Goodell’s wisdom in Vick ruling serves the greater good

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell‘s move to conditionally reinstate Michael Vick was a Solomon-like decision that came short of splitting the baby. The parameters that allow Vick to return to the NFL speak to the concerns of everyone who cares.

For animal activists, Vick must continue working to champion animal rights and awareness in order to redeem his own rights as a player in a public-conscious sports league.

For the NFL, its teams and its fans, the ruling allows the final wheels of justice to move toward a conclusion to what has been a long-running embarrassing tale. It also allows for those teams interested in Vick to begin a more-open vetting process while inquiring about the embattled quarterback’s services.

For Vick, the conditional reinstatement offers a slow integration process that will continue to place him under the watchful eye of the NFL and the wise counsel of his mentor, Tony Dungy. The decision continues to hold Vick accountable and will demand that he remains a model citizen in the months to come.

Furthermore, Vick’s probationary period will be a reminder that his return to the NFL is a privilege and not a right. Vick stands at the precipice where one wrong move could cost him everything. AGAIN!

By allowing Vick to immediately go to work in training camp, Goodell has opened the door for the quarterback to shake off the rust accumulated over two years of inactivity. By delaying Vick’s return to the field in regular-season games, Goodell has built in a reasonable timetable for the quarterback to either prove himself rehabilitated or fail on his road to recovery.

No move by Goodell will please everyone. However, those who understand the balance of justice and believe in the possibility of redemption applaud Goodell’s efforts to pave a road that leads Vick back to the game in which he is most familiar. Now it’s up to Vick to travel that road with the honesty and integrity that for him has been mostly unfamiliar.

Favre makes right move by retiring

When mere mortals are in the presence of greatness, they tell the Great One whatever is necessary to remain in his good graces. The Great One, Brett Favre, has finally listened to the most important voice of all — his own conscience.

Having quieted those in his circle — who have urged him to continue playing despite physical fatigue and a aging arm — Favre finally listened to his arm. Favre came to the realization that a half-tired arm doesn’t grow stronger by season’s end. Favre knows what his entourage does not. The grind of a full NFL season will age a warrior like dog years and leave even the proudest trophy seekers humbled in defeat.

Favre’s decision to remain retired cements his legacy as one of the NFL’s greatest warrior-quarterbacks. He leaves unbroken and unashamed. His decision also has spared Vikings coach Brad Childress of possibly suffering the same fate as Ray Rhodes, Mike Sherman and Eric Mangini. Favre knows all too well that his failure to take the Vikings to the brink of a Super Bowl title could lead to more coaches packing up at season’s end. He spared himself and many others the pain of disappointment and regret.

The cry for glory, revenge and adulation of friends and fans wasn’t enough to lure Favre back on the stage. However great the temptation, hubris has given way to common sense. Instead of reaching for glory, Favre cooled his ambition and kept himself on the pinnacle of football’s Mount Rushmore with Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway.

Well done, Brett.

Broncos should follow history and trade Marshall

If recent history serves as a window into the future, then the Broncos should trade WR Brandon Marshall in exchange for multiple draft picks.

The Redskins reportedly offered the Bengals two first-round picks for then-Chad Johnson before the 2008 NFL Draft, but Cincinnati declined. One name change later, and Ochocinco’s value, along with his production, has fallen faster than shares of AIG stock. Instead of a government bailout, though, the Bengals received only regret after winning just 11 games over the last two seasons. The Bengals also lost their most productive receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who signed a free-agent contract with the Seahawks during the offseason.

Marshall is a talented Pro Bowl receiver who’s entering his fourth NFL season, but the Broncos are in no hurry to offer him a new contract while seemingly 50 NFL players at his same position earn higher salaries. Marshall has caught over 100 passes in each of the last two seasons, so his trade value is substantially high.

But Marshall’s desire to leave Denver stems less from the fact that the team has yet to offer him a new contract and more from his tumultuous time in the Mile High City dealing with off-the-field issues.

Marshall has long stated that Broncos owner Pat Bowlen told him that the team would work to accommodate his trade request. It is a statement the Broncos have yet to deny. Mr. Bowlen is one of the league’s most respected owners, and he now sees his team unintentionally entering a rebuilding faze.

However, the Broncos don’t have a first-round pick entering the 2010 draft, having used it to acquire Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith at the top of the second round in April. Josh McDaniels would be better served trading the talented Marshall, who might not produce for him, in order to acquire picks and select youthful players whom the Broncos’ new coach can mold into his own creation.

