ATL: Tackle Not A Premiere Position?

Around the League: Are front offices devaluing the tackle spot, and other quick hits from around the league.

* Left Tackle Not That Premiere Anymore

As noted in this space several times in the past, the offensive right tackle position is one that has become fairly mediocre around the league, and has been summarily disenfranchised in Pro Bowl choices in recent seasons.

In most years, the Pro Bowl selections feature no more than one right tackle among the six players named to the game at the position.
And on All-Pro teams, voters typically opt for a pair of left tackles to fill out their ballots.

But there is a feeling among personnel people that the higher-profile left tackle spot is also the weakest it has been in several years.

That's somewhat surprising, given that franchises have placed so much emphasis on the left tackle spot in the first round of the draft, and that nearly half the projected left tackle starters in the NFL for 2012 are former first-rounders.

But it might indeed be the case, with the deficiencies of a few tackles perhaps being masked a bit by the fact they play with quarterbacks whose quick releases in general make all of their offensive linemen look better.

Or in offensive designs that highlight the shorter, quicker passing games. One NFC personnel chief opined this week that there are "maybe four" premier pass-protection left tackles in the NFL, and that the position is a bit overrated.

* Bigger Is Better In Philly

Indications are that there has been some emphasis during the Philadelphia on-field workouts in getting the team's "bigger" wide receivers more involved, perhaps attempting to take some of the workload off undersized starters DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

"They are always going to be the main guys," one offensive lineman said of Maclin and Jackson, "but there's some move to get bigger targets down the field, too."
Veteran Jason Avant has been one of the NFL's most productive No. 3 receivers, averaging 48.0 catches over the past three seasons, and with campaigns of 50-plus receptions each of the past two years. But the Eagles feel that Riley Cooper, a fifth-round choice in 2010 and a rangy guy with sneaky speed, can be a factor in his third year and that even rookie Marvin McNutt, a sixth-round pick who is 6-3, can help.

Along, of course, with placing more emphasis on the tight ends. One of the guys who has stepped up in workouts is miniscule (5-8) Damaris Johnson, a free agent from Tulsa, and the Eagles want some of the bigger guys to follow his lead.

* No Trade For You (Mr. Jenkins)

As he has publicly insisted, Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones has no intention of trading veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, even with the offseason additions of Claiborne in the draft and pricey free agent Brandon Carr.

The rationale of Jones, Dallas officials told The Sports Xchange, is that the $1.05 million salary Jenkins will make in 2012 is still a palatable price to pay for a projected No. 3 cornerback in a league where you need at least three top-shelf corners.

Even if it means that Jenkins departs as a free agent next spring and the team gets nothing in return. At least two teams, in addition to the trade inquiries made by Indianapolis and Detroit, have made overtures about Jenkins since the draft, and been rebuffed. The Dallas source even discounted reports that Jenkins will be dealt much closer to the openings of training camps.

* Eyeballing Starks

A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks, who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season but sustained an ACL injury in the team's playoff loss at Denver, to keep tabs on his rehabilitation.

Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle, but he isn't likely to return to the Steelers again.
The Steelers appear ready to go with second-round rookie Mike Adams (Ohio State) at left tackle or, if he fails, to move second-year right tackle Marcus Gilbert (13 starts as a rookie in 2011), over to the left side.

In fact, before the team grabbed Adams, the plan was to transition Gilbert to the left side, which he played most of his college career.

* Punts:

Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay told The Sports Xchange that, while coaches feel Luck has a solid "mental picture" of the team's offense, new coordinator Bruce Arians "can't wait" to get the top overall choice on the field and involved physically with the team. Luck, of course, is the most notable of the rookies around the NFL who have not been able to participate in OTAs because the school year at their respective universities is not concluded.

... A source close to Minnesota cornerback Asher Allen insisted that concussions are only a part of the reason the three-year veteran abruptly retired this week, but would elaborate no further. As reported by Twin Cities-area media outlets, the Vikings will not pursue a portion of the $725,000 signing bonus Allen received in 2009.

... As noted here last week, the Denver Broncos have broached the possibility of an extension for left tackle Ryan Clady, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, and the two sides have even exchanged a few proposals. But a deal isn't particularly close. The Broncos seem to feel that Clady, regarded by many as one of the game's top pass protectors, has slipped a bit the last couple seasons. The Clady camp has countered the fifth-year veteran has protected well despite playing with some quarterbacks who often held the ball too long, and that last season was an aberration with the mid-season switch to Tim Tebow and an option-based attack. Clady also feels the addition of Peyton Manning, who rarely takes sacks, will only accentuate his protection abilities.

... On the subject of the Broncos and money: The team has yet to decide how to proceed with defensive lineman Ty Warren, who has declined a request to reduce his base salary for 2012 from $4 million to the $1.5 million range. Warren has missed each of the past two seasons, with New England in 2010 and the Broncos last year, because of injuries. But the Broncos want to evaluate some of their young lineman, in particular rookie Derek Wolfe, before deciding on Warren's future.

... Miami coaches haven't settled yet on where third-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick will line up -- not even on if it will be inside or outside -- but the sense is that the former first-rounder (2010) could have a breakout season in the 4-3 scheme being installed by new coordinator Kevin Coyle. Odrick played just one game as a rookie in 2010, and started only seven games last season.

... Not surprisingly, given his track record of shooting from the lip without all the facts, New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott was misinformed when he contended this week that commissioner Roger Goodell cannot cancel the Pro Bowl himself. The CBA affords Goodell and the league to suspend the game without the approval of the NFLPA.

... Even without a coordinator, in the absence of the suspended Gregg Williams, the St. Louis Rams have made it a priority to rebuild their linebacker corps. ... Rookie tailback Chris Rainey has impressed Steelers' coaches with his quickness in OTAs, but people have cautioned that the former Florida star and fifth-round pick hasn't put on pads yet. First-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley envisions Rainey in the same role in which he used Dexter McCluster in Kansas City, but Rainey will have to demonstrate he's a solid receiver. Although he had just 69 receptions in four college seasons, Rainey did have 56 catches total in his final two years with the Gators.

... In the wake of comments from Detroit vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., that some Lions' players lack maturity and have brought criticism on the franchise with recent indiscretions, the Lions have asked some of the more senior players on the young team to shoulder increased leadership roles.

* The last word:

"What else is he going to do? He can't sing or dance." -- New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt, on his belief that franchise quarterback Drew Brees, who has been absent from OTA workouts, will be at training camp.

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