Pancakes In the Age of Enlightenment- And the Installation Is Freeheee…

LEADING OFF
As those of you who read this column with some regularity may know, I spent the last week vacationing on the beautiful island of Aruba. While Aruba is a lovely place, there is not a whole lot to do there. So over the course of the week, I watched a lot of ESPN on the satellite dish. That and Venezuelan game shows. You may have noticed that the Worldwide Leader likes to play the same promos over and over. Over the course of the last week, I have had the following messages irreversibly drilled into my head.

-“Hi, I’m Steven A. Smith. Here’s my commercial for my new show on ESPN.” “Quite frankly, the New England Patriots are really, really good. Watch my show for more hard hitting insight and analysis just like this. Oh yeah and Tom Brady plays for them too. Now I dance.”

– “Hi, I’m Phil “The Brat” Hellmuth. I have a big ugly thing on my face, and I’m “the Brat”.”

– “Hi, I’m some female poker player called “Lady Luck”. I have these weird tribal patterns that show up on my face when I smile.”

– “Hi, I’m Tiger Woods, I play poker now, under the name “Phil Ivey”.

– “Want even more poker? Great! Remember those “TILT” commercials we showed 100 times a day back in January? We’re going to show them 100 times a day again! Yeah!”

– “Hi, I’m SportsCenter, I’m visiting 50 states in 50 days, so that way when I come back at the end of September, you’ll be ready for me to dedicate 45 minutes of each show for a month to the Yankees and Red Sox. We’ll probably spend the other 15 minutes talking about Michael Vick. Yeah! Now listen to this Bryan Adams song.”

Yeesh. We have I don’t know how many home décor channels available on cable, and ONE national sports network. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, democracy doesn’t work.

On another note, to the surprise of nobody, the Terrell Owens saga is continuing to get more and more bizarre with each passing week. It has been widely reported that TO has said he now plans to report to Eagles’ training camp, rather than hold out and face a fine of close to $10,000 per day of camp missed. Owens says he will report, but he won’t be happy. He has also made cryptic statements indicating that his future with the team may depend on the actions of Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb.

This seems to eliminate the possibility that Owens will sit out the season, meaning the scenario will play out one of three ways. The first is that Owens won’t get the new contract he is seeking, and he will remain an Eagle, albeit an unhappy one.

In theory, this would be a win for the Eagles. In practice however, the Eagles would then be stuck with a situation that could scuttle their whole season, as a sulking TO would make Randy Moss look like George Gipp by comparison. I don’t think the Eagles want that. The second scenario is, Owens gets his contract, remains an Eagle, and, the Eagles hope, happily leads them to their first Super Bowl title. Andy Reid is a proud man. A proud, morbidly overweight man. There is no way he is going to compromise his team or his job by giving in to Owens’ demands.

The final remaining possibility is a trade. This would appear to be the Eagles’ best option at this point, but, Owens, for all his bravado and his ability to justify his diva antics with his on-field performance, is 32 years old, and coming off surgery. Couple that with the fact that most teams (probably all teams, except of course, the Raiders) are scared to death of accepting the baggage that comes with Owens, and trading him also becomes a difficult proposition. Could it be possible that the Eagles might just opt to walk away from Owens and release him? Stranger things have happened.

As good as he is, and he is very, very good at what he does, Terrell Owens is a wide receiver. On the totem pole of critical players on an offense, the wide receiver position is third at best, maybe even fourth, I would say it’s a tossup between the left tackle position and the #1 wideout. In Andy Reid’s West Coast offense, the ball is spread around, and the position is even less important. Like most short sighted decisions where the full consequences are not considered to be as threatening as they truly are, the Eagles’ trading for Owens last off season despite his reputation as a malcontent and his lack of Super Bowl rings, was a mistake.

A few months ago, I wrote in this column that the Vikings had to trade Randy Moss. I didn’t think they would at the time, but I thought that was the only way the team could progress rather than being dragged down by a player who feels he is bigger than the team he plays for. In the Eagles situation, if I am Andy Reid, I am giving TO his freedom and his walking papers, today. I don’t think that will happen, but I didn’t think the Vikings would trade Moss, and they did, and they are still considered to be the favorite in their division and a real threat to win the NFC Championship.

