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NFL Insider

Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Columnist
Tuesday, September 5, 2006 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Mark Maske writes the

NFL Insider

blog, providing the latest news from around the league. With the kickoff of a new season looming, he was online Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions.

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Rob, Naperville, Ill.: Mark, what do you make of Coach Gibbs's comments regarding the backup quarterback?

Mark Maske: First of all, hello to everyone and thanks for coming to chat. We'll be doing this every Tuesday at this time throughout the season.

What Gibbs did with the backup quarterback situation is somewhat in line with what I thought the Redskins would do. I thought they'd go with Collins if Brunell was out short-term, meaning a game or two, and with Campbell if Brunell was going to be out longer than that. They condensed it even further with Gibbs saying that Collins would only finish a game and Campbell would start with a week to get ready. But that's the way of today's NFL. If you use a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, he plays.

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Fairfax, Va.: Since you get to travel and visit the various NFL teams, which heads your list of teams coming out of training camp looking like playoff and perhaps Super Bowl contenders this year? Would you call the preseason games strictly "red herrings" or does it show you and us something?

Mark Maske: You just can't put too much stock into what you see in these camps and during these preseason games. Only every once in a while does something that happens at this time of the year end up mattering.

I still think what I thought going into training camp, that the Colts are the class of the AFC and the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, Panthers and Seahawks all are about equal at the top of the NFC.

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Two second-strings: Yeah but...

Who gets the practice reps every week ? Usually, the second-string guy gets some and the third-string virtually nothing.

So if Brunell goes down in week eight, say, Campbell will be starting with one week of reps after next to nothing for two months ?

Or will Campbell be getting the reps and then Collins will enter a game without any reps?

Mark Maske: Your assessment of how the reps are divided, under normal circumstances, is accurate. But given the unique way they've set this up, I'd guess they will come up with a unique way to divide the practice reps and make sure Campbell gets some. The attraction to signing Collins in the offseason was that he already knew the offense, and all you're talking about is finishing a game.

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Alabama: How do you see Pittsburgh-Miami shaking out Thursday night? I know losing Big Ben is a blow for the Steelers, but Charlie Batch is a decent quarterback -- after all, he led the Lions to their last winning season.

Mark Maske: The Steelers went 2-0 with Batch as the starter last season, and they're still an excellent team. But I think Miami could be quite good, and I might be leaning toward saying the Dolphins will win that game now that Roethlisberger is out.

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20165: Predict the finish of the NFC East, please.

Mark Maske: Wow, not easy. For now, I'll say Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, Eagles. But I'm not saying it with any degree of certainty. Between the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants, I think any one of them could end up a Super Bowl team. The law of averages says that one of them will fall apart, but I don't know which one. I think the Eagles, after getting Donte' Stallworth, could be an above-.500 team. This is just a terrific division.

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Houston: How IRONIC. The Texans pass on a two-time Rose Bowl MVP in the draft (Vince Young) and then pick up a two-time Rose Bowl MVP on the waiver wire (Ron Dayne). And that's not all! The Texans pass on a Heisman Trophy-winning running back in the draft (Reggie Bush) and then pick up a Heisman Trophy-winning running back on the waiver wire (Ron Dayne).

Are these guys geniuses or what?!?!?!

I don't expect the Texans will be very good this year. But I do expect Ron Dayne to rush for over 1,200 yards.

What do you forecast for Gary Kubiak's first season as a head coach?

Mark Maske: I would not have passed up Reggie Bush for the first pick. But I think Kubiak had great confidence, based on his experiences in Denver, that he could find a running back to plug into this system and rush for 1,200 yards. The problem with that thinking is that he now has the Texans' offensive line, not the Broncos' offensive line. I think they're a bad team and passing on Reggie Bush could end up being an all-time gaffe.

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Foggy Bottom: The more preseason football I watched, the more I agreed with Wilbon. Since starting players don't (and shouldn't, because of injury risk) play that much in preseason, these games don't tell you much about what a team is capable of doing. Nevertheless, as a Ravens fan, I'm a little concerned that Steve McNair seems to be having a difficult time meshing with the "new" system. I still think he's the right guy for the moment, but can you give some insight into this process for the Ravens?

