NFL Nation: 2012 NFL Training camp

Packers turn attention to roster

August, 24, 2012
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As we noted Friday in discussing the NFL's officiating situation, intensity around the NFL starts picking up once a team's third preseason game is complete. The first round of cuts, from 90 to 75 players, is Monday. The fourth preseason game for most teams is Thursday, and rosters must be trimmed to 53 by Friday night at 9 p.m. ET.

After arriving home from Cincinnati on Friday morning, the Green Bay Packers immediately began personnel meetings to discuss the next roster steps. Coach Mike McCarthy offered a few tidbits during a Friday afternoon session with reporters:
  1. McCarthy said that linebacker Desmond Bishop's situation "will probably resolve here in the next 48 hours or so." That suggests Bishop, who recently had surgery on his hamstring, could be placed on injured reserve to save a roster spot by Monday.
  2. Cornerback Davon House, who suffered a shoulder injury two weeks ago, is improving but there is no clear timetable for his return. Surgery could still be an option.
  3. Tight end Tom Crabtree's shoulder injury does not appear serious, but defensive end Ryan Pickett suffered a calf injury that will probably cause him to miss some time.
  4. McCarthy didn't award Graham Harrell the backup quarterback job, but he told reporters: "We don't make roster decisions today. There's still plenty of work to be done. We have three more practices. We have a game. Graham will play in that game, will have more opportunities. Graham Harrell improved from the first two weeks last night. He graded out higher than the first two weeks, so he’s making improvement." Again, the Packers are far less worried about Harrell than others might be.
The latest buzz about Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is he's turning the corner in practice. Coaches are saying he's playing faster.

Gordon just has to start showing this improvement in games. In his first two preseason contests, Gordon didn't run good routes and didn't give great effort on passes that were a little off target.

The Browns hope -- and honestly need -- Gordon to step up. There's a feeling that they want to start him opposite Greg Little, but they can't give him the job after making two catches for 38 yards in two games.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur sounded confident that Gordon will bounce back after this slow start.

"He's making a steady climb through this training camp," Shurmur said. "When he came into camp, he had to kind of run himself into wide receiver shape. That runs parallel with learning the offense and then the details of it. Then the great amount of challenge you get from our defense in practice, and he's really had three game-day environments -- the scrimmage in the stadium and then of course the Detroit and Green Bay games. I think he responded well by improving in each setting."

Gordon's early struggles don't come as a surprise. A second-round pick in the July supplemental draft, Gordon didn't play in a game all last season (he did practice with Utah) and he comes from an offensive system at Baylor where he didn't run a lot of different routes.

His turnaround in practice follows a private chat with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has nearly been picked off twice because Gordon messed up the timing of a comeback route in the first two weeks of the preseason.

"I trust Josh and I'm not going to work the other side of the field just because it's him and the same thing happened the week before," Weeden said. "I can't do that. To sum it all up, we have to be on the same page. We can't continue to do it, but he's a rookie, he's learning just like I am. He's trying to play fast."

What I'll be watching: Bears-Giants

August, 24, 2012
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The New York Giants play their third preseason game of 2012 at 8 p.m. on Friday night against the Chicago Bears in East Rutherford, N.J. With a scant 12 days before the regular-season opener against the Cowboys, here's what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: The offensive line in the run game. Everybody wants to see rookie running back David Wilson, and so do I, but I'm more interested to watch how the line blocks for him. I remain of the belief that last season's running-game woes for the Giants were a line problem and not a running backs problem, and the two preseason games so far have looked the same, with the line getting pushed back and unable to open holes for the backs. Wilson needs space in which to work if he's going to show off that explosiveness that made him a first-round pick. He could ascend to the backup role behind Ahmad Bradshaw, and he should get plenty of snaps tonight to show whether he's worthy of more carries. But he'll need at least some help from the big folks in front of him.

On the other side of the ball: I assume the Giants will put Corey Webster on Brandon Marshall, but who knows? Maybe the hazing of Prince Amukamara's not done yet and they'll leave him out there on Marshall in the hope that Jay Cutler can make him look bad. In all seriousness, Amukamara is going to get picked on by Cutler, even if he's covering Alshon Jeffrey or some other non-Marshall receiver. While Terrell Thomas is still recovering from his knee problems, Amukamara is a starting cornerback for the Giants, and I'm interested to see how he's handling that responsibility and all of the struggles he's had on and off the field this preseason.

