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Inside the NFL

March 03, 2003
March 03, 2003

Table of Contents
March 3, 2003

Inside the NFL

Last Chance In Seattle?
Coach Mike Holmgren needs the '03 Seahawks to restore his
reputation

This is an article from the March 3, 2003 issue Original Layout

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has heard all the raps against him.
Can't win without Brett Favre. Lousy personnel guy who's lost
without Ron Wolf. No improvement over his predecessor, Dennis
Erickson. And for now, in the wake of giving up his general
manager's title with the appointment on Feb. 10 of Bob Ferguson,
Holmgren knows that the only way to change those perceptions in
the Pacific Northwest is to win big.

"Every coach cares what people think," Holmgren said last Friday,
nursing a cold cup of coffee before beginning another day at the
NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Guys would be dishonest if
they said they don't care. But the people who I care most
about--my peers, coaches--think I'm a pretty good coach. Still, I
know this is an important year for us. At some point you've just
got to make the jump from 7-9, 9-7, and I think this is the
year we do that."

After two NFC championships and one Super Bowl win as coach of
the Packers, with Wolf as his G.M. and Favre as his quarterback,
Holmgren arrived in Seattle four years ago with a savior's
reputation. But he hasn't taken the Seahawks to the playoffs
since his first season, and his record with Seattle is a
pedestrian 31-33. In fact, he was in danger of losing his job
midway through last season before his team won four of its last
six games and the offense started looking like the one owner Paul
Allen had envisioned when he signed Holmgren to an eight-year,
$32 million contract in January 1999.

According to one club source, in December team president Bob
Whitsett wanted to install a G.M. who would have final
decision-making power over Holmgren. The coach was willing to add
a body to the front office but not to relinquish his
player-personnel authority. So the Seahawks hired the
well-traveled Ferguson, who had been let go as Arizona's general
manager on Jan. 6. He's a strong pro scout who will team with
Holmgren but not overpower him. Add fiery new defensive
coordinator Ray Rhodes and a healthier defense (last season's
unit was ravaged by injuries to six starters), and Seattle looks
as if it might finally be a 10-win team in 2003.

There's still one big if, though: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck,
Holmgren's risky trade acquisition from Green Bay two years ago,
has to play as well as he did after regaining the starter's job
with nine games left in 2002. Over the final six games Hasselbeck
threw for more yards (2,062) than any other NFL quarterback,
including a club-record 449 in a 31-28 win at San Diego. During
that span the Seahawks averaged 29 points per game, compared with
18 over the first 10 games. "I think Matt's had an epiphany,"
Holmgren says. "He's pretty stubborn, but we talked after the
season and he said to me, 'I finally stopped fighting you.'"
Holmgren hopes that's an omen for a playoff season to come. He
needs it.

Cincinnati's Draft Scenario
Bengals Size Up Quarterbacks

The Bengals seem to have narrowed their options to three for the
No. 1 choice in the draft: select USC quarterback Carson Palmer,
take Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich or give up the pick in a
trade. Because it's a long shot that another team will give
Cincinnati multiple high picks for the right to pay a signing
bonus in the neighborhood of $13 million to any player in this
draft, it's very likely the Bengals will end up with one of the
quarterbacks.

With Leftwich's twice-fractured left leg a concern, smart money
has Palmer going No. 1. And the Heisman winner seems more eager
than resigned about going to the team that has had the worst
record in the NFL over the last 10 years. Last week Palmer called
embattled club president Mike Brown "an awesome guy" and said the
team "is very close to turning it around."

Here's one view of Palmer to keep in mind: A scouting director
for a team likely to draft a quarterback in April says, "If he'd
come out a year ago, we'd have had him rated as a fourth-or
fifth-rounder. One good year doesn't make him a sure thing."

Arizona State Speed Rusher
Can Terrell Suggs Tackle the Run?

Defensive end Terrell Suggs had 44 sacks in three seasons at
Arizona State, but he has to prove to scouts that he's stout
enough to play the run. At 262 pounds he knows he needs to put on
at least 10 pounds to be competitive against NFL tackles on first
down. "There's still a question of whether I'm just a pass
rusher," he says.

