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Thursday, August 6, 2009
Training Camp Roundup: Aug. 6

ESPN.com news services

BRANCH'S BANGED-UP KNEE SORE AGAIN (1:07 a.m. ET)
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch missed a second consecutive day of practice on Thursday because of a sore knee.

A team spokesman said Branch was hurt from practicing on it Friday through Tuesday. His status is day to day.

He has had two surgeries on his left knee since he hurt it making a cut on a snowy field at Green Bay in the playoffs in January 2008. Branch downplayed the most recent procedure, done in March, as a minor clean-out that he said is common following knee reconstruction.

Branch joined nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and 2008 Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant on the sideline for consecutive practices this week.

The 35-year-old Jones, who had microfracture knee surgery last winter, hasn't participated since the first practice of training camp on Friday. Coach Jim Mora said Jones has back spasms.

Trufant, who is also under a new scheme with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, hasn't practiced yet in camp. He twisted his back reaching for a pass in a pre-camp drill last week. Mora said the injury is minor but that the team is being cautious with another back injury.

WEDDLE, JAMMER COLLIDE AT CHARGERS CAMP (10:33 p.m. ET)
Eric Weddle thought he had a great read on the ball. Instead, the San Diego Chargers' safety ended up in a loud collision with cornerback Quentin Jammer during Thursday afternoon's practice.

Jammer was shaken up and stayed down for a few minutes after the helmet-to-helmet collision. Weddle limped off after somehow spraining his left ankle.

"It was a pretty good collision," coach Norv Turner said.

Probably the most violent of camp so far.

BUTLER DOUBTFUL TO SUIT UP FOR BILLS AT HALL (9:46 p.m. ET)
A bad back is expected to prevent Bills starting right tackle Brad Butler from playing in Buffalo's preseason opener in the Hall of Fame game against Tennessee on Sunday.

Coach Dick Jauron, on Thursday night, called it "very, very unlikely" that Butler will play after missing the past three days of training camp since hurting his back on Monday. Without Butler, the debut of the Bills' retooled offensive line will be on hold.

TEXANS ADD O'NEAL TO THIN SECONDARY (9:43 p.m. ET)
The Houston Texans have signed free agent cornerback Deltha O'Neal and free agent running back Andre Hall, released rookie defensive tackle Jake Visser and waived injured rookie running back Jeremiah Johnson.

The 32-year-old O'Neal played for New England last season, making 32 tackles and intercepting three passes in 16 games. O'Neal, the 15th overall pick by Denver in the 2000 draft, played four seasons for the Broncos and four with Cincinnati before signing with the Patriots before last season.

O'Neal shores up a secondary already missing two starters in camp. Jacques Reeves is out 6-8 weeks to recover from a broken leg and Dunta Robinson is sitting out because of a contract dispute.

BRITT WON'T PLAY IN HALL GAME (8:31 p.m. ET)
Tennessee's first round draft pick Kenny Britt will be activated by Friday's practice from the physically-unable-to-perform list but will not play in the Hall of Fame game Sunday night.

Coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that Britt's conditioning has improved and the 30th pick overall is handling the work physically. Britt hurt his right hamstring in May and aggravated the injury in June. That limited his exercise before training camp.

Fisher said Britt should play in the Titans' second preseason game on Aug. 15 against Tampa Bay.

HIGHTOWER GUNNING FOR CARDS' TOP BACK (7:18 p.m. ET)
After setting a club record for touchdowns by a rookie running back, Tim Hightower showed up this fall contending for a starting job on the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.

But Hightower is no more secure than last summer, because the Cardinals drafted Ohio State star Beanie Wells in the first round last spring.

"For me, it's the same mindset," Hightower said during a break from training camp on Thursday. "I had some success last year, but hey, I wasn't a Pro Bowl running back. My team didn't win the Super Bowl. There's so many different things that you can always improve on."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt expects more from his running game this year, and he and his staff have been impressed with Hightower, who showed up at about 218 pounds, a loss of about six pounds from last season.

"He's looked very good out there in practice," Whisenhunt said of Hightower. "But I think any time you obviously draft a running back in the first round, it really makes you focus on what you have to do because you know that there's going to be that competition there."

--The Associated Press

INJURIES TAKE BITE OUT OF STEELERS' O-LINE (7:14 p.m. ET)
Pittsburgh Steelers right guard Darnell Stapleton needs arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and the team has no timetable set for his return.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Stapleton had been practicing at center in place of Justin Hartwig, who arrived at training camp with a toe injury. But Stapleton had swelling in the knee and has not practiced since Sunday.

"We'll see where we're at after [Friday] morning," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're going to clean it up and go from there."