If I think of it: Back to the line for a second, I'm interested to see how Sean Locklear does at left tackle filling in for Will Beatty, since it appears as though he's going to have to do that plenty. I'm interested to see whether Eli Manning mixes it up this time and throws to some No. 3 wide receiver candidates after throwing it to Victor Cruz all night last Saturday. With Michael Boley still out with a hamstring injury, we'll get to see more of Keith Rivers and the other linebackers. I'll miss watching Jayron Hosley, who's out with turf toe, but am interested to see how the return game looks in his absence.

Dolphins have tough decisions at QB

August, 24, 2012
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The Miami Dolphins' quarterback picture was crystal clear two weeks ago. Veteran David Garrard was clearly winning the quarterback derby, Matt Moore was the incumbent pushing Garrard, and rookie Ryan Tannehill was a late arrival to training camp trying to catch up.

It's amazing how much has changed.

Two weeks later, Tannehill is the Week 1 starter, Garrard is recovering from knee surgery and little-known quarterback Pat Devlin is pushing for a roster spot. The Dolphins now have some big decisions to make at quarterback, and it won't be easy.

David Garrard
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Dolphins might have to cut David Garrard, who was the team's best QB before suffering an injury.
The Dolphins will keep three quarterbacks. But there are plenty of ways they can go with this decision.

Let's examine the possibilities.

Option No. 1: Keep Tannehill, Garrard and Moore

Analysis: Miami could keep Garrard and Moore on the roster to backup Tannehill. These are the three best quarterbacks on the roster, although sometimes that doesn't always matter in the decision. This trio would give the Dolphins a steady group of quarterbacks. If Tannehill gets injured, the drop off to Garrard or Moore wouldn't be much. It might actually improve, due to experience. But money and contracts will weigh on this decision, which makes it possible that Garrard or Moore might not make the cut.

Option No. 2: Keep Tannehill, Moore and Devlin

Analysis: Devlin is much improved and getting better each week. His improvement is opening some options for the Dolphins. One of those options is to cut Garrard or work out an injury settlement if he's not healthy before the regular season. The tough part about this decision is Garrard was clearly the best quarterback in training camp before his knee injury. The Dolphins might be letting go of the best quarterback on the team. But the decision already has been made to start Tannehill in Week 1. Garrard is still rehabbing. So Miami might think it's best to keep a healthy Moore as the backup and Devlin at No. 3 in case he develops into something.

Option No. 3: Keep Tannehill, Garrard and Devlin

Analysis: The final option is to work out a trade for Moore. But several factors have to be involved for this to work. First, the Dolphins must be confident Garrard will be healthy enough to backup Tannehill in Week 1. Second, there has to be a market for Moore, which could require a quarterback injury or two this preseason. Moore has 25 career starts and went 6-3 in his final nine starts for Miami last season. He could have value to a team desperate to replace an injured quarterback on the fly.

The Dolphins have one week (Aug. 31) to make their final roster cuts.

Which option do you like best for Miami?
It's "dress rehearsal" week in the NFL. This is the third and most important preseason game for most teams in preparation for the regular season.

Here are four questions for the third games in the AFC East:

No. 1: Can the New York Jets get in the end zone?

Thoughts: It’s a simple question. But the fact is New York remains the only NFL team yet to score a touchdown this preseason. The Jets are not showing everything, but leaks are springing up everywhere in their execution and fundamentals. Receivers are dropping passes, the pass protection has been horrendous and it's impacting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. The potential return Sunday of No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes should provide a boost to the passing game. Benching right tackle Wayne Hunter is another move to get this offense going in the right direction.

No. 2: Is it rest or rust for the New England Patriots?

Thoughts: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made an interesting move on Monday when he sat out many of his big-name starters in the second preseason game. For Belichick, it was a chance to rest virtually all of his star players, but also get a good look at younger players like backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The flip side is many of New England’s important players have just one quarter of work this entire preseason. Belichick plans to play his starters about three quarters to tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Next week is a meaningless game. So tonight is New England’s last chance to shake of the rust before the regular season.

No. 3: Will the Buffalo Bills start fast?

Thoughts: Buffalo does not want to make a habit of starting games slowly. That's one of the quickest ways to fall out of playoff contention. But the Bills’ starters have been lethargic this preseason. Buffalo has been outscored 23-10 in the first half the past two weeks. The Bills need to get a fast start in this dress rehearsal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It should be a good test of two teams expected to contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. If the Bills’ starters look lackadaisical for the third week in a row, you have to wonder if they are a little complacent and buying into their hype.

