Pro Speak 7-22: NFL camps approach

With NFL training camps starting to get underway, Professionally Speaking must wrap up its look around the league, so today we examine the former Buckeyes who reside in the divisions we haven't covered yet: the North and West in the AFC and the NFC West. We also have more news from the NBA summer leagues.

For starters, we check out the division closest to home for most Buckeye fans: the AFC North.

There are no former Buckeyes scheduled to go to the Cleveland Browns' training camp in Berea, meaning Tyler Whaley is the only hope for an Ohio State presence in the NFL in the Buckeye State.

Whaley, who was featured in a story by his hometown newspaper, the Ironton Tribune, this week, is probably a long shot to make the roster of the Cincinnati Bengals, however.

Cincinnati already has an established starter in Jeremi Johnson, although issues with conditioning limited his effectiveness in offseason team activities, according to our Scout.com Network partner JungleInsider.com. That web site also reported earlier this month that tight end Daniel Coats has switched to fullback and turned the heads of the coaching staff...

Santonio Holmes has not had perfect attendance at OTAs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he told the Pittsburgh Trbune-Review that does not mean he has been slacking off.

"People gotta realize that it's voluntary workouts," Holmes told the paper July 9. "There's nothing mandatory about being at OTAs," Holmes said. "It is our duty as an NFL player, as a professional to say, ‘OK, I want to be at all the OTAs.' But family situations come up, personal things come up. And for people to say we don't show up, or a lot of guys only come to certain OTAs when they feel like it, it's all voluntary.

"I didn't feel like I needed to show up to every OTA, so I didn't show up to every OTA. At the same time, I was respectful with it. I called coach (Mike Tomlin), I texted him, I let him know. I called my quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger). I called Hines (Ward). I called Nate (Washington). I told those guys, ‘I won't be in this week. This is what's happening with me and the family.' "

Holmes, who caught 52 passes for 942 yards and four touchdowns last season, is viewed by many league observers as a candidate for a breakout season in 2008…

Rounding out the look at the AFC North, we stop in Baltimore, where Troy Smith hopes to win a three-man derby to be the Ravens' new starting quarterback after the retirement of Steve McNair.

His competition is Kyle Boller, a former first round pick who has had a disappointing career to this point, and rookie Joe Flacco.

Flacco, who signed his first pro contract last week, is considered Baltimore's quarterback of the future, a title once held by Boller, but Smith has earned himself plenty of positive headlines during the offseason.

"I think you can see that he can play quarterback in the NFL, without a question," first-year Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after one practice. "He's got the arm strength, he can move around and he can operate the offense. Under pressure, proving himself in games is going to be up to him. He's got the ability, without question, to be a starting quarterback in this league."

One national reporter, Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, went so far as to suggest Smith could be the 2008 version of Derek Anderson...

If Smith's battle is ultimately unsuccessful, there could end up being more former Buckeyes starting for the Oakland Raiders than there are in all of the AFC North.

Defensive end Jay Richardson would seem to be a shoe-in to start at one defensive end spot, as he did 11 times last season, and wide receiver Drew Carter has reportedly put together a strong offseason after signing with the Raiders as a free agent. Silver And Black Illustrated reports that Carter could end up second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell's No. 1 target this season, in part because Ronald Curry and Javon Walker are both had surgery in the offseason. Walker, a big free agent pickup from the Packers, also is recovering from being assaulted in Las Vegas in June 16.

Aside from those two, Kenny Peterson of the Denver Broncos is the only former Buckeye in the AFC West as training camp dawns...

In the NFC West, the St. Louis Rams are hoping to get back the services of All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace, who missed 15 games last season and eight the year before because of injury. Regardless, the Sporting News still saw fit to rate him the No. 2 tackle in the NFL for this upcoming season.

And could he be clearing holes for Antonio Pittman this season? The running back nearly saw his NFL career end before it began when the New Orleans Saints cut him during training camp, but Pittman surfaced not long afterwards with the Rams. He ran for 139yards on 38 carries last season, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that he has shown potential to be a solid backup to star Steven Jackson this season.

In Seattle, Rob Sims' second full season as a starting guard for the Seahawks will be at right guard. He started all 16 games on the left side last season but will move this year after Seattle signed veteran Mike Wahle. That did not initially sit well with Sims, according to Seahawks.net.

"I want to be a team guy," Sims said. "At first I was a little upset. But this is the NFL, that is kind of how it goes. So you move over and suck it up and just go out here and learn as much as you can. In the end it is just playing football. You can't be upset about it."

In San Francisco, Nate Clements would seem to be a lock to start at one cornerback spot, but will he be joined on the 49er defense by another former Buckeye?

Seventh-round draft choice Larry Grant signed with his hometown team July 11, and Pro Football Weekly reports that head coach Mike Nolan told him he is in running to start at one inside linebacker spot in 3-4 defense...

Finally, we conclude in Arizona, where Dionte Johnson hopes to follow in his father's footsteps with a career in the NFL. The younger Johnson, who was not drafted, is one of three fullbacks looking for a job in Arizona, joining nine-year veteran Terrelle Smith and fourth-year player Tim Castille, both of whom spent the season with the Cardinals last year...

Meanwhile, another NBA summer league came to a close and a third opened in the past week.

The Memphis Grizzlies concluded their schedule in Las Vegas just 2-3, a mark that likely would have been better had 2007 first round draft pick Mike Conley Jr. suited up for the final three contest.

Memphis chose to hold the second-year guard out, however, at least in part because the schedule called for four games in a row and five in six days.

"We wanted to get Mike a good workout, (but) we're not going to play Mike Conley four games in a row and five in six nights," head coach Marc Iavaroni told the team web site. "We wanted to see him run the team. He did a good job. We got to see our spacing and how it helped him and how it hurt him, and he got a chance to compete and throw his new body in there a little bit and we were excited about that."

With Conly on the bench, second-year player Javaris Crittenton and rookie lottery pick O.J. Mayo shared time at the point.

Mayo started all five games and averaged 18.8 points while shooting 48 percent from three-point range and 41 percent from the field overall.

Ebi Ere of Oklahoma started one game Conley missed while Crittenton started the other alongside Mayo in the backcourt…

Another rookie, Othello Hunter, began the Vegas summer league with the Charlotte Bobcats, but the Charlotte Observer reported July 16 that he left the team for personal reasons.

He turned up shortly thereafter in Utah playing for the Atlanta Hawks in the Rocky Mountain Revue, a third NBA summer league that runs through July 25.

Hunter spent the first three games looking good, too, with averages of 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest. He made 19 of 27 field goals (70 percent).

That success came in contrast to the early performances of Kosta Koufos. A first-round pick of the Jazz this year, Koufos struggled in his first three games (7.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6-of-21 shooting).


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