This is the only solution to an ever-deteriorating situation in Denver. Like Randy Moss in Oakland and Ochocinco in Cincinnati, good talent can spoil on bad teams.

Solomon Wilcots

Does Favre bring enough upside to Vikings?

It’s universally agreed that Brett Favre will improve the Vikings once he decides to become their starting quarterback. But there seems to be a shortage of hard evidence when attempting to quantify just how much better he will make the team upon his arrival.

Will Favre help the Vikings improve upon their 10 wins from last season? Can he do better than winning the NFC North title, as the team did in 2008 with Gus Frerotte (11 starts) and Tarvaris Jackson (five starts) under center? Will Favre help move the team beyond the first round of the playoffs come January?

Unless the answer is yes to all of the above questions, one might ask: Is it worth the risk to take a one-year flier on the aging future Hall of Fame quarterback?

The upside to adding Favre is a possible Super Bowl title. The downside for coach Brad Childress, should the Vikings fall short of a trip to Miami, could result in him suffering the same fate as Eric Mangini did with the New York Jets. If Favre’s arm doesn’t hold up and deliver in December, which was the case last year, the Vikings clearly will have gambled and lost.

Taking such a risk isn’t a unanimous decision among the Vikings’ front office, coaching staff or even with the players. Once Favre arrives in Minnesota, a line will be drawn through the team. While it could be hidden until the first sign of late-season adversity, tensions will run high until success or failure is revealed.

Even by his own admission, the soon-to-be-40-year-old Favre isn’t the same quarterback who could carry a team for an entire season, as he did when he was much younger. The concern that his surgically repaired arm might give out before season’s end is a valid one. Favre can still play, but at what level and for how long? With so many questions and so many doubters — even within the Vikings — one might wonder if the team is chasing fool’s gold instead of a Super Bowl title.

It is a team with talent to spare. The Vikings arguably have the best combination of offensive and defensive lines in the NFL. And there is no arguing that Adrian Peterson is the best running back. The team’s expectations of winning it all are very realistic. However, instead of waiting for Favre to show up and carry the team to glory, this talented squad better be ready to carry Favre when the critical moments arrive late in the season.

– Solomon Wilcots

A lot to admire about McNair

As I stood next to Steve McNair during my interview with him following Super Bowl XXXIV, I couldn’t help but admire his determination, leadership and toughness.

As we mourn the loss of one of the league’s greatest players, I can’t help but think about how statistics can’t even come close to fully explaining McNair’s greatness as an NFL quarterback. While McNair became just the third quarterback in NFL history to top 30,000 yards passing and 3,500 yards rushing, I’m reminded of how he quietly endured excruciating pain in order to lead his team.

Before the start of the 2002 season with the Titans, I recall asking McNair to discuss the offseason physical battles that prevented him from throwing the ball for more than six months. McNair explained how an infection in his throwing shoulder forced doctors to insert a drainage tube in his shoulder, and he had to continuously sit up through the night. He went months without a good night’s sleep while wondering if the infection would clear up. Despite having little time to ready himself for the upcoming season, McNair started all 16 regular-season games and led the Titans to an 11-5 record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game.

It was McNair’s toughness that led his team just one yard shy of a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and it was his toughness that led him to become one of the greatest players in the history of the Titans franchise. For 13 seasons, he battled injuries like a gladiator fighting to the very end. And now, his violent ending has left many of us both stunned and shocked to our very core.

Like the Greek hero Achilles, McNair seemed unstoppable, never falling or giving in to pain. His triumphs were legendary, but unfortunately, his fall might be the one story we’ll remember most.

– Solomon Wilcots

Saints pass torch from McAllister to … Thomas

Look for Pierre Thomas to be the go-to RB this season for the Saints. (Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

Look for Pierre Thomas to be the go-to RB this season for the Saints. (Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

The New Orleans Saints made a quiet move this offseason, passing the torch from their all-time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister, to third-year back Pierre Thomas. It wasn’t passed to Reggie Bush.

Though he’s only 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Thomas has emerged as the lead rusher and is expected to provide a physical presence and inside running game for the Saints.

For those who have been paying attention, Thomas’ starting role should come as no surprise.

After passing Red Grange on the University of Illinois’ all-time rushing list, and out-performing Rashard Mendenhall, who would go on to be a first-round pick of the Steelers, Thomas still went undrafted in 2007.