Mark Maske: I do think he's the right guy for the moment, but ideally the Titans would have treated one of their all-time players with a little more respect and he would have gotten to the Ravens a little earlier instead of being involved in that silly dispute over whether he could get into the training facility in Tennessee. All that time during the offseason that he missed by not being with the Ravens is the problem now, and it could be a month or two into the season before he's able to catch up.

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Cody, Wyo.: Even if the starting quarterbacks ahead of them avoid injury and remain healthy, which backup do you foresee being promoted to take over first this season? Jason Campbell in Washington? Vince Young in Tennessee? Or Tony Romo in Dallas?

Mark Maske: Vince Young will play a little bit in every game, I think, right from the beginning, and he'll probably end up being the starter by the end of the season because that's a team going nowhere and there's no reason not to give him time to play and learn. Other than that, it's just the luck of the draw because I don't see Campbell or Romo being a starter this season unless Brunell or Bledsoe gets hurt.

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New York: Can you explain what all this national hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys is about? It seems just about every prognosticator has them winning the NFC East and going deep into the playoffs. I can't see why. Yes, they have a good defense, but they also have a statue for a QB, no RB that instills fear in opposing defenses and a questionable offensive line. Is the hype based solely on T.O.?

Mark Maske: Yes, all those things are true. But they still added perhaps the best wide receiver in the sport to a team that went 9-7 last season. I think it all comes down to their offensive line. To me, Bledsoe is good enough and Julius Jones is good enough if they get even average blocking in front of them, and the defense could be very good if the young players continue a normal development.

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Arlington, Va.: Will Cleveland make significant strides in its second season under Romeo Crennel? On paper, it seems the Browns have some pieces in place but are still lacking in a bunch of other areas.

Mark Maske: They will be an interesting team to watch if Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow can stay healthy and on the field. But they still have a young quarterback in Charlie Frye and they lost their big addition on the offensive line when LeCharles Bentley got hurt, so they still have a ways to go before they're good. If I'm then, I'm just hoping to show some signs of improvement this season and then hope I can reach .500 or better next season.

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Philadelphia: I think you are discounting the Eagles too much. Don't forget, they have something to prove this year.

Mark Maske: I don't know that I'm discounting them as much as I'm saying I think two of the other three teams in the division will end up being excellent teams. I like the Eagles. They're solid on both the offensive and defensive lines, which not too many teams can say. You can't help but like McNabb as a quarterback when he's healthy. They're extremely well-coached, and I like the Stallworth trade. As I said, I think they can be above .500. But I still think they come up a little bit short by not having a 20-carry-a-game running back and not having a No. 1 wide receiver if Stallworth doesn't develop into that, and I think the up sides of the other teams of their division are higher.

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Northern New Jersey: Thanks for taking these questions.

With all these diva receivers (Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress, Chad Johnson, etc.) I'm curious when it all started, and who began the diva-as-receiver era.

I don't remember guys like Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, Stallworth, Branch, Carmichael, being divas.

My theory is Jerry Rice might have started it when he talked about not getting any commercials after being the Super Bowl MVP against Cincinnati.

Your thoughts?

Mark Maske: Michael Irvin, perhaps?

Maybe he's the guy that these guys grew up wanting to be.

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Brandywine, Md.: Most everyone agrees that the game is won or lost in the trenches. Other than adding Andre Carter to improve the pass rush, what did the Redskins do to strengthen the offensive and defensive lines? And how is that working out?

Mark Maske: To me, the most alarming thing I saw about the Redskins' play during the preseason was the poor blocking on offense. Even if you're not game-planning for anyone, you still should be able to line up and block the guy in front of you on a somewhat consistent basis, and they didn't do that. But this group has the personnel to be a very good offensive line, and I will continue to think they're going to be that until I see otherwise in the regular season.

