• Call it a wakeup call, both literally and figuratively, for Tennessee Titans
second-year defensive end Antwan Odom
. Prompted by the death of Reggie White last December, and fearing the potential consequences for his own health, Odom this week underwent surgery to treat a sleep apnea disorder. Odom, 23, has suffered from sleep apnea for several years and has worn a nasal mask at night to help him breathe. Sleep apnea, which contributed to White's death at age 43, is characterized by multiple interruptions in breathing while a person sleeps. The interruptions, in which the airway collapses and prevents air from reaching the lungs, can last for as long as 10 seconds and may occur five or more times an hour.
"I think it scared me straight," Odom said of White's death. "Once I heard that it [contributed] to Reggie dying, I knew I had to do something. It was always a nuisance, but Reggie [dying] took it to another level for me. It became more serious then and it definitely hit close to home."
A physical exam revealed Odom had abnormal tonsils, which were removed as part of the surgery. Studies have suggested that men between the ages of 20-29 who suffer from severe sleep apnea have 10 times the risk of dying from heart-related ailments than similarly aged men who don't.
Titans officials hope the surgery will also give Odom, a second-round choice in the 2004 draft, an increased energy level this season. Their rationale is that the former Alabama star, who played in all 16 games and started seven in 2004, will be considerably fresher now with the benefit of improved sleep. Odom posted 45 tackles, two sacks and 11 hurries last season.
• On the subject of Tennessee defensive ends, the early returns are positive for the Titans and Kyle Vanden Bosch
, who signed as an unrestricted free agent after four star-crossed seasons with the Arizona Cardinals
. At least to this point, the Titans have received the kind of leadership and high-motor hustle they anticipated when they signed Vanden Bosch to a minimum deal, with a base salary of $540,000 and a modest $25,000 signing bonus.
The coaches have been impressed by Vanden Bosch, who, despite being just 26, is the elder statesman of the Tennessee defensive line. Impressed enough, in fact, that Vanden Bosch, the 34th player chosen overall in the 2001 draft, has been running with the first unit at times. Recommended by linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, the former Nebraska star has twice come back from anterior cruciate ligament tears and is attempting to salvage a once-bright career. Vanden Bosch tore his right ACL three games into his rookie season then missed the entire 2003 campaign after blowing out his left knee. In all, he has appeared in only six more games than he's missed. But his 35 appearances are only one fewer than the combined regular-season games of the nine other ends on the roster, and his 20 starts are nine more than the group has accumulated.
Vanden Bosch has just four career sacks, but that doesn't reflect the kind of off-the-edge quickness he exhibited early in his career. Whether he can get back to that form remains to be seen. But with such a young corps of ends – none, beyond Vanden Bosch, has more than one season of NFL experience – he is going to get every opportunity to win a job.
• One reason the Bears felt comfortable in releasing cornerback R.W. McQuarters
three weeks ago, beyond the fact Chicago officials weren't going to shell out a salary of more than $3 million for a player who hadn't bought into coach Lovie Smith's program, was the coaching staff's confidence second-year veteran Nathan Vasher
will improve on his rookie season. And Vasher, a fourth-round choice from Texas whose draft stock slipped because of pedestrian 40-yard times, was very good in 2004.
There were 13 cornerbacks chosen ahead of Vasher, who didn't go off the board until the 110th selection overall. Only two of them (first-rounders Dunta Robinson
of Houston and Chris Gamble
of Carolina), had more interceptions than Vasher's five. In fact, there were just a half-dozen cornerbacks league-wide with more interceptions. Vasher doesn't have great long speed, but his quickness and burst to the ball are exceptional, and he possesses a big-play mentality. One pro personnel man for another NFC team opined that Vasher, who enjoyed an excellent offseason, already is one of the NFL's top 10 "nickel" corners.
• It isn't known yet if former Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs
after he spent the spring in NFL Europe trying to learn to play safety, wants to continue his pursuit of a professional football career. After all, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner has retired once, and after reconsidering that move, been released three times. What is clear, though, is that the Toronto Argonauts, who hold his CFL negotiating rights, would like Crouch to think about coming north. They would also like him to consider reviving his career as a quarterback. "I'd like to get a look at him," Toronto director of personnel Greg Mohns said. "And specifically as a quarterback. I know he's said that he is finished playing quarterback, and that he considers himself a safety now, but we still feel like he could go back (to quarterback)."
