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Monday NFL News and Notes

Monday NFL News and Notes

NFL Preseason Preview - Philadelphia (0-0) at Baltimore (0-0)
(Sports Network)

A couple of former Buffalo Bills stars will be among the feature attractions at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night, as running back Willis McGahee and the Ravens and linebacker Takeo Spikes and the Eagles meet in the 2007 preseason opener for both teams.

McGahee, a 2003 first-round draft choice of the Bills, was dealt to Baltimore on March 8th in exchange for a third- and seventh-round draft pick in 2007, and a third-round selection in 2008. The Miami-Florida product suffered through a disappointing '06 season in Buffalo, rushing for just 990 yards and receiving negative press for off-the-field comments endorsing the relocation of the Buffalo franchise to Toronto. McGahee will get a fresh start in Baltimore, which was inconsistent in the running game last season despite putting together a 13-3 record that included an AFC North title.

Spikes, meanwhile, is expected to vastly improve a Philadelphia linebacking unit that was among the team's weak links in an otherwise impressive 10-6 campaign in 2006. The Eagles acquired Spikes along with quarterback Kelly Holcomb on March 27, sending Darwin Walker (later traded to Chicago) and a late-round draft pick to Buffalo.

Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowler who has battled injuries in recent years, is expected to fill the weak side linebacker role for Philadelphia.

The other major storyline on Monday night will be the return to the field of quarterback Donovan McNabb, though it is unclear how much McNabb will play on Monday night, if at all.

McNabb sustained a torn ACL last Nov. 19th in a loss to the Titans, and recently described his injured knee as being "75 percent."

If McNabb is held out, he would join a list of unavailable Eagles players which should also include tight end L.J. Smith, who recently re-aggravated a sports hernia, and running back Brian Westbrook, who has left camp indefinitely for personal reasons.

Among those who should see significant time on Monday are Eagles rookie quarterback Kevin Kolb, the second-round draft choice out of Houston whose selection caused major controversy in Philadelphia due to the presence of McNabb on the roster.

Notables that will see the field for Baltimore should include 2006 Heisman Trophy Winner Troy Smith. The Ohio State product was a fifth-round choice of the Ravens in the April Draft.

The Ravens hold a 6-3 advantage in the all-time preseason series, including a 20-10 home victory prior to the 2006 campaign.

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NFL Preseason Preview - Denver (0-0) at San Francisco (0-0)
(Sports Network)

Fans at Monster Park will be eager to catch a glimpse of the new-look 49ers on Monday night, when San Francisco plays host to the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener for both squads.

The Niners made a number of key additions in the offseason, a roster overhaul that is expected by many to inspire a return to the postseason for Mike Nolan's team in 2007.

Cornerback Nate Clements (ex-Bills), strong safety Michael Lewis (ex-Eagles), and wideout Darrell Jackson (ex-Seahawks) head up a bumper crop of free agent acquisitions for the 49ers, while inside linebacker Patrick Willis (Ole Miss) and tackle Joe Staley (Central Michigan) are also being counted on for an immediate contribution after being selected in the first round of the April draft.

All of the above players should see at least limited time in Monday's tune-up, though the oft-injured Jackson has been hampered a bit by a toe injury during training camp.

Among those definitely out for Nolan's squad on Monday will be 2006 Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, who broke his hand early in training camp and is expected to miss most if not all of the preseason.

The Broncos, meanwhile, will be eager to get back to business after a tumultuous offseason defined by the tragic deaths of cornerback Darrent Williams and running back Damien Nash.

Williams was killed in a drive-by-shooting in Denver on Jan. 1st, while Nash collapsed and died following a charity basketball game on Feb. 24th.

Attempting to move on from those tragedies will be a Broncos roster fortified with some key offseason additions of its own.

Ex-Lions cornerback Dre' Bly will line up alongside Pro Bowler Champ Bailey for the first time Monday night, running back Travis Henry will take his place behind second-year quarterback Jay Cutler after a terrific 2006 season with the Titans, and former Patriots tight end Daniel Graham will combine with ex- Colts receiver Brandon Stokley to provide some much-needed targets for Mike Shanahan's club.

