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PFW: Whispers from around the NFL 12-15

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Dec. 15, 2003

Calgary Stampeders president Ron Rooke was scheduled to attend last week’s Chargers-Packers game to scout none other than QB Doug Flutie. Rooke told the Calgary Herald that the idea of bringing Flutie back to the CFL is “definitely something we’d go after” if he were to be released after this season. Flutie said he hopes to return to the Chargers but added that he would consider heading back to Canada if his future doesn’t lie in San Diego.

Colts LB Rob Morris on QB Peyton Manning’s performance in high-level games: “I think it frustrates us all when we hear, ‘Oh, he has not won the big game.’ I think that’s the most ridiculous statement ever.”

We hear one candidate the Cardinals will definitely consider to replace head coach Dave McGinnis is Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.

Observers of the Eagles think the team has two discernible weaknesses that could prevent them from making a run to the Super Bowl: stopping the run on defense and preventing the blitz on offense.

Redskins DT Darrell Russell has indicated he would like to return to the team next year and that he’ll give his team first crack to re-sign him. The feeling, however, might not be mutual, the way we hear it.

The recent shift of Raiders MLB Napoleon Harris to the strong side and reserve LB Tim Johnson into the lineup in the middle should not necessarily be taken as a knock on Harris but more as an indication of the lack of depth on the outside without the services of Bill Roman­owski and Travian Smith.

Rod Woodson's wait for cadaver cartilage is over, and the Raiders’ 38-year-old safety will undergo surgery to fill missing cartilage in his left knee this week. Woodson is waiting to see how he recovers before making a decision on whether to return for an 18th season.

Broncos TE Shannon Sharpe is only the fourth player in the history of the league to have at least 50 catches in 11 or more seasons. The others are Jerry Rice (16 seasons), Andre Reed (13) and Cris Carter (11).

Behind Clinton Portis’ staggering numbers of late is a Broncos offensive line that is blowing people off the ball and creating, at times, gaping space at the line of scrimmage. “Anytime you have a running back running through holes that are huge like that, it says something about the line,” Broncos LB Donnie Spragan told PFW. “He’s making people miss, but that’s usually about 10 yards downfield.” QB Jake Plummer echoed that sentiment, adding that the dominant ground game has allowed for plenty of diversity in the passing game. “You can play a long time if you get that kind of protection,” Plummer said. “They’re the best line that I’ve played behind.”

Despite high hopes, the second round of the 2002 draft for the Chargers has proved to be a disappointment. Mammoth OG Toniu Fonoti struggled with pass blocking as a rookie before landing on injured reserve during the preseason, and struggling WR Reche Caldwell lost his starting job recently to Kassim Osgood, an undrafted rookie.

49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora on LB Derek Smith, who in Week 15 broke the team single-season record of 155 tackles set by Ken Norton Jr. in 1996: “Derek to me is one of the more underrated guys in the league. He’s so consistent week in and week out. He doesn’t have the name value some of these other guys do, in terms of the (Brian) Urlachers and Ray Lewises. But he’s still very valuable to this team.”

The Rams moved OLs Andy King and Scott Tercero from the practice squad to the active roster last week because both were about to be grabbed by other teams — King by Atlanta and Tercero by Cleveland.

One of the most underrated defenders in the league as of late is Rams DT Brian Young, who has made a habit out of making big plays and has played well enough to replace former first-round pick Damione Lewis in the starting lineup. But Young’s strong play hardly assures that the Rams will try to re-sign him when he becomes eligible for free agency after the season. If anything, we’re told, he might have priced himself out of the Rams’ budgetary range.

Don’t look at the Bucs’ decision to replace RB Michael Pittman in the starting lineup with Thomas Jones as a slap in the face to Pittman. We hear head coach Jon Gruden struggled with the decision and went with Jones because he breaks tackles and has better big-play ability.

The way we hear it, Bucs S John Lynch will have to deal with the stinger in his right shoulder for the rest of his playing days because it isn’t expected to heal.

Falcons observers say the team’s defense is better when QB Michael Vick is in the lineup simply because Vick tends to keep the offense on the field longer and cuts down on the pounding that the Falcons’ smallish defensive front three has to withstand.

The way we hear it, injured Saints TE Ernie Conwell isn’t in danger of losing his No. 1 status to Boo Williams because Williams isn’t nearly the same quality of blocker or route runner that Conwell is.

Saints sources say that head coach Jim Haslett will have a tough time yanking QB Aaron Brooks from the lineup because he wants to avoid a controversy at the position at all costs.

Panthers LB Dan Morgan is being listed as questionable with a concussion on the team’s injury report, but sources say Morgan likely won’t get much playing time the rest of the season due to lingering effects of the injury.

Although Panthers QB Jake Delhomme has been shaky in the past couple of weeks, we’re told head coach John Fox won’t be making a change to Rodney Peete barring an injury because he doesn’t want to shake up the offense too much.

