Notes from Around the League

AFC East

Miami fans have started to grumble about the number of balls Brandon Marshall has dropped this summer, but it’s nothing new. Marshall had a reputation for dropping catchable balls in camp during his time in Denver. Marshall was so disgusted with one drop that he booted the ball over a fence, prompting coach Tony Sparano to tell reporters, “If he drops them and he gets (peeved) at himself for dropping them, I’m OK with that.” … Who says the Bills have too many running backs? Injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson have all of a sudden thrust rookie C.J. Spiller to the top of the team’s depth chart. Jackson could miss Week 1 with a broken bone in his left hand, while Lynch has been sidelined with a bum ankle. The team also likes what it has seen in Chad Simpson and Joique Bell, who combined for 119 yards in the team’s first preseason game. “Some young guys are going to have to step up and play, and to be honest with you, those two running backs stepped in there,” said coach Chan Gailey. … The loss of Torry Holt has forced the Patriots to look elsewhere for an outside receiver opposite Randy Moss. Brandon Tate missed much of last season with a bum knee but has been impressive in camp. … What can be made of how the Jets used Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson against the Giants? Based on reports from camp, the ground game belongs to Greene, with Tomlinson serving in a support (and situational) role. Sure didn’t look that way in the team’s second possession on Monday. Each was given five looks on the drive (Green received four carries and was thrown to once; Tomlinson received two carries and was thrown to three times). The Jets stuck with Tomlinson for much of the rest of the first half before turning the ball over to Joe McKnight. Tomlinson had a 14-yard run nullified, but the night’s most telling stat was yards per carry — 5.2 for Greene, 2.1 for Tomlinson.

AFC North

Baltimore has been using more practice time on its version of the Wildcat. On Tuesday, the team lined up Ray Rice behind center. Later, Willis McGahee took a snap and gave the ball to Rice. Fans shouldn’t expect to see much of it in the preseason, though. Coach John Harbaugh plans to limit Rice’s touches until the regular season. … In Cincinnati, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. As speculation builds that the team will release injured wideout Antonio Bryant, rookie Jordan Shipley continues to impress. The University of Texas star caught five balls for 50 yards in the team’s win over Denver. Though not the same type of receiver as Bryant — Shipley is a favorite to win the slot job — the rookie should nonetheless benefit from competing against one fewer marquee receiver in camp. … The twisted right knee that has kept Montario Hardesty on the sideline has forced him to miss another week. Originally expected to rejoin his Cleveland teammates this Monday, the team pushed Hardesty’s return back another week. Having missed the entire camp, this season looks less promising for the rookie running back, who was expected to challenge Jerome Harrison for time in the lineup. … The consensus in Steeler country seems to be that Dennis Dixon — and not Byron Leftwich — should open the season in place of suspended starter Ben Roethlisberger. Dixon had a perfect passer rating in the team’s win over Detroit and made plays with his arm and feet. But despite the support shown by teammates and fans, Pittsburgh coaches made it clear in comments to reporters that they are still not on Dixon’s bandwagon. “It was a nice start, guys, and that’s what it was,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was productive. Half of that production came in the fourth quarter, so we’re not going to get carried away.”

AFC South

Colts coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t the least bit fazed by how poorly Curtis Painter performed in Indianapolis’ loss to San Francisco. “Status? It’s still the same. It hasn’t changed,” Caldwell told reporters. “One of the things is you have to take it all into consideration, practice, how well they do, how much material they know and understand, how they can regurgitate it. Obviously, the performance is an issue as well, but you have to look at everything that occurs.” … In other quarterback news, the Jaguars are trying to quiet rumors that David Garrard’s job is in jeopardy. The veteran hasn’t had the strongest showing in camp, and Luke McCown’s three touchdowns in the team’s one-point loss to Philadelphia only fueled the talk. Asked whether the problem was Garrard or his supporting cast, coach Jack Del Rio responded, “I wouldn’t even care to get into that kind of discussion. I would think even getting into questions like that would show a lack of perspective. We’ve got a lot of things to do better, and we’ll just keep our head down and keep working at it and (he’s) certainly not going to get caught up in that kind of discussion after a couple of series in our first preseason game.” … A dark horse has emerged in the Texans’ search for a new running back. Second-year fullback Jeremiah Johnson led the club with 33 rushing yards against the Cardinals. Johnson wasn’t a strong consideration for the job until Ben Tate was lost, but now he will see more reps in the final weeks of camp. Even so, Steve Slaton and Arian Foster remain the likely top ball-carriers for Houston. … One player fantasy owners can’t afford to lose track of is Titans backup running back Javon Ringer — and not just because he is one injury away from replacing consensus No. 1 fantasy pick Chris Johnson. The team signed Samkon Gado this week to help thicken a depleted backfield, but Ringer is clearly the only back on the roster capable of standing in for Johnson. And so far he has done well with limited opportunity. On Saturday he gained 60 yards, 46 of them coming on one second quarter carry.

