Point No. 1: Brian Price is going to unleash a quiet storm on the NFL.
Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy are worthy of all the praise and admiration that they are receiving as top defensive tackles in this year's draft class. But within the next couple of years, don't be surprised if Price--another likely first-round pick--emerges as this class' top defensive tackle.
The 6-foot-1, 303-pound lineman posted 23.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks during his junior campaign for UCLA. His 1.81 tackles for a loss per game placed him in a tie for third-best nationally, and his 44.5 career tackles for a loss is the second-highest total in UCLA history--despite the fact that he only played three seasons.
"The Lord blessed me with a great first step," Price told me this week. "At UCLA, we play the run first, but sometimes I just get a feeling that tells me to get off the ball, and I go.
"If you use leverage and your hands correctly, getting your hands inside the offensive lineman's plates, you can drive him like a steering wheel and make plays."
Price's physical strength was readily apparent when he hoisted 34 reps at the NFL Combine compared to Suh's 32 and McCoy's 23. And he didn't miss a single game during his career at UCLA.
"I go to work every day with my lunch pail, ready to grind," he said.
I asked Price why he declared early for the draft, competing in this year's class with Suh and McCoy since he likely would have emerged as the undisputed top defensive tackle prospect in next year's class.
"I felt like I was that guy this year, which is why I came out," he said with a gentle laugh. "I'm underrated. I'm the underdog. So I wanted to compete against those guys."
Nicknamed "The Quiet Storm", Price is used to being the guy who flies under the radar. But based on his 24 formal interviews at the NFL Combine and the fact that he's got more than ten team visits and workouts already lined up with teams like the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the right people are noticing him.
I asked him how he got his nickname.
"My dad told me one day that I needed to talk trash while I was playing, get inside people's heads," Price explained. "But I told him that's not my style of play, I'm like a quiet storm--something you can't get prepared for because you don't know it's coming."
Mature beyond his years based on his life experiences growing up in South Central L.A. and hungry to prove that he belongs among the elite in the NFL, Brian Price is a player you should keep an eye on in the coming years.
Point No. 2: Brett Favre and the Vikings should end their silly charade.
The 40-year old quarterback has at least two big reasons to return for his 20th NFL season without any coaxing by the Vikings. But to make his decision a no-brainer, team officials have already stated a willingness to let Favre set the pace for his decision regarding if and when he'll return.
That's huge in this situation since Favre obviously hates the thought of those first couple of weeks of training camp as much as the rest of us despise the thought of being forced to listen to a hard-sell sales pitch in exchange for enjoying a nearly-free vacation trip at a time-share condo. In Favre's world, those first weeks of training camp muck-up the rest of the fun he has during an NFL season.
The motivating factors for his return are clear. In 2009, he set a career-high 68.4-percent completion rate, surpassed the 4,000-yard passing mark for just the sixth time in his career, threw 33 touchdown passes and tossed just seven interceptions--the lowest total of his career since becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL. In other words, Favre knows he's still got what it takes to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Then imagine how often he's been jolted awake from a peaceful night's sleep during the past couple of months as his mind viciously betrayed him with a nightmarish replay of the third-and-15 play at the New Orleans 38-yard line with 19 seconds remaining in the NFC Championship game. Over and over again he sees his desperate pass land in the hands of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, costing the proud quarterback an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl for just the third time in his career--and for the first time since 1998.
So there's no doubt about it. A champion and competitor like Favre isn't going to let his NFL career end like that when he knows he still has a legitimate shot to hoist the Lombardi Trophy one more time.
But it's likely that the Vikings haven't figured out how to justify letting Favre sit out the first few weeks of camp this year without setting what could be a dangerous precedent--one that could also damage the relationships and respect that Favre has built with his teammates.
Last year, I criticized Favre for waiting until mid-August to sign and get into camp. He had a new playbook, new teammates, and needed to get his timing down with his new targets. Predictably, after his late arrival, he looked rusty even into the early weeks of the regular season. But I don't have a problem with Favre waiting until mid-August this year.
For those who think it sets a bad precedent, I'd argue that it's a smart one. For players like Favre, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady--unless they have a bunch of new players on their side of the ball or a new offensive scheme--eliminating their exposure to injury early in camp makes as much sense as sending them to the sidelines to protect them once their teams have clinched their seed position in the playoffs.
So if Favre and the Vikings have secretly agreed to allow him to defer his appearance at training camp, they should just set the precedent, man-up and announce it rather than hide behind what appears to be a poorly conceived charade that opens up integrity questions for everyone involved.
Point No. 3: It appears that the Indianapolis Colts have decided that size makes a difference.
In the days that followed the team's Super Bowl loss, Colts President Bill Polian pointed to the offensive line and special teams as the primary culprits responsible for the Colts' failure to win their second Super Bowl Championship of the decade. And earlier this month, the team signaled a shift in philosophy when they released 6-foot-2, 290-pound offensive guard Ryan Lilja, a 59-game starter during his five-year tenure in Indianapolis.
Although Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown--a pair of former first-round draft picks--provided the Colts with a formidable one-two rushing punch this past season, Indy's lighter and athletic offensive line got pushed around. As a result, the Colts finished last in net rushing yards (1,294) and 30th in yards per carry (3.54). And to make matters worse, that dismal showing was on the heels of a 2008 finish which placed the team 31st in net rushing with 1,274 yards and dead last in yards per carry (3.44).
Obviously, something had to change. And based on a couple of early free agency moves, it appears that the Colts will be adding bigger bodies to the offensive line as quickly as possible. Indianapolis signed Andy Alleman, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive guard who started three games for the Chiefs last year. Then they added Adam Terry, a 6-foot-8, 385-pound offensive tackle who was a second-round pick by the Ravens back in 2005.
