Delhomme has broken finger

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A broken finger — not coach John Fox — may bench struggling Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.

Fox said Monday that Delhomme fractured a finger on his throwing hand late in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets and may not be available next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Matt Moore would likely replace him.

But Fox says that if Delhomme was healthy he would not be benched despite throwing four more interceptions Sunday and recording a passer rating of 12.7. Delhomme has thrown a career-high 18 picks with still five games left in the season for the Panthers (4-7).

Moore has not started a game since late in the 2007 season.

Biggs: Sears on reserve list, Bucs make other moves

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hopeful that guard Arron Sears can be a building block for the future on their offensive line, but they are going to have to wait to test him out until next season. Sears was placed on the reserve/non-football list today, two weeks after he reported to the team.

That means that Sears will not be able to practice with the team for the remainder of the season, but he will be allowed to work out at the team’s facility, and that’s important as his time away—he left the Bucs in the spring with psychological issues—led him to get out of shape.

Now, provided things go well, he should be ready to roll at the start of the offseason program. They were not the only moves by the Bucs today. Punter Dirk Johnson and cornerback Torrie Cox were both placed on injured reserve. Johnson pulled a hamstring in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta and Cox suffered a hip injury.

Cornerback Brandon Anderson was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to fill one of the roster openings.

Follow me at Twitter: BradBiggs

Scout’s notebook: offense

Observations and analysis from the 13th week of the college football season, including thoughts about some of the nation’s top offensive prospects.

Texas A&M two-step

Jerrod Johnson: QB (6-5, 243)

I knew heading into the Texas-Texas A&M showdown just how talented a quarterback A&M’s Jerrod Johnson was, and I knew he’d been taking dramatic steps over the past year or so under head coach Mike Sherman. However, what I didn’t expect to see was a quarterback who was so comfortable throwing the football outside the numbers while sticking big-time NFL throws into very tight windows. Johnson was absolutely brilliant Thursday night, carving up the Texas secondary and doing a great job using his pure athletic ability to create when nothing was there. The guy is a physical marvel at 6-5, 243 and possesses the arm strength and anticipation to throw receivers open and be accurate with the football. He’s still far from a finished product, and his mechanics and footwork have a tendency to get sloppy at times, but if you had seen this kid as a freshman, his development has been truly phenomenal. It’s obvious that Johnson is a student of the game and wants to mature, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make a run at the top quarterback spot in the 2011 draft.

Kevin Matthews: C (6-4, 310)

Another standout in last week’s Texas-Texas A&M showdown was the play of Aggies center Kevin Matthews. You can tell Kevin is the son of a former All-Pro offensive lineman (Bruce Matthews) as he consistently plays with impressive technique inside. Matthews does a tremendous job getting into opposing linemen quickly off the snap and may have the quickest hands of any center I’ve seen this year. He’s consistently able to get under the chest plate of defensive tackles on contact and stay on his blocks through the play. Plus, Matthews is the definition of a Velcro player in the run game and did a great job repeatedly handling Texas DT Lamarr Houston at the point and opening up lanes inside. He isn’t the most gifted athlete and lacks ideal range in space, but he’s fluid enough to slide laterally in pass protection and can anchor consistently vs. the bull-rush. Matthews looks like one of the more underrated offensive linemen prospects in the draft and is a guy I could definitely see maturing into a potential starter at the next level.

One nasty Owl

Temple tight end Steve Maneri has caught all of 11 passes this season and lacks the type of speed and overall athleticism to consistently create any kind of separation at the next level. So why am I bringing up his name? Well, at 6-6, 275 pounds, Maneri has found a niche on the Owls offense and has developed into one of the most impressive blockers in the country at his position. His ability to play with power, balance and body control at the point of attack are rare to see from a tight end his size. Maneri made an absolute mockery of the Ohio run defense on Friday, routinely handling any defensive end they put in his way and easily driving/pancaking them away from the football. The guy definitely looks like a draftable prospect; the question is, at what position? There’s no doubt in my mind Maneri has the skill set to make a roster as a team’s No. 2 or 3 blocking tight end and could instantly enhance an NFL run game. However, much like former Arkansas TE Jason Peters (currently the Eagles starting left tackle), would it make more sense to ask Maneri to add about 30 pounds to his frame and turn him into an offensive tackle? He definitely has the athletic skill set and length to make the change and at least gives NFL teams plenty of options concerning his role at the next level.

