Friday NFL News and Notes

Friday NFL News and Notes

NFL Preseason Preview - Indianapolis (1-2) at Cincinnati (0-3)

(Sports Network) - The Cincinnati Bengals will try to avoid their first winless preseason since 1999 on Friday night, when Marvin Lewis' club plays host to the Indianapolis Colts in the final August tune-up for each team.

In their first three preseason games, the Bengals have dropped decisions to the Lions (27-26), Saints (27-19), and Falcons (24-19). Their 0-3 record in the warm-up period comes one season after Lewis and company went a perfect 4-0 in the 2006 preseason. Cincinnati did not use that mark as a springboard to regular season success, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoff money, meaning another loss versus the Colts on Friday would not necessarily be a harbinger of bad things.

In 1999, after completing an 0-4 preseason, the then-Bruce Coslet-coached Bengals finished 4-12 and in fifth place in the AFC Central.

More important than securing the win, Lewis will lead his team into battle on Friday simply trying to stay healthy.

The Bengals have already been battered by a season-ending injury to running back Kenny Irons (knee), and have played most of the preseason without starting tackles Willie Anderson (foot) and Levi Jones (knee). In Monday's loss to Atlanta, Cincinnati also lost kicker Shayne Graham to a bruised hip, signing journeyman Aaron Elling this week to take his place temporarily. Though Anderson and Jones could appear against Indy, Graham, linebackers Rashad Jeanty (leg), Ethan Kilmer (knee), defensive end Frostee Rucker (hamstring), safety Dexter Jackson (concussion), and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (foot) will not be available on Friday.

One week after defeating the Lions (37-10) for just their second win in 13 preseason games, the Colts are expected to rest most of their front-line starters for the August finale. The reigning Super Bowl champs will open their season just six days after traveling to Cincinnati, as Tony Dungy's squad will host New Orleans in the NFL's official lid-lifter next Thursday.

Two players who could appear for Indy are 2007 Draft picks Brannon Condren and Michael Coe, both of whom have been battling groin injuries for much of the preseason. Condren, a fourth-round draft pick out of Troy, and Coe, a fifth- round selection from Alabama State, are both trying to make the active roster as backup defensive backs and special teams players.

Cincinnati leads the all-time preseason series between the two teams, 9-6, including a 20-3 road victory prior to last season. Indianapolis won the 2006 regular season meeting between the clubs, a 34-16 home triumph in Week 15.

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NFL Preseason Preview - Baltimore (1-2) at Atlanta (2-1)

(Sports Network) - The Atlanta Falcons will have one more preseason opportunity to impress the home fans on Friday night, when Bobby Petrino's embattled team hosts the Baltimore Ravens in the final preseason tune-up for each club.

In the wake of the Michael Vick dogfighting controversy, a situation that has spelled an indefinite suspension for the Falcons' quarterback and face of the franchise, many are expecting Atlanta to be among the weakest teams in the NFL this season.

New starting quarterback Joey Harrington, formerly of the Dolphins and Lions, has done his best to dispel that notion with a strong preseason showing thus far. The former No. 3 overall Draft pick has completed 23-of-37 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with an interception during the warm-up period, for a solid passer rating of 92.5.

Harrington might play only sparingly against the Ravens, in keeping with final game-of-the-preseason tradition, and a prior history for Falcons quarterbacks in meaningless games against Baltimore would lend pragmatism to that approach as well.

In a preseason contest on Aug. 16th, 2003, Vick broke his right fibula after a hit from then-Baltimore linebacker Adalius Thomas. With the Pro Bowl signal- caller sidelined for the season's first 11 games, the Falcons stumbled out of the blocks and finished 5-11.

Backups Chris Redman and Casey Bramlet should receive most of the snaps for Atlanta on Friday. Redman will be facing a Baltimore team that drafted him out of Louisville in the third round of the 2000 Draft, and for which he started six games during the 2002 season.

Atlanta opens its regular season on September 9th at Minnesota.

Like the Falcons, the Ravens figure to play their starters sparingly if at all in the preseason finale.

