Friday NFL News and Notes

Friday NFL News and Notes

NFL Preseason Preview - Tennessee (1-1) at Buffalo (1-1)

(Sports Network) - Tennessee quarterback Vince Young will look to recover from a shaky preseason to date on Friday night, when the Titans travel to meet the Buffalo Bills in the next-to-last tune-up for both clubs.

Young was just 5-of-17 passing for 102 yards with four sacks sustained in the Titans' 27-24 win over the Patriots last Friday, with that performance coming a week after the 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year was suspended for a loss against the Washington Redskins after violating a team rule. Previously during training camp, Young made headlines by getting into an on-field brawl with teammate Donnie Nickey.

There were bright spots for Tennessee in the win over the Patriots, most notably the work of running back Chris Brown. Brown carried 10 times for 67 yards in the victory, further establishing his position atop the depth chart at running back.

Defensively, the Titans received a boost from defensive back Cortland Finnegan, who posted a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter of the triumph.

On the injury front for Tennessee, running back LenDale White is expected to play Friday after missing the New England game with an ankle injury.

The Bills, meanwhile, will be seeking more from an offense that has produced just 23 points in two preseason games.

Quarterback J.P. Losman (11-of-19 passing, 98 yards) has been reasonably sharp in limited action thus far, not turning the ball over in two appearances, but the club has seen little from running back and first-round draft choice Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2007 Draft out of Cal, has just seven carries for 19 yards without a reception in a pair of preseason outings.

Defensively, the big story for Buffalo on Friday night could be the Bills debut of defensive end Al Wallace. Wallace, who was a member of the Panthers from 2002 through 2006, was signed earlier this week to help fill the void experienced when Ryan Denney (broken foot) was lost indefinitely in last Friday's 13-10 loss to Atlanta.

Tennessee leads the preseason series with Buffalo, 8-3, widening the advantage with a 16-15 road victory in the last such matchup, prior to the 2004 season.

The most memorable meeting between the clubs came in an AFC Wild Card tilt on Jan. 8th, 2000, when the host Titans snuffed out an apparent Bills victory after Frank Wycheck's cross-field lateral to Kevin Dyson went for a spectacular 75-yard touchdown in the game's closing seconds. The play entered NFL lore as the "Music City Miracle."

The teams also did battle in Week 16 of the 2006 regular season, with Young and the Titans pulling out a 30-29 thriller at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

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NFL Preseason Preview - New England (0-2) at Carolina (1-1)

(Sports Network) - The New England Patriots will look to secure their first win of the preseason on Friday night, when Bill Belichick and company travel to meet the Carolina Panthers in the next-to-last preseason contest for each club.

New England has opened the warm-up period with losses to the Buccaneers (13-10) and Titans (27-24), but has not been anywhere close to full strength in either of those defeats.

Two anticipated keys to the Patriots' success in the 2007 season, running back Laurence Maroney (shoulder) and wide receiver Randy Moss (hamstring), have yet to suit up during the preseason. Maroney is expected to be in the lineup on Friday night, but Moss is unlikely to appear.

New England's first-team offense will try to look sharp under the guidance of quarterback Tom Brady, who experienced positives and negatives in last Friday's loss to the Titans. Brady threw his initial touchdown pass of the summer on a 28-yard strike to Wes Welker in the first quarter, but did so only moments after an interception was returned 51 yards for a touchdown by Tennessee defensive back Cortland Finnegan.

The homestanding Panthers, meanwhile, will be looking to rebound from a weak preseason effort that saw them drop a 27-10 decision in Philadelphia last Friday.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme had a night to forget, completing 9-of-18 passes for 78 yards without a touchdown and throwing an interception that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard.

Backup David Carr led the Panthers to their only trip to the end zone in the game, rushing for a nine-yard touchdown in the final frame. During the preseason to date, the former Houston Texans starter is an encouraging 13- of-21 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 108.0.

Also worth watching on Friday will be the work of a Carolina receiving corps that is battling for position on the depth chart. Holdovers Drew Carter and Keary Colbert, along with rookie Dwayne Jarrett, are all vying for a starting job opposite Pro Bowler Steve Smith.