The tools simply aren’t there

Coming into the year, I thought Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller had the ability to become one of the draft’s top senior quarterback prospects. He’s a tall, well-built pocket passer who has improved his release over the years and has the IQ to handle an NFL playbook. However, after watching him last week vs. Ball State, it became clear the guy simply doesn’t have the skill set to be an efficient starting quarterback in the NFL. Hiller is a limited athlete who struggles to buy time in the pocket and fails to make plays on the move. Plus, he lacks ideal arm strength for the position and really struggles to get the ball outside the numbers. You can’t take away from the kid’s production throughout his college career, but his lacking physical skill set doesn’t bode well for his chances at the next level.

Underclassman gone bye-bye?

One performance that really caught my attention this past weekend was that of Florida TE Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez finished with five catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns vs. Florida State and also displayed the ability to line up on the outside and easily create separation against the Seminoles’ best cover man, CB Patrick Robinson. Hernandez is a gifted athlete for his size and showcases the burst to quickly get on top of defenders and the speed to get down the seam. However, it’s his body control and balance as a route runner that consistently allow him to cleanly get out of his breaks and separate vs. man coverage. The guy also does a great job after the catch and looks like a H-back/TE that you can split out and create a lot of mismatches with in the pass game at the next level.

Blah

At the start of the season, Clemson offensive guard Thomas Austin was considered one of the nation’s top prospects at his position. However, after watching tape of him last summer, I came away less than impressed. And although his performance this weekend vs. South Carolina was a little better, he just doesn’t look like the kind of athlete who will be able to consistently hold up in pass protection at the next level. He showcases good power and girth inside, but he’s slow to redirect and really struggles to stay in front of his man after his initial punch. Plus, he’s limited in space and isn’t effective when asked to pull and get out to the second level. His size and power will likely end up getting him drafted, but I wouldn’t considered him a prospect who has the ability to start for an NFL offense any time soon.

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

Biggs: Urlacher questions Bears' identity

LAKE FOREST, Ill.—One of the real issues for the Bears this season has been the lack of an identity on offense as the team that gets off the bus running, as Lovie Smith puts it, makes the transition to quarterback Jay Cutler rockier than anyone anticipated.

Smith still proclaims the Bears are a running team even though they now rank 32nd in the league running the ball. That bus the Bears got off of running is broken down now somewhere along the Kennedy Expy. The Bears were throttled 36-10 Sunday in Minnesota, and the Vikings limited the Bears to 43 rushing yards and just 38 offensive plays. It was the fourth time this season the Bears have been held under 50 yards rushing in a game.

And one person is having trouble taking it all—middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who suffered a fractured wrist in the season opener at Green Bay and has been out for the season.

“Look, I love Jay, and I understand he’s a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him,” Urlacher told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports. “But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we’d rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that’s the truth.”

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner figures to get the axe when this season finally screeches to a halt. Now, it’s a question of whether or not more than just Turner and some of his staff will exit Halas Hall not to return.

The Bears are now 20-23 since losing Super Bowl XLI. Smith’s defense, that he’s running as the play caller, is being overrun. The Vikings put up 537 yards offense. The talent on the roster is suspect following a series of questionable drafts by general manager Jerry Angelo and college scouting director Greg Gabriel.

Pressure is mounting.

Follow me at Twitter: BradBiggs

Warner could miss tilt against Vikings

From The Arizona Republic:

NASHVILLE – Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner had an inkling Saturday that he might not be able to play against the Titans. When he awoke Sunday with his neck still tight and his eyes sensitive to light, Warner and the Cardinals decided he would miss his first start in 42 games.

