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Sunday football notes

Mind at ease, Jenkins ready to go to work

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / February 6, 2011

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Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins still enjoyed the Super Bowl experience, still flashed his big smile and joked with reporters.

But if you knew the 31-year-old Jenkins, you could tell something was a little bit off. He wasn’t quite his outgoing self. Something seemed to be on his mind.

And there was. No one had heard from his father, Darome, since he left for his home in Hawaii about a month ago.

“Obviously, you’re concerned for his safety, concerned about how he is, his state, everything,’’ Jenkins said. “We’ve just got to wait and let it play itself out. There’s nothing much I can do from right here.’’

It was the longest Jenkins and his brother Kris, the 31-year-old nose tackle for the Jets, had gone without talking to their father. The last talk made Cullen pause a bit.

“It wasn’t an incident, but there was a discussion, and it wasn’t a bad discussion by any means,’’ Jenkins said. “He was talking a little bit about how he was feeling about certain things in the family, and maybe feeling a little left out and things like that.

“That’s what makes this so difficult, you know, because you just don’t know. You don’t know if he’s just being distant right now or has kind of pulled back from everybody, or who knows?’’

Good news came Thursday night when Hawaiian police, after reading about the concerns of Jenkins, were able to track down Darome. He made contact with Cullen that night.

That should let Jenkins focus on tonight’s game.

“I think any time you’re dealing with a personal situation and it’s such a heightened week of importance professionally, it definitely drains on you,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “Cullen is relieved. There’s relief in the fact that there’s been communication.’’

The Jenkins men are tight because they didn’t travel the normal family road.

Living in west Detroit in the 1980s, Darome, who had been given custody of 2-year-old Kris and 10-month-old Cullen, was working an off-the-books job evicting people from their homes, often in dangerous situations. After barely escaping while on a job in a crack house, Darome realized he needed to do better by his sons.

He moved to Ypsilanti, Mich., and enrolled at Eastern Michigan. At 27, Kris and Cullen were his roommates until the school figured out what was going on and put them into family housing. Darome worked three part-time jobs to help pay for his degree in education. Once out of school, Darome was hired as a high school drama teacher and part-time football coach.

The oversized boys took off — as did Darome’s grocery bills — and eventually landed football scholarships at Maryland (Kris) and Central Michigan (Cullen).

Kris was a second-round draft choice of the Panthers in 2001 and quickly became one of the top defensive tackles in the game with four Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro nods.

Cullen traveled a much tougher road as an undrafted free agent in ’03 who played in NFL Europe to prove his mettle.

With the Packers, Jenkins didn’t become a full-time starter until the end of the 2006 season as he split time with pass rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Jenkins has 22.5 sacks since then in 48 starts — 11.5 the past two seasons as an end in the 3-4.

“Cullen’s probably one of the most explosive guys at that position,’’ said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. “He’s just got natural quickness, so he gives us an added dimension and he’s getting healthier every week. He always has the opportunity where he can win a one-on-one rush and that helps.’’

Tonight is a big game in the scope of Jenkins’s career. He is at the end of the four-year, $16 million extension the Packers gave him in ’07.

The Packers, to this point, have made no attempt to extend his contract again. So unless the team places the franchise tag on him, which will likely be worth about $13 million at his position, Jenkins will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

He will be looking at his final big-money contract, and Jenkins will likely have no shortage of suitors. At 6 feet 2 inches and 305 pounds, Jenkins has the strength to hold the edge against the run and the quickness to get after the quarterback. Teams that play the 4-3 and 3-4 will have interest in Jenkins. He played in both with the Packers.

“He won’t have any trouble finding a job,’’ said an NFC general manager. “He fits any scheme and can do everything. Teams will have to weigh his age and injury history. That’s a bit of a red flag. But more than a few teams will look past that because he can rush the passer from anywhere.’’

Jenkins has started 16 games just once in his career (’09) because of an assortment of injuries. But when he’s in the lineup, Jenkins causes trouble for offenses. He started eight games this season and has 7.5 sacks, including the playoffs. And he seems to be just about past the calf injury that bothered him the second half of the season.

“When Cullen is healthy and he’s roaring, he’s definitely a Pro Bowl player,’’ said McCarthy. “There’s no question in my mind.’’

