Inside The NFL

Nov. 26, 2001
Nov. 26, 2001

Table of Contents
Nov. 26, 2001

Inside The NFL

Fast and Furious
With a dazzling display of speed and power, the Jets have shot
to the top of the AFC East

This is an article from the Nov. 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

You get a sense watching the Jets that this isn't your father's
football team. The Jets are starting to look like the team the
Cowboys built a decade ago, with track athletes turned loose at
most every key position. "We're kind of like the Florida State of
the NFL," second-year defensive end John Abraham said after the
league's most intriguing team ran circles around the Dolphins
24-0 in Miami. "We're a bunch of fast players making plays."

The Jets have won four straight (including three on the road),
and they get scarier by the week. They've allowed an average of
seven points and 222 yards per game during the streak. They go
into their bye week, stunningly, at 7-3 and atop the AFC East.

Reasons abound. Curtis Martin is 17 yards from his seventh
1,000-yard season in seven pro years. The offensive line is a
mobile wall. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde is playing efficiently.
The team is a league-high plus-22 in takeaways; against Miami,
New York won the turnover battle 5-0. Problems with the run
defense--the Rams piled up 234 rushing yards in New York's last
loss, on Oct. 21--have been solved by plugging Steve Martin and
Shane Burton into new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell's 4-3

However, the underlying reason for the success of so much of what
the Jets are doing--the fierce outside pass rush, the stretching
of opposing defenses by the wideouts--is speed. The poster
children are first- and third-round picks from Bill Parcells's
last draft, in 2000. Abraham is as valuable to the Jets as
Michael Strahan, the best defensive end in the game, is to the
other team that plays at the Meadowlands. Wideout Laveranues
Coles, who was joined on Sunday by fellow burner Santana Moss
(making his NFL debut), unsettles defenses.

As for Abraham, he has 14 1/2 sacks in 16 career games. He is
hardly one-dimensional, though. Struggling to get something
going in the third quarter, the Dolphins put wideout James
McKnight in motion from the left to catch a shovel pass from
quarterback Jay Fiedler. The instant that McKnight cradled the
ball, Abraham, who was making a beeline for Fiedler from the
left side of the defense, changed directions and slammed
McKnight to the turf after a one-yard gain.

You can't teach the kind of speed and quickness or the football
sense, reminiscent of Lawrence Taylor's, that the 23-year-old
Abraham displays. "He's having the same kind of impact LT had,"
says Testaverde, who played against Taylor.

Abraham almost lost out on his chance to play football. He broke
his leg playing in a pickup game in middle school in South
Carolina, and his mother, Maggie, wouldn't let him play for three
years. Maggie relented when John was a senior, and he played well
enough to earn a scholarship to South Carolina. He lined up at
outside linebacker and defensive end, survived a 1-21 record over
his final two seasons and so impressed the Jets with his speed
rush (at 252 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.41) that they made him
the 13th pick in the draft.

Limited to six games at outside linebacker last year because of
an abdominal injury, Abraham has flourished since being moved to
end by new coach Herman Edwards. His 10 sacks lead the AFC. "I'm
comfortable wherever they put me, as long as I can make plays,"
says Abraham. "There's no question speed is crucial to my game."

Coles doesn't lack speed, either. (Like Moss, he runs a 4.3 40.)
Split left in single coverage at the Miami 17 late in the second
quarter, he took rookie cornerback Jamar Fletcher to school.
Coles faked left, then right and finally left again before
Testaverde hit him in stride for a touchdown, putting New York up

What a strange trip it's been for Coles, who went from begging to
be drafted to being the Jets' go-to receiver (35 catches and five
touchdown receptions, both team highs this year). As a senior at
Florida State he was kicked off the team in midseason because of
his infamous cut-rate shopping spree with fellow star Peter
Warrick. After the season Coles went to the scouting combine
looking for a chance, but his off-field problems made many teams
leery. Although he was talented enough to be a mid-first-round
selection, he lasted until the 78th pick.

"Every time I step on the field, I have a chip on my shoulder,"
he says. "I look across the field at the other coach and think,
I'm the guy you passed on, and I'm going to make you pay. It
happened today. The Dolphins brushed me off [back then]. They
wouldn't even talk to me."

Now lots of teams probably wish they had snapped up Coles. In
fact, teams around the league wouldn't mind having quite a few of
these Jets on their side.