The Colts remaining incumbent starters include Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday (6-2, 295), right guard Kyle DeVan (6-2, 306), left tackle Charlie Johnson (6-4, 305) and right tackle Ryan Diem (6-6, 320).
Point No. 4: NFL teams won't be turned-off by Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon's constant chatter and playful trash talk--because he backs it up when the ball is snapped.
During Senior Bowl week practices earlier this year, the projected first-round talent was on a non-stop adrenaline high, encouraging his teammates and congratulating them when they looked sharp during drills. And even when Weatherspoon was expected to sit out so others could rotate in, he was fully engaged in the action, shouting out to his teammates after each play.
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While working against the offense, the 6-foot-1, 239-pound linebacker verbally sparred with them while brandishing a wide grin.
"You've got to get in their heads a little bit, but you've got to be able to back it up," he told me this week. "I like to have fun out there, but when the whistle's blown and the ball is snapped, it's time to make plays and there are no friends out there."
Weatherspoon walked his talk at Missouri by logging 104 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks during his senior year.
But will he tone down his spirited demeanor as an NFL rookie while he learns the ropes from the veterans?
"I've got to be myself, so from Day One, I'll come in with the same personality, go out on the field and make plays, jaw-jack with guys, get guys ready to play--I feel that's my role," he said. "That's what I can bring to a team as a leader.
"I know when I go in for camp, it won't be my defense. There'll be veterans who have worked hard to get the team where it is. But I hope to jump in alongside the leaders without stepping on their toes, become a cornerstone, get ready to work and make plays."
Weatherspoon has already worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and has a formal visit with them on April 7. The Chiefs and the Saints are among the other clubs who have asked him to make a visit next month.
Point No. 5: Jim Schwartz either lost his mind or at least his short-term memory this week.
I've admired Schwartz's past work as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans and thought that he got off to a very good start during his rookie season as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. But when he said this week that the Lions were "definitely interested" in signing former NFL cornerback and punt returner Adam "Pacman" Jones, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
I could remotely understand Schwartz's interest in Jones if he hadn't witnessed first-hand what a cancer and distraction the cornerback can be. But with Pacman's resume including more than a dozen incidents that required an appearance by the police, six arrests and two suspensions by NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell, I'm hard-pressed to understand how Schwartz believes that Jones could be worth the huge gamble when Lions head coach clearly has his team heading in the right direction.
Fortunately, the 49ers and the Bengals (imagine that), have also reportedly shown interest in Jones. So maybe one of them will make an aggressive move to sign the 26-year-old player, taking the sword out of Schwartz's hands before he hurts himself and his team with it.
Point No. 6: The Arizona Cardinals won't win more than eight games this year.
The loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin was a minor setback for the Cardinals, but unless they make a bold move at quarterback in the next month, I don't expect them to win more than half of their games in 2010--and even that could be a stretch.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
During the 2006 NFL Draft, many NFL observers wondered why quarterback Matt Leinart fell all the way to the tenth overall pick. But his performance during his first four years in the league has verified that being selected even that high was a generous gift. During 29 game appearances and 17 starts, Leinart's completed just 57.1 percent of his throws, tossed 14 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. His 70.8 passer rating does little more than induce a hearty yawn.
Recently, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll tossed a bone in the Cardinal quarterback's direction when he pointed out that a "floundering" Leinart struggled at USC until he was named the starter. With Kurt Warner's retirement and Leinart the heir-apparent to the starter's role in Arizona, Carroll inferred that the switch just might flip on again for Leinart.
But let's face it, if a guy is that fragile mentally and emotionally, it's just not going to happen in the NFL. As Carroll should know from his own struggles during his first tenure as an NFL head coach compared to his great success at USC, the NFL is the big leagues.
Leinart has a chronic problem with overthrowing wide-open receivers and with his overall consistency. He appeared in eight games, starting one, during the 2009 season and didn't throw for a single score--but managed to throw three interceptions.
Sorry, but you can't convince me that he's suddenly ready to be an NFL starter. If I was in the Cardinals' shoes right now, I'd be making a blockbuster offer for Donovan McNabb so this team doesn't take a serious step backwards in 2010.
Point No. 7: Andre Roberts is one of my sleeper picks at wide receiver in this year's NFL Draft.
Poised to make NFL history as the first wide receiver ever drafted out of the Citadel, Roberts is an impressive young man who you have to watch in action to truly appreciate.
During Senior Bowl week practices, Roberts' acceleration from the line of scrimmage commanded such respect from the all-star gathering of cornerbacks that a number of them were dropping back a couple of extra steps just before the snap.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound receiver is likely to be selected between the third and fifth rounds, but he's got tremendous potential to be a high-impact receiver, especially out of the slot, with his precise route-running, laser-like focus and reliable hands.
And he's fast.
At the Combine, Roberts was clocked as low as 4.40 with a handheld timer in the forty-yard dash, but even his electronic time of 4.46 placed him among the top ten in this year's draft class. The talented receiver credits his well-rounded skill set to his work ethic, and believes it's going to be a tremendous asset in his development at the next level.
"I think work ethic is what helps people succeed. Some people work to get there, but once they're there, they stop working as hard," he said. "I've worked very hard to get to the position I'm in, and my goal is to be the best receiver in the league, so I'm going to be working to reach that goal the entire time I'm in the NFL."
One of the many teams who have shown interest in him is the Indianapolis Colts. Based on their track record of identifying potential starters out of mid-round talent in recent years with players such as Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, plenty of teams should be taking a closer look at Roberts.
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