Football Notes

New Marshall in town makes Miami tougher

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / June 27, 2010

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This offseason, Brandon Marshall was married and traded, and now that he’s at home in more ways than one, he feels he’s in a better spot to terrorize NFL defenses than ever before.

And that’s why, among all the changes the AFC East contenders have made, Marshall’s addition to the Miami roster has the potential to dwarf the others.

In April, the Dolphins acquired a 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound, 26-year-old receiver who caught 307 balls for 3,710 yards and 23 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Marshall did cost them two second-round picks, a heavy price. But the idea is that giving emerging third-year quarterback Chad Henne that kind of weapon, to pair with a dominant running game, will push a big, bullying, young offense over the top.

Marshall sees it that way, too.

“It will be the biggest year I’ve ever had,’’ said Marshall. “As far as wins and production, it’s going to be a big, big year. The best year I’ve had so far.’’

The reasons for Marshall’s availability are well-documented, and he understands why they’re not easy to shake.

But that, to him, is also the beauty of the timing in this move.

As he tries to get past the issues he had in his first four years, he can leave them in Colorado and move on. And while there was some concern that by coming back to Florida, where he starred as a high schooler and collegian, he’d be moving closer to trouble, thus far the opposite has been true.

Dolphins officials note that he has taken up residence at the team’s facility and, even coming back off hip surgery, has been one of the regulars in the offseason program, making his return to the field at OTAs during the second week of June.

“It just seems like things in life are simplified,’’ Marshall said. “It’s more calm, and I’m excited about that. It’s giving me a chance to grow as a person and in my career. I’m excited to have a fresh start on this Miami Dolphins team.

“I’m not worrying about my contract, and that makes it easier to go to work and do my job and help the team. And my home life is very good. I’m happy, and that makes it easier all the way around.

“You know what they say: Happy wife, happy life.’’

On the field, perhaps most significant for Marshall is how the Dolphin atmosphere — fostered by the power triangle of Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano — has fed into that change in outlook.

If Marshall wasn’t all business to begin with, the ultra-professional club he’s joining was going to force that on him.

“It’s football, football, football,’’ Marshall said. “The organization is all about football. All that other stuff that comes with being in the NFL that can get in the way, it doesn’t happen here.

“We’ve got a coach [Sparano] that’s probably one of the most passionate in the game, a team that’s fairly young and wants to win now. Even in the weight room, you see that passion. It carries over everywhere. We can do great things.

“My time in Denver was great. I was surrounded by a great group of guys. But I’m going to say that I never had a chance to go through an offseason where the guys spend every day together on the field and off. We really are one.’’

Marshall credits Sparano for that, saying he senses a tremendous character within the organization. And specifically, he’s working to build a rapport with Henne, lauding the quarterback’s arm and command of the offense.

And Marshall said he was never worried about having to fight the battle of perception.

“Good people judge you on what you do, not what they read or what they’ve seen said,’’ Marshall said. “I’ve felt good since I’ve been here, that I’ve been surrounded by a good group of guys who judge me based on what they saw. I’m just being myself, and letting them judge me for that.’’

Marshall is well aware that he needed to grow up, and as he does that, he’s looking to pass along the lessons he’s learned to younger kids.

He is hosting three football camps, offered free of charge to the first 500 kids to sign up. He held the first one at the Dolphins’ facility yesterday, and will have the others the next two Fridays in Winter Park, Fla. (where Marshall went to high school) and Pittsburgh (where he was born).

“It’s easy for us to tell someone to straighten up or do things different, but I think people respect and listen more hearing it from someone who’s been through some things,’’ Marshall said. “I’ve been through a lot in a short time, and it took me a while to ‘get it.’ And I think that happened for a reason: so I can help others not make the mistakes I did.

“That’s what myself and [former Central Florida teammates] Mike Sims-Walker and Darcy Johnson are trying to do, have the kids take something from us — a technique, some inspiring words — and get them through what they’re going through.’’

Listening to Marshall, it’s easy to buy that the worst is behind him, and the Dolphins were exhaustive in making sure that was the case before handing him a four-year, $47.5 million contract extension.

“I’m still the same guy,’’ he said. “The main thing for me was simplifying things. It took a while, but I can say I’m there. I’m at peace with everything and moving forward with the Dolphins.’’