The Eagles should take note and do likewise, even if it means getting nothing in return.

POLITICAL FOOTBALL..WITHOUT THE POLITICS

NFC EAST
Terrell Owens is not the only malcontent in Philly. DT Corey Simon said he ain’t doing training camp this year, and the reason is that the man the Eagles franchised is upset he does not have a long term contract. Simon has had 13 sacks in the last 2 seasons from the tackle position, which is very good. The Eagles tendered him a one year, $5.13 million dollar offer after putting the franchise tag on him. Simon said he will be there for the season opener, but training camp is not going to happen for him.

The training camp battle for the Giants #2 QB spot will have a reality TV twist to it. Jesse Palmer, who stands beside such luminaries as Bob Guiney and Andrew Firestone as a former “Bachelor”, will duke it out with Tim Hasselbeck, who is married to former “Survivor” contestant Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Rrrrowwwrrr.

Rookie RB Brandon Jacobs will get the first crack at being the Giants’ short yardage back this season. The rookie from Southern Illinois is a load at 6-4 256, and Giants coach Tom Coughlin is anxious to see what he has in this ginormous running back. Coughlin told the New York Post, “(Jacobs) is a big, powerful runner who has good hands. We have to be absolutely sure he becomes a good pass protector and gets you the yard if it’s third-and-short, fourth-and-short.” The Giants have lacked a powerful short-yardage runner since Ron Dayne’s Gotham career fizzled out.

As the NFL season wears on, expect to be inundated with speculation regarding the future of Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells. There were those that posited after last season that the Tuna would not return for a third season with the Boys. If the franchise doesn’t appear to be making progress towards a return to greatness this season, Parcells could be leaving his 4th team in the last 8 years. With the Cowboys’ current plan of attack centering around a difficult switch to a 3-4 defense and the handing over of the passing game to aging Parcells associates Drew Bledsoe, Keyshawn Johnson, and Terry Glenn, it seems a good bet that Parcells may be back in a TV studio for the 2006 season.

In addition to the three offensive players listed above, the Cowboys will have yet another former Parcells player filling a very critical role on the defensive side of the ball. Former Jet Jason Ferguson will man the nose tackle position in the new 3-4 set. Ferguson’s main responsibility will be to tie up blockers with his 6-3 305 frame, and free up the second line of defense to make plays. Conditioning is always a concern with Ferguson, and he’s at his best when he has a quality backup to give him a breather when needed. The current #2 on the depth chart, Leonardo Carson, is weak against the run and is not a quality backup. That could be a problem.

Superagent Drew Rosenhaus has given confirmation that at least one of his players will be reporting to camp on time. Rosenhaus said that “without a doubt”, Redskins safety Sean Taylor will not be holding out for a new contract this summer. Taylor boycotted the Redskins’ offseason conditioning program in protest of his current contract. Oh yeah, and Taylor is also currently facing felony assault charges in Florida for beating and pulling a gun on somebody. So maybe now is not the best time to ask for a raise.

Redskins wide receiver Rod Gardner was traded to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday. Gardner was a cap casualty due to the fact that the Redskins have 2 first round picks to sign in corner Carlos Rogers and QB Jason Campbell. Gardner caught 51 passes for 650 yards and 5 TD’s last year. He’s a big receiver at 6-2, 213, the Panthers hope he can help replace the departed Mushin Muhammad. The trade of Gardner will leave Santana Moss, David Patten, and James Thrash as the Skins top 3 wideouts.

NFC NORTH
If you’re thinking of drafting Vikings rookie WR Troy Williamson for your fantasy team, you might want to not do that. Vikings coach Mike Tice told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the seventh overall pick in the draft will see only limited action at the start of the season. Regarding Williamson, Tice said, “We’ll place him in some plays where his speed and running-after-the-catch ability will make him shine and he’ll be able to make some plays and gain confidence early.”