Defensive end and first-round draft choice Jarvis Moss (Florida) could make his first appearance in a Denver uniform despite some knee trouble earlier in the week, though wideout Rod Smith (hip) is among the Denver notables who will be held out of action.

Denver owns a 17-14 advantage in the all-time preseason series with San Francisco, including a 26-21 home victory in the last such meeting, prior to the 2005 campaign.

The 49ers were 26-23 road winners when the teams met in Week 17 of the 2006 season, a result that knocked Denver out of the playoff picture.

The most memorable matchup between the two franchises took place following the 1989 season, when the Niners were 55-10 winners in Super Bowl XXIV from New Orleans. The score remains the most lopsided in Super Bowl history.

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McNabb to miss Eagles preseason opener

(Sports Network) - Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb will miss the team's preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens Monday.

McNabb is attempting to come back from a torn ACL in his right knee that cut short his 2006 season. The former Pro Bowl quarterback has been practicing but coach Andy Reid announced his intention to let McNabb sit on Sunday.

"I really think he worked well (in practice)," Reid said. "He seems strong. I'd rather start him off at our place, on grass, if possible."

A.J. Feeley will start in place of McNabb against the Ravens and will be followed by Kelly Holcomb and rookie Kevin Kolb in the quarterback rotation.

The injury-prone McNabb threw for 2,647 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 games last season before suffering the knee injury in a game against Tennessee on November 19.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection has missed significant time in three of the past five seasons. In 2005, McNabb missed the final seven games of the year with a sports hernia. He also missed the final six regular season games in 2002 with a broken leg.

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What bettors need to know: Monday’s NFL action

Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 35)

Shuffling the deck

The offense may get all the press because of changeover at both the running back and quarterback positions, but the defense is going through its own regenesis.

New defensive coordinator Jim Bates is fielding a much larger and heavier D-line than in years past. The new approach was underlined with the acquisition of 350-pound defensive tackle Sam Adams.

While Denver did draft several speedy ends, the plan is to have bulk up the middle and keep the rest of the defense fresh throughout the season.

“It was not reflective of the play we got from (former smaller DT) Michael Myers or any of the other guys we’ve had in the past,” Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist told the Denver Post.

“It’s just that if you’re going to run the wishbone, you better have an option quarterback. If you’re going to run Jim Bates’ defense, you better have the beef.”

Late arrivals

The 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is not a fan of the league’s policy regarding when a team can open training camp. The rule states a team cannot open camp more than 15 days prior to its first exhibition game.

Since San Francisco plays on the last day of the first week of the preseason, the team reported 10 days later than both the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints who played in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 5.

“It’s a disadvantage because Denver and the 49ers were the latest two teams to (begin camp),” Nolan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re not getting ready for the preseason. We’re getting ready for the (regular) season.

“So to say you get less practices going into the season because your preseason game is (last), that’s kind of ridiculous. Let’s all start at the same time. I don’t care if you play in the Hall of Fame game or not.”

Jobs to be won

Both the Broncos and 49ers will be trying to determine the No. 2 running back slot. The 49ers will have the entire game to look at their backups because of Frank Gore’s broken right hand.

Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks are expected to be the top candidates for Gore’s replacement. Robinson is a converted college quarterback just two years removed from his days under center at Penn State and coming off a promising rookie campaign. Hicks has been with the Niners for three seasons but he’s never rushed for more than 362 yards in a single year.

Travis Henry is the unquestioned starter but it’s uncertain who’ll be backing him up in Denver. Mike Bell rushed for 677 yards while splitting carries last season, but he just recently moved up to the second offensive group.

Unheralded Andre Hall dropped down to the third unit but he’s still got a chance to move up. With Mike Shanahan as coach, the running back depth chart is always moving.

Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens (-3 ½, 31)

Offense on the up?

The Ravens have long had a reputation as a defensive team with limited offense but that may change this season. Just one year after finishing 25th in rushing yards per game (103.2), there’s nothing but positive words describing the offense’s potential.

“We’re very, very talented, and it’s a balanced talent,” head coach Brian Billick told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s clearly as much balance as we’ve had.”

After bringing over Willis McGahee from the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore has quality depth now at running back, quarterback and receiver. Whether or not it pans out we’ll have to see.

