â€¢ PFW has learned that the Panthers and WR Steve Smith are discussing a contract extension. Smith's camp hopes to get a deal done prior to the start of training camp. The deal would allow the team to keep Smith under contract beyond 2009, when his current deal ends.
â€¢ Word is the most impressive Niners rookie so far this offseason has been fourth-round pick Michael Robinson, who's being thought of initially as a third-down back but could end up filling a number of roles. Robinson's running style reminds longtime Niners watchers of a much bigger Charlie Garner in that he always seems to move forward when carrying the ball. In addition, the former Penn State quarterback appears to be a very natural, fluid receiver.
â€¢ The Texans' WR corps has impressed in offseason workouts, with free-agent signing Kevin Walter and former Bill Eric Moulds making excellent first impressions.
â€¢ Our sources in the Crescent City tell us rookie RB Reggie Bush, who lost his appeal with the league to wear jersey No. 5 and will wear No. 25 instead, was seen darting around the practice field at the Saints' June mini-camp looking fully recovered from a strained hamstring that he suffered at the team's rookie mini-camp last month.
â€¢ Our sources in Tampa tell us CB Ronde Barber is avoiding the Buccaneers' off-the-field functions while his agent negotiates a contract extension with GM Bruce Allen. Barber, who is entering the final year of his contract, is still participating in all of the Buccaneers' offseason workouts, and we hear he has repeatedly indicated that he won't be a training-camp holdout.
â€¢ Even though he has never returned punts or kickoffs, we hear the Cardinals like the possibility of undrafted free agent Michael Spurlock filling that role this coming season. The Mississippi product has shown Antwaan Randle El-type potential as a jack-of-all-trades and is expected to give veteran free-agent addition Troy Walters a legitimate battle for the team's primary return job.
â€¢ We hear QB Matt Leinart made noticeable progress from the mini-camp a week after the draft to the Cardinals' May rookie camp, both in his throwing and his grasp of the playbook. We're also told that, while the team's high-profile first-round pick has answered every question thrown his way, Leinart has not exactly gone out of his way to connect yet with the local media. That said, ex-Cardinals QB Josh McCown acted the same way initially before opening up considerably.
â€¢ Our Niners sources tell us former first-round pick Kwame Harris has been working extremely hard after underachieving most of his career up to now and just might seriously challenge second-year pro Adam Snyder for the starting ORT job.
â€¢ Our Rams sources were more than a little surprised when the team decided to cut the cord with longtime college scouts Tom Marino and Dave Razzano, both of whom were angered by the way their tenures ended. Razzano, who spent 14 of his 18 years in the NFL with the Rams, actually thought he was going to get a promotion when GM Charley Armey called to deliver the bad news.
â€¢ Considering his salary far outweighs his anticipated usage, it's quite possible Rams OLB Dexter Coakley will still be a salary-cap casualty. But with major concerns about their depth at linebacker, we hear the Rams are more likely to keep him on the roster just in case.
â€¢ After being a nonfactor last season when an intestinal disorder shelved him early on, Seahawks TE Itula Mili will likely be a major contributor in two-TE sets this season, with an outside shot at recapturing the starting job if Jerramy Stevens is slow to recover from offseason knee surgery.
â€¢ We hear the return of CB Ray Mickens to the Jets after one year in Cleveland will ratchet up the pressure on third-year CB Derrick Strait, who has thus far failed to distinguish himself at the nickel corner spot.
â€¢ With Keith Traylor nearing the end of his career and having had some off-the-field problems this offseason, we hear that the Dolphins will be scanning the waiver wire for big bodies to bolster the NT spot. Veteran free agents Dan Wilkinson and Grady Jackson are possibilities. At presstime, Traylor was participating in Miami's offseason workouts and was still in the team's plans for the '06 season.
â€¢ With TE Daniel Graham entering the final year of his contract, and the Patriots having drafted TEs David Thomas and Garrett Mills, word is the team has positioned itself to let Graham become a free agent following this season. We also hear Graham, considered by many in the league to be the best blocker at his position, would likely command a higher price in free agency than the Patriots are willing to pay.
â€¢ Word from New England is that WR Bethel Johnson is in an uphill fight to keep his roster spot for 2006.
â€¢ We hear that the Patriots are so high on QB Matt Cassel that they didn't even think about sending him to NFL Europe, preferring instead to keep him in New England to continue learning the Pats' offense.
â€¢ Watch for the Bears to extend the contract of Pro Bowl C Olin Kreutz during training camp or the early part of the regular season. Kreutz has a lot of miles on him, but he's still relatively young and continues to play at a high level. Kreutz, who turns 29 on June 9, has a contract that expires after the 2007 season.