AFC West

Denver quarterback Kyle Orton doesn’t appear too concerned about the losses of Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler. “You don’t see the marquee names, at least from you guys’ perspective, but I think we have a more versatile group,” he said this week. “I think we have a group that is really comfortable with the offense and is really starting to grasp what they’re supposed to do.” So far Brandon Lloyd has seen the most first-team action at the outside spot, with Eddie Royal moving back to the slot, but rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are expected to become factors once they return to full health. … Every quarterback likes to have a steady tight end at his disposal. Oakland’s Jason Campbell has already latched on to Zach Miller, according to multiple camp reports. Commented Miller, “On certain routes he knows I’m going to win. We have a good feel for each other already on where I’m going to be. I try just to be consistent for him and make the plays for him so he keeps coming my way.” … Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop made 25-of-29 attempts as a rookie last year but missed two of three in Friday’s loss to Atlanta, both from 53 yards out. Coach Todd Haley tried to put it in perspective: “I’m more disappointed that we put him in those (situations). When you get out in that range, if you expect those all the time, you’re going to be disappointed.” … The early returns are in for Chargers rookie running back Ryan Mathews. On nine carries against Chicago he gained 50 yards. He also caught two passes for 11 yards. “It was going fast at first, but it started slowing down as the game went on,” Mathews told reporters. “The goal was to stay patient in my mind and fast with my feet.”

NFC East

Cowboys top pick Dez Bryant could be ready for the team’s final two preseason games, but owner Jerry Jones has suggested the team might still opt to keep the first-round wide receiver out of harm’s way. It’s all fine with quarterback Tony Romo, who told reporters, “I practice like it’s a game when I’m out here anyway, so if he’s out here on the practice field, that would be enough, just because the tempo would still be like (a game) from my perspective.” … Few NFL receiving depth charts are as scrambled right now as Washington’s. Beyond Santana Moss, every spot on the chart is up for grabs, and the team has every variety to choose from. Joey Galloway and Bobby Wade have the most experience, but the team has the most invested in players such as Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. Deciding who falls where will be done as fairly as possible, according to coach Mike Shanahan. “Everything has been charted out — every drop, catch,” he said. “We look at everything.” … Fantasy owners unfamiliar with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz got a crash course in Monday’s win over the Jets. The 6-1 undrafted rookie caught six passes, three for touchdowns, and recorded 145 yards. “I don’t even know who No. 3 is,” Jets linebacker Bart Scott said, “but he looked like Randy Moss out there with those three touchdowns.” … Maybe the Eagles should have more strongly considered re-signing Brian Westbrook. The team lost LeSean McCoy to a quadriceps bruise this week and is already without Mike Bell (calf strain). Neither McCoy nor Bell is expected to miss a significant amount of time, though.

