AROUND THE LEAGUE
Deposed Oakland coach Hue Jackson has learned
the time just after a game is termed a "cooling off period" by league
officials for a reason. Typically, Jackson told The Sports Xchange last
week, he would use the period, which generally refers to the time
between the end of a game and the opening of the locker room to the
media, to take a shower, dress in street clothes, and gather his
"But I skipped my own routine," Jackson told The
Sports Xchange of the moments following the Raiders' season-ending
38-26 drubbing by San Diego on New Year's Day, a defeat that kept
Oakland out of the playoffs. "I went right in and talked to the media,
and we all saw what happened."
In an angry, rambling
dissertation, Jackson lashed out at his team's lack of effort, came
down hard on the performance and seemed to throw some players and
assistants under the bus. That was hardly his intention, Jackson
Jackson feels the perceptions created by the
postgame actions may have cost him some assistant coaching
opportunities the past few weeks. Nor was he making a power grab, as
many have perceived about his remarks in which he suggested he wanted
input into matters on the franchise's future.
Jackson said that
assumptions he "made" the trade for quarterback Carson Palmer were
incorrect, but acknowledged he favored the deal.
"But the trade was made," Jackson said, "by the
organization, not Hue Jackson."
He noted that he knew, shortly into his initial meeting with new
general manager Reggie McKenzie, that he would not be back in 2012.
Jackson said McKenzie informed him early on that the organization was
going in another direction, and that the belief by some that he might
retain his job because both men share an agent (Kennard McGuire) was
"just people trying to connect dots."
Said Jackson: "I knew of (McKenzie), but I really
didn't know him at all."
Most notably, perhaps, Jackson told The Sports Xchange that he feels he
would still be the Oakland coach had Al Davis not passed away.
"I think I understood him and he understood me," said Jackson, who said
that the late owner "ran" the defense and counted on Jackson to oversee
Tebow Time Again
--One of the most sought-after celebrities here for
the Super Bowl festivities this week was Denver quarterback Tim Tebow,
who drew crowds of fans just about everywhere he went.
allowed that he understands he has considerable work to do, especially
in the passing game, and that his efforts will extend beyond just
minicamps and OTA workouts.
"I'm going to try to get together
with teammates (principally wide receivers in the offseason), and just
throw as much as I can, and get some timing down," Tebow told The
Sports Xchange. "I think there are some (unspoken) things, some
understandings, that you can create by just working with people, and
I'm looking forward to that. There were probably some instances last
season when we all missed that, and it won't be the case anymore."
Tebow allowed he was "gratified" by the recent remarks of Broncos
executive vice president John Elway that he will go to training camp as
the team's starter. But he emphasized that he was aware, as well, of
Elway's assessment that the team will try to bolster the quarterback
depth chart and create competition for the position.
Don't Write Peyton Off Just Yet
dismiss the Thursday report by ESPN that Indianapolis quarterback
Peyton Manning has been cleared by a pair of specialists to resume his
career after three neck surgeries in 19 months, because the step is an
important one. But we've been writing in this space for some time, and
discussed with Colts owner Jim Irsay earlier this week, that nerve
regeneration for Manning was as big an issue as the healing of his neck
A few years ago, I suffered a neurological
which the peripheral nerves essentially receded and had to regenerate
to completely heal. The process, frustrating because nerve re-growth
occurs at its own rate and can't be hastened, took the better part of
two years. That's hardly to say that the condition is the same as what
Manning has endured, but the nerve-related issue really is no
Said Irsay to The Sports Xchange: "That's the
'missing puzzle piece' part of all this. It's the part no one knows
about. We've gotten no lock-tight answer."
Brees' Impact On Free Agents
--There are a lot of
reasons why New Orleans officials prefer to complete a contract
extension with quarterback Drew Brees before the start of free agency -
a move he noted publicly this week will "almost certainly" get done -
but perhaps foremost among them is retaining the ability to use the
franchise tag on two-time Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks, if necessary.