â€¢ We're told the Bears might consider signing WR David Patten to a one-year contract if he's released by the Redskins, as expected, this month. The diminuitive Patten is a speed receiver with experience. However, Chicago might first give unproven wideouts Bernard Berrian, Justin Gage, Mark Bradley, Airese Currie and Rashied Davis a chance to show they can get the job done. Another option, we're told, could be Az-Zahir Hakim, because he's a more natural fit in the slot.
â€¢ The Bears continue to take measures to shore up their special teams. Chicago drafted two defensive backs with return skills -- Danieal Manning and Devin Hester -- in the second round of April's draft before inking undrafted free agent Ricky Williams prior to mini-camp. Williams, a cornerback from Bethune-Cookman, averaged 31.4 yards per kickoff return as a senior.
â€¢ The newest member of the Lions, OG Ross Verba, was the fifth offensive lineman to sign with Detroit since free agency began in March. Verba didn't play last season -- he was released June 9, 2005, after a contract-related falling-out with the Browns -- but we're told he reported to mini-camp in very good shape. Lions OL coach Larry Beightol pushed for the signing. He coached Verba in 1999 and 2000 with the Packers. Verba was already working with the first-team offense at left guard during the team's first practice session.
â€¢ Several Vikings arrived at mini-camp carrying less weight than they had during the 2005 season. Our sources said TE Jermaine Wiggins was notably lighter to meet the demands of head coach Brad Childress' West Coast offense.
â€¢ Minnesota didn't pay WR Koren Robinson $5.5 million in guaranteed bonuses to have him return kickoffs, but there's a chance the Vikings' No. 1 receiver could find himself running back kicks in a pinch. He averaged 26 yards per return and earned a Pro Bowl bid in that role last season, and coaches have told the starters to expect to participate on at least one special-teams unit.
â€¢ To simplify the game as much as possible early in his career, the Colts are providing RB Joseph Addai limited sections of the playbook. The Colts want Addai to find a comfort zone with a portion of the play list rather than force-feeding him a huge amount of homework before August. We're told the Colts are considering a rotation of Addai and Dominic Rhodes every few downs rather than playing each back one full series at a time.
â€¢ Lions DL coach Joe Cullen believes Shaun Cody can be more than adequate as the replacement for Dan Wilkinson. The Lions say Cody, about 30 pounds lighter than Wilkinson, has enough power and quickness to excel at the NFL level.
â€¢ The Packers can't hide their disappointment after CB Will Blackmon suffered a foot injury in mini-camp. The injury could linger into the regular season and keeps Blackmon, who's bigger and taller than Ahmad Carroll, from competing for a prominent role through the summer. But Mike Hawkins, after reporting 10 pounds heavier, could still present a challenge to the disappointing Carroll.
â€¢ While the Jaguars are irked by Fred Taylor's decision to work out in Miami this offseason, there is little the coaching staff can do about his absence from non-mandatory sessions. We do continue to hear that the team expects a heated competition for playing time at the position. However, per NCAA rules, rookie Maurice Drew cannot join the team until late June after UCLA classes end.
â€¢ Although scouts indicated that Robert Gallery struggled at times last year at right tackle, Raiders head coach Art Shell decided the time was right to move him to the left side entering his third pro season. OLG Langston Walker, a tackle in college, will be shifting out to right tackle, and Barry Sims will slide inside to left guard after manning the OLT spot for several years. "What we're trying to do is get a good fit for each individual to feel comfortable and have an opportunity to excel," Shell told PFW. "We're going to put the five best guys out on the football field that give us the best chance to win." Shell said Sims was "kinda moody for a few days" after the decision was announced and still believes he is best at left tackle, but assured his new coach he would do what is best for the club.
â€¢ One rookie who is opening eyes thus far in Denver is fourth-round WR Brandon Marshall (Central Florida), who has earned some sparkling reviews from the likes of Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey.
â€¢ Many Broncos sources are high on the potential of second-year DE Corey Jackson and believe he, along with veteran addition Kenard Lang and fourth-round pick Elvis Dumervil, should provide some much-needed punch to a pass rush that collected only 28 sacks in 2005. Jackson has even drawn favorable comparisons to former Broncos DE Bertrand Berry, who signed a big-money contract with the Cardinals in '04.
â€¢ WR Ronald Curry is progressing nicely from an Achilles injury that landed him on injured reserve last season and said he was ready to go in a May mini-camp, but the Raiders are being careful with his workload prior to training camp. "We're not rushing him," head coach Art Shell told PFW. "There's no need to. The poor kid's been through so much the last couple years. He was developing into an outstanding wide receiver. We're just going to take our time with him, as we will with Warren Sapp (shoulder) and others. We've got time."
