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ESPN Insider's Whispers from around the NFL (5/23)
Whispers from around the NFLPro Football Weekly
• The way we hear it, Panthers DT Kris Jenkins, who missed the bulk of last season with a shoulder injury, is carrying more weight than usual, and there is some concern he will not be as effective as he once was unless he drops some pounds.
• One scout told PFW the Redskins appeared to have hit it big with first-round pick QB Jason Campbell, if the rare poise and performance he showed in his first minicamp is any indication. He said Campbell looked like "the next Doug Williams" and that "Joe Gibbs knew what he was getting (in Campbell)."
• Chargers WR Reche Caldwell, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in Week 6 last season, looked good during a full-squad workout in May, just six and a half months removed from surgery. Caldwell, who last season showed signs of finally leaving his bust label behind, is expected to compete with Eric Parker and second-rounder Vincent Jackson for playing time.
• We hear the Patriots likely will give second-year RB Cedric Cobbs a lot of work in training camp and the preseason to give him needed touches and build experience as a possible backup option behind Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk.
• We hear the Cardinals' release of OT L.J. Shelton is seen as vindication of a Bills brain trust that was heavily criticized by some media members for not pulling the trigger on a proposed Travis Henry-for-Shelton trade. GM Tom Donahoe caught a lot of flak for not making that trade, but he said time and again that a player-for-player swap was not equal value. The Cardinals' decision to give Shelton his outright release is seen by the Bills as proof of that fact.
• We hear most of Jets CB Donnie Abraham's teammates assumed he would retire after he skipped most of the offseason to be with his family in Tampa. However, word is the Jets and Abraham have worked out a way for Abraham to see his family more often during the season, and that allowed him to be comfortable enough to return for his 10th NFL season.
• With DTs Tim Bowens (back) and Larry Chester (knee) both struggling to return to form following season-ending injuries, we hear it has become clear to the Dolphins they won't be able to count on Bowens and Chester to play a big role in the defense this season. That likely will lead the Dolphins to sign the free agent who best fits the profile of what coach Nick Saban is looking for – Keith Traylor, who played nose tackle with the Patriots last season.
• Saints CB Fahkir Brown surprised his team when he held out of minicamp workouts, because nobody – including general manager Mickey Loomis – knew Brown was unhappy with his contract.
• Expect the Saints to open talks with RB Deuce McAllister about a contract extension in early June, with a deal expected to be hammered out in a short time.
• Panthers WR Drew Carter has impressed observers in offseason workouts with his quickness and speed, and he could challenge for the No. 3 receiver spot in camp.
• We're told Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks hasn't let rumors he was available on the trading block earlier in the offseason bother him, because none of the talk came from inside the organization.
• Our sources tell us the Falcons may not miss former OL coach Alex Gibbs as much as expected, because new OL coach Jeff Jagodzinski, new TE coach Clancy Barone and assistant OL coach Chris Dalman are running things the same way Gibbs did when he was working with the team on a day-to-day basis.
• We're told the Falcons intend to concentrate on getting the wide receivers more involved in the offense during the preseason to get QB Michael Vick used to looking at his outside targets more.
• Chargers Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates was front and center during a May orientation and full-squad workout, despite not being under contract as an exclusive-rights free agent. Scheduled to make only $380,000 in his third year, Gates is seeking a long-term deal that would pay him something resembling market value. He wasn't about to say what would happen if a new deal doesn't get done before the start of training camp in July, but he wanted to make sure his teammates knew he was committed despite the uncertainty of contract negotiations. "I feel like I play an imperative role in this offense, and I want to make sure my team knows that I'm going to be there for them," Gates said. "I think that's more important than anything."
• In an effort to get more physical up front so they can improve a league-worst running game with new RB LaMont Jordan, the Raiders showed a new-look offensive line in their late-April minicamp. Jake Grove, who played left guard as a rookie, supplanted Adam Treu at center; backup OT Langston Walker was entered in at left guard; and Brad Badger, not Ron Stone, has a handle on the ORG spot. There have been no discussions about moving last year's first-round pick, OT Robert Gallery, from the right to his more familiar left side, and that doesn't seem to bother Gallery.