The injuries have left the team thin on the offensive line. Trai Essex, a top backup who had been expected to challenge Stapleton for a starting spot, is playing right guard. Doug Legursky, an undrafted player out of Marshall who spent the part of the 2008 season on the practice squad, has filled in at center.

--The Associated Press

HUFF WANTS STARTING JOB BACK (6:43 p.m. ET)
Safety Michael Huff defended coach Tom Cable's decision to replace him in the Oakland Raiders' starting secondary early last season, saying it was the right call at the time.

Huff, the team's first-round draft pick in 2006, admitted being frustrated by the move but said Cable's call to replace him with Hiram Eugene was warranted.

"Definitely, because I knew I wasn't playing up to par," Huff said Thursday. "And when somebody's not playing up to their potential, it's his job to go out there and put the best players on the field. Hiram played well last year and made the open-field tackles that I didn't make last year. So I've strived this year to tackle better and be more of an all-around safety."

Through the first week of Oakland's training camp, however, Huff has been relegated to working primarily with the Raiders' backups while Eugene practices with the starters.

"He's in the mix, there's no question," Cable said. "He's a good player. He knows what he needs to do in terms of becoming a sure tackler. We'll see when we get to playing the games. But how he responded, he took his role well, particularly when we put him on special teams. We got him more involved there and he made some plays."

-- The Associated Press

BILLS ADD DEFENSIVE TACKLE (6:02 p.m. ET)
The Buffalo Bills have shuffled defensive linemen by signing Derrick Jones and waiving David Lindquist.

Jones, a defensive tackle, signed on Thursday, a week after being released by the Tennessee Titans. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he took part in Bills training camp last year before being cut by the team.

Lindquist was placed on the waived/left squad list. He was a rookie free agent out of Illinois.

TAYLOR'S FAN BASE GROWS (5:59 p.m. ET)
The Miami Dolphins' new linebacker is making a good first impression at training camp.

Jason Taylor might just make the team.

"The guy's a tremendous, tremendous pro," coach Tony Sparano said during the break between Thursday's two practices. "The guy comes out here, he doesn't say boo, he works his tail off, goes a million miles an hour."

Taylor rejoined the Dolphins in May after a year with the Washington Redskins, where he endured an injury-plagued season. At 34 he's the oldest player on the roster, and this is his 12th year with Miami, but it's his first with Sparano.

WHO WILL ELI THROW TO? (5:46 p.m. ET)
Plaxico Burress was released in April by the Giants, about four months after he accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub. Amani Toomer was not re-signed after 13 seasons and is with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since 2005, Eli Manning's first full season as a starter, Burress and Toomer combined for 443 catches and 50 touchdowns.

Manning isn't without targets, as veteran Steve Smith, who led the Giants with 57 catches last season, is likely to claim one of the starting spots. Smith's emergence last season boosted the Giants' confidence in the third-year pro, though he isn't nearly as accomplished as Burress or Toomer.

The competition for the other spot is wide open -- and crowded. Vying for the job are youngsters Domenik Hixon, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham, veteran David Tyree and rookies Hakeem Nicks, the first-round draft pick, and Ramses Barden, the big third-round choice who reminds people of 'Plax.'

GUTIERREZ CLAIMED BY CHIEFS (5:39 p.m. ET)
The Kansas City Chiefs have claimed quarterback Matt Gutierrez off waivers from New England.

Gutierrez appeared in five games during two seasons with the Patriots, completing his only pass attempt for 15 yards. He signed the deal Thursday and joined the team for practice.

An undrafted free agent out of Idaho State in 2007, Gutierrez will compete with Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen as the backups to starter Matt Cassel. The Chiefs released Ingle Martin on Wednesday to make room for Gutierrez.

BEARS SECONDARY RIDDLED WITH INJURIES (5:32 p.m. ET)
The depth the Chicago Bears built in the secondary the past two seasons is being put to the test in training camp.

Zack Bowman's pulled hamstring and starter Charles Tillman's recovery from back surgery have the Bears down to Trumaine McBride at left cornerback. McBride is normally a right cornerback.

Chicago is also moving Corey Graham back from safety to cornerback during the rash of injuries.

Coaches hope Tillman is back for the regular season. Bowman is listed day to day, but sometimes hamstring pulls linger.

"I don't think it was a real bad pull or anything like that," coach Lovie Smith said. "He should be back in time."

The Bears already are young at safety with Kevin Payne and Danieal Manning, which only compounds coverage problems in the secondary. Manning has now moved positions three times in his three-year career.

BROWNS' HADNOT HURTS KNEE (5:29 p.m. ET)
Cleveland Browns guard Rex Hadnot has been carted off the practice field after suffering a possible serious injury to his left knee.

