Fox confident Smith will quickly return to Panthers

Panthers WR Steve Smith spoke about his shoulder injury Tuesday and expressed relief that it wasn’t more serious.

Smith, who sported a sling over his right arm, appeared confident that he will be ready for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Eagles. But his coach, John Fox was much more confident, telling reporters he believes Smith will be ready at some point during the preseason.

“Whether we play him or not, I don’t know that yet,” Fox said.

Fox then was asked if he’s confident that Smith will be ready for the regular season.

“He’s day-to-day,” Fox replied. “He’s not week-to-week or out for the season or anything like that.”

Smith’s injury will have a trickle-down effect during the preseason, with the Panthers’ younger receivers — Dwayne Jarrett, Kenny Moore, Jason Carter and Ryne Robinson – getting an opportunity, as Andrew Mason notes on Panthers.com. Veteran Muhsin Muhammad said he will move to Smith’s “X” position, with Jarrett now working with the first unit at the “Z” position.

“We’ve got to develop some young guys there,” Fox said Tuesday. “We’ve got two proven guys in Steve Smith and Moose (Muhsin Muhammad). We’ve got young guys — Dwayne Jarrett, Kenny (Moore), Ryne Robinson, the whole list — and we’re going to find out in those preseason games who sticks themselves out there.”

On his camp visit to Carolina on Monday, NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan noted that QB Jake Delhomme believes Jarrett had made a lot of progress and likes Moore’s work in the slot.

Lions notes: WR Johnson has sprained thumb

The Lions are officially calling WR Calvin Johnson’s right thumb injury a sprain, but it was enough to keep him from participating in full drills Tuesday at training camp.

Johnson took part in some drills and did significant running, according to coach Jim Schwartz, but was held out of drills that involved catching the ball. Schwartz told reporters that Johnson will continue in this routine until it has been decided that he can’t further aggravate the injury.

“He’s been tested about every way that you can test,” Schwartz said. “We’re very comfortable where he is. It’s a sprain. He’s going to get back as soon as he can, but that being said, we don’t want to turn it into an aggravated issue, and that’s why were handling it the way we are.”

Here are some other notes from Lions camp:

  • Schwartz has decided who will start the preseason opener at quarterback, but he hasn’t told the players and won’t announce it until later this week, saying “I mean here’s what I don’t want: I don’t want them concentrating on Atlanta yet. We have too much work to do out here.” Schwartz also hasn’t decided on how he’ll split the reps between Daunte Culpepper, rookie Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton, but he anticipates changing their order of appearance in different preseason games in order to get a better evaluation with different personnel groups.
  • DT Shaun Smith, who signed with the Lions yesterday, participated in his first practice with the team and talked with reporters Tuesday. Smith said five or six teams contacted his agent, but it was former Cleveland Browns teammate Shaun Rogers — the former Lion — who helped him decide on Detroit.
  • Schwartz spoke about the signing of Smith, saying the lineman’s size fits his scheme. Schwartz said he would like Smith, who will pair with 345-pound Grady Jackson, to play somewhere between his current weight of 318 pounds and the 350 pounds he played at last season in Cleveland. “I want you at the heaviest you can weigh that you can play the fastest,” Schwartz noted about his defensive linemen. “Anytime that weight slows you down, then we don’t need to weigh anymore. But we are going to be as heavy as we can and be as fast as long as you’re still moving well.”
  • The Associated Press noted in its Tuesday report that starting safety Daniel Bullocks (knee) is expected to be shut down for a few days. Two rookies — safety Louis Delmas (knee) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (thigh) — are slowly being worked back into practice.

Broncos report: McDaniels’ camp has a distinct sound

I spent Sunday at Denver Broncos training camp and have many blue-and-orange thoughts to share.

