Posted on: June 17, 2010 2:32 pm

Rams Linebacker Fighting Two Battles Right Now

There's an interesting article from Bill Coats on about Rams linebacker David Vobora today. The third-year pro – who entered the league as Mr. Irrelevant out of Idaho – has two storylines this offseason: clearing his name after last year’s four-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test, and regaining his starting position.

For clearing his name, Vobora is suing the company that provided what he says was a tainted workout supplement. Vobora asserts that he called the NFL substance hotline and got approval for every ingredient listed in the supplement. For damages, he is seeking the $90,588 he lost in compensation during the suspension.

Regarding his starting job, Vobora has an uphill battle. He played strongside linebacker in the Rams’ depleted front seven last season. But in spring, St. Louis signed veteran Na’il Diggs, who grew close to defensive coordinator Ken Flajole when Flajole was the linebackers coach in Carolina. Diggs is a stout run-stopper and, frankly, a better option at this point. Vobora, while a quick-closing, fundamentally-sound tackler, doesn’t always thrive in high-traffic areas (he has trouble locating assignments). Vobora could challenge new weakside linebacker Bobby Carpenter except he lacks the speed to play in space.

The Rams currently have Vobora working behind middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. If he stays there, he’ll only see special teams action in 2010. But at least Vobora has gotten an opportunity to learn multiple positions. Considering he lacks the athletic tools to start, becoming a utility backup gives him the best chance at getting on the field.

--Andy Benoit

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Category: NFL
Posted on: June 17, 2010 1:46 pm

Examining Chicago's Offensive Line

Brad Biggs of pointed out that right guard Roberto Garza is the only Bears offensive lineman currently lining up in the same starting spot as a year ago. The rest of the front five has been shuffled….for the time being.

Center Olin Kreutz is still rehabbing his way back from Achilles surgery. Josh Beekman has been filling in for Kreutz. The Bears have been trying to replace Beekman at left guard for years; ’09 undrafted free agent Johan Asiata is the latest to get a shot.

Right tackle Chris Williams has moved to the left tackle spot that Orlando Pace occupied (fruitlessly) last season. Tackle-turned-guard Frank Omiyale is apparently now a guard-turned-tackle, as he’s playing in Williams’s old spot on the right side. If Williams and Omiyale are the starters, the Bears may have the least physical offensive tackle tandem in the NFL this season.

It’s surprising that ex-Falcon/Brown Kevin Shaffer isn’t getting more of a look at right tackle. Shaffer’s slow feet can be a major problem in pass protection, but unlike Omiyale, he at least has substantial starting experience at the pro level.

Remember, the Bears are working from the Mike Martz playbook now. Martz’s scheme frequently features four-receiver sets, with all four receivers running slow-developing routes. No team will put a greater demand on pass protection in 2010 than the Chicago Bears.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 1:11 pm

Raging Debate Over 18-Game Schedule

The NFL Players Union isn’t thrilled with the PR campaign the NFL has put forth for extending to an 18-game season. After the two sides discussed the issue Wednesday, NFL executives (namely Packers president Mark Murphy) rushed to the media and spoke glowingly about what the league is calling an “enhanced season”.

Murphy said, “Part of it is really providing more value to our fans.”

The NFLPA responded by releasing comments from Ray Lewis and Tom Brady.

“I know our fans may not like preseason games and I don’t like all of them,” said Lewis, “but swapping two preseason games for two end-of-season games — when players already play hurt — comes at a huge cost for the player and the team.”

“I’ve taken part in several postseason runs where we have played 20 games,” said Brady. “The long-term impact this game has on our bodies is well documented. Look no further than the players that came before we did. Each player today has to play three years in order to earn five years of post-career health care.”

Because the preseason is a time for young fringe players to gain experience, Murphy said the NFL may consider establishing a developmental league to make up for the lost opportunities. (The NFL’s current D-League is known as the NCAA.)

The 18-game season will be a sizzling debate in the coming months. Under the CBA, the league has the right to expand to a 22-game season (18 regular season games; four preseason games). But because Roger Goodell and owners want to shorten the low-quality preseason, the league is pushing for an 18-regular, 2-pre season game format.

Expanding the NFL regular season by two games is the equivalent of expanding the Major League Baseball season by 20 games. The financial repercussions are significant and, as Lewis and Brady iterated, so are the physical ones.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 12:42 pm

Good-Spirited Drama Along the Giants DL

In a follow up to the Osi Umenyiora story from yesterday, Mathias Kiwanuka spoke about the situation at the right defensive end position.