Meanwhile, former Ravens WR Travis Taylor could benefit greatly from his move to the Vikings. Taylor was held back by playing with questionable QB’s in Baltimore, but that won’t be a problem now with Daunte Culpepper throwing to him. Tice had good things to say about the wideout to the Star-Tribune. “I do like Travis Taylor,” Tice said, “I think he is the surprise free-agent signing of this year. I really believe he brings a lot to the table.” Taylor projects to be the Vikings #3 receiver behind Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson.

It looks like the storm clouds that were gathering over Titletown have passed, for now. Packers WR Javon Walker surprised everyone by reporting to camp on time despite the fact that he is still unhappy with his contract. DT Grady Jackson, another player signed to Drew Rosenhaus, had also threatened to sit out camp but he too has reported on time.

The Packers still have a couple of important players who are not yet in camp though. TE Bubba Franks is also unhappy, having been slapped with the franchise tag rather than signed to a new long term contract. He may hold out. Rookie QB Aaron Rodgers is also still unsigned, and missing all or part of training camp pretty much guarantees a lost season for any rookie QB.

The Ty Law World Tour seemed to be coming to an end, with the free agent corner appearing to be headed to Detroit. However, talks have broken down between the Lions and Law and it now looks like the deal is dead. With Detroit out of the running, it now looks like the Jets are the front runner to sign the Pro Bowl regular.

Bears LB Brian Urlacher is a daddy! Last week court records revealed he conceived a child out of wedlock with a former stripper who previously had her rape charge against dancer Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance, dropped. Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.

While it seems like Urlacher has enough trouble of his own, another man on the spot on the Bears D, albeit for different reasons, is DE Adewale Ogunleye. It is fair to say that Ogunleye had a bad 2004 season. The Bears traded Pro Bowl wideout Marty Booker to the Dolphins in training camp for him, hoping he could replicate or come close to the 15 sacks he had in 2003 with Miami. He did not come close. He missed much of the season with a mysterious leg injury, and finished the season with only 5 ½ sacks. The Bears are expecting much more out of him this season, with coach Lovie Smith telling the Arlington Heights (IL) Daily Herald that he thinks Ogunleye can get back to a double digit sack total this season. If not, Ogunleye will join a long line of busts at the defensive end position to wear the Bears uniform in recent years (Phillip Daniels, Alonzo Spellman, John Thierry, etc. etc. etc.).

NFC SOUTH

The Falcons may have to start the season without one of their starting defensive ends. Brady Smith is a hard working end who had 6 sacks last season. His recent neck surgery means that he will miss camp, and is not expected to be ready for the opening of the season. This could thrust rookie Chauncey Davis into a starting role until Smith is healthy. Davis is a 4th round pick out of Florida St. He is NFL-ready as a pass rusher, but not as an every down player. The Falcons need Smith to get healthy fast or they will be vulnerable against the run.

On second thought, maybe Falcons WR Roddy White isn’t one of the rookies to watch this season. White is a holdout, and Falcons coach Jim Mora says that the starting spot he had waiting for him is in serious jeopardy. “Unless he comes in here and he’s Randy Moss revisited or Terrell Owens revisited, he’s not starting for us this year. Not initially.”, Mora told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Teams that face the Saints this season will try to beat them through the air. The corners, Fakhir Brown and former Packer malcontent Mike McKenzie, are OK but not remarkable. Meanwhile, the starting linebackers, James Allen, Courtney Watson, and Colby Bockwoldt, are all raw, inexperienced, and lacking in either physical skills or instincts. The Saints have a lot of weapons on offense, and they will need them if they are to have any hope of contending for a playoff spot and saving coach Jim Haslett’s job this season. If the offense can’t control the clock with running back Deuce McAllister, it will be up to the Saints’ strong defensive line to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to make things easier for the team’s weak 2nd and 3rd lines of defense.

Saints RB Deuce McAllister has indicated he will be in camp on time whether or not he has a new deal in place by the start of camp. Deuce is in the final year of a five year deal, and he and the Saints are said to be very close to completing a new long term deal that will make him the highest paid player in franchise history, and the second highest paid running back in the NFL.

Panthers running back DeShaun Foster is willing to gamble that he is going to have a big 2005 season. The Panthers want to sign him to a long term contract extension, but Foster, who’s contract expires after this season, would rather play out his deal this season and take his chances on the open market next offseason. Foster’s decision is a risky one, as the team is very high on rookie RB Eric Shelton. If Foster continues to have problems with injuries and/or fumbling, Shelton will become the starter and Foster will be S.O.L.