On defense, they have found ways since Gregg Williams has been in Washington to get to quarterbacks, through their scheme, without standout individual pass rushers. Again, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt that they'll be able to do that once more until I see something in regular season games that shows they can't.

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Fairfax, Va.: Bill Parcells appears down right surly when plopped down in front of a row of mics. How is he in person? Is the tough guy act just that, an act?

Mark Maske: You know, it's actually kind of enjoyable. He takes as well as gives. He sits up there and answers every question, and much of what he says is very insightful. That's how he's different from a Bill Belichick or an Eric Mangini. If you're in my business, you walk away from a Bill Parcells press conference with a bunch of great stuff in your notebook.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi,

One of the big stories in the NFL obviously is still Deion Branch. Do you think it's a lost cause? Hard to see him coming back in time to make a difference, and the team doesn't want to trade him. I think he blew it.

Mark Maske: I think the Patriots granted Branch permission to seek a trade hoping that he wouldn't find a team willing to give him more than the $6 million a year the Patriots were offering him in a contract extension. That way, Branch would have no choice but to end his holdout and report to the Patriots, whether he signed an extension with them or not.

As it turned out, Branch found two teams, the Jets and Seahawks, willing to give him a contract he liked. So the Patriots, in my view, miscalculated on that.

But that doesn't mean that the leverage isn't still with the Patriots. I can't imagine that the Patriots would have told Branch's agent, as Branch's agent claims, that they would be locked into trading him if they received an offer equivalent to what other teams were getting for comparable players. My guess is they told the agent they'd trade Branch if they got what they considered a good offer. The Patriots are too smart to turn over control of trading one of their players to someone else. The arbitration becomes a he-said, he-said sort of deal, and I have a hard time imagining the agent, the player and the union prevailing. To me, once this arbitration case is settled, the situation is going to be exactly the same as it is right now, a stare-down between the Patriots and Branch.

But if and when he comes back, there's no reason he can't step right back into the lineup and be productive. There's nothing new he has to learn. He has great chemistry with Brady and his issues are with the management of the team, not his teammates.

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Columbia, Md.: Mark,

Unlike most fans, you don't seem concerned by the 'Skins' lackluster preseason effort. Can I ask you why?

Mark Maske: I just think you generally have to discount what you see in the preseason. Now, when I covered the Redskins, there was a year when a terrible preseason was a precursor to a terrible start to the season, in 2001 with Marty Schottenheimer coaching. But more times than not, there's little or no correlation.

What the Redskins seem to believe is that once they get to the regular season and everyone starts coaching for real, they will be able to out-coach other teams. Now, maybe that's arrogant of them, and maybe it won't work out that way. But if you're Dan Snyder, you certainly have a right to expect your coaches to out-coach some people, given what you're paying these guys.

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Berryville, Va.: Mark,

I am a Redskins fan and their QB situation scares me. I am concerned we are going to see a bunch of 125-yard, no-interception games from Mark Brunell. The perfect QB would have Brunell's experience, Collins's knowledge of the offense and Campbell's body.

What do you foresee this year from the 'Skins' QB situation?

Mark Maske: The quarterback situation should scare you a little bit if you're a Redskins fan. Brunell is at the point in his career where it's probably unreasonable to expect him to be able to get through an entire season and playoffs without having some injury that's going to affect his level of play significantly. The bad luck the Redskins had last season was that he was hurting and his play fell off at the end of the season, in the games that mattered the most.

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Washington, D.C.: Everyone seems to want to buy the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals as the "breakout" teams of the season. I'm not buying either of these. Arizona has no offensive line to block for Warner and a very suspect defense. Detroit has no QB and a very questionable defense.

Who do you think will be the "breakout" team of 2006-07?

Mark Maske: I keep getting fooled year after year on the Lions, and I was among those fooled on the Cardinals last season. I do think the Cardinals will be respectable this season. How about the Saints as the most improved team, with Brees and Reggie Bush?

I've got to run, folks, but it's been fun and I'll see you right here next week at this time.

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