Steve Smith tries to smooth things over with Jimmy Clausen

Perhaps it’s because he realizes that Jimmy Clausen could be the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers for the considerable future.

Or maybe Steve Smith is simply maturing.

Whatever the case, the veteran wide receiver, and only man that is a threat in the Panthers’ passing game, is trying to smooth things over with Clausen after a sideline spat with him in last Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Per Steve Reed of the Gaston Gazette, television cameras captured Smith getting into it with Clausen while the rookie was going over things with an assistant coach. It’s all par for the course with Smith, who is a combustible figure but just as explosive as a player.

“It was said that I was just about to ‘go off’ and I wasn’t,” Smith said. “I thought it was interesting because here, I was obviously agitated and frustrated, but sometimes people think they know me better than I know myself. So I think that’s a joke and I think the people that reported it are jokes.”

Smith said he thought Clausen did as good as he could considering the circumstances. It could get more difficult Sunday with the New Orleans Saints visiting. The Saints are 31st in offense and last in scoring in the league.

“There really wasn’t anything between me and Steve,” Clausen said. “Like I told you after the game it’s just his competitiveness as a football player. He wants the ball. I think it’s a good thing for your receivers to want the ball as much as they can get it.”

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Week 4 Wednesday Injury Report

The NFL got back to work on Wednesday as all 32 teams hit the practice field. Let’s take a look at the key fantasy players who are currently battling the injury bug:

Steve Breaston, WR, Arizona Cardinals (knee): Breaston did not practice on Wednesday after undergoing knee surgery earlier in the week. He is expected to miss the next few games.

Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals (knee): Wells was held to limited reps in practice on Wednesday.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens (knee): Rice did not practice on Wednesday, but there are people with the Baltimore organization that feel he will be ready to go Sunday vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pierre Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints (ankle): Thomas was held of out practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 3 vs. Atlanta. Chris Ivory is the backup and you should be looking for him on waivers right now.

Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (knee): Benson did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury.

Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns (thigh): Harrison was held to limited reps in practice on Wednesday, but owners should realize that Peyton Hillis is the new top dog in Cleveland at the moment.

Jake Delhome, QB, Cleveland Browns (ankle): Delhomme once again missed practice on Wednesday. If this guy isn’t careful, he’s going to lose the starting job to Seneca Wallace.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos (hamstring): Moreno did not practice on Wednesday and there is a feeling that he will miss Sunday’s game at Tennessee. Nothing official yet, but owners are advised to start making preparations.

Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions (turf toe): Best did not practice on Wednesday. He will likely be a game-time decision for Sunday’s showdown with the Green Bay Packers.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (shoulder): Stafford did not practice on Wednesday, but he is expected to start throwing again this week.

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (ankle): Johnson did not practice on Wednesday and will be a game-time decision for Sunday’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders.

Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans (hamstring): Daniels was held to limited reps in practice on Wednesday.

Donald Brown, RB, Indianapolis Colts (hamstring): Brown did not practice on Wednesday.

Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts (hamstring): Garcon did not practice on Wednesday.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams (groin): Jackson did not practice on Wednesday. There is no official word as of yet regarding his status for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants (concussion): Manningham did not practice on Wednesday due to a concussion he suffered last Sunday vs. the Tennessee Titans.

Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots (toe): Taylor did not practice on Wednesday. The law firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks to be a solid waiver wire pickup this week.

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers (ankle): Mathews was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and the word around the league is that he should be able to start this Sunday vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

Falcons LB Weatherspoon has an ankle issue

The status of Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers is up in the air as he is dealing with a right ankle injury.

Weatherspoon left the field on a cart in last Sunday’s overtime victory at New Orleans but that was because he had cramps. As Falcons coach Mike Smith explained, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a day after the game the ankle issue emerged.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get him back out (today) and get him some reps,” Smith said.

The rookie first-round draft pick from Missouri is a big part of the unit already. He is tied with middle linebacker Curtis Lofton for the team lead in tackles.

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The Hester effect

On Monday night, the Bears’ Devin Hester made an impact on special teams—and that is now on tape. A 62-yard return for a TD stands out in the film room and has a direct impact on how the Bears’ future opponents will prepare throughout the week when it comes to the kicking game.