Apparently lost in the running back shuffle in Charlotte is Nick Goings. Goings led the team with 821 rushing yards last season when both Foster and Stephen Davis went down with injuries. However, with Foster, Davis, and Shelton all currently listed ahead of him on the team’s depth chart, it doesn’t look like Goings figures into the team’s plans for 05.

The fifth pick in this spring’s draft, Cadillac Williams, is still waiting for the dominoes to fall ahead of him before he signs with the Bucs. Williams deal hinges largely on what becomes of the contract negotiations of the two running backs drafted ahead of him, the Dolphins’ Ronnie Brown, and the Bears Cedric Benson. The Bears appeared to be very close to signing Benson and thus setting the market for the other two, but Benson’s agent turned down an offer the Bears thought would get the deal done, and Bears GM Jerry Angelo is now said to be “frustrated” with the negotiations. As for Brown, he and the Dolphins are close, but the $24 million in guaranteed money that the Niners included in their signed deal with the #1 pick, QB Alex Smith, now becomes a sticking point in Brown’s negotiations. That $24 million is almost twice as much guaranteed money as the Raiders gave last year’s #2 overall pick, OT Robert Gallery. Brown will want something that approximates that figure, and the Dolphins probably don’t want to give him that much. So now Benson and Williams, in addition to the Bears and Bucs, play the waiting game until Brown and the Dolphins can strike a deal.

The Bucs have a lot of walking wounded on the offensive side of the ball during this training camp. In particular, the wide receiver position has concerns. Both of the starting wideouts, Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, will be nursing injuries. On the defensive side of the ball, DT Chris Hovan could be playing for his NFL life in this year’s Bucs camp. Pro Football Weekly reported that he will be on a “short leash” this summer and will not make the team if he continues to show a propensity for reckless play and careless mistakes. The future is considerably brighter for rookie LB Barrett Ruud. The team’s second round pick out of Nebraska looked good in the offseason program, and if he plays well in camp and in the exhibition season he could win the starting middle linebacker job, sliding Shelton Quarles to the outside and Jeff Gooch to a reserve role.

NFC WEST
The Seahawks have been engaged in trade discussions with the Browns regarding WR Andre Davis. Browns GM Phil Savage told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he would not deny having trade discussions regarding Davis, who was a second round selection for the Browns in 2002. The Seahawks are looking for someone to fill the #3 wideout spot, which was vacated when Koren Robinson was released due to his on and off the field struggles. Former Saint Jerome Pathon was signed to fill the role, but he reported to minicamp overweight and did not hit it off well with coach Mike Holmgren. This sparked the discussions regarding Davis. Joe Juervicius is also in competition for the spot.

Speaking of Robinson, the beleaguered, 27 year old unemployed wide receiver, who is only 4 years removed from being the 9th player selected in the draft had another less than shining moment this week. He showed up to serve a one day jail sentence for a DUI conviction last Thursday, and the police smelled alcohol on his breath. The problem with this is that using alcohol is a violation of his parole, which resulted in him being held in jail on $25,000 bond. Robinson also served a suspension last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Running back Shaun Alexander has reached a compromise with the Seahawks and will report to camp on time. He did not get the long term deal he was hoping for, but his contract does contain language that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Originally, the Seahawks had offered him a one year tender offer as their franchise player. Alexander did not want to sign the tender, because to do so would mean the Seahawks could franchise him again next year. Alexander’s new deal is not a tender offer, and the Seahawks cannot franchise him after this season.

Rams LB Robert Thomas could be on the trading block. The Bears are thin at linebacker, and Bears coach Lovie Smith is a fan of Thomas, who was drafted by the Rams in the first round in 2002, when Smith was the Rams defensive coordinator. The Rams signed Chris Claiborne from the Vikings this offseason, and he is expected to win the middle linebacker spot that belonged to Thomas last year. If Thomas heads to the Bears, he likely would start at outside linebacker instead of journeyman Hunter Hillenmeyer. Bears fans will be sickened to know that Thomas is the younger brother of Stan Thomas, an offensive lineman who the Bears infamously took with a first round pick in 1991. He was not so good.