Thomas’ all-around talent and toughness caught the eyes of coaches during his rookie training camp in 2007, but his defining moment didn’t come until the season finale against his hometown Chicago Bears. Thomas rang in the New Year with a champagne-popping performance, gaining 105 yards rushing and 121 yards receiving. His 226 total yards from scrimmage is the third-best individual performance in Saints history. Only McAlister has had more — totaling 237 and 232 in back-to-back games in 2003.

It’s Thomas, and not Bush or McAllister, who has finished the last two seasons as the Saints’ most healthy and durable runner. As head coach Sean Peyton says, “Pierre Thomas gets hard yards and knows how to finish runs.” Thomas was impressive when he began taking over his new role at the end of last season. He ran 53 times for 501 yards and six touchdowns in his last seven games, with a 4.8 per carry avg, to finish 2008 as the Saints’ leading rusher.

Behind the numbers and inside his seemingly small frame, Thomas is a surprisingly powerful runner, who is difficult to tackle. He’s elusive in space, and slippery between the tackles. A breakout season for Thomas means Peyton may continue to use Bush in his spectacular role feasting on match up advantages.

So get ready. The rest of us are about to find out what the Saints and Chicago Bears now already know. Thomas is a rare performer, who is capable of producing big-time results.

– Solomon Wilcots

My advice for Ochocinco: Focus on football

I’ve been a fan of Chad Ochocinco since he was a rookie in Cincinnati. I knew him when no one cared who he was. I knew him when he was an unpolished player who wanted to be great and worked his tail off. I watched this kid use tremendous work habits to become the polished player he is now.

Sure, all the banter with Ochocinco makes for great television. You can see it in the Total Access video. But my main concern is football, and that should be Ochocinco’s focus as well. He shouldn’t be focusing on me.

At some point, though, his focus has gone away from his work ethic and has been more on entertainment. I think what Ochocinco is seeing now, particularly in the last year and a half, is that when you focus more on entertainment and less on the game, your skills will diminish.

Lately, Ochocinco has become known more for drops, drama and distractions than anything else.

We know the film doesn’t lie. I go all the way back to the end of the 2006 season, and I can pinpoint a game against Champ Bailey and the Broncos when dropped balls helped keep that Bengals team from going to the playoffs. In the final weeks of that season, Ochocinco went six straight games without a touchdown. And you’re the go-to guy? You’re the Pro Bowler? You’re the No. 1 weapon for Carson Palmer? All the Bengals had to do was win one of the final three games that year to go to the playoffs. They lost all three.

I know for a fact that the team called him in at the end of that 2006 season and said that things had to change. Did things change in 2007? Not really. There was a span of eight weeks during the 2007 season with no touchdowns. That doesn’t sound like a No. 1 receiver to me.

My whole point is this: Ochocinco is spending more time working on river dances and things of that ilk and less time working on his craft — and it shows.

I just see more drama than I see production. It’s my job as an analyst to point these things out. I have film to support it. After that, it’s not personal. It’s just not. I’m trying to help.

I’m trying to help Ochocinco, the same way I tried to help him after he sent Pepto Bismol to the Cleveland Browns secondary. I told him he was going too far. I told him to make sure that when this is all said and done and your career is over, that you’re known more for being the great player that you are and not known as the one guy who used to do the dances. You don’t want to be known as the clown. You want to be known as one heck of a player. Let’s make sure that’s the reason that people know you.

Most importantly, don’t be disrespectful to your peers. At the end of the day, when your career is over, that’s all you have — the respect of the guys you played against.

My final piece of advice to Ochocinco is this: Make sure they’re laughing with you, and not laughing at you. I’ve told him that personally.

I’m a guy who has always rooted for Ochocinco. I’ve always tried to give him good advice. But now I see that it’s just all gone too far. I have the film to prove it. You’re doing your team, your quarterback and most importantly, yourself, a disservice.

I feel like this banter wouldn’t even exist if Ochocinco was performing at the level he used to. I would be praising him like I used to when he played well. Now I’m being critical. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to validate what I do; I’m always going to be critical. I’m asked to make a call about what I think about things. Sometimes those “things” are Ochocinco. I’ll try to be truthful and will always back up my opinion with facts. Just a like a good lawyer. I don’t say anything that I can’t support with film and the coaches I talk to — just the facts.

– Solomon Wilcots

Losing Marshall would reflect poorly on McDaniels

As the agents for Broncos WR Brandon Marshall confirmed their trade request on Tuesday, it appears as though the team’s prospects for a successful 2009 season are falling faster than shares of Enron stock.

