooks will be held out of some practices during training camp as a precaution to protect his surgically repaired right (throwing) shoulder from strain.

Falcons CB Juran Bolden’s recovery from the torn patellar tendon he suffered in Atlanta’s playoff game vs. Philadelphia last January hasn’t gone well, and there is concern that he won’t be 100 percent at any time this season.

Insiders say the Falcons were relieved that rookie FB Justin Griffith finally signed with the team just days before the opening of training camp because head coach Dan Reeves doesn’t have a lot of confidence in veteran George Layne, who will battle Griffith for the job of replacing the retired Bob Christian.

Fights have been commonplace in Buccaneers camp so far, but insiders say head coach Jon Gruden is pleased with the energy that the team has shown, even if it is getting vented in a less-than-ideal way.

Even with untested Clinton Hart and Norman LeJeune as the Eagles’ primary backups at safety, don’t expect the team to be eyeing too many outside free agents to pick up during training camp. CB Troy Vincent can slide over in a pinch, and they might be willing to sign former Eagle Rashard Cook, who is rehabbing his knee.

No matter how intriguing a player KR Woody Dantzler is as a special-teamer, he will probably have to find a regular position he can play if he wants to make the team. He has been moved from quarterback, his college position, to running back and now to safety — where there is a glut of more experienced veterans ahead of him.

Word out of Washington is that despite his poor season last year, incumbent P Bryan Barker should have no trouble beating out Brent Bartholomew in camp. Barthol­omew was brought in to challenge Barker and give the team another option in case of injury, but Bartholomew’s punting was so inconsistent in minicamp that it would take a tremendous training camp to win the job.

The Colts have been pleasantly surprised by the progress of rookie Cato June, a safety at Michigan who will be a backup at “Will” linebacker in the cover-2. According to LB coach Mike Murphy, June is “ahead of the game from a coverage standpoint, and he’s used to playing close to the line of scrimmage. There isn’t much of a transition left.”

Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer told PFW that the difference between the rookies used as regulars last season to right now is like night and day. “Everyone is going to go through that, but these guys weren’t rookies midway through last season probably,” Palmer said. “You can see it in (OLT) Chester Pitts and (OG) Fred Weary. And (WR) Jabar Gaffney had 41 catches, which is a good number for a rookie receiver.”

Sources in Houston say first-year RB Stacey Mack will receive every chance to be the starter and, should he win the job, Jonathan Wells and/or James Allen could be on the way out. If neither is cut immediately, one would be released when rookie RB Tony Hollings reaches full health.

Bothered by a foot injury as a rookie before being lost for the season with an eye injury, Packers RB Najeh Davenport reported to camp in great shape and is playing as if he has something to prove. With starting RB Ahman Green showing signs that injuries have taken their toll, Davenport will be used as more than a change-of-pace back this season as long as he can stay healthy.

The Packers created an electronic playbook on a laptop computer for All-Pro QB Brett Favre to keep him interested and involved during the six-week period before the regular season begins. Favre won’t practice every day to keep his arm fresh, and the coaches saw the computer — armed with a DVD player that allows Favre to watch film of past practices and games or review upcoming opponents — as a way to keep Favre’s mind fresh without telling him to study the playbook he mastered years ago.

There are indications that Lions DT Luther Elliss may be out longer than the six to eight weeks originally projected by the Detroit medical staff. Elliss tore a pectoral muscle which doctors say does not need surgery. Team president Matt Millen said he played with the same injury with the 49ers and that Elliss would just have to “get used to the pain.” Former NFL LB Chris Spielman also played with a torn pec. But one source watched Elliss grimace simply turning a door knob last week and said the team is readying Kelvin Pritchett and challengers Antwan Lake and rookie Cory Redding for more action.

Early in minicamp the Vikings were strongly considering switching CB Brian Williams back to free safety to fill a talent void at the position, in place of Willie Offord and Jack Brewer. But defensive coordinator George O’Leary, sources say, doesn’t want to sacrifice the nickel and dime packages that were so user-friendly last season. With Denard Walker, Ken Irvin and Williams as the team’s top three corners, the nickel and dime groupings would be much improved from a year ago.

Detroit has settled upon free-agent newcomer Dre’ Bly at right cornerback, despite paying him like a top left cornerback to lure him from St. Louis. The Lions see Andre’ Goodman as the more talented option opposite Bly and love his potential, but fellow second-year CB Chris Cash has assumed the edge he held over Goodman much of last season. Cash is smaller, less gifted physically and unequal in terms of upside, but he’s a fierce competitor who may win the starting job once again.