“It’s feels like a light sensitivity or my eyes aren’t quite adjusted right,” said Warner, who suffered a concussion last week against the Rams. “I had some tightness in my neck all week, so I think we were trying gauge whether what I was feeling was coming from the issues in my neck or whether it was an issue with my head.

“If we could’ve pinpointed it and believed that it was just muscular and in the neck, then I probably would’ve played.”

Warner will be evaluated as the week progresses, but it’s no sure thing he will start against the Vikings on Sunday night in Glendale.

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Brees, Brady: good people, great players

Tom Brady and Drew Brees have clearly established themselves at the top of the food chain in the NFL and are examples of how circumstances, injuries and simple choices of one player over another can create franchise-defining moments.

Mo Lewis changes Patriots history

I remember when – a few days after negotiating a 10-year $100-million contract for Brett Favre in February 2001 — the New England Patriots awarded Drew Bledsoe similar deal for $103 million.

Two games into the contract, Bledsoe was violently thumped by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis while running out of bounds, suffered internal bleeding and was forced from the game. He was “Wally-Pipped” by an unknown named Tom Brady and never regained his starting role for the Patriots (he was traded to the Bills that offseason).

One can only guess what would have happened with the Patriots, Bledsoe and Brady had Lewis not collided with Bledsoe on Sept. 23, 2001. The rest, as they say, is history.

Daunte Culpeper (and the Dolphins) change Saints history

Once the Chargers selected Philip Rivers as the fourth pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Brees — despite a strong year playing under the franchise tag in 2005 — was merely keeping the seat warm until Rivers was ready.

In an inopportune circumstance, Brees injured his shoulder in the last game prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2005 season. Although Brees was being offered more money in New Orleans, I remember that offseason that he and agent Tom Condon were hopeful the Miami Dolphins would step up with a suitable contract offer. After an exhausting six-hour physical in Miami, the Dolphins were scared off by the shoulder, ended negotiations with Brees and moved on to Daunte Culpepper, who also was coming off an injury (knee).

The Dolphins – Brees’ first choice as a free agent in 2006 – preferred Culpepper and his risky knee to Brees and his risky shoulder. Culpepper’s career with the Dolphins lasted four games before they finished the season with Joey Harrington and Cleo Lemon, then going with Trent Green the following year, Chad Pennington last year and now Chad Henne.

Brees went to the Saints on a one-year deal worth $10M with a $12M option. The Saints’ decision to exercise that option was one of the easier decisions made in NFL contracts in the past decade.

One can only imagine the change of events for the two franchises had the Dolphins chosen Brees over Culpepper.

Supreme players, superior people

Brady and Brees have the traits that teams look for in their quarterbacks and leaders: off-the-chart intelligence, natural management skills, an insatiable desire to get better in all that they do and an ability to make those around them feel empowered to do more than they think they can.

Having been in the front office of an NFL team for many years, there is no greater gift to a team than when its best players are also its more disciplined and hardest workers. The Patriots and Saints are blessed in that regard.

Brady is one of a handful of “it” athletes who transcend sports into a bigger stage, yet teammates and coaches all remark on what a model teammate he is, with high work ethic and modest personality.

Brees is consumed with being the best in everything he does. He was a student at Wharton Business School, where I teach, in the NFL program offered there in 2008 and took copious notes, studied into the night and asked insightful and thought-provoking questions. His charitable work is sincere and purposeful. Full disclosure: Brees is a spokesman here at the National Football Post, but there may be no more impressive football player on or off the field.

Contracts afoot?

We’ve witnessed contract extensions with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler in recent months.

While these deals were getting done, Brady and Brees – accomplishing more for their teams than those players — have watched silently. It’s not in their nature to publicly question when their extensions were coming, but they certainly had to take notice of these deals, especially with Brees agent Tom Condon negotiating Eli’s deal.

Brady signed a $60M deal in 2005 in a contract that expires after 2010, with a now-under market $10M APY (average per year). Brady is making $5.5M this season, making him one of the most underpaid athletes in all of sports (he makes a couple of million more than Dan Orlovsky this season). The Patriots appear to be waiting on developments in collective bargaining – or the lack thereof – before addressing the future of their most important asset.