Carter has started the club's first two games of the preseason, and should get the nod against the Patriots as well.

The Patriots own a 3-2 edge in the all-time preseason series with the Panthers, but were 20-17 road losers in the last such meeting, prior to the 2004 campaign.

The most memorable matchup between the two organizations came in Super Bowl XXXVIII, won by New England, 32-29.

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NFL Preseason Preview - St. Louis (1-1) at Oakland (1-1)

(Sports Network) - The Oakland Raiders' contentious quarterback situation should come a step closer to resolution on Friday night, when Lane Kiffin and company host the St. Louis Rams in the third preseason warm-up for both clubs.

A trio of quarterbacks - former Cardinals starter Josh McCown, holdover Andrew Walter, and three-time Pro Bowler Daunte Culpepper - currently grace the Oakland roster at signal-caller. All have had their moments during the preseason to date, but the eventual presence of No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell, who is embroiled in a holdout, means that only two of the veterans are likely to stick at the position long-term.

In last Saturday's 26-21 loss to San Francisco, it was the recently-acquired Culpepper who made the most serious bid for a spot on the team. The ex-Viking and Dolphin completed 6-of-8 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, also showing renewed mobility by scrambling three times for 13 yards. Culpepper's passer rating during the preseason to date is a strong 113.1, compared to 66.0 for McCown and 71.2 for Walter.

Culpepper is expected to make his first start of the preseason on Friday before giving way to McCown and finally Walter.

Though less of a spotlight will be on the Rams offense Friday night, St. Louis head coach Scott Linehan will be looking for more effectiveness from his quarterbacks than he has been seen thus far in the 2007 preseason.

Four Rams signal-callers have combined for five interceptions against just one touchdown pass in the club's two tune-ups, with two of the picks being thrown by starter Marc Bulger. In last Saturday's 30-13 loss to San Diego, the sharpest of the three Rams QBs was backup Gus Frerotte, who completed 16-of-22 passes for 187 yards and tossed the club's first touchdown of the preseason to Marques Hagans in the fourth quarter.

Running back Steven Jackson, who has played only sparingly for the Rams in their first two preseason contests, should see his most extensive time of August on Friday but will likely be featured less than many of the squad's other starters.

On the injury front for the Rams, guard Richie Incognito (ankle), wide receiver Dominique Thompson (ribs), and safety Jerome Carter (foot) are among those that are not expected to be available.

Oakland holds a 10-7 advantage in the all-time preseason series with St. Louis, adding to its edge with a 28-24 home win in the last such meeting, prior to the 2004 season.

The Raiders and Rams also met during the 2006 regular season, with St. Louis dealing Oakland a 20-0 shutout at Network Associates Coliseum.

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Friday's NFL starter report

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills (-1, 35)

Titans coach Jeff Fisher isn’t expected to have his starters on the field by the third quarter, though running back LenDale White is expected to start Friday after returning to practice for the first time in nine days on Wednesday. White was dealing with knee and ankle problems and has just six rushing attempts this preseason.

It doesn’t sound like Dick Jauron is going to give his starters the customary three quarters of work in Buffalo’s third preseason game either.

“Our first groups will probably play at least a quarter, through the first quarter and then maybe deeper if circumstances warrant, but probably not because we'd like to stay on schedule," Jauron told reporters. "We still have a lot of people we want to see again and again before we have to make decisions."

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (+1 ½, 38)

Tom Brady missed Wednesday’s practice to travel to California for the birth of his son. It’s uncertain whether he’ll meet the Pats in Carolina on Friday as of yet, and head coach Bill Billicheck is being typically tight-lipped regarding Brady’s status and the rest of his starters’ playing time.

Panthers starters should play into the third quarter, but head coach John Fox isn’t going to do much in the way of game planning for the Pats.

"We're still installing (the team's offense and defense) and still really in camp mode; we just happen to be in Charlotte instead of Spartanburg,” Fox told reporters.

"A little bit more goes into this (exhibition), and then the last one is treated like a regular season game even though our starters don't play as much. And then we're on to St. Louis."

St. Louis Rams at Oakland Raiders (+2, 38)

Daunte Culpepper makes his first start for Oakland and will be followed by Josh McCown and then Andrew Walter. Oakland starters will play into the second half for the first time this preseason.

