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ProFootballWeekly: The Way We Hear It
-Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said during the team’s recent bye that he is “totally happy” with Jake Plummer and was adamant in his support of him as the quarterback of the future in Denver. However, Bowlen admitted he was not up to speed on Plummer’s contract status, which includes a $6 million roster option in March.
-Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams indicated this week that he has no intention of leaving after one season in Washington and harbors no head-coaching aspirations — for now.
-A few Philly pass catchers, including WR Freddie Mitchell and TE L.J. Smith, quietly complained about QB Donovan **Mc*Nabb not looking anywhere except for WR Terrell Owens. But the two were quieted by teammates and coaches, who reminded them that Owens is often the first option on passing plays and that McNabb’s philosophy always has been that he throws it to whoever is open.
-We hear hardworking rookie Niko Koutouvides has a good shot at becoming Seattle’s undisputed starter at middle linebacker next season.
-Don’t be surprised if the Panthers give third-string QB Chris Weinke a half or possibly an entire game to show off his talent later this season just to get an idea of where he is as a player.
-Falcons WR Dez White could be close to losing his starting job in the team’s three-WR rotation to rookie Michael Jenkins.
-Look for Falcons DE Patrick Kerney to be more effective with DT Rod Coleman returning to the lineup.
-Although Buccaneers PK Martin Gramatica isn’t expected to be released any time soon, the fact the team signed PK Jay Taylor to the practice squad is a sign the Bucs may be preparing for life after Gramatica.
-We’re told Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden reacted angrily early last week to questions about former Tampa Bay and current Atlanta general manager Rich McKay because he didn’t want to spend all week having to answer questions about his former co-worker.
-We’re told Saints head coach Jim Haslett decided to demote WR Donté Stallworth from the starting lineup in favor of veteran Jerome Pathon because he’s tired of using inconsistent players, even if it means putting less talent on the field.
-Saints observers believe Haslett’s challenge to his players not to give up the season with the message that players are either with the team or against it is nothing more than desperate words from a desperate man.
-The Colts are crossing their fingers that their banged-up defensive backs last down the stretch. No. 1 CB Nick Harper (shoulder) can’t practice most days, and his replacement, Joseph Jefferson, continues to battle chronic knee soreness. Rookie CB Jason David, according to coaches, has been the team’s most consistent cornerback of late, but he’s also dinged up.
-WR Marvin Harrison denied telling ABC’s “Monday Night Football” that he was “frustrated” sharing the ball within the Colts’ offense. Either way, the numbers show Harrison was thrown to more frequently through eight games this season than he was in 2003.
-As high as the Vikings were on their young LB corps early in the season, both Mike Nattiel and Dontarrious Thomas are not in head coach Mike Tice’s good graces. Thomas was benched vs. Indianapolis — that makes twice this season — and Nattiel was later pulled. Putting Nattiel on the bench forced Tice to use S Willie Offord at weak-side linebacker vs. Indianapolis. Nattiel also has been ribbed for poor practice habits.
-Sources in Minnesota say WR Marcus Robinson (foot) has a more serious injury than the team is letting on and insist that if Randy Moss had played in the last two games, Robinson may not have been available.
-Rookie RB Kevin Jones took all of the first-team snaps prior to Week 10 for the first time this season. Jones is getting more attention as the Lions look for any way out of their current poor performance in the running game.
-In the wake of his two-sack performance vs. the Vikings in Week Nine, the Colts are beginning to realize DRE Dwight Freeney needs a complement on the opposite side. Coaches think pairing Freeney with another high-level defensive end will do for the defense what the emergence of WR Reggie Wayne has done for the offense.
-QB coach Sam Wyche told PFW that the Bills will continue to platoon Lawrence Smith and Ross Tucker at the OLG spot because they both offer different strengths to the position. “We’re going to mix it up,” Wyche said. “(Tucker is) the more physical, bigger guy in the run game, and Lawrence Smith is probably the better pass protector. But they both do it well, and we know that we can run or pass with them in the game. But if we were to feature — late in the game, for example — if we were in a run/pass situation, we’d probably want Lawrence in there. But teams won’t get a tip from it because we’re not going to do it exclusively.”
-Dolphins S Shawn Wooden is likely going to retire at the end of the season due to ongoing back problems. Wooden, a nine-year veteran who excelled on special teams, has been sidelined with a back injury and has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since August.
-We hear that the Dolphins’ decision to cut starting FS Antuan Edwards was a curious one considering that he was leading the league’s No. 1 pass defense in passes defended with eight despite playing hurt. He sat out Week Seven with a groin injury and returned to play at less than 100 percent health in Weeks Eight and Nine. We hear that Dolphins interim head coach Jim Bates prefers Arturo Freeman and wants to look at promising Yeremiah Bell.
-The Chargers are hoping that rest during the recent bye week was just what the doctor ordered for RB LaDainian Tomlinson and the groin strain that has bothered him for nearly a month. Tomlinson has been limited to practicing only once a week and is visibly lacking his impressive burst through the hole.
News concerning DE Trevor Pryce’s surgically repaired back doesn’t seem to be getting better. During the Broncos’ bye week, head coach Mike Shanahan admitted there is an increasing likelihood that Pryce may not be able to return this year. Injured in the opener, Pryce has made little progress in rehabilitation because of nerves that have been slow to regenerate, preventing him from pushing off and limiting his strength.