It’s clear what Marshall is capable of, and he says after three 100-catch seasons, his only goal is to reward the man he calls a “walking legend’’ — Parcells — and Miami with a title. And that’s where the swagger bursts through again.

A championship in the Dolphins’ sights? Calmly, confidently, Marshall says, “It’s more than doable.’’


Heightened awareness from Brees’s title run

Doug Flutie was at Super Bowl XLIV with some Patriots folks, and at the last minute, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner figured he’d call Drew Brees’s wife to wish the family luck.

Before he knew it, he was spending the balance of the game cheering his former teammate to victory from the Breeses’ suite at Sun Life Stadium. And seeing Brees capture that ultimate glory with the Saints was pretty meaningful to Flutie, beyond their friendship.

Brees was the NFL’s shortest starting quarterback in 2010, and he joined Len Dawson and Joe Theismann as the only signal-callers under 6 feet 1 inch to win a Super Bowl.

“He never had anything just handed to him. He had to work for it,’’ Flutie said. “All these other guys, they can’t miss, because they’re 6 foot 4 and they’re given that opportunity for five years to screw up. He was never given that.’’

Flutie used the time the two spent together in San Diego, from 2001-04, as an example. Brees wound up overtaking Flutie as the starter in 2002, but stumbled in 2003, which led to the quick hook Flutie referenced. In 2004, the Chargers drafted 6-5 Eli Manning, and packaged him in a deal for 6-5 Philip Rivers, now a Pro Bowler.

“They just give up on you a little quicker when they have that out, that’s all,’’ Flutie said. “And Philip’s a very good quarterback, too. But if [Brees] were 6-4, they never would’ve given up on him.’’

So what sets Brees apart? Flutie cites his intelligence, work ethic, and athleticism, plus some traits he shares with another onetime underdog quarterback Brees competed against in the Big Ten.

“He’s a great all-around athlete,’’ Flutie said. “He takes BP with the Padres, he’s jacking home runs. We play basketball, he’s a stud. Golf, he’s a tremendous golfer. Tom Brady’s similar. Whatever it is they do, they want to be the best at it.

“[Brees] got a second opportunity and made the most of it. He’s a phenomenal quarterback; he has been since Day 1.’’


A helpful supplement for someone’s offense

Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, Northwestern State running back Quentin Castille, Truman State utility player Vaness Emokpae, and Illinois defensive tackle Joshua Price-Brent are among the players available in the July 15 supplemental draft, but it’s clear that Brigham Young running back Harvey Unga stands alone among the prospects.

The 6-foot, 237-pounder broke BYU’s career rushing record in just three seasons, averaged 5.0 yards per carry, and scored 45 touchdowns. And while most supplemental candidates leave school because of eligibility issues, Unga and his girlfriend withdrew in April because of the Mormon school’s strict code.

Without getting into details, assistant head coach Lance Reynolds said, “He wouldn’t have been kicked out anywhere else for it. Pick any of those schools out there, and this isn’t an issue.

“For any team to assume he’d be trouble would be a mistake. He’s a good kid, coachable, willing to do whatever you ask.’’

During the 2000s, only seven players were taken in the supplemental draft, and only one (running back Tony Hollings in 2002) went as high as the second round. So chances are, the ceiling for Unga is the third round.

Reynolds, who has coached 28 years at BYU, thinks someone will get a bargain. Unga considered declaring in January, but the paperwork came back from the NFL saying that he’d be a fourth-round pick, so he decided to continue pursuing his degree. Now he’s back in the mix, and the Patriots are among the 24-28 teams expected in Provo for his Pro Day July 8.

“It’s his efficiency that sticks out, down after down,’’ said Reynolds. “It’s making crappy runs good, and good runs better. He’ll break it on you, too, but even more, he’s got this chain-moving efficiency that’s unbelievable.

“He was a force for us. He changed the way people could play us.’’

Reynolds added, “He was top 15 percent on our team as a learner,’’ which should help as Unga is tossed into the NFL blender in training camp.