"This is a dynamic competitor," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said of Culpepper, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "And we heard that about him, but until you really see it... this is a guy that, he gets in there, and he wants to play."

Meanwhile, St. Louis first stringers are expected to play for the first three quarters. Steven Jackson may see his most extensive action of the preseason on Friday but will still likely play less than the rest of the club’s starters.

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What bettors need to know: Friday's NFL action

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills (-1, 35)

Problem with the softies

Titans quarterback Vince Young made enough plays with his feet last season to win the Rookie of the Year award, but it’s his arm that has some worried.

Young was shaky in his preseason outing against the New England Patriots, completing only five of his 17 attempts, and many of the errant passes were small simple dump offs.

“You always want him to be accurate. But as we keep telling our receivers, every ball’s not going to be accurate,” offensive coordinator Norm Chow told the Tennessean. “So you just have to make a play.”

Veteran wideout Eric Moulds says part of the problem stems from Young’s unfamiliarity with the receiving corps.

“You’ve got to trust your receiver – you’ve got to trust that he’s going to catch the ball. That’s just not there with them right now,” Moulds told reporters. “Most of the time with a young quarterback there’s a go-to-guy. You have that problem with everybody except (that guy). Vince hasn’t established that yet."


Buffalo’s defense took a huge blow in the offseason with the loss of leading tackler London Fletcher and shutdown cornerback Nate Clements. There could be a major drop off in the D-unit’s effectiveness unless somebody steps up.

Jason Webster was signed to assume Clements' duties opposite steady DB Terrence McGee. Webster has shown he can be an effective cornerback, but injuries have kept him out of 14 games over the last three seasons.

Fletcher was a staple for the Bills at middle linebacker but there will be a new face at the position this year. The front-runner is second-pick Paul Posluszny. The former Nittany Lion is a two-time Chuck Bednarik award winner (NCAA top defensive player) but head coach Dick Jauron won’t hand the job to the rookie. John Di-Giorgio has played well enough to make things interesting.

“It will probably go down to the wire,” Jauron told the Buffalo News. “I think they’ve both doing well, they’re both playing well and they’re both progressing.”

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers (+1 ½, 38)

Much ado about nothing?

One of the most interesting storylines coming into 2007 is the Patriots' revamped receiver group. New England signed Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker before pulling off a draft-day shocker by trading for the talented but troublesome Randy Moss.

The speedy wideout hasn’t practiced since injuring his left leg back on Aug. 1 and won’t play tomorrow even though his team badly needs him.

“Are we behind? It’s hard to measure, but I’d say we need to make improvements,” quarterback Tom Brady told the Boston Herald of the first-string offense. “I wish that you could always pick up from where you left off last season, but the reality is that doesn’t happen. You come back, you have a new team and you have to develop a new identity. One thing I’ve learned over the last eight years is that it takes time."

Brady himself may slow that process. The two-time Super Bowl MVP traveled to the West coast to play daddy with his newly born son. As Ryan Stetson writes in today’s starter report, it’s unclear whether Brady will return in time to play tonight.

Starting running back Laurence Maroney just recently started taking hits in practice. The 2006 first-round pick underwent shoulder surgery in the off-season and the club wanted to be cautious with the stud tailback. Coach Bill Belichick won’t say if Maroney will play Friday, meaning there could be two scrubs starting in the offensive backfield for New England.

No excuses from Carolina

Panthers starting QB Jake Delhomme was embarrassed by his and his team's performance last weekend.

“We didn’t play well, I think to put it mildly and to put kindly,” he told the Charlotte Observer following a 27-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “Preseason or not, we played awful.”

Delhomme, who may be sweating with a capable backup (David Carr) waiting in the wings, completed half of his 18 pass attempts for 78 with one interception. He was also sacked three times.

Sack master Julius Peppers missed the Philadelphia game and nearly a week of practice with a fever. He was back with the team on Tuesday but the defensive end may be on the sidelines for Friday’s contest.

“At the end of the day, you try to do what’s best to get him ready for the season,” Panthers coach John Fox said of Peppers. “Sometimes that might be letting him play. Sometimes it might be letting him play sparingly.”