When Josh McDaniels was hired as the Broncos head coach in February, he inherited the league’s second-ranked offense, which featured Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler and Marshall, a Pro Bowl receiver. But now, with team morale hovering at an all-time low, the Broncos appear to be on the verge of losing another star on offense.

According to Marshall, he and team owner Pat Bowlen agreed that the trade request would be granted. The affects of trading Marshall could sink the McDaniels administration before it makes its maiden voyage.

After back-to-back seasons with over 100 receptions, Marshall has put himself in a class of wide receivers that includes the likes of Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and the Houston’s Andre Johnson. His size and speed makes him a difficult matchup, and losing him — along with Cutler — would reflect poorly on McDaniels’ ability to manage players and cultivate talent.

Marshall, like Cutler, has proven himself in just three NFL seasons at the tender age of 25. Keeping both players should have been a priority. For Marshall, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, he has to believe that his best leverage to negotiate a new deal is now. Coming off two successful seasons under Mike Shanahan, a coach who wanted him to have the ball, with a quarterback in Cutler who could get him the ball, Marshall may be inclined to believe that his numbers will not get any better with McDaniels and QB Kyle Orton in 2009.

On the other hand, Marshall has flirted with serious actions in the past which could violate the league’s conduct policy, including allegations of domestic violence. This could be a concern for Bowlen and the Broncos, and it could serve as a key factor in prohibiting the team from offering Marshall a lucrative contract with a huge signing bonus.

Even with concerns surrounding the lack of maturity that has led to many of Marshall’s off-the-field missteps, his on-the-field production will have several teams lining up to give him what wants. Once again, the Broncos are about to learn that other teams covet their players more than they do. Cutler’s current team, the Bears — along with the Jets and Ravens — could make a move to get Marshall.

It seems that the Broncos are paying a heavy price to learn valuable lessons while grooming their inexperienced first-time head coach.

– Solomon Wilcots

For Vick, justice is not blind

From the beginning, justice could clearly see when Michael Vick committed an unholy trinity of sins.

His first was the brutal treatment of man’s most beloved best friend. Secondly, was his blatant lying to both his owner Arthur Blank and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Lastly, his financial support of an illegal gambling operation across state lines violated the Federal Rico statues which brought the federal authorities down on Vick and cost him 23 months in a Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

Now that Vick has paid his debt for committing the latter sin, justice appears to be peeling off her blind fold and setting her sights on further retribution. As emotions run deep, it seems as though prison and bankruptcy is not enough of a price to pay. So many are wanting more than a mere pound of flesh. Animal rights groups are painting signs and organizing to protest any team who is willing to sign Vick. Members of the media are encouraging Commissioner Goodell to strip Vick of even more time away from the game with a lengthy suspension.

The scales of justice are clearly unbalanced when Vick loses two seasons or more, but the Patriots received no suspensions at all for videotaping the Jets’ defensive signals in 2007.

Blind fold back on please. In this case, justice has been served.

Solomon Wilcots

Bears LB Briggs would love to see Favre return

Bears LB Lance Briggs said he’d love to see Favre become the Vikings’ starting quarterback. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Bears LB Lance Briggs said he’d welcome the opportunity to face Brett Favre in a Vikings uniform. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

As the staff of the Minnesota Vikings heads south to chat with QB Brett Favre during his rehab from a torn biceps tendon, one member of the an NFC North rival was rooting for Favre’s return.

Bears LB Lance Briggs said he’d love to see Favre become the Vikings’ starting quarterback.

“He’s going to hurt you, but he’s also going to throw you a few,” said Briggs. “He threw me the first interception I ever returned for a touchdown in the NFL.”

Briggs went on to say that defensive players with the Bears are more conscious of Favre’s all-time interception total than the fact that he’s also the league’s all-time touchdown leader.

“We know he’s going to throw us a few,” said Briggs. “He’s thrown me a few, but I’ve also dropped several that I should have caught. We’d love to see Favre go there to play. We’d welcome it.”

Briggs noted that he believes the Vikings are still the team to beat in the NFC North because they are the defending champions. He cited RB Adrian Peterson as the Vikings’ most dangerous weapon and the player who should be most respected.

– Solomon Wilcots

Edwards poised to be quiet leader in Buffalo

What are the signs to suggest that an NFL quarterback is ready to take the next step in his development and become a winner? After talking to the Bills’ Trent Edwards, I see proactive leadership as a sure sign that the Buffalo quarterback is ready to lead a talented offense and put up more points — and possibly more wins.

