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Teams looking to put special back in special teams

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  • Teams looking to put special back in special teams

    Here's the latest insider stuff from Pasquarelli. Kind of overviews why the Broncos (not specifically) would be, or should be, interested in a Ted Ginn or Yamon Figurs.

    Teams looking to put special back in special teams
    By Len Pasquarelli
    Updated: April 20, 2007

    In four seasons as a starter in college, wide receiver Yamon Figurs averaged less than 25 catches per year, and scored only a dozen touchdowns from scrimmage. Those fairly modest numbers notwithstanding, the former Kansas State receiver is moving up draft boards and he likely will be a first-day selection.

    So what, besides the electrifying 4.30-second 40-time that Figurs clocked at the combine, has fueled his meteoric rise? Two words.

    Devin Hester.

    "He's kind of the guy who put the 'special' back in special teams," acknowledged Figurs, who returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in college. "He showed people how big a difference the return game could be. There's always going to be a trickle-down when a guy just explodes like he did last year. What he did definitely is helping me, because now everybody (in the league) wants a guy like Hester, if they can find one."

    The impact that Hester had on the Chicago Bears in 2006, and the fact the NFL is such a copycat league, certainly has upgraded the draft stock of several prospects in the 2007 talent pool. Hester returned three punts, two kickoffs and a failed field goal for touchdowns in his rookie season with the Bears. He averaged 12.8 yards per punt return and 26.4 yards on kickoff runbacks, and scored on the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XL.

    That scintillating performance has helped elevate return men in the eyes of scouts this year.

    Among the draft prospects whose stock will be somewhat enhanced by their return skills: wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (Ohio State), Steve Breaston (Michigan), Jacoby Jones (Lane University) and Figurs, cornerback Aaron Ross (Texas) and tailback Selvin Young (Texas).

    Some of those players might even rate an edge over Hester because they can contribute to their NFL teams as guys who line up from scrimmage. Remember, when the Bears chose Hester in the second round of the 2006 draft, he was a player without a position. He played wide receiver and defensive back at the University of Miami but never really established himself on either side of the ball. With the Bears, he played nickel cornerback at times, but the Chicago coaches will experiment with Hester at wide receiver this spring in an attempt to get him onto the field and increase his touches.

    Most of the premier return men in the 2007 draft, however, originally drew interest for their talents as positional players. Ross and Ginn, for instance, are first-round prospects because of their performances at cornerback and wide receiver, respectively. But it's hard to ignore, each player conceded, how they can affect a game with their explosive return skills.

    "And it got harder to ignore because of what Hester did," said Ginn, who tied an NCAA career record with six combined punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns. "The potential to turn a game around, and quickly, with a big return … he really emphasized it. He was, like, a guy with a lot of questions around him coming out (of college) and he turned himself into an exclamation point. Teams know now how critical the return game can be. Everybody always tells you, 'The more you can do, the more they're going to want you.' Returning kicks is a big deal now, thanks to Hester."

    It's that do-it-all element that has helped boost Figurs' stock. Although still regarded as a very raw wide receiver, he did average 16.6 yards per catch at Kansas State, and his speed is eye-opening. In addition to returning kicks, Figurs often played as the gunner on punt coverage units, the outside containment man, and registered 19 tackles in that role.

    "I've tried to take it one step further," Figurs said. "I love returning kicks and I don't mind making a tackle on the kickoff or punt (coverage) teams. I mean, Hester has opened a door for guys like me. I'm going to do whatever I can to open it even wider."

    Around The League

    • Bush sends out doctor's note: Despite a letter from Dr. James Andrews to all 32 franchises, in which the renowned orthopedic surgeon buttresses the rehabilitation of Michael Bush, the Louisville tailback still isn't likely to be drafted before the third round. The letter will have some bearing, because Andrews is so highly regarded by NFL teams, but the fact remains that most clubs still prefer to have their own orthopedics specialists examine injured players. Projected as a likely first-round choice at the beginning of last season, Bush broke his right leg in the season opener against Kentucky and missed the rest of the campaign, then had a second surgery this spring to insert a new titanium rod into the leg. The upshot is that Bush has been unable to work out at all for scouts, and so there are still holes in his résumé and questions about when he will be physically whole again. Bush's agent, Todd France, wisely sent a video to all 32 teams, with Andrews' letter, showing the tailback going though an on-field workout. But the workout isn't a combine-style or pro day type of regimen, and scouts always prefer eyeballing a prospect in person. Some team, perhaps the Atlanta Falcons, where former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino knows Bush well, is probably going to take a flier on him in the third round. And that team, if Bush is ready for training camp, might get one of the biggest steals in the entire draft. But even with Andrews' imprimatur and the video, teams remain a little leery of Bush.

