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Game On!
PETER KING
August 06, 2007
As NFL camps cranked up and the heat bore down, the pressure was on the newcomers to show they're ready to make a difference
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August 06, 2007

Game On!

As NFL camps cranked up and the heat bore down, the pressure was on the newcomers to show they're ready to make a difference

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It's unlikely that in Fairchild's multiple-formation offense Lynch will touch the ball 400 times in a season as Tomlinson does. (The seventh-year vet Anthony Thomas should get 100 to 125 carries.) But with his explosiveness--as a Cal junior in 2006, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 9.6 yards per reception--and the bulked-up offensive line, Lynch will get his shot at becoming the versatile back Buffalo hasn't had since Thomas in the mid-1990s. He has to make that kind of impact for the Bills to contend in the AFC East.

Anytime a quarterback is directing a new offense for a new team that has a new coach, the smallest achievements in his first training-camp practice have meaning. And last Saturday morning in Davie, Fla., the summer home of the Dolphins, Trent Green was pleased--no, thrilled--that in the 36 snaps he took in offense-versus-defense drills, no player on his side of the ball made a mental error. "People are going to hear that and say, 'You mean he's excited just because his guys lined up right and ran the right plays?' " Green said afterward. "But it's the first thing you've got to do on the road to being successful."

It has been eight years since Dan Marino retired and left a gaping hole at quarterback in Miami. The successors--Fiedler Feeley, Culpepper--have proved inadequate. And Green, 37, acquired from the Chiefs in June for a 2008 fifth-round pick, is hardly a sure thing. After suffering a severe concussion in Week 1 last season, he missed eight games because of headaches and wasn't very efficient after he returned. Last weekend he pronounced himself "as ready to play as I've ever been in my career." What's more, the Dolphins have a top�five defense that will help minimize the need for Marino-style heroics. What Miami wants is a quarterback who moves the chains, completes 65% of his throws and doesn't make mistakes.

Green was that caliber from 2002 through '05, when he connected on 63.4% of his throws and averaged less than one interception per game. The Dolphins need him to put together another season or two like that while first-year coach Cam Cameron schools rookie quarterback John Beck, a second-round pick out of Brigham Young. At the same time Miami wants to take advantage of having end Jason Taylor and linebackers Zach Thomas and Joey Porter at its defensive core for the one or two quality years they will play together.

"From what I've seen," Cameron said, "[ Green's] footwork is as good as it's been, he still gets the ball out quickly, and his accuracy's there." But Green hasn't been hit yet. The big test could come in Week�2, when the Dolphins' inexperienced offensive line goes against the Cowboys--in particular, pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who could wreak havoc on Green and Miami's season.

"People forget that prior to that concussion I started more than 80 games in a row and took some pretty good punishment," says Green. "I get hit one time, and all of a sudden I'm fragile? I'm not buying it. I like this situation because I get a chance to prove myself all over again in a new place."

Vacationing at his regular summer spot in Falmouth, Mass., last week, Colts president Bill Polian was on his way to a Cape Cod League baseball game when his cellphone rang. It was Tarik Glenn, Indy's 31-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl left tackle. "I'm going to retire," Glenn said. No more baseball game for Polian.

"It's just another example of why you have to steel yourself in this day and age," Polian said last Saturday, "that every year your team is going to change--and in a meaningful way. We won the Super Bowl on February�4, and it seems like on February�6 the deconstruction period began. What we strive to do is never be shocked by anything, and to lay the groundwork 12 months a year so we're ready when things like this happen."

Certainly Peyton Manning is the main reason for the Colts' success in the Polian era. But another factor is the consistent and dispassionate way in which Polian moves personnel. Every year he lets some good free agents go-- Edgerrin James in 2006, starting cornerbacks Nick Harper and Jason David this year--and pays the players he believes he can't do without. Manning and All-Pro wideout Marvin Harrison got big contracts in 2004, and just before training camp began this summer defensive end Dwight Freeney signed a six-year, $72�million deal that included a $15�million signing bonus and another $15�million option bonus to be paid in February.

As for Glenn, who had protected Manning's blind side for 151 of the quarterback's 157 games as a pro? "His contract was up next year, and he was continuing to have weight issues that apparently weren't going away," said Polian. That's why he went mining for a tackle in the 2007 draft and found one he liked: Tony Ugoh of Arkansas, a 6' 5" 305-pounder with two years of starting experience in a pro-style offense and the quick feet necessary to play left tackle in the NFL. Problem was, other teams liked Ugoh just as much. So on draft day Polian gave up next year's first-round pick for the 49ers' second-round pick that afternoon, the 42nd overall, and snapped up Ugoh. "He's the first player in years who could play that position and that we could actually get," Polian said. Ugoh will compete with second-year tackle Charlie Johnson for the job on the left side; both will benefit from Manning's quick release, which buys them time to become familiar with the league's weakside pass rushers.

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