Quarterback Steve McNair will likely spend most of his time on the sideline, meaning backups Kyle Boller and Troy Smith will receive many of the reps.

Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy Winner out of Ohio State, was a fifth-round pick of the Ravens in the April draft. The All-American is attempting to make the team as a third-stringer, and will look to improve on his 7-for-19, 94- yard passing performance thus far in the preseason.

On the injury front for the Ravens, left tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe) and wideout Mark Clayton (ankle) are among the players not expected to be available versus Atlanta.

Baltimore will face Cincinnati on the road in its regular season lid-lifter on Monday, September 10th.

The Ravens are 3-1 against the Falcons all-time during the preseason, but were 16-3 road losers in the last such matchup, prior to the 2005 campaign.

Baltimore was a 24-10 home winner when the teams met in Week 11 of the 2006 regular season.

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Backups for Ravens, Falcons to have lead role in final preseason game
August 30, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) -The Atlanta Falcons' first home preseason game this week was overshadowed by Michael Vick's guilty plea.

Nothing so dramatic would be required to upstage the team's final preseason game.

Atlanta's starters may not even make an appearance Friday night when the Falcons play the Baltimore Ravens at the Georgia Dome. Baltimore coach Brian Billick, meanwhile, is talking up the game only as good travel practice for his team.

It's no surprise some argue NFL teams don't need four preseason games.

The Falcons and their new quarterback, Joey Harrington, gave home fans reason for confidence in the post-Vick era when Harrington passed for two touchdowns in a 24-19 win over Cincinnati on Monday night.

Vick, who had been the face of the franchise, pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge and was suspended indefinitely by commissioner Roger Goodell. Vick will be sentenced on Dec. 10.

Coach Bobby Petrino gave the team Tuesday off and in Wednesday's practice had his starters focus on their Sept. 9 first regular-season game at Minnesota. He then announced the starters, who played into the third quarter against the Bengals, probably would not play against Baltimore.

``That's a quick turnaround from Monday to Friday,'' Petrino said.

That leaves Chris Redman and Casey Bramlet as the Falcons' quarterbacks against the Ravens. Bramlet, the MVP for the Hamburg Sea Devils in this year NFL Europa World Bowl, will be trying to convince the team it doesn't need to shop for another quarterback following Vick's exit and D.J. Shockley's season-ending knee injury.

Even Redman needs to show he can handle the backup job.

``It's a big game for a lot of guys on the team,'' said Redman, who directed a 63-yard touchdown drive on his first possession against the Bengals.

``I think anytime you play quarterback you're going to feel pressure,'' he said. ``The pressure is on. You don't have to put any added pressure on yourself.''

The game may be more important to Baltimore, which had a 13-7 loss to Washington halted early in the third quarter Saturday night due to lightning.

``That hurt because you took substantial snaps away,'' Billick said.

Billick said second-string right guard Ben Grubbs, scheduled to play the full second half, instead was in the game for only five plays.

``It is what is,'' Billick said. ``We have to find a way to make it up and we'll do it this week.''

Billick said the Ravens need the road trip as practice for the Sept. 10 opening game at Cincinnati. The team only took a short bus ride for the game at Washington.

``It's helpful. This is a dry run,'' Billick said. ``The next time we go on the road it will be a night game. So how do you travel, what do you do all day at the hotel? This is their last chance to have a dry run before they go to Cincinnati.''

Petrino may be content to let Harrington use his strong showing against the Bengals - 13-for-21 for 164 yards, two touchdowns and one interception - as momentum for the regular season.

Billick may want to see more from his starters. The Ravens failed to score a touchdown in last week's 13-12 loss to the New York Giants before scoring only seven points against Washington.

The game could be important for Ravens quarterback Troy Smith, who earned the third-string job when the team cut Drew Olson on Monday. Smith is left as the only quarterback behind starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller, but Billick hasn't decided if he will carry three quarterbacks after having only two on the active roster last season.

Each team is expected to hold out key linemen who practiced this week for the first time since last season.