NFC North

Green Bay needs quality depth behind Ryan Grant, and Brandon Jackson is confident he can step in and get the job done when needed. “I want to show them that when Ryan Grant’s out, I can keep the production going,” he told reporters this week. Unfortunately, Jackson’s play on Saturday did not back up his mouth: three carries for six yards. Instead, the team’s most impressive rusher was Quinn Porter, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry. … The hype in Detroit this offseason has surrounded defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but fellow rookie Jahvid Best has shown that he is ready to be every bit as much of a difference maker. Best has handled first-team running back duties since camp opened. And his performance against Pittsburgh makes it clear he isn’t merely keeping the seat warm for Kevin Smith. On a night when the Lions averaged 3.3 yards per carry as a team, Best averaged 4.8 on his six carries. … Quarterback Brett Favre returned to Minnesota this week. This means fantasy owners can readjust their draft boards, pushing Minnesota skill players back near the top of the board at their respective positions. It also means fans will have to find something new to talk about these last few weeks of camp. … Seems Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is a big fan of his quarterback, Jay Cutler. Said Martz in a Q&A this week, “I like Jay’s mind. He’s like Kurt (Warner) and Jon Kitna. They are so perceptive. We’ve gotten more in with him than I ever thought would be possible. He’s able to take anything off the board and go out and function with it. After one rep, he’s really got it wired pretty good.”

NFC South

The Saints wasted little time in finding a situational back to replace injured Lynell Hamilton. Former Redskins backup Ladell Betts was added to the roster and is expected to be used in short-yardage and goal line situations. … Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris appreciates how hard wide receiver Reggie Brown has practiced and hinted Brown will get the start in the team’s next game. Right now Brown is battling Sammie Stroughter on the depth chart. “You know what Sammie is,’’ Morris told reporters on Tuesday. “You want to see about Reggie a little bit, about these guys that you don’t know as well.” Stroughter caught three passes for 33 yards against Miami, including a 13-yard touchdown, but has been hobbled by a bad ankle this week. … On Sunday, Atlanta coach Mike Smith announced that Matt Bryant had won the team’s kicking competition with Steven Hauschka, who was released. Both made 1-of-2 attempts in the team’s first preseason contest, but Bryant’s experience gave him the edge. … While observers applauded the progress of fourth-year receiver Dwayne Jarrett, Carolina’s No. 1 WR told reporters he wasn’t sure who deserved the team’s other starting job. “I haven’t seen anybody that has really separated himself,” Steve Smith said. “You’ve seen some young guys make great plays and you’ve seen some guys make young plays — a great catch one time and then maybe do something and you’re like, ‘Ah, he’s learning.’” One player Smith paid respect to is unknown and undrafted rookie Trent Guy. “From OTAs to training camp, man,” said Smith, shaking his head. “OTAs he was quiet, ran pretty decent routes. We came to training camp, and my man had no mental errors, no mess-ups, running great routes, knowing exactly where to line up. He’s picture-perfect.”

NFC West

The 49ers were able to beat Washington in the race to sign Brian Westbrook. While most believe Westbrook will be used to spell Frank Gore on select downs, one San Francisco player hinted the coaching staff will be much more creative. “I’m pretty sure (offensive coordinator) Jimmy Raye is putting together a scheme right now to utilize him on the field with Frank as well,” said 49ers safety Michael Lewis, who once played with Westbrook in Philadelphia. None of this seems to bother Gore. “I knew that we needed another back, and he was the best one out there,” Gore said. … There wasn’t supposed to be a quarterback controversy in Seattle — at least not this soon — but Matt Hasselbeck’s 4-of-10 performance got the talk started in camp this week. Charlie Whitehurst was 14-of-22 with two touchdowns and an interception in the game. “I’m happy for him,” said Hasselbeck of Whitehurst. “I’m happier for him than I’m distracted or upset by the hoopla that it creates.” … With Early Doucet getting a little rest and Larry Fitzgerald nursing his MCL sprain, undrafted rookie Stephen Williams took reps with the first team this week. Williams caught two balls for 29 yards against Houston on Saturday and has been one of the team’s best surprises in camp. Fitzgerald is expected to return by Week 1, but the extra camp work could help the 6-5 Williams find a role in the offense, possibly as a red zone target. … The Rams are giving Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley equal reps, but fans shouldn’t read into that too much — Bradford is still expected to serve as the team’s starting quarterback this season. Neither quarterback looked good in a loss to Minnesota in which the offense failed to generate a single point, but most feel Bradford has been the better performer in camp thus far.

Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.

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