Jets to start Sanchez against Ravens

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan announced that rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will get the start in the team’s second preseason game — an Aug. 24 matchup with Ryan’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens.

Sanchez performed well in limited action during Friday’s 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams, going 3 of 4 for 88 yards, including a 48-yard pass to WR David Clowney on his first play.

“I have my work cut out for me,” Sanchez said Sunday. “That’s why it wouldn’t be right of me or anyone else to make this a make-or-break game.”

Sanchez’s first start will come without a key offensive lineman. Guard Alan Faneca will not play against the Ravens due to a broken finger, Ryan confirmed Sunday.

Beason wants Panthers to explore DT options

Jon Beason made the Pro Bowl last season, partly because of DT Maake Kemoeatu, who clogged the middle and kept the Panthers’ middle linebacker free to roam and unleash hard hits.

Beason won’t have Kemoeatu this season, though, and he wants the Panthers to find him some help.

Beason believes the team might be able to sign a good, veteran player when other clubs start making cuts later this month.

“Some teams are deep at D-tackle,” Beason said, according to The Associated Press. “They’re going to wait until the end of training camp if somebody gets hurt. You don’t want to let somebody who can step up and play go too early.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the end of training camp, but Maake was a big loss for us.”

Kemoeatu sustained a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon just minutes into the Panthers’ first training-camp practice two weeks ago, leaving Nick Hayden as the likely starter in the middle of Carolina’s defensive line. Hayden played in two regular-season games last year — one of them a Week 16 game in which the Giants shred the Panthers for 301 rushing yards.

Coincidentally, the Panthers and Giants will meet in their preseason opener Monday night.

Carolina coach John Fox addressed Beason’s concerns after practice Saturday, telling the Panthers’ website that if the right veteran becomes available, the team will look at him.

“We can bring in somebody, but the problem is you want to improve your team whoever you bring in,” Fox said. “When that guy arrives or that guy shows up, we’ll entertain that. Right now, we’re working very hard with the guys we have. We’ll see kind of where we are (against the Giants) and go from there.”

Dolphins report: This is Pennington’s team

Friday was my visit to Miami Dolphins training camp, where I had the chance to watch practice and talk to coach Tony Sparano as well as OLB Jason Taylor, among others. Here are some of my observations on the Dolphins:

    (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

    Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington is the unquestioned leader of the offense. (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

