ATL: Bengals Snag A Winner, Raiders Too?

The New England Patriots had seen enough of wide receiver Brandon Tate after three years. When they released him, one team in particular saw an unappreciated talent

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Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange

Bargain basement bonanza:

One of the several highlights to this point for the Cincinnati Bengals has been the performance of punt return specialist Brandon Tate, plucked off the waiver wire (from New England) just before the start of the year. The surprising thing is that, in his previous stint with the Patriots, Tate returned just one punt. Mostly used as a kickoff return man, Tate had two touchdowns in that role. As a wide receiver, he was pretty much a bust.

"But we saw something in him that (suggested) he might be pretty good on punts," said Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "And we knew Pacman (Jones) wasn't going to be around for the first part of the season. So ..."

So Tate, who acknowledged last week that running back punts is "a whole lot different" than returning kickoffs, has posted a 10.6-yard average through six games. That might not seem like a great number, but Tate's average is behind only four players with 12 or more returns, and he has three runbacks of 15 yards or more. Not bad at all for a waiver pickup.

Tate
Oct 9, 2011; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate (19) runs with the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a game at EverBank Field. (Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE)


Raiders roulette:

Let's address two popular misconceptions about the blockbuster trade for quarterback Carson Palmer that the Oakland Raiders made at the deadline this week: First, although rookie coach Hue Jackson has considerable clout over personnel matters, in the wake of the death of Al Davis -- arguably a lot more sway than most franchises would provide a guy who has never before -- he was not a one-man committee pushing through the trade.

No doubt, the relationship between Jackson and Palmer fueled the deal, and the coach lobbied hard for the team to make a move in the wake of the season-ending collarbone injury to Jason Campbell. But the Raiders' brass, or what's left of it, spoke to several men who have counseled new owner Mark Davis after his father's death, and there was at least a consensus (some sources say a unanimity) that Palmer was worth the steep price. Second, the same group of advisors was not sold on the possibility of signing former Jacksonville starter David Garrard, before the Palmer trade went down. Of course, the Garrard pursuit became a moot point when the veteran quarterback revealed that he had a back problem which required surgery. But the brief flirtation with Garrard was not viewed all that enthusiastically be the folks advising Mark Davis.

 Punts:

A couple weeks ago, we noted in this space that extension discussions between the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick were proceeding slowly. There were a number of media reports that the two sides are now within striking distance of an extension, and a source close to the talks told The Sports Xchange those reports are accurate. Expect an announcement next week. Even though the progress bogged down for a while, there was always good and civil dialogue and the two sides chatted, even for small-talk, almost daily the last few weeks. ...

For all the hand wringing over the perceived lack of quarterback talent in the NFL, this has been a relatively stable season at the position. Until this week, of course, when there will be at least four, and possibly as many as six, changes of starters. The four switches would actually be one more than the league has experienced to this point of the campaign. By comparison, there were 14 changes at the position in the first six weeks of the 2010 campaign, with two weeks of four switches each. ...

As regards the item above about a lack of viable assistants as possible head coach candidates in the offseason: A name drawing some interest is Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who has his unit among the top 10 in most key categories, and who has rebuilt the defense without an influx of high-paid free agents. But there is some question about whether Zimmer has the temperament to be a head coach at the NFL level. The longtime assistant turned down the Nebraska head coach job in 2004 to remain coordinator in Dallas at the time. ...

Speaking of the Bengals, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, touted as a possible "breakout" player this season, has yet to record a sack. As a rookie in 2010, Dunlap posted 9.5 sacks, all in the second half of the season, and despite zero starts. Dunlap does have a touchdown this year, on a fumble return, but he knows he needs to start getting to the quarterback. "That's my bread and butter," he said. Cincinnati coaches, though, insist Dunlap is doing many of the same things, and playing with the same kind of intensity he did the second half of '10. It's just a matter of time, they claim, until he notches his first quarterback takedown. And then, they say, the sacks will likely come in bunches, once Dunlap breaks the ice. ...

Several New Orleans veteran teammates attempted to convince center Olin Kreutz not to leave the team late this week, although a few agree the perennial Pro Bowl blocker was not especially happy in his new digs, and not playing especially well, either. The Saints are likely to turn to second-year veteran Matt Tennant, a fifth-round pick in 2010. Of course, Tennant was thought to be the heir apparent when Jonathan Goodwin departed in free agency, but his play in camp was worrisome enough to prompt the Saints to sign Kreutz as a free agent. ...

It's not exactly a trend yet, but scouts doing early work for the '12 draft tell The Sports Xchange that they are increasingly seeking out punters who can also handle the kickoff chores. Punt/kickoff men like David Morstead (New Orleans), Pat McAfee (Indianapolis), Michael Koenen (Tampa Bay), and Matt Bosher (Atlanta) are having solid success in the league, and the dual roles are becoming more popular. One scout explained that the change in the kickoff rule this year, moving the spot for the kickoff back up to the 35-yard line, should take the strain off place kickers, because of the relative ease of creating a touchback. "But kickers are so obsessed now with hitting the ball deep and getting a touchback," said the scout, "that they might actually be putting extra pressure on their legs. So if you've got a punter who can do both, you might be better off." ...

With injuries to tailback Jahvid Best (concussion) and the nullification of the trade this week that would have brought the team veteran Ronnie Brown, the Detroit Lions are considering some veterans who are out of work. But, for now at least, one team official insisted, Tiki Barber is not among the alternatives being considered. The Lions have signed former Philadelphia practice squad back Eldra Buckley, but are unlikely to have made their last move at the position. ...

Meanwhile, the Detroit defensive line -- which was supposed to be a strength in 2011, but has largely been disappointing -- knows collectively that it has to play better. Said defensive end Cliff Avril: "We have to step it up. We've done a good job of fixing the back end, now we have to step it up." The Lions hope that the improvement starts this week against the Falcons. The Lions have a lot of respect for the Atlanta offensive line, but feel the unit is a little slow-footed in pass blocking. ...

The subplot for Sunday's Pittsburgh-Arizona game is interesting for the media -- the Steelers bypassed both Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm for the job in succeeding Bill Cowher in 2007, and opted instead for Mike Tomlin -- but it has not been overplayed in the Cardinals' locker room, and most players contend it won't make much of a difference. The popular story is that Grimm, now the Cardinals' assistant head coach, was informed by Steelers' president Art Rooney that he had the job in Pittsburgh, then the team reneged. Rooney and other team officials have denied the charge and Grimm has opted for the high road. Whisenhunt, who was informed he would not replace Cowher, had already accepted the Arizona job. Grimm subsequently joined him. There are three former Pittsburgh assistants on Whisenhunt's staff. ...

People around the NFL are now touting San Francisco's Justin Smith as the best 3-4 defensive end in the game.
 
The last word:

"It's in the genes. Mom, she's the worst one. She's the craziest one of all of us. She's Sicilian. Sicilian and Polish. That's a volatile combination." -- Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, on the post-game fracas between brother Jim Harbaugh of San Francisco and Detroit coach Jim Schwartz last week


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