Atlanta-- With the exception of one early-morning drive through the country, defensive tackle Rod Coleman made GM Rich McKay look like a genius last year.
Coleman played in 13 games and had 11.5 sacks. He made everyone around him, particularly left end Patrick Kerney, raise their level of play.
So what's next for Coleman? Match his ability to stop the run with his amazing pass-rushing skills. As position coach Bill Johnson says, "It all begins with proper footwork."
Coleman has what coordinator Ed Donatell describes as "lots of upper-body violence" when he beats double-teams and harasses the quarterback. That asset is due primarily to Paul Bunyan-like strength Coleman has in his arms, chest, shoulders and back. Unfortunately, such "violence" can cause Coleman to overplay a play-action run, for example, if he commits too much inertia toward reaching the quarterback.
Improving the sequence of his footwork should make Coleman a better run-stopper when he takes snaps from a three-technique. He needs to use his back foot more to balance his body than to anchor it as he leans into guards and centers. Doing this allows his front foot a better chance of changing direction once he realizes that the quarterback has handed the ball to a running back.
"Can you imagine the fear that would strike in other teams to know that Rod Coleman is as tough against the run as he is against the pass?" Johnson asked rhetorically. "That's one of the main reasons I'm so excited about this year. Our line has a lot of room for improvement, but seeing Rod Coleman's potential to blossom as a run-stopper and his eagerness to get that done, probably ranks at the top of my list."
Coleman agrees. After proving detractors were wrong to say he'd never become more than a third-down specialist, Coleman realizes he can make other doubters wish they had voted him onto the NFC Pro Bowl squad last year.
"They left me off, but that's OK," Coleman said. "I have a long memory and I love to make people regret that misjudged me in the first place."
-- Rookie linebacker Jordan Beck projected he would fall anywhere from second to fourth round in the draft, so the former Cal Poly standout wasn't surprised when the Falcons took him in the third. Now that he has had six weeks to compare himself to other NFL linebackers, Beck realizes he'll need time to absorb all his responsibilities in a professional scheme.
At least he has no pressure to start as he learns Edgerton Hartwell's role in the middle.
"I think that physically and athletically, when I go out there I think I fit in," Beck said.
"There are other great athletes out there obviously, but I think I fit in at least. The amount of different defensive plays and strategies that we have are a lot more than I had in college. And there are a lot of different techniques and stuff that I'm having to learn."
-- Credit coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Alex Gibbs with devising ways to help third-down conversion percentage improve from 22.7 percent through Week 7 to 44.4 percent the rest of the year.
"That was nice, but what we want to avoid, obviously, is putting ourselves in a hole to start out with," Knapp said. "For that matter, we want to avoid holes altogether."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that's just the way this business works. With free agency and the salary cap and the June 1 deadline, I think every team's going to have a player or two that the focus is on him and that hat's on Peerless right now. That's why you guys (reporters) are all out here today. And he understands that. He understands the business. He's had a great attitude. He's worked his tail off, he's fit in, and we're very pleased with him right now." -- Head coach Jim Mora on receiver Peerless Price.
Carolina--After spending the last two seasons as Carolina's No. 3 quarterback, Chris Weinke is now the Panthers' No. 2 guy following the retirement of Rodney Peete this offseason.
But Weinke, 33, isn't sure what the future will hold for him after this season when he becomes and unrestricted free agent.
"The competitor in me says I'm capable of starting in this league," Weinke said on Thursday, the first day of three weeks of coaching sessions. "But I also understand that this is a pretty good situation here. It's a great organization with a great coaching staff and a lot of good guys on the team. So, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
"But I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to start in this league. So who knows what is going to happen? I can't see the future, but I've got the confidence in myself to be able to think I can start in this league and know that my career is far from over."
The good thing for Weinke is that he has a year to work that all out in his head.
For now, he's happy to be working as the primary backup behind Jake Delhomme after spending the last three seasons on the bench. Weinke said that his approach won't change, but he feels like the coaching staff has more confidence in him now than in 2002 when he was benched by new coach John Fox just seven days before the regular season opener.