St. Louis Rams at Oakland Raiders (+2, 38)

Let’s hear it for the big boys

Defense has perenially been a weak spot for the Rams, but the club’s front office took steps to improve the area. The defensive line, in particular, looks like a strong spot. St. Louis recently drafted three defensive tackles including top pick Adam Carriker.

“We’re much better inside than we were a year ago,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett told the St. Louis Dispatch.

Defensive end Leonard Little could lead the league in sacks if Carriker proves to be as good as advertised.

Be careful betting St. Louis in the preseason, however. Head coach Scott Linehan is giving starting running back Steven Jackson the LaDainian Tomlinson-type treatment in the preseason.

Fresh face brings fresh ideas

When 32-year-old Lane Kiffin took over as Raiders head coach, he knew improving the offensive line would be a top priority. Oakland quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 72 times last season.

But Kiffin knew it wasn’t all the O-line’s fault. He saw flaws in the previous coaching staff's approach to protecting the signal caller. Lane wanted his line to rely on quickness and teamwork rather than brute strength. The results have been positive so far.

The Raiders starting offensive line has yet to yield a single sack after playing the first half against both the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.

“Everybody’s got confidence in this system and the coaching staff and in each other, which is great to see around here again,” center Jake Grove told the Contra Costa Times.

Don’t get too excited just yet, Silver and Black fans. San Francisco’s entire first-string defensive line sat out against the Raiders – and this is just the preseason.

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2007 NFL Preseason Notes


Tennessee Titans - QB Rotation: Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Tim Rattay (see below).

The first-team unit is expected to play until halftime, with some players possibly playing into the third quarter. RB LenDale White will work with trainers prior to the game and if OK, is expected to start. The first-team offense will be trying to score its first touchdown of the preseason.

Jeff Fisher said he doesn't plan to have starters play into the third quarter in the third preseason game as he has in previous years. He'll probably go with that plan in the preseason finale Aug. 30.

Defensive line thin: Needing depth for a unit hit hard by injuries, the Titans claimed former Panthers defensive end Jason Hall off waivers. The Titans have lost two rookie defensive linemen for the season: end Jacob Ford with a torn Achilles and tackle Antonio Johnson with an ACL injury.

Rookie Michael Griffin made the switch from safety to cornerback. On Monday, the first-round pick made the transition from second team to first team. Chances are he'll work with the starters at Buffalo.

RBs thin: Running back LenDale White (swollen knee along with a sprained ankle), Chris Brown and fullback Jonathan Evans (ankle) are hurting.

Buffalo Bills - QB Rotation: J.P. Losman (first half), Craig Nall, rookie Trent Edwards, Kevin Eakin (see below).

Buffalo's starters are expected to play until halftime, some into the third quarter. J.P. Losman will start at quarterback. Rookie running back Marshawn Lynch is expected to get extended playing time. Buffalo's first-team offensive unit also has been held without a touchdown in the preseason.

Dick Jauron said the starters would play at least one half against Tennessee. "Maybe into the second," he said, "but maybe not." Rookie Trent Edwards will work behind J.P. Losman, but Jauron didn't know how much playing time Craig Nall would receive, if any. "Trent needs to get every snap he can get, and J.P. needs time in there, too," Jauron said. "We'll just have to see with Craig."

After getting only two carries in the preseason opener, RB Marshawn Lynch is expected to start and carry the ball more. "We'd like to see more of Marshawn," coach Dick Jauron said.

Jauron said that even with the opening game against Denver just three weeks away, he hasn't decided who the team's starting right guard will be.

The offensive line is starting to get hit with some injuries. Second-year man Brad Butler, who was involved in the competition at right guard, has been out almost a week with a hamstring injury, and as he continues to limp. Now second-year man Aaron Merz is sitting out with a shoulder injury.

The Bills plan to use more three-and four-receiver formations because they know they must involve WRs Reed and Parrish.

Cornerback depth a concern: They dealt Nate Clements in the offseason, and 8-year veteran CB Jason Webster has missed two practices with a leg injury. Other CB options are Kiwaukee Thomas, Ashton Youboty and Jabari Greer. "Webster is ahead of those guys, but we need depth at that position," Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos said.

