By Len Pasquarelli
Senior NFL Writer
The Sports Xchange
One never knows exactly what will precipitate an idea, but when one former NFL assistant coach noted this week the alleged retirement of longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore, and the fact the former Indianapolis mentor of Peyton Manning spent some time discussing "red zone" concepts with the New York Jets' staff, it fired a synapse.
The thought: Particularly with the possibility of truncated training camps, and the potential need for more learned eyes on players, why not cobble together a sort of pseudo "consulting service" comprised of former league assistants?
In practice, it would probably be a lot more difficult than it sounds on the drawing board, but the assistant, who left his NFL job in the past few years, thinks it can fly.
"There is a lot of need out there, and there are a lot of experienced (coaches) who need to be busy," the former assistant told The Sports Xchange. "Definitely, it would ruffle some (current coaches') feathers, but it certainly could be a positive for all the people involved, coaches and teams alike."
The former assistant, who never served as a head coach in more than 20 years in the league, noted that much is made of the former Super Bowl-winning head coaches who currently aren't on the league's sidelines. He rattled off a list of names - Joe Bugel, Dan Henning, Jim McNally, Ray Sherman, Mike Haluchak, John Marshall and possible Jimmy Raye, among others - who might abandon their golf clubs for a few weeks to consult in camps.
The former "lifer" assistant coach claimed he is "going to start making some contacts," to gauge interest, first from the onetime peers, and then from teams. The idea isn't likely to fly, and will probably get no further than the drawing board, granted. Most head coaches, after all, don't want to create a perception that there are people looking over their shoulders or second-guessing them. But it's one of the more intriguing notions that we've heard posited lately in these tenuous times.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Wither Plax?: Although good buddy Gary Myers of The New York Daily News last week floated the possibility that Philadelphia might be the team most interested in adding erstwhile wide receiver Plaxico Burress when he is released from jail June 6, there have been conflicting signals from Eagles officials this week.
That's not say there is a tug-o'-war among Philly officials, just that club insiders are putting out mixed messages concerning their interest, or lack thereof, in the wide receiver. The suggestion is that, just because the Eagles signed Michael Vick in 2009 after his incarceration and hiatus from the league, they will welcome Burress back to the NFL.
But the reality is that Burress, who will turn 34 next month, presents even more question marks than Vick did. In his four seasons with the Giants, Burress scored 33 touchdowns, but his average per reception reduced every year. In 2008, the last season he played, Burress averaged a career-worst 13.0 yards.
And while Burress still presents a tough red-zone matchup given his size - more than half of his career touchdowns, 28 of 55 scores, have come from the 20-yard line or inside of it - the Eagles don't employ a lot of fade- or corner-type routes inside the 20. The Eagles often struggle in the red zone, but coaches feel the presence of Vick, and the running threat he presents, help make up for any deficiencies.
There is also the fact that Burress will have endured a stretch of 33-plus months between games. Vick went about the same between regular-season appearances, but it took him a year to get his legs back and regain his form. If it takes Burress a year, he'll be a 35-year-old wide receiver, and there aren't many of those on NFL rosters.
Superagent Drew Rosenhaus, aka "An NFL Source," has pulled a lot of rabbits out of a lot of hats, and it's a good bet he'll stir up some suitors. But it remains to be seen if the Eagles are one of the teams interested.
Kolb concerns: If the pundits are correct, then Philadelphia backup Kevin Kolb is likely headed to Arizona once the moratorium on trades is lifted, probably for a couple of second-round draft choices. There are still some concerns about Kolb among Arizona coaches.
They note that Kolb, who has indicated that he would prefer to be dealt rather that sit behind Vick for another year - and for whom the Eagles need to net a return, rather than just allow him to depart in free agency in 2012 - has thrown more interceptions (14) than touchdown passes (11) in his brief playing time.
They wonder about his decision-making. But mostly the Cardinals' brass wonders if Kolb is the right fit for coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense.