No. 4: Can the Miami Dolphins' defense step up?

Thoughts: Miami’s starting defense has allowed 24 first-quarter points the past two preseason games. Even with injuries, the fact that this group can’t get off the field should be a concern. Miami was without three key starters last week -- Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake -- so the defense gets a bit of a pass. But there will be no excuses in two weeks when the regular season begins. It's time for Miami's defense to build momentum. This is the strength of the team. If the defense doesn't play well, it's going to be a long season for the Dolphins.
I readily admit that I very often simply cannot understand the thought processes of professional athletes. Today's example has to do with the New York Giants and soft-spoken second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara. We have a story here from the New York Daily News in which teammates are saying, on the record, that the guy has to express more confidence in himself and his abilities:
"I think he's doing pretty good," Justin Tuck said. "Obviously you would like to see him be a little bit more vocal, a little bit more -- as the young kids say -- 'swag.'"

"He's got to," Corey Webster added. "It's a cornerback thing. We're going out there every play alone. D-linemen have linebackers behind them. Linebackers have safeties behind them. Most of the time (at corner) it's just you out there, so you've got to have that kind of arrogance, the kind of confidence to go out and get that job done."
I mean, you can't make a guy be something he's not. If Amukamara's not the kind of guy to call attention to himself and tell everybody he thinks he's great, or act on the field the way Webster thinks he has to act in order to succeed, I'm not sure there's a way to change that. Amukamara strikes me as a thoughtful, self-assured young man, but yes, a little bit quiet and maybe even introverted. He was successful enough in college to make him a first-round draft pick, and I can't imagine, if he flops at the NFL level, personality would be the central reason.

Amukamara's having a hard enough time, after an injury-plagued rookie season, adjusting to NFL life as a starting cornerback in place of the injured Terrell Thomas. He's been picked on in games by opposing quarterbacks, and that will continue until he shows he can cover at this level. I'm not sure he has to cover anyone with "swagger," but he has to do so effectively in order for offenses to stop targeting him. Takes longer for some people than it does for others. Takes a while with any cornerback, really. But I don't see how it helps a guy who's being picked on by opposing offenses to also be picked on in his own locker room. Kind of goes against what I thought the Giants were all about, actually.

Bottom line, here's my thought on all of this, and the Giants are welcome to take it any way they like: If you want a guy to have confidence in himself, the next time you have one of your gigantic defensive lineman throw him over his shoulder, carry him down the hallway and dunk him in a tub full of ice-cold water, maybe don't put the whole thing on YouTube. Just a thought, is all.

What Jason Witten's absence means

August, 23, 2012
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Some things don't demand much further explanation. For instance, if I say to you, "Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys would really miss tight end Jason Witten if his spleen injury keeps him out of the season opener 13 days from now against the New York Giants," you'd take that on faith. Of course they'd miss him. Witten is one of Romo's most consistently reliable targets and has been a vital part of the Cowboys' offense for years.

But our man Tim MacMahon out there at ESPNDallas.com has an interesting and somewhat detailed explanation of just how a Witten absence would affect things for the Cowboys, and specifically coach and offensive play-caller Jason Garrett:
Garrett loves operating out of two- and three- tight end sets. According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys used more than one tight end on 53 percent of their offensive snaps last season, the third-highest rate in the NFL.

The Cowboys were especially effective with one running back and two tight ends on the field, a personnel package that can be used in a variety of formations because of Witten's versatility. They averaged 7.0 yards per play with "12" personnel last season, their best of any package they used at least 5 percent of the time.

How often can they do that against the Giants if Witten is in street clothes and Martellus Bennett is on the opposite sideline?

Fair point, Tim. The solution is likely, as Tim points out later in his post, to use that "21" personnel formation, which is one tight end and two running backs. They did sign fullback Lawrence Vickers to block for DeMarco Murray, so it's not as though they're not planning to go with that kind of alignment at all this season. My guess is they'll probably go to it far more than the 13 percent of the time they apparently did in 2011, whether Witten's on the field or not.

But that doesn't change the fact that Witten's absence (especially with Bennett, the blocking tight end, having left via free agency) will inhibit Garrett's ability to run his offense the way he would prefer. And I think, after last season, all Cowboys fans can agree that they don't want Garrett less comfortable calling plays.
It appears Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley won't make his preseason debut Thursday night after all. Finley tweeted a few minutes ago that his wife gave birth, presumably Thursday morning, and that he is headed back to Green Bay.

