NFC East: Josh Cribbs
Santana Moss: I wrote about him Monday. He’s the most reliable option because of his experience. He has a career 11.3-yard average, which is fantastic, but he has not handled this role full-time since 2004. And, in his last 51 returns, he’s averaged 8.6 yards, which is respectable. One issue with Moss over the years was durability. Coaches felt he got too worn down in the second half of seasons because he was doing too much, was getting older and did not train as well as they would have liked. He improved his offseason training last year, saving his job in Washington. But would being a full-time returner impact his effectiveness in the slot over the course of a season?
Chris Thompson: He has the least amount of experience in this role and as little as two weeks ago looked nothing close to being ready. Here's what he learned after some tough days in camp. But he also has a running style that works well on punt returns. I liked how after catching the ball on his last two punts, he paused after catching the ball, then made his move. He has not been a dancer with the ball. But can you trust him after he lost two fumbles from scrimmage? Unlike the other rookies on this list, Thompson could help from scrimmage on occasion.
Skye Dawson: He fumbled at the end of his first return and then made a poor decision to reverse field, losing yards, on his second. Since then, Dawson has been much better. On his third punt in the opener, he ran it 27 yards and in the following game against Pittsburgh he averaged 13.3 yards on four returns against Pittsburgh with a long of 24. Dawson was good, but not great, in this role at TCU. As a junior he managed just 59 yards on 12 returns -- and that was with a long of 42. A year later he averaged 9.4 yards per punt return. He had one return for 64 yards; on his other 16 returns he averaged six yards. He is fast -- he finished first in the indoor 60 meters championship in 2010 with the third fastest time in Mountain West history. But his track record is not spectacular by any means. And he does not look ready to contribute anywhere but as a punt returner.
Aldrick Robinson: Shanahan keeps calling him a possibility, though Robinson told a few reporters Monday that he would not be returning punts. He struggled two years ago in this role as a rookie, worked on fielding punts throughout the season while on the practice squad and showed little improvement a year ago.
DeAngelo Hall: He has returned 16 punts, but has fumbled four times. In three returns with Washington, he’s gained a combined minus-2 yards and fumbled twice.
Nick Williams: At Connecticut, he returned 52 punts for 470 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores came as a senior when he averaged 12.0 yards on 21 returns. He had a long of 80 yards, but still averaged 8.65 yards on the other 20. But, as with Dawson, could he help you at all from scrimmage? That’s tough to see. One of these two, or both, will end up on the practice squad.
Is Josh Cribbs an option? No. Or, at least, he shouldn’t be. The Redskins never really showed much interest in him this offseason in part because they just didn’t have the salary cap room, one team official said. But Arizona rescinded its offer to him because Cribbs, coming off knee surgery, couldn’t pass a physical and other teams (the Jets) did not look at him for the same reason. Those who watched him in Oakland this summer say he did not look fast. When the Raiders cut you, it’s not a good sign. The Redskins still are tight against the cap, but money is not the only issue with Cribbs. It's possible the eventual punt returner is not on the roster so Saturday's cuts by the other 31 teams could play a vital role for Washington.
DeAngelo Hall says the plan all along for him was to return to Washington this year at a drastically reduced salary. He says he felt responsible for the salary-cap mess in which the Redskins found themselves, since he believed his contract and Albert Haynesworth's were the ones for which the other teams' owners penalized them. Says he's made enough money.
Robert Griffin III's knee isn't the only injury concern for the Redskins on offense as the offseason program gets underway. Tark El-Bashir runs down the list of the walking wounded that surround Griffin, or Kirk Cousins, as the case may be.
It is assumed that DeMarcus Ware will make an easy transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, and he very well might. Players of Ware's talent are capable of more things that we sometimes give them credit for. But Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that the move does carry some risk.
Yes, Phil Costa knows the Cowboys' first-round draft pick could take his job as the starting center. No, Costa does not plan to be a jerk about it to Travis Frederick. Just doesn't think that's the way to do things. Obviously, it's possible that whoever from the duo of Frederick or Costa doesn't win the center's job could win a job as a starting guard, too.
New York Giants
If you believe that the presence of smoke indicates the presence of fire, then you have reason to be optimistic about the state of the Victor Cruz contract talks. Again, I expect that this will get done to the satisfaction of both sides, but if it doesn't get done in the next couple of days, that's no reason to think anything's necessarily gone wrong.
The Giants were hoping to lure free-agent Josh Cribbs to help their kick-return game, but he has instead signed with the Raiders. This likely means running back David Wilson remains the primary kick returner in spite of what's expected to be an increased role in the running game.
There are a few Philadelphia Eagles players for whom Chip Kelly's methods and mannerisms are not new or unfamiliar. Those players who knew him at the University of Oregon say he's the same guy he was there.
Matt Barkley is making a strong first impression on the Eagles' coaches and his fellow competitors at quarterback, and it's not crazy to think he's not in the mix to play that position as early as this season.
The All-Pro team is obviously more prestigious than being chosen for the Pro Bowl. The AFC had 15 players and the NFC had 12. Since the Vikings and Cowboys play Sunday, it's interesting to note that the two teams occupied both defensive tackle spots with Kevin Williams joining Ratliff. And Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, running back Adrian Peterson and guard Steve Hutchinson were also named to the exclusive team.