It looks like Cal rookie JJ Arrington will be the Cardinals feature back to start the season. Arrington is quick and a good receiver, but he likely is going to be sharing carries with Marcel Shipp until he proves his slight build can withstand an NFL style pounding.

Guess who Cardinal WR Anquan Boldin’s agent is? Boldin is going to show up for camp, but like just about all of Drew Rosehaus’ clients, he is actively renegotiating his contract

The Niners signed the first overall pick in the draft, quarterback Alex Smith, to six year contract that could be worth up to $57 million with incentives. That should buy him a lot of Advil, which he will no doubt need after this season.

The Cardinals and 49ers will play the NFL’s first ever regular season game on foreign soil when they meet in Mexico City on October 2. The NFL says they are pretty confident that the game will be a sellout, and approximately 5000 tickets were sold within hours of going on sale. One big concern is security, in particular the threat of kidnapping. It may sound laughable, but a coach of Cruz Azul, one of Mexico’s top soccer teams, was kidnapped in the Mexican capital last week. Nonetheless, the game will no doubt have an atmosphere that has never been seen in an NFL contest. Niner safety Tony Parrish told the Oakland Tribune, “”It will be a chance to play for a different crowd, they’ll be singing and dancing the whole game. It will be the type of scene we only see when we’re watching the World Cup on TV.”

AFC EAST
Three time Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour is actively renegotiating his contract with the Patriots, and the amount of progress made in the next few days will determine whether or not he reports to camp. Seymour still has two years remaining on his current contract, but wants a deal that approximates his market value. The negotiations have not been acrimonious, even though Seymour missed the team’s June minicamp.

Pats rookie O lineman Logan Mankins was the first 2005 first round pick to sign. The Fresno St. product will be given every opportunity to win the starting left guard job that was made available when Joe Andruzzi signed with Cleveland as a free agent.

The status of QB Chad Pennington’s throwing shoulder will be the main storyline coming out of Jets’ camp. Pennington says the shoulder does not feel like it has been operated on, save for feeling a bit “cranky” once in a while. He told New York Newsday that his goal is to be ready for the team’s opener.

Things are getting hairy between three time Pro Bowl DE John Abraham and the Jets. Abraham is angry at being franchised, which just about every player that gets the tag slapped on him is. The Jets have given him a one year tender of $6.7 million and refuse to negotiate further until he signs it. Abraham wants a long term contract, but the team is reluctant to give him one given his injury history. Making things more complicated is that the team seems to be ready to hold him out of the season opener, when it is very important to Abraham to play all 16 games to put to rest questions about his durability which may deter potential free agent suitors. Abraham has played 19 games in the last 2 seasons, and missed 13 games with injuries. On top of that, the team is in serious pursuit of Ty Law. If the Jets give Law a long term deal, Abraham will almost certainly take that as a slap in the face.

The Bills finally were able to trade deposed RB Travis Henry, sending him to Tennessee. The competition now begins for the Bills’ backup running back job. It looks like it will be a three way competition between veterans Shaud Williams and Rashard Lee, and big back Lionel Gates, a 7th round rookie out of Louisville.

A rookie to watch this year is Bills WR Roscoe Parrish. The second round pick out of Miami made a big impression on the team in minicamp and offseason work, and the Bills feel he can make a big impact right away. However, throwing a monkey wrench into the works is the fact that Drew Rosenhaus has indicated his client may not report to camp on time.

The Dolphins welcomed back a former running back to their squad this week. You might have heard of him. Some guy named Ricky Williams. I heard he likes to smoke doobage. Or he used to. With Williams easing his way back in, and second overall pick Ronnie Brown still unsigned, it is looking like Lamar Gordon will be the teams starting running back in the Hall of Fame Game vs. the Bears.

Lost in the Ricky Ticky Tavi mania of Dolphins camp is the battle for the starting QB job. In one corner is 12 year veteran Gus Frerotte, best known for injuring himself by headbutting a wall after scoring a touchdown. In the other corner is AJ Feeley, who parlayed a quarter season of not sucking with the Eagles in 2002 into a big money contract with the Dolphins. Good luck with that.