The Bears have high expectations for fifth-round pick Justin Gage of Missouri, but the rookie wide receiver will lose a step or two out of the blocks. He’s been slowed by a hamstring injury since the team’s final offseason workout and was not expected to

practice for the first several days of training camp.

Now that Bears DT Bryan Robinson has avoided in-season jail time and has yet to hear from the league about a possible suspension for a second DUI-related offense, he’ll get a real chance to crack the starting lineup. Robinson has a clean slate with the coaching staff after rededicating himself mentally and physically. Starting Robinson would allow the Bears to play aging DTs Keith Traylor and Ted Washington in waves.

Word is Cardinals backup OL Raleigh Roundtree, who did a decent job in his first year with the team last season, could be out of action from four to six weeks after medical tests during his pre-camp physical detected an enlarged spleen.

Of all the concerns the Rams had going into training camp, we hear the biggest might have been the fact their projected starting LB corps of Tommy Polley, Robert Thomas and rookie Pisa Tinoi­samoa has little NFL experience. We also hear, though, the team thinks Thomas could be a very active and effective playmaker in the middle this season after struggling much of his rookie campaign.

The smart money in Seattle has recently acquired Tom Rouen beating out Rodney Williams for the punting job. Not only has Williams, another free-agent addition, been very erratic in offseason camp action, but he’s also at a disadvantage because Rouen is an accomplished holder for field goals and PATs — a duty that was split last season by departed P Jeff Feagles and starting QB Matt Hasselbeck.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith doesn’t have any desire to move second-year C Jason Ball to guard with the return of Cory Raymer, who missed most of last season with injury. “I’m sure (Ball) might work in (at guard), but I think the priority is that we feel he is a natural, special young player at center, and I believe that’s going to be his spot,” Smith told PFW. “We do like to flop people around just to protect ourselves in case of injuries, but I think he’ll be locked in at center, and there will be a lot of other players flowed in at different positions.”

All signs are positive with Priest Holmes’ hip as of presstime. He has been limited somewhat in practice and is regularly held out of the more physical drills, but according to team observers, he has been able to hit the corner and shows a good burst through the line.

Rookie RB Larry Johnson was knocked flat on his back recently in Chiefs camp by DE Monty Beisel in a non-tackling drill. “He was moving full bore when he hit him, and that's good — that’s football,” head coach Dick Vermeil said. “Now, the chances are that if Priest Holmes had been carrying the ball then, that wouldn't have happened. Our (defensive) guys know who's back there.”

Chiefs QB Trent Green says he notices a difference in WR Johnnie Morton in regard to his comfort level in the offense. Morton was moved back to his familiar role at split end, where he played with the Lions before coming to K.C. last year, and is adjusting well to the timing of the passing game.

New faces throwing him the football are nothing new to Curtis Conway. The Jets’ Chad Pennington will be Conway’s 11th different opening-day quarterback in his 11 years in the league.

In an attempt to cut down on their habit of drawing yellow flags, the Raiders have installed a 10-push-up rule for anyone who commits a penalty in practice. Veteran OT Lincoln Kennedy, guilty of a false start on the first day of camp, immediately dropped and produced 10 push-ups. Later he was asked when was the last time he did a push-up on the field. He answered with a smile, “When was the last time I did a push-up (anytime)?”

Although they stress it’s early, insiders are impressed with rookie WR Adrian Madise in Broncos training camp.

Kicking duties are not enough for the Broncos’ Jason Elam anymore. Elam, who signed a big multiyear deal this offseason to remain in Denver, entered himself in the competition for the team’s punting job, and head coach Mike Shanahan isn’t standing in the way. “If he winds up being our best punter, we’ll give him a chance to do both,” Shanahan said. “But he better kick field goals better than he did last year with the salary we’re paying him. I’m not paying him to punt the ball.”

The Bills would like QB Travis Brown to rise up and win the No. 2 job this season. If that happens, Alex Van Pelt would likely get his walking papers, as his salary would be too high for a No. 3 quarterback.

Although Bills head coach Gregg Williams is fully aware that his contract is up after this season and the team must continue to show progress to keep him in place, he says he isn’t concerning himself with it. Bills observers say he’s probably telling the truth, because he is a take-it-as-it-comes type of person and knows what needs to be done.

Dolphins observers say WR Oronde Gadsden entered training camp looking about 15 pounds heavy, but that the Dolphins are still setting up some plays around his abilities.

Don’t believe, word for word, the talk surrounding the Dolphins asking their rookies for longer-term contracts. It’s not that their salary-cap situation is bad; it’s just that they are putting their foot down and becoming tougher to negotiate with. Longer deals for rookies are something they want, and they’re doing everything in their power to reach that goal.

