Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Samuel Signs One-Year Tender

Asante Samuel ended his holdout and signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots today.

Samuel signed a one-year, $7.79 million contract and reported to Patriots camp eager to get back to work.

He wants to build on last season -- the best of his first four since New England drafted him in 2003 -- when he tied Champ Bailey of Denver for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and picked off two more passes in the playoffs.

The Patriots received a temporary roster exemption for Samuel then got down to the 75-man limit by Tuesday's deadline by placing wide receivers Troy Brown and Chad Jackson and cornerback Eddie Jackson on the physically unable to perform reserve list, releasing offensive lineman Chris Patrick and putting rookie defensive back Mike Richardson on the injured reserve list with a hand injury, sidelining him for the season.

Samuel arrived in the area Sunday night and took his physical Monday when contract details were being finalized. No details were released on whether the Patriots gave up their right to designate him as a franchise player again next year.

By making him their franchise player after last season, the Patriots prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. But they were committed to paying him the average salary of the top five players at his position. Samuel wanted a long-term contract, but it wasn't worked out before July 17, the deadline for such deals until after the season.

He originally said he would sit out the first 10 weeks of the season.

The Patriots drafted Samuel in the fourth round out of Central Florida. He started all 15 games in which he played the past two regular seasons. Last season he returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown that gave New England a 21-3 lead in the AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis.

But the Colts won 38-34, depriving the Patriots of a shot at a fourth Super Bowl title in six years.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Vick Pleads Guilty Then Apologizes

And now the apologies start.

Michael Vick apologized to the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons on Monday for "using bad judgment and making bad decisions" and vowed to redeem himself after pleading guilty to a dogfighting charge.

In a statement before the media, Vick said he took full responsibility for his actions. He concluded by saying: "I will redeem myself. I have to."

Sentencing was set for Dec. 10 and Vick could be sent to prison for one to five years. Vick was suspended indefinitely by the NFL last week.

"First, I want to apologize, you know, for all the things that -- that I've done and that I have allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcons teammates, you know, for our -- for our previous discussions that we had. And I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and, you know, I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least," Vick said.

"I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up."

Vick said he now has renounced dogfighting and has found religion as a result of the federal charges. "Dogfighting is a terrible thing. I did reject it," he said.

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," Vick said.

"I take full responsibility for my actions … I am totally responsible."

In Atlanta, the Falcons said they would not cut Vick immediately because of salary-cap issues. The team intends to pursue the $22 million in bonus money that he already received in a $130 million contract signed in 2004.

In his written plea filed in federal court Friday, Vick admitted to helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings.

The NFL suspended him indefinitely and without pay Friday after his plea agreement was filed. Merely associating with gamblers can trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.

Federal prosecutors recommended 12-18 months in prison for Vick and co-defendants Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips.

Friday, August 24, 2007

NFL Suspends Vick Indefinitely

The days of Michael Vick playing for the Atlanta Falcons and possibly the National Football League ended today.

The NFL has suspended Vick indefinitely without pay following his admission of guilt in a dogfighting scheme.

On Friday, Vick filed his plea agreement in federal court admitting to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and agreeing that the enterprise included killing pit bulls and gambling. He denied making side bets on the fights, but admitted to bankrolling them.

Friday afternoon, a letter to Vick from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, in part:

"Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible" and regardless whether he personally placed bets, "your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player."

Goodell freed the Falcons to "assert any claims or remedies" to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.

The commissioner didn't speak to Vick but based his decison on the court filings. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell may meet with Vick in the future, but that hasn't been determined.

"You have engaged in conduct detrimental to the welfare of the NFL and have violated the league's personal conduct policy," Goodell told Vick in a letter. "Even if you personally did not place bets, as you contend, your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL Player Contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player."

Falcons owner Arthur Blank supported Goodell's decision.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bettis Faked Injury In 2000

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Jerome Bettis, in a new book to be published in early September, says he faked a training camp injury in 2000 to avoid getting cut by the team.

The book, "The Bus. My Life in and out of a Helmet," includes an account where Bettis came into training camp with a knee that had been surgically repaired the previous summer. Bettis, fearing he would be cut if the team knew how much the knee was injured, didn't say anything. During a short-yardage drill at an early camp practice, Bettis fell down, grabbed his knee and yelled in pain.

Because Bettis was hurt in training camp, the Steelers couldn't release him. He was worried that the Steelers, and especially offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, wanted to give his job to Richard Huntley. Bettis cited a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which said that Huntley told his agent that Bettis would be cut.

He rushed for 1,341 yards in the 2000 season. Five years later, he was on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl winning team and then retired.

Bettis also wrote that Steelers coach Bill Cowher was never totally sold on quarterback Kordell Stewart, despite the fact Stewart was the team's most valuable player in 2001.

"For some reason, Coach would never really commit fully to Kordell ... and because of that, we had no consistent leadership from the quarterback position," Bettis wrote.

The book will be released on Sept. 4.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Video: Hardest Tackles

I thought I'd put a little video on the blog to liven things up a bit. This is a cool 3-minute plus feature on some of the hardest tackles caught on tape.

This is what football is all about - intense, rugged and tough. Enjoy the video.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Vick to Cop a Guilty Plea

Hello Michael Vick, say goodbye to your NFL career.

Vick agreed Monday to plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, a deal that leaves the Atlanta Falcons quarterback facing up to 18 months in prison and puts his NFL career in jeopardy.

