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FR: Super Bowl 45 Playmakers

Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron R...

Aaron Rodgers. Image via Wikipedia

Each year, as we begin to preview the Super Bowl, we try to anticipate which players will become the big-play makers of the big game. (You can see last year’s post here, and the Super Bowl 43 edition here.) As always, we’re on a 10-point scale where 10 points is epic and 1 point is someone who is a possible playmaker in a remote situation. We’ve left out offensive linemen, because it’s so hard to distinguish them individually because they are meant to function as a unit.

If you think we missed someone, add a comment and where you think that Packer or Steeler fits in.

10 – QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers – This is Rodgers’ chance at the spotlight, and we believe he’s up to the challenge. Given the state of the Packers’ running game, the Packers’ chances rest on their quarterback, which means that he’s the man on the spot. He can make big plays with both his arm and his legs, and he has done just that in his playoff drive this season. Does he have one more game left?

9 – QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Mike Wallace, Steelers – Big Ben has two Super Bowl rings, but no MVP trophies, which is a little odd for a quarterback. You can’t say he’s played poorly, because he led a game-winning drive two years ago and hit Santonio Holmes for the winning TD. But Roethlisberger has set up Holmes and Hines Ward for Super Bowl MVP honors. So while Big Ben will play a huge role, the pattern indicates that if the Steelers win, it will be a receiver who gets the award. Our money is on Wallace, who has perhaps the best deep speed in the game. Wallace has been the focus of defenses in the playoffs thus far, but the Packers let Johnny Knox and Devin Hester break free deep in the NFC championship game, and if they can do it, Wallace can too. If the Steelers win, it’ll be correlated to a big game from Wallace.

8 – OLBs James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley, Steelers – Harrison made a huge play in the last Super Bowl with an epic 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. And Harrison remains a huge force getting to the quarterback. But Woodley, who has compiled a sack in each and every postseason game in his career, will get to Rodgers at least once, and so he’s just as high on the list as Harrison. These two outside ‘backers will need to force at least one turnover for the Steelers to win.

7 – CB Charles Woodson, Packers – Really, we could have said pick a Packer corner, because both Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have been game MVPs for the Pack in the playoffs this year. But Woodson is a big-time player who can emerge on the biggest stage, and as one of the few Packers with Super Bowl experience, he won’t be afraid of the stage.

6 – RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers – Mendenhall may have had the best game of his career against the Jets in the AFC championship game, and if he plays that way again, he can carry the Steelers to a win. Running against the Packers will be tough, but Mendenhall showed against the Jets that he might just be up to the challenge.

5 – OLB Clay Matthews, Packers – Matthews is the Packers’ star on defense, but after a ridiculous start to the season his playmaking has been a bit more sporadic this season. The matchup seems to favor Matthews against subpar Steelers tackles, but if the Steelers gear up their protection to stop Matthews, someone else will need to step up and pressure Big Ben. And even if Matthews can get to Roethlisberger, can he bring him down? Roethlisberger is basically as big as Matthews, and he’s perhaps the league’s toughest QB to bring down.

4 – WR Greg Jennings, Packers – Jennings may be the most overlooked No. 1 receiver in the league, but he certainly deserves the accolade. He’s good enough to carry the team, but he has so much help at receiver that defenses can’t focus on him. Jennings could have a breakout game a la Larry Fitzgerald two years ago that turns him from very good player to national star.

4 (con’t) – S Troy Polamalu, Steelers – Polamalu is one of the most popular and well-known Steelers, and he claimed defensive player of the year honors (over Matthews) this week. But his play of late hasn’t been dominant, and the fact that the Packers can spread the field with four receivers could force Polamalu into coverage instead of letting him freelance as he usually does. That will limit Polamalu’s impact in this game.

3 – TE Heath Miller, Steelers – Miller is a supersolid tight end who can help out blocking Matthews and company but also serve as a possession receiver or even a threat to get down the seam for a big play. The Packers have struggled against tight ends this year, and that could set Miller up for success on Sunday.