Great returners bring unwanted stress to the facility throughout the week. During my career, it was Dante Hall of the Chiefs. Meetings, film, etc. All of that was magnified as we prepared to try and limit his abilities as a returner on Sunday. Long week to be in that meeting room.

On Sunday night, the Bears take on the Giants. Let’s break down what the New York players will do this week in the meeting room and on the field to avoid being victimized by Hester in the return game.

Devin HesterICONHester's TD return against the Packers will be the focus of the Giants' game prep.

Learn from the Packers’ mistakes: The Giants will watch that 62-yard return (along with the other return Hester almost broke) a hundred times. The special teams coach will make an example out of the Packers’ coverage unit. What did they do wrong? Why was Hester able to press the contain of the coverage, make one cut and find an open lane? Dissect the coverage mistakes of Green Bay, and use their players as an example of what not to do in this situation. That return will never die. It lives on tape for the rest of the season for all of the Bears’ opponents. That’s how it works, and if you were on that punt coverage unit for Green Bay, the rest of the league is going to be watching you do it—again and again.

Practice schedule: The routine is adjusted. Most clubs will spend their entire special teams portion of practice on Wednesday (around 25 minutes) working on punt and punt return. But, with a guy like Hester, players should expect to at least walk through their coverage assignments on Thursday, hit it at full speed again on Friday and go through one final check list on Saturday. It becomes almost obsessive. And, every day you are reminded that Hester is coming to town.

The meeting room: Every club in the league starts the day off with special teams meetings. And almost every player—minus the QBs—is sitting in one of those chairs. Thursday mornings are spent watching tape on kickoff and kickoff return. Don’t be surprised when a great returner is on the schedule to see the special teams coach throw that big play back up on the screen on a Friday or Saturday morning—just to remind you of what you are going up against. They are long meetings and that return becomes ingrained in your memory by Thursday afternoon. You go to bed at night thinking about it. And, by the end of the week, that special teams coach is on edge.

The scout team: Find the best athlete on the scout team. Doesn’t matter if it a RB, a DB or a WR. Put a red jersey on him with the No. 23 across the front. The special teams coach will instruct him to run lateral, backwards, change direction, etc. You want to get someone back there during practice that can at least try and simulate what the punt coverage team is going to see on Sunday. It will never be mentioned by the head coach in a press conference, but it is the most important job of the week.

Players only meetings: Had these throughout my career (usually on Fridays) where we would meet after practice as a coverage unit—without our coaches—to watch the tapes again. Order pizza, subs or some wings and spend a good hour getting back into that tape. It is easier to talk amongst teammates and to come up with your own game plan for Sunday when you are out on that field together without the coaches to tell you what to do.

The challenge:The most important part of the game prep. It is a challenge to stop a great returner. The players on the Giants know it. If you aren’t a starter on offense or defense, this is your time to shine on Sunday. Take the challenge and go make a play. You want to stand out on tape? Defeat that block, get into your coverage lane and make a solid tackle. Even better? Get the ball on the ground. National TV against one of the best returners in the NFL. That’s what you play for.

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Shaun Hill will start for Lions Sunday

The Detroit Lions will go with Shaun Hill at quarterback for the third straight game on Sunday at Lambeau Field, where they have not won since 1991.

Coach Jim Schwartz has opted to make the timetable for a return and the rehabilitation for starter Matthew Stafford a matter of national security, according to Tom “Killer” Kowalski of MLive.com.

Stafford has started doing some light throwing this week. Kowalski reports that if Stafford doesn’t return next week to face the St. Louis Rams it’s possible he will be out until after the bye in Week 7. The Lions go to face the New York Giants I Week 6.

Hill had the Lions in position to get back in the game last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings but he threw two interceptions in the end zone.

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Nick Collins apologizes for reaction to fan who slurred him

Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins has apologized for his reaction to a fan Monday night at Soldier Field that he said taunted him with racial slurs.

Collins confronted the fan as he entered a tunnel leaving the field, and threw his mouthpiece at the fan in the stands. Collins has maintained that the fan engaged him with a racial attack.

“This is a situation that I could have walked away from but, you know, heat of the moment,” Collins said, according to the Associated Press. “Things happen. Both sides (were) out of line.”

Milwaukee television station WITI-TV caught part of the incident on camera and reported that the fan used a racial slur and spit at Collins. The NFL has said it is investigating the matter.