No McNabb, no problem

Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has ruled top QB Donovan McNabb out for tonight’s game as a precautionary reason while the franchise player continues to recover from knee surgery.

That gives even more playing time to A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb and Kelly Holcomb. Feeley is listed as the top backup but Kolb is the Eagles' top draft pick and Holcomb has started 18 games over the last three seasons.

The Eagles were determined in the offseason to make sure there would not be a serious dropoff in talent in behind McNabb. Determining the quarterback depth chart might be the most important task for the Eagles this preseason since McNabb hasn’t played a full season since 2004.

More QB news...

Observers in Baltimore say Kyle Boller is outplaying Steve McNair in training camp. McNair is the unquestioned starter but he looked shaky at times last season despite the Ravens' 13-3 record.

Boller was the starting quarterback for three seasons and lost the job when the Ravens acquired McNair last offseason. Baltimore’s first-round pick in the 2003 draft is a free agent after the season and appears focused to impress potential suitors with a strong preseason.

If last season is any indication of what Boller is capable of doing, he could be a highly sought after commodity. He had two solid relief performances last year when McNair was forced to leave games because of injury and finished the season with a 104.3 passer rating last season.

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Monday's NFL starter report
Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 35)

Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan says his starters will play one or two series (10-12 snaps) tonight against the 49ers. After Jay Cutler and crew are off for the night, quarterback Patrick Ramsey and running back Mike Bell will play the remainder of the first half.

Domenik Hixon, a 2006 fourth-round pick, is expected to make a surprise start opposite Javon Walker at wide receiver in place of the injured Rod Smith.

Tight end Tony Scheffler and wideouts David Kircus and Brandon Marshall are all expected to sit out.

San Francisco starters will play 15 plays or until the end of the first quarter - depending on which comes first. The second stringers will finish the half and the scrubs will play the entirety of the second half. QB Trent Dilfer will lead the second unit offense with inexperienced Shaun Hill leading the charge afterwards.

Running backs Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks will split carries in the first quarter since starter Frank Gore is out with a broken hand. Sixth-round draft pick Thomas Clayton is expected to get the bulk of the rushing attempts the rest of the way.

49ers head coach Mike Nolan said he and his coaches are particularly interesting in seeing his new players – nine draft picks and seven free agents.

Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens (-3 ½, 31 ½)

Coach Andy Reid has ruled out Donovan McNabb for the Eagles preseason opener and appointed A.J. Feely as his team's starting quarterback.

“I think (McNabb) worked very well (at training camp),” Reid told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He seems strong. I’d rather just start him off at our place on grass.”

Feely and the rest of the first unit – both offense and defense – are expected to play about a quarter. QB Kelly Holcomb and the rest of the second unit finish the first half. Second-round selection Kevin Kolb will play the rest of the game behind center.

Guard Shawn Andrews, safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Lito Sheppard and tight end L.J. Smith (all starters) are expected to miss tonight’s game due to injury.

As for the Ravens, starters Jonathan Ogden (LT), Kelly Gregg (DT) and backups Daniel Wilcox (TE), Mike Smith (LB) are all expected to sit out.

Baltimore coach Brian Billick would not give any details regarding how long his starters would play but if we use the Ravens first preseason game last season as a guide, the starters shouldn’t play more than 10-12 plays.

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2007 NFL Preseason Notes


Denver Broncos - QB Rotation: Jay Cutler (1-2 series), Patrick Ramsey (will follow), Preston Parsons (see below).

QB Jay Cutler and the first-team offense are expected to play one or two series. Ramsey will get most of the snaps Monday. Cutler has treated a sore right wrist after most practices, but he has not missed a training camp snap.

Four of Cutler's projected top five receivers - Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Stokley and Rod Smith - will not play tonight because of injuries. The battered offensive line finished camp as Tom Nalen and a four-man rotation.

After running with the No. 3 offense during the offseason minicamps and through the first 11 days of training camp, Mike Bell became the No. 2 running back Thursday. That leaves him behind starter Travis Henry, but ahead of Cecil Sapp, who had been running with the second unit. Andre Hall appeared to be splitting the third-team reps with Sapp.