2 – WR Jordy Nelson, Packers – Nelson is the Packers’ fourth receiver, but he has been a popular target for Rodgers in the postseason, and we think he’s behind only Jennings in terms of the Packer wideouts we see making big plays this weekend. Of course, Rodgers will look for vet Donald Driver and the inconsistent but talented James Jones as well, but we can see Nelson piling up 70-80 yards or more on multiple receptions.

2 (con’t) – DLs B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins, Packers – The Packers’ defensive line doesn’t get a ton of publicity – or at least it didn’t until Raji broke free with an interception return for a touchdown against the Bears. But while Raji has been a dominator inside, Jenkins stepped up in the playoffs, and he’s just as likely to make the big play as Raji against the Steelers.

1 – ILBs Desmond Bishop, Packers, and Lawrence Timmons, Steelers – Bishop and Timmons have both had terrific seasons for their respective teams, but they don’t make the flashy plays that their defensive teammates do. But both guys are tackling machines, and if they can strip the ball on a tackle or pick up a fumble and return it for a score, they could find themselves joining unlikely Super Bowl MVPs like Larry Brown and Dexter Jackson.

1 (con’t) – DE Ziggy Hood, Steelers – We’ve been pounding the drum on how well Hood has been playing throughout the postseason, and if he does that again he’ll have a shot at raising his profile and making a splash on the biggest stage. In fact, we believe it’s more likely that Hood will make a big play than his D-linemates Casey Hampton or Brett Keisel doing so.

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Training Camp Moves – Week 6

This post is a compilation of additions NFL teams made during the fourth full week of camps. The timetable for this post opens on August 29 and continues through September 3 You can read a summary of the first week of training camp moves here; the second week moves here; the third week moves here; the fourth week of moves here; and the fifth week of moves here. Because moves will be coming fast and furious throughout training camp, we’re going to use quick analysis of moves each week during this time instead of creating a massive Football Relativity comparison.

Additions

Chargers (add DT Travis Johnson) – Johnson, a former first-round pick, never panned out as an impact player in Houston. He was a starter at defensive tackle the last two years, but he hasn’t been enough of a take-on player to mitigate his lack of impact (two career sacks, one career interception). The talent that made Johnson a first-round pick intrigued San Diego, which traded for Johnson and could can try him as a 3-4 end. That role might fit his talent better, because it will allow him to be a space-holder who makes it easier for the linebackers behind him to shake free and make plays. That potential made it worth a sixth-round pick (which can become a fifth-rounder based on Johnson’s playing time) for the Chargers.

Bears (add CB Rod Hood) – Hood, a starter in Arizona last year, landed in Cleveland this offseason but was cut in training camp. Now he goes to Chicago, which has had major secondary injury issues in training camp. Hood probably isn’t a guy you want to start now, but he is a guy who you’re OK with starting in a pinch. So in that role, he fits with the Bears.

Lions (add QB Kevin O’Connell) – O’Connell, a third-round pick in 2008, looked like the leading candidate to be the Pats’ backup QB after New England released Matt Gutierrez earlier in training camp. But O’Connell couldn’t seize the opportunity, and he was cut after the third preseason game. O’Connell latched on with Detroit, which has some lingering QB injuries but also has the first waiver claim. Don’t be surprised if the Lions trade O’Connell somewhere for a low-round draft choice instead of keeping him.

Subtractions

Chiefs (cut WR Amani Toomer) – Toomer, the long-time Giants wideout, landed in Kansas City this year, but he didn’t have enough left to make the team. The Chiefs also have vet Bobby Engram, who can do many of the same things from a dependability and a team-camaraderie standpoint as Toomer but can do more on the field too. That probably doomed Toomer’s Chiefs career.

Buccaneers (cut WR Dexter Jackson) – Jackson, the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2008, had a bust of a rookie season and didn’t recapture his Appalachian State form in the offseason this year. So the Bucs, under a new regime, cut the cord on the speedy but undersized receiver. Someone will give Jackson a chance, at least as a return man, but it’s sad to see him lose his chance so quickly in Tampa.

