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Old 06-16-2008, 10:25 AM   #1
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Default Pro Football Weekly Whispers June 15, 2008

Pro Football Weekly Whispers
June 15, 2008

Sources in Miami tell us rookie Jake Long is every bit the physical specimen he’s been billed as, but he clearly has a long way to go before becoming an upper-crust offensive lineman. Through minicamp, Long, the first overall pick in the draft, has shown glimpses of dominance as a run blocker but has struggled to hold speed rushers at bay in pass protection.

CB Will Allen could wind up being the most critical player to Miami’s defense. One of the few Dolphins to have a standout campaign a season ago, Allen has picked up right where he left off, blanketing all receivers through minicamp. If he’s trusted to man up on the other offense’s No. 1 receiver, it’ll open up more blitizing opportunities for a defense that could struggle rushing the passer out of its base formation.

Patriots OL Nick Kaczur, whose personal life has been shrouded in controversy since it was revealed that he’d been working as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, has spent minicamp adjusting to a new role in his professional life. The weak link of the team’s line at right tackle last season, Kaczur has shifted inside to right guard, although the move may be only temporary. With the jury out on the health status of 2007 starting ORG Stephen Neal (knee) and Ryan O’Callaghan replacing Kaczur at right tackle for the time being, the right side of the line will be anything but set entering training camp.

Word out of New York is that Chansi Stuckey is mounting a strong case to be the third option in the Jets’ WR corps — behind Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery — after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. Although slightly built, he impressed team observers in minicamp, running smooth, precise routes and catching the ball effortlessly.

The way we hear it, athletically gifted but raw Richard Collier has a very real shot of overtaking Khalif Barnes as the Jaguars’ starting left offensive tackle. Both players have had problems off the field, so the notion that Barnes’ job is in jeopardy due to his poor personal conduct is a misread of the situation. Rather, he has simply failed to meet the high expectations the club had for him when they drafted him in the second round in 2005.

Word out of Indianapolis is that super-sized WR Roy Hall appears poised to finally make an impact. Injuries and poor fundamentals kept him from so much as catching a pass during his rookie year, but a team insider noted to PFW that he has finally learned how to catch the ball with his hands instead of trapping it against his body and looks markedly more natural on the field. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, he’s always had the body. The insider also noted that undrafted rookie WR Sam Giguere out of Canada has been a revelation. Nonetheless, he faces an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.

The Broncos paid Niko Koutouvides starter’s money when they signed him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract in March. Yet, we hear he hasn’t pulled away in the race to become the starting middle linebacker, though Denver would like him to. Nate Webster, who started on the strong side last year, has been rotating with Koutouvides on the first-team defense.

Sources say Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell may not get many chances to display his rocket arm on deep pass plays this season. The Raiders’ lack of depth at offensive tackle was glaring at recent OTAs. Backup OTs Seth Wand and Mario Henderson were getting plenty of work behind OLT Kwame Harris and ORT Cornell Green, who were practicing with the first unit. Russell should face a steady diet of defenders creeping in from the edges in his first full year as the team’s starter and will likely have to settle for check-down passes since there may not be time for receivers to get open downfield.

Raiders WR Ronald Curry returned to the field this week after he missed the first six weeks of OTAs recovering from surgery on his left foot. He is penciled as the team’s No. 2 receiver, but we hear Drew Carter made major progress while Curry was out and has a shot of taking over the second slot.

The Chiefs are in need of a fullback to properly execute their power-based offense, and the way we hear it, nobody currently on the roster is starting material.

Steelers DLE Aaron Smith has been limited in practice this offseason after suffering a torn right biceps last December, but he has done some work on the side, including hitting the blocking sled, and what teammate Brett Keisel has seen has been encouraging. “He looks good to go, from my standpoint,” said Keisel, the Steelers’ other starting defensive end. “Aaron is a beast, and I took a lot of what I know from watching him for four years.”