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Vick be sentenced to between a year and 18 months in prison according to the Associated Press.

The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson will have the final say on how much time Vick will ultimately spend in jail.

Vick's plea hearing is Aug. 27.

The NFL noted in a statement that Vick's admission wasn't in line with what he told commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after he was initially charged.

"We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons," the NFL said.

The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL's own investigation wraps up.

The Falcons said they were "certainly troubled" by news of the plea but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell's request.

Vick is charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. He had pleaded not guilty last month and vowed to clear his name at a November trial.

The plea deal was announced just a new grand jury began meeting. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in the works, but Vick's plea most likely means he will not face additional charges.

Three of Vick's original co-defendants already have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach signed statements saying the 27-year-old quarterback participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.

Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty last month, also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating funds for his "Bad Newz Kennels" operation in rural Virginia, not far from Vick's hometown of Newport News.

The gambling allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Troubles Mount For Vick

It just keeps getting worse for Michael Vick.

There was no word Friday morning on whether Vick had agreed to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors -- or whether the embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback would take on the federal government in a jury trial on dogfighting charges.

Vick, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, was widely reported to be considering a deal. His attorneys were still negotiating with federal prosecutors as of Thursday, hoping to strike a deal on a plea agreement.

A report in The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk said federal prosecutors had offered Vick a plea deal that would recommend he serve at least one year in prison on a felony dogfighting conspiracy charge, while a story in The New York Times said the lawyers for the Falcons' quarterback were advising him to accept a deal.

Vick's two remaining co-defendants, Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, and Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Friday morning. It had been expected that Vick would make a decision before the two men entered guilty pleas. A third co-defendant, Tony Taylor of Hampton, pleaded guilty to the charges facing him last month and will be sentenced Dec. 14.

A grand jury is expected to convene Monday to consider additional charges in a superseding indictment against Vick, including racketeering charges. Racketeering charges would increase the prison time and financial penalties Vick would face were he to be convicted.

Peace and Phillips were charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. Sentencing for the two was scheduled for Nov. 30.

Phillips and Peace, in the statement of facts which accompanied their pleas, admitted to killing approximately eight dogs who did not perform well in testing sessions by hanging and drowning them just days before federal authorities first raided Virginia property owned by Vick in April. The indictment of Vick says that property was used for dogfighting.

According to sources, Vick, Peace and Phillips initially hanged all of the dogs in the woods behind Vick's house but at least three dogs survived the hanging attempt. Subsequently, Vick, Peace and Phillips submerged the surviving dogs' heads in five gallon buckets filled with water until they drowned.

While Peace was freed, Phillips violated the terms of his release by failing a drug test and was taken into custody of U.S. marshals.

Collins R. Spencer III, spokesman for Vick's five-member defense team, declined to comment Thursday. Vick is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 26.

Rough calculations based on what is known in Vick's case indicate that a guideline range of eight to 12 months "would not be unrealistic," said Benjamin's law partner, Betty Layne Desportes. The charges -- conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture -- carry a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine.

According to the statement signed by Taylor as part of his plea agreement, Vick financed virtually all of the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise on Vick's property in Surry County, Va.

Taylor's statement and the July 17 indictment also linked Vick to betting on the dogfights, which could result in a lifetime ban from the NFL under the league's policy against gambling. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons' training camp but has withheld further action until the league completes its own investigation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Vick Negotiating With Prosecutors

Embattled Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and his attorneys were still negotiating with federal prosecutors Thursday, hoping to strike a deal on a plea agreement.

The Atlanta Falcons star quarterback pleaded not guilty to dogfighting conspiracy charges last month. But since then, one of his co-defendants has changed his plea to guilty and agreed to testify against Vick, and two others are scheduled to do likewise Friday.

Prosecutors, meantime, have said they will seek a superseding indictment this month. Legal experts say the growing parade of prosecution witnesses and the prospect of additional charges increases the pressure on Vick to negotiate a deal.

Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty to those charges last month and will be sentenced Dec. 14. Co-defendants Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, and Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, will enter plea agreements Friday morning.

According to the statement signed by Taylor as part of his plea agreement, Vick financed virtually all of the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise on Vick's property in Surry County, Va.

Taylor's statement and the July 17 indictment also linked Vick to betting on the dogfights, which could result in a lifetime ban from the NFL under the league's policy against gambling. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons' training camp but has withheld further action until the league completes its own investigation.

The case began with the April search of the Surry County property. Investigators found dozens of pit bulls, some of them injured, as well as equipment commonly used in dogfighting.

The indictment said dogs that lost fights or fared poorly in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging, electrocution or other means. The details have fueled public protests against Vick and have cost him some of his lucrative endorsement deals.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NFL 2007: Indianapolis Colts

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Houston Texans).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Johnson May End Holdout Soon

Priest Holmes might have to change his plans on being the starter in Kansas City because Larry Johnson's training camp holdout might be over soon.

The Kansas City Star, citing multiple sources, reported Monday that Johnson and the Chiefs have narrowed their differences to the point where a deal might be agreed to this week and have the star running back in uniform for the Chiefs' third preseason game against the Saints on Aug. 23.

Johnson has been a no-show at camp as he seeks an extension to the seven-year contract he inked in 2003, which he can void down to a five-year deal after the final game of the 2007 season because of playing time incentives.

Johnson is demanding compensation in the range of $28 million guaranteed, insisting he be paid as much as league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. Johnson is scheduled to earn $1.7 million this season, and is being fined more than $14,000 for every day he misses.

