Seahawks open minicamp without big dollar receivers

The two wide receivers who received the biggest contracts during the Tim Ruskell era were not on the field when the Seattle Seahawks opened minicamp today.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch were both sidelined following recent surgeries, per Danny O’Neil of the Seattle Times. Branch is out following arthroscopic knee surgery, his third in the last two years. Houshmandzadeh had surgery last week in Philadelphia to repair a sports hernia, a problem he dealt with last season, according to coach Pete Carroll. Why surgery wasn’t performed until now is unknown.

It is somewhat surprising that Branch remains with the Seahawks but at this point it looks like the new coaching staff will evaluate him in training camp. Carroll said he’s expected to be back in plenty of time for the season, and said Houshmandzadeh should be available in a matter of weeks.

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Packers sign 11 undrafted free agents

The Green Bay Packers announced the signing of 11 undrafted free agents prior to their rookie minicamp this weekend.

They have added four linebackers to the mix: Frank Zombo (Central Michigan), Alex Joseph (Temple), Tim Knicky (Stephen F. Austin) and John Russell (Wake Forest).

Also in play are South Dakota quarterback Noah Shepard, Fresno State wide receiver Chastin West, Miami cornerback Sam Sheilds, Stillman College running back Quinn Porter, Grand Valley State guard Nick McDonald, Eastern Illinois offensive tackle Chris Campbell and UTEP wide receiver Jeff Moturi.

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Source: Will James will visit 49ers on Monday

Veteran cornerback Will James will make a free-agent visit to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, according to a league source.

James, who nearly signed with the Chicago Bears last week, has a tie with the 49ers. Secondary coach Johnnie Lynn was his position coach when the New York Giants drafted James in 2001 out of Western Illinois. Lynn later became the defensive coordinator there.

James played in 16 games last season for the Detroit Lions, making 14 starts. He had 73 tackles with two interceptions. He is also drawing interest from the Arizona Cardinals, who just unloaded a veteran cornerback when they traded Bryant McFadden to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cardinals secondary coach Donnie Henderson coached James in Jacksonville in 2008.

Seattle has some level of interest in James, who has 60 career starts, after he visited there earlier this month. The Bears could remain in play for him too. He has starting experience and can provide solid depth for any team in need.

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Thank you, NFL Combine

As much as NFL teams might not want to admit it, the NFL Scouting Combine plays a huge role in the draft process that causes prospects to rise dramatically after just one workout. Today, the National Football Post takes a look at players who can thank the combine for their boosted draft stock last week.

RB Ben Tate, Houston Texans

When evaluating Tate’s game, there’s a lot to like about the productive SEC runner. He runs angry, exhibits natural vision inside, possesses the short-area quickness to side step would-be tacklers and loves to finish runs. However, a great burst and breakaway speed are two attributes that didn’t pop out on the tape, which had me confident projecting him as a solid No. 2 back in the NFL. But after he scorched a low 4.4 40 time at the combine, Tate’s stock soared immediately as a potential big-time workhorse back with breakaway away speed. That’s just not the case. Tate isn’t going to run away from anyone based off his tape and I my opinion isn’t nearly as effective as a guy like Anthony Dixon. However, speed wins out on draft day, which is why we saw Tate go in round two and Dixon fall to the sixth. But it’s a simple case of 40 times taking on more weight than play speed. I still think Dixon will end up being the better back.

DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Philadelphia Eagles

I love the passion Te’o-Nesheim brings to the game — his motor, his work rate and his willingness to play each and every play until the whistle. However, after evaluating him last season, I thought he was more of a late-round, try-hard guy who could make the occasional play at the next level as a pass rusher because of his effort. However, after an impressive combine workout that saw him post top numbers in the vertical jump (37 inches), three-cone (6.91 seconds) and short-shuttle (4.18 seconds), Te’o-Nesheim began to move up draft boards, which ultimately landed him a spot in the third round. I still think there’s a place for him as a potential hard-working pass rusher who can fill out a roster, but he doesn’t have the first step, anchor or lateral suddenness to consistently win in any area of the game vs. NFL-caliber linemen.

OLB Keenan Clayton, Philadelphia Eagles

When watching Clayton during the 2009 season, it was obvious he had the explosiveness and straight-line speed to make plays in pursuit. He also did a nice job getting a deep drop in coverage and had some range when asked to track the football. But he looked more like a SS/OLB hybrid to me and was simply too mechanical and not instinctive enough to make plays consistently in coverage. He always seemed to put himself in position but was never was able to close on the deal. Because of that, I thought he was more of a late-round size/speed guy who could cave out a niche on special teams. That was before he lit up the combine with a 4.59 40, 41

Ruskell, Angelo reunite in Chicago front office

The worst kept front office secret in the NFL was finally made public when the Chicago Bears announced that Tim Ruskell has been hired as the director of player personnel.

The Bears are creating a new position for Ruskell, a longtime associate and friend of general manager Jerry Angelo, after pro personnel director Bobby DePaul and college scouting director Greg Gabriel did not have their contracts renewed.

Angelo is entering his 10th season with the Bears and Ruskell is the first co-worker from the front office in Tampa Bay to join the organization. Ruskell resigned as the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks in December when it became apparent that he would not be returning to that club.

The Seahawks went to Super Bowl XL in Ruskell’s first season in Seattle, but the roster slowly eroded and now the team is on its second coach in as many seasons with a new front office led by John Schneider. Ruskell and Angelo helped lay the groundwork for the Buccaneers Super Bowl championship following the 2002 season and a year later left for Atlanta where he spent one season in the front office.

Seattle won three NFC West crowns while Ruskell was there. The Falcons reached the NFC title game in Ruskell’s only season there. Ruskell began with the Bucs as a regional scout before serving as the club’s director of college scouting from 1992 to 2000. He was named the director of player personnel in 2001 following Angelo’s departure. The Bucs reached postseason play five times in his final seven years in Tampa but those were the only winning seasons in 17 years there.

It remains to be seen what other moves might lie ahead for the Bears and if there will be promotions made on the current staff.

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Ireland’s dumb question

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, apologizing for his now infamous question to Dez Bryant about whether his mother was ever a prostitute:

“I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him.”

These kids are so coached up by agents on how to answer our questions, I wanted to see his reaction to that one. I didn’t think he’d actually tell the media about it. Now that’s all anyone wants to talk about. Did I tell you we signed Karlos Dansby and traded for Brandon Marshall?

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, on Ireland:

“I will be looking into this matter personally and will take appropriate actions if necessary.”

Geez, this is all anyone is asking me about! We’ve had a good offseason and now it’s overshadowed because Jeff asked about this kid’s mother being a prostitute. Did I tell you Jimmy Buffett, Serena and Venus Williams, Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan are part owners?

The NFL, on the matter:

“Steve Ross’ statement makes clear that the Miami Dolphins intend to address this matter promptly in an effective and thoughtful way.”

Steve will come down hard on Jeff; we don’t need to.

Former Lions general manager Matt Millen, on the matter:

“We’re making a big deal out of something that’s probably not that big a deal.”

Man, you should hear some of the questions I used to ask. Or maybe you shouldn’t.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, on the matter:

“NFL teams cannot have the free reign to ask questions during the interview process which can be categorized as stereotyping or which may bring a personal insult to any player as a man.”

Can you believe he asked him that? I was quiet through the Roethlisberger thing, but I can’t let this go.

Pacman Jones, on his reformed ways:

“You ain’t got to worry about no phone calls at 3, 4 in the morning. I’m here to play football.”

I’m a changed man. I’m now leaving strip clubs around 2; I have to rest up for my tryout. Or the one I hope to get.