Jenkins will be a key tonight against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

When the Packers lost, 37-36, to the Steelers in 2009, they had five sacks and missed several more opportunities. Jenkins, especially in the game’s closing moments, had the most chances but failed to bring down Roethlisberger.

Jenkins has vowed that won’t happen again.

Now that his father has been located, Jenkins can focus on the task at hand. Both personally and for the Packers, the job doesn’t get any bigger than today.

RAMS TOUGHER
A good turn by Spagnuolo It’s been almost 20 years since Steve Spagnuolo departed New England, but the pride of Grafton still drops his R’s with the best of them. He’s a little embarrassed by that, but everything is fine otherwise with the St. Louis Rams coach.

After going 1-15 in Spagnuolo’s first season, 2009, the Rams improved to 7-9 and were a win over the Seahawks in the season finale away from advancing to the playoffs.

It’s easy to see that the expectations for Spagnuolo and the Rams have changed. Last year he walked through the Super Bowl media center and four people wanted to talk to him. On Friday, he had to turn down interview requests.

“I’d rather have it that way — I’d rather have the expectations to be higher and coming off a fairly good season,’’ Spagnuolo said. “I want us to all remember that 7-9 is still a losing season, so we still have a long ways to go.’’

Things are looking up for the Rams, whose quarterback, Sam Bradford, was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Now he’ll be under the tutelage of former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was probably handed his greatest defeat by his new boss when Spagnuolo coordinated the Giants’ defense in their 17-14 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Asked if they talked about that game during the hiring process, Spagnuolo said, “We did a little bit when he came in and we sat down for what you’d call an interview. Yeah, we have. We haven’t sat down and watched the tape but we talked about it a little bit. That’s been kind of fun.’’

Yeah, it was fun for Spagnuolo, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts and coached at Connecticut and Maine before reaching the NFL.

“I went through my Rolodex in my mind of the guys that gave us defensively tough times, and Josh just kind of jumped out there,’’ Spagnuolo said. “Obviously, him and I have butted heads personally in this particular game and he’s tough to defend.

“I know he does a nice job with quarterbacks — he did that in New England, he did that in Denver — so I think Sam’s excited about it.’’

Now it will be Spagnuolo’s task to get his young team to take the next step.

“A majority of our guys, whether it has been other teams or in college, have had great expectations put on them,’’ Spagnuolo said. “I think there are a number of guys in that locker room who are used to this and I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

“But the one thing you have to make sure you convey to the team is it’s not automatic. Just because you win one then you win seven doesn’t mean you’re going to go to 12 automatically as well.

“It’s probably tougher to make that jump than it is to make it from one to seven.’’

GAME OF RISK
Reid moves pieces around The coaching career of Andy Reid has been one gamble after another, from getting the Eagles head job after being quarterbacks coach of the Packers to trading Donovan McNabb and putting the franchise in the hands of Michael Vick, but what Reid did last week could be his biggest roll of the dice.

Reid’s decision to name Juan Castillo defensive coordinator after being offensive line coach for 13 seasons could be a stroke of genius or signal the beginning of the end for Reid after 12 seasons with the Eagles.

“I love those challenges,’’ Reid said. “This, to me, is a great thing. This game is a game of risks. Everywhere from third and 2 to however you put this thing together, it’s a game of risk.

“When you step on that football field, when you put decisions together, no matter what move you have to put together, there are risks. I don’t worry about that at all.’’

Lost in the hire of Castillo, who has been an offensive assistant dating back to college in 1990, were two other significant moves. First the Eagles were able to lure decorated defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from the Titans. And secondly, the Eagles landed Howard Mudd to replace Castillo as offensive line coach. Mudd has instructed the lines for six NFL teams since 1978, including the Colts from 1998-2009.

“Obviously, there were a couple pieces to the puzzle,’’ Reid said. “I’m losing a great offensive line coach, but I’m also gaining a great one. I think that’s very important in this whole deal here.

“I wasn’t going to weaken the offensive line and the coaching there, so I had to do a little bit of evaluating and it took a little bit of time to get the pieces together. I’m very excited about this move.’’

Still, Reid may be running out of moves. He fired defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who had replaced the late Jim Johnson, after first saying McDermott would be back.

“I think you know that, immediately after the season, it’s an emotional time,’’ said Reid. “It’s not a time to make a decision like that. I was able to step back, buy some time, and think. It was that simple.

