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Football Notes

Tough to get foot in door

Kickers not easily granted Hall pass

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is looking to bounce back from what was for him a disappointing 2007 season. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is looking to bounce back from what was for him a disappointing 2007 season. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 3, 2008

There will be two placekickers on the field in tonight's NFL exhibition opener in Canton, Ohio, between the Colts and Redskins, which is one more than can be found in the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jan Stenerud stands alone in the Hall, and it doesn't look as if that will change in the near future.

Should there be more?

Adam Vinatieri, the former Patriot and four-time Super Bowl champion who one day could find himself subject of a passionate Hall of Fame debate, is obviously biased.

"I understand that the kicker and punter position is undervalued to other positions," he said, "but for me, any person who is good at their job and accumulates a lot of years and good statistics, those people are in their Halls of Fame in other sports, like basketball and baseball.

"I look at gentlemen like Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen, who have 20 years on the job and played into their 40s. They performed at a high level for a long period of time, staving off rookies and other guys coming in. You accumulate that many points and it sort of speaks for itself, because if you're not good, they're not going to keep you around.

"You can see a million reasons why they should be [in] and one or two why they're not, and that's because they're kickers or punters."

The kickers-in-the-Hall debate is topical this weekend, as Vinatieri - arguably the most clutch kicker in the history of the game and whose "Snow Bowl" kick against the Raiders might be the greatest field goal ever - is one of the big-name players in tonight's game.

On the surface, it might sound as if Vinatieri is campaigning for his own cause, but that would be misrepresenting the context in which he offered his thoughts.

Surely, he would covet a spot in the Hall of Fame, but he insists that isn't on his mind. That's because while most players' careers are winding down at 35 - when thoughts of the Hall of Fame might begin to surface - Vinatieri doesn't see his heading in that direction any time soon.

"I don't feel like I'm in the twilight of my career, or close to it," he said. "It will be how long my body allows me to do it, but you look at guys like Gary and Morten, and a lot of people probably didn't think they'd play deep into their 40s. As long as I keep feeling well and am contributing to a team, and am not a liability, I still feel like I have quite a few years left."

Vinatieri has three years remaining on the contract he signed with the Colts in 2006. Assuming good health, he could envision "another couple contracts" when that deal expires.

In the short term, Vinatieri is looking to bounce back from a season that didn't meet his high standards, as he was 23 for 29 on field goal attempts. He had experienced some discomfort with his left knee, which is his plant leg, but an offseason of rest has him feeling better.

Similar to a quarterback being judicious with his throws in training camp, Vinatieri has been limiting his time on field goals and kickoffs, the idea to remain fresh over a 16-game season. With teams allowed to carry a maximum of 80 players in camp - down from 86 last year - more clubs are carrying just one kicker and one punter. Still, the Colts yesterday re-signed kicker Adam Crossett, who was waived July 25, in order to give Vinatieri some relief.

As for the Hall of Fame chatter, Vinatieri has been happy to stick up for kickers, and even punters. Ray Guy, one of the top punters in history, had his candidacy stall again this year.

"I don't think about it, but I can see why it's frustrating for others who are no longer playing," Vinatieri said. "I could understand why someone like Gino Cappelletti, who played two positions and probably deserves to be in but hasn't had the opportunity, would be frustrated."

Not like him not to go camping
Not taking part in an NFL training camp for the first time since 1992, wide receiver Troy Brown is still putting himself through the grind.

The only difference is this summer is more mentally taxing than physically taxing.

Brown, one of the more revered players in Patriots history, has been pondering whether to play another season, spending quiet time with his family as he grapples with the difficult decision, which has colliding forces.

On one side are his feelings that the Patriots are the only team he could envision himself playing for, yet there isn't a spot for him currently in New England.

On the other side, Brown is a pure football player, having played for as long as he can remember, and feeling he still has something to offer. The Jets had him in for a visit, and other clubs have called his representatives to let them know Brown is on their radar should circumstances change (e.g. injury). Because of that, he's remained in tip-top shape.

How does Brown balance those thoughts?

It's a side of professional sports - from the athlete's perspective at the end of his career - not often explored. Some players are willing to go out wearing another team's colors. For others, it's not such an easy choice.

In an offseason in which Brett Favre has tried to wiggle his way out of Green Bay, an unthinkable development to the Packers' faithful, and two longtime Dolphins ended up with new teams - Jason Taylor in Washington and Zach Thomas in Dallas - Brown's situation has been more low-key.

Yet that doesn't mean it has been any easier for one of the true good guys in the game.

This group is already down and out
All 32 NFL teams are now at least one week into training camp and, as usual, injuries have struck. A look at those who sustained season-ending injuries last week and how their teams plan to fill the void:

Torrie Cox (Buccaneers) - The six-year veteran was competing for a role as the third corner and was a top contributor on special teams, but he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. Former Patriot Eugene Wilson is among those looking to fill that spot.

Phillip Daniels (Redskins) - The veteran starting defensive end tore up his knee in the first practice of camp, which sparked the quick completion of the Jason Taylor trade. The 'Skins also lost second-year defensive end Alex Buzbee for the year with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Von Hutchins (Falcons) - A veteran cornerback, he was signed early in free agency and considered a valuable addition with his ability to play in the slot in nickel packages. But he fractured his right foot on the first day of camp, so third-round draft choice Chevis Jackson (LSU) should now step into that role.