Kolb averaged only 6.46 per pass attempt in his five starts in 2010. Until last season, when the Cardinals were forced to play quarterback roulette and started a pair of rookies at various times, the Arizona passing game averaged over 7.0 yards per attempt under Whisenhunt. The number dropped precipitously to a paltry 5.81 yards in 2010, but, again, there were mitigating circumstances.
In theory at least, the Arizona passing design is more vertical than that in Philadelphia, takes some pages from the Mike Martz passing game and expects quarterbacks to drive the ball into the intermediate and deep windows with accuracy.
At age 27 (in August), Kolb could solve the Cardinals' quarterback problem for a long time if he's the right guy. The Cards, who in a perfect world likely would pursue a veteran such as Marc Bulger, just have to convince themselves he's the right guy.
Line dance: Despite an 8-8 record in 2010, and a perfect 6-0 mark in the division, the Oakland Raiders almost certainly will have a revamped offensive line in 2011. And while there's only so much that can be discerned from the team's workouts this week in suburban Atlanta, where most of the work was devoted to conditioning under the watchful eye of trainer Chip Smith of Competitive Edge Sports, and to seven-on-seven drills, a couple of rookies could play key roles.
Center Stefan Wisniewski and tackle Joseph Barksdale, the Raiders' second- and third-round picks, respectively, were impressive from a football acumen standpoint, rarely being confused by play-calls, and mentally into things. Wisniewski, the nephew of new Oakland offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski, will have a tough time ousting incumbent starter Samson Satele (15 starts in 2010), but he'll probably be given the opportunity. And while there are no projected plans to do so right now, the Raiders could plug him in at guard, especially with Robert Gallery expected to depart in free agency.
Said Wisniewski: "There's only so much you can do physically in work like this, but you don't want to get (overwhelmed) mentally, and so far it seems like we're at least treading water."
Silence is golden: There have been plenty of stories the past few weeks purporting that coaches have communicated with players in violation of the lockout rules. Even though the NFL's investigation of such allegations has churned up no such instances, one would be naive to believe there hasn't been some kind of contact in some cases.
But there are many examples, too, of coaches going out of their way to avoid breaching the lockout guidelines, and here's another one: Hoping to correct what he felt was a glitch in his approach to the ball, pending free agent kicker Jeff Reed recently traveled to Phoenix to work under the watchful eye of former NFL special teams coach Gary Zauner, a 13-year league veteran who holds workshops there for kickers, punters and deep snappers.
While in Phoenix, Reed made a call to the Cardinals' complex and special teams coach Kevin Spencer, who had been his special teams coach for his first five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two remain close friends, and the call was aimed at being nothing more than a quick "hello" between guys who had once worked together and maintained a solid relationship. But after waiting on hold for several minutes for Spencer to come to the phone, Reed was informed by a receptionist that the coach couldn't take his call.
Again, there are probably examples of coaches stepping over the line in contacting players, but there are just as many times, it seems, when coaches are freaked out by the possibility of league reprisal and are avoiding communication.
A fine mess: When the NFL competition committee in March first proposed rules changes aimed at further policing late hits or what it deemed as unnecessary roughness and excessive contact, The Sports Xchange dubbed the tweaks the "James Harrison Rules," since the Pittsburgh linebacker and former league defensive player of the year was fined $100,000 in 2010 for roughhouse play.
This week, some of the media termed the changes "The Steelers Rules" when the proposals were passed by a 32-0 vote at the league meeting in Indianapolis. Of course, league officials took umbrage to that characterization - not to mention the reactions of Harrison (who termed the rules makers "idiots") and fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley and comments of team president Art Rooney II -- and stressed that several other franchises would likely have drawn punishment in 2010 had the new rules, which permits the NFL to fine club for repeat violations, been in effect.