    • Don't rule out a RB being traded: It's looking increasingly like tailback Michael Turner, the much-coveted backup to San Diego star LaDainian Tomlinson, might remain with the Chargers for another year, rather than be traded. The two franchises most interested in trying to pry Turner away, Buffalo and Tennessee, remain in contact with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, but a deal does not seem imminent.

    That doesn't mean, however, there won't be a prominent tailback deal before or during the draft. There continue to be rumblings that a few teams have inquired about the availability of Dallas starter Julius Jones, who has rushed for 2,896 yards in three seasons and is coming off a 2006 campaign in which he posted a career-best 1,084 yards. It's not the first time such rumors have surrounded Jones, with talk before last year's draft that he might be swapped to the New York Jets. Jones is a tough, pinball-style runner, but there are concerns about his long-term durability. And while backup Marion Barber III hasn't yet carried more than 150 times in a season, the suspicion is that some Dallas officials feel he is ready to take over the No. 1 role.

  • #2

    • Redskins on the move ... down? Because they have researched what it will take to move up or back from their current No. 6 slot in the first round, and because owner Dan Snyder is rarely inclined to just stand pat, the Washington Redskins remain a wild card in the early portion of the draft. Popular opinion is that Washington would like to make a foray up the draft board, like into the No. 2 slot, to pluck Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech. But don't be surprised if the Redskins' quest for a wide receiver to complement Santana Moss actually results in a move back in the first round. Sources told that the Redskins were in Baton Rouge earlier this week checking out LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Redskins are interested enough in Bowe to have brought along starting quarterback Jason Campbell to throw to him.

    • Houston tackles tackle issue: In an attempt to find a left tackle to protect the blindside of recently acquired quarterback Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans have given themselves plenty of options. The team re-upped nine-year veteran Ephraim Salaam, whose résumé include 113 starts, including 14 starting nods a year ago. Houston signed four-year veteran Jordan Black, who still has plenty of potential, away from Kansas City as a restricted free agent. And there's a chance second-year veteran Eric Winston, a highly regarded third-round choice in the 2006 draft, could be moved to the left side. There's considerable speculation as well that the Texans could grab Levi Brown with the 10th overall choice in the draft, if the Penn State left tackle is still on the board at that point. One potential irony there: Atlanta, which moved up two spots into Houston's original No. 8 slot in the first round as part of the Schaub trade, could snatch Brown before he drops into the Texans' laps.

    But here's a novel thought not many people are discussing: There is still a chance that Houston's starting left tackle in 2007 might be the same guy who opened the 2006 season for the Texans at the key position. Charles Spencer started the first two games for the Texans as a rookie in '06 before suffering a fractured left tibia. There have been reports that Spencer might never play again, but that isn't what his doctor is telling him, with the former University of Pittsburgh standout actually ahead of schedule in his recovery. There is still no definitive timetable for Spencer to return to the field, but there is some guarded optimism he could be nearly rehabilitated around the start of training camp, which would represent a remarkable comeback. After battling weight problems in the past, Spencer has kept himself in pretty good shape despite the leg injury, and recently checked in at a relatively svelte (for him) 325 pounds. Assistant head coach Mike Sherman, who handles much of the offensive line duties, has told Spencer he's still the guy, if healthy. So while a lot of people seem to be ready to write off Spencer entirely, it appears the Houston coaching staff isn't among them.

    • Who's No. 2? Offensive tackle Joe Thomas of Wisconsin might be the second-safest pick in the entire draft, after Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but the feeling isn't quite unanimous among league scouts. And that's probably a factor of two elements: First, Thomas is one of those players who seems to have been over-scrutinized, a player so good scouts felt compelled to uncover some warts. Second, teams remember Robert Gallery, the second overall choice in the 2004 draft, a supposed can't-miss tackle, but a guy who has struggled mightily in his three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Thomas is a sure-fire top five pick, but there are actually a few teams now that feel Penn State tackle Levi Brown, if he can stay motivated, will be the better NFL player. And Joe Staley of Central Michigan, a former tight end with tremendous feet, is regarded as the tackle prospect who might have the best upside in three or four years.

    • Colts refuse to be cornered: The early read is that the Indianapolis Colts, who don't have to make a decision on Jason David until late next Friday, will not match the four-year offer sheet the starting cornerback signed with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday afternoon. The deal is worth $16.5 million and is severely frontloaded, with $6.5 million in compensation in the first year and a 2007 salary cap charge of $5.5 million. All those numbers would be tough swallow for the Colts, who made David a one-year qualifying offer at the lowest level, $850,000, to retain a right of first refusal on him.