New England Patriots - QB Rotation: Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Vinnie Testaverde, rookie Matt Gutierrez.

One group of players will see the majority of the action tonight while a different group will play most of the snaps against the Giants. Bill Belichick didn't classify the groups, but if history is any indication, tonight will mark the most extensive action for the starters. They should play into the third quarter, building their stamina and getting a feel for halftime adjustments. Then that group will have 16 days to prepare for the Sept. 9 opener against the Jets.

RB Laurence Maroney has been cleared for contact and may play.

The Patriots' blocking breakdowns Friday weren't restricted to the offensive line; the tight ends struggled as well. TE Benjamin Watson missed second-quarter blocks on back-to-back plays that resulted in running back Sammy Morris getting tackled for a 1-yard loss, then Matt Cassel being sacked.

Secondary thin. CB Chad Scott is out for the season (knee) and CB Asante Samuel is holding out.

WRs thin: Jabar Gaffney was sidelined for the second day in a row with what appeared to be a leg injury, while Randy Moss remained out of practice, as he has since pulling up Aug. 1

Inside linebacker Eric Alexander, who started in the AFC Championship game against the Colts, is expected to suit up for his first exhibition action after being limited because of his shoulder. The Patriots need to develop some young linebackers and Alexander projects as one of the top backups inside behind Adalius Thomas. Alexander should see some action in the regular defense alongside Junior Seau, giving the Patriots a better look at the depth they have at linebacker.

Carolina Panthers
- QB Rotation: Jake Delhomme (1st-3rd Qs), David Carr (4th Q), Brett Basanez.

Coach John Fox plans to play his starters about three quarters during this game (excluding LB Dan Morgan, who will probably go about a quarter).

The injury list shrank dramatically last week; WR Dwayne Jarrett (hamstring), safety Nate Salley (knee) and RB DeAngelo Williams returned to practice.

Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan will get his first game action in nearly a year Friday.

John Fox was asked if his team was doing much game planning for New England. "Very little," he said. "We're still installing (the team's offense and defense) and still really in camp mode."

The Panthers are using zone-blocking schemes this season, a dramatic change for a system that's been built around a power-running style.

Offensive line changes: For the third time this training camp, the Panthers shuffled their line Sunday, and they might not be done. Fox has been saying since the start of camp he wanted to experiment with different combinations. Former second-teamer Geoff Hangartner slid into the first team at right guard, with Justin Hartwig moving back to center. Right tackle Jordan Gross, left guard Mike Wahle and left tackle Travelle Wharton stayed in the spots they've been in most of camp. But it's clear the Panthers haven't made any long-term decisions at center and right guard.

They opened camp with Jeremy Bridges working with the first team at right guard and Hartwig at center, but Bridges has been suspended for the first two games of the season. They put rookie Ryan Kalil at center and shifted Hartwig to right guard. The starting line allowed three sacks Saturday.

They have a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Davidson, who is revamping the Carolina offense from a year ago, when it was run by Dan Henning.

St. Louis Rams - QB Rotation: Marc Bulger, Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Berlin.

Rams coach Scott Linehan is treating exhibition game No. 3 tonight in Oakland as the big dress rehearsal for the regular season. For the most part, Rams starters will play the entire first half, and perhaps even into the third quarter.

With many of the starters expected to sit out next week's exhibition finale against Kansas City, this will be the last chance to polish up for the real games. Based on what transpired last week against San Diego, there is plenty that needs polishing. For one, the starting offense has yet to score a touchdown in the preseason.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a cracked rib and is unlikely to play. Brock Berlin gets another opportunity to impress the bosses.

The Rams plan to use more two-tight end sets this season.

They have a revamped defensive front with Leonard Little at left end; former Detroit Lion James Hall at right end; La'Roi Glover and rookie Adam Carriker at tackle.

Oakland Raiders - QB Rotation: Daunte Culpepper (first half), Josh McCown (3rd Q), Andrew Walter (4th Q), JaMarcus Russell (see below).