  • Starting at quarterback, this is Chad Pennington’s team. Pennington looks relaxed, like he’s not worried about any pressure from second-year QB Chad Henne behind him. This whole organization — the front office, coaches and players — know it’s Pennington’s team. There is no QB battle in Miami.
  • That being said, Henne looked phenomenal during practice. The Dolphins run a three-second clock during drills, and if the clock runs down before the QB gets rid of the ball, a bell rings. If the ball isn’t thrown when the bell rings, it’s considered a sack. I counted 15 straight passes that Henne got the ball out of his hands before the bell rang. This is guy is really developing. I’m very confident that Henne will be very ready when the Dolphins put him in.
  • Rookie Pat White is working exclusively at QB. But he’s struggling with that three-second clock. The Dolphins know White can’t run in the NFL on a consistent basis like he did at West Virginia, so they’re preparing and teaching him to be an NFL QB. He did have his moments, though. White threw a touchdown pass on a skinny post to fellow rookie Brian Hartline and looked great doing it. But on the next play, White threw an interception trying to get the ball out of his hands. He’s very inconsistent at this point, and it will take time to get him ready. The Dolphins are very patient with him, and know he has a long way to go.
  • WR Ted Ginn has shown progress in going over the middle and running short routes. He’s always been able to run deep, but he’s now showing he can execute some of the other routes that are zone-beaters. Pennington’s strength is throwing crossing routes, and that hasn’t matched up with Ginn’s skill. I still don’t know that Ginn will ever be a true No. 1 receiver.
  • The Dolphins like WR Davone Bess. To me, Bess is really a slot receiver, but he’s worked his way into the two-receiver sets. When the Dolphins go to three wideouts, Greg Camarillo, who is not wearing a brace after missing the end of last season with a knee injury, will come in and Bess will move to the slot. It also appears the staff is building a package for rookie WR Patrick Turner in the red zone. He’s big, and the team likes him because he’s built differently than the other receivers — something GM Jeff Ireland has cited. Look for Turner to be on the field on third downs this season. Overall, this receiver group is average or below average, though. But the Dolphins won’t ask them to do a lot, because they’ll be running the ball.
  • I was impressed by RB Ricky Williams. He showed a burst of speed I hadn’t seen. On a flip-option play, Williams got the pitch and raced right past S Yeremiah Bell, getting the corner on him. I couldn’t believe it. Bell underestimated his speed just like I did. Williams looks like he’s in better football running shape than he was last year.
  • I talked to my sources in Canada about DE Cameron Wake, and was told he can really rush the passer but never faced legitimate offensive tackles in the CFL. Well, against LT Jake Long, he took a very wide rush and was sent airborne by a punch move. Sparano still believes Wake can make an impact when speed-rushing against backs. Ultimately, Long will be the best thing that has happened to Wake.
  • Expect Taylor to start for the Dolphins. OLB Matt Roth isn’t in camp with a groin injury. By the time Roth gets back, Taylor will have established himself as an every down player, starting opposite OLB Joey Porter. Taylor confided in me that Bill Parcells recently started speaking to him a lot — that means that Parcells likes him, and he’ll be the starter. I can see Taylor and Porter generating 25 sacks this season. There’s also no questions about Taylor’s ability in coverage. Watching him Friday, he has no problems as a zone defender in the flat. He’s an excellent athlete, and when he re-signed, he knew he would be used in this role.
  • The best on-field battle right now is at defensive end, where second-year pro Phillip Merling is being pushed by veteran Randy Starks for the starting job. Both guys are going after it, and the coaches have to love it. In fact, I think they’re leaning toward Starks right now.
  • At cornerback, it appears second-round pick Sean Smith is ahead of fellow rookie Vontae Davis, the team’s first-round choice. Smith ran with the first unit often Friday. Watching Smith reminds me of Perry Williams, who played for Parcells with the Giants. He was a big, tall corner who was good against the run and could disrupt routes. Look for the Dolphins to have Smith line up against bigger receivers like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Not because he can cover them, but because he can get physical on their releases and disrupt their routes. The coaches have a smile on their face when I ask them about Smith.
  • There are questions about the Dolphins at safety. To me, both Bell and Gibril Wilson are strong safeties — they’re better playing close to the line of scrimmage than they are in the open field. Offenses will likely spread out the Dolphins and attack them here.

My camp tour continues next week with my last four stops, as I head west to visit the Chargers, Cardinals, Raiders and 49ers.

– Pat Kirwan

Cutler: Hester understands what it takes

The ongoing development of WR Devin Hester — and the lack of a proven No. 1 wide receiver — has no doubt been a closely watched storyline throughout Chicago Bears training camp. For better or worse, the Bears are relying on Hester as the team’s top receiver, electing not to acquire a veteran presence during the offseason.

Jay Cutler was asked Thursday for his assessment of Hester after their first offseason and camp together.

“[Hester] is just a smarter receiver,” Cutler said. “He’s more groomed. He’s getting out of cuts. He understands defenses. He understands, I think, what it takes to be a receiver each and every day coming out here and working with me and getting on the same page. You can see it on the film.

“We’ve just got to keep heading in the right direction and working out every day and talking. You’ve got to have good communication. If something’s bothering him, if he doesn’t like it, he’s got to tell me.”

As the Bears sort out their depth chart at receiver behind Hester and fellow starter Earl Bennett, Cutler told reporters Thursday he’s excited to see the teams young recievers when the lights come on. In a more in-depth look, Larry Mayer of Chicagobears.com says Brandon Rideau, Devin Aromashodu will be competing with veteran Rashied Davis and rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox for three or four roster spots.

In his recent observations from Bears camp, NFL.com senior columnist Thomas George noted that Culter has insisted he has all he needs in the current receivers, but the group will still be watched very closely in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Bills.