  • Broncos training camp 2009 has a distinct sound to it — not pads popping or coaches coaching or fans screaming but music blaring. That’s right, music, of all kinds, blasting through the loudspeaker throughout the entire workout. Coach Josh McDaniels has taken the idea of canned crowd music to the next level. He believes music and lyrics are more distracting than the taped fan noise that most teams use. So while enjoying practice, one also can groove to the late Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” the always inspiring “Eye of the Tiger” from Survivor or stadium staple “Welcome to the Jungle” from Guns N’ Roses. My favorite? “Rock the Casbah,” an early 80’s classic from The Clash.
  • I spent time with my old college center at Iowa, Casey Wiegmann, who’s entering his 14th NFL season and coming off his first Pro Bowl. He told me McDaniels’ camp was the most physically challenging of his career and the offense the most difficult to absorb. Coming from a man who has endured Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil training camps, I thought his sentiments were very telling. By the way, Wiegmann has strung together 127 consecutive starts and played 8,041 consecutive snaps. How’s that for tough and reliable?
  • Rookie RB Knowshon Moreno’s first day of practice was Sunday, and he was a crowd favorite. Every time Moreno broke through the line, he did so to a spirited cheer from the hundreds in attendance. While watching Moreno alertly jump across the formation to willingly pick up a free-rushing defensive back during a blitz period, I was reminded of what McDaniels told me moments after the team drafted the former Georgia star 12th overall in April. The coach said the Broncos valued Moreno not only because of his ability to make people miss but also what he brings to the table on third down. Moreno can catch the ball out of the backfield and be an asset in pass protection. Quite a compliment for a young running back.
  • I entered the camp a Kyle Orton believer and I left the same way. I don’t think he’s a Pro Bowl, upper-echelon-type quarterback, but he’s smart, tough, and a more gifted passer than most people believe. He won’t carry the Broncos to a 10-6 record by himself, but I don’t think he’s a liability, either. I’m on record as saying Orton will do more positive than negative in Denver this season.
  • Speaking of Orton, he’ll welcome back WR Brandon Marshall with open arms if and when that time comes. But the trio of Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Stokely were quite impressive throughout practice — particularly in the all-important, end-of-workout, 11-on-11 sessions. Royal is an up-and-coming star, Gaffney is crafty and solid, and Stokely will play the slot position in the three-wide set as well as Wes Welker did in the same system last year in New England.
  • New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has his hands full transitioning this group from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. But Nolan is a terrific defensive coach, and after his stint as the 49ers’ head coach, I get the feeling from being around him that he’s energized by this challenge with the Broncos. He has the team’s two best pass rushers, Elvis Dumervil and rookie Robert Ayers, playing the all-important outside linebacker position, which means they both will rush and drop into coverage. Neither looks natural or comfortable yet doing the latter. That will be a work in progress throughout the preseason.

So Broncos fans, don’t book your hotels for Miami just yet … but take that finger off the panic button. I saw a team that’s closer to competitive than they are to being bottom-feeders.

– Paul Burmeister

Broncos report: Gearing up for preseason opener

Could not have better weather than what we experienced here in Colorado today. Low 80s, breezy, sunny. Perfect. Great day for football (but aren’t they all?).

The Broncos went through a long and spirited morning session — they’ll be back on the field late this afternoon — and are gearing up for their preseason opener against San Francisco on Friday. It will be Josh McDaniels’s first game as a head coach, and as TE Daniel Graham (who knows McDaniel from their time together in New England) put it, “This game sets the tone. We want to come out and make a good impression.”

McDaniels did some game prep, working on special situations (a hallmark of the Bill Belichick tree) and on scout team stuff to mimic the 49ers. No one wants to reveal too much, especially so soon in the preseason, but it’s no secret that McDaniels is going to want to spread the ball around, and he conceded today that the team will likely have a “base, three wide-receiver grouping.”

WR Brandon Marshall continues to sit out with a hip problem. Marshall, who has sought a trade and a big contract this offseason, has practiced sparingly and the team is not saying much about the injury (as is the case in many places this time of year). Marshall has a history of hip issues and while this injury is not considered severe, according to a league source, the team wants to take precautions.

There is ample competition at tight end. Veterans Graham, Tony Scheffler and Jeb Putzier have all been productive, and you wonder that if another team suffers a run of injuries at that spot if they might come calling.