After rushing for 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2005, he gained 1,789 yards and had 17 touchdowns last season. His 2,199 yards from scrimmage accounted for 43 percent of the Chiefs' total offense.

When contacted by The Star, Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson wouldn't say a deal was imminent.

"I'm cautiously optimistic a deal will get concluded, but exactly when I can't tell you. I really can't," Peterson told the newspaper. "I would say we're still communicating. Are we real close? Not from where I sit.

"We're still talking pretty much on a daily basis. There are things we're still stuck on and I can't say how long that's going to take."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stadium To Bear Walsh's Name

Fans of Bill Walsh paid tribute Friday to the Hall of Fame 49ers coach, describing him as a legend who uplifted the football franchise and the city.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom told the crowd Friday the field at Monster Park would be named after Walsh, although the name of the stadium won't change.

"He shared his action, he shared his passion and he made our lives better," Newsom said.

Hundreds gathered at the field at Candlestick Park to celebrate Walsh, who died of leukemia on July 30 at 75. Friday's service included a gospel choir singing "Amazing Graze" and a video recounting Walsh's achievements.

Several of Walsh's former players, including Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Joe Montana, attended the event.

Walsh led the 49ers to three Super Bowl championships and revolutionized many aspects of the game during a decade as the team's coach. Overall, he won 10 of his 14 postseason games and ended with a record of 102-63-1.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

NFL 2007: Houston Texans

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Houston Texans).

The Texans, under second-year head coach Gary Kubiak, made a big splash to start the 2007 free agency period by cutting ties with former first round pick David Carr and trading for highly regarded, but little used, Matt Schaub from Atlanta. Schaub has been given the reigns to try and lead Houston to a winning record and playoff berth. Something that's never happened in franchise history. Owner Bob McNair loosened the purse strings and brought in free agents on both sides of the ball. Will it lead to a winning season in Houston?

Offense: Schaub, despite being unproven, was a coveted prospect by many teams. He was languishing behind Michael Vick just waiting for an opportunity to go somewhere else and lead a franchise. Now he gets his chance. Schaub must stay healthy because backups Sage Rosenfels and Bradlee Van Pelt won't scare any opposing defenses.

Ahman Green was brought in from Green Bay to revive the running game. Green is on the decline but his 1,059 yards rushing and five touchdowns proves he can still do a decent job. Ron Dayne (151-612-5), Walli Lundy and Samkon Gado are solid backups. Vonta Leach and converted LB Jon Abbate will handle fullback duties.

Andre Johnson (103-1,147-5) posted big numbers and is one of the unheralded wideouts in the game. Partner Eric Moulds wasn't re-signed, but Kubiak signed veteran Keenan McCardell to be the number two. Kevin Walter, Jerome Mathis, Andre Davis and Charlie Adams will see some playing time as well. Owen Daniels, Mark Breuner and Jeb Putzier are reliable tight ends.

The offensive line as been the curse of this team since its inception. David Carr was murdered on a weekly basis, including being sacked 76 times in one season. The line must improve and protect Schaub or another long season could be in the making. Veteran Mike Flanagan anchors the O-line at center with Chester Pitts and Fred Weary at guard, and Ephraim Salaam and Eric Winston at tackle. Jordan Black was brought in from Kansas City to challenge Salaam and Winston for a starting spot. Look for Steve McKinney, Charles Spencer and Drew Hodgdon to provide depth.

Defense: The Texans needed to improve the interior of the defense and to that end the team signed free agent Jeff Zgonina and drafted rookie Amobi Okoye to shut down the middle. The duo will team with Anthony Maddox and Travis Johnson in the defensive tackle rotation.

No. 1 overall Mario Williams had an unspectacular rookie season and will be under the microscope in 2007. Anthony Weaver starts at the other DE position with N.D. Kalu and Jason Babin in the mix.

2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year Demeco Ryans (155 tackles, 3.5 sacks) anchors the defense from his middle linebacker slot. Morlon Greenwood (109 tackles) and free agent signee Shawn Barber start on the outside. Danny Clark, Shantee Orr and Charlie Anderson are the backups.

Dunta Robinson holds down one corner slot, while Demarcus Faggins will battle Dexter McCleon and free agent Jamar Fletcher for the other starting spot. C.C. Brown and Glenn Earl will hold the fort at safety with Jason Simmons seeing action in nickel packages.

Special Teams: Kris Brown (19-of-25 FG, 83 points) returns at kicker and faces no competition. Chad Stanley (41.6) returns at punter, but will be challenged by veteran Matt Turk (43.5), who came over from St. Louis. Lundy will return kicks and Mathis handles punt return duties.

Outlook: Schaub finally gets his chance to be a starter and he may not like the results. Ahman Green and Keenan McCardell improve the offense for sure, but the offensive line hasn't improved much from what it was in the past. The defense is better in the front seven and should improve. The secondary is a different story. After Robinson and Earl there isn't much.

Prediction: Houston has the right coach in Gary Kubiak and will get better in the future. Unfortunately for Texan fans, the future isn't now. Look for Houston to struggle once again and miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. Record: 6-10.

Monday, August 06, 2007

NFL 2007: Pittsburgh Steelers

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Pittsburgh Steelers).

