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Curtis Martin, The Factory of Sadness, replacement refs and more NFL Quick-Hits

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter provides his quick-hits from the week that was in the NFL.

+ Curtis Martin’s induction speech at the Hall of Fame this weekend was fascinating. He admitted to not wanting to play football after former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells called him on draft day back in 1995 and also lamented on how he didn’t have a strong passion for football, specifically running the ball. How naturally gifted do you have to be to rank fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list despite not being passionate about the game? That’s incredible. I’ve always felt that Martin never really got his due. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest back but when only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders are listed ahead of you on the all-time rushing list, you could play the game. And Curtis Martin could play the game, regardless of how passionate he was about the sport.

+ Roger Goodell made a great point recently about the situation with the replacement referees. Said Goodell, “You know, we had this experience in 2002, and the big impact we had in 2002 when we had the replacement officials was, you didn’t get a lot of the holding calls and some of the other calls.” First of all, who remembers that the NFL used replacement officials in 2002? It completely slipped my mind, which goes to show you that this situation isn’t as big a deal as some have made it. Yes, whether or not these replacement refs will be able to keep the peace is a major concern. Whether or not they’ll be abreast of all the rules is a key factor as well. But blown calls are going to happen whether there’s replacement refs or not. They’re part of the game. But as Goodell pointed out, the game might actually be more fast-paced because there will be fewer holding and pass interference calls, which are the two penalties that affect the game the most. Nobody wants to see a bunch of missed calls and rule-breaking but how many times have fans said, ‘Let the guys play!’ following a costly penalty? Well, those fans may get their wish thanks to these replacement officials.

+ The Cleveland Browns remain a fascinating story, although mostly for wrong reasons. Randy Lerner sold the team to Tennessee businessman Jimmy Haslam for more than $1 billion this week and as someone put it so perfectly on Twitter, who knew that the entire city of Cleveland was worth $1 billion, let alone the Browns? Now Haslman has to decide whether to make tweaks to the front office or completely gut the thing and start over. Granted, Mike Holmgren has had a rocky two-plus seasons as team president but it’s not as if he took over a playoff contender or even a franchise that was trending upwards. It’s as if the Browns have been stuck in purgatory for the better part of a decade and while some men enter, no man gets out alive. The thought of the Browns starting over yet again must frustrate fans. It would be nice to see Holmgren have at least another year or two to finish what he started but it would appear as though he won’t receive that opportunity. Then again, when you spend $1 billion on a football team you can do whatever you want with it. Browns fans can only hope that Haslam has a clear vision for what he wants the team to accomplish in the next three to five years because if not, this franchise will continue to flirt with the very definition of insanity.

+ Speaking of The Factory of Sadness, the loss of Chris Gocong is huge. The weakside linebacker has been diagnosed with a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon and is done for the season. He was a 16-game starter each of the past two years for the Browns, whose front seven continues to take hit after hit this offseason. Hopefully Ahtyba Rubin won’t suffer any setbacks after having surgery to repair a slight pelvic tear in June, because if not Cleveland’s run defense will be even worse this year than it was a season ago.

+ Robert Gallery announced his retirement on Saturday. His eight-year NFL career ended with zero All-Pro nominations and zero Pro Bowls. He played for two different organizations including six seasons with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him with the second overall pick in 2004. Some would say Gallery shouldn’t be considered among the top 20 or 25busts of all time but how could he not? When the Raiders eventually kicked him inside to guard he had a serviceable career. But he was drafted to be a left tackle, one of the most vital positions in football. It wasn’t like Oakland took him in the middle rounds, moved him to guard after he struggled on the outside and were happy they at least got six serviceable years out of him. No, they thought he was going to anchor their O-line for years to come. There have been many draft busts throughout the years and you wouldn’t have to strain very hard to find 25 players that were bigger flubs than Gallery. But he at least deserves mention considering that back in 2004 he was viewed as a future Pro Bowler and a can’t-miss prospect (not that those exist).

