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Sunday Morning NFL Quick-Hits

Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyStalter.

+ The Miami Dolphins might be on the verge of making a mistake by signing Chad Ochocinco, who reportedly lacked football I.Q. to survive in New England. Said Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard: “The Patriots would literally tell him to run a route a certain way, and a minute later he would run it the other way. It happened all the time.” Ochocinco made six Pro Bowls, led the NFL in receiving yards once (2006), and led the AFC in receiving yards twice (2003, 2005) in Cincinnati because he was allowed to freelance, which is one of the many things that frustrated Carson Palmer. So why would the Dolphins want someone like Ochocinco on their roster when there’s a strong possibility that they’ll start a rookie at quarterback this season? Teams need to put young players in position to succeed, period. It makes no sense to start Ryan Tannehill and then throw Ochocinco into the mix when the idea is not to stunt the rookie’s development. If Tom Brady couldn’t work with Ochocinco, why would anyone believe that Tannehill could?

- Smart move by the Patriots to lock up tight end Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $54 million extension through 2019. Only $13.17 million is guaranteed, which is quite the bargain for the most dominate tight end in the league. This move also indicates that the Patriots have zero concerns about Gronk’s offseason ankle surgery and neither should anyone else.

+ Jets receiver Santonio Holmes is being made out to look like a baby following his meltdown at the team’s OTAs on Thursday. But keep in mind he had missed voluntary workouts while in Germany on a USO trip, so receivers coach Sanjay Lal could have done a better job easing Holmes back into action. After all, it’s June – not August. There will come a time when Holmes needs to ratchet up his workouts so that he’s prepared for the season but it does the Jets no good for Lal to burn out his receivers or risk injury three months before the season. That said, Holmes could have also acted like a professional. There was no need for him to toss his helmet and make a scene. His unpredictable attitude is one of the reasons why the Steelers felt compelled to trade him despite the fact that he was their Super Bowl MVP in 2009.

- Brandon Weeden has better size, a bigger arm, and has reportedly outperformed Colt McCoy in OTAs this spring. But it still doesn’t benefit Pat Shurmur to name a starter before or during training camp. Teams should strive for competition at all positions, especially at quarterback. Players become awfully content when they’re making a ton of money and know that nobody is breathing down their necks for their starting job. Even if it’s a foregone conclusion that Weeden will be the starter, it behooves Shurmur and the Browns to make him work for it all summer.

+ It’s great to hear that Michael Vick has been the first player in and the last player out during Eagles’ practices this offseason. It also pisses me off thinking about how undedicated he was in Atlanta. Did he want to win? No doubt. But you never read reports about him being the first one to the practice facility in Flowery Branch when he was quarterbacking the Falcons. Part of the blame falls on owner Arthur Blank and former coach Jim Mora, whom allowed Vick to come and go as he pleased. But considering the Falcons paid him franchise money to be the leader of their team, one would think he would have taken more pride in his work instead of continuously trying to get by on his talent alone. It’s a shame when you read that Vick is now finally dedicated to his craft 11 years after he was drafted but then again, it’s better late than never.

- From a defensive standpoint, one team that might be significantly improved this season from 2011 is the Arizona Cardinals. The team looked lost throughout the first half last year trying to learn new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense and as five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson admitted, there were plenty of times where players didn’t even know if they were in the right position. The Cardinals also started a rookie at cornerback in Patrick Peterson, who suffered plenty of growing pains before coming into his own in the final six weeks of the season. One area the Cardinals must improve on is their interception total. They had just one pick in the final six weeks of the season and they went eight games in which they had zero interceptions. Assuming they’re more comfortable in Horton’s defense in year two and they can hang onto the ball when they have opportunities to make a play, Arizona should show marked improvements from 2011. Now only if they had a quarterback on the other side of the ball to lead them to the playoffs…

+ Asante Samuel is already paying dividends in Atlanta. After lining up opposite Matt Ryan four times throughout his career, the Pro Bowl cornerback has been giving instructions to his new teammate on how the quarterback can become more difficult to defend. Samuel has also reportedly brought a ton of energy to the practice field and fellow cornerback Dunta Robinson is thrilled that the presence of his new teammate will allow him to kick inside to the nickel position. Robinson is at his best when he can get his hands on a receiver and be physical at the line of scrimmage. The past two years he struggled in former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme because he was forced to play off the ball. But with Samuel and Mike Nolan now in Atlanta, Robinson will play inside where he thrived early in his career as a member of the Houston Texans.

- All signs point to Chris Johnson having a bounce back year in Tennessee. It’s public knowledge that he showed up to camp out of shape last year following his contract dispute and the lockout. But Dan Pompei of the National Football Post has been told by sources that Johnson has rededicated himself this offseason. Of course, it doesn’t matter how good a shape Johnson is in if his offensive line doesn’t open up holes for him in the running game. Eugene Amano, David Stewart and Leroy Harris all struggled in run blocking last season and Johnson often found himself bottled up. It’s great that he’s committed to offseason workouts but without a better effort from the Titans’ front five, he won’t be rushing for over 2,000 yards again anytime soon.