The Panthers have two other inexperienced quarterbacks on their roster -- fourth-round draft pick Stefan LeFors from Louisville and second-year man Rod Rutherford, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.
"I think over the last couple of years this coaching staff has seen what I am capable of doing," Weinke said. "Because if they didn't think I was capable, then I wouldn't be here regardless if I am No. 2 guy, No. 3 guy or on the bubble, I've proved to these guys that I am capable because if they didn't think I was, then I would have been gone a long time ago."
In the past two preseasons Weinke has completed a combined 65 percent of his passes (52 of 80) for 709 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for a quarterback rating of 104.
While some might argue that has come against third-team guys, Weinke has done all he can the past two years given his limited opportunities.
Prior to Fox's arrival, Weinke had started 15 games as a rookie in 2002, but the Panthers went 1-14 under George Seifert.
To his credit, Weinke has never complained to the media about getting demoted not once, but twice by Fox.
"I didn't think I was going to get any further ahead if I sat and complained about my situation," Weinke said. "They asked me to come out and compete every day and I have done that. I have done that since the day I lost the starting job and I kept that same approach and I feel like it has helped me as a player. in my opinion, I have never been that type of guy that if I sit and complain, it's not going to get me anywhere.
"The only thing I can do is come out there and practice every day and show them that I can get better and hopefully, whether it is here or somewhere else, the opportunity is going to be there."
When backup quarterback Chris Weinke was asked of his thoughts on former teammate Rodney Peete, who left the Panthers to become a co-host on Fox Sports' "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period," Weinke simply laughed and said, "He's eating well... I know he doesn't have to weigh in on Thursdays."
Peete does appear to have put on some weight since announcing his retirement from the NFL. But Weinke feels that given Peete's outgoing personality, he will do extremely well on the show.
"The way that we know him, he fits perfectly right on that set," Weinke said. "I hope he does real well."
--Every NFL team is optimistic this time of the year and the Panthers are no exception.
"With the acquisitions we made in the offseason from free agency and the draft, I feel good about our depth at this point," coach John Fox said. "We've still got a long way to go and a lot of things to look at. But for no pads and the little bit that we've had to look at them, we're not wondering, 'What were we thinking when we acquired this guy?' We're fine for where we are right now."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hate him. Everybody says I'm supposed to be polite when I talk to (the media), but I hate him. He talks too much. He doesn't make any sense. He's fat. He's sloppy. He acts like he's the best thing since sliced bread. He's ugly. He stinks. His mouth stinks. His breath stinks and basically, his soul stinks, too. Too many people can't have personalities like that and survive in life. I don't know how he does it. I guess because he's big and he went to Miami." --Panthers DT Kris Jenkins on his hatred of Oakland Raiders' DT Warren Sapp.
New Orleans--With 2 1/2 months of hard work already behind them, the Saints are preparing to conclude the second phase of their offseason program on Thursday.
That's when the Saints complete the fourth week of coaching sessions, which made up the middle stage of their offseason program. The first phase, which began on March 21, consisted of strength and conditioning work only.
After that phase ended on May 12, the team began a series of 14 voluntary coaching sessions held over a four-week period. Players were allowed to participate in the non-contact drills in shorts and helmets.
The coaching sessions wind up this week, which leads them into a two-day veteran minicamp set for Friday and Saturday. The Saints will practice two times each day before coach Jim Haslett turns them loose for a vacation before the start of training camp on July 29.
In the coaching sessions, Haslett's staff emphasized the mental part more than physical. The goal of the sessions, which also included daily meetings with position coaches, was to get the players up to speed before the start of camp.
"This is the learning aspect of football," Haslett said. "You learn and you work on your techniques. To me, that's the big thing. We got a lot of young guys out here, all our draft picks and some free agents we're trying to get up to par on what we're doing."