+ I had an opportunity to attend the Rams’ “scrimmage” on Saturday. I put quotation marks around the word “scrimmage” because it was more of a practice. While walking out of the Edward Jones Dome the first thing that struck me was how under whelmed I was while watching the workout. Thanks to Jeff Fisher, there’s a lot of optimism building in St. Louis right now and there’s no doubt this is a much improved Rams team. That said, the first-team offensive line looked inconsistent, as did Sam Bradford, rookie running back Isaiah Pead and most of the receivers. Danny Amendola dropped at least three passes during the workout, and he’s normally as sure-handed as they come. But after thinking about it some more, what did I really expect? The Rams have only been practicing for about a week and Saturday was just the third padded practice that the team partook in. Half the roster is new, the head coach is new, the offensive coordinator is new, and the position coaches are all new. That was not going to be a well-oiled machine at the Dome, and it wasn’t. It’s going to take some time but Fisher will put his stamp on things because he’s a good coach and he’s surrounded himself with a great staff. The key is that the Rams are building some excitement around the team and eventually, the roster will be good enough to compete.

+ Mike Wallace’s holdout situation has been the focal point in Pittsburgh this offseason but one of the more captivating storylines is Todd Haley. The former Chiefs head coach takes over for Bruce Arians at offensive coordinator and the early reports have all been positive. Haley is going to allow the Pittsburgh receivers to improvise and react to what the defense is doing, which plays extremely well into Ben Roethlisberger’s freelancing ways. But Haley isn’t exactly a mild-mannered coach. He’s intense and it’s going to be interesting to see how the dynamics play out between him and Big Ben, who has never been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the way his offense is being ran. The marriage could work as long as the Steelers’ offense doesn’t suffer any hiccups and hey, for the first time in a long time the offensive line is trending up. But the situation could also be a train wreck if the combustible Haley doesn’t mesh with Roethlisberger.

+ There are many signs that point to Chris Johnson having a bounce back year in Tennessee, none bigger than him reporting to camp on time and in shape after he skipped offseason workouts last year due to a contract holdout. But there’s another reason that Johnson should rebound and his name is Steve Hutchinson. Tennessee’s offensive line struggled with run-blocking last year, particularly from the interior. Hutchinson is getting long in the tooth but he’s an upgrade over what the Titans had last year and he reportedly has already made a positive impact on his teammates. Johnson should enjoy running behind the future Hall of Famer this season.

+ Yesterday was a great day for former Saints and Chiefs offensive tackle Willie Roaf, so I hate to focus on the negative. But how in the name of Zeus did it take Roaf two tries to be elected into the Hall of Fame? He was an 11-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro Selection and one of the most dominant tackles to ever don a NFL uniform. He swallowed defensive linemen whole with his massive frame and perfect technique. It’s a sin that he wasn’t a first-ballot selection but it’s great to see Roaf get his due.

+ Chris Doleman was Michael Strahan before there was Michael Strahan. Not a ton of flash to his game ; he just got the quarterback and he did so on a consistent basis. And you know what, defensive ends will always be graded and measured by sacks but Doleman was truly an all-around player. Whether lined up as an outside linebacker or with his hand in the dirt, the guy played the run as well as he did the pass.

+ As the Saints get ready to take on the Cardinals in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame game, the focus will once again be back on the bounty scandal. But keeping it on the field, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see what kind of impact Steve Spagnuolo can make in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Saints. Spags wasn’t a very good head coach but the one thing the Rams did well during his time in St. Louis was rush the passer. Giants fans are also well aware that Spags brought the heat but does he have enough weapons in New Orleans? Will Smith is suspended for four games and unless Sedrick Ellis or Cam Jordan play over their heads New Orleans could have issues generating pressure. And considering the Falcons are installing more of a vertical offense, the Bucs’ offense will be more physical under new head coach Greg Schiano, and the Panthers bring an explosive dynamic to the field thanks to Cam Newton, the Saints’ defense could really struggle this season despite Spagnuolo’s previous success.

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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The NFC North has major offensive line issues

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Much of the focus in the NFC North this preseason is how the Bears’ offensive line could be in major trouble after allowing nine sacks in their preseason debut. But look around – the rest of the division isn’t much better.