A third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams
in '02, Crouch went to camp as a wide receiver. He hasn't played much quarterback since a stint in Green Bay's training camp in 2003. The Argonauts are looking down the road, though, and admit they can offer Crouch the luxury of relocating his comfort zone at the position, and of eventually playing in a league perhaps better suited to his skill set. The incumbent quarterback for the Argos is the legendary Damon Allen, now 42 years old, but not yet ready to leave the game. Their backup is Michael Bishop
"We know it might take some time for (Crouch) to get back in the (quarterback) groove, but we've got the time to allow him to do that, if he wants," Mohns said.
• It wasn't many days into his New York Jets
tenure that teammates bestowed a nickname on free safety Jon McGraw
, the team's second-round choice in 2002. "The Natural," they dubbed him, and with good reason. At least from a physical standpoint, the former Kansas State star was certainly the football embodiment of the baseball movie's fictional Roy Hobbs and easily passed the "eyeball test." Long and rangy, and with prototype size and movement skills, it appeared McGraw was destined for stardom. But in three seasons, McGraw has logged only eight starts, has missed 15 games to injury, posted only three interceptions and is rehabilitating from offseason groin surgery. The upshot: With a lot of young safeties on the roster, and even after the recent release of Reggie Tongue
, team officials privately concede that it's time now for McGraw to step up.
For now, McGraw is listed No. 1 at free safety, teamed with second-year pro Erik Coleman
, the fifth-round pick who was one of the steals of the 2004 draft. But the New York coaches also like second-year veteran Rashad Washington
and a pair or rookies, fourth-round pick Kerry Rhodes
of Louisville and fifth-rounder Andre Maddox
from North Carolina State. McGraw needs to first prove he can stay healthy then demonstrate he can make plays.
• Last week in this space, we noted the number of older, veteran quarterbacks who still don't have jobs lined up for training camp, and who might have to wait until an injury creates an opening. This week, the focus is on veteran free agent tailbacks in the same predicament. There is a quartet of older backs – Eddie George
(31), Tyrone Wheatley
(33), Garrison Hearst
(34) and Dorsey Levens
(35) – still looking for work.
Led by George's 10,441 career yards, the four have rushed for an aggregate 16.1 miles, and scored 174 touchdowns. None is capable of being a lead tailback anymore, but all offer great leadership and tutoring skills and the opportunity to add a guy who knows the ropes for a minimum salary. Levens rushed for 410 yards on 94 carries to bail out the Philadelphia Eagles
last season, when injuries decimated the tailback depth chart. It's all but a given, by the way, that George will not return to Tennessee to finish his career with the franchise that brought him into the league. The Titans will either go with a very inexperienced corps of tailbacks behind starter Chris Brown
or trade for Buffalo's Travis Henry
• Among the first items Dave Wannstedt addressed when he took over at the University of Pittsburgh four months ago was the need to re-establish a recruiting connection between the Panthers and the top Western Pennsylvania prospects. If this week was an indication, the former Miami Dolphins
coach is going to mine plenty of backyard talent for his alma mater.
Unlike predecessor Walt Harris, who embraced a more global but fundamentally flawed recruiting philosophy that alienated many of the area's top prep coaches and sometimes ignored viable local prospects, Wannstedt is selling the Pitt program at home first.
His pitch, it appears, is a solid one. This week alone, Wannstedt received verbal commitments from six western Pennsylvania prospects. That raised to 11 the number of commitments for the 2006 recruiting class (eight from western Pennsylvania). No matter what his critics thought of Wannstedt as an NFL head coach, the one universal in assessing him was that he is a terrific guy, a down-to-earth person who connects with people. That trait has been obvious so far in his brief tenure at Pitt and it will serve the Panthers well.