The team traveled to Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon for tonight's preseason matchup against the Bengals.

Finley, via Twitter: "A blessing has came into the world! #BabyFin … Sorry Fans 88 is Heading back to GB from Cinny to take care of my Family. #Family1st"

Finley has been limited by a concussion and a quadriceps strain this summer. He was scheduled for significant duty Thursday night, partly because many NFL teams use key players sparingly in the fourth and final preseason game. The Packers haven't made any announcement, but I'm guessing he won't return to Cincinnati in time for Thursday's 7 p.m. ET kickoff.

I wouldn't be too concerned about that. As we discussed in Wednesday's Inside Slant podcast, the preseason has become less about developing timing for established players and more about giving unproven players a chance to earn a roster spot or speed up their development.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley arrived at training camp amid as much anticipation as any player on the Detroit Lions' roster. As we discussed in the offseason, Fairley was healthy for the first time in his NFL career. He had added some 18 pounds during intensive rehabilitation workouts and given the Lions reason to believe he would break out as an elite player in 2012.

Here's the best thing we can say about that hope: Midway through the preseason, Fairley hasn't provided much to support it. He has three tackles and one silly personal foul penalty in two games, but more concerning are the ambivalent (at best) and critical (at worst) comments coming from the team's coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairey
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireFormer first-round pick Nick Fairley has shown the Lions improved conditioning, but little production this preseason.
During my CampTour'12 visit to Lions camp, I kind of naively asked coach Jim Schwartz to discuss the extent of the progress Fairley had presumably made. I was surprised by his answer: "I don't want to read too much into practice. He's running well. He's strong. He's still developing in our scheme. This is a very important preseason to evaluate him. Last year, even when he was playing with us, he was never 100 percent. He is now, and this will be a good preseason for him to show that."

That was before the start of the preseason, which helps explain why defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham told reporters Wednesday that while Fairley has "all the tools to be a very good player," he needs to "grow up fast and be consistent." Cunningham implied that Fairley hasn't played hard on every snap during the preseason, and said: "In that position, you can't have a part-time guy, and I'm talking about through the game, because if the offensive line smells blood, they're going to go get him."

Wednesday, Schwartz said that Fairley "just needs to play more reps" but added: "Every time that we've tried to get him on the field for extended periods of time he hasn't been able to stay out there. He's done a good job of his conditioning. He's worked hard. He has ran well. He just needs to be on the field more."

We should consider some context here. Fairley fell in the 2011 draft in part because of maturity concerns. He was arrested twice in the offseason and faces a likely NFL suspension during the regular season. I understand why the Lions would be inclined to issue some public tough love rather than continue a campaign to anoint him the next Ndamukong Suh.

But if there were ever a time for Fairley to produce a signature game, even if it's in a meaningless preseason affair, it will be Saturday night at the Oakland Raiders. We still have every reason to believe there is a great player somewhere inside of Nick Fairley. But as the regular season approaches quickly, it would be nice to see some extended evidence of it.

Let the debate rage: Flynn or Wilson?

August, 21, 2012
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Russell Wilson was the most impressive quarterback on the field upon reporting for Seattle Seahawks minicamp in June.

The question was whether the rookie would do what rookies often do: bog down during training camp and the exhibition season, playing his way out of consideration for immediate playing time.

Wilson did encounter a few bumps during camp, but he worked through them impressively. And when the exhibitions began, Wilson was again usually the most impressive quarterback on the field. That helps explain why coach Pete Carroll plans to give Wilson the start against Kansas City when the Seahawks play their next exhibition, set for Friday.

"Wilson has earned his first start in the team's third preseason game, and a strong performance could elevate him into a starting role for the 2012 regular-season opener," ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Tuesday.

That last part -- "could elevate him into a starting role" -- will get people excited.

Matt Flynn's signing to a three-year deal averaging $6.5 million in free agency created the strong impression that Flynn was the Seahawks' quarterback of the future, and present. We've become accustomed to money equaling job security, to the extent that teams will give the players they pay -- and particularly quarterbacks -- every advantage to succeed.

That was the approach Seattle took with Matt Hasselbeck a decade earlier. The team stuck with Hasselbeck through up-and-down years, never using an early draft choice for a potential replacement. Then-coach Mike Holmgren believed in picking a starting quarterback and providing unwavering support for that player, to the extent possible. There is merit to that approach. It's more comfortable for all involved. But it's not the only way to go.

Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider have kept an open mind about the position. They liked Flynn, but their commitment to him did not preclude the team from using a third-round choice for Wilson, another quarterback. And if there was evidence Wilson might be the better quarterback, Carroll wasn't going to stick to the script with Flynn. There was no script, anyway. The best player was going to play.

Flynn still might go into the season as the starter, even if Wilson plays well Friday night.

Flynn has been in the NFL longer. Early evidence, limited as it might be, suggests he could run the offense efficiently. He would be the safe choice from a public-relations standpoint. Carroll and Schneider don't seem to care much about that. They didn't flinch when critics blasted them for using first-round choices on James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin. They've flaunted convention across the board -- Red Bryant, Brandon Browner and J.R. Sweezy provide three recent examples -- and come out looking smart most of the time.

Carroll is going to pick the quarterback he thinks is best, even if its at the expense of the accepted narrative.

My mind keeps flashing back to a play Wilson made during the second half against Denver last week. Two defenders were driving Wilson to the ground when the quarterback, his body at a severe angle, threw a perfectly placed pass from his own 45-yard line to his receiver near the sideline at the Denver 45. That type of play cannot be coached. The awareness Wilson showed was impressive enough, but the physical ability to deliver that pass set him apart from the vast majority of quarterbacks.

Wilson stands only 5-foot-10 and five-eighths inches. That's too short for an NFL quarterback, conventional wisdom says. The Seahawks aren't saying conventional wisdom is wrong, but with Wilson showing so much promise in so many other areas, they're eager to find out whether he's the exception to the rule.
Six days removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, Steelers linebacker James Harrison still plans to be ready for the season opener Sept. 9 in Denver.

Harrison
Harrison could have avoided cutting this so close to the season if he chose to have this surgery in the spring, when he missed practices with an inflamed knee. On the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Harrison tried doing conditioning work shortly after training camp began but said “the knee blew up."

Harrison believes he'll make a quick recovery, and it's hard to doubt him. He's proven to be a quick healer, although it will be more of a challenge at 34 years old. Before missing four games last season, he had been sidelined one week in his previous four seasons.

“I might need a little prep, we got a couple of new things (on defense), but other than that I think I’ll be all right,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You’ve got to get back in timing with the other guys and everything else, and a few days of practice would help.”

With Harrison and backup Jason Worilds out, Chris Carter has played well while starting at outside linebacker this preseason.

Can the Jets fix their offense?

August, 21, 2012
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Sanchez & Tebow & Holmes US PresswireMark Sanchez, left, Santonio Holmes, middle, Tim Tebow and the Jets have no TDs this preseason.
The New York Jets' offense can't run, can't pass, can't protect the quarterback and cannot get into the end zone.

Other than that, things are going pretty well.

The Jets are putting on a "Bad News Bears" type of performance offensively this preseason. Granted, these games don't count in the standings. But we haven't seen anything from the Jets to inspire confidence that they will improve on last season's No. 25 ranking in total offense during the regular season.

A full slate of organized team activities, minicamp and training camp have produced only three field goals in eight quarters. The Jets currently hold the embarrassing distinction as the only NFL team yet to score a preseason touchdown.

The much-hyped and much-anticipated quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has fizzled. Sanchez is 13-of-17 for 80 yards, with one pick-six and five sacks. Tebow is 9-of-22 for 96 yards, one interception and four sacks. The Jets' offense this preseason is best measured in inches, not yards.

At some point, confidence might become an issue. This is a group that struggled all last season under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But with "Schotty" gone, there is no scapegoat left to point the finger at besides the players failing to execute.

"Obviously like anything else, you want touchdowns because you want to see kids smile," Jets first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano told reporters this week. "You want to see the smile on their face. You want to see some validation on what it is that we’ve been doing and how hard they’ve been working."

There weren't many smiles from the Jets' offense in last weekend's 26-3 loss to the New York Giants. The Jets looked very frustrated for only a second preseason game.

Jets starting tailback Shonn Greene voiced his frustration after a failed fourth-down conversion in the first half. Tebow also was vocal and upset with his teammates for missed assignments. Tebow was sacked four times by the Giants' backups.

There are so many issues with personnel and execution that you wonder if the Jets can fix their offense in time for their Week 1 showdown in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills.

