Quick Hits from Around the NFL

News and notes from around the league on the day after the 2011 NFL preseason schedule kicked off.

-- For at least the past three seasons, matching the tenure of Mike Smith as head coach, Atlanta has been a team that preferred a cornerback as its "nickel" player in the secondary. That will probably remain the case in 2011, with young veterans Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks battling for the No. 3 job behind Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. But second-year safety Rafael Bush, who spent most of 2010 on the practice squad, is in the hunt as well. If he wins the job, it will mean at least a philosophical and schematic tweak for the Falcons.

-- Over the past few seasons, the safety spot has been a problem area in Chicago, but that doesn't appear to be the case in 2011. Not only do the Bears have a solid pair of starters in strong safety Chris Harris and free safety Major Wright, but backups Craig Steltz and Chris Conte, the latter a rookie third-rounder, have been early camp standouts. Look for Harris, traded to Carolina in 2007 and then re-acquired via trade last year, to be offered a contract extension. The unheralded Harris, who has been among the NFL leaders in fumbles forced/recovered the past three years, is scheduled to make about $1.6 million in bonuses and salary for '11, the final year of his contract.

-- As for the Bengals' tight end situation, the team really likes what it has seen so far in camp of undrafted college free agent Colin Cochart of South Dakota State. The Bengals have solid receivers at the position — Jermaine Greshman caught 52 passes as a rookie in 2010, and veteran Bo Scaife, signed this week as a free agent, is a proven intermediate-range guy — but has to unearth a blocker to replace Kelly. It's still very early, but Cochart might be that guy.

-- In case you missed The Sports Xchange column earlier this week, the league expects that HGH testing will be part of the drug screening administered to draft prospects who attend the NFL combine starting next February. On a related note, The Sports Xchange founder Frank Cooney passed on that Bodog.com has established odds on what position will be the first to have a player test positive for HGH. The odds: defensive line, 5-2; offensive line, 3-1; wide receiver, tight end, safety, and cornerback, all 4-1; running back, 5-1; quarterback, 7-1; kicker and punter, 10-1.

-- Although he has proven to be one of the NFL's top offensive line coaches, Mike Tice of Chicago is under the microscope this year, particularly with the Bears' decision not to re-sign six-time Pro Bowl snapper and acknowledged team leader Olin Kreutz, who signed with New Orleans. In the Bears' reshuffled line, Roberto Garza becomes the new starting center, a spot he hasn't played since 2001, and his third different starting position in five years. Left guard Chris Williams, originally chosen as a left tackle in the first round in 2008, is the only projected starter to have started at his current spot for more than four regular-season games.

-- Former Indianapolis starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden might be the most attractive free agent still available in the estimation of a few teams. But there remains some concern about the neck injury Hayden suffered in 2010, and about his contract expectations as well.

-- The additions of veterans such as Ben Leber, Zac Diles and Brady Poppinga in free agency have forced three-year veteran linebacker David Vobora out of a job in St. Louis. Vobora, who won a landmark $5.4 million judgment against a supplements company this spring, was waived on Friday morning. Vobora has yet to collect a cent of his judgment award.

-- The good news for the Oakland passing game is that the light bulb seems to be at least flickering for 2009 first-round wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, and that third-year veteran tight end Brandon Myers and rookie fifth-round wide receiver Denarius Moore could contribute to the passing game. The bad news is that oft-injured wide receiver Chaz Schilens suffered a knee injury in Thursday's preseason opener. The injury may not be serious but it continues a run of injuries for the star-crossed three-year veteran.

-- The Raiders may intensify their efforts to re-sign veteran tackle Langston Walker, who is drawing interest from a few other teams, after Thursday night. Khalif Barnes, who was re-signed for depth after Baltimore free agent Jared Gaither failed his physical because of back problems, was flagged for three false starts.

-- Sure, it's only one preseason game, but New England seems to have developed another solid and capable backup quarterback in Brian Hoyer.

-- Oft-injured in Denver, four-year veteran right tackle Ryan Harris has not only provided depth for the Eagles, but might be pushing for a starting job, especially with Winston Justice still rehabbing from offseason knee surgery. Philly may have a logjam at tackle, and it will not be all that surprising to see the Eagles deal off one of their right tackles. Three-year veteran King Dunlap, long on potential but shy on playing time, isn't exactly a good fit for the smaller, quicker model new line coach Howard Mudd historically seems to have preferred.

-- Despite never winning a game as a starter in his five seasons in the league (0-10), unrestricted free agent Brodie Croyle of Kansas City may be one of the better backup quarterback types still available, and he's had some modest interest. But the former third-round draft pick is likely to wait to see if someone is injured in the first few weeks of preseason play before jumping at an offer.

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