Jets center Nick Mangold, on the release of his teammate, Alan Faneca:

“He’s a great mentor and teacher for me, but at the same time you know it’s a business and the powers that be decided it was time to move on.”

I heard they still have to pay him $5 million. Hope they still have some set aside for me. I want a big deal like Alan got before they get rid of me one day.

NFLPA president and free agent Kevin Mawae, on still not having any offers:

“I hope our management and the owners can look past the fact that I am president of the NFLPA. But right now it’s not looking that way.”

Faneca got $2.5M a day after being cut and I can’t get a sniff in four months? I’m getting blackballed, right?

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, on star running back Chris Johnson boycotting offseason workouts:

“Obviously, he’s taking advice from his agent. I hope that C.J. is taking good care of himself while he’s not here.”

His agent is giving him bad advice. He’s got no chance for a new contract if he doesn’t show up for workouts.

Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, on being given the starting job, having a baby and getting a $12M extension recently:

“It’s been a good month.”

They traded away Donovan McNabb, gave me the job, are giving me $12M, and I’m a free agent again after next year? Man, I love the Eagles.

Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, on being at offseason workouts:

“You know, it’s hard working out in New York when it’s cold outside and you have to work indoors. It’s great weather here, and I have no excuse not to be here.”

Of course, I had no excuse not to be with the Giants either, but where would you choose to be in the winter, New Jersey or Miami?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, on continuing the three-day draft format:

“I’d be hard-pressed to think we won’t go with the two-night prime time start, and the three-day draft.”

Have you seen the ratings?

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Report: Favre needs ankle surgery to play

If Brett Favre is going to return for a 20th season in the NFL and a second with the Minnesota Vikings, the future Hall of Fame quarterback is going to require surgery on his ankle.

That is what ESPN reported. News of Favre’s ankle bothering him recently surfaced as he told the NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci that his left ankle was ailing him.

“He doesn’t know yet,” Mariucci said about a return of the purple No. 4. “He's trying to heal up. His body is recovered except for that ankle. That's not quite ready yet. It's an ankle that he had surgery on twice before and it's still pretty puffy. You remember he came out of that game with the ankle and went back in, but it's still swollen.

“He's trying to determine: Is his body telling him something here? Or is he going to be feeling better in due time. He still hasn't made up his mind, and the Vikings are not rushing him.”

Getting surgery in order to play is obviously something Favre had done last spring when he underwent surgery on his right shoulder. This story isn’t going to go away soon. The drama is only going to build. Stay tuned.

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Report: Pacman says Packers called him

Pacman Jones was hoping to have work by now and the logical landing spot for him, if there can be one, was in Detroit where the Lions have a host of issues in the secondary and where head coach Jim Schwartz knows the player.

But that has yet to materialize and now Jones has told Sporting News Radio that the Green Bay Packers were one of four teams to contact him, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Senitnel.

Pacman in Titletown doesn’t seem like much of a match (you can insert your own one-liners here), but the Packers have been seeking an infusion of youth at cornerback. Jones doesn’t have any offers of a tryout or a contract.

The Packers sniffed around on quarterback Michael Vick at about this time last year, as Silverstein noted, and it’s the kind of legwork just about every team does involving just about every free agent. Jones has been cleared by the NFL for a full return to the game.

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Welcome to the NFL, rook

The next step in the process for rookies in the NFL is to experience their first minicamp, with most of the league’s teams kicking off their weekends today. Some will attend rookie-only camps, while others will be thrown into three fast-paced days with the veterans. Let’s look at what they can expect in their introduction to the NFL — a guideline of sorts from my experiences as a rookie and as a veteran.

The “handshakes” are over

Rookies are treated like gold over draft weekend. The first-round picks are flown in for press conferences, they hold up jerseys and are patted on the back by GMs, head coaches and even equipment managers. However, that ends once they get into meetings and once they get on the field. The best thing a rookie can do is play his role this weekend, listen, and if the veterans are in town, stay out of their way. The free passes will end.