AFC NORTH
Former Ravens LB Peter Boulware could land in a place where he would have a chance to show up his old employers twice a year. The Steelers are interested in signing Boulware, who missed all of 2004 with injuries. They don’t want to pay too much for him though, and could wait until after the start of the season to sign him in hopes that his asking price will go down.

Hines Ward is not happy with his current contract, and it could result in him missing training camp for the second year in a row. Ward did not have a bad season last year, he had over 1000 receiving yards, but he was not the gamebreaking superstar he was in 2002 and 2003. Maybe missing camp had something to do with that.

The Ravens are being very careful with TE Todd Heap. He is recovering from offseason surgeries on his ankle and shoulder, and is expected to be placed on the physically unable to perform list. The Ravens have targeted the second exhibition game for Heap to make his return to game action, and are counting on him to be ready for the regular season opener.

Another important piece of the Baltimore offense, rookie WR Mark Clayton, has said he expects to be in camp on time. He is not signed yet, but does not expect to hold out and feels it is important for him to be in camp. With Heap’s questionable availability for the start of the season, it is very important that the Ravens have two fully functional wide receivers for the start of the season. Clayton is slated to start opposite Derrick Mason.

The Bengals are leaning very, very heavily on Rudi Johnson. His backup, Chris Perry, is recovering from hernia surgery and is not yet cleared to practice. Perry had 2 carries all of last year, but if the durable Rudi were get injured, Perry would become the feature back. The Bengals will have to throw the ball a lot this year to prevent Johnson from wearing down.

The Cincinnati linebacking corps will most likely have not one but 2 rookies in starting roles this year. First round pick David Pollack will start on the outside, and second rounder Odell Thurman will start at middle linebacker. This could be risky, especially since the men charged with keeping them clean, tackles Bryan Robinson and John Thornton, are adequate at best.

The Niners signing of Alex Smith could help expedite the Browns getting a deal done with the third pick in the draft, WR Braylon Edwards. While Smith received a $24 million dollar chunk of change in guaranteed money, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports Edwards is going to want somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million in guaranteed money to get him in camp.

Lee Suggs is the slight favorite to win the starting running back job for the Browns. He closed the 04 season with 3 straight games of having over 100 yards rushing, and that puts him in the drivers seat. William Green, who seems to have cleaned up his act this offseason, and former Bronco Reuben Droughns will provide competition. At a glance, it looks like the Browns may want to try and move one of those three backs, most likely Green, because they need help just about everywhere else.

AFC SOUTH
The Colts seem to be a harmonious bunch ready to make another run at the Patriots this season. All of their draft picks are signed and in camp. The exception to the rule is RB Edgerrin James. Edge is in camp, but still unhappy to be playing for a franchise tag, and the Colts don’t want to give him the $15 million in guaranteed money it would take to lock him up long-term given his age, injury history, and the short shelf life of NFL running backs. He has also said he will not accompany the Colts to Japan for their opening exhibition game, “The closest I’m going to get to Tokyo is Benihana,” Edge told Sports Illustrated’s Michael Silver.

They do say it’s an experience at every table.

Colts DE Robert Mathis will be handled with care this training camp. The Colts are trying to build a defense that uses speed and physicality to make plays, and Mathis is a big part of those plans. He was bothered by many nagging injuries in 04, although his 10 ½ sacks belie that.

The Jaguars lost out on acquiring running back Travis Henry from the Bills. Their running game now depends on the fragile health of Fred Taylor. Taylor will see very limited action in camp and in the preseason, as he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. If Henry goes down, LaBrandon Toefield becomes the starter, and he has yet to prove he will be anything other than a liability in that role.

There are always a handful of franchises who are rumored to be interested in moving to Los Angeles. Chief among them are the Jaguars. The Jags are resorting to covering up seats at Alltel Stadium to reduce the seating capacity and avoid TV blackouts for home games. This is despite the fact that the Jaguars are the only team in the league whose ticket prices are actually lower than they were 10 years ago. Jags owner Wayne Weaver left the door open for a move in a recent interview with columnist Vito Stellino when he said, “Because of my commitment to make it work in Jacksonville. I said that it is not my intention to move the team. Having said that, no business can lose money year after year after year and sustain itself.” The NFL has three teams in Florida, while no other major pro sports league has more than two, so it probably wouldn’t do very much to stop a seemingly extraneous third Florida team from filling the gaping hole in the LA market. Stay tuned.

