• The release of problematic receiver Chris Henry signifies a dramatic shift in the philosophy of the Cincinnati Bengals. After building a respectable team by assembling several talented, but troubled players (Henry, Frostee Rucker and Odell Thurman), the Bengals have started to rid their locker room of the character risks that helped the team climb from the doldrums. Marvin Lewis appears to have grown weary of dealing with the constant media scrutiny and headaches associated with having so many character problems on the team. "He is attempting to take back the locker room, but you wonder if it is too late," said an NFC executive. "He should've parted ways with his bad apples a long time ago."
Though the Bengals parlayed those character gambles into a division title two seasons ago, the fractured chemistry within the team can be at least partially blamed for their 15-17 record since that title. With legal troubles continuing to pile up and disgruntled star receiver Chad Johnson embarrassing the organization in the media, the Bengals needed to make a strong statement to re-establish the order on the team. Thus, they had no choice but to dismiss Henry or have Lewis risk completely losing the respect of the locker room.
• Antrel Rolle is being moved to safety and that could propel the Cardinals' defense to new heights. Rolle, the eighth pick in the 2005 draft, was drafted to be a "shut down" corner on the edge, but several coaches and scouts felt that his best position would be at safety. "After watching him play at Miami, I thought that he would be an average corner as a pro, but a Pro Bowl-caliber safety," said a former secondary coach of an AFC team. "His versatility stood out on tape ... as a multi-faceted guy with a high football IQ, he could cover in slot, blitz off the edges and be a factor against the run... all of his strengths as a player will stand out at safety."
The move to safety will require some work, but Rolle's experience last season should ease the transition. As the Cardinals' nickel corner, he had the chance to play as a deep middle player in some of their exotic sub-packages and the results were impressive. Rolle finished the season with five interceptions, including four made while playing as the nickel or safety in the sub-defense.
"He showed us last season that he could be a playmaker in the middle of the field, so we think moving him to safety full-time will greatly improve our secondary." said Cardinals' secondary coach Teryll Austin. "He teams with Adrian Wilson to give two athletic guys at the position, and that should allow us to be more creative with Adrian near the line of scrimmage."
The Cardinals used Wilson extensively as a box defender two seasons ago, and the eight-year vet registered eight sacks and four interceptions. But Wilson rarely spent time near the line of scrimmage last season, as the coaches lacked confidence in free safety Terrence Holt to use a lot of single-high safety coverage. That will change with Rolle at free safety. His athleticism, range and ballhawking skills are ideal for playing in the deep middle, and the Cardinals will surely tap into the versatility of both players to wreak havoc. "They have two Pro Bowl-caliber players at the safeties with multiple skills," said a former secondary coach of an AFC team. "That allows them to become more aggressive with their pressure packages because either guy is capable of manning the middle or getting to the quarterback ... that's a coordinator's dream."
• The league's adoption of the defensive communication device will have a significant impact on the game according to several defensive coaches. By allowing one defensive player on the field to have constant communication with the sideline, there is no longer a need for defensive coordinators to send in their plays with hand signals. "The passing of the rule takes away the technological advantage that offenses have had for years." said Chiefs' defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.
Under the previous rules, offensive coordinators were able to communicate with quarterbacks through the radio device until 15 seconds were left on the play clock. With a 40-second play clock, offensive coordinators had ample time to provide the play call and alerts on potential blitzes or coverage on the next down.
Many defensive coaches felt that this advantage led to more offenses using a version of the no-huddle offense. The no-huddle used by today's offenses differs greatly from the "K-Gun" offense used by the Buffalo Bills in the 1990's, which relied on tempo to dictate to the defense. Offenses like the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals operate primarily out of the no-huddle to process information at the line and make the appropriate calls based on the anticipated defensive look.
"Offenses were using the no-huddle to gain information," said a former NFL defensive coach. "They use the threat of a quickened tempo to force defensive coordinators to quickly signal in their defenses, and clever offenses were able to steal those signs and relay that information back to the quarterback." Though defenses tried to avoid those situations by using various methods, including a mixture of hand signals and wristbands to limit the viewable information, the defensive game plan typically had to be simpler and more generic when facing a team that utilized the no-huddle extensively.
But that will change with the passing of the defensive communication device. "Offensive coordinators and quarterbacks no longer hold all of the cards ... they will have to play straight because the guessing game is on both sides now." said the former NFL defensive coach.
• The Jets' decision to guarantee the final two years of Laveranues Coles' contract was met with surprise in league circles. Although Coles has been an ultra-productive receiver throughout his career (averaged 85 receptions per season in the five years prior to last season), he is coming off an injury-plagued season at an age (30) where most players start to decline. "You have to be careful paying older players because you rarely get the production equivalent to compensation." said an AFC personnel executive.
However, the move to satisfy Coles' contract demands had less to do with his production, and more to do with his status as the Jets' leader in the locker room. The Jets endured a nasty contract squabble recently with former Jet Pete Kendall, and the veterans had started to voice concerns over the organization willingness to fork over big money in free agency before taking care of their own players. With star safety Kerry Rhodes' impending free agency on the horizon, it was important that the Jets demonstrate their loyalty by taking care of Coles to avoid a potential mutiny in the locker room.
• Falcons' general manager Thomas Dimitroff's extensive experience as college talent evaluator will be put to the test during the upcoming draft as he attempts to rebuild the Falcons' roster. The Falcons, who were awarded a third round compensatory pick from the league on Tuesday, enter the draft with 11 picks overall and seven selections in the top 103 choices. With so many picks in the opening stages, the Falcons wield considerable power in the draft and Dimitroff has a great opportunity to fill the big voids created by the departures of former Pro Bowlers Alge Crumpler, Warrick Dunn, Rod Coleman and DeAngelo Hall during the offseason. "They are in an enviable position ... they have the ability to get several young guys that they can groom and develop," said an AFC personnel executive.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Dimitroff simply stand pat and fill the Falcons' many draft needs (offensive line, defensive tackle, cornerback and quarterback). "With so many picks in the early rounds, they have a luxury of sitting there and plucking guys off the board, or they can package multiple picks to get a guy that they really like," said an NFC executive. "They have a lot of holes to fill, but with so many picks early in the draft they have the ammunition to pull it off. If they hit on their picks, they could make a quick return to playoff contention."