"That's my goal and that's where my focus is,” Kiwanuka said of keeping his starting job. “There's no other thought in my mind "Once I get it, I have to keep it."

"We can maintain a friendly competition because that's where we need everybody's mind to be. This is the NFL. There are battles at every position up and down the line."

Umenyiora and Kiwanuka (who, by the way, also has a contract situation), won’t be competing for the same spot on third down, apparently. Yesterday the Giants revealed a four-man nickel front consisting of first-round rookie Jason Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka as the ends, and Justin Tuck and Umenyiora as the tackles. Tuck is as versatile as any player in the game and has the strength and technique to be dominant inside. Umenyiora has generally been a space player though could give guards fits with his initial quickness.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 12:01 pm

Saints Get Their Bling

The New Orleans Saints got their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony Wednesday. All the players said it felt good and incredible and everything else. If you want to see a picture of the ring, click here.

For those of you who are interested, the ring is a “fleur-de-lis” along with the triple-spired St. Louis Cathedral and the Louisiana Superdome.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 11:30 am

A Pair of Niners Skipping Minicamp

Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and outside linebacker Manny Lawson are both skipping the team’s mandatory minicamp. Franklin has not yet signed his franchise tag contract and is technically under no obligation to attend. Lawson is unhappy with his contract. He’s in the final year of his five-year rookie deal. His base salary is $700,000.

Singletary isn’t worried about either player.

"I have heard that Aubrayo will not be here, which does not bother me one bit," the head coach said. "Manny is not here — does not bother me one bit. Those guys are working. They are doing what they need to do. I'll see them when I see them."

Franklin is vital to the Niners’ 3-4 scheme. His presence inside keeps blockers off Patrick Willis and also allows tireless end Justin Smith to exploiting one-on-one matchups. Plus, Franklin himself has great lateral range as a run-stopper.

Lawson is a role player who doesn’t often get to the quarterback but is a fluid pass defender in the flats.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 10:57 am

Rookie TE Hernandez Is Becoming a True Patriot

New England’s fourth-round pick out of Florida, tight end Aaron Hernandez, is learning the one skill that all Patriot players must learn: talking to the media without saying anything. Hernandez has been dogged by reports that he failed multiple drug tests for marijuana while in college. He has admitted to failing one test but has been mum on everything else. Wednesday, Hernandez addressed the topic (in Belichick fashion).

“That’s in the past,” Hernandez said. “I’m just worried about the future and the present. I forgot about the past. I just keep grinding and do the best I can for this team.”

Hernandez slipped to the fourth round because of character concerns (he was suspended for a game and parts of another while at Florida; undisclosed reasons). But keep in mind, Belichick is close friends with Urban Meyer. He got the full scoop on the kid before and still comfortable drafting him.

Hernandez is a 6’5”, 250-pound pass-catcher. He’ll work with fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski (as second-rounder) to help fill the hole that was created by Ben Watson’s departure.

--Andy Benoit

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Posted on: June 17, 2010 10:29 am
Edited on: June 17, 2010 2:58 pm

More on Ravens Cornerback Situation

Yesterday we wrote that the Ravens were likely to sign Walt Harris, Ken Lucas or Ken Hamlin. Hamlin is the best of the three, but Harris and Lucas are cornerbacks, which is a greater area of need in Baltimore.

To take the story a step further, John Harbaugh spoke about the health of starting corner Fabian Washington and shimmering young nickelback Lardarius Webb, two players coming off late-season ACL injuries. Both have claimed all offseason to be on track to start opening day, but every player rehabbing a major injury claims to be “on track” (or “ahead of schedule”).

Here’s what Harbaugh had to say on WBAL’s Sportsline with Brett Hollander:

“You never know about those ACLs. Even when (Washington and Webb) come back to play, if they play earlier in the year, they’re probably not going to be fully back with their strength. We have to factor that in. As the season goes along, you’ll probably see them get better and better.”

Baltimore’s other starting corner is Domonique Foxworth. Chris Carr, a return man and finesse dime back, is also no the roster, as is journeyman Travis Fisher. If Harris or Lucas sign, they’ll likely have a key role in September.

UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that the Ravens have signed Ken Hamlin to a one-year contract.

--Andy Benoit

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or