While many might see the Texans as a pretty bland team, they do have two of the most exciting cornerbacks in the game. Philip Buchanon, who comes over from the Raiders, has scored a touchdown in each of his 3 NFL seasons. He is inconsistent in coverage, but he is very athletic and can make game-changing plays. At the other corner, Dunta Robinson was one of the most complete corners in the game as a rookie last season. There is no limit to how good he can be and he is the Texans’ best player.

The trade of RB Travis Henry to the Titans left many wondering if there will be enough carries for him there to keep him happy. After all, he was not happy being a backup in Buffalo, and he will probably be backing up Chris Brown in Nashville.

Henry said all the right things in his meet and greet press conference, “It’s a team sport first,” said Henry, who was acquired from Buffalo Monday for a 2006 third-round pick, then signed a four-year extension. “I’ve got a role to play and Chris has a role to play. We’ve just got to come together and do what’s best for the team.” As for Brown, he also seemed to be cool with it, “It certainly gives us more depth at running back. Anyone who helps us win, I’m down with that,” Brown said. “It’s up to the head coach as to who plays. I will respect whatever decision Coach [Jeff] Fisher makes. My job is to go out and play when my number is called.”

An X Factor in this situation is that Henry is the all time leading rusher at the University of Tennessee, meaning many Vols fans who are also Titans fans will want to see him get the bulk of the team’s carries.

The Titans are shaky in a lot of areas, and the kicking game is one of them. Ola Kimrin looks like he will have the job to start the season, and his 60% success rate with the Redskins last season doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.

AFC WEST
One of the most talked about rookies this offseason is Chargers RB Darren Sproles. Sproles, a 4th round pick out of Kansas St., has absolutely amazed the team with the amount of strength he packs into his 5-6 frame. There is even an unconfirmed story that he benched more than 1st round pick Shawn Merriman, a 270 lb defensive end, while the two were clowning around at Venice Beach this spring. Sproles is rocketing up the Chargers’ depth chart, so much so that the team released last year’s backup running back, Jesse Chatman, on Tuesday.

Given the fact that the Broncos drafted cornerbacks with their top 3 draft picks this year, the writing was on the wall for 2001 1st round pick CB Willie Middlebrooks, and indeed he was traded on July 16 to the 49ers for DE John Engelberger. Middlebrooks was a corner drafted by Mike Shanhan, and was pretty much an unmitigated bust, which kind of makes you wonder about how why the team drafted 3 corners in 3 picks this year, and how good those players will be.

The Broncos hope that Jerry Rice, in his final NFL season, can impart some knowledge to sophomore wideout Darius Watts. Watts, a second round pick of the Broncos last year, had a bad case of dropsy last year, and the Broncos hope Watts can watch Rice and learn, and be able to step up and be a big contributor.

Count the Chiefs among the teams who will not have the first round draft pick on the field at the start of training camp. LB Derrick Johnson is unsigned, and the negotiations are progressing slowly. Johnson is projected to start at an outside linebacker spot for KC. But if his holdout drags on, Scott Fujita can easily step in and start, as he did for every single game in both 03 and 04.

The Chiefs offensive line is the key to their offensive success, and it is very, very good. They do have concern at one spot though, and that is right tackle. Third year player Jordan Black projects as the starter, and he has been primarily a backup up to this point. Teams playing the Chiefs will stunt their pass rush to his side, as one of the all-time greats, Willie Roaf, is on the other side.

NFL cognoscenti all seem to concur that Raider RB Lamont Jordan will be one of the breakout players of the 2005 season. The man who up this point has backed up Curtis Martin with the Jets is a big, power running back who should be able to handle the load of carrying the ball 20+ times a game. He also will have running lanes open, as the Raiders will bring a lot of 3 and 4 receiver sets that stretch defenses out. 2 of those receivers, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, will be heavily gameplanned against.