Starting with the offensive line, the Jets must figure out what to do with starting right tackle Wayne Hunter. In his first preseason game last weekend, Hunter allowed three sacks and had a fourth called back because of a Giants penalty. Hunter was a major problem last season and has shown no signs of improvement.

"That stuff happens to everybody," Sanchez said of Hunter's bad game. "I don't care who you are."

Sanchez also spoke of building up Hunter's confidence and continuing to have faith in the struggling right tackle. New York's coaches say Hunter's problems are correctable. But the truth is he's just not a good player. If the Jets had a viable replacement, they would have benched Hunter by now. The problem is New York's options are very thin.

The Jets might have to turn to third-year tackle Austin Howard. I don't know if he's any good, but he can't play much worse than Hunter did in the last preseason game. New York should start Howard on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. If Howard doesn't give up four sacks in the first half, consider it progress. Another option would be to move draft bust Vladimir Ducasse from guard back to right tackle.

Whether it's Hunter, Howard or Ducasse, it's clear the Jets must give their right tackle help this season by consistently leaving in an extra tight end or running back. That takes away options in the passing game, but it is better than having Sanchez or Tebow laying on his back.

It's also time for the Jets to use their Wildcat offense. New York has been holding this formation close to the vest, but this wrinkle might be the best thing the Jets' offense has going for it. Tebow has proven he can move the chains with his legs, both with the Denver Broncos and the Jets in the preseason. I understand the Jets not wanting to show too much before they play the Bills on Sept. 9. But they should at least do a few basic, Wildcat plays to jumpstart the offense, get some work in and build the group's confidence.

My final preseason suggestion is for New York to play rookie receiver Stephen Hill as much as possible with the starters. The second-round pick has four receptions in two games. He is a raw talent in need of playing time. Hill has the size and speed to be an asset for the Jets, and this is the perfect time to develop him.

If Hill is more seasoned by the regular season when No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes returns from his rib injury, the Jets' receivers will be in much better shape than they are now. Hill also is a solid run blocker who will contribute to New York's ground-and-pound offense.

The Jets have a lot of problems offensively. But benching Hunter, using the Wildcat and developing Hill as much as possible this preseason should patch a few holes.

With a strong defense, the Jets don't need their offense to be world-beaters to win games. New York just needs its leaky ship on offense to stay afloat and keep its head above water.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals do not yet know which players will start at offensive tackle for them.

The Cardinals do have a pretty good idea which players those tackles will have to block in passing situations this season.

The list includes Jared Allen and Jason Babin, who combined for 40 sacks last season while ranking first and third, respectively, in that category. Overall, the Cardinals face nine of the 17 NFL players with at least 10 sacks last season, plus another player, John Abraham, who finished with 9.5. There are also players expected to reach double figures in sacks this season after failing to do so in 2011. Mario Williams and Clay Matthews head that list.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic identifies D'Anthony Batiste (left) and rookie Bobby Massie (right) as potential favorites to start at tackle after a triceps injury knocked out left tackle Levi Brown, perhaps for the season.

Batiste, 30, started four games for Atlanta in 2007. Massie, a fourth-round choice, started 29 consecutive games at right tackle to end his career at Mississippi.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2012 schedule, plus projected top pass-rushers from the left and right sides of each opponent's defense. Those pass-rushers' sack totals from 2011 appear in parenthesis.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches might be serving Derrick Morgan very well by playing practice-squad journeyman Pannel Egboh ahead of him some and stoking his competitive fires.

I don’t think they served him well with their explanations of the move. Mike Munchak talked of it simply being part of seeing more guys in the mix. Funny how the Titans feel compelled to test the mix there, but not so much with right guard Leroy Harris or No. 2 cornerback Alterraun Verner?

[+] EnlargePannel Egboh
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIPannel Egboh, right, doesn't care what his role is, as long as he makes Tennessee's 53-man roster.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray went with a different kind of copout. He talked about how he had five starters at defensive end.

A 2010 first-round pick not qualifying as a clear-cut starter would amount to a negative development, no matter the spin. But Morgan started against Tampa Bay, played plenty on first-and-10 and notched a sack of Bucs backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, so maybe the mixing it up at his spot is over.

I’ve heard from someone who would know that Egboh against the run serves Gray’s theme of getting guys on the field for the situations they are best at, and that the Titans view Egboh as a guy who needs encouragement and Morgan as a guy who might need a kick in the backside.

