NFL Nation: Chris Samuels
Diagnosed with this condition at USC as a freshman, Jones transferred to Georgia when doctors wouldn't clear him to play for the Trojans. He went on to record 28.5 sacks in 26 games at Georgia.
Jones got a favorable report from neck and spine specialist Dr. Craig Brigham, who's examining players at the combine, various teams told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. But it's been reported that some teams have taken Jones off their draft board because of his medical condition.
Stenosis has cut short the careers of Sterling Sharpe and Chris Samuels. Former Chargers offensive tackle Marcus McNeill slid into the second round in 2006 because teams were worried about spinal stenosis. McNeill played six seasons, going to two Pro Bowls, before retiring prior to the 2012 season.
Jones said he has no concerns about playing with this condition in the NFL.
"Anybody who steps on that field has a chance of getting hurt," Jones said at the NFL combine. "If you think about it like that, nobody would ever play football. For me, I'm just taking advantage of the opportunity. I love this game. I'm passionate about it."
NFL teams have a couple of months to make their final decision on Jones.
Griffin completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,070 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 103.2 in September. He also rushed for 234 yards. He's only the third player in NFL history to throw for more than 1,000 yards in the first four weeks of his rookie season, though it likely says something about the NFL that the other two are Carolina's Cam Newton in 2011 and Miami's Ryan Tannehill this year.
Anyway, this is the second year in a row the Redskins have had a rookie win September honors. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month last September. Griffin is the first Redskins player to win Offensive Rookie of the Month since Chris Samuels did it in October of 2000. Remember that? No? Yeah, me neither.
Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.
That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.
A few thoughts on the process and the results:
- This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
- Former St. Louis Rams
and Arizona Cardinals
cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
- The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
- Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
- DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
- Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.
It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.
None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.
One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.
Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.
Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.
I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
- On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
- On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
- On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
- On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."
The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.
Should the Redskins select a quarterback at No. 4 overall?
Okung's probably the safest pick at No. 4 overall -- and I think it would be the wisest selection. But Mike Shanahan knows more than anyone the importance of the quarterback position, and it's hard to tell if he's sold on Jason Campbell. He's reportedly watched hours of film on Jimmy Clausen, so I'm sure he's formed a pretty strong opinion of the former Notre Dame quarterback. We keep reading that Clausen's alleged cockiness put off some teams at the combine, but I haven't heard that complaint from anyone in the Redskins organization.
ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are split on Clausen. Kiper has the Redskins selecting Clausen at No. 4, but McShay's never been sold on him. The big thing Clausen has going for him is that he's played in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense and he's comfortable taking snaps from center. Players such as Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are having to make some major adjustments in terms of their drops, but Clausen's been doing it for years.
Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan haven't made any knee-jerk moves in trying to change the culture of the organization. If you look at what Bill Parcells and the Dolphins did when they first got to South Florida, they took the best left tackle in the draft in Jake Long. He'll likely start at that position for the next eight or nine seasons. They eventually selected Chad Henne, but the Dolphins didn't rush the process. It was Chad Pennington who led the team to the playoffs in '08.
Taking Clausen in the first round might be the most exciting move the Redskins could make, but acquiring a cornerstone of the offensive line will provide a better foundation. You guys on board with Okung at No. 4 or do you want Clausen? Use the "comments" section to answer The Big Question.
As we've discussed recently, the Packers are in a difficult situation. Clifton has struggled at times during the past two years and is nearing the end of his career, but the Packers have no obvious replacement on their roster. I don't think anyone considers T.J. Lang a short- or long-term answer at the position. It's possible the Packers will draft a starting-caliber left tackle next month, but obviously there are no guarantees.
Now the question is whether the Packers will re-sign right tackle Mark Tauscher or whether they will turn the position over to Lang. Part of the difficult situation is that Tauscher might have more career longevity than Clifton -- but the need to retain the incumbent was more acute at Clifton's position.
I have a feeling that this post wouldn't be complete without the near-obligatory "stay tuned."
Two other quick Packers notes from Friday: The team released defensive end Mike Montgomery and safety Matt Giordano.
Yes, it's hard to imagine general manager Ted Thompson bidding against Washington owner Daniel Snyder, if it comes to that. The Redskins have bid farewell to left tackle Chris Samuels, and new coach Mike Shanahan is going to get whatever he wants from Snyder. If it's a veteran left tackle with experience in a zone blocking scheme, then so be it. Snyder won't let money get in the way.