Don’t assume for a second that free-agent addition Tom Nütten will be starting at guard for the Jets come Week One of the regular season. The way we hear it, young Jonathan Goodwin is primed after a fantastic offseason to push Nütten to the edge during camp. Goodwin is more of a power guy while Nütten is more of a finesse-and-wits blocker. Either would fit nicely into the line of established veterans, and the Jets are excited about how this competition adds to the depth on the line as well.

Browns CB Anthony Henry has impressed the team in the offseason. Henry, who had 10 interceptions as a rookie in 2001, picked off only two passes last season. Browns DB coach Chuck Pagano chalked up Henry’s sophomore struggles to a couple of factors. Henry came into last season a little heavier than he was in his rookie season, Pagano told PFW. Also, when injuries forced Henry into the starting lineup, he had trouble adjusting to his new role. Instead of being a one-down, nickel corner focusing almost strictly on the pass, Henry had to take on the responsibilities that come with being an every-down corner.

We hear the heat is on Ravens KR-PR Lamont Brightful to step up his play. Brightful’s troubles fielding punts could cost him a roster spot if he doesn’t show improvement.

Steelers ORG Kendall Simmons will miss the start of training camp after it was discovered he had a diabetic condition. Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the team doesn’t “anticipate this being a long-term problem at all.”

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Noooooooooo:doh: :shoothead :stop:

Barker sucks sooo bad this isnt even funny. How many games did he cost us on field position alone last year? two? three? They seriously have to get someone with skills in camp to take Barker's roster spot away from him. :gus:

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Jeff Hayes, Steve Cox, Kelly Goodburn :D

We don't need Ray Guy, merely a guy that is going to kick the consistent 39 or 40 yarder high with little room for a big return.

This isn't rocket science. Why the Skins have dickered around when there were players available here the past 2 years is beyond me.

Whatever one thinks of Barker, however, Jarrett was an absolute cluster **** last year as his replacement.

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Brad Barker was the 26th-best punter in the league in average yards per punt (40.1 yards) last year, and the Skins can't find anyone to push him? Even worse -- and this is really telling -- he was 33rd in the league in net yards per punt (30 yards/punt). That sucks. Barker sucks. He's not average, he's not below average -- he sucks. He's one of the worst punters in the league.

If he was just average -- 16th in the league -- he'd have given up 250 yards fewer last year. The Skins really needed those 250 yards last year.

I'm really surprised that the Skins haven't done anything about this yet. I'm still hoping they'll grab a veteran. I think Jimster is right -- the 40+ year old Tupa would be a good grab if the Bucs release him.

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If Bartholomew has not shot....cut him and sign Glenn Pakulak for competition....he just got released from Seattle I think and didn't he have the biggest leg in college and we had mentioned interest in him once.....pull the trigger Danny....and least get us competition

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Barker is a veteran punter who is clearly on the downside of his career, and he had a very bad year last year. The biggest decline, of course, was the net punting average dropped to the lowest of his career at 30 yards a kick. That was a combination of some bad kicks and some bad special teams. I think Barker is suffient though he's clearly not a strength. He's not going to kick you out of trouble very much. He has been among the better touch kickers in the league though and if the offense is moving a little he has shown in his career the ability to knock the ball inside the 20 pretty well. If he kicks as poorly as last year though even that's a weakness.

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Punter is such a small thing yet it's such an important thing at the same time. I really hope the 'skins don't botch this one and have learned from their past transgressions. Bad punting can equal a loss or two almost by itself. Hopefully if Barker is not looking good in camp they can get someone better off the wire.

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If Barker and Bartholomew can't cut it, I think there will be other players out there for us late in camp to go after from other teams.

Punters and kickers don't need to build chemistry as do the linemen and skill players among the starting 22.

At the same time it is annoying that this spot has been such a sore point for so long.

Poor punting and mediocre field goal kicking have probably cost this team 2 playoff berths in the past 5 years.

You would als figure that because Barker is a vet making way over minimum that the Skins would be eager to lower the cap bite for this position and get someone younger and cheaper signed up and ready to go :)

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I don't see punting being a big problem this year. Barker does suck but if our offense moves from 20th in the league to somewhere in the 5-10 range (something I fulled expect to happen) then that cuts down on the number of punts dramatically. When you punt 8 times a game like we seemed to do last year, you are bound to have 1-2 shank jobs but keep it down to 3-4 punts and we will be fine.

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My biggest problem with Barker is that he saved up his worst kicks for the worst possible time. It seems like if you let him punt from his own 45 yard line, he'd dribble it inside the 20 every time. But if you make him punt inside his own 20, he'll pull one of his 9 yard shanks. He was an embarrassment last year.

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