For a franchise that doesn't like change there sure was a lot of it going around in the offseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been owned by the Rooney's since the franchise began and if you're a head coach in Pittsburgh, you tend to stay a long time as well. Since 1969 when Chuck Noll took over, the Steelers have had only one other coach, Bill Cowher. That is until now. The 'Jaw' got tired of Dan Rooney's frugal ways and decided to resign, spend time with his family and wait for a big, fat contract with a new team next year. Enter Mike Tomlin. Not only is he the first African-American coach in Pittsburgh history, he just may scrap the beloved Steeler 3-4 for the 4-3. Change has come to Steeler Land and no one knows what will happen next.

Offense: Big Ben took a step down in 2006 and some feel the motorcycle accident that almost killed him was the cause of it. Whatever the reason, Roethlisberger threw 23 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns and looked antsy and nervous in the pocket. He must rebound this season or the Steelers will be in deep trouble. Pittsburgh has capable reserves in Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre.

Willie Parker (337-1,494-13) had a solid season, but wore down near the end and wasn't nearly as effective as he was earlier on. To that end, Tomlin brought in Kevan Barlow from the Jets, and along with Najeh Davenport, will lighten Parker's load. Dan Kreider is a solid blocking fullback.

Roethlisberger's struggles carried over to his receivers. After veteran All-Pro Hines Ward (74-975-6) there wasn't much to look at. Santonio Holmes (49-824-2) figures to be the number two with Cedric Wilson in the slot and Nate Washington the number three. Willie Reid has looked good in camp and could make an impact in 2007. Rookie Dallas Baker and free agent Rasheed Marshall will compete for time. Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman are a nice 1-2 tight end combo.

All-Pro center Jeff Hartings called it a career and now Chukky Okobi and Tampa Bay free agent Sean Mahan will compete for the job. Unhappy All-Pro guard Alan Faneca decided not to hold out and will play what could be his final season in Pittsburgh. Kendall Simmons is back at guard, while Max Starks and Marvel Smith return at tackle. T Willie Colon, G Chris Kemoeatu and T Trai Essex provide depth.

Defense: Pittsburgh will still use the 3-4 as its base defense, but Tomlin is a 4-3 man and look for the switch to happen gradually this season.

Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel start at defensive end with Casey Hampton holding down the nose. Chris Hoke, Nick Eason, Travis Kirschke and rookie Ryan McBean will be part of the defensive line rotation.

Joey Porter went off to Miami, but the linebackers are still the strength of the defense. James Farrior (126 tackles, 4 sacks) and Larry Foote (90 tackles, 4 sacks) control the middle. Clark Haggans (76 tackles, 6 sacks) is at one outside spot, while promising James Harrison takes over for Porter. Clint Kriewaldt, Rian Wallace and rookies LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons will see plenty of action.

The secondary is paced by strong safety Troy Polamalu (76 tackles, 3 INT) and his new rich contract. Ryan Clark is the free safety with Anthony Smith and Tyrone Carter capable backups. Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend start at corner with Bryant McFadden, Ricardo Colclough and rookie William Gay battling for field time.

Special Teams: Jeff Reed (20-of-27 FG, 101 points) returns at kicker and is solid. The punting chores will come down to rookie Daniel Sepulveda or Mike Barr, so the unknown factor is definitely in play. Holmes returns kicks and Reid or Holmes will handle punt returns.

Outlook: The Steelers need Big Ben to bounce back in a big way and a receiver not named Ward to step up if they want to compete in the AFC North. The Ravens and Bengals have better overall talent and veteran coaches at the helm. That could spell trouble with a capital T for Tomlin and crew. Pittsburgh's frugal ways caused Cowher to leave and Faneca could be next. Two big losses for sure. The Steelers still have talent, heck they won a Super Bowl two years ago, but that talent is starting to age and 'Father Time' is against them.

Outlook: Cowher was an icon in Pittsburgh and his presence will be missed. The Steelers are still looking for a leader after Jerome Bettis retired and haven't found it yet. Baltimore and Cincinnati are better from top to bottom, but if Roethlisberger bounces back from the disaster of 2006, the Steelers could and should battle for a playoff spot. Record: 9-7.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

NFL 2007: Cleveland Browns

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Cleveland Browns).

Romeo Crennel is on the hot seat in Cleveland and it's not because of the muggy August weather either. The former New England defensive coordinator has gone 10-22 in his first two seasons and ownership is becoming impatient with the situation. To that extent the Browns were aggressive in the draft and free agency with the hopes of getting a winning record in 2007.

Offense: Cleveland's problems start at the top with the quarterback. Some in the organization believe Charlie Frye is the guy to lead them to the playoffs, some disagree, which is why Notre Dame standout Brady Quinn was drafted in the first round. Quinn is in the midst of a long holdout which significantly hurts his chances to make an impact in 2007. Look for Frye to be the starter with Ken Dorsey the number two. Frye must cut down on his TD-to-interception ratio (10-17) if the Browns want to compete at a high level.

The running game was awful last season so Cleveland went out and signed Jamal Lewis in free agency. Lewis is aging, but is still a better option than what the Browns had last season. His 1,132 yards and nine scores proves he still has mileage left. Cleveland is just happy he's not pounding them anymore. Second-year pro Jerome Harrison will serve as backup with Jason Wright at number three. Lawrence Vickers and Alan Ricard will battle at fullback.

Things are a little better at wide receiver with Braylon Edwards (61-884-6) and Joe Jurevicius (40-495-3) a solid starting duo. Tim Carter was signed away from the Giants in the offseason and will be the slot receiver. Josh Cribbs, Travis Wilson and rookie Syndric Steptoe will fight for the number four role. Kellen Winslow (89-875-3) finally shook off two seasons of injuries and emerged as a top tier tight end. Steve Heiden (36-249-2) is a quality number two.