Only two players didn't participate in the coaching sessions: starting right cornerback Fakhir Brown skipped the workouts as he attempts to get a new contract and weak-side linebacker Derrick Rodgers was excused because he was still recovering from offseason back surgery.
"You can't ask somebody to come to it," Haslett said. "It's the offseason. They're voluntary. It's understood. I'm just glad we got the turnout that we did and that these guys are working here together."
Strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson said this offseason was the most productive in the six years he and Haslett have been with the team.
"This is the first year where we had eight weeks of just strength and conditioning work with no minicamps or coaching sessions to break up that period," Gullickson said. "I felt as a group we went way past where we've ever been before in our strength levels and in our conditioning levels. We just had a chance to emphasize it more for a longer period of time."
--Coach Jim Haslett isn't divulging the weight of defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, who has been a major disappointment since the team made him the sixth overall pick of the 2003 draft.
Sullivan, who lost his starting job to former street free agent Howard Green in training camp last year, arrived for offseason strength and conditioning workouts this spring shortly after cutting a tendon in his hand at home.
"We won't weigh until minicamp," Haslett said. "He's been here working out every day. He hasn't done a lot of lifting because of his hand. He's going to do that pretty soon, but he is working hard.
"I think he has a commitment to try to turn it around and become a good player, but we're going to wait and see."
--Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco is backing new taxes on hotels, rental cars and football tickets in the New Orleans area as a way of raising money to help meet the state's annual payments to the Saints.
Two Blanco administration bills would create about $12 million in new annual revenue, drawn mainly from Saints' fans and the tourism industry in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.
Andy Kopplin, Blanco's chief of staff, said the governor hoped to raise the additional revenue to support a proposed long-term contract between the state and Saints -- which included a renovation of the Superdome.
But Saints owner Tom Benson called off negotiations until after the upcoming season and for now will keep collecting subsidies from the state on the 10-year, $186 million deal brokered by former Gov. Mike Foster in 2001.
The state will fall about $10 million short on the $15 million payment due the Saints on July 5 and the shortfall is projected to be $13 million in 2006.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm doing everything I can. I'm spending money like it's going out of style, on players and everything. And what we do charitably in this community is unbelievable. ... Hey, the Saints are a tremendous asset to this community." -- Saints owner Tom Benson on the importance of his franchise to the city of New Orleans.
Tampa Bay--NFL owners have a mixed reaction to the purchase of the Manchester United soccer club by Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer.
During the league's spring meetings, the NFL asked Glazer about the Premier League soccer team's relationship with a casino.
Glazer's purchase does not violate the NFL's cross ownership rules. But league officials want to know more about a planned resort and casino that would be built near Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium.
"The only potential issue concerns that reported Man U joint venture with the Las Vegas casino, what that means and does it have any implications regarding our (gambling) policies," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
However, Steelers owner Art Rooney questioned Glazer's continued commitment to the Bucs.
"I'm in the football business," Rooney said. "And I believe our principle sport should be the National Football League.
"The NFL is the greatest league there is ... what are you looking for? Is (Glazer) going to give full time to operating the Bucs? That's the issue.
"He might say, 'I'm going to send my son over there,' and it may work. You say am I concerned? Yes."
Contrast Rooney's concerns with the praise heaped on Glazer by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "I'm very impressed," Jones said. "They are impressive and have been since they've been in the league. They're outstanding owners who do it both on and off the field, in my mind. I give them A-plusses."
--The Bucs signed college free agent linebacker Rich Glover, who started the past three seasons at New Mexico State.
Glover is the son of a former NFL player by the same name. The elder Glover played at Nebraska under Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. In 1972, his senior season, he won the Outland Trophy and finished third in Heisman balloting.
Glover recorded 247 tackles, one sack, 11 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
--Rhein Fire defensive back Blue Adams was named defensive player of the week in NFL Europe after a standout performance against the Cologne Centurians.
Adams had six tackles and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown that knocked Cologne out of the cup race.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We like big, physical receivers, we think that's important. There were 20 cornerbacks drafted on the first day of this draft and a lot of those guys were small guys." -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden.