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Opening Day or Opening day?

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 31, 2011 – 1:20 pm

A few musings on Reds’ Opening Day and the differences between baseball and football.

That’s the first difference.

Opening Day.

Or Opening day?

In the NFL, it is Opening Day.

In baseball, it is Opening day.

It doesn’t mean any more or less, it is just different.

The Reds open the second season of the second decade of the 21st century Thursday with 19th century pageantry and it is goose bump stuff for everyone carrying scorecards or iPads. The thing is, there will be an off day Friday before they’ll do the exact same thing Saturday and for the next 160 days after that.

In the NFL, the opener is one of just 16 games, so naturally it carries more weight. But it is a lot more than that. The weight is crushing. The mentality of a town and a team takes shape in that first game. NFL openers can define seasons.

 You can just look at the Bengals’ Super Bowl seasons of 1981 (backup quarterback Turk Schonert’s come-from-behind win over Seattle in the wake of Ken Anderson’s benching) and 1988 (the goal-line stand in the final minutes against Phoenix) and wonder what would have happened if those had been Ls.

One of the many amazing things about the 2009 AFC North title is that the Bengals won four straight after losing the angst-ridden opener. In the wake of losing to the longest winning TD pass in the final   minute in NFL history (Denver’s infamous 87-yard Spike Strike), the Bengals somehow recovered to win in Green Bay before beating division foes Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore in the final  minute. Only once before, 1973, had the Bengals made the playoffs after losing the opener.

If Edinson Volquez gets lit up or Joey Votto goes 0-for-4 in the opener, there is no panic for the manager, players, media, or fans. It’s baseball. You have bad days. But in football, if you lose the opener, there are reasons and trends that show up quicker and harder. It’s football. It is what it is.

There are exceptions. In ’06, the Bengals started 3-0 but didn’t make playoffs because they lost the last three. And they opened ’07 with one of the more thrilling Opening Days ever, a Monday night home win over the Ravens with a goal-line stand. But they lost the next four.

Still, the opener sets a pretty good course.

 With their star receivers pouting during the 2008 offseason, they fell flat on their faces in the opener in Baltimore by amassing just 154 yards and even if Carson Palmer went on to miss 12 games, you wonder if it would have been 4-11-1 anyway. In 2010, nobody showed up in the rout in New England and the tone was set when the post-game discussion centered on wide receiver Terrell Owens’ decision to get his shoes fixed before the Bengals had a shot at a Hail Mary on the last play of the half. When Palmer’s bomb to Jordan Shipley ended up three yards short of the end zone, it didn’t take your British Lit professor to interpret the symbolism for the next 15 weeks.

Even the ’09 opener provided clues. They survived on defense and a sputtering offense that played best backed up against the clock but offered only one play longer than 20 yards.

It’s football. It is what it is. In baseball, it is only until the next day.

Sure, you get trends in baseball. But they seep into box scores and wriggle into averages during days, weeks, and months. In football, they’re ripped raw right away on the body, psyche, and film.

More differences:

In baseball, you get to throw out a first pitch. In football, they let you carry the ball out to the field, but the ref takes it from you.

In baseball, you kneel in the on-deck circle. In football, you’re no longer on deck when the player you’re backing up is kneeling in a circle.

In baseball, the defender plays the hitter. In football, the hitter is the defender.

In baseball, a changeup is an off-speed pitch. In football, a changeup is a running back that keeps defenses off balance with speed.

You want to know the difference? The scene in the post-game locker room

In baseball, win or lose, there is a beeline for the post-game spread and beverages. Even if it is a vintage 1-0 game that took all of two and a half hours to play, the participants generally behave as if they’ve been on a deserted island for two months and knock you over to make a ham sandwich.

In football, win or lose, the only things getting ingested are IVs. In the time it takes a lineman to tear the bandages off his bloody hands, a pinch hitter who didn’t break a sweat could have already had three bowls of chili. Sometimes a guard or tackle who is bent and broken after 60 minutes of pounding will ask you to help him fasten his cuff links. In baseball, they might ask you to pass the mayo.

It’s not better or worse.

Just different.

In baseball, there’s another day. In football, it is what it is.

Happy Opening Day.

Or Opening day.


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Over Analyze This (draft)

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 24, 2011 – 3:40 pm

We are sitting in the war room of Any NFL Team in Anywhere USA with the draft a month away.

The GM is over here. The head coach is over there. The director of player personnel is by the board. The offensive coordinator is next to the head coach. The regional scout is on the other side of the board. And the position coach is on his way in from the airport coming back from a Pro Day.

The mesaurables have been digested. The game tape has been graded. The interviews have been conducted. The receipts for the combine and pro days have been handed in.

Now is the time for the study, the debate, the second-guessing, and the second looks. Is it paralysis by analysis? Indecision overload? Complication by compilation? When is enough information too much information? This is the time of the year when the locks of February become the gambles of April without playing a snap.

Let’s go into The War Room of Any Team and find out as they debate the kid out of Nazareth who came into the draft heralded as the Savior for some lucky team:

“We’ve got him. No brainer. The unquestioned first pick in the draft. An immortal lock.”

“What can’t he do? Brings them back from the dead. Makes the blind see. Feeds the hungry from the sky.  Wonderful family. His mother is a legend all around the world. And not only that, he’s great in the community. His nickname in Jerusalem is “The Prince of Peace.”

“Hold on, we’re going to have to check out some things that have been rumbling around Herod’s forums and the Pharisees’ web sites.”

“What are you talking about? The guy’s got it all. A miracle worker on the field, a great presence as a locker-room leader, a mentor to the practice squad and IR guys alike. You’re talking about the face of your franchise for not only the next decade, but for eternity.

“But we’ve got to research some anger management issues. Apparently he had a violent episode in the temple and the scribes gave him some bad ink.”

“And we’re looking into potential violations of the alcohol policy. Something about turning water into wine.”

 “There’s also some confusion about his upbringing. No one seems to have a record of the first 30 years of his life. And the NCAA is looking into gifts the Three Kings gave him the night he was born.”

“Plus, we also hear he’s got an entourage of at least 12 that goes with him everywhere. There are whispers about another colleague, a Mary Magdalene. And there could be work ethic problems. He supposedly once wandered in the desert for 40 days.”

“Wow, the scribes will bury us in Rome if we draft him at all, never mind No. 1 overall.”

“Don’t you think we might be overanalyzing this just a little bit? The tape doesn’t lie. Go back and look at the Sea of Galilee cutups. I mean, the guy walks on water. Look at the reception at the Palm Sunday crowd.”

“Do you think we can get him as a free agent?

“Sure, why not?  Nobody will remember this draft in two weeks.”

“OK. But I don’t know about that. Suppose next year we make you write the Gospel on how we talked ourselves out of drafting the Almighty?”


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A trade you can actually make

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 17, 2011 – 4:10 pm

We’ve been talking about the wrong trade here.

How about one the Bengals can actually make during the lockout?

Trade the fourth pick.

They can’t talk to players. They can’t talk to player agents. They can’t even talk to their literary agents. To borrow a line from the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1970s classic “Signs,” “You ain’t supposed to be here.”

But they can talk to other teams. But they can trade draft picks.

Trade the fourth pick.

It sounds like there is going to be no consensus quarterback there at No. 4. In that case, Trade the pick. Heck, give it away if you have to.  Unload it before the flame gets any lower. OK, OK, just make sure you get a fourth-rounder. But don’t pick hairs, just trade.

There are only two top 10 QBs out there. Arizona wants a QB at 5? San Fran wants one at No. 7?  Tennessee at 8? Washington at 10?

Trade the pick.

Wage scale or no wage scale, the fourth pick is still going to be a huge number. There still may be some room for the first-rounder to negotiate, so if there is one training camp the rookie quarterback would seem to have the leverage in contract talks, it’s this one. And there are some tough agents at the top.

 Tom Condon’s group represents Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Georgia receiver A.J. Green, and those have proven to be tough negotiations for the Bengals. In ’05, No. 1 pick David Pollack held out for three weeks. A quarterback holdout like that (or any position, really,) in what looks to be a truncated offseason would be devastating.

See Smith, Akili, 1999.

The lower the pick, the less chance of a stalemate.

Trade the pick.

The draft selection points would no doubt give you at least a third-rounder and maybe even a second, depending how far they went down in the first. But the fourth pick is so unattractive, take the fourth-rounder if you have to.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ll get a very talented position player at No. 4. But in this draft, which is deep  but lacks the marquee players, the difference between what you get at Nos. 4 or 8 or 10  or even 15  and 16, home of Jacksonville and Oakland, respectively, (two other teams that can use a QB), is looking to be pretty small.

(The Jags head coach and OC, along with the Titans head coach, GM and OC were on hand for Gabbert’s workout Thursday.)

  Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara aren’t rated that far behind Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley could be hanging around and is he that far off Alabama’s Marcell Dareus? And if you go down far enough, you’ll be staring at the best running back in the draft in Alabama’s Mark Ingram.

Trade the pick.

But the reason(s) to do it is to get the extra pick or picks. This draft is supposed to be stocked in rounds three through five, great places to get a safety, guard, running back, or blocking tight end.

Trade the pick.

And the longer you wait the better. Get through the Pro Days, the private workouts, the team visits, and it’s just like a soap opera any day of the week. Somebody is going to fall in love with one of those top five guys.

Trade the pick.

And it’s a trade that can actually be done.

We’ve been talking the wrong one.


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More Thinking and Believing

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 15, 2011 – 1:09 pm

Again, in honor of WLW talkmaster Lance McAlister with baseball back again, and in honor of Peter King, Sports Illustrated titan, as I shamelessly begin to lobby for another pair of his Red Sox tickets, another version of I Think I Believe:

I Think I Believe the American judicial system is the only thing on the planet that can render the NFL as numbingly boring as 30 minutes of watching public access television.

I Think I Believe that I never agreed with Peter’s report from two weeks ago that the Bengals will listen to trade offers for Carson Palmer. They’re not ready. At least not yet. And they really won’t be ready if they can’t trade until him after the draft. When all they’ll be able to get is God knows what in 2012. If God knows they could get Andrew Luck, maybe that would change things.

Palmer

I Think I Believe I do agree with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Mike Brown didn’t give quarterback Carson Palmer a subtle jab during his Saturday interview with Bengals.com and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

I asked Brown how the lockout impacts the Palmer situation and he said, “I don’t want to talk about specific players. We’re not allowed to deal with the players and I’m not looking to send messages through the media or to the player or the public about a player. That’s a step too far under the ground rules we have with the lockout.”

Like Florio, I disagree with Joe and don’t believe Brown was taking a “subtle jab” at Palmer. Far from it.

First of all, Brown is out of the old school and takes very few shots and even more rarely at players. And when he does, he ain’t subtle. But I’ve never heard him go after a player back when he was talking to the media. He went off on Carl Pickens after he underminded head coach Bruce Coslet, but that’s about it. And he still has high regard for Palmer despite this mess. So much so he wouldn’t take a shot at him publicly and probably not privately, either.

Two, we know Mike wants Carson back. Back in the Jan 24 Mobile Doctrine, he called him central to the team’s plans. Now, that may just be pie in the sky and Palmer has no intention of coming back, but Mike isn’t going to do anything to alienate him publicly.

And third, Brown is one of these guys who is a stickler for the rules. I legitimately think the answer came straight from the heart. The NFL isn’t exactly clear about what you can and can’t legally say about players during the lockout, so owners are literally treating each word as if each syllable is a booby trap.

Nah, it wasn’t a jab. With all due respect to Reedy, who does a hell of a job and grinds the beat like not many.

Odom

I Think I Believe Antwan Odom has paid the steepest price ever to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Month.

Look at what has happened to the guy since he had five sacks against the Packers on Sept 20, 2009 in Green Bay. After getting one sack in the next four games, he ripped up his Achilles to end his season. Then his next training camp was hobbled by a virus and sore knee. Then when the season got going, he broke his wrist and reaggravated the knee before he got suspended a month for violating the league’s drug policy despite his lawyer arguing Odom had merely taken one of his wife’s prescription weight-loss pills by accident. Then he ended the season IR with no sacks. Now in the middle of the night he lost his home in Mason, Ohio to a fire.

Thankfully, he and his family weren’t home and we’re thinking of him today. The guy is an immense talent who if he gets back to anywhere near that ’09 form, just think what they have with him, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.

I Think I Believe the running backs, whoever they may be, are going to combine for something like 80 to 100 catches this season.

Jay Gruden’s West Coast scheme is perfect for backups Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard and by virtue of being The Bell Cow, Cedric Benson would probably grab 30 to 40 by himself. In his three seasons here, Benson’s high has been last season’s 28 catches, but they seemed more out of desperation and it didn’t look like the checkdowns were emphasized all that much. Benson may not be a scatback, but try tackling him in space when he’s got a running start. Remember late in the ’08 season when he burned the Redskins on a 79-yard screen that was the Bengals’ longest play of that season? And the clinching TD he caught against Carolina last year?

The Bengals haven’t always been infatuated with Scott’s attention to detail in the passing game, but if he’s heard about this playbook yet – and it’s anything like the usual West Coast – this thing is right down his alley out of the backfield. For whatever reason, he’s the most under-used guy on this roster. I’m not saying 15 to 20 touches a game, but how about between eight and 12? Or maybe even make him a bell cow for a couple of series like they were using him late in the year. In the coaches’ defense, he did get nicked up here and there and that cut down on his availability.

But they’ve got him for sure now with Benson and Leonard free agents.

I Think I Believe I see and hear more from former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton than when he actually played. (And listen my children, Thornton was a very solid player up and down the line and a great locker room guy.)

He’s all over. He’s media. He’s working with draft prospects and players. He’s blogging and tweeting. He’s unstoppable. You can only hope to contain him.

On Tuesday, Thornton reported he’s at the University of Pittsburgh pro day watching one of his clients, wide receiver Jon Baldwin, and Gruden and Bengals receivers coach James Urban are also there. Also on display is running back Dion Lewis. As we’ve noted, NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan has mocked Baldwin to the Bengals at No. 35 in the second round. And at 6-5, he does have the size the Bengals love at wideout. He’s as tall as the late Chris Henry, but he’s about 25 pounds heavier and not as fast, but he can still run very well for a big guy.

As T.J. Houshmandzadeh would say, “Interesting…”

I Think I Believe I will wear my “I Believe” T-shirt under my Tony C.  Red Sox jersey for the Flying Pig 10K.


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Stalemates

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 10, 2011 – 2:05 pm

Palmer

The Carson Palmer Question is a lot like the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Stalemate.

And no one seems to be going on the record, but anonymous sources keep driving the story.

Now that a lockout is looming in less than 30 hours, there are stories every 30 minutes because the deadline is getting crunched again. Deadlines in the NFL are crash dummies.

The CP Question isn’t as urgent with the CBA crisis freezing offseason workouts and trade talk. Once the Bengals get a report date for workouts, it will bubble again. The opening of the trading period, the start of May camp, the start of June camp, the start of training camp – if they exist this season – would also ignite an onslaught of No. 9 headlines.

But right now the CP Question seems to be about 2.5 stories per week. The story hasn’t moved much, except everybody and anybody without a name is saying Palmer is going to retire if the Bengals don’t trade him. Even though two weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine the Bengals said they believe him and are planning like he’s not going to be here this season, the stories keep coming as if the team needs convincing.

But the Bengals have offered all sorts of evidence they are headed that way. Reports have had the Bengals at the campus workouts of Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett and NFL.com reported the Bengals are one of eight teams that are going to work out Newton privately.

And since the Bengals haven’t backed off the Jan. 24 Mobile Doctrine about not trading Palmer, it is what it is. That would mean if teams are calling now to say they’re interested, the Bengals would say, “No, thanks. If Palmer plays in 2011, it will be for us.”

Stalemate.

But the Palmer Question not only mirrors the inertia of the CBA talks, it hinges on the talks. Even if they wanted, the Bengals can’t trade him. Not only that, they can’t bring in another quarterback to get him ready until the CBA is resolved.

The union wants to open all the books. The owners want to open some of the books. Palmer wants to close the book. And while the Bengals would like to keep Palmer at Paul Brown Publishing, that book doesn’t appear to have an ending yet.

Stalemate.

In book stores today until…


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Attendance at Pro Days won’t be perfect indicators

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 7, 2011 – 4:26 pm

A few warmup tosses to start the week:

THE CAMPUS WORKOUTS: Otherwise known as The Pro Day.

Tuesday is a big day with two of the top quarterbacks on display at their respective schools. Why they did it this way, who knows, but Cam Newton is working at Auburn, Ryan Mallett is going to be at Arkansas, and the other thing we know for sure is the Bengals won’t say who they’re sending where.

They figure to be at both workouts and the temptation is to leap like Newton in the long jump when it’s revealed which workout head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese attend.

That’s the temptation, but not reality.

Both workouts are going to be on tape and the Bengals are going to have other chances to go back to that campus to interview the player after the Pro Day. Plus, they’re allowed to bring in 30 prospects to Paul Brown Stadium before the draft so it’s not like this is a last chance.

And both schools have other prospects on which to gaze. Auburn has defensive tackle Nick Fairley and offensive tackle Lee Ziemba while Arkansas has tight end D.J. Williams and guard Demarcus Love.

So while Pro Day attendance might be an indicator, it also may not.

BOOK REPORT: Wanted to file a book report with you after some weekend reading claimed two well-written and researched sports stories: The Perfect Mile by Neil Bascomb and The Rise of a Dynasty by Bill Reynolds.

Almost a nice escape from the current crisis facing the NFL. Bascomb weaves the stories of the three men who chased the first sub-four-minute mile from 1952-54 and Reynolds chronicles the Boston Celtics’ first NBA title in 1957.

Almost.

Both books capture how sports were caught in transition in the ’50s as the purity of competition began to collide with the meteors of media, marketing and moguls. We are in a galaxy far, far away, but we didn’t take light years to get here.

Both events happened just a few years before I was born, but it got me thinking. Maybe the good old days weren’t always good.

You started following sports when you were a kid because it wasn’t like business and politics and all the other real-world stuff. But, maybe it was closer than you thought.

Consider the NFL is paralyzed by the $9 billion question and it’s been less than 60 years since the day after Great Britain’s Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile he showed up at the hospital to continue his medical studies. It’s been 54 springs since the day after the Celts won their first banner in Game 7 against the St. Louis Hawks when their prized rookie center, Bill Russell, jumped in his car to begin driving to Des Moines, Iowa, to join some of his teammates in a barnstorming tour.

There were no city hall parades back in ’57, when the winning team split $18,000. In ’54, there was no cable news to swallow Bannister whole.

It is a nice romantic thought.

Bannister sandwiched in his training for history between writing and researching his thesis and diagnostic stints in the hospital wards on the way to becoming a neurologist. Landy chased butterflies instead of endorsements. The Celtics dressed in a dingy locker room that was old in the ’50s. A player knew he had made the team when he was given his own hook to hang up his clothes.

But maybe the tension of sports and the real world have always been there. Because the future was coming.

Fast.

Like the 6-11 Russell metaphorically sprinting the length of the floor with 40 seconds left in regulation to block a layup by Hawks guard Jack Coleman despite Coleman having a half-court lead. The play, absolutely unheard of in 1957 when big men only lumbered under the basket, saved the day for the Celtics and made possible their double OT win while providing a glimpse of the modern NBA.

The 21st century turned out to be right around the corner.

Newspaper stories the day of Game 7 in Boston quoted anonymous players grumbling about getting very little of the biggest gate in NBA history.  The players wondered where the rest of it was going and weren’t too happy the owners were saying the league needed it after years of playing a poor stepchild to the college game.