+ Despite a messy contract situation, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Matt Forte doesn’t report to training camp. Forte wants a long-term deal from the Bears, who seemingly want to go year to year with their star running back. But at the end of the day Forte is a perfect fit for the Bears’ offense and he’s such a competitor that I don’t see him holding out all season. Plus, he has no leverage. He’s coming off a season-ending knee injury, he’s a running back in a passing league, and the Bears signed Michael Bush earlier this offseason as insurance. For Forte to hold out during one of his prime years doesn’t make sense. Plus, as long as he signs his franchise contract before the July 16 deadline he’ll make $7.7 in guaranteed money. Nobody is going to pass up that kind of cash, no matter how angry they are at their team.

- If the reports out of Seattle are any indication then the Seahawks might be in store for another rocky year at the quarterback position. Despite landing a three-year, $26 million contract, Matt Flynn has yet to distance himself from neither Russell Wilson nor Tarvaris Jackson. Everyone has been cautious when it comes to predicting Flynn’s success in his first year with the Seahawks, which is smart given his lack of experience. But it’s not like the Hawks gave him chump change – they paid him starter’s money. Thus, it’s a little surprising that Flynn has yet to emerge from a pack that also consists of a rookie third-round pick and one of the most underwhelming quarterbacks in the league.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Five NFL defenses that (potentially) improved over the offseason

San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Houston Texans defenders Mario Williams (top), Eugene Wilson (R) and Bernard Pollard (31) during their NFL game in Houston November 7, 2010. The Texans recovered the fumble on the play. REUTERS/Richard Carson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Seeing as how no teams have played a down yet, it makes it difficult to gauge which defenses will be improved in 2012. But based on the decisions they made in free agency and the draft, these five teams should be improved defensively next season.

Buffalo Bills
Think of the impact that Julius Peppers has had with the Bears the past two seasons – that’s exactly what Mario Williams could do for the Bills in 2012. Buffalo’s defense struggled last season mostly because the pass rush was non-existent. So GM Buddy Nix lured Williams to Buffalo this offseason and made sure he didn’t leave the city without first signing a contract. Nix also signed Mark Anderson, an experienced situational pass rusher that should benefit from playing opposite Williams in the Bills’ “new” 4-3. Adding cornerback Stephon Gillmore should also help Buffalo on the backend while Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder will add depth to the linebacker corps. We’ll have to see how the Dave Wannstedt hire pans out but for now, there’s no question the Bills have upgraded their pass rush in one offseason.

Dallas Cowboys
With the moves they made this offseason, the Cowboys’ defense could transform from a top 15 unit into a top 10. DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee comprise a solid front seven but Dallas struggled on the back end in 2012. So Jerry Jones invested $50.1 million and a second round pick on his cornerback positions this offseason with the additions of free agent Brandon Carr (the best CB on the market) and first-round pick Morris Claiborne (the best CB in the draft). It’s never guaranteed that a big money free agent or a rookie will make an immediate impact but at least on paper, the Cowboys have definitely improved their secondary. The signing of Dan Connor was also somewhat underrated as well. He struggles at times in coverage and he’s not a pass rusher but he’ll be perfect for what Dallas signed him for: an insider ‘backer that can bolster the run defense.

Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were productive this offseason in re-signing John Abraham (their best and sometimes only pass rusher last season), safety Thomas DeCoud (who is better than his reputation would suggest), and situational pass rusher Kroy Biermann (who appeared to be distracted last year, although marrying a reality TV star and parenting a newborn will do that to a man). But fans grew aggravated by GM Thomas Dimitroff’s inactivity in free agency and expressed disappointment that the team didn’t go after big money talent like Mario Williams. (Fans were also upset that the team didn’t re-sign MLB Curtis Lofton, who wound up landing with division rival New Orleans.) But the day before the draft Atlanta swung a deal that could only be considered as a steal. Acquiring a three-time Pro Bowler in Asante Samuel for a seventh round pick was a bargain for any team, especially one that struggled getting off the field last season on third downs. Furthermore, the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was a huge coup for the Falcons, who should be more aggressive and better equipped to handle explosive offenses like New Orleans, Green Bay and New York. No, the Falcons weren’t very active in free agency this year. But the re-signing of Abraham, the acquisition of Samuel and the hiring of Nolan should be more than enough to make this an improved Falcons squad.

Philadelphia Eagles
After struggling early in the season, the Eagles wound up being a top 10 defensive unit in 2011. But here’s why they’ll be improved in 2012. Juan Castillo has a full year of experience under his belt and the pressure he faced last year being a first-time defensive coordinator should lessen. Andy Reid also hit a home run in this year’s draft. Fletcher Cox has top 10 talent and the Eagles landed him at No. 12 (after moving up). Mychal Kendricks is undersized for the position but he was extremely productive at Cal, he hits like a Mac truck and he plays at 110mph every down. Vinny Curry is raw but he has potential as a pass rush and the only reason Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin fell to the fourth round was because he broke his leg at the Senior Bowl and was limited in pre-draft workouts. Otherwise, he’s a second-round prospect. Re-signing Derek Landri was also good for depth purposes and acquiring DeMeco Ryans from Houston should help the run defense.

