Bucky Brooks
Friday May 9th, 2008

Bobby Engram's walkout from the Seahawks minicamp is clearly over the veteran's displeasure with his current contract.

Entering the last leg of a two-year contract that pays him $1.7 million this season, Engram makes significantly less than starters Deion Branch ($4.1M) and Nate Burleson ($3.25M), despite being the team's top receiver two of the past three seasons. Engram posted career highs in receptions (94) and receiving yards (1,147) last year and continues to be Pro Bowl QB Matt Hasselbeck's top target in clutch situations.

But Engram will have a tough time securing a long-term contract due to his age (35) and the flexibility of Seattle's offensive system. Some Seahawks officials believe Engram's production has been inflated due to Hasselbeck's belief in the veteran, and that the anticipated shift to a more balanced offense will eventually diminish Engram's role. The Seahawks are tweaking their offense to feature a power running game with several multiple tight end sets, and their under-the-radar pickups of free agent Jeb Putzier and rookie John Carlson gives them a formidable tight end duo capable of replacing Engram's production as a slot receiver.

Although Engram's presence on the offense would be greatly missed, the Seahawks have a solid solution in place should the situation linger into training camp.

• The Colts' signing of Dominic Rhodes is a terrific coup. Rhodes, who bolted for Oakland after a stellar performance in Super Bowl XLI, is the ideal complementary back for Joseph Addai and Rhodes' ability to be productive as a part-time runner allows the Colts to lighten the load on their young star.

Rhodes also gives Peyton Manning another weapon to use in the passing game. The back's 36 receptions in 2006 ranked fifth on the team, and his eventual successor (Kenton Keith) failed to deliver as a receiver or blocker last season, which diffused some of the Colts' explosiveness on offense. With Rhodes back in the fold, the Colts have an effective counter (via screens and check downs) to defenses using soft coverage to slow down Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark on vertical routes.

Julius Peppers' reported move to right defensive end is a controversial topic in Charlotte, but the move is a logical one given the Panthers' defensive issues. Last season the team ranked 31st in sacks (23) and allowed 110 yards per game on the ground with Peppers entrenched as left defensive end. By moving him to the right side, the Panthers could see a boost in both categories.

With offenses primarily directing their running game to the strength of the formation (often the offense's right side), the Panthers can put a stouter run defender at left end (Tyler Brayton) to bolster the point of attack and allow Peppers to chase the run from the back side. The move would also give Peppers the opportunity to rush the passer exclusively from the open side.

Despite Peppers' sub-par year a season ago (career low 2.5 sacks), the three-time Pro Bowl end still possesses dynamic rush skills that often overwhelm elite tackles in one-on-one situations.

• The Titans have been the target of criticism recently for selecting a back in the top two rounds of the draft in three consecutive years, but Titans' officials are raving about first-round pick Chris Johnson after watching him at rookie minicamp.

The speedster from East Carolina ran the fastest 40 at the combine (4.24), and Titans' officials say he is their "most explosive guy on offense." As an all-purpose threat, Johnson will team with LenDale White and Chris Henry to anchor the running game and give Vince Young a legitimate weapon when the Titans opt to pass.

More importantly, Johnson replaces Pacman Jones in the return game and gives the Titans a credible playmaker capable of scoring from anywhere in the field. Johnson averaged 228 all-purpose yards during his senior season at East Carolina, and the Titans plan to take advantage of those skills by featuring him in a variety of roles. For a team that only averaged 18.8 points a game, Tennessee's addition of a talented playmaker was necessary, regardless of their prior draft history.

• The Lions' rebuilt offense will rely on two rookies to anchor their resurgence. First-round pick Gosder Cherilus and third-round selection Kevin Smith are both slated to play pivotal roles, and their performances at minicamp has Lions' officials thinking both could exceed their expectations.

Cherilus, who will likely start at right tackle, gives the Lions an athletic lineman to fit into their zone scheme. Smith, meanwhile, projects as a workhorse in new offensive coordinator Jim Coletto's offense. Smith, who rushed for 2,628 yards during his final season at Central Florida, has earned high praise from coaches for his running skills and ability to make defenders miss in the hole. "He is a long strider who is so smooth and fluid that you underrate his speed and quickness," said Lions running back coach Sam Gash.

Though both newcomers will have to beat out veteran incumbents at their respective positions, the goal is to plug the youngsters into a running game capable of taking advantage of the seven-man fronts and two-deep coverage that defenses use to limit Pro Bowl WR Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson on the outside.

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