TE Rickey Dudley is a Raider once again. The Raiders’ 1996 first round draft pick enjoyed a six year run of very productive seasons with the Raiders before signing with the Browns as a free agent in 2001, then floundering with injuries and ineffectiveness in Tampa for the last 3 years. He joins a crowded tight end picture in Oakland that includes Courtney Anderson and Teyo Johnson.

HAVE YOU SEEN MY BASEBALL??- PROJECTING THE AL PENNANT RACE
While there will be much argle bargle and fooferah regarding who is going where at the trading deadline, when you get down to it, winning or losing comes down to 2 things. Those things are, who you are, and who you’re playing against. Using those two criteria, I’ve gone ahead and seen if I can project how the MLB standings will look at the end of the 162 game gauntlet.

How did I do this? Well, let’s look at the first component, trying to get a reliable measure of how good a team is. To do this, I took each team’s full season winning percentage (a gauge of how well they’ve done over the long term) plus their winning percentage after June 1 (a gauge of how well they are playing now) and divided by 2. I got the following results.

AL East
Red Sox .550, Yankees .547, Orioles .466, Blue Jays .492, Devil Rays .355

AL Central
White Sox .647, Twins .513, Indians .522, Tigers .515, Royals .420

AL West
Angels .597, A’s .627, Rangers .441, Mariners .426

Got it? Next what I did was look at each team’s schedule to see how many games they had remaining against each team. Then I multiplied the number of games they have remaining against a given team by that team’s adjusted winning percentage (example, Boston has 6 games remaining against Minnesota, who has an adjusted winning percentage of .513, 6*.513= 3.078).

I then added up all those products, and divided it by the number of games remaining in that team’s season (for Boston, this came out to 30.646/61=.502). I then subtracted this total from 1, to get a strength of schedule measure. This approximates the winning percentage a .500 team could expect to have against their remaining schedule. I got the following totals.

AL East (Easiest to Hardest)
Yankees .506, Red Sox .498, Blue Jays .496, Orioles .484, Devil Rays .483

AL Central
Indians .517, White Sox .495, Royals .469, Tigers .466, Twins .456

AL West
Angels .497, A’s .493, Rangers .489, Mariners .467

The final step was to add the two indexes I calculated for each team and divide by 2. This gives me what I approximate to be the team’s winning percentage for the rest of the year. (Example, the Red Sox have an adjusted winning percentage of .550, plus a strength of schedule index of .498, so .550+.498/2=.524).

Quite easily done. So, after all this, here, dear reader, is what I project the final AL Standings to be.

AL East
Red Sox 87-75, Yankees 87-75, Orioles 81-81, Blue Jays 81-81, Devil Rays 62-100

AL Central
White Sox 101-61, Twins 84-78, Indians 84-78, Tigers 80-82, Royals 65-97

AL West
Angels 93-69, A’s 89-73 (wild card winner), Rangers 78-84, Mariners 72-90

So what we’re looking at here would be a playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees, where the winner moves on, and the loser goes home for a long, cold winter. If Bud Selig is reading this right now, which he’s not, I am assured he is rubbing his nipples. This also gives us ALDS matchups of White Sox vs. A’s (a collective groan arises from the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox are somewhere in the vicinity of 3-50 against Oakland in the past 5 years), and Red Sox or Yankees vs. Angels.

Next week we do the NL.

PIMPS UP HOS DOWN
Patrick Nguyen has a confession to make.

Just when you thought Steve Price’s column was as good as it could possibly be, it done went and got better. Check out his new “Green/White/Checker” format, it rocks.

David Goldberg talks about Fred Merkle, and his infamous Boner.

Omar Padilla helps press the reset button on the NHL.

Eugene Tierney has MLB trade rumors.

Welcome back Dr. Jay Gauss!

That’s a wrap for this week kiddos, sorry about the text-only version, but I’m having problems getting it up. By “it” I mean the pictures I was trying to upload, or my weiner, I forget which. Things are going to start getting really awesome around here real soon as the NFL exhibition season gets underway, check back every week for in depth coverage! Okay then.