Despite a report from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Falcons might have "the inside track" for signing Chad Ochocinco if he is released by Cincinnati when the lockout ends, any deal is expected to be derailed.
It's a convenient connect-the-dots scenario between Ochocinco and new Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who was the Bengals' offensive coordinator for the wide receiver's entire 10-year tenure in stripes. But the truth is that Bratkowski and Ochocinco weren't particularly close -- even though "Ocho" is pushing the notion of a reunion -- and the 33-year-old wide receiver isn't a very good fit.
"Ain't happenin'," one team source succinctly told The Sports Xchange.
The Falcons' starters are likely to be Roddy White, the NFL's leading pass-catcher in 2010, and rookie Julio Jones, the first-round pick for whom Atlanta surrendered five draft choices to move up in the first round last month. Even if the Falcons release or trade former first-rounder and starter Michael Jenkins, who could now be rendered extraneous and overpriced with the addition of Jones, the team still has third-year veteran Harry Douglas to play the slot. Douglas was a disappointment in '10, with only 22 catches, but the coming season will be his second year back following knee surgery that sidelined him for all of 2009, and Falcons' coaches seem very confident he will recapture his 2008 rookie form and the quickness he displayed.
Atlanta also has promising youngster Kerry Meier, a fifth-round pick in 2010 who was solid early in his rookie training camp, then missed his entire rookie campaign with a knee injury, and Pro Bowl return man Eric Weems.
In the best-case scenario, Ochocinco would be the Falcons' No. 4 receiver, and he (and his mouth) isn't apt to accept that role. The team carried 10-year veteran Brian Finneran in 2010, but he played a big role on special teams, something Ochocinco has never done. Even though the 35-year-old Finneran has been told that he won't be re-signed for 2011, the Falcons won't replace him with Ochocinco.
And, finally, there is this factor: Bratkowski and Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey are especially tight, having worked together for two seasons (1999-2000) on the Pittsburgh staff. Bratkowski isn't going to impose Ochocinco on a guy whom many in the league consider his closest friend.
Blue with envy
North Carolina had two defensive linemen, Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin, go off the board in the top 52 choices of the 2011 draft. And over the last four lotteries, Tar Heels coach Butch Davis, has had five defensive linemen chosen, three in the top two rounds. The focus on UNC defensive linemen probably will continue in 2012, with a pair of ends, rising senior Quinton Coples -- the subject of an NCAA investigation this month surrounding his attendance at a draft party -- and underclassman Donte Paige-Moss, both rated by NFLDraftScout.com analysts Rob Rang and Chad Reuter as early first-round prospects.
The emphasis on defensive linemen at North Carolina is hardly a fluke. During his time in the NFL as an assistant with and then coordinator of the Dallas defense, Davis strong stressed the importance of defensive line play. Even in his stint as Cleveland head coach (2001-2004), Davis tried hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to upgrade the Browns' defensive line, drafting Gerard Warren in the first round, and acquiring veterans such as Orpheus Roye, Kenard Lang, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Michael Myers.
"He just believes in having and building around a really strong defensive line," Quinn told The Sports Xchange after the draft, "and his teams (reflect) that."
Davis has to be hoping the outcome of this NCAA investigation is different than the one that rendered Quinn and defensive tackle Marvin Austin ineligible in 2010, or his reputation could be spun an entirely different direction.
Several coaches, notably Bill Belichick and Andy Reid, were fairly outspoken this week about the ramifications of an offseason in which there are no minicamps and OTAs. Belichick candidly conceded the Patriots may have to cut back on the playbook. Reid admitted the overall quality of play could suffer.
But the upshot of the lack of work might also be, according to a few coaches to whom The Sports Xchange spoke, that there is actually less hitting than normal in camps. If that's possible.
"Your first priority will be to gauge the conditioning of your team," said one AFC coach this week. "All these unofficial camps they're having ... I mean, what can they do, besides seven-on-seven drills? There's no contact. The (irony) is that guys want less contact, and, because of the lockout, they're probably going to get it. The players could lose the battle but win a war that's important to them."
Word is that, if tailback Reggie Bush doesn't return to New Orleans for the 2011 season -- and despite an $11.8 price tag, that remains a possibility -- he will be more sought after than some people think as a free agent.
Last week in this space, The Tip Sheet reported that at least one team, with time on its hands during the lockout, was reviewing videotape of Bush as a potential slot receiver. But we heard from some teams this week that he is just as valuable as a change-of-pace back, who gets maybe 10-12 "touches" per game as a back and return man.
Said one team executive: "The thing with (Bush) will be timing. You don't want to run out when free agency eventually starts, and sign a (versatile) back, and then have Bush pop free, because the Saints can't afford him. You might be kicking yourself for not waiting on Bush, and seeing what his market is out there. So it's probably going to take some legwork, you know?"
Back on the case
There hasn't been much news of late emanating from some government agencies' investigation of NFL player representatives, and the reason is because the Feds had a much more important diversion: due diligence following the death of Osama bin Laden. Sports, and the potential indiscretions of agents, simply hasn't been a priority.
But the several agents in the crosshairs of the probe, many of them located in the Southeast and a few of them fairly well-known names, shouldn't let down their guards just yet. One person very familiar with the government's digging told The Sports Xchange that the probe will resume at the end of the month.
Much has been made about the Houston Texans' transition to a 3-4 defense, and the personnel/positional changes that new coordinator Wade Phillips will enact: defensive end Mario Williams to linebacker, defensive tackle Amobe Okoye to end, strong-side linebacker Brian Cushing to inside linebacker, etc.
But it's worth noting that Phillips, in inheriting a secondary that finished dead last in the league versus the pass in 2010, will confront some of the same problems he faced in Dallas last year. That's particularly true at safety, where neither of the Houston starters from a year ago, Eugene Wilson and Bernard Pollard, will return.
The Texans may start a rookie, fifth-round pick Shiloh Keo of Idaho, at one of the safety spots. Keo is alleged to be a very bright guy who is usually around the ball (11 interceptions in college), but who still struggled in coverage at times. A solid tackler, Keo is nonetheless going to have a lot of responsibility for a youngster.
The team may move one of its young veteran cornerbacks to safety as well, but there seems little doubt Phillips is going to have a pretty inexperienced interior secondary with which to cope, in addition to all the other changes he's making.
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