The big addition in Cleveland was all-world guard Eric Steinbach. The All-Pro went to the other side of town leaving Cincinnati for Cleveland and the big bucks. Steinbach immediately strengthens the running game with his power blocking. The Browns drafted Joe Thomas with their first first round pick and the Wisconsin grad will be plugged into the left tackle slot from the get-go. Nat Dorsey will play on the right side and will be a key, especially with incumbent Ryan Tucker suspended for four games to start the season. Cosey Coleman is at guard, while Hank Fraley is at center. Free agent signee Seth McKinney will battle Fraley for the job in the middle. Kevin Shaffer, Fred Matua, Kelly Butler and Lonnie Freidman provide solid depth. Also be on the lookout for LeCharles Bentley, who missed the last two seasons with a knee injury. The former All-Pro has been cleared to practice and faces an uphill battle to regain his form.

Defense: The Browns run a 3-4 defense and the influence of Crennel had this unit making nice strides in 2006. The additions of rookie Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald will help in the secondary, while Antwan Peek was signed from Texas to provide depth at linebacker.

Ageless one Ted Washington is back for his 17th season plugging the middle at nose tackle. He's not what he once was, but he's still an effective run clogger. Shaun Smith was signed from the Bengals to provide relief. Simon Fraser and Robaire Smith start at defensive end, but look out for rookie Chase Pittman to see plenty of playing time. DE Orien Harris will see action as well.

Kamerion Wimberly proved his first round draft status was no fluke with a solid rookie season that saw him collect 11 sacks and 62 tackles from the outside backer position. OLB Willie McGinest is slowing down some, but his leadership abilities are worth much more than his stats on the field. Andra Davis racked up a 100-tackle season in the middle and he'll be paired with either Leon Williams or Peek in the starting lineup. Chaun Thompson, Matt Stewart and Nick Speegle are the reserves.

The coaching staff wasn't happy with the play of the cornerbacks last season which is why Wright and McDonald were drafted, Daylon McCutcheon was released and Kenny Wright was signed over from the Redskins. Incumbent Leigh Bodden, along with returnees Gary Baxter and Daven Holly will compete for a position that's in a state of flux. Fortunately for the Browns, safety isn't a problem. Brodney Pool, Sean Jones (111 tackles, 5 INT), Mike Adams and Justin Hamilton make up a strong group.

Special Teams: Usually reliable Phil Dawson (21-of-29 FG, 88 points) struggled last season, especially from 40-49 where he was 6-of-12, and needs to find his consistency in 2007. Dave Zastudil (44.0) is a solid punter. Cribbs handles punt returns and Wilson kickoff returns.

Outlook: The Browns had a solid draft and did a nice job in free agency trying to improve the team. That's the good news. The bad is the quarterback position is shaky and the secondary is thin. Combine those two and you have problems. Jamal Lewis will have to stay healthy and run like he did during his 2,000 yard campaign for the Browns to be competitive. He must hold up or all could be lost. The jury is still out on Frye. If he can cut down on the interceptions, the Browns may surprise. That is speculation though. The truth is Cleveland is weak at the most important position on the field and the secondary will get burned quite a bit this season.

Prediction: Cleveland doesn't have the tools to compete with the power brokers in the AFC. Inconsistency at quarterback and the secondary will give Crennel his third straight losing season, but the wins will improve from 2006. Record: 7-9.

2007 Hall Of Fame Capsules

GENE HICKERSON Guard, 6-3, 248

• 1958-1973 Cleveland Browns. 15 seasons, 202 games.

Selected as future choice in seventh round of 1957 draft. . . . A tackle in college, was shifted to guard. . . . Was lead blocker for three Hall of Famers: Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. . . . First-team All-Pro five consecutive seasons (1966-1970). . . . Voted to Pro Bowl six straight times (1966-1971). . . . During Hickerson's tenure, Browns never had a losing season. . . . Before Hickerson joined Browns, only seven runners in NFL history reached 1,000 yards rushing. With Hickerson as lead blocker, Browns posted 1,000-yard rushers in nine of his first 10 seasons. . . . Cleveland featured league's leading rusher in seven of those 10 seasons. . . . Chosen for NFL's all-decade team of the 1960s.

MICHAEL IRVIN Wide receiver, 6-2, 207

• 1988-1999 Dallas Cowboys. 12 seasons, 159 games.

Cowboys' first-round pick (11th overall) in 1988 draft. . . . Became the first rookie receiver to start a season opener for Dallas in more than 20 years. . . . Led league with 1,523 yards on 93 catches in 1991. . . . Had 1,000-yard seasons in all but one year from 1991-1998. . . . In 1995, Irvin had his finest season: 111 catches for 1,603 yards. He also established an NFL record with 11 100-yard games and scored 10 touchdowns. . . . Cowboys made four straight appearances in NFC championship game (1992-1995) and won three Super Bowls. . . . Finished career with 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 TDs. . . . Selected to five straight Pro Bowls. . . . Picked for NFL's all-decade team of the 1990s.

BRUCE MATTHEWS Guard, tackle, center, 6-5, 289

• 1983-2001 Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Titans. 19 seasons, 296 games.