Atlanta defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who had surgery in late April to repair his torn right quadriceps, returned on Wednesday. Baltimore offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, returning from a turf toe injury, made his practice debut on Tuesday.

Each could be ready for his team's opener.

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Colts, Bengals will save their starters in final preseason game
August 30, 2007

CINCINNATI (AP) -The last time the Indianapolis Colts visited for the final preseason game, their starters could have driven over in a minivan and had plenty of room left for all their equipment.

Their return trip could be just as meager.

Two years ago, the Colts played only two starters - both on defense - in the final preseason game in Cincinnati. Last year, they used only one starter - again, on defense - in their last tuneup game in Indianapolis.

There's a pattern here.

The Colts (1-2) will give most of their starters the day off Friday night at Paul Brown Stadium, keeping with coach Tony Dungy's practice of keeping his best players out of harm's way in the final preseason game.

``You certainly could see some,'' Dungy said. ``There are some guys who need to play a little bit. We've got some first- and second-year players that need some time.''

At this point, the defending Super Bowl champions are buying time until their season opener against New Orleans. That game will be on Thursday night - another reason not to let his starters do too much.

``Well, hopefully we will get a win Friday night, but this time of year you certainly do start getting excited about the regular season,'' Peyton Manning said.

The Bengals (0-3) aren't much different.

Their offense finally got rolling last Monday night in Atlanta, getting into the end zone for the first time in preseason. With only three days off between games, there's no need to push anybody.

Although coach Marvin Lewis won't say, it's likely that the starters will play the first series and then start exchanging helmets for baseball caps.

``There are things we can clean up and that we need to clean up before we get to our opener, but it's all things we're capable of doing,'' Carson Palmer said. ``We'll get them taken care of.''

One of the Colts' interests for the final preseason game revolves around two draft picks. Fourth-round defensive back Brannon Condren and fifth-round defensive back Michael Coe could get into the game at some point.

Condren has missed the preseason with a groin injury. Coe hasn't played since the first game against Dallas because of a groin injury. Both were doing much better this week.

The Bengals are curious how their two offensive tackles are doing with little more than a week left before the season opener.

Left tackle Levi Jones played Monday night in Atlanta, his first appearance of the preseason. Jones has been recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him for most of training camp.

Right tackle Willie Anderson returned to practice on Wednesday, but it was unclear whether he would get into the game against the Colts. Anderson has chronic pain in his right foot, a result of his 11 seasons in the NFL.

Even if he's in the starting lineup against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 10, he might not be in shape to play the entire game.

``It's going to take a while for me to get back up to par,'' Anderson said. ``Marvin hasn't told anybody what the goal is. We're going to take it one game at a time.''

The Bengals also will be taking a look at their new kicker.

Shayne Graham bruised his right hip while helping with a tackle in Atlanta. On Wednesday, the Bengals brought in Aaron Elling to kick against the Colts, giving Graham more time to rest.

If Graham isn't healed in time for the opener, Elling could be his temporary replacement - provided he does well against the Colts.

``If I do good and maybe Shayne is not ready, they feel comfortable,'' Elling said.

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2007 NFL Preseason Notes

NFL clubs trimmed their rosters to 75 players on Aug. 28. The final cutdown to 53 players is Sept. 1.

FRIDAY'S GAMES 8/31/07

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

The Ravens starters generally play a series or two in the final preseason game.

Brian Billick declined to say how long the starters would play Friday but said the lack of playing time in the weather-shortened loss to the Redskins affected the coaches' ability to evaluate the other players. "That hurt because it took away substantial snaps," he said. "Rookie guard Ben Grubbs got five snaps, and he was set to go the whole second half. So we've got to find a way to make it up, and we will do it this week."

Offensive line thin: With guard Chris Chester (foot) and tackle Steve Edwards (knee) nursing injuries, the offensive line featured a few different looks. At times, Jason Brown would move from left guard to center and Keydrick Vincent would fill the vacancy. Another look included Mike Flynn at center, Brown at left guard and Vincent at right guard. OT Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) has not been practicing and first-round pick Ben Grubbs sprained his knee.