As reported here in September, Brees, ever the helpful teammate, converted more than half his $9.8M salary this year into a signing bonus, giving the cap-needy Saints $3.4M in cap room. This restructure, however, did not affect the remaining three years of the deal, as Brees is under contract through 2011 (the same length of time remaining on Cutler’s deal when it was extended).

So tonight it’s game on for two of the best players – and people – on two of the best teams in the NFL. They both arrived at their positions in unintended ways. They both are natural leaders with high work-ethic model teammates. And they both face interesting financial futures in the coming year.

But that’s for another day. Tonight we can just sit back and watch greatness.

A couple other notes from the weekend:

• It’s heartening that the NFL continues to take the head trauma issue more seriously. As written here the past couple of weeks, the league’s new guidelines have been helpful but have caused more questions than answers. With more clarity to the guidelines and mandated removal of players showing signs of head trauma, this is another important step in the process. Whether it’s the Congressional hearings that compared the NFL to the tobacco industry or other recent events, this has become the issue around the game this season, and that’s a good thing.

• Matt Leinart and Vince Young played against each other Sunday. They were the futures of their teams – and still may be – but have been in holding patterns while their teams made further commitments to Kurt Warner and Kerry Collins last offseason. It will be an interesting offseason for not only those two young quarterbacks but also the two older ones.

• Raise your hand if you thought the Chicago Bears – who went “all-in” with the Cutler trade last offseason, would be out of any postseason discussion before the beginning of December. I didn’t.

• The Colts beat the Texans in a close game. And the sun rose this morning.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

For a look at six teams which could benefit the most if there is an uncapped 2010 offseason, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

Diner morning news: Young, Titans on a roll

QUOTE: “By making a comeback, I’m changing the attitude of people toward me. If I’d known that people would react so enthusiastically, I’d have done it years ago.” — Mark Spitz

What quarterback Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans did Sunday is what makes the NFL so great each and every week. Coaches always talk about going to training camp to bond and build team chemistry, but what builds chemistry is leading a team to victory in a fourth-quarter comeback, much like Young did against the Cardinals. He took his team 99 yards down the field, converting four critical fourth downs, for the Titans’ fifth win in a row. Right now, as we enter Week 13 of the season, no one wants to play Tennessee. The Titans can run the ball effectively with Chris Johnson, and they now can throw it as well, and some of their young players have matured and are playing very well. The Titans travel to Indy next week, and if they can find a way to win that game, they very well could run the table and make Chris Johnson’s prediction of winning 10 in a row a reality.

Young throws for almost 400 yards; Chris Johnson has a typical Chris Johnson day, gaining 154 yards on just 18 carries; and rookie first-round wide receiver Kenny Britt has hit his stride and is making key catches. These three players are young and talented and give the offense a bright future. The Titans have a good offensive line, which allows their talented players to demonstrate their enormous skill level. Their future is bright, and their present might become brighter if they can find a way to beat the Colts on Sunday.

Random thoughts…

1. What makes Andy Reid’s onside kick so perplexing is that the Eagles deferred the ball in the second half. Had the Eagles wanted to get the ball to start the game, they could have just elected to keep it. Weird decision.

2. Jim Zorn mismanaged the end of the half, which allowed the Eagles to get a cheap three points, which ultimately cost the Redskins the game.

3. I can’t understand why the Dolphins play so much man-to-man defense with their secondary. They’re like the gambler who constantly loses betting football, but when someone suggests he try hockey as an alternative, he replies, “But I don’t know anything about hockey.” The Fins are too slow at linebacker and not good enough to keep playing man to man. They allowed Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 246 yards and one touchdown despite being sacked six times.

4. Chad Simpson of the Colts might not get much playing time, but when he does get his chance, he looks like a very effective player.

5. The Texans just have not learned how to win a game. They can be frontrunners, but when the going gets tough, they’re not tough enough. I know they had to overcome a horrible call on the Jacques Reeves pass interference, but they’re just not able to fight through the hard times. The Texans seem to find ways to lose games, and until they get tougher mentally, they’ll keep being 8-8 and I’ll keep heading to Amsterdam to see Springsteen.

