The Miami Dolphins set out in the offseason to upgrade at quarterback, and, when they traded for A.J. Feeley in March, it seemed likely that he would be the starter.
But little has gone as scripted for the Dolphins in recent weeks, and Coach Dave Wannstedt announced today that Jay Fiedler will remain the team's starter entering the season.
Feeley, acquired from Philadelphia for second-round 2005 draft choice, seemed to be leading the club's quarterback derby recently but Dolphins coaches apparently decided over the weekend that they were more comfortable sticking with Fiedler, who has a 35-17 record as a starter. Fiedler completed 20 of 33 throws for 199 yards during the four-game exhibition season, with one touchdown and no interceptions, while Feeley went 23 of 41 for 244 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception.
Wannstedt, however, likely won't hesitate to switch to Feeley if Fiedler struggles, even in Sunday's opener against the Tennessee Titans. People around the league regard Feeley as a more gifted passer but Fiedler as a better manager of an offense and a game. The Ricky Williams-less Dolphins seem likely to need their quarterback to do some bold things and win games for them rather than just avoiding mistakes, though, and such an approach is not necessarily Fiedler's strength.
Wannstedt did offer a surprise today by naming Travis Minor the starting tailback, replacing the retired Williams, entering the season, ahead of Sammy Morris. Morris had appeared to be leading the competition, but it's not like Wannstedt had any particularly appealing options. Morris has rushed for 488 yards in four NFL seasons, all with the Buffalo Bills. Minor has run for 654 yards in three seasons with the Dolphins. The two totaled 103 yards on 43 carries during the exhibition season, and a last-minute trade for a running back by Miami still is possible before the season.
Sehorn Likely to Retire
Jason Sehorn spoke to the St. Louis Rams over the weekend about a possible return, said an NFL source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Sehorn's plans are not yet official, but it appears that he will retire instead.
The Rams signed another safety -- Zack Bronson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers -- instead of Sehorn. Sehorn had seemed intent during the offseason on playing another season and drew some interest from the Carolina Panthers, but apparently has changed his mind. . . .
NFL officials are monitoring the progress and path of Hurricane Ivan and its possible effects on the Dolphins-Titans game, scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in Miami.
Quarterback Tim Couch's representatives hope the former top overall draft selection will be picked up by another team soon. He was released Sunday by the Green Bay Packers.
But Couch might have to wait until at least next week. Because he is a vested veteran, his salary would be guaranteed if he's on a team's season-opening roster. No such guarantee exists if a club signs Couch, 27, after the season begins.
The Indianapolis Colts have expressed interest and could have Couch in for a workout after Thursday night's season opener against the New England Patriots. Couch would be stuck behind Peyton Manning, hardly an ideal situation. But he was willing to sign with Green Bay knowing he would be stuck behind Brett Favre, and he is not in position to be particularly choosy at this point after failing to make the Packers' roster.
The Packers pursued Couch for much of the offseason, believing he would be a good backup for Favre and perhaps could be developed into Favre's eventual successor. But Couch was bothered by a sore arm throughout training camp and was slow to pick up Green Bay's version of the West Coast offense.
"With the tapes I watched of last year, I really thought it would work out," Packers Coach Mike Sherman said at a news conference Sunday. "And it didn't."
In retrospect, Couch might have been done in by the hard-line negotiating stance he took. The Packers tried to trade a draft choice to Cleveland for Couch soon after the Browns signed free agent Jeff Garcia in March to replace Couch as their starter. But Couch and agent Tom Condon refused to agree to a two-year contract with Green Bay, wanting to be on the free-agent market next spring. The Packers couldn't complete the trade without a reworked contract, and weren't willing to surrender a draft pick if Couch was only going to sign a one-year deal. The Browns eventually released Couch and he signed with the Packers in June, but was hurt by the offseason practice time that he missed because of the standoff.
"I think some offseason work definitely would have benefited the player," Sherman said. . . .
Joe Hamilton is Manning's backup in Indianapolis, gaining the job when Cory Sauter was released Saturday. Manning has started every game and missed one snap in his six-year NFL career. . . .
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' placement of wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, who underwent back surgery, on the reserve/non-football injury list means that he's eligible to return to the active roster after six games. . . .
Defensive end Brandon Whiting has resumed practicing with the 49ers as he works his way back from shoulder surgery. The 49ers decided to keep Whiting to complete the March trade that sent wide receiver Terrell Owens to Philadelphia, but first extended the deadline for Whiting to pass his physical from Wednesday to Sunday and extracted possible additional compensation from the Eagles. If Whiting misses one game at the outset of the season, the 49ers receive a seventh-round draft pick next year from the Eagles. If he misses two to four games at the beginning of the season, they receive a sixth-rounder. And if he misses five games or more, they get a fifth-rounder. . . .