Hadnot, who started 15 games for the Browns last season, got hurt while pass blocking at Thursday's practice. He was engaged with defensive lineman Louis Leonard when rookie linebacker David Veikune got pushed into the outside of Hadnot's left knee.

The Browns had no immediate word on his condition.

Many of Hadnot's teammates offered him their best wishes as he was driven away. The 6-foot-2, 320-pounder briefly put his hands over his face as he left the field.

Hadnot, who played four seasons in Miami before signing with Cleveland last year, was competing with veteran Eric Steinbach at left guard.

BRUTON GETTING CRASH COURSE (4:09 p.m. ET)
Rookie safety David Bruton is getting a crash course in jumping to the NFL following veteran Brian Dawkins' hand injury.

Bruton, a free safety of Notre Dame, has stepped in at strong safety with Denver's first unit ever since Dawkins, in his first season in Denver after 13 years in Philadelphia, got hurt Tuesday.

The Broncos have declined to reveal the nature or extent of Dawkins' injury, saying he'll be out a few days. He appeared to have hurt a wrist or hand during drills.

"What happened with Dawkins, it's sad, but you get your call, it's time to step up ... and hope for a speedy recovery," Bruton said.

T.O.-VERLOAD? EDWARDS WANTS TO TALK UP OTHER BILLS (3:39 p.m. ET)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards is happy to talk about something besides Terrell Owens, if only someone will ask.

Edwards said he doesn't mind Owens getting most of the attention in training camp because it keeps the spotlight elsewhere as the third-year quarterback concentrates on improving in a revamped offense.

But Edwards says the Bills are not a one-man show.

"As much as I try to come across that I'm still excited, the questions do get to be a lot. But that doesn't say anything about my relationship with him," Edwards said. "It just says that in any business, if you get asked a lot about a certain individual or certain topic, it gets a little frustrating because I do feel like we have other weapons."

-- The Associated Press

McMICHAEL HOPES TO REGAIN FORM FOR RAMS (3:25 p.m. ET)
After missing most of last season with a broken leg, Randy McMichael is eager to show the St. Louis Rams he can again be an elite tight end.

The Rams will hold their first preseason scrimmage Friday night and McMichael says he's looking forward to his first game-type action in 10 months.

The Rams are expecting big things from McMichael and hope he returns to the production he had while playing for the Dolphins. He caught 195 passes from 2004 through 2006, but had just 39 for St. Louis in 2007 and 11 before he suffered a season-ending broken tibia and torn ligament in his right leg in a 31-14 loss to Buffalo on Sept. 28.

"I feel good. The leg feels good," he said Thursday at Rams Park. "This is probably the best I've felt in a camp this early. I'm not sore or anything. There's always a lot of wear and tear on your body in training camp but I feel really good."

-- The Associated Press

SULLIVAN FRONT AND CENTER FOR VIKINGS (3:09 p.m. ET)
John Sullivan didn't play a single snap as a rookie center for the Minnesota Vikings behind six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk.

Now the job is all his, and the Vikings are confident enough in him they're willing to have an undersized center without any experience lead the calls on the line.

When Birk signed with Baltimore in March, Sullivan assumed his spot. He says he learned a lot from Birk, including the value of taking detailed notes during film sessions. The Vikings drafted Sullivan in the sixth round out of Notre Dame last year.

Sullivan is shorter than Birk and looks a little undersized, but he says he added 11 pounds during the offseason to get to 304.

-- The Associated Press

GUESS WHO'S SNOOPING AROUND RAVENS CAMP? (12:23 p.m. ET)
Rap star Snoop Dogg joined the Baltimore Ravens at training camp practice, watching from the sideline before ending practice by leading a chant within the team huddle.

Snoop Dogg arrived at practice Thursday morning with an entourage that included someone who held an umbrella over the singer's head. Snoop made himself comfortable on the sideline and watched for about an hour before joining the team in the middle of the field at the end of the session.

After Snoop Dogg led the Ravens through a chant taught to him by linebacker Ray Lewis, practice ended with a whoop from the players -- several of whom posed for pictures with the rapper.

Snoop said he attended practice to see the Ravens' famous defense in action.

-- The Associated Press

CARDINALS EXPECT WELLS BACK NEXT WEEK (10:47 a.m. ET)
Arizona Cardinals rookie running back Beanie Wells could return in time for next week's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, coach Ken Whisenhunt says, according to the Arizona Republic.

Wells, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick, has missed four days of camp since spraining his ankle in his first practice with the team. But Whisenhunt said Wells is improving and should be able to practice next week, according to the report.

