NFL Nation: Michael Spurlock

CLEVELAND -- Here are five things we learned in the first half of the Chicago Bears’ preseason finale versus the Browns.

1. 53-man roster mostly set before game: The Bears offered up a fairly complete picture of the final roster when they decided to sit numerous reserve players like: Josh Morgan, Ka’Deem Carey, Brock Vereen and Michael Spurlock. Unless the Bears find better alternatives over the weekend; all four appear to be in decent shape as the final cut date looms on Saturday. However, the decision to rest Carey and Vereen is somewhat curious. Outside of their draft status as fourth-round picks, neither did much to stand out over the summer. And no, Shea McClellin was never going to be cut. The Bears have not abandoned hope of salvaging the career of the former first-round draft choice.

2. David Fales knows the offense: Fales lacks ideal arm strength, but he does come across as a smart quarterback who understands where the ball is supposed to go. He did a decent job under intense pressure, and showed serious courage by throwing the ball deep on several occasions. The Bears are probably better off keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster, but Fales showed enough smarts in the preseason to warrant a spot on the practice squad, if he clears waivers as expected.

3. Santonio Holmes can help Bears: Holmes proved he still has some juice left when he broke a tackle to score a 32-yard touchdown, followed by a 30-yard punt return. Granted, Holmes accomplished this against Cleveland backups, but he made the most of the opportunities presented to him. Holmes has too much experience to let walk away. Josh Bellamy had himself a solid first half with two catches for 43 yards in the opening quarter, but Holmes seems a smart choice to be the No. 4 wideout behind Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Morgan, with Spurlock also in the mix. We’ll see how/if Marquess Wilson’s injury complicates the situation when it boils down to determining the 53.

4. FirstEnergy video screens a nice touch: The Browns installed two giant video screens in the upper decks behind each end zone, a move that greatly enhances the in-stadium experience in Cleveland. The Bears need to strongly consider adding similar technology at Soldier Field, because the current video setup is below average for a stadium built in the last 11 years. The fans would love it. And it opens up tons of marketing and sales opportunities for the club. That’s a win-win for everybody involved.

5. Browns took it seriously: Cleveland needed starting quarterback Brian Hoyer to orchestrate a touchdown drive. The Browns are desperate for good vibes heading into Week 1. We all know Cleveland will probably stink again, but this is a franchise that is trying to sell hope to its tortured fan base. They call this place the “Factory of Sadness” for a reason. But the home fans actually seemed upbeat after the first 30 minutes, especially when Johnny Manziel fired a touchdown pass. Mission accomplished for the Browns.
ESPN colleague Mike Sando's annual age analysis of NFL rosters found that the Detroit Lions have the oldest roster in the league.

That designation might seem odd when you consider the relative youth of the Lions' primary players. You also might not be interested in a ranking where the full range of age differences is only a few years. In sifting through the Lions' roster, however, the culprit -- if you consider an "old" roster a bad thing -- is a big group of veteran backups.

By my count, the Lions have nine projected reserve players whose ages range between 30 and 33 years old. Six are newcomers to the roster and three -- defensive tackle Justin Bannan, linebacker Rocky McIntosh and defensive back Rashean Mathis -- were signed two weeks ago.

On the one hand, it makes sense to have veteran backups when you have some young starters. If right guard Larry Warford struggles, the Lions could replace him with Dylan Gandy (31) or even Leroy Harris (29). If Darius Slay needs more seasoning, the Lions could replace him with Mathis (33).

McIntosh (30) is available to spell any of the Lions' three starting linebackers. Israel Idonije (33) will back up rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, while Bannan (34) and C.J. Mosley (30) will provide depth for Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

On the other hand, we discussed earlier the Lions' draft issues in the past five years. One of the reasons they needed veteran depth is the inability to develop it on their own. Signing veteran backups also makes it difficult to plan long-term and orderly transitions at certain positions.

Regardless, the team the Lions have on the field at any given point will be a nice blend of young and middle-aged players. If you look at their starters on offense, defense and special teams, you really only see five who are 30 and older. Three of those are on special teams -- place-kicker David Akers (38), long-snapper Don Muhlbach (32) and returner Micheal Spurlock (30).

So I'm not sure there is reason to panic here. But if nothing else, now you know why the Lions rank atop Sando's age rankings.

*Update: The Lions released McIntosh, slightly lowering their composite team age, to make room for safety DeJon Gomes, who was claimed on waivers from the Washington Redskins.