WR Mark Clayton will miss the remainder of the preseason because of a sprained ankle. Demetrius Williams will make his third straight start.

Secondary thin. Free safety Ed Reed (thigh bruise) likely won't play. With Samari Rolle expected to miss the final preseason game with an ankle injury, the Ravens have decided to start David Pittman at cornerback, the team's most surprising move this preseason. Pittman, a third-round pick in 2006, was a major disappointment last season when he failed to take control of the nickel back job and fell to the bottom of the depth chart.

Unlike many teams that play vanilla defense in the preseason, the Ravens are turning up the heat on quarterbacks. In their preseason opener, they blitzed linebackers and cornerbacks from every angle, punishing the Philadelphia Eagles with five sacks. "We don't make apologies to anybody," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It's not our job to protect your quarterback."

One justification for their aggressive style in meaningless games is evaluation purposes. "We're not out there to scrimmage," Ryan said. "We're out there to play a football game. And that's how we play. Playing passive is somebody else's defense."

Atlanta Falcons - QB Rotation: Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, Casey Bramlet.

While Joey Harrington said he's used to playing twice in a short period of time thanks to his Thanksgiving Day games with the Lions, it's unlikely he will play Friday. The rest of the starters might not, either. Petrino prepared the starters for Minnesota on Wednesday, then sent them off for conditioning while the backups prepared for Baltimore.

"We haven't really decided yet, but we're leaning toward no," Petrino said when asked if the starters will play Friday. "That's a real quick turnaround -- Monday to Friday -- and the fact that they played into the third quarter on Monday."

QB D.J. Shockley is lost for the season to a left knee injury.

Defense banged up: Safety Lawyer Milloy was spotted with a boot on his foot and won't play. LB Keith Brooking (calf) and defensive end John Abraham (hip flexor) are out. The news wasn't so good for defensive back Chris Crocker and return man Allen Rossum. Rossum suffered a concussion against Cincinnati on Monday, and is extremely doubtful.

Bobby Petrino is the new head coach, coming over from Louisville.

A Petrino camp is a more business-like place, almost corporate. "He's all about football," owner Arthur Blank said of Petrino.

Petrino has not been hesitant to put his stamp on this team, either by promoting or demoting players, opening competition, moving players or by kicking them to the curb. The release of WR Fred Gibson three days into training camp sent a warning that there is no tolerance for not doing things the right way.

Indianapolis Colts - QB Rotation: Peyton Manning, Jim Sorgi, Josh Betts.

Most of the starters are expected to get the night off.

Tight ends thin.

D-Line weak: DT Anthony McFarland will miss the season after a serious knee injury. Defensive lineman Corey Simon was let go.

With McFarland out, the Colts will move forward with Raheem Brock at one starting defensive tackle spot. The list of replacements for the other spot is long, but short on pedigree. Darrell Reid and Dan Klecko have appeared in a combined 62 games but share only four starts. Four of the other five prospects are rookies, including third-round draft pick Quinn Pitcock and seventh-rounder Keyunta Dawson, who has been moved inside after spending most of the offseason at end.

Cincinnati Bengals - QB Rotation: Carson Palmer, Doug Johnson, rookies Jeff Rowe and Jeff Smith.

Second-round draft pick RB Kenny Irons is out for the season with a torn ACL. Irons was expected to provide depth behind Rudi Johnson this year.

Offensive line changes: Gone are center Rich Braham and left guard Eric Steinbach from 2006. Eric Ghiaciuc takes over at center, while either Stacy Andrews or Andrew Whitworth will play left guard. 12-year right tackle Willie Anderson has not been practicing. The Bengals will benefit more if he doesn't have to take all the rigors of a normal training camp.

Depth on the defensive line is a concern.

Young linebackers: The Bengals' starting three linebackers are: Ahmad Brooks in the middle and Landon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty on the outside. Newcomer Lemar Marshall adds depth and experience to a youthful group. Only Ed Hartwell has played more than three previous seasons in the league.

jimfeist.com

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