It's difficult to say which teams were under the microscope, but a team official, who is not on the competition committee, told The Sports Xchange that Tennessee and Philadelphia were "almost probably" among them. The Eagles had seven players fined a total of $135,000 in 2010; Tennessee accrued $130,000 in fines, not counting the $40,000 meted out to then-defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil for an obscene gesture, to seven players. That included $45,000 to cornerback Courtland Finnegan, who was sanctioned on four occasions.
There were eight players fined more than once in the league and eight franchises that had four or more players fined for on-field conduct. Amazingly, Harrison and Woodley were the only Pittsburgh players fined during the regular season. The league dispensed 99 fines for on-field or field-related acts, and it's believed that Miami and St. Louis were the only franchises that did not have a single player draw a fine.
Cut(ler) man: Chicago middle linebacker and noted tough guy Brian Urlacher this week again chastised the critics, as he did following the NFC championship game, who openly suggested that Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler lacks courage. In what could be considered a validation of that stance, or conversely perhaps a sign that NFL defenders might feel that Cutler can be rattled, it's notable that hits on Cutler in 2010 resulted in a half-dozen fines. That's triple the number of hits on any other quarterback in the NFL that drew financial sanctions. By unofficial count, there were 18 quarterbacks who absorbed "finable" infractions, and only five others - Sam Bradford, Drew Brees, Todd Collins, David Garrard and Ben Roethlisberger - had more than one. Urlacher characterized Cutler's critics as "stupid" and "dumb."
Colston doing well: Despite microfracture surgery on his right knee this spring, which followed an earlier procedure to correct a wrist problem, word is that New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston is working out twice a day and demonstrating no ill effects from the often tricky the operation. The twice-daily workouts apparently include days on which the Saints do not convene for their unsupervised practices.
A recovery is key for Colston, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2011, provided there is a season, at a base salary of $3 million. Going into his sixth season, Colston will be an unrestricted free agent next spring, as long as there is any kind of season that allows games to be played.
Although Colston posted the worst yards-per-catch average of his career (12.2 yards), he still had 84 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns. In five years, Colston, who turns 28 next month, has averaged 73.8 catches, 1,019.4 yards, and 8.0 scores. He also had microfracture surgery last spring, on his left, knee, and nonetheless appeared in 15 games in 2010, with 11 starts.
School days: As announced this week, the NFL officially cancelled its annual Rookie Symposium, originally scheduled for late June in Canton, Ohio. But that doesn't mean the NFL has entirely scuttled some of the excellent business and entrepreneurial programs it has developed in recent years. In fact, one such session, a so-called "transition program" for retired players seeking to broaden their business experience and acumen, has been expanded.
The program recently returned to Georgia Tech, where it was initiated in the spring of 2010, and there will be another such program at Rice University in October. Last year, former NFL players such as tight end Mark Bruener and Donovin Darius raved about the time they spent in Atlanta.
Said Darius: "As athletes, we sometimes get stereotyped. But a lot of the same attributes we develop as players - leadership, accountability, working with others, problem-solving - are exactly what corporations are looking for. Those same skills are transferrable ... to the business world."
The league will also have its annual "Broadcast Boot Camp" next month, with about 16 former players expected to attend, including onetime veterans such as LeCharles Bentley, Drew Henson, Armani Toomer, Antonio Freeman and John Fina.
As initially reported by The Sports Xchange earlier this week, the cancellation of popular management programs at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania are not linked to the shutdown of the Rookie Symposium, as some have surmised. The programs and their curriculum and direction are actually being revamped by Troy Vincent of the league's NFL Player Engagement department.