The first step came with a single text message sent to team GM Russ Brandon, urging him to pursue WR Terrell Owens after his release by the Dallas Cowboys. That’s right, it was Edwards who helped initiate the Bills’ interest in T.O. by asking his GM to go out and get the one weapon that could change the entire Bills offense.

Edwards, who grew up in the Bay Area in Northern California, watched T.O. blossom into bona-fide NFL star with the 49ers. Edwards admitted that he was in the stands during the 1998 playoff game when T.O. caught the winning touchdown pass from Steve Young to beat the Green Bay Packers.

Now a teammate of the controversial Owens, Edwards sees the glass as half full. The third-year quarterback believes Owens will strip away the double coverage that has kept fellow WR Lee Evans from having a Pro Bowl season of his own. Proven playmakers like Roscoe Parrish and Josh Reed should now be more productive working primarily against single coverage.

Owens should help an already-stellar Bills running game. His talent and reputation will draw safeties rolling their coverage over the top, leaving less eight-man fronts to defend the run. With one less safety close to the line of scrimmage to help defend the run, super tandem Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson will feast on defenses with seven players in the box.

That’s the impact of T.O.

T.O is expected to be the straw that stirs the drink in Buffalo, but Edwards will have to be a quiet leader in the presence of a strong personality. After finishing 23rd in the league in scoring at 21 points per game, Edwards could use T.O’s talent to turn the Bills offense into a scoring machine and crown himself as the best QB taken in the 2007 draft, which also featured JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.

– Solomon Wilcots

Titans’ Young needs to let his play do the talking

When QB Vince Young was taken with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft, he was thought to become the second coming of Steve McNair — a gifted, talented athlete whose development was supposed to give a winning edge to the Titans.

In 2008, the wins came — but with Kerry Collins, not Young, at quarterback.

Where did it all go wrong for Young?

Maybe the comparisons to McNair and the overall expectations for Young to become a prolific passer were simply unfair. McNair led a prominent passing attack at Alcorn State which relied on McNair’s arm to win games.

Young was more spectacular when he tucked the ball and ran around (and through) defenders at Texas. It was his legs that carried Texas past USC for a Rose Bowl win and the national title.

Even now, entering his fourth NFL season, Young’s highlight reel is void of polished play-making passing skills. His failure to develop as a true passer has led to injuries and an uncertain future.

Then came Young’s recent comments to WMAR-TV in Baltimore, stating, “If them guys don’t want me to be in there, it’s time for me to make a career change. … If they’re not ready for me to play ball, then somebody is.”

Young seems to be unaware that he is a Collins injury away from being the Titans’ starting quarterback. He also seems to be unaware that if he plays well and wins, he will be the team’s quarterback of the future.

Furthermore, he needs to understand that the time for talking is over. Working on proper fundamentals, along with a great sense of maturity, will get him closer to achieving his goals.

For Vince, it’s as simple as anything in sports: It’s time to put up or shut up.

– Solomon Wilcots

Ochocinco needs to be at Bengals’ OTAs

Normally, I would withhold my criticism when an accomplished veteran misses what are supposed to be “voluntary” practices.

When a player has consistently produced with the same team, under the same coach, within the same system, there is an accumulation of equity and trust. However, when there is a coaching change or shift in scheme or philosophy, even the most talented and productive players should participate in voluntary practices to expedite the adaptation to offseason changes.

Quarterbacks need all hands on deck when seeking to develop chemistry and continuity with wide receivers. Communication is the glue helping five offensive linemen become one complete unit.

In this case, Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco has used up the equity earned by multiple Pro Bowl appearances. His absence from the Bengals’ organized team activities hasn’t only hurt the potential growth of the team’s passing game but could affect Carson Palmer‘s chance of reclaiming his status as one of the league’s best signal-callers.

Ochocinco once was a consistent, highly-productive player, but recently, he has become more known for drops, drama and distractions. His once-flypaper hands are no longer reliable. His river dance has lost its rhythm, and sadly, his act now resembles both a comedy and a tragedy. He once was a hard worker who slept in the team’s facility to steer clear of mediocrity. Now he is asleep at the wheel, and that’s the direction he’s headed.

With his equity all used up, there is only one thing left for Ochocinco to do: Volunteer to participate, practice and play to sharpen skills that have grown dull.