Nicks is a pending unrestricted free agent, and
word is that he
will be a prime target on the market for both Dallas and Atlanta. The
Saints, who already have a ton of money invested in bookend right guard
Jahri Evans, apparently are set to invest heavily in Nicks as well, a
player they feel is key to their upfront toughness, and whom they don't
want to lose.
It's unusual, for sure, to see a franchise spend
heavily on a pair of guards. But the Saints have taken a rather unique
approach to building their line, using an "inside-out" approach. The
rationale, in part, has to do with keeping the middle of the pocket
clean for the undersized Brees, but also for the strength of the often
overlooked New Orleans running game.
The Saints feel the
Nicks-Evans tandem is the best guard duet in the NFL, maybe one of the
best in the last 20-25 years, and want to keep it together.
Moving Dareus Around
the team's rookie first-rounder in 2011, Buffalo defensive lineman
Marcell Dareus played both end and tackle, and was effective at both
positions. With the Bills switching to a "base" 4-3 in 2012,
anticipated after the elevation of Dave Wannstedt to coordinator and
then confirmed by head coach Chan Gailey last week, there's still some
uncertainty about where the former Alabama star, the third pick in last
year's draft, will line up.
Most scouts felt the 33-pound
Dareus was a perfect "five technique" fit at end in a 3-4 last season,
but he had plenty of success when he played at the "three technique"
tackle spot, too.
"We're not sure yet (about where Dareus will
play)," Wannstedt said. "No matter where we put him, he'll make a
difference for us."
Dareus had 5.5 sacks as a rookie, and Buffalo
officials are confident he will build on that.
"We're not sure he'll be a double-digit (sack) guy," one Buffalo
executive said this week, "but he'll be in (other) people's backfield."
Dareus could fit well at the strong side end slot
in a 4-3,
where teams have begun to expect sacks, as well as defenders who anchor
nicely against the run. The best bet, though, is that he'll pair up
with Kyle Williams at tackle, if the latter returns healthy again after
a foot injury cost him significant time in 2011.
New Guys In Town
of Indianapolis' new football regime, general manager Ryan Grigson and
coach Chuck Pagano, lauded the hiring of Greg Manusky as defensive
coordinator, but cautioned against extrapolating any conclusions about
what the addition of the veteran coach meant in terms of whether the
Colts will play their longtime 4-3 front or transition to a 3-4.
Grigson and Pagano several times during separate sessions with the
media this week spoke of Manusky's "flexibility" in constructing a
defense. Grigson emphasized that Manusky won't attempt to "fit a square
peg into a round hole."
Maybe not. But it should be pointed out
that in his five previous seasons as a coordinator, at San Francisco
(2007-2010) and San Diego (2011), Manusky directed a 3-4 defense, which
also happens to be Pagano's principle area of expertise. In neither of
the previous stops did Manusky oversee a defense that ever qualified
for the playoffs or finished statistically in the top 10.
49ers, who ranked No. 13 under Manusky in 2010, jumped to fourth in the
league under Vic Fangio in 2011. That's not to suggest Manusky, who was
Pagano's second choice for the job after Pittsburgh linebackers coach
Keith Butler opted to stay with the Steelers as the heir apparent to
coordinator Dick LeBeau, isn't a good fit, just that his track record
is what it is. Interesting, too, is that the Colts hired two
coordinators, Manusky and offensive boss Bruce Arians, who were fired
by their most recent teams, even though those franchises retained their
--This week, in which the New England Patriots did
not make offensive-coordinator-in-waiting Josh McDaniels available to
the media, further accentuated how critical it is for the NFL to close
the loophole which currently permits a coach to move from one franchise
to another before the season is completed.