So then you wonder if Clifton, a quiet and introverted guy who has spent his entire career with the Packers, really wants to leave Green Bay and play in Washington's annual high-profile circus. We're not privy to his last-minute negotiations with the Packers, so I don't know how close or far the sides are from a numbers perspective. But if Clifton thinks he can shake more money loose by following through with a visit, he's probably misjudging Thompson's reputation for sticking to his core beliefs.
And in many cases over recent years, Thompson has insisted on replacing veterans with younger, recently drafted players. It has worked more often than it has failed, and I've felt for some time the Packers needed to initiate a succession plan at both tackle positions.
We've discussed this dynamic thoroughly in the past few weeks, and we can only assume the Packers would replace Clifton with second-year player T.J. Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009. I'm on board with replacing Clifton sooner rather than later, given his recent health issues, but to me it would have to be accompanied by the return of right tackle Mark Tauscher. The Packers could minimize the pain of that succession plan by proceeding gradually.
It's possible the Packers could draft a starting-caliber left tackle next month, but that wouldn't change the worst-case dynamic: Having unproven players at both tackle positions is far from ideal for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense.
We're not at that point yet, but I do think we should take Clifton's visit to Washington seriously and begin considering the repercussions of his possible departure.
Clifton, 33, is the top offensive tackle on the free-agent market and he's apparently seeking somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million a year. With the Redskins desperate for help along the offensive line, it's reasonable to think they'll outbid the Packers for Clifton's services.
We'll be talking to folks at Redskins Park in the morning and we'll let you know if there are any updates. Clifton has started 138 games since being selected in the second round of the 2000 draft.
Looking back at Samuels’ illustrious career, it is very difficult to find holes in his game. He might not have been the most physical masher in the run game, but he had very light feet, was a natural knee-bender and understood body positioning quite well. He was extremely physically gifted and knew how to use those gifts to his advantage, particularly as a blind-side protector, where he was routinely left one-on-one against elite pass-rushers.
In terms of the big picture, I would put Samuels behind Pace, Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones. That probably makes him a fringe Hall of Fame player. With Pace and Jones in the NFC, Samuels may not have always gotten his due, but there is an awful lot to like about what this great player did on the field. He will be missed.
Figure out what he's going to do at quarterback: Dan Snyder and his old pal Vinny Cerrato made a mess of this situation last offseason by pursuing every quarterback not named Jason Campbell. Allen has been complimentary of Campbell's work, but this is something Shanahan needs to figure out. I talked to Campbell about Shanahan last week, and he expressed excitement about the coach's credentials. Shanahan obviously won the two Super Bowls with John Elway, had some success with Jake Plummer and appeared to have Jay Cutler headed in the right direction. I think Shanahan will look to draft a quarterback and groom him for the future, but you don't want to throw a kid to the wolves behind this offensive line. If Shanahan believes Campbell could elevate his game, I think it behooves him to invest some time in him. Campbell had the best statistical season of his career while playing behind perhaps the worst collection of offensive linemen in the league. I'd like to see what a quarterback guru such as Shanahan could accomplish with Campbell, who has handled this entire situation with a lot of grace.
Assemble a talented coaching staff: I think Shanahan brings a great deal of energy to the job after having a season off. But it's not like he played golf the whole time. He spent a lot of time visiting other coaches and watching film at an office in Denver. I have to believe he has basically had a coaching in staff in mind for the past six or seven months. His son, Kyle, will serve as offensive coordinator and there's a lot of speculation that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will fill the same role for the Redskins. Keep your eye on whether Shanahan retains any members of the previous Washington regime. It will be an indicator of how much say Snyder has retained. Snyder loved special-teams coordinator Danny Smith and he's also fond of secondary coach Jerry Gray. My guess is Shanahan will pretty much clean house.
It's time to rebuild the offensive line: This goes hand in hand with the quarterback situation. You can't ask Campbell to endure another season behind this collection of former undrafted rookies and aging players. It as if your best offensive lineman Chris Samuels will probably retire because of a neck injury, and it's not like you received outstanding play from your other veterans. Randy Thomas is too old to count on, and Casey Rabach is just a serviceable center at this point. I supposed Derrick Dockery was your best lineman this season after Samuels was injured, but that's not saying much. Free agency is going to be limited because of the potential for an uncapped season. With the No. 4 pick overall, you need to take a long look at the left tackles in the draft. I know everyone will talk about Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, but you don't have to pick a quarterback at that spot. Hopefully Shanahan and Allen will have a logical plan in place. Picking two wide receivers and a tight end in the same round isn't the way to go -- even if you argue that they were the "best players on the board."