Selected by Houston in first round (ninth overall) of 1983 draft. . . . Regarded as one of game's finest offensive linemen for nearly two decades. . . . Played in more games than any positional player in NFL history. . . . Started 292 of 296 games he played and 15 playoff games. . . . Played at every position on line. . . . Most starts came at guard (99 on left side, 67 as right guard) and at center (87). . . . Also had 22 starts at right tackle, 17 at left tackle. . . . Voted to first of 14 consecutive Pro Bowl teams (nine at guard, five at center) following 1988 season, tying Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen for most ever. . . . Was voted All-Pro nine times. . . . Selected as guard on NFL's all-decade team of the 1990s.

CHARLIE SANDERS Tight end, 6-4, 230

• 1968-1977 Detroit Lions. 10 seasons, 128 games.

Selected by Detroit in third round (74th player overall) of 1968 draft. . . . Was only rookie selected to play in Pro Bowl in 1968. . . . Was voted to seven Pro Bowls. . . . In second season, caught 42 passes for 656 yards and three TDs, earning first of three consecutive All-Pro honors. . . . Made 30 or more receptions in a season seven times and had more than 500 yards receiving in six seasons. . . . At retirement was Lions' career receptions leader (336); his career yards receiving (4,817) ranked second. . . . Was Lions' leader or co-leader in receptions six of his 10 seasons. . . . Chosen for NFL's all-decade team of the 1970s.

THURMAN THOMAS Running back, 5-10, 198

• 1988-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Miami Dolphins. 13 seasons, 182 games.

Selected in the second round of the 1988 draft. . . . A key part of Bills' unprecedented run of four straight Super Bowl appearances. They lost all of them. . . . Led NFL in total yards from scrimmage four consecutive seasons. . . . In 1991, gained over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and was voted league's MVP. . . . At time of retirement, ranked sixth all-time in career yards from scrimmage (16,532). . . . Rushed for 12,074 yards. . . . Only Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders ran for more yards in the 1990s. . . . One of only three Hall of Fame running backs (Walter Payton and Marcus Allen) to have more than 400 receptions and 10,000 yards rushing. . . . Selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls. . . . Chosen for NFL's all-decade team of the 1990s.

ROGER WEHRLI Cornerback, 6-0, 190

• 1969-1982 St. Louis Cardinals. 14 seasons, 193 games.

Selected in first round (19th overall) of 1969 draft. . . . In 1970 picked off career-high six passes (a feat he matched in 1975) to earn first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. . . . Led or tied for lead in interceptions for Cardinals four times. . . . Registered interception in all but two seasons and amassed 40 career interceptions, two for touchdowns. . . . Intercepted three of Roger Staubach's passes during key 31-17 win over division rival Dallas, Dec. 7, 1975. . . . In 1981, was moved to left cornerback. . . . Recovered 19 fumbles during career. . . . Voted to NFL's all-decade team of 1970s, was first-team All-Pro five times (1970, 1974-1977) and made Pro Bowl seven times.

Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame

Saturday, August 04, 2007

NFL 2007: Cincinnati Bengals

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Cincinnati Bengals).

The Cincinnati Bengals stumbled last season, thanks to numerous offseason arrests and a defense that gave up too many yards and points. All that led to an 8-8 record and a playoff no-show. Head coach Marvin Lewis is looking for a bounce-back season from his club. In order to have that the defense must step up in 2007.

Offense: Palmer is the best quarterback in the league not named Peyton Manning. He came back from a knee injury during the 2005 playoffs to throw for 4,035 yards and 28 TDs last season. He's one of the best in the game and his health is of the utmost importance to Lewis, because Doug Johnson and rookie Jeff Rowe are the backups.

Rudi Johnson had another solid season in the high-powered Bengal offense. The Auburn product ran for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns. Capable Kenny Watson and rookie Kenny Irons will spell Johnson. Jeremi Johnson is a solid, rough blocking fullback.

Cincinnati is blessed with two top tier wideouts in Chad Johnson (87-1,369-7), who outruns horses for fun, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (90-1,081-9). After that, things get dicey. Reggie McNeal, Skyler Green and Glenn Holt will have to pick up the slack until oft-troubled Chris Henry (36-605-9) returns from his eight game suspension. Reggie Kelly starts at tight end, but he's mainly a blocker.

The offensive line must protect Palmer and luckily for Lewis, the Bengals have a nice group in the trenches. Eric Ghiaciuc is at center, Andrew Whitworth and Bobbie Williams man the guard spots, while Willie Anderson and Levi Jones are top-flight bookends. Stacey Andrews, Alex Stepanovich and Scott Kooistra provide quality depth.

Defense: Cincinnati's Achilles' Heel has been on the defensive side of the ball. If the coaching staff can shore it up, another playoff berth is in the cards.

The biggest problem for the Bengal defense was stopping the run and to that end Lewis brought in DT Michael Myers from Denver and drafted Matt Toeaina. Myers will pair with Domata Peko, an impressive second-year pro, to shore up the interior. John Thornton and Toeaina will be part of the tackle rotation. Justin Smith (81 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and Bryan Robinson start at defensive end with Robert Geathers (10.5 sacks) coming in on passing downs.

Selecting middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks in last years supplemental draft is looking more smarter every day for the Cincinnati brass. With David Pollack's career over and Odell Thurman gone for the year, Brooks will start and be factor in the success or failure of the defense. Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller will start on the outside with Rashad Jeanty coming in on passing situations.

The secondary was strengthened in the draft with CB Leon Hall and safeties Nedu Ndukwe and Marvin White. Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph start at corner and Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson at safety. CB Keiwan Ratliff and S Ethan Kilmer will see time as well.