*Punts: Whether he retired or was fired - and there seems to be some disagreement as to exactly how he departed the Indianapolis Colts this week - pro personnel director Clyde Powers was always a class act and a stand-up guy. Way back in the darker days of an organization that wasn't always its current model of stability, Powers was even then a hard worker and diligent talent evaluator who did his job quietly and professionally. ... A few other possible reasons the Eagles may not sign Burress when his jail term is up: The coaches feel that five-year veteran Jason Avant and second-year pro Riley Cooper can develop into very good red-zone threats. Arguably the most physical of the Philly wideouts, Avant had a career-high 51 catches in 2010, although just one for a touchdown. A fifth-round pick in '10, Riley is 6-feet-5 and, while he posted just seven receptions in 13 games, figures to provide a different dimension to the receiving corps. The Eagles also feel that former New York Giants second-rounder Sinorice Moss, signed in January after a career wracked by injury since 2006, can still be a player. ... Somewhat curious that, at a time when players' every words are analyzed, no one pointed out the inherent irony in the statements of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who contended the crime rate will escalate if there is no football in 2011. Lewis pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice in 2000, following two post-Super Bowl XXXIV deaths in Atlanta earlier that year, and was fined $250,000 by the league. ... Even though Tennessee tailback Chris Johnson, perhaps the NFL's fastest player, has said he will pursue a temporary track career during the lockout, he has yet to compete in a meet and currently has no plans to do so. ... Atlanta star wide receiver Roddy White was upset with local media when it was accurately reported this week that his cousin, Ali White, was arrested on robbery charges. While essentially brought his cousin to live with him four years ago and has done some admirable work with at-risk youngsters in general in the community. But it should also be noted that, before Falcons officials signed White to a six-year, $50 million contract extension in 2009, they demanded he cut ties with some old friends and hangers-on they felt were a negative influence on him. ... There were only 20 safeties chosen in the draft last month, the first time since 2000 there were none in the first round, and four or five of them are expected to start as rookies. If second-round Jaiquawn Jarrett of Temple starts for Philadelphia, the Eagles could have a rookie and a second-year veteran (Nate Allen) as their starters. Both players were chosen in the second round. The Eagles are not expected to re-sign pending free agent Quintin Mikell, an eight-year veteran. ... Speaking of safeties, there's a bit of an awkward situation in Denver right now. The Broncos' unofficial workouts are pretty much being supervised by Brian Dawkins, and the team was likely going to jettison the 15-year veteran before the season started. Given his role in the workouts, and the likelihood that younger players like second-round pick Rahim Moore will have a truncated training camp, the Broncos may instead have to hold on to Dawkins, who will be 38 in October, for another year. ... Although the Cowboys hope to upgrade the safety position in free agency, don't discount the possibility Dallas attempts to re-sign six-year veteran Gerald Sensabaugh as insurance. ... The Bengals have to be wondering when people are going to buy their stance that they are not going to trade reluctant starting quarterback Carson Palmer. In alternate months since March, either coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown proclaimed that Palmer, who has threatened to retire if not traded, won't be dealt. But when Brown reiterated that during this week's league meeting, it created headlines. Said Brown in reaction: "I'm just saying what I've said before." ... On the subject of Bengals' quarterbacks, there's been an impressive initiative launched, including a terrific statistical analysis by Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts, touting the candidacy of Ken Anderson for the Hall of Fame. Anderson, who won three league passing titles, moves from the modern-era to the seniors category this year. ... Atlanta, which bypassed in the draft what many feel was its biggest defensive need, defensive left end, hopes to sign a veteran at the position when (or if) free agency commences. But the Falcons' chances of adding a bookend for right end John Abraham could be tied to CBA negotiations and how the matter of free agency is determined. The Falcons' top two targets, Ray Edwards of Minnesota and Carolina's Charles Johnson, are five- and four-year veterans, respectively, and whether or not either is unrestricted will be a function of the CBA talks.
The last word: "Next maybe we'll see a snake wrangler and we can all watch and see if he gets bit or something. I don't know. He's always up to some stunt. They amuse me in a way and yet they concern me because, let's face it, as we look at it, we want a football player. We aren't looking for a bull rider, or a dancer, or a soccer player. We want a football player. It's simple. That's where we want the focus, not on other things. ... He has a genius for bringing notice to himself, and I don't say that in a disparaging way. It's unique. I've never known any football player that can bring the spotlight on himself seemingly all year round. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? And that gets to be a debate." - Cincinnati owner Brown, per Bengals.com, on wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.