Niners notes: Don’t read into who’s starting at QB

Coach Mike Singletary announced Thursday that QB Shaun Hill will start in the 49ers’ preseason opener Friday night against the Broncos over Alex Smith.

Almost immediately, though, Singletary noted not to read too much into the decision — neither player is winning the competition, and the coach doesn’t know who will start next week. And Smith also will receive work with the first unit against the Broncos.

An interesting exchange during Thursday’s session with reporters came when Singletary was asked how “pleased” he was with the quarterbacks’ performance during camp. Reading in between the lines, Singletary, known to be honest with his answers, eludes to the fact that neither quarterback has distinguished himself as the clear-cut starter.

“If we were really pleased, we would have one,” Singletary said of picking a starter. “We would say, ‘That’s the guy.’ But I am pleased with the progression they are making. They’re continuing to make progress in all the little things they are doing. I am pleased about that. We will be really excited when the time comes to announce who that guy is.”

A few other 49ers notes from Thursday:

  • RB Frank Gore and WR Isaac Bruce also will be held out by the coaches. Out because of injury are LG David Bass (foot), RB Michael Robinson (groin), CB Tarell Brown (toe), and TE Delanie Walker (concussion). Robinson and Baas are considered day to day.
  • Hill, who doesn’t know how much he’ll play Friday, put the starting assignment in perspective. “I agree that there’s no reason to read into this in any way,” Hill said. “Obviously, starting the first preseason game isn’t the final goal. It’s to start every regular-season game and go from there. I’m just excited for the opportunity to get out there and play again.”

Falcons report: Good feel for 2009

I had the chance recently to watch two spirited practices at Atlanta Falcons training camp, chatting with owner Arthur Blank, GM Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and a number of players in the process. I left Flowery Branch with a good feel for the 2009 Falcons.

The Falcons are not sneaking up on anyone this season, and the team knows it.  There were a number of brawls — especially between the offensive and defensive lines — that represented the ‘tough guy’ attitude that permeates through this team. I got a chance to walk the practice field with Blank, who is very excited about the 2009 season. He also noted that his GM and coach give him piece of mind that this franchise is being built the right way — and I agree. Dimitroff has done a nice job of building up the roster and Smith clearly motivates the players.

Here are some of my observations after visiting the Falcons:

  • I wonder if the Falcons defense can stop the run. They ranked 25th against the run last season, but with the addition of rookie DT Peria Jerry and veteran LB Mike Peterson, they should be better. Practicing against RB Michael Turner everyday will help, but there is still work to be done by the Atlanta defense.
  • The Falcons offense creates what I like to refer to as “classic conflicts.” QB Matt Ryan practices like a ten year vet, Turner threatens the defense, WR Roddy White is an emerging elite player and veteran TE Tony Gonzalez is the biggest headache of them all. For a defense to take Gonzalez out of the game, they won’t be also be able stop Turner and the run game. If a defense tries to single cover White, he can beat any corner in the league one on one. I would not be surprised if the Falcons average over 25 points per game this season and control the time of possession.
  • Every team has a weakness they have to overcome, and the Falcons are no exception. They have enough veteran receivers to overcome the lose of Harry Douglas, but they have issues in the secondary. Eric Coleman and Thomas DeCoud will be adequate at safety, but the heat is on the corners and nickel backs.
  • The biggest surprise to me was the offensive line, a group of wild men led by Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo. As White said, “We love those guys because they set the tone for us being a tough football team, I love being in the huddle with them.”
  • I got a good look at Jerry, and I believe he’s the real deal — which is just what this defense needs. His coach, Ray ‘Sugar Bear’ Hamilton and I worked together, and Ray likened him to Henry Thomas. Thomas had excellent first-step quickness to penetrate, and so does Jerry. I asked Peria where his strengths and weaknesses were at this point and his answer was, “I can do it all.”
  • Thinking about a prediction, when I first look at a team the quality of the quarterback is the first stop, the defense is second and how many playmakers they have is third. Ryan is building his strength like Tom Brady did when he first got to New England. It shows up in his arm strength, quicker movements and durability. He will not go backwards in his second season. The defense will be better against the run. I think the Falcons will battle for the division title, and should win it.