• Judging by a spring minicamp, it may be safe to expect to see quite a few three-WR sets in Oakland this year, with the tight end seeing more of the field than a fullback in those situations. Courtney Anderson currently holds an advantage over Teyo Johnson at the TE spot, in large part because Anderson is a better blocker and held the starting job last year as a rookie until getting hurt.
• After failing to lure Allen Rossum away from Atlanta in free agency, expect the Chargers to lean heavily on rookie Darren Sproles for return duties. Sproles, at 5-6 and 181 pounds, probably isn't destined for much time as a running back unless it's a specific package catering to his strengths, but his shiftiness and burst will be welcome on special teams. At Kansas State, he averaged 9.5 yards on punt returns and 24.2 yards on kickoffs. Second-round pick Vincent Jackson, who combines size and speed, could also get a look in training camp.
• Colts QB Peyton Manning, offensive coordinator Tom Moore and QB coach Jim Caldwell have reviewed much of the game tape from the 2004 season. The verdict? Manning failed to convert on a lot of TD opportunities. Manning claims the sessions turned up "17 legitimate misses," which seems absurd considering he had 49 TD passes in '04.
• NFL sack leader Dwight Freeney (16 sacks in 2004) is doing well in rehab after offseason shoulder surgery to clean up a minor injury. Freeney, itching to get on the practice field, should be ready for training camp, but Colts head coach Tony Dungy said Freeney will be held back as a precaution.
• Should the Lions sign free-agent CB Ty Law, one of their young cornerbacks would be moved to free safety to compete with Terrence Holt. Look for second-year CB Keith Smith (5-11, 191) to emerge as the top option for the switch. The Lions rave about Smith's athleticism and, with Dre' Bly, Fernando Bryant and potentially Law ahead of him on the depth chart at corner, moving him to safety is the best way to ensure he gets on the field.
• Team trainers in Jacksonville are designing a workout to help first-round pick Matt Jones adjust to the WR position. Jones, a quarterback at Arkansas, has a history of hamstring and groin problems. He was able to mask or play through the injuries as a quarterback, but with more sprinting involved as a receiver, the Jaguars plan to be cautious of wearing down Jones, which could lead to leg muscle injuries.
• The Lions haven't given up on 2003 fourth-round pick RB Artose Pinner. The 99th pick in the draft two years ago, Pinner was lost for most of his rookie year with a broken foot and lost his job to '04 first-round pick Kevin Jones last year. Jones is the undisputed starter, but Detroit really likes what Pinner provides as an inside runner.
• Strong-side LB Boss Bailey will practice just once a day for most of Lions training camp. After an impressive rookie season, Bailey did not play in 2004 after undergoing surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee. The Lions are still deciding how to use '04 second-round pick Teddy Lehman. They consider him the future starter at middle linebacker but have no plans to bench run-defense cog Earl Holmes at this point.
• The Packers drafted two wide receivers – including second-round pick Terrence Murphy – to provide depth behind Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson. But the most impressive receiver at the Packers' first minicamp was Antonio Chatman, the 5-9, 184-pound slot receiver and return specialist. Chatman's experience gives him an added edge in a competition for the No. 4 WR job. Best case: The Packers see Chatman developing into a package receiver who can create after the catch, much as the Rams did with Az-Zahir Hakim in 1999 (36 catches, 18.8-yard average).
• Team observers suggest S Nick Collins, one of the Packers' second-round picks, will be a long-range project. After practice sessions in May, it became evident that Collins had the speed but not the instincts or anticipation to help out immediately.
• Vikings coaches are pleasantly surprised with LB E.J. Henderson's work ethic this offseason. Henderson, who started at middle linebacker in 2004 but was demoted when the Vikings acquired Sam Cowart from the Jets, has been far more accountable and a fixture at the team facility. Henderson said he doesn't question defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell's decision to make him a backup.
• Even though Andre Carter reportedly has made some nice progress in the Niners' new 3-4 scheme, converting from defensive end to outside linebacker, we hear he still has a long way to go before cracking the starting lineup ahead of Jamie Winborn.