QB Daunte Culpepper will take the starting snaps in Friday against the Rams. McCown is expected to relieve Culpepper early in the third quarter, with Walter finishing up. Culpepper has shown good mobility and command of the offense. He will get extended time with the first-team offensive line.

The Raiders traded for Broncos defensive tackle Gerard Warren on Monday.

Secondary thin: Strong safety Donovin Darius (left calf) thinks he can play Friday. Safety Hiram Eugene has his left hand in a brace and looks doubtful.

Former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, 31, is the Raiders new head coach.

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Game plan for Rams: Stomp on Raiders, build momentum

So what do the Rams need to do in Oakland during their third preseason game?

What the Saints did to the Chiefs on Thursday night in Kansas City. New Orleans handled the Chiefs 30-7 and got its high-powered offense in sync.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees didn’t even play a full half, yet he completed 17 of 19 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. The New Orleans defense attacked young Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle, forcing him to suffer a nightmarish 5-for-17 performance.

The Saints are NFC title contenders. They have high expectations for this season. The rebuilding Chiefs face a tough road back into AFC contention.

So during Week 3 of the preseason -– the last time most stars see any meaningful action before the regular season -– this was an appropriate outcome for teams in contrasting circumstances.

The Rams must view the Raiders game the same way. Oakland has a new coach, Lane Kiffin, and a new quarterback, Dolphins washout Daunte Culpepper.

The Raiders are trying to undo the damage of their chaotic 2006 season, when they finished 2-14. They are doing so without the No. 1 overall pick in the ’07 NFL Draft, unsigned quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Kiffin has an enormous task at hand. The Raiders have been a laughingstock in recent seasons. The AFC is a far more powerful conference, top to bottom, than the NFC.

By contrast, Rams coach Scott Linehan has his program rolling smoothly in Year Two. His team’s injury troubles are relatively minor at this point and he appears to have almost all of his pieces in place.

Now it is time to play a crisp preseason game. Now it is time to prepare for the season opener, since the Governor’s Cup game against Kansas City will primarily be an exercise for the back-ups and those young players trying to claim the last few roster spots.

Week 4 of the preseason will bring us the Gus Frerotte Game as Linehan puts his best players in bubble wrap.

During Week 2 of the preseason, the Rams first-team offense (minus Steven Jackson) moved the ball against San Diego but failed to score touchdowns. Fullback Madison Hedgecock killed one potential scoring drive with a fumble and quarterback Marc Bulger killed another with his end zone interception.

“You don’t want any turnovers, but if you throw the football you’re going to have a few,” Linehan said. “You just want to have a lot more positive things in the passing game than negative. You just practice it and stress it.”

Defensively, the Rams missed some open-field tackles and became vulnerable to San Diego’s established ground game, even with LaDainian Tomlinson wearing street clothes. They also failed to force a turnover, which is a point of emphasis with the Jim Haslett-coached defense.

“Defensively, you work at getting the ball out,” Linehan said. “We haven’t seen that yet here in preseason, but it was very effective for us last year.”

On special teams, Linehan’s gave up a punt return touchdown. That can’t happen in real games, ever. New special teams coach Al Roberts has to get the coverage teams ready.

Every problem the team suffered last season cropped up again in the Chargers game. Hence the focus on this game, the Rams’ last preseason chance to work all their front-line players in game conditions.

“Almost all (first-teamers) will play the entire first half,” Linehan said. “Possibly the opening drive of the second half. Have the (second-teamers) finish the second half. Most everybody that has a great shot at being on the final 53 will play at least a half.”

We’re not asking Linehan to give Jackson 20 carries in this game or expose Bulger to needless danger. But it IS fair to expect the first-team offense to score a couple of touchdowns, since running back Brian Leonard, receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael have joined an already formidable attack.

The Rams need to start quickly this season. Their early schedule is favorable. They need to bank some victories, since their schedule turns ugly midway through the campaign.

Linehan’s team needs to generate some momentum -– and that has to start tonight in Oakland.

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Bills, Titans startersstill need first TD

The offenses of the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans aim for a little confidence boost tonight when they meet in the third preseason game of the summer.

The first-string offenses for both teams have yet to produce a touchdown this summer. So tonight’s game is a chance for the offenses to get some positive reinforcement before the regular season starts in two weeks.