It would be nice to figure out the running back situation: Starting running back Clinton Portis has talked about his uncertain future. He's set to make more than $7 million next season (Shanahan money), and at least $6 million of it is guaranteed. I know Shanahan once traded Portis from the Broncos, but I don't think he would have any trouble coaching him. The issue is that Portis talks a better game than he plays these days. He missed pretty much the entire second half of the season with a concussion -- yet he found time to criticize Campbell in recent days. He's a mouthy guy who loves to go behind the coach's back directly to Snyder. If Snyder allows Shanahan to dump Portis, I think that would be a good sign for the organization.
And that brings us to our fifth item, which deals with Snyder: All this talk of "ultimate say in football decisions" sounds good in theory, but we know how much Snyder likes to be involved. Shanahan needs to do a good job of making Snyder feel like he's involved in decisions. Snyder gave Joe Gibbs a lot of authority, but that was a different situation. He had idolized Gibbs as a kid and was sort of in awe of him. That won't be the case with Shanahan. The last time Snyder hired a coach with a similar demeanor to Shanahan's (Marty Schottenheimer), things ended pretty quickly. If Snyder doesn't give Shanahan and Allen enough breathing room, this could be another failed hire.
Surely Redskins owner Dan Snyder wouldn't make a stunning move on the Thursday before the Giants come to FedEx to provide "Monday Night Football" with a compelling storyline. Oh wait, you think he would?
It's pretty obvious that Snyder didn't simply wake up Thursday morning and decide to can his longtime pal Vinny Cerrato. But the timing of Cerrato's "resignation" followed closely by the hiring of Bruce Allen as general manager certainly gives Monday's game a little more pop.
Hard as it is to believe, the Giants (7-6) still have a decent shot at a wild-card playoff spot and several Redskins players now have a three-week audition to try to grab Allen's attention before he overhauls this roster. Make no mistake, that's what it will take to make the Redskins competitive again. Cerrato made the humorous statement a few weeks ago that he handed coach Jim Zorn the keys to a playoff team this season, but we all know that's not true.
Even before season-ending injuries to starting offensive linemen Randy Thomas and Chris Samuels, this wasn't a roster that was built to compete for an NFC East title. It was dotted with big names, some of whom (Santana Moss, Clinton Portis) appear to be on the downside of their careers. Some Redskins fans had given up on the Snyder-Cerrato partnership ever ending. But behind closed doors, the seemingly happy relationship had cooled. Yes, they still made the rounds on the field before games, but Cerrato finally started to lose Snyder's ear.
Now, a new era begins in Washington with a general manager tied to the Redskins' past. Allen's father, George, coached the Redskins from 1971-77 and was one of the most beloved figures in the history of the franchise. But Bruce has forged his own reputation during stops in Oakland and Tampa Bay. His love of the franchise is a quaint sidebar but it doesn't shed any light on whether or not he'll succeed with the Redskins. The only way this works is if Snyder actually sticks to the business side and allows Allen and whichever head coach (possibly Mike Shanahan) to take care of the football operation. Like his mentor and friend, Jerry Jones, Snyder is enamored with the splashy move. He doesn't sweat the small stuff, such as drafting and developing players along the offensive and defensive lines.
Why make a commitment via the draft when you can set the market in free agency? If this latest plan is to work, the organization needs to move past the embarrassing pre-draft trips during which Snyder lands in a college town for one last look at the hottest prospect. For all his business acumen, you still get the feeling that Snyder is playing dress-up when it comes to football decisions. Maybe Snyder is doing what Jones did in 2003 when he hired Bill Parcells to coach his team and make most of the personnel decisions. That move didn't pay off with a playoff win but Parcells rebuilt the team and put it in position to win 13 games in 2007.
I don't know how closely Allen has watched the Redskins this season but my guess is that he has had an eye on them for the past few weeks. He's publicly said that he plans to evaluate Zorn over the final three games, but we all know the score. Zorn was effectively fired the day his play-calling duties were stripped by Cerrato, but the Skins weren't able to coax him into quitting, which would have saved them some cash. In what has been an embarrassing situation all the way around, Zorn has somehow managed to remain gracious -- and his team keeps showing up and competing against superior opponents. He was asked Friday about reports that the Redskins are already in talks with Shanahan to replace him as head coach.