Rookie RB Knowshon Moreno has an impressive burst and he looked good working with the first unit. Veteran RB Correll Buckhalter is earning lots of praise during camp, too, with McDaniels pointing to his versatility and winning mentality after practice today.

Wasn’t the crispest of days for the offense, overall, however.

The other big story at camp was the inevitable rookie hazing. Seems the Broncos’ veterans got loose last night — the offensive line in particular — and there are some rookies running around looking like they got scalped. If someone wanted to start a DVD series called, “Razors Gone Wild,” Englewood, Colorado, would make for a great first episode.

A bunch of rookies had what appeared to be checkerboards craved into their heads, and QB Tom Brandstater definitely got it the worst. He had some kind of reverse Mohawk going on. It looked like something Bobcat Goldthwait might have rocked back in the day. The entire middle sphere of the poor kid’s head was bald, with everything that was short along the sides still there.

Brandstater said he succumbed easily to the linemen: “I was trying to preserve my eyebrows, so I went willingly.”

Jason La Canfora

Panthers report: Kemoeatu a ‘big loss’

Here are a few of my observations after visiting Carolina Panthers training camp on Monday:

1. LB Thomas Davis called the injury to DT Maa’ka Kemoeatu a ‘big loss’ and recognized that the big guy kept blockers off himself and fellow LB Jon Beason. I’m sure the Panthers will make a personnel move to bring in a veteran defensive tackle.

2. QB Jake Delhomme feels WR Dwayne Jarrett has made a lot of progress in his strength, route running and maturity and will be a factor this season. Jarrett caught two touchdowns at practice in a live red zone passing drill earlier in the day. Delhomme also likes WR Kenny Moore as a slot receiver. Backup QB Josh McCown called Moore a real good route runner who can do things after the catch.

3. Not one player on second offensive line has started an NFL game, but GM Marty Hurney likes what he sees in the group and believes there is no reason to be out looking for a veteran at this time.

4. S Chris Harris said new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks constantly talks about team speed and pursuit: “Every time we don’t get 11 players to the ball, we do the pursuit drills and no one likes doing them.” The Panthers defense is flying around and doing less of the pursuit drills every day.

5. Rookie DE Everette Brown said the defense is finally starting to sink in and he’s hoping to play at full speed soon. After watching him rush the passer — and his run defense may be underrated — Brown (43rd overall) looks like a steal in the second round.

6. Second-year RT Jeff Otah looks like an All-Pro this summer. He told me he knows what he’s doing after spending his rookie season asking Delhomme what to do on plays on his way up to the line of scrimmage. Otah regularly de-cleated defenders during the team scrimmage at practice.

7. Opponents beware, Delhomme has been working on his hard count at the line of scrimmage and got the defense to jump a few times at practice. LT Jordan Gross commented that there is a big advantage for the offensive line if the defense is concerned about the QB using a good hard count.

Those are my observations from Panthers camp. I’ll be attending practices for the Falcons, Jaguars, Bucs and Dolphins the rest of the week, and will be posting more camp observations for you.

Pat Kirwan

Jets notes: Ravis, Jenkins will miss preseason opener

CB Darrelle Revis and NT Kris Jenkins will be among four starters — including C Nick Mangold and RT Damien Woodywho’ll miss the New York Jets’ preseason opener against St. Louis because of injuries.

Coach Rex Ryan told reporters that the injuries are not serious, but the team was taking a cautious approach with the veterans because it is so early in preseason.

“They’re not serious injuries, but I’d rather make sure those guys are ready to roll and be 100 percent than go out there with some kind of ailment and do something stupid,” Ryan said. “I don’t think they’ll play.”

  • Ryan noted in his media session Tuesday that both QBs — Kellen Clemens and rookie Mark Sanchez — will get time with the first unit against the Rams, but that backup Erik Ainge would see the majority of snaps. “The competition will be fantastic,” Ryan said. “We’ll see who emerges out of that.”
  • With Jenkins sidelined since the second day of camp, Kyle Richardson of newyorkjets.com points out reserve NTs Sione Pouha and Howard Green have gotten extra work in the new 3-4 defense. “If we’ve got some guys down, we still expect you to play your tail off,” said Ryan. “By having Jenkins out, this allows Sione to get more work and it allows Howard Green to get more work. It’s been a blessing for some of those guys.”