The way we hear it, it would not at all be a surprise if Ravens LB Ray Lewis plays out his contract and tests free agency. The Ravens want to re-sign Lewis, 33, but the career Raven may want to gauge what his market value is.

A source close to the Ravens notes that the absence CB Samari Rolle from the team’s latest round of voluntary workouts is somewhat surprising, as Fabian Washington is going to have a shot to take his starting job.

While the Ravens’ ORT job is likely to remain Adam Terry’s come September, we’re hearing rookie Oneil Cousins might take over the position in 2009. Cousins’ feistiness has been apparent early in his pro career — he’s already been involved in two on-field skirmishes.

Word from Cleveland is that the Browns may eventually be in the market for a veteran backup tackle if Ryan Tucker’s recovery from a broken hip drags on throughout the summer. He suffered the non-displaced fracture in mid-May. Tucker’s ability to play guard and center is key to Cleveland’s O-line depth.

The Eagles are trying Winston Justice at right guard, but it doesn’t necessarily bode well for his long-term fuure in Philadelphia. The team drafted three offensive linemen this year, meaning Justice will have to show something during training camp to impress the coaches enough to keep him over a younger player.

The Redskins think they will be very strong at tight end. Other than Pro Bowl pass catcher Chris Cooley and strong blocker Todd Yoder, the team has talented rookie Fred Davis plus undrafted rookie Jason Goode, who has looked solid in practices so far. First-year man Tyler Ecker, who will miss two months with a groin injury, is moving down the depth chart quickly.

Giants rookie WR Mario Manningham has been slow to impress in practice sessions. He has run the wrong route more than once and hasn’t tracked down some deep throws, which he often did at Michigan. He’s in no real danger of being cut during camp, but he might be primed for a “redshirt” type of season, our sources tell us.

The early indication from our Cardinals sources is that, based on how he looked and performed in the team’s OTAs, undrafted rookie LB Ali Highsmith has a decent shot at making the final roster cut. Highsmith fell off most draft boards after registering two 5.0 40-times at this year’s Scouting Combine, but OTA observers told PFW that the three-year starter at LSU has displayed an impressive blend of strength and quickness up to now.

It would appear the switch of second-round draft pick Chilo Rachal from guard to tackle and the signings of OT s Alan Reuber and Joe Toledo aren’t the last moves the Niners have in mind for an offensive line in which veteran Jonas Jennings has a tenuous hold on the starting ORT job. The way we hear it, ex-Raiders OL Barry Sims could become the Niners’ primary backup at tackle any day now — unless the Patriots, Ravens or Rams beat them to the punch. Jennings was conspicuous by his absence at any of the Niners’ voluntary activities, presumably because of continuing personal issues.

Our Seahawks sources tell us young WRs Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor are settling in at split end and flanker, respectively, rather than rotating to different WR roles. We’re told Taylor actually looks bigger without his uniform on and has coaches genuinely enthused about his potential as Bobby Engram’s heir apparent.

Observers of the Bears OTAs were impressed by the play of WRs Rashied Davis, who offensive coordinator Ron Turner recently said could be the team’s surprise offensive performer next season, and free-agent addition Brandon Lloyd. In the case of Lloyd, however, it’s important to note that he is notorious for being an all-world performer in practice but a much different-looking player in games.

With Koren Robinson having been shown the door in Green Bay, we hear as many as five different players — Will Blackmon, Tramon Williams, Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and Shaun Bodiford — will be in the mix for the team’s return duties later this summer.

Now that DE Will Smith is locked up with the six-year, $70 million contract extension he signed this week, the Saints will next turn their attention to negotiations with WR Marques Colston, who is also looking for a long-term deal. Colston, who caught a single-season team-record 98 passes in ’07, will make $445,000 in base salary this year and become a restricted free agent after the season. He skipped a voluntary workout on June 9.

Word out of Falcons OTAs is that Harvey Dahl, who has spent most of his career on practice squads, is lining up at right guard with the first-team offense, with longtime starter Kynan Forney taking a demotion to the second unit.

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