Sunday, February 1, 2004

Some scouts consider Miami QB top choice

NFL Insider

Mark Curnutte
HOUSTON - Former Miami RedHawks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made his second NFL appearance in as many weeks Friday night at Reliant Astrodome.

Roethlisberger and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, did the meet-and-greet routine at the NFL's "Nightspot" party on the floor of the dome.

"Never been here before," said Roethlisberger, looking up at the dome's ceiling. He also said he is spending time in California, where he is training in preparation for the NFL's annual scouting combine, Feb. 18-24 in Indianapolis.

Roethlisberger and Miami coach Terry Hoeppner made an appearance a week and a half ago at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Word around Houston this past week was that some NFL teams consider Roethlisberger a better pro prospect than Mississippi's Eli Manning. The difference is Roethlisberger's arm strength. And at the end of the day, one scout says, NFL teams can't resist arm strength.

Various mock drafts have Roethlisberger going anywhere in the top three slots - to San Diego, Oakland or Arizona.

BEAR DOWN: Former Bears linebacker Ron Rivera was named defensive coordinator by new Chicago coach Lovie Smith, but former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was pushing either of his twin sons for the job.

Ryan, leader of the Bears defense that dismantled New England in Super Bowl XX, has two sons with Super Bowl experience of their own. Rob Ryan is in Houston this week as the Patriots' linebackers coach, and Rex Ryan - a former University of Cincinnati assistant - is Baltimore's defensive line coach.

Between Rex and Rob, the Ryans have appeared in three of the last four Super Bowls, matching Buddy's three-time Super Bowl experience with the Jets (1968), Vikings (1976) and Bears (1985).

"That would be the greatest thing that could happen to Chicago if they would bring a Ryan back," said the Bears' former defensive coordinator (1978-85) before the team hired Rivera. "It would guarantee that they'd get to a Super Bowl."

Ryan's sons are 41 and also have extensive college experience.

PACKER PICK: Former Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner was the second choice of Green Bay coach Mike Sherman to be the team's new defensive coordinator.

The job went to Packers secondary coach Bob Slowik. Duffner was Packers linebackers coach in 2003.

FLY LIKE AN EAGLE: Philadelphia has extended the contract of special teams coach John Harbaugh - a 1984 Miami University graduate and former UC assistant - making him one of the NFL's highest paid special teams coaches.

Harbaugh has maintained a high level of play in the Eagles' kicking game despite personnel turnover.

He played defensive back at Miami from 1980-83 and was a member of the UC coaching staff from 1989-96.

NO WAY: Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden denied reports that his team is trying to acquire either of two veteran quarterbacks Mark Brunell or Rich Gannon.

"Let's not play fantasy football," Gruden said. "We've got the worst (salary) cap situation in the NFC. How the hell are we going to afford Mark Brunell if he's out there?"

AFC NORTH: Butch Davis' two-year contract extension, through the 2007 season, was a minor surprise in Cleveland. The Browns coach has a 21-28 record in three season, and the team was a disappointing 5-11 after making the playoffs in 2002. ... If you can't beat 'em, take 'em. That's the offseason story in Baltimore and Pittsburgh so far. Both organizations, known for off-field stability and on-field consistency, continue to have their top people hired away and promoted by other teams. The Ravens have lost director of player development Earnest Byner to the Washington Redskins, where he will coach running backs. Baltimore defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson, a favorite of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, is headed to the Jets as defensive coordinator. ... The Steelers have been filling vacancies and filling positions on their coaching staff after being raided since the end of the season. Former tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt was promoted to offensive coordinator to replace Mike Mularkey, who left to become head coach in Buffalo. Mularkey was Pittsburgh's former tight ends coach before his promotion to coordinator, and Whisenhunt is expected to maintain Mularkey's creative style.

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