6. Bucs coach Raheen Morris might want to rethink his decision to attempt a 51-yarder late in the game. Field position was too important at that point, and the result of his decision was no different than a turnover. The Falcons marched down the field to score the game winner.

7. I know the Bucs are not great on defense, but Falcons backup QB Chris Redman did a very good job managing the game. I’m sure he doesn’t receive many practice reps during the week, but his execution was sound. Last-second win on fourth down was clutch.

8. The Bears are not a good team, and the whipping they received from the Vikings is a real indication of who they are as a team. They need to really study that tape and base their future decisions on those evaluations. The level of competition, especially on the road, is a great indication of where you are as a team.

9. Jacksonville is not a playoff team. The Jags might back in, but when you play two games on the West Coast and score just three points, how can you be a playoff team? They’re just not consistent enough on either side of the ball.

10. The Browns’ offense went back to normal as they were held to fewer than 200 yards for the seventh time in 11 games. Brady Quinn needed more than 30 throws to gain 100 yards.

11. The Bengals’ new running back, Larry Johnson, had 107 yards rushing against Cleveland. I’m anxious to see if he has improved or if the Browns just make everyone look good.

Much more to come in the Tavern later today.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

To read more about the struggling Texans and a case for the club to dismiss Gary Kubiak, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

Delhomme headed to the bench?

From the Charlotte Observer:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Carolina Panthers coach John Fox said he’ll evaluate the entire offense and consider possible lineup changes, including at quarterback, after Sunday’s 17-6 loss to the New York Jets.

“We’ve got to look hard at who’s out there, what we’re doing and get better,” said Fox. “I think we’ll look at the whole offense. At the end of the day, we weren’t productive enough to win.”

The Panthers’ 179 yards of total offense was the fewest they’ve had since gaining only 169 in their season-opening loss to Philadelphia.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme had a 12.7 passer rating, the second worst he’s had in a game in his seven seasons with the Panthers. (His rating was 12.3 last year at Oakland).

Delhomme threw four interceptions to raise his season total to 18, setting a new career single-season high even though the Panthers still have five games remaining.

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Urlacher on watching the Bears: "This sucks"

From Michael Silver of YahooSports.com:

CHICAGO – As Brett Favre(notes) broke the huddle and led the Minnesota Vikings to the line of scrimmage in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, Brian Urlacher(notes) got low to the ground, zeroed in on his target and prepared to pounce.

Unfortunately for Urlacher and his struggling team, the star middle linebacker was several area codes away from the Minneapolis Metrodome, where the 40-year-old Favre was working his magic against an NFC North opponent that at times looked helpless. Instead of staring down the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the Bears’ injured defensive leader was spicing up a small gathering at his brother Casey’s downtown condominium. As he watched the Vikings deal a near-fatal blow to his team’s faint playoff hopes, Urlacher did his best to amuse himself amid the doom and gloom.

Crawling slowly across the hardwood floor, Urlacher snuck behind a leather couch where several female guests were watching the game on a flat-screen television. Just as Favre was about to take the snap, the linebacker reached for a young woman named Andrea, his shocking pink cast hovering above her shoulder. Simultaneously, Urlacher grabbed her and screamed, causing Andrea and her equally frightened friends to gasp while the men in attendance howled with laughter.

A few seconds later, Urlacher stopped smiling. Favre faked a handoff to halfback Chester Taylor(notes), then went back to him with a swing pass that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown and a seven-point Vikings lead they wouldn’t come close to relinquishing. “Who’s got him in coverage?” Urlacher asked, then answered his rhetorical question: “Nobody.”

Later, as Minnesota rolled to a 36-10 victory that dropped the Bears to 4-7, Urlacher provided a two-word eulogy for a once-promising season that started to unravel when he dislocated his right wrist in a season-opening defeat to the Green Bay Packers.

“This sucks,” he said just before turning off the television midway through the fourth quarter and heading north toward his Lake Forest, Ill., home.

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