"I'm not aware of that, and I wouldn't even try to go there," said Zorn. "Because I'm not looking towards what is going to happen this offseason or next season yet. We're right in the middle of it. For us, I'm kind of excited about where we're heading."
The Redskins are likely headed for an offseason of upheaval, but first, they get a crack at the Giants, a team that has owned them lately. I think this will be the most competitive game between the two teams since the 2007 season, in part, because the Redskins excel in an area where the Giants have been awful. The Giants actually have a decent overall defense but they're one of the worst units in the league in the red zone.
And with the rise of second-year tight end Fred Davis, the Redskins are actually solid in that area. Since Chris Cooley suffered a season-ending injury against the Eagles on Oct. 26, Davis has five touchdowns in seven games. He's a big target for Campbell and he's elusive enough to catch the ball inside the 10 and then find the end zone.
The Giants will try to cover Davis with middle linebacker Jonathan Goff at times and safeties Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson will also get their turns. Those are matchups the Redskins invite.
On offense, the Giants have immense respect for Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Left guard Rich Seubert actually had a nice game against Haynesworth in the season-opener but Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is not taking any chances.
"The guy is a freak of nature," Gilbride told reporters Thursday. "He is a huge man who has some explosiveness to him. We tried to slide and help. We tried to keep a guy inside or a guy outside and help. More often than not, he was on his own and Richie just hung in there. The guy is incredible. He plays with such heart and determination. It really is inspiring to watch him. I don’t know how he does it with some of the injuries he is battling through, but he does."
The Giants obviously have something on the line in this game. And with recent developments in Washington, there's also a renewed sense of urgency from the Redskins. On Thursday, this became a much more attractive matchup.
|Geoff Burke/US Presswire|
|Washington coach Jim Zorn has seemed over his head this year as coach of the Redskins and is not likely to continue after this season.|
Where they stand: The Redskins have no standing in the division. Jim Zorn and his team have a lot of pride and they'll be as professional as possible over the last eight games. That's about the best thing I can say. At 2-6, I don't see them running off eight straight to slip into the playoffs. After years of neglect via the draft and free agency, the Redskins allowed themselves to enter the season with a highly questionable offensive line. And now that Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas are out for the season, this is possibly the worst unit in the league. How's Jason Campbell supposed to prove anything playing behind this offensive line?
Disappointments: This was supposed to be the season that either Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly did some damage, but it hasn't happened. There's no time for anything to develop downfield, so Campbell's been forced to drop the ball off to running backs and tight ends. It's a waste that the Redskins have Santana Moss because the speedster doesn't have time to make one of his famous double moves. Many of you disagree with me, but I actually think Albert Haynesworth has been somewhat of a disappointment. For $41 million guaranteed, I'd like to see a man who takes over games from nose tackle spot. When Michael Turner gashes you for a big day, you're not taking over games. And why are there so many Haynesworth apologists out there? It's rare to see such a wealthy man engender so much sympathy.
Surprises: I'm surprised that Clinton Portis has been so ineffective, but I guess that should've gone in the "disappointments" category. Let's give Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher their due. Not huge surprises, but they've been solid at linebacker. The interception McIntosh made against Matt Ryan in Week 9 was pretty impressive. I think Brian Orakpo could put himself in the rookie of the year competition with a big second half of the season. He has 5.5 sacks, which is pretty impressive for a guy playing out of position.
Outlook: The biggest storyline in the second half of the season will be figuring out who the new head coach will be. Dan Snyder needs to be proactive on this decision. He made Zorn the head coach two years ago because everyone else was taken. I think Zorn could've been a decent offensive coordinator, but he wasn't ready to be a head coach. Especially when you factor in the talent level of this team. It's simply not where it needs to be. I'm sure executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato will try to land Mike Shanahan as head coach. The two worked together with the 49ers, so that's the best chance of Cerrato keeping his current gig.
Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said Friday evening that he'll wait a couple of months before deciding whether or not to retire from the league because of a neck injury. Earlier in the day, The Washington Post reported that Samuels had told people in the organization that he would miss the remainder of the season and planned to retire.
|AP Photo/Rick Havner|
|Chris Samuels has a condition called stenosis, which is causing a narrowing of his spine.|
"I will continue to seek medical advice," he said in a statement. "I hope to see where I am physically over the next couple months. At this time, I have not made a decision, but I love playing for the Redskins and hope to be back."