As expected, the Giants and Redskins did not land anyone on the All-Pro team. Eagles kicker David Akers, defensive end Trent Cole, kick returner DeSean Jackson and cornerback Asante Samuel made the second-team All-Pro list, according to the club. Jackson was edged out by Josh Cribbs for the first-team kick returner spot and I'm not sure who was ahead of him at receiver on the second team. I'll track that down for you guys.
|Getty Images/US Presswire|
|Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens will meet again Monday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
IRVING, Texas -- It seems a little early in the season for an NFC East showdown, but that's exactly what we have with the Eagles and Cowboys on "Monday Night Football."
Despite their lack of success in the playoffs over the past 12 seasons, the Cowboys have been penciled in on many ballots as the eventual NFC representative in Tampa. The Eagles, a team that began this decade by winning five of seven division titles, appear back on track after a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2007.
The health of 31-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb has been an issue for this franchise since it reached the Super Bowl in 2004. However, he appears to be in top form. McNabb is not the same quarterback who orchestrated one of the most iconic plays in MNF history in November 2004 (the 14-second scramble), but he thinks injuries forced him to become a more complete player.
The last time the Eagles visited Texas Stadium, the defense badgered Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo into three interceptions and McNabb evoked good memories for Eagles fans with nine carries for 53 yards in leading the Eagles to a 10-6 victory.
The win was part of a four-game streak to end the season and it's the reason the Eagles feel confident heading into Monday's game.
"If anything, it let us know we could get the job done," starting weak-side linebacker Omar Gaither told me via phone Saturday. "But that game has no bearing on what will happen Monday. We have to go down there and handle our business again."
The Eagles watched a few clips from last December's game to remind them why they had so much success against one of the top offenses in the league. Gaither said he watched the entire game because it is part of his weekly routine. So, what was the Eagles' secret to slowing Romo?
"We were able to get pressure on him," Gaither said. "You have to bring the heat with him, and I think they got in the red zone three times and didn't come away with any touchdowns. That was big for us."
Rest assured that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson won't borrow the Cleveland Browns' defensive game plan from last Sunday, which allowed Romo to loiter in the pocket throughout much of a 28-10 victory.
The Giants and Eagles have shown what can happen when you throw Romo out of rhythm. Johnson will blitz him from all over the field, and the fact that Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett rarely calls for screens and extra blockers makes Romo vulnerable at times.
|AP Photo/Robert E. Klein|
|Andy Reid holds a 13-5 edge in this series since taking over as head coach in 1999.|
Eagles fans didn't need any more reasons to hate the Cowboys, but their former wide receiver, Terrell Owens, has become an easy target. His messy divorce from McNabb and the organization in 2005 is still a topic of conversation in both cities. McNabb expressed regret last month that he and Owens weren't able to work things out, and on Thursday, the wide receiver responded.
"It became too overwhelming for Donovan," Owens said. "Other than that, I think at one point in time, I will say that we had a good relationship. I think I got too big for Philly, too big for him. But here, Tony and I have a great relationship."
Owens went on to say that Romo "gets me" like no other quarterback he's ever played with, a statement that belongs on "The View", not in a sports section. No matter who was at fault for the breakup, McNabb and Owens should play key roles in Monday's game.
On the injury front, Reid said Saturday that he's encouraged by the progress that starting wide receiver Reggie Brown made in practice and is hopeful that he'll play. Brown is listed as questionable for Monday.
For the Cowboys, Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman has indicated that he'll be ready to go against the Eagles. On Saturday, I was told that the Cowboys coaches thought there was a "75 percent" chance Newman would play, but that he won't start.
Newman's replacement in the starting lineup, Adam Jones, played well against the Browns, but he's still annoying his coaches by refusing to focus on the little things that will make him successful. The Cowboys will keep a close eye on Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson -- both at receiver and in the return game.
Last season, Bruce Read's special teams unit struggled in coverage, but Dallas had a nice effort against a Browns team that was playing without the dangerous Josh Cribbs.
This is a good measuring-stick game for both games. For the Cowboys, it's an early test to see if the team can live up to its immense hype. For the Eagles, it's a chance to serve notice that last year was an aberration.
McNabb told me during trai
ning camp that the Eagles were the best team in the NFC. On Monday, he'll have an opportunity to back that up.
CLEVELAND -- With six minutes left in the game, at least three-quarters of Browns Stadium was empty. It spoke to the Cowboys' complete domination of a team rumored to be a contender in the AFC.
Starting on the first drive, quarterback Tony Romo had an inordinate amount of time in the pocket. The Browns traded second- and third-round draft choices to shore up their defensive line, but on this day, the results weren't much different than in past years. The Cowboys consistently knocked the Browns off the line of scrimmage, allowing Romo to carve up the defense for 318 yards and a touchdown. He was 24-of-32, and wasn't even touched until the second half.
On defense, the Cowboys missed starting cornerback Terence Newman on one Browns scoring drive, but that's about it. Fans booed the Browns as they left the field at the half. But they were even louder when head coach Romeo Crennel inexplicably sent out his field goal unit when the Browns trailed 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
The Browns can talk about injuries to receiver Josh Cribbs and guard Rex Hadnot, but it wouldn't have mattered. For one day, the Cowboys lived up to their enormous hype. And the Browns were left wondering if they're really this bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
CLEVELAND -- As we first warned you Friday afternoon, Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman will not play against the Browns today. Newman is still recovering from a groin injury that he suffered early in training camp, and I'm told he's still not able to accelerate. Owner Jerry Jones had already come out and said that cornerback Adam Jones would start in Newman's place.
For the Browns, it's no surprise that wide receiver and return man Josh Cribbs will sit out today's game with a high ankle sprain. Syndric Steptoe will take his place on kick and punt returns. The Browns are also without starting right guard Rex Hadnot and free safety Brodney Pool. They'll be replaced by Seth McKinney and Mike Adams.