Tatupu sits out practice for Seahawks

Seahawks three-time Pro Bowl LB Lofa Tatupu sat out his second practice in three days on Tuesday morning. The reason? Coach Jim Mora wants to give some of his veterans some rest.

Tatupu participated in warmups and early individual drills during practice on Monday afternoon before sitting out all team activities.

  • The Seahawks have a number of other starters missing practice time. According to the team’s official blog, three players who started practice on Monday did not finish — WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ankle), S Deon Grant (groin) and CB Josh Wilson (groin). Those already missing practice included WR Courtney Taylor (knee), OT Walter Jones (back), CB Marcus Trufant (back), C Chris Spencer (ankle), LB Will Herring (groin) and OL Grey Ruegamer (elbow).

Smith hopes to be ready for Panthers opener

Panthers WR Steve Smith hopes to be healthy enough to start the team’s regular-season opener against Philadelphia on Sept. 13. Smith injured his shoulder in a fall on Monday after colliding with CB Chris Gamble.

Smith met with reporters on Tuesday wearing a sling, and declined to say if he would undergo an MRI exam for the injury. Initial X-rays were negative.

Smith suffered a shoulder injury during the 2007 preseason but still started 15 games, finishing with 87 receptions for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith has seen a decrease in his touchdown production every season since scoring a career-high 12 touchdowns in 2005.

Bills’ Owens absent from practice with toe injury

Terrell Owens was absent from the Bills’ morning walkthrough, two days after he complained of a sore toe following the club’s preseason opener in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game. Owens confirmed his injury on his Twitter page. He had two receptions for 27 yards in his debut for the Bills, playing in only one series.

Bills coach Dick Jauron confirmed that Owens was excused from practice, but did not elaborate. He is expected to meet with the media after the team’s night practice session.

Broncos camp update: McDaniels ushering in new era

Here are my observations from Broncos training camp in Englewood, Colo.:

  • So far, there’s been no sign of WR Brandon Marshall out here, at least from what I see now. Marshall has been nursing a hip injury and has not been on the field taking part with any regularity. The Broncos released their depth chart on Monday, and Marshall was listed on the second team.
  • The first-team offense went through a rough stretch. Kyle Orton was not very crisp, sailing passes wide during the early portion of 11-on-11 drills and he was nearly picked off a few times.
  • Josh McDaniels is definitely running a tough camp. A lot of the warmups and individual drills are straight out of Bill Belichick‘s script in New England, and the boys have been in full pads a lot and hitting.
  • It’s more physical than the camps in recent years here when Mike Shanahan was coach, and some of the running drills have been heated. We had a little flare up during a drill a few minutes ago, with some pushing and shoving.
  • The Broncos morning session is winding down and they’re scheduled to be back out here for a late afternoon session.

–Jason La Canfora

Injury concerns for two high-profile receivers

Monday brought injury concerns for two prominent receivers.

Panthers WR Steve Smith was carted to the locker room with a right shoulder injury. X-rays were negative, but the team is uncertain how long the four-time Pro Bowler will be out.

Meanwhile, Buccaneers WR Antonio Bryant has a torn meniscus in his left knee and will undergo arthroscopic surgery. Bryant is expected to miss the entire preseason.

George: Bengals have something to prove

NFL.com senior columnist Thomas George checked in from Georgetown, Ky., where he writes the Bengals are practicing like they have something to prove.

George touches on several topics, including Carson Palmer‘s return from an elbow injury, RB Cedric Benson‘s leading role and the relationship between Laveranues Coles and Chad Ochocinco.

Also be sure to check out Pat Kirwan‘s report from Spartanburg, S.C., where he says the Panthers are ready for another run to the playoffs.