That statement actually sounds fairly optimistic, but the comments from Samuels' teammates in the Post story made it sound like Samuels' career was over. Quarterback Jason Campbell had encouraged Samuels to seek out the opinions of several different specialists before deciding anything. And while teammates would love to see Samuels return to the team, their overriding concern seems to be the left tackle's safety. He has a condition called stenosis, which causes a narrowing of the spine.
"He's still young and there's a lot he hasn't done with his life yet that he wants to do," Campbell told the Post on Friday. "It's been hard to see him go through this because Chris is such a great player, and he's an even better person. . . . But after what happened in the Carolina game, I think everybody kind of knew there was a chance this could happen."
I've always found Samuels to be one of the most accessible players on the team. The former Alabama star has a keen interest in politics and we once had a long conversation about the '08 presidential election. Every player who puts on a uniform in the league is risking long-term injury, but Samuels' stenosis puts him in even more danger.
I know how much Samuels loves the game, but he's never really let it define him. If he walks away after the season, he doesn't strike me as the type of person who will have a lot of regrets. I plan on catching up with him next week to see if he's willing to elaborate on his injury. If not for the neck issue, I would think Samuels easily had another three or four years in him.
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
1. Jim Zorn, Redskins head coach: This is such a mess that it's hard to single out any one player. I'll just go with Zorn since he's become the face of the Redskins' struggles. With left tackle Chris Samuels now injured, the Skins don't really have anything up front. Quarterback Jason Campbell can't deliver the ball and the Skins can't get any push in the running game. It's amazing that the Skins could play this poorly -- and be 3-3 at the end of next Sunday. This is a franchise in turmoil right now.
2. Mike Jenkins, CB, Cowboys: I probably should've gone with Wade Phillips, but that seemed too easy. From the folks I've talked to at Valley Ranch, Jenkins wasn't nearly as aggressive as he needed to be Sunday. He had a large hand in allowing Matt Cassel and the Chiefs to come racing back down the field at the end. The Cowboys may still be trying to decide between Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick for the starting spot opposite Terence Newman. On Sunday, Jenkins didn't get the job done.
3. The Eagles' defense: I know that's a strange thing to say when the team wins 33-14, but Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson taught Sean McDermott and his gang some valuable lessons. Johnson found some holes in the secondary -- especially when Kellen Winslow was involved. And there were way too many penalties. The Eagles ended up with 10 penalties Sunday -- and the majority were on the defense. If you're going to make a tackle, you can't grab the facemask. And the personal foul against Victor "Macho" Harris could've really hurt if the Eagles were playing a good team. Lots of good blitzes that put pressure on Johnson, but the Eagles need to finish the job.
1. Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys: The undrafted player out of Monmouth (class of '06) was brilliant against the Chiefs with 10 catches for 250 yards and a pair of long touchdowns. Austin basically saved the season for the Cowboys -- for now. He's shown flashes over the past few years, but Sunday was his first breakout performance. And that's an understatement. The guy ended up breaking the single-game record that Bob Hayes set in 1966. That's pretty amazing. The Jets had to give up a hefty price for Braylon Edwards. There's a chance they could've had Austin, an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, for a second-round pick. It's one game -- but it was a huge game.
2. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants: Had 11 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Let's not get crazy and start calling for Bradshaw to start, but it's OK to recognize him for being extremely talented. He's also been pretty elusive, but now he's added some more power to his game. And he can catch the ball out of the backfield and take off -- as he did Sunday on a 55-yard scamper. Yes, it was against the Raiders. But Bradshaw's well on his way to making folks forget Derrick Ward.
3. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Eagles: The Bucs decided to take DeSean Jackson out of the game by rolling coverage in his direction. That left Maclin in one-on-one coverage quite a bit, and he made them pay. I didn't know how long it would take Maclin to adjust to the West Coast offense after playing in the spread at Missouri. Now, it appears he's making a pretty nice adjustment. He had 142 yards receiving and two long touchdowns. And I loved watching him run his routes. He's taller than most people think and he sort of glides around the field before eventually racing away from cornerbacks. Elbert Mack vs. Maclin? That's the best you can do, Raheem Morris?
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Duane Brown has improved his play at left tackle in recent years, along with the image of the Texans.|
HOUSTON -- While left tackle Duane Brown worked against Mario Williams during OTAs in the spring and summer, Chester Pitts took notice.