Joey Harrington threw 38 interceptions in his first two NFL seasons, but the Detroit Lions believe the third-year pro is ready to be a winning quarterback now.
"I think you can win with Joey," team president Matt Millen said by telephone last week. "He's gotten better, and he's going to get better from here. He also realizes he's not there. Before you get there, you have to realize where there is. He's starting to realize that. He has people around him who are going to be able to make plays, so he doesn't have to do it all himself. It's been said it's a big year for him, but I think it's a big year for a lot of guys on our team.'' . . .
Safety Brock Marion and defensive end Kalimba Edwards participated in Detroit's practice Monday and should be in the lineup Sunday at Chicago as the Lions try to end their NFL-record 24-game road losing streak. Marion bruised his knee in the final preseason game, and Edwards had been sidelined by a groin injury. The Lions need both players. Marion provides veteran leadership in a retooled secondary, and Edwards could be the primary pass rusher. . . .
Every year, there is plenty of fretting by fans whose teams' designated franchise players stay away from training camp in protest. NFL coaches and executives say what they must say, and publicly scold the players for being absent. But privately, most coaches and executives don't worry about the players being away. They're top-notch, veteran players who know how to get ready for a season, and they don't face the risk of getting hurt in preseason games when they're away. The final two absent franchise players -- left tackles Orlando Pace of the Rams and Walter Jones of the Seattle Seahawks -- showed up Monday and signed their one-year contract tenders.
Oakland Raiders Coach Norv Turner even appears to be relenting and leaving open the possibility that franchise-tagged cornerback Charles Woodson will open the season in the starting lineup after maintaining upon Woodson's late arrival that he initially would be a backup. . . .
The Rams gave Pace $1 million of his $7.021 million franchise-player salary as a signing bonus. Pace is scheduled to be in the Rams' lineup Sunday against Arizona. St. Louis's patchwork offensive line also should include guards Chris Dishman and Adam Timmerman, center Andy McCollum and right tackle Grant Williams. Williams replaces Kyle Turley, who's out for the season because of recurring back problems and could be forced to retire. The Seahawks, likewise, immediately reinserted Jones into the starting lineup. . . .
Cardinals wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson have returned from injuries to resume practicing, but Coach Dennis Green isn't committing yet to allowing them to play against the Rams. . . . The Raiders aren't revealing their early-season plans for Robert Gallery just yet, but it appears that the second overall choice in the draft probably will open the season at left guard rather than left tackle. Turner is to announce his decision Friday. Rich Gannon begins the season as Oakland's starting quarterback, but Kerry Collins's strong preseason gives Turner the option of a quick switch if Gannon falters. Safety Marques Anderson could be an immediate starter for the Raiders even though he only was obtained Friday in a trade with Green Bay. The Raiders plan to split their rushing workload among their top two tailbacks, Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas, with starter Wheatley getting about two-thirds of the carries.
Vikes Counting on O. Smith
The Minnesota Vikings seem likely to have tailback Onterrio Smith available for their opening game Sunday at home against Dallas. The NFL probably won't rule on Smith's appeal of his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy until after the opener. It's good news for the Vikings, who will be without starting tailback Michael Bennett because of a knee injury. But Coach Mike Tice already has named Moe Williams to replace Bennett against the Cowboys, and has been critical of Smith for making himself unavailable when he was sorely needed. . . .
Brock Lesnar, the pro wrestling headliner who failed to make the Vikings' roster as a defensive end, has been offered a chance to play in the Canadian Football League. . . . The Colts gained a one-game roster exemption for safety Bob Sanders, the second-round selection who was the final draft choice league-wide to sign. . . . The Pittsburgh Steelers are going with Duce Staley as their starting running back. . . .
San Diego Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer named Drew Brees his starting quarterback Monday, and has veteran Doug Flutie listed ahead of rookie Philip Rivers for the No. 2 spot. It seems inevitable that Rivers will be the starter at some point this season, although Schottenheimer said Monday he feels no particular urgency to get the rookie on the field.
"I don't feel any obligation to do that any more so than I'm sure [Cincinnati Bengals Coach] Marvin Lewis felt a year ago to get [Carson] Palmer on the field," Schottenheimer said during a news conference. "My job is to win football games. And whoever gives us the best chance to win a single football game is the one that we'll attempt to put out there."