I’ll be in training camps for the Bucs and Jaguars today and tomorrow, and will send in more camp reports.

– Pat Kirwan

Colts notes: No timetable for Bethea

Colts starting safety Antoine Bethea has a cracked bone in his right hand, and there’s no timetable for his return, according to coach Jim Caldwell.

Bethea, who missed both of the Colts’ practices Wednesday, will be fitted for a cast. Caldwell said the Pro Bowler will return when he’s able to play with it. Bethea has started each of his 43 career games, including all 16 last season.

Other notes from Colts camp:

  • TE Dallas Clark sat out his third straight practice because of a slight concussion and is expected to miss Friday night’s preseason opener against the Vikings. He is expected to return Monday.
  • Caldwell said he was “not certain” that safety Bob Sanders would be ready for the regular season. Sanders has yet to return to practice because of offseason knee surgery, but the team is pleased with his progress. “All of us are pleased with how he’s working, and the results,” Caldwell said. “Obviously he’s not out there yet, but he will be in due time. How much time is it going to be? I’m not certain.”
  • Starting RT Ryan Diem (back) is making progress, but he will be out for a few days, according to Caldwell.
  • Reggie Wayne believes there’s a benefit to playing all three receiver positions in the Colts’ offense. “I love it,” Wayne said. “Two years ago was the best year of my career … no one really understood where I was going to be. I was moving around in the slot, left, right, and I racked up 1,500 (receiving) yards.” Wayne said where he lines up this season is to be determined, partially based on how the young receivers progress.

Bills notes: T.O.’s toe? Feeling a little better

For the time being, Terrell Owens’ toe is the center of attention in Bills training camp. Owens sat out both practice sessions Wednesday, which included a morning walkthrough, because of his sprained toe.

Chris Brown of Buffalobills.com passed along a conversation between coach Dick Jauron and Owens in his blog Wednesday, in which the wide receiver said the injury “felt a little better.” Jauron didn’t elaborate, other than to say Owens is considered day to day.

Owens injured the toe during Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game against the Titans and hasn’t practiced since.

Some other Bills-related notes:

  • Jason La Canfora mentioned the Bills as one of four teams in his Mike Vick Watch List on Wednesday, noting that, according to sources, they might be on the market for backup quarterbacks.
  • A scuffle broke out on the Bills’ 15th day of training camp — as they are wont to do — involving DE Chris Kelsay, rookie G Eric Wood, RB Dominic Rhodes and DT John McCargo. Jauron wasn’t pleased, according to Lindsay Carucci’s practice notes, but Rhodes believes fights bring the team together. “Every once in a while, you get into it with your brother. It’s good. It’s good for team morale and we get closer that way. At least we know that we’ve got some scrappers out there, I guess. It’s nothing big.”
  • The team waived DB Dustin Fox on Wednesday.

Childress undecided on starters, QB rotation

In a perfect world, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress would manage his quarterback competition by giving Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels equal reps in Friday’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

Childress knows, however, it’s not a perfect world.

“To set it by quarters really doesn’t work,” Childress told reporters Wednesday. “It’s the same thing out on the practice field. You could have it set for this many times and if there is only three plays that get executed by on phase of offense and defense then I am probably going to get them back out there to go again. I’ll just know when I have seen enough from each guy instead of hamstringing myself with a number or quarter.”

Childress wouldn’t divuldge his plan for Fridays starters — saying he hasn’t made up his mind yet — and was also having discussions on whether to start all of the regulars, as well.

  • In a blog post on the team’s official site, DE Jared Allen says the Vikings defense has improved since last season, when it led the league in rushing defense, sixth in total defense and 20th overall in scoring defense. “I think we’re head and shoulders above where we were, and we were good last year,” Allen said. “This camp was better than last year. I think our team right now, to be honest, we’re ready to rock and roll.”

49ers work on ‘Taser’ formation

In San Francisco, the “Wildcat” is called the “Taser.”

49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was made available to the media on Wednesday, and spent some time talking with reporters about the Taser formation that was worked on during two practice sessions.