"I think he'll be back soon enough that we'll get to see him do a lot of good things," Whisenhunt said.

However, receiver Early Doucet, who sprained a shoulder on Monday, is not likely to play in the preseason opener, Whisenhunt said, according to the report.

-- ESPN.com news services

MEACHEM LOOKING TO STEP UP IN THIRD SEASON (9:01 a.m. ET)
Robert Meachem agrees that his rookie year in the NFL was a bust, and that a breakout performance in his third season is required. The New Orleans Saints can be only so patient with the former Tennessee receiver they drafted 27th overall in 2007.

"This year they're going to get to see a first-round draft pick," Meachem promised. "The last two years, that's been somebody else."

Meachem spent every game of his rookie season watching from the sideline in a sweat suit. Last season, he was healthy, but coaches limited his playing time, saying he often negated his breathtaking speed by running routes improperly and missing assignments.

"I was just a guy that really didn't understand what I was out here to do," Meachem said. "You know you're a first-round draft pick and you're trying to make every play that you can. ... You're trying to figure out, 'How can I run this route to get open?' But then you run a route your way, and you're kind of taking away from somebody else getting open.

With receiver Lance Moore limited while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Meachem has been practicing with the first team early in training camp and performing as if he belongs.

"He's coming around," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I'm really happy for him. I think he has worked extremely hard and we just have to keep finding the right opportunities for him."

-- The Associated Press

OLSEN EMERGES AS BIG TARGET FOR CUTLER (8:52 a.m. ET)
New Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler may already have a go-to guy in Chicago who isn't speedy wideout Devin Hester or workhouse running back Matt Forte: 6-foot-5 tight end Greg Olsen.

"You don't find it very often with a guy with that kind of motor and as big as he is, just the way he adjusts to balls," Cutler said Wednesday. "A lot of guys that big are kind of stiff and they can't really do some of the things he can. He's a huge target and we have to use him the right way."

With training camp in its early stages, it has already become routine for Cutler to find Olsen in the passing game, so much so that the third-year tight end out of Miami has been elevated to the first string ahead of 11-year veteran Desmond Clark. The move up the depth chart was no shock to Olsen or Clark.

"It's really just a formality," said Olsen, who made 54 catches last season after a 39-catch rookie year in 2007. "We still pride ourselves on being two guys who both can contribute a ton and really have a big role in the offense."

-- The Associated Press

ROYAL BECOMING FOCAL POINT IN BRONCOS OFFENSE (8:45 a.m. ET)
With just a little room to run during red zone drills, Denver Broncos wide receiver Eddie Royal bolted past one defender and used a nifty move to slip by another. An instant later, he was in the clear in the end zone where quarterback Kyle Orton hit him with a 10-yard dart.

That scene from Wednesday has become a familiar one during the Broncos training camp, where the second-year wide receiver is being groomed as an offensive centerpiece after a breakout rookie campaign a year ago.

"He sticks out every day," Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. "Eddie is a very talented player, a lot of ability, very smart, versatile. We move him all over the field. He's very unselfish, wants to do what's best for the team. He's accepted his role and he's doing a great job with it so far."

Royal set team rookie records last season with 91 receptions, 980 yards receiving, and five touchdown catches. He also became the first player since the 1970 NFL merger to post his team's longest run (71 yards), reception (93 yards), kickoff return (95 yards), and punt return (36 yards) in the same season.

"I'm just coming out here and trying to get better every day," said Royal. "It's not about individual stats at all. It's about winning. We want to win and we want to get to the playoffs."

-- ESPN.com news services

PANTHERS' MARSHALL GETS DAILY CHALLENGE FROM SMITH (8:39 a.m. ET)
Richard Marshall has been penciled in as one of the Carolina Panthers' starting cornerbacks. And that means covering one of the NFL's most intense receivers, Steve Smith, 1-on-1 in practice, every day.

"It gets me going," Marshall said of facing the four-time Pro Bowl receiver, who broke former Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas' nose in a training camp confrontation last year. "If I'm having a slow day and I'm not really into the practice mode, he'll spike the ball. Or he'll catch the ball and spin it. It gets me going. It's time to play now. Let's go."

Marshall, who started eight games as a rookie in 2006 and five in 2007 due to injuries, is eager for the challenge after waiting patiently behind Lucas and Chris Gamble. After three years as a nickelback, he was elevated to the starting job in March when Lucas was released.

"Coming in and learning from [Lucas], learning from Gamble, it was a great opportunity for me," Marshall said. "I could have came in felt like I should be starting. But I feel like you can always learn more and always learn from the guys in front of me."

-- ESPN.com news services