"He blocked Mario, who is, if not the best, top three at that position, fairly well," said Pitts, the team's left guard. "He used the scheme to help him stop a really good player.”
But that was not the only thing about Brown's work that was attention-grabbing. In 2008, when Brown was a rookie, he leaned on Pitts to make the calls and he jumped out for a rest on every third series, when Ephraim Salaam jumped in as a reliever.
"He gets out there now and before I can get it out, he's said the call, boom, we're ready to go," Pitts said. "We're getting to where we don't have to make every call, we are grunting with each other, saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' or 'Go, go, go.' It's real simple, quick and short and we are on the same page. Things like that are really, really important on an offensive line, it's a group position."
The Texans' 76 sacks allowed in their debut season in 2002 left an indelible mark on a lot of people and 43 in 2004, 68 in 2005 and 43 in 2006 didn't do a lot to erase the stigma. But the number was down to 22 in 2007. And last year Houston's quarterbacks were taken down 32 times, just below the league average.
"They are starting to respect us more as a line," Brown said. "I didn't know too much about the history of the offensive line here before I got here, but once I did a lot of people told me that that was a big problem. I guess last year we did pretty good as a unit and you have to give us some kind of credit since we were the No. 3 offense in the league."
As the Texans are poised to shed several labels they've earned in their seven years of existence and make a run at a playoff spot, Brown's expected to emerge as a franchise left tackle who can help it happen, covering the blind side for Matt Schaub and helping punch holes for Steve Slaton. That's why Brown is our choice as the AFC South's Emerging Star for 2009.
"For a guy going into his second year, he's very advanced and he has a great opportunity to be a dominant player, no question," said Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, a new offensive assistant coach for the Texans. "He's a big, strong, powerful, agile good athlete who's smart. Just learning and getting the reps, that's going to be his deal. He has a good attitude about it too."
Said Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks and a forced fumble in two games against Houston in 2008: "I think Duane is a good athlete, a young guy who definitely as a lot of upside and potential. He's definitely one of the better tackles in our conference and our division. He has a lot of room to grow. One thing he definitely has going for himself is his effort and his ability to catch on quickly. ...
"Now with the pieces that they have and with some guys coming back with a couple years experience together, I think they should be a force to be reckoned with."
What suggests Brown is primed for a big jump?
Well, the conditioning issues that were partially responsible for him getting rotated out are gone, as is Salaam.
Brown played his final two seasons at Virginia Tech in the 305- to 312-pound range and he was 315 at the NFL scouting combine. But from his pro day to the start of his first training camp, he didn't focus on fitness the way he should have. He indulged in chicken parm and pizza. He wound up playing much of the season around 325.
Since then, he gave up the fried foods in favor of a diet heavy on tuna fish, big salads, vegetables and fruits. Brown played in regular offseason basketball games with teammates including J
acoby Jones, Vonta Leach and Frank Okam at the Meyerland Plaza 24 Hour Fitness. Those efforts got him back in that more desirable weight range.
Film study has extended beyond Freeney and Tennessee's Kyle Vanden Bosch, rushers he faces twice a season in the AFC South, to Matt Light, Jordan Gross and Chris Samuels, successful tackles he feels he can emulate.
Across the Texans' line, right tackle Eric Winston makes it sound like Brown burns a lot of calories with enthusiasm alone.
"Duane is super intense," Winston said. "Everything he does, he's almost hyper about it and that's a good thing. When you're in this kind of business, you do the same things over and over and over again and that's the key, trying to perfect it without it getting boring. He's got that intensity about him where he can keep that up
"He doesn't get bored because he's trying so hard every time, and that's a good trait to have."
Brown also realizes how fortunate he is to have found such a perfect fit. The league is littered with players who can't find their niche, who don't fit their team's schemes. In the zone-blocking run scheme the Texans brought in Alex Gibbs to install and operate, the team asks its linemen to run. Athleticism and mobility are the most desirable traits. The Texans don't covet guys like Baltimore's 6-foot-9, 350-pound Jared Gaither or San Diego's Marcus McNeill (6-7, 336).
"That's what our whole scheme is about, is us running," Brown said. "My main responsibility is pass protection, protecting the blind side of course, and on the backside of our run plays, trying to get that cut back crease. Me having the athleticism I have, I'm able to do both of those jobs."
"I feel like I've become a much better player and I expect a lot from myself. God willing, I stay healthy, I feel like I should be here for a while."