Detroit Lions cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Most significant move: There were no surprises for the Detroit Lions and, really, there were few big decisions. We noted earlier that the team decided to preserve a roster spot for No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore, so the most significant move they did make was placing rookie tight end Michael Williams on injured reserve. The Lions had substantial plans for Williams this season as the third tight end in the jumbo package that lineman Riley Reiff filled last season. They also hoped to develop his receiving skills as veterans Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler enter contract years. Williams had surgery last week to repair a hand injury, and though coach Jim Schwartz said the team had no long-term injuries, Williams is in fact lost for the season. (NFL teams can't start placing players on short-term injured reserve until next week.) As a result, rookie Joseph Fauria -- a much better receiver but less of a blocker than Williams -- is on the 53-man roster with Pettigrew and Scheffler.

The dominoes: The Lions apparently chose veteran Michael Spurlock as their kick returner, necessitating the release of rookie Steven Miller, who could return on the practice squad. Spurlock is also a receiver, and for the now he is one of six on the roster, presumably because of Ryan Broyles' sore knees. The release of veteran Matt Willis means Kris Durham is the sixth receiver. You wonder if the Lions would change directions soon in that regard. The Lions sifted through their big group of veteran defensive backups by tapping Rashean Mathis as a swing cornerback/safety and Rocky McIntosh as a backup linebacker while releasing the rest. John Wendling and Don Carey are the backup safeties for now.

What's next: According to multiple reports, the Lions will place running back Montell Owens on short-term injured reserve. That can't happen until next week, so for now he is part of the 53-man roster. He must miss at least six weeks of the regular season. You would think the Lions will bring back a number of the players they cut Saturday for their practice squad, and it's worth remembering that they are No. 5 in priority for NFL waiver claims. Sunday could be a busy day.

List of players cut: WR: Corey Fuller, Matt Willis. RB: Steven Miller, Shaun Chapas. OL: Rodney Austin, Kevin Haslam, Darren Keyton, Jake Scott. DL: Andre Fluellen, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen. LB: Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan (waived/injured) Chris White. CB: Ron Bartell, Chris Greenwood. S: Amari Spievey, Tyrell Johnson, Martavius Neloms (waived/injured) P: Blake Clingan.

Previewing Preseason Week 4: Lions

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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In which we look ahead to the Detroit Lions' preseason finale:

Opponent: Buffalo Bills

Location: Ralph Wilson Stadium

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Healthy starters are expected to get one series, which probably means that receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) will be among those sitting out. … The first-team offense, with or without Johnson, has managed one touchdown drive this preseason, providing enough incentive to give quarterback Matthew Stafford and others one more chance. … The Lions have a number of position battles to sort through, some of which will get a better run Thursday night than others. … You have to wonder how much the top candidates to start at right guard and right tackle (Larry Warford and Jason Fox?) will play. But we'll get a long look at the players competing to return kicks -- Steven Miller, Micheal Spurlock, Patrick Edwards and others -- and the same goes for the last few receiver positions. Edwards, Matt Willis, Spurlock and Kris Durham are all among those competing. Finally, we'll be looking for clues on how the Lions plan to work in the nickel. Is Bill Bentley still the third cornerback? Could Rashean Mathis unseat him?

Focal point: Tailback Reggie Bush has gotten 17 carries and caught 10 passes this preseason, so the guess is that he won't play much if it all. So that will make Thursday night a big final test for the Lions' backfield depth behind him. As we've discussed, Joique Bell has done just about everything he can to win the No. 2 job ahead of Mikel Leshoure, and I've gotten no sense that coaches are giving Leshoure the benefit of the doubt because he was a second-round pick. It's hard to imagine the Lions cutting Leshoure, even if he doesn't play a big role on special teams, but there is also a rookie running back in Theo Riddick that the Lions like and want to keep on the roster. Another possibility is rotating Bell and Leshoure based on game plans and matchups during the season. We'll see how it plays out Thursday night.

Wrap-up: Chargers 24, Raiders 21

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
8:51
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A look at two teams ending disappointing seasons:

What it means: The end for both teams. San Diego, which won three of the final four games, finished at 7-9. Oakland finished 4-12. Each team had much higher hopes to start the season. The Raiders are projected to have the No. 3 pick. The Chargers are not projected to have a top-10 pick.

Pryor shows promise: Oakland second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed promise in his first NFL start. Pryor showed good accuracy and he had a good command of the offense. The game did not look too big for him and he looked like he belongs behind center. Pryor led Oakland to three touchdowns. The Raiders went the past two games without reaching the end zone. There is hope for the future. I think Pryor can easily be Oakland’s backup next season.

Coaching finale: This was very, very likely the end of the Norv Turner-A.J. Smith era in San Diego. Even though the Chargers rallied late in the season (again), there will likely be a major change.