Offensive line thin. Left guard Ben Hamilton has missed significant time with a concussion. Left tackle Matt Lepsis has been out with a pulled groin. Right guard Chris Kuper was replaced on the first-team Monday by Montrae Holland.

Lepsis' injury caused the Broncos to move Erik Pears from right tackle to left tackle one day, then back to right tackle the next. Adam Meadows has been playing whatever tackle position is opposite Pears, and Chris Myers has been filling in for Hamilton. Another backup left tackle, rookie Ryan Harris, hurt his back Thursday.

Second-year WR Brandon Marshall practiced for the second straight day Saturday after missing the first 12 days of practice with a quadriceps injury. Marshall won't play Monday at San Francisco, but he will play Saturday at Dallas.

Denver Broncos first-round draft pick Jarvis Moss injured his left knee during 1-on-1 pass-rush drills Monday.

Mike Shanahan fired most of the defensive staff in the offseason, including DC Larry Coyer, and hired Jim Bates, whose M.O. is forcing turnovers by getting pressure on the quarterback.

San Fran 49ers - QB Rotation: Alex Smith (1st Q), Trent Dilfer (2nd Q), Shaun Hill.

QB Smith and the starting offensive unit will be on the field for the first quarter or 15 plays, whichever comes first. San Francisco's starting defense will play about the same amount and give way to a flood of reserves in the second half.

Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore broke a bone in his right hand and might not play in the preseason. That means running backs Michael Robinson, Maurice Hicks and Thomas Clayton will take most of the pounding in camp and throughout much of the preseason.

"We'll just take it a day at a time," Nolan said. "We want Michael and Mo (Hicks), in particular those two players, to get the bulk of the first group's work while Frank is down." HC Mike Nolan said Gore could return as early as the final preseason game at San Diego. Nolan said Robinson could fill in as the third quarterback if an injury occurred.

Starting NT Aubrayo Franklin (knee) will miss the entire preseason. He is the centerpiece of Nolan's three-year scheme to install a true 3-4 defense in San Francisco. Isaac Sopoaga and rookie Joe Cohen will get the first chance to replace Franklin.

Philadelphia Eagles - QB Rotation: Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley (1st Q), Kelly Holcomb (2nd Q), rookie Kevin Kolb (second half).

QB Donovan McNabb (sore knee) won't play. A.J. Feeley will start the game and play one quarter, followed by veteran Kelly Holcomb. Rookie Kevin Kolb will play most of the second half.

QB Kevin Kolb told reporters he had "hit the wall a bit" last week during training camp at Lehigh University and he has made his share of rookie mistakes, some of which can be attributed to a tired arm, but all was to be expected.

These guys won't play: Free safety Brian Dawkins (Achilles), cornerback Lito Sheppard (oblique), right guard Shawn Andrews (ankle), tight end L.J. Smith (groin), defensive tackles Montae Reagor (knee) and Ian Scott (knee); cornerback Dustin Fox (Achilles), linebacker Dedrick Roper (foot) and wide receiver Bill Sampy (quadriceps).

Defensive line thin with DTs Montae Reagor and Ian Scott out with knee injuries.

Secondary thin, with safety Brian Dawkins (Achilles tendinitis), CB Marcus Paschal (leg spasm), and CB Lito Sheppard has missed the majority of training camp with a strained oblique muscle.

Cornerback Will James finally gets his wish and will start opposite Sheldon Brown with Sheppard out, while Quintin Mikell and Sean Considine are the top two players at safety with the six-time Pro Bowler Dawkins still nursing his sore Achilles.

Baltimore Ravens - QB Rotation: Steve McNair (1-2 series), Kyle Boller (will follow), rookie Troy Smith.

McNair and the starters will go 1-2 series. The second unit will then play much of the game. QB Kyle Boller is expected to relieve Steve McNair in the first quarter and play most of the first half.

Offensive line thin: OT Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) has not been practicing and first-round pick Ben Grubbs sprained his knee. This unit will feature a more athletic look and three new starters: left tackle Jared Gaither (who is filling in for Jonathan Ogden), right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Adam Terry. The second team has two first-day picks on the right side, guard Ben Grubbs (first round) and tackle Marshal Yanda (third round).

Secondary thin, with starters CB Samari Rolle and safety Ed Reed ailing.

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