Sunday, February 22, 2004

Lewis careful with QB decision

NFL insider

Mark Curnutte
INDIANAPOLIS - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is trying to reduce the impact of the announcement he's expected to make promoting Carson Palmer to starting quarterback.

Lewis seems to be letting the news out in degrees, first by not committing to incumbent Jon Kitna in his postseason news conference Dec. 29. Then, on Friday, at the league's annual scouting combine, Lewis dropped a series of hints that point toward Palmer starting in 2004.

Initially, Lewis said the decision would be made earlier but not revealed until the team took the practice field for the first minicamp May 7-9. Now he could make the announcement as early as March 22, when the offseason strength and conditioning program begins.

Lewis likes to control Bengals news. He continues to refer negatively to an Enquirer story from a year ago that he says "sensationalized" his decision to name Kitna the starter in 2003.

QB ROULETTE: In the wake of Jacksonville's trade of quarterback Mark Brunell to Washington, the Jaguars will have four draft picks in the first three rounds.

And the Redskins, who gave up a third-rounder in exchange for the right to negotiate the deal with Brunell, will have just three total for the second consecutive year.

But the Redskins are not giving up on Patrick Ramsey, their 2003 starter, though Ramsey has alluded to a desire for a trade.

Miami is among the teams with an interest in Ramsey, as well as Drew Henson, the former Michigan star and failed minor-league baseball player. Pittsburgh is looking to acquire a young quarterback, and don't be surprised if the Steelers make a run at Ramsey. They might be willing to part with a second-round draft pick to get Ramsey.

CAP SOLUTION: The Tennessee Titans were roughly $17 million over the salary cap with two weeks to go before free agency.

They have agreed to a restructured deal with offensive lineman Benji Olson, the first of many restructured contracts to come. The Titans' highest paid 11 players count about $70 million against the cap.

PACKER PASSES: The increasing distances of Brett Favre's touchdown passes as the 2003 season progressed showed how much more effective the Packers became throwing downfield.

Through the first eight games, Favre's 16 touchdown passes averaged 10.6 yards. In the final 10 games, his 19 touchdown passes averaged 22.3.

YOUNGSTERS: The Bears have the most inexperienced coaching staff in the league.

It's also one of the biggest with 17, including two quality control coaches. The total number of years of NFL experience is only 38 - led by head coach Lovie Smith's eight years. The Bears will be the only team with the head coach and both offensive and defensive coordinators doing their new jobs for the first time in the NFL.

Smith never has been a head coach. Terry Shea (former Chiefs quarterbacks coach) never has been an offensive coordinator. Ron Rivera (former Eagles linebacker coach) never has been a defensive coordinator. Ten of the coaches will be doing their jobs for the first time on this level.

CAUTIONARY TALE: Minnesota cornerback Denard Walker, last year's prized free-agent acquisition who briefly flirted with joining the Bengals, must step up his effort during the offseason conditioning program or risk being dumped. Former Bengals assistant strength coach Kurtis Shultz, as the Vikings strength boss, will have the responsibility of getting Walker into shape.

AFC NORTH: Baltimore is not expected to let Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister become a free agent March 3. The Ravens will slap the franchise tag on McAlister to keep him. ... Cleveland coach Butch Davis said this week that the Browns are in the process of ranking all potential NFL free agents on a board, a la the college draft. Most teams have been doing this for years. But Davis said, "We've never done it before." ... If the Steelers acquire a young running back, they might let go of Jerome Bettis.


Written from notes submitted by NFL beat writers.

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