Sunday, August 15, 2004

Quicker releases, shorter dropbacks counter sackers

NFL insider column

Mark Curnutte
Sacks are down each year from 1999. That research comes from Tennessee defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who grew tired of hearing how the Titans' sack totals have diminished.

Washburn said short quarterback drops and quick releases are the reason for the league-wide trend. His findings.

1999: 1,249; 2000: 1,232; 2001: 1,196; 2002: 1,175; 2003: 1,092.

"We got 55 sacks in (2000), and we just can't do that anymore," Washburn said. "We can't run around like we did in '99 and 2000. Sacks aren't there any more. You have to rush to a shorter point. We have to get some push inside."

The Bengals' defensive sack totals for the past five seasons don't match the league trend:

1999: 35; 2000: 26; 2001: 48; 2002: 24; 2003: 30.

HOUSE RULES: New England safety Rodney Harrison was not happy after listening to NFL game officials explain how defensive holding and illegal contact rules were going to be strictly enforced this year.

"If it's a blatant hold, I can understand. But if you're nit-picking - that's ridiculous. In that case, it's blatantly obvious that they want more scoring (and) more touchdowns. It is just more favoritism for the offense. That's what the league is all about now. Putting the emphasis on something like that really takes the aggressive nature out of the game."

BIG CROWD: Believing this finally is the year that their 44-year NFL championship drought ends, Eagles fans have gone absolutely nuts about their team.

A crowd of 25,000 turned out for a morning training camp practice last week at Lehigh University - not a scrimmage. It was a basic full-pads practice.

The Eagles are hailing the crowd as the largest in NFL history for a training camp practice at a non-stadium venue. The traffic snarl into the mountain campus stranded motorists until well after the practice had ended.

KRIEG HONORED: The Seattle Seahawks are putting quarterback Dave Krieg in their Ring of Honor this year. The rest of the circle consists of Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Dave Brown, and late radio announcers Pete Gross, Curt Warner, Jacob Green and Kenny Easley.

When Krieg retired, he held down the No. 8 spot on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list. The top seven were Dan Marino, John Elway, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas.

ST. LOUIS NOT BLUE: The Rams have been in St. Louis for 10 seasons, and it was a move the NFL grudgingly approved.

The Rams have sold out every game since moving to the Midwest and have gone to two Super Bowls in the past five seasons.

"We were told by a lot of people that St. Louis was a baseball town and Kansas City was a football town," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "I think the overall opinion was that St. Louis could be a great football city if they had a team of their own that they could really root for."

BROWNS: Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. signed after a 12-day holdout. The contract includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money, more than any member of this draft class except for the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, Eli Manning and Robert Gallery. Winslow was drafted sixth overall.

His agent, Kevin Poston, also coaxed the Browns into agreeing to relatively easy incentives that will all but assure that Winslow reaches the contract's $40 million maximum value. For instance, Winslow triggers his escalators if he catches 45 passes his first year, 50 in his second or 55 in his third; if he nets 700 receiving yards; if he averages 12.5 yards a catch; if he makes the Pro Bowl in any year; or if the Browns make the playoffs in any year.

STEELERS: Kurt Kittner, who had a two-week stint with the Bengals earlier this offseason, is giving new meaning to the term "journeyman."

He signed with the Steelers after backup Charlie Batch was lost for the season. Since his release earlier this year by the Falcons, Kittner has signed and been released by the Bengals, Patriots and Giants.

Tommy Maddox and Miami University product Ben Roethlisberger are Pittsburgh's top two quarterbacks.

RAVENS: The federal drug trial of Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis is to begin Nov. 1 - right smack in the middle of the season after the eighth week.

His attorneys were unable to get it postponed until after the season.

Defense attorneys estimate the trial should last less than two weeks. But Lewis faces a minimum mandatory prison term of 10 years if convicted and the alleged conspiracy is found to involve at least 5 kilograms of cocaine. It remains unclear how the Ravens with deal with Lewis' availability. They might turn the running game over to Musa Smith and Chester Taylor.


Written from notes contributed by other NFL beat writers.

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