Around the League: The Herschel Edition

TSX provides a look at the news and notes from around the league including Chad Ochocinco to Atlanta.

*(N)ochocinco: 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 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.

*Regression depression: 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."

*Bush league: 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.

*Wade's world: 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.

*Supplemental insurance: The names certainly aren't set, and neither is the exact date, but the NFL plans on having a supplemental draft this summer. There has been some question about the legality of the special-cases draft, which has produced just one player taken in the top three rounds -- Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon by Washington in the third round in 2009 -- since 2006. But league vice president Greg Aiello confirmed to The Sports Xchange that the supplemental draft is covered explicitly in the expired collective bargaining agreement, the same way the regular-phase draft last month was directly addressed. As previously reported here, the supplemental draft lost a potential big-name player when former University of Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins opted to transfer and continue his college career elsewhere. There have been unsubstantiated rumors that Michael Floyd of Notre Dame might opt for the supplemental draft, but sources close to the wide receiver contend that isn't the case.

*Cone of silence: Amid reports last week that Pittsburgh and Washington had a draft day deal arranged in the first round that fell apart because the player the Steelers coveted was gone have come denials from all sides. Redskins vice president of public relations Tony Wyllie and general manager Bruce Allen both pooh-poohed the reports, as did a trusted Steelers source. The alleged trade would have had the Steelers moving up to the 16th slot in the opening round from the 31st, presumably to grab University of Florida guard Mike Pouncey. But the brother of Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was taken by Miami with the 15th choice. According to the Pittsburgh source, the two teams spoke in the days preceding the draft, doing the type of due diligence all franchises conduct, but there was not a phone call at all between the two clubs once the lottery began.

*Punts: There have been numerous reports over the past two weeks of contact between coaches and players, forbidden under terms of the lockout, and it would probably be naive to think there's isn't some sort of communication occurring in some cases. But league officials said Thursday that, after investigating some of the reports, they have unearthed no violations. From a personal standpoint, we can report that several teams where The Sports Xchange sought interviews with coaches politely declined the requests of lack of clarity with lockout rules. ... With the presumptive retirement of Phil Jackson from the Los Angeles Lakers, Forbes Magazine has tabbed Belichick as the highest paid coach in any of the four North American professional leagues. Coaching salaries in the NFL are notoriously tough to pinpoint, and New England is particularly cryptic about Belichick's deal, but Forbes pegs his contract at about $7.5 million per year. There are six other NFL coaches -- Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt, Tom Coughlin, and Mike Tomlin -- in the top 10. The other three are NBA coaches. ... Last week in this spot, we noted that Philadelphia will jettison veteran kicker David Akers after the lockout, not only for age and salary, but because some in the organization have grown weary of what they perceive as attitude problems. This week, Eagles special teams coach Bobby April all but confirmed Akers' pending departure when he said that rookie Alex Henery of Nebraska, the club's fourth-round pick in last month's draft, could be the club's leading scorer for many years. ... Contracts from the UFL began landing in the mailboxes of players and agents this week, and the fledgling, five-team league has made some notable cuts: The salary for the season has been reduced to $40,000, from $50,000 a year ago. Training camp per diem payments went from $55 to $50. Most notable was the reduction for the title game. Last year, the league champion received $20,000 and the runner-up bagged $10,000. For 2011, the payments are $6,000 and $5,000, respectively. ... As noted this week in several spots, Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who early in the year signed a new two-year, $30 million contract that makes him the NFL's priciest defensive player on a per-year average basis, will foot the bill for a four-day session with teammates in Atlanta Tuesday through Friday. Agent Eugene Parker told The Sports Xchange he has not spoken to his client about the price, and could not confirm it is six figures, but said: "The one thing about Richard is that he does everything first-class, so he's not going to cut corners, believe me. He feels like this is important for the team and he's going to do it right." According to the plan, Seymour will supervise the defensive workouts and Campbell will run the offensive practices. The sessions will be at Competitive Edge Sports in suburban Atlanta, and will be monitored by noted trainer Chip Smith, the subject of a column by The Sports Xchange at the outset of the lockout. ... The lockout could scuttle plans by the New Orleans staff for working third-round draft pick Martez Wilson, a middle 'backer at Illinois, on the strong side. If the lockout wipes out most minicamps and OTAs, it's likely Wilson will be relegated to backup duty behind Jonathan Vilma in the middle. ... The Eagles could also switch middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to the strong-side spot to make room for either Omar Gaither or Jamar Chaney, both of whom logged two starts in 2010, at the "Mike" position. ... Eleven-year veteran cornerback Dre Bly, who didn't play in the league at all in 2010, still hopes to catch on with someone for camp. Bly, who will be 34 on Sunday, averaged 13.5 starts in eight seasons until sitting out last year. ... Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley, who played in only five games in 2010 because of meniscus surgery, reported last week that his knee feels fine and he's ready to roll. But there continue to be suspicions that this could be the final season in Green Bay for Finley, who possesses monstrous athletic skills and was on his way to a career season in '10 before the injury. Finley is in the final year of his contract and, if he hits the market, will draw plenty of suitors. The Packers, who are always conscious of depth under general manager Ted Thompson, have three other veteran tight ends on the roster, and added two more. D.J. Williams of Arkansas and North Carolina's Ryan Taylor, in the draft. ... There has been a lot of attention paid to veteran wide receivers who might be available in free agency -- Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Vincent Jackson, among others -- and justifiably so. And the status of Carolina's Steve Smith, who is said to have asked for a trade, is worth watching for teams in the market. But clubs are monitoring as well a group of young wideouts whose free agency status will be determined by the CBA negotiations. The group includes Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, James Jones, Lance Moore, Sidney Rice, and Mike Sims-Walker. . . . The above-mentioned Fitzpatrick told The Sports Xchange that Buffalo skill-position players will assemble next week for workouts. The group of about nine running backs and receivers also met last month. ... The Palm Beach Post had an interesting Friday column in which it noted that some front office employees, whose salaries have been reduced because of the lockout, are actually rooting for the players to prevail. We don't know about that, but we can attest there are some assistant coaches, who are about to go stir-crazy, who privately wish the players would cave, so they can get back to work. ... Notable leftover from the draft is that Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who made 58 draft day trades since acquiring the franchise in 1989, made none this year. ... Although they have yet to see first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan on the practice field, some Washington coaches remain borderline skeptical that the former Purdue star will make a seamless transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Kerrigan has a great motor, but has struggled at times in space. Of course, the Kerrigan supporters note that, under coordinator Jim Haslett, the Redskins' linebackers don't drop and cover much anyway.

*The last word: "I could play today and help a team out. There is no doubt in my mind. ... I know I couldn't play a whole game, but I could contribute a lot." -- Former NFL tailback Herschel Walker, who is 49 and hasn't played since 1997, per The Dallas Morning News

Jets Insider Top Stories