Saints report: Bush says knee feels ‘great’

NFL Network’s Scott Hanson checked in from a very hot (see heat index of 100 degrees) New Orleans Saints training camp on Monday with a one-on-one interview with RB Reggie Bush.

Bush and Hanson talk some football — Bush is practicing once per day and says his knee feels “great” — before Hanson deftly changes the topic to the running back’s “well-publicized offseason change” in his personal life.  And, on that note, any online search will tell you that the relationship between Bush and reality TV star Kim Kardashian recently ended.

For those football fans who do care, Bush didn’t shy away from the question, saying his personal life doesn’t impact his game.

“I think for us as players, and I know for me, I never allow my personal life to affect my job or what I do on the football field,” Bush responded. “I keep that totally separate. So for the people who thought maybe my girlfriend was the reason why I got injured or was the reason why we were losing games, or for Tony Romo‘s sake, his girlfriend was the reason why … that’s completely stupid. Like I said, all I can do is just come here everyday ready to work, work hard, and show my teammates and the coaches here that I’m here to play football. That’s it. Nothing else is going to deter my focus.”

As for Friday’s preseason opener, Bush isn’t sure how much he’ll play, but said he’s excited to see the Saints’ new-look defense. For more on Bush, NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots blogged after a recent visit to Saints camp about Bush’s role this season with the Saints.

49ers Notes: Willis in doubt for preseason opener

49ers LB Patrick Willis (right) may miss the opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos because of a strained ankle. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

49ers LB Patrick Willis (right) may miss the opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos because of a strained ankle. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The 49ers have a lot of uncertainty heading into their preseason opener against the Broncos on Friday. Coach Mike Singletary has yet to name a starting quarterback. First-round draft pick Michael Crabtree is nowhere to be found. And star MLB Patrick Willis has yet to return to practice after suffering a strained ankle on the first day of training camp and his status for Friday is uncertain. Tough, nobody would fault the 49ers for erring on the side of caution with Willis.

Here’s a look at the transcript from Singletary’s session with reporters.

Here are a few other 49ers notes from Monday:

  • Singletary said he hasn’t decided on a QB rotation for Friday’s game between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, but would have a “pretty good idea” on who will start following Thursday’s walk-through.
  • Singletary seemed pretty certain RB Frank Gore would not play a lot against the Broncos — no surprise there. He indicated rookie Glen Coffee would see significant time.
  • Even though CB Tarell Brown has been out since the first day of camp with a toe injury, Singletary wouldn’t say veteran CB Dre Bly has secured a starting spot. “But as far as saying Dre Bly really has some separation there, in all fairness to (Tarell) Brown, I’m excited for him to come back out,” Singletary said. “We’re still in training camp. It’s not like it is the start of the season this week. So, there is time to get back into competition.”

Manning pleased with receivers; Nicks, Smith sit out

Another day of training camp for the New York Giants, and another update on the progress of the teams’ receiving corps. How the team will replace veterans Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer is the main storyline in Giants camp this year, and if you’re just hearing it for the first time,  you haven’t been paying attention.

Giants QB Eli Manning held court with reporters on a number of topics Monday, and it wasn’t long (like the second question) before he was asked about his receivers. Here’s how he answered who has impressed him:

“A lot of guys are doing well,” Manning said. “I think Ramses [Barden] is doing really well, he’s a big target, he makes the plays, he seems like he has a pretty good feel for what is going on. Sinorice [Moss] is doing well and making some big plays, [Mario] Manningham is getting down the field and doing some good stuff so guys are doing well. It’s just about continuing to get reps and get better.”

Rookie first-round pick Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and Steve Smith (knee) did not practice during Monday’s morning session. Another receiver battling for a roster spot — David Tyree, who also happens to be one of the featured players in NFL.com’s “On The Fringe” series — had a frustrating day.

For the record, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is on the record as saying he’s confident in the current group of receivers. NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan, after a recent visit to Giants camp, also walked away confident the Giants will be fine replacing Burress and Toomer. Kirwan was surprised by rookie Ramses Barden, and knows for a fact that Manning really likes second-year pro Mario Manningham.

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