St. Louis Rams
The Rams are a bit of a wildcard but considering they ranked 22nd in yards allowed, 31st in run defense and 26th in points allowed, there’s really nowhere to go but up. There are five moves the Rams made this offseason that should prove to beneficial in 2012. The first was hiring defensive-minded Jeff Fisher as head coach, who brought assistants like Mike Waufle and Chuck Cecil with him to St. Louis. The Rams also added scrappy cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who is a freaking house. Drafting run-stuffing DT Michael Brockers to play alongside Langford was also big and former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins could prove to be worth the gamble that new GM Les Snead took in the second round. Keep an eye on William Hayes, too. He was limited last year because of a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1 but he’s someone that could potentially see his playing time increase because he’s he can play the run and provide some pressure. The Rams screwed the pooch by not taking an outside linebacker in the second round, but all in all they had a productive offseason and should be improved next year.

Asante Samuel complains to refs while Austin Collie lays motionless on the field

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 15:  Asante Samuel #22 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates with Quintin Mikell #27 and Trent Cole #58 after an interception for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on December 15, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Football is an emotional game and emotions are bound to come out following big plays, nasty hits or yes, when players feel that an official missed a call.

But to watch Asante Samuel dance around the field in disgust over a call that a ref made during the Colts-Eagles game as Indianapolis receiver Austin Collie lay motionless on the field was, for lack of a better word, unfortunate.

Collie had been knocked unconscious after three Eagles defenders sandwiched him following a reception (or what was perceived to be a reception) late in the second quarter. As trainers attended to Collie, Samuel began hopping up and down in protest of the call (either the unnecessary roughness penalty that had been drawn or the call of an incomplete pass when it looked like Collie had secured the catch and then fumbled, which resulted in a recovery by Philadelphia).

I realize that helmet-to-helmet hits are a sore subject between the players and the league right now, but Samuel could have handled the situation with more class. There was Collie lying motionless on the ground and Samuel picked that moment to bitch at the official. I wonder how he would have felt if one of the Falcons players did that while his teammate DeSean Jackson was knocked out following a big collision a couple of weeks ago. Again, emotions come out in football but Samuel should have held his in check right before Collie was carried off the field on a stretcher. There were more important things at hand than whether or not the official got the call right.

Hopefully the reports on Collie will be positive. I’ll update this post when I hear more.

Update: Collie is said to be “sitting up and responsive” in the Colts’ locker room, which is great news.

Do the Eagles have enough depth in the secondary?

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 15:  Asante Samuel #22 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates with Quintin Mikell #27 and Trent Cole #58 after an interception for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on December 15, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the lack of depth the Eagles have in their secondary.

Truth be told, the Eagles are in pretty good shape entering the season. The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Kevin Kolb can replace Donovan McNabb, but I wouldn’t necessarily deem the quarterback position a weakness.

Nor would I say secondary is a weakness either. I like the starting four of Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Quintin Mikell and highly intriguing rookie Nate Allen. But after trading Sheldon Brown to the Browns in the offseason, the depth behind those players is now where the concern lies.

Hobbs, who keep in mind is coming off neck surgery, is expected to return kickoffs once the regular season starts. If he were to go down with an injury, it would leave the Eagles with Macho Harris, Joselio Hanson or fourth-round pick Trevard Lindley at the cornerback position opposite Samuel. And none of them have proven that they can be starters at this level. (Although to be fair, Lindley is only a rookie.)

And what if Allen struggles as a first-year starter? All indications are that he’s a stud in the making, but the regular season hasn’t started yet and thus, he hasn’t officially been tested. After losing his job to Harris last season and battling injuries throughout the year, can the Eagles get by with Quintin Demps if Allen can’t produce as a rookie?

Of course, most of this is hypothetical, which is why I’ll reiterate that I don’t think the Eagles have any predominant weaknesses. Again, I think their starters are solid and Allen has a legitimate chance of winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award if he can live up to expectations.

That said, this is still a thin secondary and Andy Reid better hope that this unit can stay healthy throughout the year. An injury to a starter could derail Philly’s chances of returning to the postseason.

2009 fantasy football is coming aoon—a look back at 2008 defenses

Last month we started looking at last season’s statistics for position players in fantasy football land, and today we’ll look at a position many often overlook. That’s fantasy defenses, which can sometimes put up just enough points to earn your team a victory once in a while. It’s always smart to try and grab one of the top units, although as we’ve seen before, things change, sometimes drastically, from year to year with fantasy D’s. Me? I like to grab my defense before my kicker. This list is based on point totals from one of my leagues, so keep in mind that stats vary from year to year.

1. Baltimore Ravens—The Ravens’ defense is perennially awesome, and we’ll find out for sure how much of that was due to former coordinator Rex Ryan, who is now the head honcho for the Jets. Ryan took plenty of players with him too, like LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard, but the Ravens still have Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Reed just keeps getting better every year, and his sick nose for the ball is one reason the Ravens had a league high 26 picks. They will keep scoring low as always, but their 34 sacks last season isn’t much to get excited about. Bottom line: The Ravens won’t be a number one this year, but are still top 10.

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