Still, Schottenheimer showed little conviction for Brees -- who's 4-16 in his last 20 starts -- by waiting so long to name him the starter even after Rivers missed the first 29 practices of training camp and the initial two preseason games because of a contract dispute. The Chargers surprised some around the league by keeping Flutie, who would count nearly $2 million against the salary cap this season after he receives a $300,000 bonus for being on the season-opening roster. Schottenheimer has four quarterbacks, including youngster Cleo Lemon, on his roster entering the season. . . . The Bengals were awarded cornerback Rashad Bauman, released by the Washington Redskins, off waivers. . . .
Quarterback Scott McBrien, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Maryland, was re-signed to Green Bay's practice squad after failing to stick on the 53-man roster when the Packers kept holdover quarterbacks Favre, Doug Pederson and Craig Nall. . . . Running back Jarrett Payton, the son of late NFL great Walter Payton, begins the season on Tennessee's practice squad. . . .
Wide receiver Johnnie Morton resumed practicing Monday for Kansas City after being sidelined by a sore Achilles tendon, a welcome sign for the Chiefs since they've been shorthanded at the position. . . . The Dolphins reached a contract agreement with defensive lineman Bryan Robinson, a former starter for Chicago released by the Bears over the weekend. His deal with the Dolphins includes incentives that, if reached, would enable him to match the $1.45 million he was to earn this season from the Bears. Robinson also drew interest from the Redskins, Patriots, Lions and Broncos. . . .
New England's 1-3 preseason was Coach Bill Belichick's first losing preseason as an NFL coach. Carolina went 4-0 in the exhibition season for a second year in a row. . . . Belichick has said Rohan Davey is his No. 2 quarterback behind Tom Brady. But he provided himself with some veteran insurance by re-signing Jim Miller on Friday, three days after cutting him. . . . Kliff Kingsbury, the young quarterback released by the Patriots when they brought back Miller, has agreed to join the New Orleans practice squad. . . .
The Buffalo Bills expect to be without safety Lawyer Milloy, who broke his forearm in a preseason game, for two games. Former starter Coy Wire is slated to fill in. . . . Travis Henry enters the season as the Bills' starter at tailback, ahead of Willis McGahee. . . .
Nine Dolphins players missed the trip to New Orleans for Friday night's preseason game against the Saints. Only defensive tackle Tim Bowens and fullback Rob Konrad were hurt. Two players (defensive tackle Larry Chester and offensive tackle Wade Smith) stayed behind to be with their pregnant wives. Five players (just-signed defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, wide receivers Chris Chambers and Antonio Freeman and tight ends John Jones and Donald Lee) missed the trip because they apparently believed the game would be canceled, as the Dolphins wanted because they didn't want to leave the Miami area with Hurricane Frances bearing down.
The Dolphins released Freeman and Jones as part of their final round of roster trims, but Wannstedt indicated the missed trip was not part of the decision. . . .
The Eagles' decision to release tailbacks Dorsey Levens and Eric McCoo leaves Reno Mahe and Thomas Tapeh backing up starter Brian Westbrook. Philadelphia signed Levens after losing Correll Buckhalter, who had been slated to share playing time with Westbrook, to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.
Tough Choice On Woodson
The Dallas Cowboys faced a tough decision on safety Darren Woodson, who thought he could return from back surgery to play in the second or third game. But the team's medical staff was uncertain about that, so the club's football decision-makers decided to place him on the physically unable to perform list. He's eligible to return to the active roster six weeks into the season -- which, for the Cowboys, means after five games because of their bye week. . . . The closest kicking competitions around the league went as expected, with Billy Cundiff beating out Matt Bryant in Dallas, youngster Lawrence Tynes prevailing over Morten Andersen in Kansas City and rookie Josh Scobee winning the job in Jacksonville over Steve Christie. . . . Tennessee likely will sign Doug Johnson, released by Jacksonville, to be its third quarterback behind Steve McNair and Billy Volek. . . .
Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich enters his first full season as an NFL starter being bothered by a sore thumb on his throwing hand. . . . The New York Giants plan to have tight end Jeremy Shockey in the lineup for Sunday's opener at Philadelphia even though Shockey missed all the preseason games. He strained a hamstring after returning from June foot surgery. . . . The status of Cleveland tailback Lee Suggs for Sunday's opener against Baltimore is unclear because of a pinched nerve in his neck. William Green would start if Suggs can't play. . . . The Vikings signed Andersen today and released kicker Brett Conway, who had just signed to replace Aaron Elling. The Giants signed Christie and released Todd France, who seemingly had outlasted Bryant and Bill Gramatica for the club's kicking job.