– Solomon Wilcots

Old pros help to make new stars

Kenny Britt hopes to gain from Rod Smith the wisdom that Santonio Holmes gleaned from Jerry Rice last year. (Getty Images)

Titans rookie WR Kenny Britt (left) hopes to gain from Rod Smith the wisdom that the Steelers' Santonio Holmes (right) gleaned from Jerry Rice last year. (Getty Images)

Among the many subjects I interviewed during the week before Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla., none was as insightful as Jerry Rice, who told me to look for Pittsburgh Steelers WR Santonio Holmes to be the difference-maker in the big game.

Early the next morning, after Holmes scored the winning touchdown and became the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, I again spoke with Rice, who explained how he had trained Holmes before the start of the 2008 season. Rice spoke of Holmes’ explosive ability and how his training emphasized both endurance and productive plays after making the catch.

In retrospect, I discovered that it was Holmes who made decisive plays in all three of the Steelers’ postseason games. His explosive punt returns set the table for playoff victories over the Chargers and the Ravens. He then repeatedly beat the Cardinals’ defensive backs in the Super Bowl by turning short catches into long gains.

Such revelations bring me to Tennessee Titans first-round pick Kenny Britt. The wide receiver out of Rutgers began working with retired Denver Broncos WR Rod Smith in preparation for last February’s NFL Scouting Combine.

Even after tying current Cardinals Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald‘s Big East Conference record with 14 100-yard games, Britt arrived in Indianapolis with a third-round grade. But after scoring high in all the measurable drills, Britt really caught the scouts’ eyes with his polished route running, despite having a 6-foot-3, 218-pound frame.

“He’s like I was coming out of college,” Smith said. “I was a long strider who couldn’t run routes, and I would always slip and fall when running routes on grass, especially when it was wet. Long strides kill route running. We shortened his stride, then worked on the board to improve his understanding of what he’s trying to do when running his routes.”

Using the lessons learned from Smith, Britt’s excellent footwork and precise route running catapulted him to the 30th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Ironically, the Titans’ decision to select the Smith clone was no coincidence. Mike Heimerdinger, the Titans’ offensive coordinator, served in the same role in Denver during Smith’s initial years with the Broncos.

“Mike is like a dad to me in the NFL,” Smith said. “He taught me how to run routes. There would be no Rod Smith winning two Super Bowls without Mike Heimerdinger, who told me I would not make the team unless I learned to run routes. That’s when I started listening.”

In 13 seasons, Smith became the only undrafted player to amass more than 10,000 career receiving yards.

Smith was once the pupil, but he has now become the teacher, which means Britt could benefit with a fast start in the Titans’ offense. Like Holmes, Britt has been all ears while learning from an accomplished pro who has been there and done that.

If the trend continues, look for Britt to become Heimerdinger’s newest offensive weapon. Consider it a return on his investment made more than 13 years ago.

Solomon Wilcots

(Solomon Wilcots will be chatting live on NFL.com at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, May 11. Submit a question, then check back to see if it gets answered.)

Williams set to make comeback with Bengals

Roy Williams speaks at a press conference at Paul Brown stadium.  Williams recently signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)

Roy Williams speaks at a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium. Williams recently signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)

The best story in all of sports is the athlete who rises to stardom, then falls, only to rise again.

When the Bengals signed five-time Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams last week, he received his chance for redemption and the opportunity to once again become a dominate NFL defender.

“When we talked, I wanted to know if he wanted to be the Roy of the past,” said Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who coached Williams during his first five seasons with the Cowboys. “I believe he can be like Rocky.

“When he first came in to play for us in Dallas, I was amazed how he could cover the slot wide receiver. Then, as we moved to the 3-4 defense, we began to play less eight-man fronts and more two-deep zones, which forced Roy to play more coverage.”

Williams spent most of his five Pro Bowl seasons in Dallas playing close to the line of scrimmage in a 4-3 defense, the same primary alignment now used by Zimmer in Cincinnati.

“He has always been an enforcer who can knock the ball loose,” Zimmer said of Williams. “We now would like to play him at free safety to the one receiver side because when he has depth, he knocks runners backwards and makes wide receivers look before catching the ball.”

Cincinnati hasn’t fielded a lethal defender in its secondary since All-Pro strong safety David Fulcher was on the roster. Williams’ reputation for horse-collar tackles and physical play might be the one thing the Bengals need to give their defense some real teeth.

Baltimore has Ed Reed. Pittsburgh has Troy Polamalu and now Cincinnati has Roy Williams. Defense defines the AFC North, and Williams has been given an invitation to join the party. He earned a one-way ticket to become the centerpiece of a defense badly in need of a physical identity. If Roy can pull it off, he will have completed his resurrection and written one of the best comeback stories in recent memory.

– Solomon Wilcots

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