• Word is Jed York, the son of Niners co-owner John York, officially started working full time for the team in mid-May.
• We hear all of the *****' quarterbacks have done an impressive job grasping new offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy's complicated system in early offseason activity, particularly third-year pro Ken Dorsey.
• We're told at least five rookies or first-year players are seriously in the mix to handle the Cardinals' return duties next season. Seventh-round pick LeRon McCoy and rookie free agents Roger Robinson and Dan Sheldon have been fielding kickoffs in the team's rookie development camp, with first-round pick Antrel Rolle and first-year player Luke Powell returning punts. Perhaps the most intriguing candidate is Sheldon, who has been compared with Dante Hall by offensive coordinator Keith Rowen, who spent the last six seasons with the Chiefs.
• A Steelers spy has it on good authority that QB Ben Roethlisberger owns no fewer than four motorcycles. Roethlisberger's riding has become a hot topic in Pittsburgh after Browns TE Kellen Winslow took a spill on his motorcycle. Roethliserger has disclosed he does not wear a helmet when riding.
• A source close to the Ravens says QB Kyle Boller, after looking shaky early in the May minicamp, picked up his play as it progressed.
• Texans TE Bennie Joppru likely will miss a third consecutive season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in minicamp. Joppru missed his first two seasons with groin injuries. Despite his injury history, a source close to the Texans wouldn't be surprised if the team gave Joppru one more shot in 2006. The team spent a '03 second-round pick on Joppru, who has two years left on his contract.
• While it has been speculated that Victor Riley could challenge Seth Wand for the Texans' starting OLT job, we're told Riley is not in good enough shape at the moment.
• At the team's May minicamp, Bengals QB Carson Palmer seemed to be more outwardly confident than he was a season ago, according to one Bengals observer.
• CB Greg Brooks and DE Robert Geathers, both second-year players, were among those who stood out at Bengals minicamp. Brooks made some nice plays on the ball, while Geathers looks quicker than he did as a rookie.
• We hear OLB Dexter Coakley has wasted no time becoming a team leader on the Rams. The free-agent addition, who earned three Pro Bowl berths with the Cowboys, already has been named a team captain by head coach Mike Martz.
• How do we know Rams rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has made a strong impression in St. Louis? The way we hear it, the seventh-round pick out of Harvard made it through the Rams' entire rookie minicamp without ever getting yelled at by head coach Mike Martz, who has been known to be notoriously tough on young QBs.
• We hear Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren could be seriously considering second-string QB Seneca Wallace for punt-return duties this season. Before exclusively becoming a quarterback at Iowa State, Wallace returned punts at Oregon State and Sacramento (Calif.) City College and has been called a "natural" by Holmgren. The Seahawks could be looking to lessen the load on 32-year-old incumbent PR Bobby Engram, who also is the team's third receiver.
• Mike Barrow might not be the only big name let go by the Redskins after June 1. Other candidates to be released for salary-cap purposes include WR Rod Gardner, PK John Hall (if the staff feels good about Jeff Chandler) and RB-RS Chad Morton. Gardner was offered around at draft time, but no one met the Redskins' trade demands, so he could be let go.
• A source close to the Miami (Fla.) program who has talked to Redskins FS Sean Taylor this spring said the second-year player has tried to escape the limelight after a tough rookie season but one that was filled with promise. The source expects Taylor to report to training camp on time in July. Head coach Joe Gibbs also said he thought Taylor's absence from minicamp has nothing to do with unhappiness over his current contract.
• The recent hand injury to Titans RB Chris Brown might be the final straw, causing the team to add a veteran who can compete with the injury-prone Brown. The two most common names in public discussion have been Eddie George and Bills RB Travis Henry, but sources in Tennessee say the team is not champing at the bit to get either. In Henry's case, the team likes him but not might be willing to match Buffalo's asking price of a first-day draft pick.
• Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells confirmed what many had suspected: that the team will use the 3-4 as its base defense in 2005. What Parcells also added was that the Cowboys are likely to mix in plenty of 4-3 looks and that it could always change based on what happens in the minicamps leading up to training camp.
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