McDaniels, who will
become the Pats' coordinator for the second time in his career once
Bill O'Brien departs to become the head coach at Penn State, was
essentially freed by the St. Louis Rams a few weeks ago, and he
basically jumped immediately back to the Pats.
worked in New England 2001-08, the last three of those years as
offensive coordinator, before departing to become the Denver head coach
(2009-10), then the St. Louis offensive coordinator (2011). Under
McDaniels, the Broncos averaged 20.9 points per game for two seasons,
but the Rams averaged a paltry 12.1 points this season. The rationale
by New England officials this week was that McDaniels, whose current
(interim) title is offensive assistant, is technically not a coach. But
the bet here is that McDaniels will have on a headset Sunday evening,
and have some kind of coaching-level input into the New England offense.
--The so-called "Patriots Way" obviously mans different things to
different people. Here's what it means to several Indianapolis Colts
support staffers: Some club employees are only permitted into certain
areas of the club's West 56th Street complex here, because the Indiana
Farm Bureau Football Center is being used for practice by the Patriots,
and the facility has essentially become the team's Super Bowl XLVI
One longtime Colts employee asked some Pats
officials if he might be able to help New England in some way. He was
told that he could help unload the team's equipment trucks and help do
the laundry, and those would be his only duties. There has been a
longtime paranoia between the two teams, especially when Bill Polian
was the Indianapolis team president/general manager. Even with Polian
having departed, the paranoia still runs deep.
A Solid Under-the-Radar Addition
--St. Louis team
officials believe that new coach Jeff Fisher has assembled the makings
of an excellent staff, but that one of the less-hyped additions could
perhaps be the biggest key to the progress of quarterback Sam Bradford
in his third season in 2012.
Veteran offensive line coach Paul
Boudreau perhaps doesn't have the name value of the Rams' new
coordinators, Gregg Williams on defense or Brian Schottenheimer on the
offensive side, or even assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. But the
consensus around the league, in speaking generally to NFL executives
and coaches this week, is that Boudreau will provide toughness and
discipline to a mostly rag-tag unit short of both attributes.
Boudreau, who was dismissed by Atlanta after four seasons with the club
in a major staff makeover by Falcons coach Mike Smith, will rely on
right guard Harvey Dahl, one of his former charges with the Falcons, to
be a leader in instilling physicality in the blockers. This will mark
the second tour of duty for Boudreau in St. Louis, who previously
worked two seasons (2006-07) for the Rams.
has yet to be officially announced in St. Louis - in fact, only
Williams, Schottenheimer and McGinnis have so far been acknowledged as
part of Fisher's staff - but he has already been in team headquarters
--It was a bit disingenuous, almost
Tagliabue-esque, in fact, when Goodell insisted in his "state of the
league" address on Friday that there has been "no discussion" of
expansion by the league. Goodell himself raised the issue just one
night earlier in response to a question about a franchise for Los
Angeles, when he said the NFL would probably have to expand to 34
franchises, not 33, if Los Angeles ever got a team.
make some news of sorts in announcing that the league will expand its
menu of live games on The NFL Network to 13 contests. The increase will
guarantee each franchise at least one primetime game exposure. Goodell
also said he will recommend that an 18-game schedule, a move that he
had pushed but which was scuttled last year, be studied.
As noted above, the Saints want to be able to retain Nicks,
fairly reconciled to the potential departure of pending free agent wide
receiver Marques Colston. The six-year veteran, who has averaged 80.4
catches, 1,096 yards and 8.6 touchdowns in the five seasons in which he
played more than 11 games (he was injured for much of 2008 and made
just eight starts), had previously suggested that he won't give the
Saints a so-called "hometown discount," and probably will test the free
agent market. ...
Everyone from the Giants conceded this week that the
team has a standout trio of wide receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks
and Mario Manningham. But there are some New York players lobbying for
the Giants to consider bringing back Plaxico Burress to add to the
group. They point out that Burress is an outstanding "red zone"
receiver, with seven of his eight scores in '11 coming inside the
20-yard line. In fact, 35 of Burress' 63 career touchdowns have been
"red zone" scores. ...