â€¢ The Chargers will be looking for much more from WR Vincent Jackson, a physical marvel, in his second year. With Reche Caldwell now in New England, the No. 3 WR job is open for Jackson, who was brought along slowly as a rookie, in part due to a nagging calf injury. Jackson's size and athleticism are intriguing for a team in need of a playmaker downfield.
â€¢ Word out of K.C. is that second-round pick Bernard Pollard could push SS Sammy Knight in training camp. Pollard, known for his hitting at Purdue, impressed the coaching staff with more physical ability than they saw from him in the scouting process.
â€¢ At presstime, the Ravens were said to be quite confident about the prospects of landing Titans QB Steve McNair because of the strength of the financial package they would offer him if he hits the open market. Meanwhile, we hear there is a sentiment that Ravens QB Kyle Boller understands he could benefit from time on the sideline watching McNair, should the Ravens complete a deal with the veteran. Yet Boller is very competitive, and he still wants to start.
â€¢ If you are looking for a super-sleeper candidate on the Cowboys, consider second-year WR Jamaica Rector. The extremely confident wideout shone during the team's first mini-camp, catching nearly everything in sight and earning the distinction of being the team's strongest player "pound for pound," according to Bill Parcells. The No. 4 WR job is up for grabs.
â€¢ One of the hidden advantages of trading veteran Billy McMullen for undrafted rookie Hank Baskett is that the Eagles can put Baskett on the practice squad if he doesn't make the Week 1 roster, a place the fourth-year McMullen couldn't land, by league rules. The team is in need of a big receiver, and the Eagles reportedly like Baskett's long-term chances.
â€¢ Titans S Lamont Thompson has lost 10 pounds this offseason -- he played at 225 last year -- in an effort to get quicker. Too often Thompson missed making plays because he was a step slow, and the Titans have placed an emphasis on getting faster on defense.
â€¢ Word out of Saints camp is MLB Courtney Watson was asked to stay home and not attend the team's June minicamp. We hear Watson was told it was in his, and the team's, best interest if he didn't attend the three-day practice session, and he has been granted permission to seek a trade. Watson was traded to Miami last month for LB Eddie Moore, but the trade was voided when Moore failed his physical.
â€¢ We hear rookie RB Jerious Norwood is as fast as advertised -- his 4.33 40-time at the combine was tops among running backs -- and his fleet feet reminded some observers at the Falcons' mini-camp of a young Eric Dickerson. Even more impressive than Norwood's speed are his hands -- he did not fumble during his senior season at Mississippi State. We're told Norwood holds the ball high and tight against his body like Giants RB Tiki Barber, and that has a lot to do with his low fumble total.
â€¢ Sources close to the Falcons tell us that rookie QB D.J. Shockley was impressive at mini-camp and that he has a leg up on second-year QB Bryan Randall for the third-string QB job because he's a better athlete than Randall.
â€¢ Word out of Atlanta is that starting DT Chad Lavalais showed up at mini-camp in terrible shape and that his starting job could be in jeopardy. Antwan Lake, a top reserve last year, got a lot of work with the first team at the mini-camp. We're told the Falcons could still try to add a veteran free agent like former Panthers DT Brentson Buckner before training camp begins.
â€¢ Sources tell us Panthers head coach John Fox prefers using veteran players at running back, so don't believe the hype surrounding first-round pick DeAngelo Williams having a chance to beat out DeShaun Foster for the starter's job. Fox has been a strong supporter of Foster since Foster dazzled the team as a rookie in 2002, but Fox stuck with the aging Stephen Davis as his starter ahead of Foster last year even when Davis faltered.
â€¢ Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and members of his coaching staff were in Charlotte for the first week of the Panthers' "Summer School" -- 3Â½ weeks of voluntary team workouts. Weis and Panthers head coach John Fox are close friends, so Fox invited Weis to come spend time with his staff to exchange coaching ideas. Fox tried to hire Weis as his offensive coordinator when he took over the Panthers in 2002, but Weis decided to stay with the Patriots then.
â€¢ We hear the Glazer family has been very secretive about Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer's recovery after he suffered two strokes in less than a month. His son, Joel Glazer, has essentially run the team for the last few years, while the aging father has been little more than a figurehead, so Malcolm's absence hasn't affected the operation of the franchise. Although Malcolm Glazer remains in a hospital, his condition is not considered life-threatening, but he does have a long rehabilitation period ahead of him.