“You know, it's going to happen,” Collins said of the racial slur. “I'm probably not the only guy that's been in that situation before. It happens. I'm a professional. I've got to be a bigger person and keep walking.”

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NFP Heisman Watch

It’s never too early to talk Heisman. Here is how the National Football Post stacks up the top contenders to take home the hardware.

QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: Moore helped lead the Broncos past their toughest remaining test — no disrespect to Nevada or Fresno State — by completing 19 of 27 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State Saturday night. On a national stage with all the pressure on the Broncos, the 6-foot, 187-pound junior helped extend Boise’s winning streak to 17. Moore threw for 235 yards in the first half and now has an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season. With Boise likely not playing another ranked opponent until November, Moore will be expected to rack up big numbers. But so far, so good for the Broncos signal caller. All he does is win and toss touchdowns.

Kellen MooreICONBoise State QB Kellen Moore threw for 288 yards and three TDs against Oregon State last week.

Last week: 19/27, 288 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs
Season: 62/95, 873 yards, 8 TDs and 1 INT
Next game: at New Mexico State Saturday

QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: Pryor led a Buckeyes rout of Eastern Michigan by accounting for six touchdowns last week — including a touchdown catch. There’s no question that the dual-threat signal caller has feasted on inferior opponents, with the exception being the Miami game. The 6-6, 233-pounder’s toughest tests remain road games against Wisconsin and Iowa before the annual tilt with Michigan at the end of the year. He hasn’t had his defining Heisman moment yet, but he’s squarely in the middle of the conversation.

Last week: 20/26, 224 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs. 7 rushes for 104 yards and 1 TD
Season: 71/107, 939 yards, 10 TDs and 2 INTs. 43 rushes for 269 yards and 3 TDs
Next game: at Illinois Saturday

QB Denard Robinson, Michigan: Robinson was injured last week against Bowling Green, so he wasn’t able to put up eye-popping numbers. So all the 6-foot, 193-pounder did was rush for 129 yards and two scores in less than a quarter of action. The country’s leading rusher is expected to play this week at Indiana and looks like he is primed to continue to put up huge numbers no matter the competition. I still feel that he may not be able to win the award if Michigan’s defense doesn’t play well in tough Big Ten contests. But then again, he may have a chance to put up even bigger numbers if the Wolverines get involved in shootouts.

Last week: 4/4, 60 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs. 5 rushes for 129 yards and 2 TDs
Season: 57/80, 731 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT. 79 rushes for 688 yards and 6 TDs
Next game: at Indiana Saturday

CB/KR Patrick Peterson, LSU: Peterson had the Heisman moment of 2010 last week against West Virginia — he struck the famous pose to prove it. Certainly against the Mountaineers, the junior showed his worth to the Tigers on a big stage. Peterson blocked a field goal attempt, returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown and made things very difficult for WVU quarterback Geno Smith by essentially taking away one side of the field. The performance followed his two-interception effort the week before against Mississippi State, and the 6-1, 222-pounder also has his opening performance against North Carolina in his back pocket. Against the Mountaineers, the explosiveness he consistently brings on defense and special teams was once again on display.

Last week: 0 INTs, 1 total tackle (1 solo), 86 return yards and 1 TD, blocked FG
Season: 2 INTs, 11 total tackles (9 solo), 443 return yards and 2 TDs, blocked FG
Next game: vs. Tennessee Saturday

Mark IngramICONAlabama RB Mark Ingram is right back in the Heisman conversation.

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama: What a way to get back into the Heisman race. The reigning award winner is running with such authority that it’s amazing he was even hurt and missed the first two weeks of the season because of a knee injury. But after making up for lost time with a stellar 2010 debut against Duke, the junior racked up 157 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC West showdown last week against Arkansas. As I’ve mentioned before, Ingram will be held to a higher standard after taking home the hardware last season. But when you’re averaging 9.3 yards per carry, you’re going to be in good shape. The Crimson Tide get Florida this week, and we all know what happened last year in the SEC championship game.