Personnel directors here seemed intrigued by the
potential of Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden in the draft,
but a few said that his lack of mobility might be as big a detriment as
the fact he is 28 years old. One scout said he is concerned that, even
though Weeden seems able to throw every pass, and with good velocity,
he essentially abandoned his five-year baseball career because of some
shoulder problems. ...
Speaking of the quarterback position, the word
here was that, despite an obvious need, Washington coach Mike Shanahan
is not in favor of maneuvering in the first round to land his passer of
the future. That's not to suggest the Redskins won't choose a
quarterback, just that they won't overextend themselves to get one. ...
The aforementioned Bills aren't the only AFC East club switching back
to a 4-3 front in 2012. Under new head coach Joe Philbin and defensive
coordinator Kevin Coyle, Miami will make the same move. There are,
though, a few skeptics about the switch in the Dolphins players to whom
we spoke this week. Some guys wonder how effective nose tackle Paul Soliai and linebacker/end Cameron Wake will be in the new front. ...
The Steelers had talked about discussing their offensive coordinator
vacancy with Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements before he was
promoted by the Packers to coordinator to replace Philbin in that role.
Steelers chairman Dan Rooney confirmed for The Sports Xchange on
Friday the report by his son, Art Rooney II, that he will step down
sometime this year as ambassador to Ireland and return to the team.
"I've already spoken to the Obama people about it," Rooney said. "I
don't know the timetable yet, but it's in the works." ...
in this space last week, San Francisco officials prefer an extension in
the three-year range for quarterback Alex Smith, rather than the
five-year deal his representatives have pitched. Coach Jim Harbaugh,
who typically does not get involved in contract matters but who is
generally credited with resurrecting Smith's career by showing just
confidence in him, might play some role in helping to bridge the
difference in thinking. ...
Overheard: The representative for a few
prominent pending unrestricted free agents discussing his clients, in
some detail, with the general manager of a team that might have some
interest in a few of them. The tampering season typically doesn't
commence here until the combine workout later this month. The Super
Bowl, and the convergence of some high-profile agents and notable club
officials, has given everyone a head start of sorts in discussing
players over dinner at some of this city's downtown steakhouses. ...
Overseen: Goodell and some of his minions dining
with an influential
member of the St. Louis media, presumably arguing the NFL's case for
scheduling the Rams for three games in London over the next three
seasons, and probably seeking some information as well about the
reaction of local fans. ...
Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli
said the Chiefs are "getting closer now" to hiring an offensive
coordinator. The finalists for the job are Brian Daboll, Jim Zorn and
Al Saunders. ...
Some Philly officials told The Sports Xchange that,
even if head coach Andy Reid had been able to lure Steve Spagnuolo to
the Eagles, as has been reported, embattled incumbent defensive
coordinator Juan castillo might have kept his title. Spagnuolo,
obviously, would have had significant input in the direction of the
defense, but probably would have had the assistant head coach title.
Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril told The Sports Xchange during an
encounter outside one of the press conference meeting rooms here that
he would be "less than happy" if the Lions use the franchise tag to
keep him out of free agency. That said, Avril, who had 11 sacks and
seven forced fumbles in 2011, reiterated that he hopes to return to
Detroit on an extension. "I think we've got a good thing going and I
think we can keep it going for a while," he said. ...
As much as Avril
is a key for the Lions, the priority for the front office is a new deal
for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is scheduled to have a $14
million base salary in 2012 and a salary cap charge of about $22
million. "I wouldn't say he IS our offense, but he's certainly the
biggest part of it," said one club official of Johnson, who had 17
touchdown catches, and rang up three games of 200-plus yards in his
last four outings, counting the playoffs. The Johnson camp has already
hinted it will use the monster extension given to Larry Fitzgerald of
Arizona last year as a starting point. ...
The Cincinnati Bengals are
making very little pretense about their plans to draft a much-needed
cornerback with one of their two first-round selections.
"It occurred to me, 'Just think of all the great (football)
decisions made in that chair.' It's something to think about. It'll get
your attention in a hurry." -- Grigson, and the fact that Polian's old
desk chair is still in the new general manager's office.
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