-Chargers ORT Shane Olivea told PFW about the bond he has formed with fellow rookie Nick Hardwick, who mans the center position for a San Diego line that has quietly played quite well. “We get along real well, and on the field, if he sees something, he’ll let me know. Or if I see something, I’ll try to let him know. He has a lot more responsibilities because he’s the center and making more calls, but if I see certain looks, I’ll help him out. It’s good to bounce things off each other. This is our first go-around, and I think we’re playing above expectations and playing well. It’s a lot of fun to have someone else young going through it, too.”
-Raiders LB Danny Clark told PFW he believes Oakland’s run defense is clearing up a lot of the mishaps it suffered through early on. “I think attention to detail was our problem, and guys ignoring exactly where they fit in the running game,” Clark told PFW. “I think we were getting by during our early wins, and it wasn’t hurting us any, but people found some weaknesses and they chose to attack those. Now that we’re playing more sound run-gap defense, I think it’s going to pay off for us.”
-The Raiders are enthused by the play of rookie DT Tommy Kelly, who plays primarily on passing downs. Though he doesn’t regularly command double-teams, he is providing consistent pressure, which has been a rarity for Oakland this season.
-With improving rookie TE Courtney Anderson out 3-5 more weeks with a sprained knee, and veteran Roland Williams hampered by his own knee trouble, the Raiders will be counting on Teyo Johnson to step up in the near future. Johnson, who plummeted from first to fourth on the depth chart during training camp and has been deactivated for eight consecutive games, said he has been working hard on his weaknesses and is ready to contribute again.
-The safety positions in Kansas City were thought to be the most sound on the defense, but head coach Dick Vermeil has taken exception to the play of Greg Wesley and Jerome Woods of late. Getting caught out of position and fooled by misdirection have been the primary issues, and tackling has hardly been a strong point either.
-The Titans should benefit greatly from the return of TE Erron Kinney, whose contributions in both the passing game and the running game, as a very good blocker, have been missed sorely. His return allows the team to go to more powerful running formations for RB Chris Brown, who was starting to see more stacked defenses, and also aids QB Steve McNair, who has another dependable target.
-Sources close to the Titans indicate that MLB Rocky Calmus looked OK in practice and that his return could come in the next week or two. The good news is that replacement Brad Kassell has looked more comfortable as the team has given him more responsibility and more reps.
-Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells tentatively plans to rotate strong safeties Lynn Scott and Tony Dixon, both free agents at season’s end, until one shows he can handle the starter’s role full time.
-Cowboys WR Dedric Ward appears to be out of the offensive mix for now so Parcells can take a look at Randal Williams, Patrick Crayton and Terrance Copper in the second half of the season. So far, the young wideouts have had a few more dropped passes than Parcells would like.
-There is an opportunity for Giants LB Nick Greisen to show he can handle the weak side the next few games with Barrett Green out. Green revealed that he had a partial tear of the meniscus cartilage and a burst bursa sac in his left knee. If he has surgery, the normal recovery time is 2-3 weeks; with rest only, he could be back after missing just last week’s game.
-Redskins coach Joe Gibbs borrowed a page out of Mike Shanahan's offense in Denver to create more plays for RB Clinton Portis’ liking. The “zone stretch” play, a favorite of Portis’ in Denver, worked fairly well in its debut against the Lions in Week Nine and should stay in a semi-regular rotation.
-The Ravens will not rush CB Deion Sanders back into the lineup. Sanders missed Week 10 with a toe injury; earlier, he missed two games with a hamstring injury. One more “Prime Time” note: He’s credited with two starts at wide receiver, but he has no catches. More than anything, he’s been a decoy when split out wide.
-The Ravens believe TE Todd Heap, out since September with an ankle injury, will be back no later than Week 13.
-Bengals CB Tory James may have led the NFL in interceptions entering Week 10, but one source close to the team believes Deltha O’Neal is playing better.
A rookie worth watching is Bengals DE Robert Geathers, who is starting to see action on passing downs. Geathers, the nephew of former Redskins DL Jumpy Geath*ers, registered a sack and a forced fumble in Week Nine.
-We hear it’s likely Cardinals CB Duane Starks will remain a high-priced ($3.6 million) nickel back the rest of the season. The team appears to have decided that the 5-10, 174-pounder, who has suffered injuries to his hamstring, groin, neck, knees and (most recently) shoulder as a Cardinal, is just too fragile to be a starter. Making the decision easier is the fact Starks has been playing quite well in the nickel role.
-Word is, the ankle that Cardinals rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald sprained so badly in the preseason is likely to continue bothering him and won’t be fully healed until next year at the earliest.
-Our sources in Seattle say there’s no doubt newcomer Jerry Rice has wasted no time in having a positive effect on the Seahawks’ WR corps, particularly Koren Robinson. Rice, who is still adapting to unfamiliar terminology, has offered more encouragement than tips, but his regal-like presence appears to be making a difference. Dropped passes in practice last week were way down from the previous week.
-Free-agent addition Chike Okea*for, who started out like a house on fire at left end for the Seahawks, has really come down to earth in recent weeks because of a nagging neck problem.
-We hear the Rams are finally admitting that the loss of two-fifths of their starting offensive line from last season (C Dave Wohlabaugh and particularly ORT Kyle Turley) has really taken its toll.
-In addition to WR Brandon Lloyd, we hear another ***** receiver who incurred the wrath of FB Fred Beasley, who publicly blasted some of the team’s younger players after the loss to the Bears, was WR Cedrick Wilson. Wilson complained about failing to catch a pass in the Bears game and, as a result, hurting his value on the free-agent market after this season.
-Our ***** sources are flat-out mystified by the consistently poor play of SS Tony Parrish, whose numbers are minimal after leading the league in interceptions last season.
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