“I came to the conclusion that for a kid who worked his tail off, which Sean did, and did a heck of a job, it was best for the Eagles and best for Sean McDermott for us to go a different direction.’’

A risky one at that.

ETC.
Safety boast was a snow job NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was correct when he said the weather Dallas has been subjected to was an “extraordinarily rare storm’’ when you consider the area hadn’t seen temperatures this low in some 20 years. And accidents like the one on Friday at Cowboys Stadium, in which six people were injured after ice fell from the roof, are going to happen. We get that. But for Goodell to say that “North Texas was prepared if this happened’’ and it “has done an extraordinary job under some very difficult circumstances’’ is categorically false. The league and the host committee should be condemned for their lack of action. It’s one thing to have bad weather — the Super Bowl was in Detroit a few years ago — it’s another to not be prepared for it. If the NFL is going to play its biggest game in places where weather could be an issue, it must mandate in the bids that the host committee have the proper equipment at the ready, even if it is not used. There were no salt trucks nor snow plows on the Dallas roads this week. If there were, they did a terrible job. Goodell said in the wake of the stadium accident that “safety is the No. 1 priority.’’ It should be. When you award a Super Bowl, the league is telling fans that the location is safe and they should come and have a great time. But judging by the response to the storm, safety was obviously not the top priority. Roads were icy, snow-covered, and dangerous. Sidewalks in downtown Dallas were sheets of ice for the entire week. That should not happen during a Super Bowl week. Dallas should have been prepared with an army of salt trucks and snow plows.

Batterman plays defense The players’ union has taken great pride in pointing out that in 2007 the NFL hired Bob Batterman as outside labor counsel. Batterman was at the front lines of the NHL’s season-long lockout in 2004-05, but he feels that blaming him for that is unfair. “That was the first lockout I had been involved in after over 40 years in the business,’’ Batterman said. “I have negotiated, I don’t know, maybe 500 collective bargaining agreements. Of those, I think I’ve had a half a dozen strikes and two lockouts. The rest have been settled below the radar, quietly, peacefully, and to the satisfaction of the parties.’’ Batterman, who also negotiated two deals for Major League Soccer, said this negotiation is definitely complex. “I’m a management labor lawyer, I’m not a sports lawyer,’’ he said. “What I do for these sports leagues, I do for hotel companies, retail companies, manufacturing companies. It’s the same, it’s just a lot more complex, a lot more money, and unfortunately in the glare of a media emphasis which doesn’t exist in most of what I do. But the issues are the same.’’

Idea is not well-received Steelers receiver Hines Ward was outspoken against the proposed 18-game schedule, as was owner Dan Rooney. “Nobody really wants 18 games,’’ Ward said. “[Rooney] doesn’t even want it. He doesn’t care about that extra half-million or whatever money they make for those two extra games. He worries about his players and their safety. If you want to talk about players and safety, then don’t talk about adding two more games. That’s when you’re being contradictory. I’m scratching my head. Right now, we’d just be getting into the playoffs. There’s no way your body can go through all that in an 18-game season without adding roster spots and stuff like that. Those two extra game checks the players get, it’s not worth playing two more extra games.’’

Short yardage Based on conversations last week, it’s not difficult to see what the NFL’s long-term plan is: a conference in Europe and other places. That’s why it is pushing so hard for more regular-season games overseas, especially once the CBA is done. It wants to establish a base for the game and then put teams over there, likely decades down the line. The idea is to make it a true world game . . . Both Rooney and Patriots owner Robert Kraft feel the league has given the union more than enough financial information to make a deal. Hard to argue with them. NFL counsel Jeff Pash said any additional revenue credits the league is asking for from the union have been backed up with information going back 15 years. “If I thought [opening the books] was the variable, I would push for that,’’ Kraft said. “That isn’t the key to getting a deal done. If it were, I’d be a big supporter of it. That’s just a red herring.’’ . . . A big thumbs-up to Eagles players DeSean Jackson, Jamaal Jackson, and Todd Herremans, who went on “The View’’ to support 13-year-old Nadin Khoury, a Philadelphia resident who was seen in a video being kicked and dragged through the snow in a bullying incident. “You’re brave,’’ said DeSean Jackson, “because this happens every day and people are not brave enough to stand up and take this on. Any time ever you need us, I’ve got two linemen right here. My boys are ready to come down.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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