Quarterback Quest
Texans Have Lots of Options

Because the expansion Texans, who begin play next September,
don't figure to find their franchise quarterback in the existing
2002 unrestricted free-agent pool (chart, left), offensive
coordinator Chris Palmer has scoured college campuses and dialed
up most NFL games on the satellite trying to find one. When he
scouted a game at Notre Dame recently, he even lit a candle in
the Grotto. "We'll do what we have to do to find our
quarterback," Palmer said with a chuckle last weekend from
Columbus, Ohio, where he watched Illinois senior Kurt Kittner.

The Texans may have plenty of options. A quarterback such as
26-year-old Jake Plummer of the Cardinals, who has slumped in
recent years but has great potential, could be left unprotected
in the expansion draft. A proven veteran like the Patriots' Drew
Bledsoe could be made available in a trade. No college
quarterback stands out (Houston holds the top pick in the draft),
but the Texans could go with the best of the bunch, Fresno
State's David Carr, to whom they give high marks for arm strength
and poise.

As an assistant coach for New England in the mid-1990s, Palmer
worked with Bledsoe for three years. However, Bledsoe, who turns
30 in February and might be expendable with the rise of Tom
Brady, wouldn't be a good fit for the Texans. His lack of
mobility could get him roughed up behind an expansion-quality
line, and he might be ready to retire by the time Houston is
ready to contend. Plummer? No one knows if Cardinals owner Bill
Bidwill would part with him.

It's too early to tell which road the Texans will take. Still,
Palmer must have liked what he saw in Fresno wins at Colorado and
Colorado State. Carr completed 67% of his throws for 587 yards
and three scores, with no interceptions. Trading down to
stockpile draft choices has been a popular way for expansion
teams to build, but with quarterback-needy Detroit likely to
choose high in the draft, the Texans may need to hold on to the
top pick if they decide that Carr is their man.

Saints Passer Finds His Rhythm

Quarterback Aaron Brooks is breaking out of the sophomore slump
that threatened to ruin the Saints' season. Tentative through
much of the first five games, Brooks had the most accurate day of
his career on Sunday in a win over the Colts, completing 19 of 22
passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. In four weeks he has
thrown seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions. What
made Brooks look so good last year was his sense of when to stay
in the pocket and when to run. Early this season he was trying to
make a big play on every down.... This is what importing a very
good line coach (Russ Grimm, from the Redskins) has done for
Pittsburgh: Not only are the Steelers the best rushing team in
the league, at 181.8 yards per game, but they also played 535
snaps this season without a holding penalty before getting
flagged on Sunday.... Here's another example of why you have to
ignore so much of what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says: Last week
he said he would be reluctant to trade his quarterback situation
for that of any other team. "There's a lot in me that wouldn't
swap our quarterbacks for the best quarterback and the top pick
in next year's draft," Jones said. On Sunday, in a 36-3 drubbing,
the Eagles scored two touchdowns on Ryan Leaf interceptions.

My Two Cents
Talk Is Cheap For Terrell

1. Terrell Davis was fooling himself when he said last week,
after his third knee surgery, "Hopefully I'll be able to play
another three or four years." By the time Davis, 29, returns to
the Broncos' lineup (probably Dec. 2 in Miami), he will have
missed 32 of the previous 40 games with knee and leg injuries.

2. Those who said it was sad that Jerry Rice couldn't end his
career with the 49ers should remember this: The organization
didn't want him anymore. In nine games as a Raider, Rice has 44
catches and six touchdowns. He wouldn't have put up numbers like
that in a full season with the Niners.

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Abraham (94), linebacker Mo Lewis and the Jets' defense never let Fiedler get untracked.COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER

the football Beat

With the Ravens' Shannon Sharpe, who on Sunday broke Ozzie
Newsome's NFL record for career catches by a tight end

SI: The record.

Sharpe: All mine. Just unbelievable. To go from a seventh-round
pick to the greatest receiving tight the numbers. Stuff
like that is not supposed to happen.

SI: Mike Shanahan.

Sharpe: Genius. Always puts his players in a position to go after
the weakest link on defense. Doesn't show favoritism. He made me
a complete player. There's a misconception that I dislike Mike.
Totally untrue. He's the best coach and offensive mind I've ever
played for.

SI: Greatest moment.