Raiders may very well see more of ex-Patriot

Former Patriot Richard Seymour signed his one-year, $12.398 million exclusive franchise tender last week with the Raiders, and while that ensures only that he will play next season in Oakland, it could well be the precursor for a long-term deal for the five-time Pro Bowler. The sides have until July 15 to work that out, but for now, Seymour’s signing is a signal that he is comfortable enough with the talks not to hold out and push for promises not to be franchised in 2011. So it looks as if dealing a first-round pick to New England for Seymour last September was no short-term rental for the Raiders after all. Oakland was exceedingly happy with his work stopping the run and the example he set for his teammates. In a locker room starved for winners, Seymour seemed to bring that element. “When he was on the field, it made you want to step your game up, play better, be a better teammate,’’ said Raiders captain Nnamdi Asomugha. “His impact was great in that way. He made you look at yourself and see where you were lacking.’’

New talent for Carson show
The weapons around Carson Palmer have changed, and so have the circumstances around the Bengals, but there is a belief among NFL scouts that Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback hasn’t been quite the same since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in January 2006. During the Bengals’ 11-5 season of 2005, Palmer completed 67.8 percent of his passes, posted a 32-12 TD-INT ratio, and compiled a 101.1 passer rating. He hasn’t been able to match those numbers, and his yards per attempt have dropped precipitously the last two years. Cincinnati won its division last year behind a tough running game and defense. With Baltimore loaded up for a run in the AFC North, the Bengals have gotten Palmer help. They signed troubled but talented wide receiver Antonio Bryant, and drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham and receiver Jordan Shipley, to join a skill-position group highlighted by Chad Ochocinco and Cedric Benson. The hope is that added explosiveness plays into Palmer’s strength as a downfield thrower.

To flee or not to flee?
If the NFL is a copycat league, there is certainly a divide in how to run training camp, and that goes all the way down to something as fundamental as the venue. The Cowboys will go on a barnstorming tour that will feature two weeks at San Antonio’s Alamodome, a trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame game, a week at their home digs in Irving, Texas, and two weeks in Southern California. Conversely, 17 of the 32 teams (including New England) plan on going nowhere. Does this lose the charm of the old days, when clubs would trek to remote college campuses as a bonding experience? Sure. But there are benefits. “It allows you to take a businesslike approach,’’ said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. “It eliminates the distractions of going away. We went away a few years ago and I thought it was good, we had a real young team. Everything is convenient here. With the veteran players, I give them the option to stay home if they want. We just take a businesslike approach to it.’’ Want an older feel to camp? Teams such as the Steelers (Latrobe, Pa.), Eagles (Bethlehem, Pa.), and Cardinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) can provide that.

Safety valve in Baltimore
It was pretty easy to see through the idea that the Ravens signed veteran safety Ken Hamlin as a reinforcement for rehabbing corners Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb. Hamlin has always been a pure safety, not a combination player. And now it’s obvious: The Ed Reed Watch is on, as the all-everything veteran battles back from April hip surgery. Reed said on Sirius Radio that, a little more than a month out from camp, he’s at about “35 percent.’’ Word out of Baltimore is that, at best, Reed will be managed during training camp. Worst-case scenario? Well, there’s a shot the Baltimore leader won’t be ready for the Monday night opener against the Jets. Strong as the Ravens’ front seven is, there are plenty of question marks in the secondary. The June additions of Hamlin and Walt Harris (who is there as insurance for Webb and Washington) are an acknowledgement of that. If Reed is healthy, and the promising youngsters are playing big roles early in the year, the group should be OK. But at this point, those appear to be mighty big ifs.

Three and out
The Steve Smith situation is a sticky one in Carolina. In some ways, a team should look at an injury like Smith’s broken arm — suffered in a flag football game — the way it would a skiing accident, the result of a physical risk taken outside the team’s work. But the Panthers are choosing not to come down on Smith for something that just as easily could have happened on their own grounds as a result of his trademark competitiveness. Have to wonder if Carolina uses it as an example, despite the lack of punishment . . . Congrats to Asomugha, who took home a Jefferson Award last week, the Nobel Prize for public service. Some of his work was featured in this space three weeks ago, and it’s very easy to say how well-deserved this honor is . . . It’ll be interesting to see how Roger Goodell deals with the issue of gunplay at Michael Vick’s birthday party Thursday night in Virginia, and the fact that it was Vick’s former associate in the dogfighting ring, Quanis Phillips, taking the bullet. Vick was forbidden from associating with his ex-cohorts, and the commissioner will examine whether Vick knowingly put himself in a bad situation, even if he had departed the party by the time the violence started.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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