Last week: 24 rushes for 157 yards and 2 TDs
Season: 33 rushes for 308 yards and 4 TDs
Next game: vs. Florida Saturday

RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma: Murray has now had two statistical subpar efforts — against Florida State when he rushed for 51 yards and this past week when he only gained 67 against Cincinnati. However, he did score twice against the Seminoles and found the end zone once against the Bearcats. The Sooners may have played some too-close-for-comfort games, but they remain undefeated. And as long as they remain unscathed, the 6-1, 207-pounder will continue to be in the spotlight. He will continue to be leaned on by head coach Bob Stoops, and the senior has a big opportunity for a Heisman moment this week with the Red River Rivalry taking place against Texas. Murray drops in the rankings for now, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to state his case.

Last week: </strong>28 rushes for 67 yards and 1 TD. 7 catches for 21 yards and 0 TDs.
Season: 105 rushes for 436 yards and 7 TDs. 16 catches for 111 yards and 1 TD.
Next game: vs. Texas Saturday

Dropping out this week: Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett

Note: Stanford QB Andrew Luck certainly is on the cusp of this list, but I want to see how he fares against Oregon this week. He has been impressive overall this season, but I think the defense of the Cardinal has had a lot to do with the team’s success — perhaps even more so than Luck.

Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave or send your college football questions to dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com

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Scout’s notebook: defense

A scout’s take on the good, the bad and the ugly from the fourth week of the college football season concerning some of the nation’s top defensive prospects.

Safeties that can’t run have no chance in the NFL

Dom DeCicco: Pittsburgh
I like DeCicco as a college player. He’s tough, physical, has a passion for the game and knows how to find the football. However, at 6-4, 230 pounds, he’s going to have a really tough time manning a safety spot in the NFL. The guy is stiff when asked to turn and run down the field and lacks any type of gear to make up for a false step and close on the football. Now, the good news is at his size he could be in a position to get some looks as a linebacker at the next level, as you also know you’re getting a solid special teams player out of him. But the idea that this guy can play in an NFL secondary, in my opinion, is completely out of the question.

Davonte Shannon: Buffalo
Despite his above-average instincts and ball skills in the secondary, Shannon really has a tough time taking proper angles to the football in pursuit and simply doesn’t get up to speed real quickly. He’s a guy who doesn’t possess much of a second gear and lacks ideal range and closing speed when trying to get after the football in the deep half. Now, he’s a smart enough kid to routinely put himself around the action. However, with the increase of playing speed in the NFL, I really see him struggling trying to keep pace in the secondary. Plus, the fact he isn’t a real consistent wrap-up tackler when asked to break down one-on-one and doesn’t seem to cover much range when asked to shoot into his target doesn’t bode well. Overall, I think he’s a nice MAC safety, but at only 6-0, 205 pounds, and with his lack of great athleticism, he’s going to have a tough time showing enough to make an NFL roster.

SheardICONSheard has the ability to get after the passer in a variety of ways.

His time to shine
Many thought that with Pittsburgh DE Greg Romeus out of action for the next couple weeks that his counterpart on the edge, Jabaal Sheard, would see a drop in effectiveness. However, that was certainly not the case on Thursday night as he consistently was able to create pressure in the pass game. Now, Sheard isn’t the most explosive guy off the snap and lacks ideal flexibility when asked to sit into his stance. However, what makes him so effective, in my opinion, is his overall savvy as a pass rusher — being able to work his full pass rush arsenal in order to keep opposing tackles off balance. He displays the type of natural balance and bend to drop his shoulder and flatten out around the corner, he can be physical on contact with his bull rush and exhibits the body control to work a sudden arm over back inside. Plus, the guy plays effective on both the right and left side and has a good motor that runs at a pretty consistent rate. Now, he does have some character issues that were brought to fruition before the season started. However, I was told when I first started scouting that…

“If a defensive lineman was a good character guy, he would play offensive line, you have to like a defensive lineman with a little bad boy to his game.”

Which is exactly what Sheard possesses.

Can he make the move?
South Carolina defensive back Chris Culliver
made the move from safety to cornerback this offseason and one of the biggest questions in draft circles at this stage is: Where will he play in the NFL? Well, when watching him this week vs. Auburn, I was a bit more impressed with his ability to break down on contact, wrap up and bring his legs through the play as a tackler than I was all of last year. However, in coverage, especially when asked to play in off, the guy just really doesn’t have a good feel concerning how much room to surrender off the line, as he gave up far too much of a cushion for opposing receivers to operate underneath. Now, he is new to the position and still might be trying to work on his feel for different situations. But, a lack of instincts and overall awareness was a trait that followed him around during his time while at safety and it’s just something I don’t think he will ever be able to overcome. Athletic ability, range and body control are all definitely not question marks for this guy, but I just don’t think he’s a guy who will ever live up to his athletic skill set because of his questionable instincts for the game.