Spikes has angry exit: San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes and Oakland running back Mike Goodson were ejected early in the game after fighting. Spikes, a 15-year veteran, could have played his final game.

Spurlock is a keeper: San Diego receiver Michael Spurlock took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. He had a punt return last week. Along with receiver Danario Alexander, the Chargers have two building blocks on offense.

Chargers’ ground issues continued: The Chargers didn’t score on the ground. It has now gone 11 straight games without a rushing touchdown. The Raiders broke a nine-game ground drought Sunday.

What’s next: Coaching changes, in some form, and readiness to improve in 2013 is the recipe for both teams.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, Steelers 24

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
5:36
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A look at an impressive 34-24 win for the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Chargers finally played like a winning team Sunday. They had lost seven of eight games going into this game and looked incapable of winning. But they went on the road and hammered a team with designs for the playoff. San Diego is 5-8 and has faint playoff hopes. It was the first time San Diego has won at Pittsburgh in the regular season after going 0-14 there.

Doesn’t change much: The win very likely won’t change the fact that coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will probably be fired after the season. There have been multiple reports that ownership will make a change. Turner was saved by the team’s strong play at the end of the previous season. That likely won’t work this year, but it's a nice win for Turner.

Rivers is sharp: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had a good day. He threw three touchdown passes and did not commit a turnover despite playing without three starting offensive lineman and without center Nick Hardwick at times.

Yardage woes continued: The Chargers had 294 yards of offense, marking the fourth straight game they had fewer than 300. The last time that happened was 1999.

Running game still lacking: Last week, the Chargers ran the ball just 11 times. They went back to the run this week as they ran for 94 yards on 36 carries. Ryan Mathews had just 65 yards on 25 carries.

Alexander continues to shine: Receiver Danario Alexander, signed off the street earlier this season, had 88 yards on seven catches. Alexander has a chance to be a big part of the Chargers’ future. He has 33 catches for 555 yards in seven games. Newly signed Michael Spurlock had seven catches for 64 yards. Big-ticket free-agent pickup Robert Meachem? No catches. He hasn’t had a catch in the past three games and he has just 14 catches this season. And yes, his contract is guaranteed next season.

What’s next: The Chargers go home to face Carolina and former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera in Week 15.

A look at the Chargers 12-10 win at Minnesota on Friday night:

This was the Chargers’ third preseason game, which is supposed to be the game in which the starters play extensively. That wasn’t the case for the Chargers.

Because the offensive line was banged up, the Chargers held out quarterback Philip Rivers as a precaution. Tight end Antonio Gates, who has been dealing with injuries for the past four years, was also a healthy scratch. In all, the Chargers played without six offensive starters.

And it looked like it.

Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and his makeshift line had their issues against the Vikings’ front-line players.

Yes, the Chargers lost some valuable experience because of the injuries, but keeping Rivers out of harm’s way was the smart move, especially considering San Diego has already lost starting running back Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) and No. 3 receiver Vincent Brown (broken ankle).
  • U-T San Diego reports San Diego top pick Melvin Ingram has a bruised tight. Unless there is more to it, I’d think Ingram would have a good chance to play in Week 1 in 17 days.
  • Jackie Battle started at running back and perhaps he will be the first of a committee to play if Mathews isn’t ready to face Oakland in Week 1.
  • It looks like Nate Kaeding is going to hold off Nick Novak in the kicking competition unless the Chargers pull a surprise. Kaeding had field goals of 50 and 54 yards Friday night. If he is out of luck in San Diego, Novak is working to get a job somewhere as he nailed a 45-yarder with four seconds to go to give the Chargers the win.
  • San Diego’s defense is much improved and it is getting turnovers. The Chargers have 10 takeaways in three games.
  • Linebacker Larry English, the No. 16 overall pick in 2009, had his second sack of the preseason.
  • Rookie offensive linemen, left tackle Mike Harris and center David Molk struggled pretty badly. If left tackle Jared Gaither and center Nick Hardwick aren’t back by week 1, the Chargers could have issues. The team is hopeful both will be back soon.
  • Receiver/returner Micheal Spurlock continues to look good and he is a good bet to make the 53-man roster.

A look at the Chargers’ 21-13 home win Thursday night:

As Philip Rivers’ said in a sideline interview with ESPN, the Chargers’ offense was good and bad. The good was a 23-yard dart Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates with for a touchdown. Gates is healthy for the first time since 2007 and he has been outstanding in training camp. That was a good sign.

