TSX: Around the League (Part II)

Len Pasquarelli discusses Brian Urlacher's rigid defense of Jay Cutler, the status of Saints receiver Marques Colston, the cancellation of the rookie symposium, Ray Lewis and much more.

Chicago middle linebacker and noted tough guy Brian Urlacher this week again chastised the critics, as he did following the NFC championship game, who openly suggested that Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler lacks courage.

In what could be considered a validation of that stance, or conversely perhaps a sign that NFL defenders might feel that Cutler can be rattled, it's notable that hits on Cutler in 2010 resulted in a half-dozen fines. That's triple the number of hits on any other quarterback in the NFL that drew financial sanctions.

By unofficial count, there were 18 quarterbacks who absorbed "finable" infractions, and only five others - Sam Bradford, Drew Brees, Todd Collins, David Garrard and Ben Roethlisberger - had more than one.

Urlacher characterized Cutler's critics as "stupid" and "dumb."

Colston doing well

Despite microfracture surgery on his right knee this spring, which followed an earlier procedure to correct a wrist problem, word is that New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston is working out twice a day and demonstrating no ill effects from the often tricky the operation. The twice-daily workouts apparently include days on which the Saints do not convene for their unsupervised practices.

A recovery is key for Colston, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2011, provided there is a season, at a base salary of $3 million. Going into his sixth season, Colston will be an unrestricted free agent next spring, as long as there is any kind of season that allows games to be played.


WR Marques Colston
Geoff Burke/Getty

Although Colston posted the worst yards-per-catch average of his career (12.2 yards), he still had 84 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns. In five years, Colston, who turns 28 next month, has averaged 73.8 catches, 1,019.4 yards, and 8.0 scores. He also had microfracture surgery last spring, on his left, knee, and nonetheless appeared in 15 games in 2010, with 11 starts.

School days

As announced this week, the NFL officially cancelled its annual Rookie Symposium, originally scheduled for late June in Canton, Ohio. But that doesn't mean the NFL has entirely scuttled some of the excellent business and entrepreneurial programs it has developed in recent years. In fact, one such session, a so-called "transition program" for retired players seeking to broaden their business experience and acumen, has been expanded.

The program recently returned to Georgia Tech, where it was initiated in the spring of 2010, and there will be another such program at Rice University in October. Last year, former NFL players such as tight end Mark Bruener and Donovin Darius raved about the time they spent in Atlanta.

Said Darius: "As athletes, we sometimes get stereotyped. But a lot of the same attributes we develop as players - leadership, accountability, working with others, problem-solving - are exactly what corporations are looking for. Those same skills are transferrable ... to the business world."

The league will also have its annual "Broadcast Boot Camp" next month, with about 16 former players expected to attend, including onetime veterans such as LeCharles Bentley, Drew Henson, Armani Toomer, Antonio Freeman and John Fina.

As initially reported by The Sports Xchange earlier this week, the cancellation of popular management programs at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania are not linked to the shutdown of the Rookie Symposium, as some have surmised. The programs and their curriculum and direction are actually being revamped by Troy Vincent of the league's NFL Player Engagement department.

Punts

--Whether he retired or was fired - and there seems to be some disagreement as to exactly how he departed the Indianapolis Colts this week - pro personnel director Clyde Powers was always a class act and a stand-up guy. Way back in the darker days of an organization that wasn't always its current model of stability, Powers was even then a hard worker and diligent talent evaluator who did his job quietly and professionally.
--A few other possible reasons the Eagles may not sign Burress when his jail term is up: The coaches feel that five-year veteran Jason Avant and second-year pro Riley Cooper can develop into very good red-zone threats. Arguably the most physical of the Philly wideouts, Avant had a career-high 51 catches in 2010, although just one for a touchdown. A fifth-round pick in '10, Riley is 6-feet-5 and, while he posted just seven receptions in 13 games, figures to provide a different dimension to the receiving corps. The Eagles also feel that former New York Giants second-rounder Sinorice Moss, signed in January after a career wracked by injury since 2006, can still be a player.
--Somewhat curious that, at a time when players' every words are analyzed, no one pointed out the inherent irony in the statements of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who contended the crime rate will escalate if there is no football in 2011. Lewis pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice in 2000, following two post-Super Bowl XXXIV deaths in Atlanta earlier that year, and was fined $250,000 by the league.
--Even though Tennessee tailback Chris Johnson, perhaps the NFL's fastest player, has said he will pursue a temporary track career during the lockout, he has yet to compete in a meet and currently has no plans to do so.


WR Roddy White
Scott Halleran/Getty

--Atlanta star wide receiver Roddy White was upset with local media when it was accurately reported this week that his cousin, Ali White, was arrested on robbery charges. While essentially brought his cousin to live with him four years ago and has done some admirable work with at-risk youngsters in general in the community. But it should also be noted that, before Falcons officials signed White to a six-year, $50 million contract extension in 2009, they demanded he cut ties with some old friends and hangers-on they felt were a negative influence on him.
--There were only 20 safeties chosen in the draft last month, the first time since 2000 there were none in the first round, and four or five of them are expected to start as rookies. If second-round Jaiquawn Jarrett of Temple starts for Philadelphia, the Eagles could have a rookie and a second-year veteran (Nate Allen) as their starters. Both players were chosen in the second round. The Eagles are not expected to re-sign pending free agent Quintin Mikell, an eight-year veteran.
--Speaking of safeties, there's a bit of an awkward situation in Denver right now. The Broncos' unofficial workouts are pretty much being supervised by Brian Dawkins, and the team was likely going to jettison the 15-year veteran before the season started. Given his role in the workouts, and the likelihood that younger players like second-round pick Rahim Moore will have a truncated training camp, the Broncos may instead have to hold on to Dawkins, who will be 38 in October, for another year.
--Although the Cowboys hope to upgrade the safety position in free agency, don't discount the possibility Dallas attempts to re-sign six-year veteran Gerald Sensabaugh as insurance.
--The Bengals have to be wondering when people are going to buy their stance that they are not going to trade reluctant starting quarterback Carson Palmer. In alternate months since March, either coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown proclaimed that Palmer, who has threatened to retire if not traded, won't be dealt. But when Brown reiterated that during this week's league meeting, it created headlines. Said Brown in reaction: "I'm just saying what I've said before."
--On the subject of Bengals' quarterbacks, there's been an impressive initiative launched, including a terrific statistical analysis by Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts, touting the candidacy of Ken Anderson for the Hall of Fame. Anderson, who won three league passing titles, moves from the modern-era to the seniors category this year.
--Atlanta, which bypassed in the draft what many feel was its biggest defensive need, defensive left end, hopes to sign a veteran at the position when (or if) free agency commences. But the Falcons' chances of adding a bookend for right end John Abraham could be tied to CBA negotiations and how the matter of free agency is determined. The Falcons' top two targets, Ray Edwards of Minnesota and Carolina's Charles Johnson, are five- and four-year veterans, respectively, and whether or not either is unrestricted will be a function of the CBA talks.

The last word: "Next maybe we'll see a snake wrangler and we can all watch and see if he gets bit or something. I don't know. He's always up to some stunt. They amuse me in a way and yet they concern me because, let's face it, as we look at it, we want a football player. We aren't looking for a bull rider, or a dancer, or a soccer player. We want a football player. It's simple. That's where we want the focus, not on other things.

"He has a genius for bringing notice to himself, and I don't say that in a disparaging way. It's unique. I've never known any football player that can bring the spotlight on himself seemingly all year round. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? And that gets to be a debate." - Cincinnati owner Brown, per Bengals.com, on wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.


Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.


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