Minnesota Vikings
Forget the Bears – the Vikings are the current owners of the worst offensive line in the division, if not the entire league. Once a major strength, Minnesota’s O-line has fallen on hard times over the last couple of seasons. It was major liability last season and somehow it got much worse. Things started off on a bad note when Bryant McKinnie gained so much unhealthy weight during the lockout that the Vikings actually decided to release him just days before camp. Now they have a left tackle in Charlie Johnson who has been manhandled thus far and would probably be better suited to play inside at guard. Speaking of guard, Steve Hutchinson is a shell of his former self and rookie Chris DeGeare will start on the right side because of Anthony Herrera’s injury issues. In the middle, John Sullivan lacks power and remains one of the least productive centers in the league. Good luck this year, Adrian Peterson.

Chicago Bears
Anyone who saw the Bills rack up nine sacks on the Bears last week is well aware of Chicago’s offensive line issues. The good news is that the Bears got Frank Omiyale out of the starting lineup. The bad news is that J’Marcus Webb will be counted on to protect Jay Cutler’s blindside after struggling as a rookie at right tackle last season. At the other tackle position, the Bears had to draft Gabe Carimi in the first round this year after moving Chris Williams (a 2008 first round selection) to left guard. If the team had better options, Williams would probably have been cut already. The most reliable member of Chicago’s O-line is Roberto Garza, but he’s now playing out of position at center after Olin Kreutz signed with the Saints. Mike Tice is a solid offensive line coach but he has his work cut out for him this season. The unit actually started to gel mid-way through the 2010 season but if Chicago’s first preseason game was any indication, it could be a long season for Cutler and Co. The Bears better hope Webb and Carimi develop fast.

Detroit Lions
GM Martin Mayhew deserves plenty of kudos for the way he has slowly rebuilt the Lions’ roster over the last few years. But it would have been more comforting to Detroit fans had he paid more attention to the O-line this offseason. The Lions return five starters from a year ago but they’re not in as good of shape as one would think. Left tackle Jeff Backus has a partially torn pectoral muscle and will likely miss plenty of practice time as he rehabs the injury. At the other tackle position, Gosder Cherilus is coming off microfracture surgery and while he is practicing, the Lions are taking it slow with the former first rounder. Inside, the Lions are actually in decent shape assuming Stephen Peterman’s foot has healed. Rob Sims was a huge pickup from the Seahawks last season and has solidified what has been a big problem area for the Lions over the years. At center, Dominic Railoa is aging and undersized, but the team could do worse. The biggest problem areas are at the tackle positions, which doesn’t bode well for quarterback Matthew Stafford’s health.

Green Bay Packers
This is the lone exception in the division. Once a major concern thanks in large part to injuries, the Packers’ O-line is now a top-5 unit. Losing Daryn Colledge (Cardinals) hurt, but GM Ted Thompson found a gem in Derek Sherrod, who fell into Green Bay’s laps at the bottom of the first round. Josh Sitton continues to be one of the most underrated right guards in the league and RT Bryan Bulaga looks like he could make major strides in his second year. Barring injuries to the starters, Aaron Rodgers won’t have to worry about eating turf like he did in 2009.

Report: Brett Favre tells teammates that he’s returning

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24: Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a pass against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

While it hasn’t come out of his mouth directly, Jay Glazer of FOXSports.com writes that Brett Favre told teammates Steve Hutchinson, Jared Allen and Ryan Longwell that he will play this season.

Favre informed the trio Tuesday that he is, in fact, back in and will rejoin the Vikings, FOXsports.com has learned.

In addition, Favre is on the plane with the players and is heading back to Minneapolis. However, while signs point to Favre coming back, neither he nor his agent have informed the team that he’s returning. And with Favre, another change of heart is certainly not out of the question.

Does anyone else feel that this situation has gone from absurd to just flat out weird? The Vikings are in the midst of preparing for the regular season and Brad Childress thought it would be a good idea to send his top guard, his top pass-rusher and a kicker to woo Favre at his home in Mississippi? All right.

Although hey, assuming Favre is in route to Minnesota then I guess the move worked. It makes the situation no less ridiculous, lame and corny, but as long as Favre is back under center this year then nobody in Minnesota is going to care what it took to get him back.

Hopefully this year’s saga is finally over.

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