The Bears turned to rookie QB Rex Grossman in Week 15, but team sources said the move does not signal a complete youth movement before the season ends. For example, rookie DTs Tron LaFavor and Ian Scott won’t see their playing time increase unless a starter is injured.

CB Jerry Azumah, who has a chance to earn a Pro Bowl berth as a return specialist, has come around at cornerback as well. Rookie LCB Charles Tillman is considered a superior cover man, but Azumah has come a long way since last season.

Vikings RB Michael Bennett received around-the-clock treatment for his sprained ankle but was not able to play last week at Chicago. Minnesota coaches aren’t sure whether to consider it a blessing or curse that Bennett didn’t sprain the foot he broke in March, because now he could have problems with both feet.

The Bills’ special-teams units still are evolving, but team observers say P Brian Moorman and the coverage units have played well all season. RS Antonio Brown, whom the team had high hopes for after a stellar preseason, continues to look a bit uncomfortable, and his first step always seems to be sideways instead of forward.

Expect the Dolphins to sign DE Adewale Ogunleye to a one-year deal as a restricted free agent after giving him the highest tender this offseason. The Dolphins probably won’t be able to afford a long-term deal for Ogunleye, especially since they have to address problems on the offensive line, potentially replacing three aging starters.

The Patriots will continue to choose their featured running back based very much upon the weather conditions at game time. However, don’t assume that the team will use its featured runner 35-plus times per game. It still will be a committee approach to an extent.

Jets RB LaMont Jordan switched to a slimmer cast on his left hand (broken finger), and the Jets hope that allows him to be more involved in the offense and return game than he had been recently.

The Jets like what they have in backup LB Jason Glenn, particularly the fact that he has a great motor. However, he is probably not a long-term answer once the team parts ways with its aging LB corps as expected this offseason.

Redskins CB Fred Smoot told PFW that the team’s recent vote of confidence for head coach Steve Spurrier was a big relief to players and that the greater sense of security and cohesion could be the difference between free-agent-to-be CB Champ Bailey returning or going elsewhere. Smoot also told PFW that he and his defensive teammates took it personally when there were reports that defensive coordinator George Edwards might be in trouble. Smoot thinks Edwards has done all he can without the benefit of a good pass rush up front.

Word from Baltimore is QB Anthony Wright and TE Todd Heap are working to develop a playing rapport. Heap has been overshadowed by WR Marcus Robinson, Wright’s college teammate at South Carolina, in recent weeks.

A source close to the Ravens says the team likely will try to move CB Corey Fuller to safety after the season. Fuller has lost a step and recently lost his starting job to Gary Baxter.

Ravens QB Kyle Boller hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his recovery from a left quadriceps injury, and he is expected to be promoted soon to No. 2 behind Anthony Wright. A Baltimore source said that Boller’s left leg, interestingly enough, is stronger that his right leg on account of all of the rehabilitation work Boller did for the injury.

The Browns’ top priority in the draft could be at left tackle, a position where we hear the team wants to start developing a young player.

The Browns’ promotion of rookie P Derrick Frost from the practice squad to the active roster is an indication they want to keep him and thus are unlikely to re-sign veteran Chris Gardocki.

The Steelers continue to play hard for head coach Bill Cowher. A source close to the team believes that the players, knowing full well Cowher will be back next season, are probably somewhat driven by fear of the offseason consequences that would result from slacking off at the end of this season.

Although the Colts still like rookie Steve Sciullo, they’ve replaced him with the more experienced Adam Meadows at right guard.

Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio lauded WR Cortez Hankton’s work ethic. While the undrafted rookie free agent from Texas Southern takes a backseat to WRs Jimmy Smith, Kevin Johnson and Troy Edwards, we hear that he could make a big impact next year.

How far has RB Jonathan Wells fallen? Even with RBs Domanick Davis and Stacey Mack out with injuries, he did not get any snaps for the Texans in Week 14.

The poor performance of RB Tony Hollings in his first start vs. the Jaguars in Week 14 did little to change the Texans’ opinion of him. Hollings rushed for 19 yards on 18 carries, but we hear the offensive line deserved most of the blame. Regardless, the Texans have maintained all along that Hollings is a long-term project.

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on the loss of rookie CB Andre Woolfolk, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury: “Andre is a pro. He's the kind of guy who is going to make (the most) of it. He hurt the toe and came back in Week Three, was just starting to get there. That was a big blow to us. He was a quick study. He didn't make the same mistakes twice. … He knows what it takes and has the work habits."

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"49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora on LB Derek Smith, who in Week 15 broke the team single-season record of 155 tackles set by Ken Norton Jr. in 1996: “Derek to me is one of the more underrated guys in the league. He’s so consistent week in and week out. He doesn’t have the name value some of these other guys do, in terms of the (Brian) Urlachers and Ray Lewises. But he’s still very valuable to this team.”

Hindsight is of course 20/20, but do you think the team may have made a mistake letting Smith go?


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