To his credit, while complimenting Egboh, Morgan disagrees entirely with idea that they need different treatment to maximize their production.

“I don’t need extra motivation, I have enough motivation from within and my own expectations,” Morgan said. “I don’t know what they were doing, but I’m just worried about getting better. … I want to be on the field. I’m not here to be a specialist. I’m an all around player. I feel like I’m solid against the run.”

Said Egboh of my theory that there is psychology involved in what the Titans have done with him and Morgan: “You’re getting way too deep for me.”

Here’s another concern I have with the idea of Egboh as a first-down run-stuffer. The NFL ran the ball 52 percent of the time on first down last season, and 51.1 percent of the time on first-down against the Titans. (Thanks to Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats and Info for the numbers.)

If the Titans want Egboh to give Morgan a break on run downs, then maybe they ought to consider pulling Morgan when a second-and-short comes up.

Egboh did say his feedback from coaches has been all positive.

Asked if he thinks he’s the starter, he said “absolutely not.”

But he did allow for the possibility that he’s going to make the 53-man roster. He spent part of 2009 on Houston’s practice squad, and part of 2010 on the practice squad in Philadelphia. Then 2011 he worked the whole season on Tennessee’s practice squad.

If he breaks through this time …

“It’ll mean everything, but I’ve thought about it, and when I do it, it’s just the beginning,” he said. “It’s one little accomplishment, but I’ll have a whole season to play. My No. 1 goal right now is to make the 53. But after that I’ve got to celebrate it quickly and move on and get ready to play 16 games.”
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The focus on offensive tackles and quarterbacks intensified Monday as the Arizona Cardinals held their first full practice since facing Oakland on Friday night.

Left tackle Levi Brown's potentially season-ending triceps injury forced the Cardinals to consider contingencies. Meanwhile, John Skelton worked at quarterback with the starting offense, with Kevin Kolb getting second-team reps as part of their rotation.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has announced no timetable for naming a starting quarterback for the regular season. Skelton will get the start Thursday against Tennessee.

A few notess and observations from practice at Northern Arizona University:
  • The offensive linemen generally held up well in one-on-one pass-rush drills. A somewhat slippery surface might have worked against the defensive players, however. Tackle D.J. Young, a player the Cardinals are auditioning at left tackle in Brown's extended absence, split matchups against linebacker Antonio Coleman. D'Anthony Batiste, another candidate at tackle, held up well in two of three matchups with Sam Acho, one of the Cardinals' better pass-rushers. I thought Batiste fared well against Quentin Groves as well. Rookie Bobby Massie, a potential starter on the right side, seemed to do well enough in two of the four matchups I watched. He split with Acho. Clark Haggans gave him trouble. Coaches are surely grading on the finer points. I was watching to see if offensive linemen got beat.
  • Young, undrafted from Michigan State in 2011, worked with the starters at left tackle. Batiste was at right tackle. They aren't necessarily the players Arizona will take into Week 1 as starters. The team is in discovery mode while assessing its options. Rookie Nate Potter was the second-team left tackle, with Massie on the right side. Potter faced Acho twice in one-on-one-drills and seemed to do OK.
  • The ball was on the ground quite a bit while Skelton led the first-team offense. The passing game didn't seem to be functioning crisply. Larry Fitzgerald slipped out of a break, coming up short on one ball near the sideline. Fitzgerald also dropped a ball. He was upset with himself after practice, turning serious when the subject arose. Fitzgerald: "I dropped a ball, slipped on a couple routes -- stuff that is inexcusable. I need to give John better looks than that. I have to hold myself to a higher standard. Got to get better tomorrow."
  • Tight end Rob Housler, though enjoying a strong camp overall, had trouble connecting with Skelton a few times. It was a tough day for the tight ends overall. Veteran Todd Heap left practice with a stinger injury. Jeff King suffered a false-start penalty, the offense's third of the day.
  • Kolb, leading the second-team offense while Skelton prepares to start at Tennessee on Thursday, connected on a deep pass to Stephen Williams. "Kevin had a great day today, John made some throws and that's what it's about," Fitzgerald said.
  • Andre Roberts was on point when battling cornerback Larry Parker for the ball. Parker jumped the pass from Skelton, sending the ball into the air. Roberts stayed with it aggressively and made the catch.
  • Inside linebacker Daryl Washington missed practice following a death in the family.

All for now. Time to process some interviews from earlier in the day. I'll be back at practice Tuesday as Cardinals camp breaks.

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