However, Rivers made a mistake later when Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams jumped in front of a pass intended for new San Diego receiver Robert Meachem deep in Green Bay territory. It was probably just a matter of timing for Rivers and Meachem. However, Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season and he must improve in that area.
  • The San Diego first-team defense looked strong, which is a great sign. It did allow Green Bay to covert on third down on its first two attempts. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense last year. But overall, San Diego’s first unit looked terrific and aggressive on defense. Overall, the Chargers’ first-team offense and defenses looked further along than the Packers' did.
  • First-round pick Melvin Ingram played extensively. He looked fabulous. If San Diego wasn’t shaking with delight over the prospect of having Ingram before Thursday, it should be now. Boy, is he explosive. He forced Aaron Rodgers into throwing an interception and he was all over the place.
  • Undrafted free-agent quarterback Jarrett Lee looked really good for San Diego and outplayed Green Bay backup Graham Harrell much of the night. He made some big league throws. I’d be shocked if Lee doesn’t make the 53-man roster as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst, who is still recovering from a knee injury.
  • Reserve receiver Vincent Brown worked hard for the final 7 yards of a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lee, and Brown had a good night overall. I think he will be a key contributor in the season.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews hurt his shoulder and was taken out. There is no word on the status. It is not a surprise that he was taken out after the injury even if it was minor. Update: the San Diego Union-Tribune reports Mathews suffered a broken clavicle. He will be out four to six weeks. I will have more this later.
  • Kicker Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, further making Nate Kaeding the favorite to win the kicking competition. Novak replaced Kaeding last season when Kaeding tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the season.
  • Receiver/returner Michael Spurlock is making a big push to make the 53-man roster. He had two catches for 52 yards.
  • Undrafted free-agent left tackle Mike Harris started for the injured Jared Gaither. Harris had a nice night, which is commendable for an undrafted rookie who started his first preseason game at a premium position. Harris should easily make the team.
  • It was a cool scene to see some San Diego players greet replacement official Shannon Eastin prior to the game. She is the first woman to officiate an NFL game.
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the 49ers' attitude toward Shaun Hill in light of recent events. Ratto: "Because [Mike] Singletary is so invested in his power to make others see his visions, the fact that he has left the door so open for [Alex] Smith surely indicates that Hill still has some persuading to do. And, no, the fact that Hill outranks [Jeff] Garcia in Singletary's mind doesn't count."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the Rams' decision to name Oshiomogho Atogwe their franchise player deprived the 49ers of a potential target in free agency. That's the thing about free agency in the NFL. The possibilities seem so much better in early February than they seem once we realize most of the top players won't be hitting the market.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation breaks down the 49ers' special-teams performance from 2008. Fucillo: "Kicker and punter are clearly fine going forward. The big question is in the return game. Allen Rossum is a free agent and the 49ers have to decide if they want Rossum back, or if they want to work on developing a returner of the future. They signed Michael Spurlock, a man who became the first Buccaneer to return a kickoff for a touchdown, to reserve/futures contract. If they want Rossum back, or they want to grab somebody in the draft, that sort of contract will not get in their way."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have concluded a hectic two-week period in which their coaching staff has taken on a new look. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "The thing I feel the best about is there won't be a change in philosophy or terminology on both sides of the ball."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com explains the reasoning behind the Cardinals' coaching moves, including the decision for Mike Miller and Russ Grimm to share coordinating duties on offense while Whisenhunt calls the plays. Grimm: "I don't see [my role] changing a whole lot. Maybe [I'll do] a little bit more if we need something for the running game. But for me to do both jobs, I couldn't do it and for [Whisenhunt] to do both, it's not smart. We'll all do it, and Mike will tie it all together."

John Morgan of Field Gulls ties together his thoughts on Matthew Stafford as a player the Seahawks could consider with the fourth overall choice. Morgan doesn't think the Seahawks need to select a left tackle with that choice.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer cites a Pro Football Weekly article in which Leonard Weaver's agent suggests the fullback probably won't return to the Seahawks in 2009.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks could used the transition tag instead of the franchise tag in restricting Leroy Hill's options this offseason. If they do that and Hill pulls a Steve Hutchinson on them, look out.

Also from Williams: A Seahawks roster analysis in which he says Will Herring or D.D. Lewis could fill in nicely for Hill if needed.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will place the franchise tag on Atogwe while they try to work out a long-term deal with the ball-hawking free safety. The Rams are scheduled to meet with Ron Bartell's agent at the combine Thursday.

VanRam of Turf Show Times says Chris Long's devotion to the game means the defensive end will develop consistency while striving to improve.

Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders sizes up the NFC West with thoughts on Long, Vernon Davis, Jim Mora and the Cardinals' coaching changes.

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