“You want to come out and be sharp,” said Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. “I would like to see that. . . . It would be nice to go in there and have a rhythm. But if it doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world. We are very, very confident, and when it comes down to when we have to game plan for an actual team and set up some plays, we’re going to be pretty dangerous.”

The Bills’ starting offense has produced no touchdowns in eight drives the first two practice games. The Bills’ starters did get two field goals last week against Atlanta, but both came after three-and-out drives that started in enemy territory. The Bills’ starters also went three-and-out on three straight drives against Atlanta’s second- string defense last week.

The Titans’ offense has not lit anything up, either. Tennessee quarterback Vince Young directed eight drives in last week’s game against New England. None produced points and seven produced either one first down or no first downs. Young hit 5 of 17 passes versus the Pats. Young was kept out of the Titans’ opener, but the starting offense didn’t do much in six drives in that game.

All of this lack of production, of course, will become a faint memory once real football starts Sept. 9.

The Bills’ offense, like most in the NFL, has been utterly vanilla in the first two exhibitions. Fans have seen little of what rookie running back Marshawn Lynch can do. He is going to be a major part of the offense in the regular season. The Bills coaches seem intent on showing as little as possible before the season opener against the Denver Broncos. “You would like to get something started,” Losman said. “[But] you still have to do it, obviously, against the Broncos in Week One and throughout the season.”

A sellout crowd is expected tonight for the annual Kids Day exhibition.

The crowd will see the longest appearance of the summer by both teams’ starters.

Bills coach Dick Jauron said Losman and the rest of the starters would play the entire first half.

“They’ll go at least the half, maybe into the second [half] but maybe not,” Jauron said. “We just need to get better. We need to get more consistent everywhere.”

The Bills’ defense could use a feelgood outing, too.

“It’s always important for us to look sharp, especially the way we came out the first two games and let the offense drive the length of the field on us,” said defensive end Chris Kelsay. “The intention is to come out and shut them down and hopefully get a three-and-out the first drive. But, again, it’s an exhibition game.”

The Bills’ starting defense has been on the field for five series. It yielded drives of 58 and 76 yards in New Orleans and gave up a 76-yarder against the Falcons last week. It stiffened at the end, and the opposition got only three points out of those marches. Nevertheless, the first two starts have been slow.

Jauron said the Bills’ initial script of offensive plays will not take into consideration any strengths, weaknesses or tendencies of the Titans’ defense.

“We’re just pretty much running what we want to run, and I’m sure they are, too,” Jauron said. “You want to look at certain things. You want to see certain guys with the ball or script to them. [The Titans] can take you out of your call by what they do defensively. But basically we’re just trying to see what we want to see.”

The Titans ended the Bills’ playoff hopes last December with a 30-29 win in Buffalo. Tennessee lost its exhibition opener to Washington, 14-6, and defeated the Patriots last week, 27-24.

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Two key positions still unsettled for Titans

The Tennessee Titans still are trying to settle two key offensive positions entering tonight’s preseason game against the Bills.

LenDale White, a second-round draft pick out of Southern California last year, is trying to win the starting running back job. He sat out a week with a sore knee and ankle but returned to practice Wednesday. He is expected to start tonight.

White was considered the favorite to start entering training camp, but fourthyear back Chris Brown is making it a close competition. Brown started the first two games. He rushed 10 times for 67 yards last week against New England. The Titans also invested a second-round pick on University of Arizona product Chris Henry in April.

The Titans’ No. 2 receiver job is up for grabs. Brandon Jones, a former thirdround pick in his third season, is neck and neck with Roydell Williams, a former fourth-round pick in his second year.

Former Bills star Eric Moulds is the Titans’ No. 1 wideout and has been the best receiver in Tennessee camp. Moulds, 34, was signed by the Titans on July 25.

Moulds is second to Andre Reed on the Bills’ all-time list for catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs. He’s wearing Reed’s old number, 83, this season.