Special Teams: No problem here. Shayne Graham (25-of-30 FG, 115 points) is one of the top five kickers in the league. He's almost automatic from 49 yards in (he was 23-of-25 in 2006). Kyle Larson has a big leg as evidenced by his 44.5 yard per punt last season. Watson is back to handle kickoff returns, while Houshmandzadeh returns punts.

Outlook: The Bengals have one of the most potent offenses in the National Football League and show no signs of slowing down. The key to Cincinnati's success will come down to the effectiveness of the defense. Ironically, the defense has been the weak link in Marvin Lewis' tenure with the Bengals. If Cincy can buck up against the run, a Super Bowl appearance is possible.

Prediction: The Bengals will score big-time points and the defense, thanks to the new additions, will be more stout against the run. Look for Cincinnati to battle Baltimore for the AFC North title. Record: 12-4.

Trojans Set Atop Preseason Coaches Poll

It's been a familiar place for USC this decade.

Southern California picked up 45 of a possible 60 first-place votes and is easily the No. 1 team in the initial USA Today Top 25 coaches' poll released on Friday.

The Trojans, 11-2 last season but loaded as 2007 approaches, picked up 1,481 total points, easily outdistancing No. 2 LSU (1,372 points) and No. 3 Florida (1,278 points). The Tigers picked up four first-place votes and the defending national champion Gators grabbed nine.

Texas is No. 4 (1,231 points), with Michigan -- which received two first-place votes -- fifth (1,218 points).

The remainder of the top 10: West Virginia (1,205), Wisconsin (1,114), Oklahoma (1,026), Virginia Tech (1,005) and Ohio State (919). The Big Ten has three teams in the top 10 -- the most of any conference.

The Southeastern Conference has six teams in the initial top 25, including No. 13 Georgia, No. 14 Auburn, No. 15 Tennessee and No. 20 Arkansas.

Here's the complete coaches poll.

USA Today Poll
1. USC (45) 0-0 1,481
2. LSU (4) 0-0 1,372
3. Florida (9) 0-0 1,278
4. Texas 0-0 1,231
5. Michigan (2) 0-0 1,218
6. West Virginia 0-0 1,205
7. Wisconsin 0-0 1,114
8. Oklahoma 0-0 1,026
9. Virginia Tech 0-0 1,005
10. Ohio State 0-0 919
11. Louisville 0-0 836
12. California 0-0 763
13. Georgia 0-0 604
14. Auburn 0-0 595
15. Tennessee 0-0 583
16. Rutgers 0-0 466
17. UCLA 0-0 454
18. Penn State 0-0 440
19. Nebraska 0-0 388
20. Arkansas 0-0 360
21. Florida State 0-0 301
22. TCU 0-0 233
23. Boise State 0-0 222
24. Hawaii 0-0 214
25. Texas A&M 0-0 209
Others Recieving Votes
Boston College 150, Georgia Tech 150, Miami (FL) 91, Notre Dame 90, South Carolina 90, Wake Forest 71, Missouri 58, Oregon State 52, Brigham Young 47, Clemson 30, Oregon 30, South Florida 26, Texas Tech 20, Alabama 16, Oklahoma State 15, Southern Miss 14, Iowa 12, Kansas State 8, Memphis 5, Houston 4, Arizona 1, Duke 1, Kentucky 1, Washington State 1.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

NFL 2007: Baltimore Ravens

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the Baltimore Ravens).

The signing of Steve McNair last season paid huge dividends as the formerly anemic Baltimore offense scored enough to lift the Ravens to a 13-3 record, the AFC North title and a playoff berth. This offseason, head coach Brian Billick and company went out to upgrade the offense even more, signing Willis McGahee from Buffalo. With Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the same division, the Ravens need to maintain the improved play from 2006.

Offense: McNair brought immediate leadership to the Baltimore offense and the team responded. The Alcorn State product threw for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns. Former starter Kyle Boller is a capable backup and Heisman Trophy winning QB Troy Smith is the heir apparent at number three.

Longtime Raven Jamal Lewis was sent packing to Cleveland and McGahee brings a new dimension to the Baltimore rushing attack. McGahee ran for 990 yards and six touchdowns last season, yet surprisingly Buffalo released him. Former 1,000 yard rusher Mike Anderson is the number two and P.J. Daniels is the third-down back. Justin Green serves as the fullback.

Up-and-comer Mark Clayton (67-939-5) and Derrick Mason (68-750-2) comprise the starting receiving corps for McNair. Demetrius Williams, Clarence Moore and rookie Yamon Figurs will see time as well. Todd Heap (73-765-6) is one of the top receiving tight ends in the league and serves as the perfect safety valve for McNair. Daniel Wilcox is the number two.

LT Jonathan Ogden contemplated retirement but the Ravens breathed a sigh of relief when he decided to play another year. Despite his age, Ogden is still one of the premier left tackles in the game. Adam Terry holds down the right tackle slot, while Mike Flynn is set at center. Keydrick Vincent and Jason Brown are returning starters at guard, but will be pressed by two rookies - top pick Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda. Chris Chester and Steve Edwards are capable reserves.

Defense: For years the strength of the Ravens has been the defense and this year is no exception, despite the huge loss of LB Adalius Thomas. Baltimore experimented with the 3-4 and will use it from time to time, but the base defense is the 4-3.