• As first reported by the Sports Business Journal, the NFL has awarded the Indianapolis Colts
and Dallas Cowboys
a total of $110.5 million in so-called "G-3" funding for their respective new stadiums. The Cowboys received $76.5 million toward the $650 million stadium in Arlington, Texas, that is expected to be ready for the 2009 season. The Colts got $34 million for the $450 million facility just south of the downtown RCA Dome. The awards mean a total of $773.5 million has been doled out in G-3 funding to 10 clubs since the program was created in 1999.
League owners, with only Cincinnati dissenting, approved the funding at an NFL meeting nearly three weeks ago. But the awards, which come from the visitors' share of club-seat revenue and from a $1 million-per-team annual assessment from national television revenues, could be among the last doled out. The G-3 program is under scrutiny as part of the battle over a new revenue-sharing model for the league, one that would address the widening disparity between the eight highest-revenue franchises and the rest of the clubs. The next in a series of five meetings on revenue sharing will take place Aug. 10-11 in Chicago, with commissioner Paul Tagliabue dividing owners into four groups, based on divisions, in an effort to create some momentum in what has been a stalled process.
• Talk about a statistical oddity: With the release of Tongue two weeks ago, the Jets' roster is now without any of the players who scored points for the team in its two 2004 playoff contests. In a wild card victory over San Diego and then the divisional-round loss at Pittsburgh, the Jets scored four touchdowns: two by wideout Santana Moss
(on a reception and punt return) and one each by tight end Anthony Becht
(reception) and Tongue (interception return). Kicker Doug Brien
had three field goals and four extra points in the two overtime games. In addition to Tongue, the scorned Brien was released after the Jets invested a second-round choice on Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent
. Moss was dealt to Washington for wide receiver Laveranues Coles
. And Becht exited as an unrestricted free agent, signing with Tampa Bay.
San Francisco coaches have moved seventh-round draft pick Patrick Estes
, a tight end his entire career at Virginia, to offensive tackle. … It isn't chiseled in granite yet, but it's looking more like the 49ers will switch cornerback Mike Rumph
, a first-round pick in 2002, to free safety. … The Titans are discussing a long-term contract with three-year veteran safety Lamont Thompson
, who played well in 2004 after replacing the injured Lance Schulters
in the starting lineup. Thompson earlier in the offseason signed the one-year restricted free agent qualifying offer of $656,000, but there is mutual interest in extending the deal beyond 2005. … Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer has increased his stake in the Manchester United soccer club to beyond 98 percent and, according to British law, can now compel the remaining shareholders to sell him their stock. … It was bound to happen: The Donruss card people inadvertently switched the teams and logos on the two Alex Smiths from this year's draft. Top overall pick Alex Smith
of San Francisco is pictured in his Utah uniform on a card that bears the Tampa Bay Bucs' logo. Stanford tight end Alex Smith, the Bucs' third-round choice, is shown on his card with a 49ers logo. … Buffalo offensive right tackle Mike Williams
and New York Giants
defensive tackle Fred Robbins
both recently restructured their contracts to provide some salary cap relief to their respective teams. Williams, by the way, has followed up his strong finish to the 2004 season with a terrific spring. Seems the former first-rounder, the fourth overall choice in the '02 draft, is poised to become the dominant strong-side blocker everyone projected the former University of Texas star to be. … In case anyone's counting: There are 15 new No. 2 quarterbacks on depth charts around the league. That includes seven newcomers and eight players who were already on teams but elevated into the primary backup roles this spring. It does not account for the possibility of Doug Flutie
bumping Rohan Davie from the No. 2 spot in New England or of Dave Ragone
, who played very well in NFL Europe this spring, knocking Tony Banks
down a peg in Houston. … In an effort to get versatile defensive lineman Kenny King
on the field more, the Arizona Cardinals might use more five-man fronts in 2005. The defense, employed mostly as a gimmick in '04, was very effective at times and King is a very active player whose snaps need to be increased.
• The last word:
"Anybody can say, 'OK, he had a great year (in 2004), so let's see if he can do it again.' That's like trying to tell a person to go to war in Iraq, but let me see if you can go to war again and come back, and then we'll give you the Medal of Honor. You don't send a soldier out to a battlefield twice for him to (prove he is) consistent." – Green Bay wide receiver Javon Walker
, who has two seasons remaining on his current contract, on whether he should have to repeat a stellar '04 performance before seeking an increase.