• • •

John DiGiorgio is scheduled to start at middle linebacker for the Bills, which was the plan for this game heading into preseason. DiGiorgio started the first exhibition. Rookie Paul Posluszny started last week versus Atlanta and is scheduled to start the fourth game against Detroit. Jauron said DiGiorgio would likely play the first quarter and Posluszny the second tonight.

• • •

The Bills again will be without starting center Melvin Fowler (ankle). Duke Preston will take his place, and Jason Whittle will start a second straight week at right guard. Also out for the Bills are Sam Aiken (ankle), Brad Butler (hamstring), Aaron Merz (shoulder) and Josh Scobey (calf).

The Titans will be missing one starter, tight end Ben Troupe (foot). Receiver David Givens, coming off a serious knee injury suffered last November, is still on the shelf and might miss the entire season.

As has been the case most of the summer, Trent Edwards took most of the backup snaps at quarterback in the Bills’ 90-minute practice Thursday.

Jauron said Craig Nall, still listed as No. 2 behind J.P. Losman on the depth chart, would get in the game tonight. Nall did not play last week.

• • •

The NFL’s first roster cut-down comes at 4 p.m. Tuesday. However, the Bills have to trim only five players to get down to the roster limit of 75. The final cutdown, from 75 to 53, comes Sept. 1.

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Re: Friday NFL News and Notes

Ah, preseason NFL games: All they do is put starters at risk

Another Friday night, another meaningless NFL exhibition football game.

There is no greater waste of time in sports than this vast conspiracy to fill the worst teams' coffers before they become unwatchable.

There is no greater gamble associated with the games people play (Pete Rose and Tim Donaghy -- allegedly -- included) than coaches trotting out anyone on the first or second rung of the depth chart for more than a token series.

Someone along the way has been permitted to perpetuate the lie that this third full week of the preseason is steeped in significance, and a few of the guys wearing headsets even buy into it.

Starters play a full half, sometimes more. Fans fret if their team looks sluggish. What a crock.

New England travels to Carolina tonight (8 p.m., Channel 13 or your CBS affiliate of choice). It's a stone-cold lock that some mousse-worshipping sports anchor in Greater Boston or Charlotte and surrounding suburbs will tease the highlights as a "Super Bowl XXXVIII rematch."

OK, there's my Personal Pet Peeve No. 9,562: It's only a freaking rematch if two teams play again in the same season. Period. Exclamation points. Underlined. The Super Bowl in question happened almost four years ago. You might scrape up a dozen guys on each expanded roster who are still with the Patriots and Panthers today, if you're lucky. But I digress.

It wouldn't matter if the Patriots were playing the Chargers, Colts, Jets or Steelers. This game is apropos of nothing.

Star players shouldn't need a hot ex-girlfriend and a newborn baby to beg out. Both teams would've been better off holding an open tryout this week and sending a team of replacements.

Seasons have been lost, careers ruined, lives destroyed in preseason games. Football is simply too complex, tough and dangerous a game for the diversity of motivations that are represented on the field in an exhibition.

Most front-liners are notoriously half-stepping it. And when do football players get hurt? When they're lollygagging and going through the motions.

Then you have the gym class hero phenomenon (forever immortalized by Jack Tatum). Some genius is out there running around like a Tasmanian Devil in these games as if his Hall of Fame candidacy depends on it. We all know how that turns out. Rest in peace, Darryl.

Oh, but we need to see how those three dozen other dudes competing for five spots handle "the situation." What situation? Catching passes from Matt Cassel in a four-fifths-empty stadium? Yeah, that's a real indicator of how they'll perform in January.

And here's the real kick in the pants: Coaches already know who they're going to keep. This entire process is more fraudulent than the average Little League tryout. If you think Joe Lunchbucket ever made the Jacksonville Jaguars at the expense of Vinnie Veteran on the basis of their performance in the final two preseason games, you're either smoking reefer or drinking the NFL's Kool-Aid.

If the NFL must play 20 or 21 games per season, it makes zero sense that as many as five of them don't count for squat. I'm sure this is a function of some collective bargaining agreement. Sixteen regular-season games have only been the rule since 1978, but that number is treated as if it were etched on the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain.

What you might be desperate enough to watch this evening could have been settled in split-squad games at some random Division III practice field without a camera in sight. And the league and its teams know it.

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