Scott Peters (Cardinals) - The 29-year-old had gotten extensive work at center, mostly because of starter Al Johnson's health concerns (left knee), but he's out for the year because of a balky knee. The Cardinals claimed former Boston College product Pat Ross on waivers, but they are likely to continue to monitor the free agent market.

Daniel Sepulveda (Steelers) - A highly touted punter whom the Steelers traded up to select in the fourth round last year, Sepulveda underwent an MRI on the first day of camp that revealed he had torn his left ACL. Pittsburgh claimed former Bronco Paul Ernster to take his spot.

Etc.
Hall monitor
Leftovers from Hall of Fame weekend: Buffalo needs more folks like former Bills running back Thurman Thomas. While more people have been leaving the city in recent years, the 2007 Hall inductee decided to make Buffalo his family's permanent home. Thomas moved his family back last year from Orlando, Fla. - a decision he said his four children wanted - and described the last 12 months as the best of his life . . . Terry Bradshaw's thoughts on ownership-control issues for the Rooney family in Pittsburgh: "It's like the Brett Favre thing. It's hard to imagine him playing for someone else. In this case, it's hard to imagine that something like this could possibly happen to one of the founding families of the National Football League." . . . Seventy Hall of Famers returned for the enshrinement ceremonies . . . John Hannah, seldom shy about expressing an opinion, touted the Hall of Fame candidacy of former Patriots offensive lineman Leon Gray (1973-78) . . . Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs on Randy Moss sponsoring a team in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series: "The first thing I told him was, 'Don't do it!' It's extremely hard, a big undertaking. But now that he's in it, we'll do anything we can to help him. My son [J.D.] has talked to him, and we'd love to see him do well."

Commanding Chief
Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez is looking through a two-year window with his career. Now 32 and entering his 12th season, he told reporters at the start of camp that while he's 95 percent sure he'll play next season, he's not sure after that. No tight end has been more productive than Gonzalez in the passing game, as his 820 receptions and 66 touchdown catches are more than any tight end in history. Barring injury, he will also pass Shannon Sharpe this season for most career receiving yards by a tight end. If there is a hole on Gonzalez's résumé, it is that he has never won a playoff game (losses in 1997, 2003, and 2006), and that streak is likely to stay intact this season.

Plans nearly sacked
The Bengals ranked last in the NFL with 22 sacks last season, and the hope is that free agent signee Antwan Odom, brought in from Tennessee, will provide a needed boost. But for a moment during the team's first training camp practice last Monday, those plans almost went up in smoke when Odom went down. Thankfully for the Bengals, tests revealed nothing more than a foot sprain, but Odom remains sidelined and is wearing a walking boot.

Crowded room
While the Falcons are planning to turn their offense over to former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan in the future, the question is how soon? First-year coach Mike Smith has operated as if it's a true open competition, rotating Chris Redman, Joey Harrington, D.J. Shockley, and Ryan liberally. In the end, look for the decision to be between Redman and Ryan.

In his corner
At Gillette Stadium in May, Patriots coach Bill Belichick hosted Rhode Island's Demetrius Andrade, a 20-year-old boxer who will vie for the gold medal in the Summer Olympics. The invitation came after Belichick was introduced to Andrade through a former classmate at Wesleyan who now lives in Rhode Island, and the two watched some of Andrade's fights. Belichick will be pulling for Andrade in Beijing. "I was impressed by how many matches he's already fought for such a young kid and how he's been up against men a bit older than he is," Belichick said.

Carted off
Players being summoned to the coach's office and told to bring their playbook because they were getting released is an annual part of NFL life. But offensive lineman Stephen Sene, who was a long shot to make the Rams' roster, might have a story that trumps them all - he was released while on the practice field. How does something like that happen? Turns out the Rams had claimed another player off waivers, and once the team was officially awarded the new player, Sene was pulled off the field and driven away in a golf cart. Ouch.

Extra points
Redskins starting cornerback Carlos Rogers, who tore his right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments last Oct. 28 against the Patriots, has surprised team officials by returning to practice. That is well ahead of the timetable the Redskins' medical staff had initially set, as Rogers wasn't expected back until late September . . . The Packers have more frustrations than the Favre situation. Defensive lineman Justin Harrell, their first-round pick in 2007, hasn't practiced in training camp because of continuing injury issues. A back ailment has kept Harrell, who is being counted on to help lessen the blow of trading Corey Williams to Cleveland, off the field . . . The Texans thought they had addressed their running back depth with the signing of free agent Chris Brown, but when the oft-injured Brown suffered back spasms in the first week of camp, the team didn't wait long to sign more insurance in the form of former Bronco Mike Bell . . . The lone first-round picks still unsigned: defensive end Derrick Harvey (No. 8, Jaguars) and linebacker Keith Rivers (No. 9, Bengals) . . . The Redskins drew a record crowd of more than 28,000 for an intrasquad scrimmage July 26.

Did you know?
The Bears have the most "primary" Hall of Famers, with 26, followed by the Packers (21), Giants (19), Steelers (17), and Redskins (17).

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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