Trevor Pryce (47 tackles, 13 sacks) is an ageless wonder at one defensive end spot, while Terrell Suggs (64 tackles, 9.5 sacks) is a force at the other. Jarret Johnson and Dwan Edwards will be in the DE rotation. Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg are space eaters up the middle. Atiyyah Ellison, Kenny King and Anthony Bryant will battle for playing time also.

Ray Lewis has a lot of tread on his tires, but even an aging Lewis is better than most middle linebackers in the league. Ray Ray posted another 100 tackle season (103) and recorded five sacks. Fast rising Bart Scott (103 tackles, 9.5 sacks) and Gary Stills, who must replace Thomas, man the outside positions. Dan Cody, Mike Smith and rookies Antwan Barnes and Prescott Burgess, are capable reserves.

Baltimore may have the best starting defensive backs in the league with Ed Reed (59 tackles, 5 INT) and second-year stud Dawan Landry (69 tackles, 5 INT) at safety and Chris McAlister (47 tackles, 6 INT) and Samari Rolle (52 tackles, 3 INT) at the corners. Safety Gerome Sapp and corner Corey Ivey will come in on nickel packages.

Special Teams: Kicker Matt Stover had another solid season, making 28-of-30 field goals and scoring 121 points. Look for more of the same in 2007. Sam Koch averaged 43 yards a punt last year. Cory Ross returns kicks, while B.J. Sams or Figurs will handle punt return duties.

Outlook: The Ravens are an aging, but solid team capable of duplicating last seasons 13-3 mark. McGahee gives them a better alternative than the one-dimensional Lewis and Clayton, Heap and Mason are decent receivers. The defense is strong and the special teams are top notch. The keys to the season are the durability of McNair and finding someone to pick up the slack at linebacker with Thomas in New England. If McNair stays healthy Baltimore is a playoff team. If he doesn't, the bottom could fall out.

Prediction: The Ravens will play solid football all season and challenge the Bengals for the AFC North crown. Record: 11-5.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

NFL 2007: New York Jets

(This is the Corners look at the upcoming NFL season. For the next 32 days we'll be previewing each team and their prospects for the 2007 season. Today we look at the New York Jets).

Eric Mangini exceeded all expectations during his first season at the helm of the Jets by leading the team to a 10-6 record after going 4-12 in 2005. Mangini, the Bill Belichick protege, installed confidence and a strong belief system into a young Jets team which translated into a playoff berth. It also helped that Mangini had a healthy Chad Pennington last season. His veteran presence kept a young New York offense together. Now with some new blood added through free agency and the draft, look for the Jets to be playoff contenders once again.

Offense: Pennington bounced back in a big way in 2006, throwing for 3,352 yards and 17 TDs, leading the Jets to the playoffs. Kellen Clemens and free agent signee Marques Tuiasosopo are the backups.

The big addition to the Jets in the offseason was RB Thomas Jones. The former Chicago standout rushed for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns last season leading the Bears to the Super Bowl. Chicago decided to go with Cedric Benson full time and New York scooped up Jones right away. Second-year pro Leon Washington (650-4) will serve as the number two and Cedric Houston the number three. Darian Barnes is the starting fullback.

The Jets have a solid receiving corps with Laveranus Coles (91-1,098-6) and Jerricho Cotchery (82-961-6) starting with Justin McCareins in the slot and Tim Dwight set at number four. Chris Baker mans the top spot at tight end with Sean Ryan backing him up.

The offensive line returns almost intact with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Anthony Clement at tackle, Nick Mangold at center, and Brandon Moore at right guard. Veteran Pete Kendall wants out of New York and is thinking of retirement. If he goes, Wade Smith or Adrien Clarke will battle for his spot.

Defense: The defense returns all eleven starters and has a fine mix of veteran leadership and hot blooded youth in its 3-4 scheme. Shaun Ellis (58 tackles, 5 sacks) and Kimo von Oelhoffen start at defensive end, while Dewayne Robertson mans the nose. Free agent David Bowens, Kenyon Coleman, Michael Haynes and Sione Pouha provide depth.

As in most good 3-4 defenses, linebackers are the strength of the Jets defense. Victor Hobson (100 tackles, 6 sacks) and Bryan Thomas line up on the outside and Jonathan Vilma (103 tackles) and Eric Barton stuff the run on the inside. Brad Kassell, Anthony Schlegel and rookie David Harris are solid backups.

Andre Dyson (62 tackles, 4 INT) and Justin Miller start at corner with Drew Coleman, David Barrett and rookie Alphonso Hodge in the mix. Kerry Rhodes (98 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 INT) is a solid free safety and Eric Coleman had over 100 tackles from his strong safety slot. Rashad Washington and Eric Smith serve as backups.

Special Teams: Entering his third season, Mike Nugent (24-of-27, 106 points) is fast becoming one of the top kickers in the league. Ben Graham (44.2) handles the punting chores, while Miller and Dwight return kicks and punts respectively.

Outlook: The team took to Mangini's style quickly and emerged as a playoff caliber franchise. The addition of Jones makes the offense stronger. The lack of a big-time running game was a huge reason the Jets went one and done in the playoffs. The ability of Pennington to stay healthy is key to New York's success. If he goes down, fortunes change, because Clemens and Tuiasosopo aren't exactly world beaters.

Prediction: Mangini has sold the players on the Belichick system and the talent is coming together to place the Jets as a future elite team. New York is still a few players away from being a Super Bowl contender, but they are good enough to get back to the playoffs once again. Record: 11-5.