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For Different Reasons, These 5 Are On The Spot


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For Different Reasons, These 5 Are On The Spot


Published: Aug 31, 2003


Those meaningless games are over, and it's time to concentrate on the matchups that count. As the NFL approaches the start of its 84th season, here are five players on the spot to produce:

* Vinny Testaverde, QB, Jets: The wrist injury that will sideline Chad Pennington for at least three months gives this ex-Buccaneers lightning rod one more chance to exercise that golden right arm. Testaverde, who turns 40 in November, will lead New York into Washington on Thursday night in the 2003 kickoff game despite taking only 21 snaps during the preseason.

``It is what it is,'' said Testaverde, who lost his job to Pennington last year after New York's 1-3 start. ``I'm not concerned. All the hard work we've put in during practice has me confident we'll be ready.''

Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett soured on Testaverde last September, but he's toeing the company line right now.

``Vinny has thrown for 39,000 yards, and I'm counting on his experience,'' Hackett said.

* Peerless Price, WR, Falcons: Atlanta's preseason was dreadful, with the winless Falcons suffering a potentially crippling blow when Michael Vick went down with a fractured fibula.

Price, obtained as a restricted free agent from Buffalo, has had to adjust to Doug Johnson the past two preseason games. The Johnson-Price combination clicked for long TD passes against the Dolphins and Browns, and Atlanta's ground game looked much improved at Cleveland on Thursday night.

In Buffalo, Price was fortunate to have outstanding WR Eric Moulds on the other side. In Atlanta, Price is the No. 1 option. If he is productive early, his presence should open things up for RB Warrick Dunn and sure-handed TE Alge Crumpler.

* Takeo Spikes, LB, Bills: Buffalo finished off a 3-1 preseason, and the Bills believe they can win the treacherous AFC East. Signing Spikes as a free agent has boosted confidence throughout the organization.

Spikes couldn't wait to put Cincinnati in his rearview mirror. He's a swift playmaker who will team with Jeff Posey and London Fletcher to give the Bills a linebacking corps with the speed to match Tampa Bay's unit.

Buffalo opens and closes the season against New England, and it's likely Spikes will be making tackles all over the field in each key matchup.

* Troy Hambrick, RB, Cowboys: New coach Bill Parcells didn't like what he saw of Hambrick until Thursday's 52-13 rout of Oakland, when the former Pasco High stud rushed for 60 yards and two TDs. Hambrick finally ran with authority in his bid to replace Emmitt Smith.

``It's fun when you are doing things you want to do,'' said Hambrick, who has slimmed down since the start of training camp. ``I just want to get closer to my offensive linemen and let them know how important it is to me to one, come behind a legend, and two, to shut the critics up.''

* Kurt Warner, QB, Rams: In the two years Warner has been healthy, St. Louis won two NFC titles and one Super Bowl. That's why Coach Mike Martz didn't let Warner take one snap in the preseason finale.

Warner has looked very sharp throughout the exhibition season, apparently recovered from the hand injuries that turned 2002 into a disaster. With Kyle Turley on the right side and Pro Bowl LT Orlando Pace finally ending his holdout, Warner should have ample time to dissect secondaries and guide the Rams to an NFC West title. EXTRA POINTS: Ravens S Ed Reed noted the huge personality differences between a pair of Pro Bowl tight ends, Jeremy Shockey of the Giants, a former UM teammate, and Baltimore's unassuming Todd Heap. ``Shockey is on the cover of every magazine, and he's cleaning up that way,'' Reed said. ``That's not Todd's way.'' Heap, the only tight end in the league to lead his team in receptions last year, is a Mormon who doesn't drink. ... The Cowboys, who head to Tampa on Oct. 26, are 5-27 on the road since 1999. ... Who says Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt lacks a sense of humor? At a preseason luncheon, Hunt joked about 43-year-old K Morten Andersen, the NFL's oldest player. ``Everyone knows that Morten Andersen has a red complexion,'' Hunt said. ``I want to dispel the rumor that he got that because his face was burned by the candles at his last birthday.'' ...

LB Alonzo Jackson, a second-round pick out of Florida State, is making a big impression on Steelers coach Bill Cowher as a rusher in the dime defense. ... Matthew Hatchette, signed out of NFL Europe, is the favorite to fill in for Jimmy Smith while Jacksonville's top receiver serves his drug suspension. ... RB Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner attempting to revive his NFL career, couldn't survive San Francisco's first wave of cuts. ... The Seahawks are considering an injury settlement with Chad Eaton, then re-signing the veteran defensive tackle six weeks later. It's a risky scenario because Eaton, struggling with a knee injury, would have the option of signing with another team. ... Despite the hiring of Coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are having difficulty selling out their Sept. 7 home opener against the Broncos. ...

The Panthers thought they had traded fourth-string QB Randy Fasani to the Jets for a conditional draft pick, but the deal dissolved when Fasani told both teams he no longer wanted to play, citing a dead right arm. Carolina then waived Fasani, who started against the Bucs last season. ... The Cardinals will open the year with Bryan Gilmore and Larry Foster as their starting receivers. They have 54 NFL receptions between them. ... Chuck Cecil, a former head- hunting safety, now vents his aggression as Tennessee's defensive quality control coach. ``He's head-butting people before the game, getting his forehead bloody,'' said Titans LB Peter Sirmon. ... Here's Patriots LB Ted Johnson on newly acquired DT Ted Washington: ``He's so big, you could show a movie on his backside.'' ... Packers G Marco Rivera has started 67 consecutive games and he expects to open against Minnesota on Sept. 7 despite a partial tear of his right MCL.

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