Other defensive snippets…

Talked with a scout this week who said the biggest thing that stands out about LSU DT Drake Nevis is how small he is. Said he’s a guy who can get away with it at the college level, but isn’t much more than a rotational lineman in the NFL. I agree with him 100 percent.

It’s not Davonte Shannon you should be watching in the Buffalo secondary; it’s CB Josh Thomas. Thomas is a smaller 5-10, 186 pound corner who simply flies around the football field and isn’t afraid to hit in the run game. Plus, he showcases some natural body control and bend in his drop, maintains balance when asked to change directions and possesses good speed closing on the football. He will get a bit impatient at times when asked to press and can get crossed up with his footwork, but overall he’s a good looking prospect who has the makings of contributing to an NFL roster as a sub-package guy.

I thought Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett really played well Saturday vs. Penn State in his limited opportunities. On one play he did a great job breaking down in a phone both, generated a snap through his hips and brought his legs through his wrap, taking the back off the ground. On another play he keyed quickly in the secondary, cleanly changed directions out of his drop and accelerated quickly on a play to the corner of the end zone, knocking the football away. He’s a talented kid without much fanfare attached to his name, but is one of the few senior safety prospects I could see starting in the NFL.

Fresno State pass rusher Chris Carter isn’t the most natural of benders when asked to play from a two-point stance, but boy can he get off the football. He displays the type of burst to routinely threaten the edge, has some lateral suddenness to his game when asked to set up opposing linemen with a jab step and can drop his pad level down around the corner. Now, he does get upright as a pass rusher and if an opposing tackle is able to get his hands on him he can be easily pushed past the play. However, he also exhibits the ability to rush from a three-point stance and although I think he could end up being a solid nickel rusher, his real calling card looks to be as a potential 3-4 OLB with some real pass rush potential in the NFL.

Powe ICONPowe has been rather unimpressive so far this year.

Haven’t been real impressed with Mississippi DT Jerrell Powe up to this point and didn’t think he was real special Saturday night. He’s your typical wide-bodied player who has a good first step for his size and can generate leverage on contact. And although he looks much more athletic when asked to make plays off his frame this year, he doesn’t offer much lateral agility as a pass rusher — is more of a push/pull guy — and needs to do a better job protecting hi
s legs because at this stage the guy ends up on the ground far too much.

Finally, one guy who I am really starting to fall for is Stanford nose tackle Sione Fua. Fua is a thick, squatty kid who fires off the football low, does a nice job getting his hands up, sitting into his stance and can really anchor inside on contact. Plus, he has the type of body control and strength to fight off blocks, two-gap on either side of him and bring down the ball carrier. Now, he isn’t much more than a bull rush guy inside vs. the pass game and I would like to seem him do a better job locating the football inside. But as a two-down, physical run plugger, I think Fua has a chance to start for you in a 4-3 front.

Injury notes from around the league

The full Wednesday injury report will be posted later in the “Injury Report” section (nice name, right?), but here are some tidbits that are floating around the internets today:

Saints running back Pierre Thomas missed practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury he suffered in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons. While Thomas was able to return to the game in overtime, he may be limited this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. There’s also the chance he may not be able to play at all. Backup Chris Ivory is now a hot waiver wire commodity.

Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson will be a game-time decision Sunday when the Texans travel to Oakland to take on the Raiders. Johnson originally injured his ankle in Week 2 at Washington, but re-aggravated the injury last Sunday vs. Dallas. Johnson did not practice on Wednesday.

Detroit running back Jahvid Best did not practice on Wednesday due to a turf toe injury. No word yet on his status for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

While it’s not official, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno will likely miss his second game in a row this weekend due to a hamstring injury. We will continue to monitor his status.

It looks like Ravens running back Ray Rice should be ready to play Sunday against Pittsburgh, although that’s not a lock as of yet. In addition, this is a bad matchup for Rice, so owners should exercise caution when setting their lineups this week.

Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham suffered a concussion in New York’s Week 3 loss against the Titans and did not practice on Wednesday. No word yet on whether or not he’ll be ready to go Sunday vs. Chicago.