You could feel it coming. Even in track-and-field, supposedly the vanguard of athletic purity.

University of Kansas legend Wes Santee, who along with Australia’s John Landy had been beaten to the punch by Bannister, saw his career ruined by AAU claims he accepted too much expense money from meet promoters.

He would have been called The Ocho SubCuatro today, but even then Santee was charismatic, confident, quotable, hugely talented, and played to the crowd. Yet the AAU barred him from running “The Perfect Mile” in Vancouver at the 1954 Empire Games, when Bannister’s finishing kick beat Landy in a classic both finished under four minutes.

Santee, who never broke four minutes, would wonder for the rest of his life why the promoters offered such “riches,” knowing the AAU had $15 daily limit for food, lodging and travel. The Perfect Mile was really The Imperfect Mile without him.

Maybe politics and business always had the inside track on sports.

Celtics guard Bob Cousy, until Russell arrived in ’57, was the game’s best and most well-known player. But three years before that, Cousy began to organize NBA Players Association when there were no health benefits, no pension plan, no minimum salary, and the average salary was $8,000. Reynolds documents how Cousy broke down later in life when wishing he had used his position with the NBPA to ease the racism leveled against Russell and other blacks.

Still, the owners didn’t recognize the NBPA until 1964, after players had threatened to walk out of the all-star game a good seven years after the Celts won that first banner.

Yeah, the good old days maybe.

But the real world was just doing anything to get in. Even then.

We just didn’t know it.

We were kids.

ONE-RING CIRCUS: The most famous hit on Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco came courtesy of an AFC North safety when the Browns’ Brian Russell sent The Ocho to la-la land when he went over the middle in a 2006 game.

Now another AFC North safety is pledging to take him out in a more conventional way.

According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Ravens’ Tom Zbikowski went on the Dan Patrick radio show  Monday to say that he’d knock out Ochocinco in the ring in 45 seconds.

Ochocinco tweeted back, “you wana go nite nite, you want to box me, for 1 your feet are to slow and you’ve got no hand speed to even be competitive.”

So, naturally, according to PFT, Zbikowski issued a challenge on his Facebook page in which he challenged The Ocho to a four-rounder  for charity at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium: “You wear Orange and Black and I will wear Purple and black.  If we do it in May, that should give you enough time to get ready.”

Still waiting on The Ocho.


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Will Bengals listen to Palmer offers?

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on March 1, 2011 – 12:12 am

The estimable Peter King of Sports Illustrated posted two Bengals notes of note Monday.

He said he talked to one Bengals official over the weekend and was surprised to hear that whenever trades are allowed after the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement, the team will listen to trade offers for Carson Palmer.

Maybe. All I know is that when the Bengals left for the NFL scouting combine last week, the word was that Palmer was going nowhere. So, maybe they’ll listen to offers. Maybe they’ll take the calls. But the clear sense was that they were adamant Palmer would not be traded. No question they are looking for his replacememt in the draft and maybe they can be  moved by the right price. But, at the moment, they aren’t looking to trade him.

King has the Bengals taking Auburn quarterback Cam Newton at No. 4, reasoning that Bengals president Mike Brown loves to draft quarterbacks and take gambles. Yeah, but that was before Akili Smith at No. 3 in 1999. After his performance at the combine on and off the field, Newton has to change some  minds not only in the Bengals’ room, but elsewhere. Anything can happen in two months, kids.

But with head coach Marvin Lewis wary of one-year wonders and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden talking about accuracy and leadership, that doesn’t translate into the Bengals taking Newton right now. After his March 8 pro day, another campus visit or two, and Newton’s April visit to Paul Brown Stadium, maybe he can change some minds.

But it sure sounds like what the Bengals are looking for in Gruden’s system if Palmer retires is competence over flash. They want a guy that has a good enough arm to stretch the field, but above all is accurate and smart and is going to be protected by the running game. They don’t need a Heisman Trophy winner, but a quarterback. No. 4 looks too high for it right now.


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