Get in the playbook

Rookies will be handed the entire playbook this weekend in their first meetings and coaches will expect them to grasp the majority of the concepts by the time they hit the field. If you are a rookie, spend every minute of free time you have — in the hotel, at lunch, in the locker room — studying your responsibilities for practice. Coaches expect your technique to be off but they have little patience for rookies who can’t pick up the basic offense or defense.

Adapt to NFL speed

The first thing that rookies will realize when they take the practice field is the overall speed of the players. Just like the jump from high school to the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and so on, the speed jumps. But, in the NFL, it is amazing to see for the first time how fast every position moves and plays. Even in rookie-only camps, everyone can run. And if you are with the vets this weekend, be prepared to get beat — often.

Learn how to practice

NFL practices are fast paced. There is no time between drills and hardly any time to rest. If you are out of shape, it will reflect in the film room when you turn on the tape to watch practice, and no one wants to see a rookie sucking gas after the individual drills — when there are still two hours of practice time left. Most, if not all, rookies have been training to run 40s, short shuttles, 3-cone drills and everything else that is associated with pro days and the combine. It will show today when they are asked to play football in cleats for the first time since bowl season. Try to keep up.

Don’t be a “Mini-Camp All-America”

It is guaranteed to happen every year at minicamp with a rookie. Just as we talked about learning how to practice, minicamp isn’t the place to practice through the whistle, to cause collisions or to show how tough you are in shorts and helmets. But, it will go down over the weekend when a rookie tries to show the coaches that he is NFL-ready by running full speed into a veteran down the field — making them a target once the pads go on in August.

Respect the game

Even though some of these top picks will make more money in their first contracts than most vets will make in their entire lifetimes, know the history of the team. Understand that some of these veterans have been playing this game for over a decade and they won’t give up their jobs easily. Respect what they have done to make it this far and learn from them. Watch them practice, see how they take care of their bodies and understand what type of dedication it takes to play this game on Sundays. When I went to my first minicamp in St. Louis, all I did was watch players like Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Kurt Warner — and I kept my mouth shut.

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Crafty move by Packers landed them Burnett

When it came to what has been the boogeyman position on defense for the Chicago Bears, were they outsmarted by their rivials?

The Green Bay Packers, who have one of the best safeties in the NFC in Nick Collins, didn’t have an overwhelming need for another one in the draft but as Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett made his way into the third round, the opportunity to select him became too overwhelming to pass.

So as Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune details, the Packers traded their third-round pick (No. 86) and a fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to jump to No. 71 near the top of the third round and draft Burnett four slots before the Bears were going to select. Did the Packers steal the man the Bears had their eyes on? Chicago, when its turn came, chose Florida safety Major Wright.

“We had Burnett ranked really high, and we talked about it in the second round,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told Pompei. “When we got further down, we talked about the other teams needing safeties.

“It's like playing cards. There are teams you think will take safeties, and if you look back on it, they did. I definitely don't think he would have been there where we were picking in the third round.”

Part of the thinking in Green Bay was if they didn’t draft Burnett to pair with Collins, they would likely see him twice a season wearing a Bears uniform. Pompei reports that he contacted five NFL teams and all had Burnett ranked ahead of Wright, although on most boards they were close.

“Burnett is more of a ball guy,” Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. “He had more interceptions. But he's not nearly as physical as Major. He's not as sudden in movement or change of directions. I was fine with either of them. Both would have fit for what we want just fine.”

A “ball guy” is what most believed the Bears needed, a center fielder with coverage skills. But Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo has traded up in a draft just one time in nine years, and the Bears, as usual, were locked into that spot at No. 75 waiting to see what fell their way. Wright takes the field during rookie minicamp starting this afternoon. The Bears are thrilled with his addition and he figures to start at free safety this season if he develops like previous young safeties have for them. But Wright and Burnett will forever be linked as long as they are playing for rival teams.

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