    The Colts like David a lot, and eliciting just a fourth-round pick in return for a guy they drafted, nurtured and developed in their system is a difficult tradeoff. But the Indianapolis coaches, in part because of the Tampa-2 scheme the Colts play, don't value cornerbacks the same way some teams do. Coach Tony Dungy once noted: "The further away from the ball you get, for us, the less your (financial) value." In any Tampa-2 scheme, including the one Indianapolis plays, cornerbacks don't have to be great cover defenders. That's not to diminish the value of David, who is a terrific young player whose potential departure is compounded by the exit of the team's other starting corner, Nick Harper, to Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent. The Colts don't panic, though, and as noted here in the past, general manager Bill Polian and Dungy trust their drafts more than most guys in their positions.

    Indianapolis has three young corners it has been grooming, all of them chosen in the first two rounds of the past two drafts, and Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings are all going to get a chance now to step up when the Colts convene for minicamp on May 18. Jackson, recall, clinched the AFC championship game comeback over New England with an interception. Hayden had an interception that he returned 56 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI. And Jennings, despite a lack of size and an ankle injury that severely limited his contribution as a rookie, is a good prospect as well. Plus, the Colts still have the upcoming draft in which they might further address the cornerback position. If the Colts don't match the offer sheet on David, he definitely will be missed, but Indianapolis will move on. Because it's just what the Colts do.

    • The list: He probably won't be chosen until somewhere in the middle rounds but, of the quarterbacks in this year's draft pool, Chris Leak of Florida owns the most victories at the college level. The top 10 quarterbacks in terms of wins: Leak, 35; Jared Zabransky, Boise State, 33; Tyler Thigpen, Coastal Carolina, 30; Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech, 29; Brady Quinn, Notre Dame, 29; John Stocco, Wisconsin, 29; Kevin Kolb, Houston, 26; Troy Smith, Ohio State, 25; JaMarcus Russell, LSU, 25; Jeff Rowe, Nevada, 23.

    • Stat of the week: The Dallas Cowboys haven't selected an offensive player in the first round of the draft since taking tight end David LaFleur of Louisiana Tech in 1997. That's nine straight drafts, the longest in modern history, without a first-round offensive performer. Dallas didn't have first-round selections in 2000, 2001 and 2004. In the other drafts since tabbing LaFleur, their first-round picks were defensive end Greg Ellis (1998), defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban (1999), safety Roy Williams (2002), cornerback Terence Newman (2003), linebacker DeMarcus Ware (2005), defensive end Marcus Spears (2005) and linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2006).

    • The last word: "He had his own way. He was never a big verbal guy. He was worthy of emulation. Everything he did, there was an air of class about it. Everything. It didn't matter what it was. His presence in the locker room, the meeting room, the practice field. If you lose character, you lose teams. He was the character of that organization, definitely. The squeaky wheel always gets the oil. He never squeaked."
    -- Former Kansas City coach **** Vermeil on guard Will Shields, who retired last Sunday after 14 seasons with the Chiefs, and 12 Pro Bowl appearances .

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at


    • #3
      I want Yamon Figurs on our team so bad. I just don't know if he's worth a third round pick, and we don't have any fourth or fifth. I guess the Bears took Devin Hester in the second for his return skills. He probably has less non-special teams value than Figurs.


      • #4
        Originally posted by ballen
        I want Yamon Figurs on our team so bad. I just don't know if he's worth a third round pick, and we don't have any fourth or fifth. I guess the Bears took Devin Hester in the second for his return skills. He probably has less non-special teams value than Figurs.
        I'm actually wary of him, because when I watched his 40, his legs looked like toothpicks. He certainly would be a fast enough returner, but the likelihood of injury dissuades me.


        • #5
          I think we have several players ready to help out on STs. The FB Smith, Hixon and Todd back at punter. Hopefully a healthy Brandon and Fergy helps too.

          R Ayers - B Cofield - A Haynesworth - CJ ohnson
          J Anderson - J Beason - DJ Williams
          R Bailey - P Amukamara - R Hill - A Goodman


          • #6
            Originally posted by ballen
            I want Yamon Figurs on our team so bad. I just don't know if he's worth a third round pick, and we don't have any fourth or fifth. I guess the Bears took Devin Hester in the second for his return skills. He probably has less non-special teams value than Figurs.

            Give me a good reason to draft Figurs....Pah Leez

            He's a buck 65 and no real return experience


            • #7
              Originally posted by 22cannon
              Give me a good reason to draft Figurs....Pah Leez

              He's a buck 65 and no real return experience

              No real return experience? He had 3 TDs last year on returns and had another one that was down to the 8. I think you guys should stick with quincy tho