“It was very good,” said Raye. “Since the pads have gone on, it was our first foray into it. There are some things about it that are different for us and good. I like what I saw from Micheal Spurlock. … The initial introduction of it was very good and we got a good start on it.”

As is pointed out in the 49ers Goal Posts blog, the 49ers have three former college quarterbacks on the roster playing other positions — Spurlock, fellow receiver Arnaz Battle and RB Michael Robinson. With Robinson sidelined by a groin injury, it was Spurlock and Battle who took the snaps in the Taser formation.

“By trade, he is a former college quarterback,” Raye said of Spurlock. “He is also a punt returner and a kick returner so he has running ability and ability to throw the ball. He has great initial quickness and he is a pass threat. The combination of those things and the fact that he is a punt returner who can run with the ball gives you a little more flexibility and a little more lead way.”

Eagles notes: Herremans could miss preseason

More injury news on the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line, as starting guard Todd Herremans could miss the entire preseason due to a foot injury.

Eagles coach Andy Reid described the injury as “a stress reaction in a bone in his foot just above the arch,” noting that it could be a four-week injury. The Eagles will be without three starters along the line in Thursday’s preseason opener — RT Shawn Andrews (back) and RG Stacey Andrews (knee) will also be held out. Shawn Andrews has been sidelined with a back injury, which Reid described as “getting better.” Reid said Stacey Andrews, who is being held out for precautionary reasons after knee surgery, has been practicing.

Nick Cole will start at left guard, with Max Jean-Gilles at right guard and Winston Justice at right tackle.

“You know how I am with the continuity of the offensive line; I think that’s very important,” Reid said. “It was good to get them out here for a couple of practices, with the exception of right tackle. So far Winston has had a very good camp. I’ve always gone with what’s out here and we roll and we go play. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I wouldn’t want them all out here practicing.”

A few other Eagles notes:

  • Reid said his starters will play a quarter and a half against the Patriots.
  • Backup QB Kevin Kolb (knee) is among those who will be held out Thursday. Kolb sprained a ligament in his knee Monday, and is considered day to day by Reid. Also sitting out will be DE Trent Cole (shoulder), DE Victor Abiamiri, DT Trevor Laws, RB Brian Westbrook and TE Matt Schobel.
  • Reid said it will be determined today when rookie TE Cornelius Ingram, who has a torn ligament in his left knee and likely is out for the season, will have surgery. It will likely happen in the next few days, and will most likely be performed by Dr. James Andrews, according to Reid.

Saints to work out Brooks today

Longtime Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks will work out for NFC South rival New Orleans this morning. If things go well and he passes a physical, he could be signed.

The 11-time Pro Bowler, released by the Buccaneers after the 2008 season, was brought in after backup linebacker Mark Simoneau recently tore his triceps in practice.

– Steve Wyche

The buzz from Bears practice

When the Bears’ night practice started in Bourbonnais, Ill., fans stood two-deep behind fences surrounding the field. Not an inch of seating was left in a small bleacher section, and there was a buzz among the crowd:

  • The Bears opened practice by working on onside kicks, and coach Lovie Smith was in the middle of it. This is always a great way to emphasize the importance of special teams — give it a special time slot.
  • Next were field-goal attempts. Robbie Gould nailed one from 45-plus yards. Huge applause.
  • The offensive 11 worked on one end of the field, without helmets, at half speed. The defense did the same at the opposite end of field.
  • Matt Forte took a pitch and threw a halfback pass to third-year WR Devin Aromashodu for a touchdown. Look for that from the Bears this season. With so much attention on Jay Cutler‘s big passing arm, that play could give defenses a migraine.
  • The Bears ran sprints, then sideways running drills. Interesting time for that 25 minutes into practice.
  • Something evident about Cutler: He’s a really big quarterback. When he stands next to the linebackers, he nearly looks like one of them.
  • The Bears completed lengthy stretching drills, then met in the center of the field in one mass and broke. Time for real work.
  • Make that fans five-deep behind the fences. I saw fans sitting on rooftops of nearby homes.
  • DT Tommie Harris revealed Monday that he had his knee scoped in March. He has missed recent practices but was in in a pass-rush drill that involved using blue dummies. He looked good to me.
  • WR Earl Bennett caught a Cutler bullet on a deep out. Their prior relationship as Vanderbilt teammates has been highlighted and is evident.
  • Cutler to TE Greg Olsen on a crossing pattern. Seeing how far Olsen ascends with this new passer will be one of the chief stories not only of the Bears’ season but the entire NFL.
  • Saw second-year TE Kellen Davis leap high for a pass. That’s saying something: He’s 6-foot-7. He and OT Orlando Pace (also 6-7) are the tallest Bears.
  • Third-year WR Brandon Rideau impressed in camp last year but saw limited regular-season work. Not this time. He looks like a keeper — big target, good hands, practicing with confidence.
  • Safety Danieal Manning busted a kickoff return up the middle. He made a mark in the job late last season, and now it’s his full-time, with Devin Hester playing more wide receiver. Manning loks ready.
  • Hester dropped a pass in 7-on-7 drills, but Bennett caught an over-the shoulder, deep-sideline beauty.
  • The Bears look like they had better produce a supreme pass rush. This secondary looks ordinary.
  • Maybe Manning got a whiff of that. He picked off a pass from Cutler.

– Thomas George

Ravens notes: Mason injures finger

Bad news out of Baltimore, where veteran WR Derrick Mason left practice with a finger injury on Tuesday.

Baltimoreravens.com blogger Mike Duffy reports Mason was injured trying to reel in a low throw from QB Joe Flacco, and after spending some time with team trainers, later came back on the field in street clothes with his right middle finger wrapped.

Coach John Harbaugh said Mason would be getting X-rays on the finger, but didn’t sound overly concerned.

“He probably jammed [his finger]. We’ll see,” Harbuagh told reporters. “We don’t anticipate any problems.”

The timing of Mason’s injury is especially bad for the Ravens, given that WRs Mark Clayton (hamstring) and Demetrius Williams (hamstring) have been held out this week. Clayton will miss at least two preseason games, while he and Williams were among four starters missing practice on Tuesday, according to Duffy.

Without their top three receivers, the Ravens list nine other wideouts on the roster: Kelly Washington, Yamon Figures, Biren Ealy, Justin Harper, Marcus Smith and Ernie Wheelright, along with rookies Jayson Foster, Eron Riley and Thomas White. That group doesn’t include veteran Drew Bennett, who signed with the Ravens before retiring two days later due to a knee injury.

Some other Ravens notes from Tuesday:

  • Harbaugh said his starters would play “in the neighborhood” of one quarter against the Redskins on Thursday. Flacco, though, wouldn’t concede to reporters how much he expects to play. Read Harbaugh’s full transcript here.
  • Harbaugh described the heel injury that has kept OLB Terrell Suggs sidelined as a “nagging” injury, and gave the impression the team would continue to be cautious with its approach as Thursday’s game nears. “It’s one of those things that we’re not going to put him out there and bruise it any further,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll be out here soon. He wants to be.”

Bills notes: Jauron will address T.O.’s status

Terrell Owens did not participate in a morning walkthrough with the Bills on Tuesday — it was an excused absence — and was not scheduled to practice during the team’s night session, either, according to a statment released during the afternoon by coach Dick Jauron.

“Terrell Owens will not participate in tonight’s practice due to a sprained toe,” Jauron’s statement read. “I will address his status in more detail following tonight’s practice session.”

Stay tuned.

In other news out of Bills camp:

  • Bills first-round draft pick DE Aaron Maybin — the 11th overall pick — remains unsigned, partly the result of so many picks ahead of him, including No. 10 pick Michael Crabtree, also failing to come to terms. Here’s a look at the signing status of the first-round picks.
  • The Bills started two rookies — Andy Levitre and Eric Wood — at guard in the Hall of Fame Game against the Titans, and Chris Brown blogged on Buffalobills.com that Levitre had the highest coaching grades of any offensive lineman for the Bills.
  • The Bills signed free agent C Christian Gaddis on Tuesday and placed C Marvin Phillip on the waived/injured list. Gaddis spent the 2007 season with the Bills.

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