Sharpe: It's not a Super Bowl. It's the catch I made in
Pittsburgh in the 1997 AFC Championship Game. We're up 24-21 in
the last couple of minutes, ball on our 15, third-and-six, and
if we don't convert, the momentum's all theirs. We're leaving
the huddle, and John [Elway] looks at me and says, "Go get
open." I did. That was the game.

SI: Broncos or Ravens?

Sharpe: That's like asking: Who's prettier, your mom or your
wife? There's no right answer. Broncos, I guess. I played there
for 10 years.

SI: Day off.

Sharpe: There is no day off for me. Really. If I took one, I'd go
to the movies, but not till I worked out.

SI: Three favorite movies.

Sharpe: A Few Good Men. Crimson Tide. Men of Honor.

SI: Retiring.

Sharpe: I don't know how much longer I'll play. I still love the
game, but I don't want to stunt the growth of the first-round
pick [Todd Heap]. And I'll have to see about the money. If it's
$500,000, I don't want to play that bad.

Bucs vs. Rams--and a former Tampa Bay defensive assistant

After the Bucs rolled up 446 yards in a 38-35 throttling of the
Rams last December, St. Louis coach Mike Martz wiped out most of
his defensive staff at season's end. For coordinator, he hired an
old buddy from his days at Arizona State, Tampa Bay linebackers
coach Lovie Smith. Basically Smith has copied the Bucs' attacking
scheme. "I showed tape of [Tampa Bay's] players last year to the
guys we have at the same positions," Smith says. The Rams, last
in the NFL in scoring defense in 2000, are fifth this season.

Nov. 27, 1966: A grudge fuels the highest-scoring game in NFL
history--Redskins 72, Giants 41

When the Giants dealt Pro Bowl linebacker Sam Huff to the
Redskins in 1964, Huff vowed to get even with New York coach
Allie Sherman, whom he blamed for trading him from the team he
loved. "I took an oath: I will never quit this game until I get
Allie Sherman fired," Huff recalled last week. Huff got sky-high
before games against New York, and on this day he felt a rout
coming on against a team that would finish 1-12-1. "Otto," he
said he told coach Otto Graham before the game, "show no mercy."
Never since has an NFL game produced 100 points. With the
Redskins leading 69-41, Huff screamed for a timeout from the
sideline with seven seconds left. "Field goal team!" Huff yelled.
The unit ran onto the field before Graham knew what was
happening, and Charlie Gogolak kicked a 29-yard field goal. Two
years later, after his fifth straight nonwinning season, Sherman
was fired.

Slim Pickings

This winter the NFL's 10th free-agent class will hit the market,
and it may be the weakest crop of available players since
unfettered free agency began in 1993. Leaving aside potential
salary-cap casualties and players under contract who can win
their freedom through performance incentives, here's our top 20,
including Carolina's Donald Hayes (above), of the class of 2002.


1. Duane Starks, CB, Ravens
Youth (27), skill and demand for the position will make him a $6
million-a-year man

2. Jason Gildon, OLB, Steelers
Has averaged 10 sacks a year since 1998, and who doesn't need a
pass rusher?

3. Jeremiah Trotter, MLB, Eagles
With Philly $20 million under the projected 2002 cap, look for
him to stay put

4. Tarik Glenn, T, Colts
Peyton Manning should lobby hard for Indy to keep this
proficient run and pass blocker

5. Bryan Robinson, DE, Bears
Little known, but this 300-pounder is a strong pass rusher and
good against the run

6. Eric Warfield, CB, Chiefs
Underrated cover man hidden on a bad team, and at 25 he'll draw
lots of interest

7. Donald Hayes, WR, Panthers
Tall (6'4") and 26, an underused player who could help a team
like the Browns

8. Shaun Williams, S, Giants
Safeties never get that rich in free agency, but he's a
hard-hitting difference-maker

9. Ron Stone, G, Giants
Excellent inside blocker will earn more than any other interior
lineman in the class

10. Flozell Adams, T, Cowboys
Has the bulk (335 pounds) and experience (53 starts) teams look
for in a young tackle

11. Az Hakim, WR, Rams; 12. Earl Holmes, ILB, Steelers; 13.
Jason Fabini, T, Jets; 14. John Parrella, DT, Chargers; 15. Jim
Miller, QB, Bears; 16. James Cannida, DT, Bucs; 17. Bill
Schroeder, WR, Packers; 18. Kenard Lang, DE, Redskins; 19. Byron
Chamberlain, TE, Vikings; 20. Jason Fisk, DT, Titans