Kevin Williams returns an interception for a touchdown against the Falcons.
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid
Minnesota's defense and special teams combined to score a league-leading nine touchdowns. The Vikings returned six interceptions, two fumbles by their opponents and a kickoff return for touchdowns to put them first in the league in touchdowns scored when the offense was standing on the sidelines. Oddly enough, defensive tackle Kevin Williams accounted for two of those interceptions that resulted in touchdowns, making him one of just six players in the league who repeated the feat during the 2007 season. Four of the others were either cornerbacks or safeties, including Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle, who led the league with three aerial thefts for scores. Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard was the only other two-timer who didn't play in an NFL team's secondary.
Three teams finished in a tie for second place with eight scores off of plays that didn't involve their offense. Chicago, powered by incredible return specialist Devin Hester, used four punt returns, two kickoff returns, an interception and a blocked a punt for their touchdowns. New England returned three interceptions, two punts and took advantage of three fumble recoveries by their opponents for scores while San Diego returned two interceptions, a kickoff and a punt, blocked a field goal and returned three fumble recoveries to earn their spot among the top four teams. Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie accounted for three of those scores with an interception return, a fumble return and a record-setting missed field goal return of 109 yards.
Five current starting quarterbacks were originally drafted by a different team. While two of them were cut by their original teams and another was traded for draft picks, the Giants' Eli Manning and the Chargers' Philip Rivers simply swapped teams via a trade after being drafted. The Giants tossed in some draft picks along with Rivers to bring Manning to the Big Apple.
New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress doesn't care where he plays football. Over the course of his eight-year career — five with the Steelers and three with the Giants — Burress has been remarkably consistent whether playing at home or on the road. At home, the 6-foot-5, 232-pound receiver has made 240 receptions while averaging 15.9 yards per catch. When he's been on the opponents' turf, he's caught 230 passes and averaged 15.5 yards per catch. The only significant difference in his performance has been his 29 touchdowns at home compared to 22 as a member of the away team.
Burress should be excited to see the Panthers and the Rams on the Giants' schedule this year. During his career he's averaged better than 19 yards per catch against those two teams. The only team he's had better results against is the Atlanta Falcons.
The Tennessee Titans are still checking out running backs. The team recently invited former Houston Texans running back Ron Dayne to visit and took a look at former Detroit Lions running back Kevin Jones during a tryout. After the team used their first selection in the 2008 NFL Draft on speedy runner Chris Johnson, adding him to a depth chart that already includes LenDale White and Chris Henry, it may have seemed curious that the Titans were checking out Dayne and Jones. But when you consider that White, who is only entering his third season with the team, has the most NFL experience out of the six running backs currently on the roster, it's apparent that the Titans are weighing the benefits of adding a veteran who could lead by example and add some maturity to the group, even if that player doesn't become the team's starter.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson was a sixth-round pick by the Ravens before he was cut and was subsequently picked up off of waivers by Cleveland. New Orleans chose Marc Bulger in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, but they cut him near the end of training camp. It wasn't until late October that the Rams gave him a shot, signing him to their practice squad.
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a sixth-round pick by Green Bay back in 1998, and Matt Schaub, a third-round pick by the Falcons in 2004, were both traded for draft picks.
Drew Brees is the only current starter who moved to a new team as a free agent, leaving the Chargers to head to New Orleans.
The Philadelphia Eagles have an interesting situation brewing in regards to their offensive line. Both of the team's starting offensive tackles -- Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan -- will be unrestricted free agents at the end of 2008 unless the team works out a new deal with one or both in the interim.
Eagles offensive tackle William "Tra" Thomas
AP Photo/Tom Mihalek
Thomas, a 1998 first-round draft pick, guards quarterback Donovan McNabb's blind side from the left tackle position. Runyan, who was originally a fourth-round pick by the Houston Oilers back in 1996, is entering his ninth year with the Eagles and has proven his durability with his active starting streak of 176 consecutive games. In fact, he's never missed an NFL game due to injury and only had to sit out two games during his college career.
The duo has started 118 games for Philadelphia, more than any other tackle pairing in Eagles history.
If the Eagles decide to keep just one of the two talented players, a number of factors have to be considered. Both are tenacious players who have earned Pro Bowl honors. Age shouldn't play a major factor as Thomas will be 34 and Runyan will be 35 at the end of the year. Runyan is hitting the team's cap for roughly $1 million less than Thomas this season, but Thomas is one of the longest-tenured players on the team as he enters his 11th season. Only safety Brian Dawkins, who is entering his 13th season, has been an Eagle longer than the 6-foot-7, 335-pound tackle.
The decision may ultimately be decided by their 2008 on-the-field performances or by the team negotiating with both players and seeing which one has the more reasonable contract expectations. At this point, I'd give the inside track to Thomas ending up with a new deal that allows him to retire in Philadelphia.
In 2008, if you weren't among the group of players who had been invited to the NFL Combine, you didn't get drafted in the first three rounds. It wasn't until the fourth round that a few teams starting dipping into the talent pool of players who hadn't gone through the workouts and exams in Indianapolis two months earlier. The Titans broke the ice with the selection of DE William Hayes out of Winston-Salem. Then the Buffalo Bills picked up Akron cornerback Reggie Corner. And with the final pick of the round, the Green Bay Packers grabbed offensive guard Josh Sitton out of the University of Central Florida. According to one league source, all but 35 players out of the 252 drafted were Combine participants.
Dallas Cowboys offensive tackles Marc Columbo and Flozell Adams both finished in the top five of the league for false starts last year. Columbo's 10 false starts put him in a tie for the most in the league along with Raiders offensive tackle Barry Sims. Detroit Lions offensive tackle George Foster tied Adams for second place, as did Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard Arron Sears.
Out of those five players it's easiest to overlook the mistakes by Sears, a second-round pick out of the University of Tennessee, when you consider the fact that he was a 16-game starter as a rookie in 2007.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
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