Pre-Camp AFC & NFC Notes

NFL logo06/27/2008 | | CAMPS NEAR; NEW AFCers ARE READY – The sand in the hourglass of the NFL offseason is quickly running out. Training camps are close. And a lot of AFC newcomers are ready to show that their performances during minicamps and OTAs are just the beginning of productive seasons.

Following are just three of those developments:

· NEWCOMERS IMPRESS IN JACKSONVILLE: The Jacksonville Jaguars secured more offensive options this offseason for quarterback DAVID GARRARD by trading for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver TROY WILLIAMSON and acquiring former Oakland Raiders receiver JERRY PORTER via free agency.

Garrard, who posted a 9-3 record as a starter last season, thinks his new receivers can add to the club season point-total record (411, 25.7 average) the Jaguars established in 2007.

“He caught everything,” says Garrard of Williamson’s performance during minicamp. “He did a great job. He’s so smooth and fluid that he barely looks like he’s running, but he’s always running right by somebody.”

Williamson and Porter look to join veteran receivers DENNIS NORTHCUTT, REGGIE WILLIAMS and MATT JONES to head up the Jags’ receiving corps.

“I think it can be as well-rounded a group as there is,” says Porter. “We’ve got speed, we’ve got size and we’ve got quickness. Each guy has something different that they bring to the table.”

· THE ULTIMATE TRANSITION: Entering his third season, Buffalo Bills safety DONTE WHITNER has come to be known as a team leader by Bills head coach DICK JAURON. Safeties are known for being leaders of the secondary and Whitner has not taken his role lightly.

In offseason workouts, Whitner took the Bills’ first-round draft choice in 2008, cornerback LEODIS MC KELVIN (No. 11, Troy) under his wing to ease his NFL transition. Whitner even offered his home as a place for McKelvin to stay until he finds his own in Buffalo.

“When I came into the NFL two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect,” says Whitner, who was a first-round selection (No. 8) in 2006. “Leodis is a rookie in a similar situation that I was in. I know what he’s going through, so I want to help him get through the process as quick and as painless as possible.”

Whitner, who has a theater in the basement of his house, goes over the finer details of the Bills’ defensive scheme through one-one-one film sessions with McKelvin.

“Donte didn’t have to do this, but it shows what kind of guy he is,” says McKelvin. “It’s a great feeling to have guys on the team that care about you. He’s trying to help me learn my plays so I can get on the field faster.”

· RAVENS KEEP WORKING: Workouts have concluded for the Baltimore Ravens. But that doesn’t mean that players will just sit around till camp opens in late July. Under new head coach JOHN HARBAUGH, the Ravens worked hard in the offseason and they don’t plan to stop heading into camp.

“I will take a day or two off — maybe the Fourth of July — but other than that, I’m going to stick with it and do the best I can to come to camp prepared,” says the team’s first-round draft choice, quarterback JOE FLACCO. “I think the last thing you want is to take a couple of weeks off and try to get back into it. You could get overwhelmed in camp.”

Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker BART SCOTT, who is entering his seventh season, certainly agrees with the wise rookie quarterback. “This is the time when I train the most,” says Scott. “I don’t want to be dropping going into camp. I’d rather be hitting a peak. I’m looking to hit camp full-stride, instead of falling off and trying to get back into shape.”

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Training camps are on the horizon.

And in New York, one of the questions that will be asked throughout camp will be: how will the Super Bowl XLII champion Giants replace recently retired defensive end MICHAEL STRAHAN, the newest member of the FOX-TV pregame crew?

Many teams might struggle to fill the void left by a seven-time All-Star and a man with 141.5 career sacks, fifth-most all-time. But the Giants, armed with depth at the position, say they are up to the challenge.

“We need a lot of people to replace him,” says Giants general manager JERRY REESE. “I don’t think one man can replace Michael Strahan, but we do have a number of guys. We have OSI UMENYIORA, who has been a Pro Bowler for us. JUSTIN TUCK is in the fold. MATHIAS KIWANUKA is a guy we can move back down from linebacker. We have DAVE TOLLEFSON, who is a young player we like a lot. JAY ALFORD can play in and out. And we signed REYNALDO WYNN, who can give us some snaps in and out. We have some guys that we can try to replace Michael with.”

Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN, who called it an honor to coach Strahan, sees the opportunity for some of the young players on the team to step up.

“There is an outstanding football player who is no longer part of our team,” says Coughlin. “Anytime a player of that magnitude moves on and retires, no question there is a void to be filled. Young people are going to have greater opportunities now and they will hopefully step up and meet that. Michael Strahan is a very unique individual and a great player in his own right and yet these young guys behind him who have their own abilities, their own strengths and weaknesses, they’ve got to come into their own in that respect.”

Umenyiora, who played opposite Strahan on the right side, understands the challenges ahead.

“If the team needs me to be more of a leader,” says Umenyiora, who led the club with 13.0 sacks last year, “I believe I will be able to step up and fill that role.

“As a defensive line, I don’t know how the retirement is going to affect us. I don’t think you can look to anybody and say that one person is going to be Michael Strahan’s replacement. It would be ridiculous to think one guy can come in there and do that.”

Tuck, an emerging star in the league and one of the top candidates to replace Strahan on the left side, was second on the Giants with 10.0 sacks last year and added two sacks in Super Bowl XLII.

“I learned everything from Strahan,” he says. “Everything. He taught all of us how to go about the business and being a pro.”

Another young player who will be watched closely in camp will be Kiwanuka, who can play both end and linebacker.

“Losing a guy like Strahan, who was somebody that had been around and helped this organization for so long, is tough,” Kiwanuka says. “But we are going to get it done. It’s going to be a group effort to get this done. We have great leaders and great leadership out there already, but I think that everybody is going to have to pull a little more weight now.”

As for a possible position switch back to defensive end, Kiwanuka just wants to play, period.

“It’s the same thing I’ve said all along, which is that I just want to be out there on the field,” he says. “We have to get our best 11 guys out there on the field. That’s all that matters.”

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