The same question was asked a year ago about lightning-quick
Dwight Freeney, a Syracuse defensive end who had 13 sacks as a
rookie with the Colts in 2002. Suggs could go as high as third in
the draft.

Free Agency Kicks Off
Big Deals Hard To Come By

The free-agent signing period begins this Friday, but don't
expect an eye-popping deal early on. Impact players are in short
supply. "I think there will be a couple of signings," says Texans
general manager Charley Casserly, "and then it'll come to a
screeching halt." Here's what to look for.

--The Bills put the franchise tag on wideout Peerless Price last
week, but they may decide to let him leave for a couple of high
draft choices. Don't be surprised if the Falcons pony up
first-and third-round selections for Price, who in his fourth
year had 94 catches for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns, all
career highs, last season. Having given up its first pick this
year in the 2002 trade for quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo
would have to think hard about an offer like that.

--Hottest free agent? There's no question it'll be Bears
linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who will land somewhere (Buffalo?
Detroit? Cleveland?) for at least $5 million a year. Chicago will
regret losing a member of the best linebacking corps in football.

--Former Browns tackle Orlando Brown, who suffered a severe eye
injury when hit with an official's penalty flag in 1999, is
attempting a comeback. Look for Arizona, Baltimore, Green Bay or
New England to offer a low-salary, incentive-laden deal to the
32-year-old.

--Suitors beware of immensely talented Arizona wideout David
Boston. The Cardinals have $34 million in salary-cap room but
won't make him a big-money offer. "We still have concerns on and
off the field," newly promoted Arizona VP of football operations
Rod Graves says of Boston, who in January pleaded no contest to
DUI charges. "We did not feel comfortable getting into guaranteed
money for him."

Dispatches
Klecko Makes Name for Himself

Temple defensive tackle Dan Klecko, whose father, Joe, played for
the Jets' front four, is too small (5'11 1/2", 283 pounds) to be
a very high pick, but he raised eyebrows at the combine by
running a linebackerlike 4.88 in the 40. He'll fit well as a
changeup guy in some team's tackle rotation.... The Texans have
already had two feelers for the third pick in the draft, and G.M.
Charley Casserly seems determined to trade it. "We need multiple
good players, not one great one," he says.... With the fifth
pick, the Cowboys could opt for the shutdown cornerback they
desperately need, Terence Newman of Kansas State. "Terence's
speed is a killer," says former Texas quarterback Chris Simms.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES (HOLMGREN) Holmgren (inset) says Hasselbeck's late surge last season is a sign of things to come.COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES (HASSELBECK) [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL Kelsay

Combine Comers

Because an unusually high number of top players eschewed workouts
at the scouting combine last week--many prefer to have scouts
come to their campuses, where the players can control variables
such as running surfaces and workout conditions--it's hard to get
a clear picture of how the April draft might shake out. But these
four players put forth strong efforts at the RCA Dome and
seriously improved their draft prospects.

Chris Kelsay, DE, Nebraska
The 6'5" 273-pounder blew away scouts with a 4.68 in the 40. A high-motor guy, he evokes size-speed comparisons with Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom, another former Husker. Draft projection: mid-first round.

Eric Steinbach, OL, Iowa
A guard in college, he showed at the Senior Bowl that he can play left tackle. The 6'6" 297-pounder never takes a play off, and he displayed speed and quickness at the combine. Draft projection: mid-first round.

Kyle Boller, QB, Cal
The 6'3" 235-pounder got everyone's attention with a 4.65 in the 40. "He looked so much more athletic than every other quarterback," one personnel director said of Boller, who has also displayed a strong, accurate arm. Draft projection: late first round.

Justin Fargas, RB, USC
A member of the Trojans' tailback-by-committee, the 6'1" 222-pounder ran a 4.37 and had an impressive workout that moved him up several rounds. Draft projection: mid-second round.

Check out Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback at
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