Rams (cut TE Joe Klopfenstein) – Klopfenstein, a former second-round pick back in 2006, never turned into a player for the Rams, piling up 33 starts but only that many catches while playing every game the past three years. It’s another bust from a horrid 2006 draft class for the Rams, which explains part of the reason they have just five wins the last two years.

49ers (cut QB Damon Huard) – Huard would have been a contender for the Niners’ backup job, but former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith has done enough in the offseason to stake claim to that job. That made Huard expendable. But his veteran wile makes him a good fit elsewhere as an emergency No. 2 or as an insurance policy.

Buccaneers (cut OG Sean Mahan) – Mahan was a long-time starter in Tampa Bay who returned last year after a one-year stint in Pittsburgh. But Mahan is no longer starter-caliber, and so the youth movement of the Bucs swept him out with so many other veterans.

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FR: Same Names

Ever have a stupid idea that mushroomed as you chased it? Well, this is my latest version of that…

So the thought crossed my mind — which pair of NFL players who have the same name are the most productive? And after spending way too much time researching, we actually now have a list.

A couple of caveats: First, we ruled out pairs of players in which one is an undrafted or street free agent – which usually can be translated as “training camp fodder.” So apologies to the Chris Bakers, the Michael Bennetts, the Chris Browns, the Mike/Michael Browns, the Brandon Harrisons, the Nate Joneses, the David Martins, the Antonio Smiths, the Marcus Smiths, the Bobbie/Bobby Williamses, and the Chris Williamses.

Then we ruled out players whose names are the same but spelled or nicknamed differently. That ruled out Michael/Mike Adams, Andra/Andre Davis, Anthony/Tony Gonzalez (that one hurt), Nic/Nick Harris (knocking out our only punter), Renaldo/Reynaldo Hill (our most unique first name on the list), Michael/Mike Jenkins (two first-round picks), Charlie/Charles Johnson, Joey/Joe Porter, Sean/Shaun Smith, Jonathan/John Wade, and Eddie/Edward/Edwin Williams.

So we’ve compared these name pairs on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the pair with the most combined production and 1 being a pair that shares nothing but a name and a roster spot.

The Steve Smiths – One Steve Smith is a four-time Pro Bowl receiver for the Panthers who is generally considered one of the top five receivers in the game. He has more than 500 catches and 43 touchdowns in his career thus far. The other Steve Smith is also a receiver. He had 57 catches for 574 yards last year and is the Giants’ No. 1 wideout going into the ’09 season.

The Roy Williamses – One Roy Williams is a five-time Pro Bowl safety who was cut by the Cowboys in the offseason. He landed in Cincinnati, where he will try to build on his solid career that includes 19 interceptions. The other Roy Williams is a Cowboys wide receiver who looks to be their No. 1 target in ’09 after struggling following a midseason trade last year.

The Adrian Petersons – One Adrian Peterson is a superstar running back for the Vikings who has more than 3,100 yards and 23 total touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league. The other Adrian Peterson is a backup running back and ace special-teamer who has 1,232 rushing yards in his seven seasons with the Bears.

The Chris Johnsons – One Chris Johnson was a revelation as a rookie last year with the Titans, running for 1,228 yards and 10 touchdowns. The other Chris Johnson is a five-year vet who had his first three career interceptions last year with the Raiders.

The Will Allens – One Will Allen is a former first-round pick who has started at cornerback throughout his eight-year career with the Giants and now the Dolphins. He has 13 career interceptions. The other Will Allen is a Buccaneer who has played five years in the NFL but started only one at free safety.

The Zach Millers – Both Zach Millers are tight ends. Explain that. One Zach Miller is an emerging star for the Raiders who has more than 100 catches in his first two seasons. He’s becoming one of the top 8-10 tight ends in the league. The other Zach Miller is a rookie tight end in Jacksonville who was a sixth-round pick in April.

The Dexter Jacksons – One Dexter Jackson is a former Super Bowl MVP with the Buccaneers who now starts at safety for the Bengals. He has 17 regular-season interceptions in his 10 NFL seasons. The other Dexter Jackson played in seven games as a rookie last year with the Bucs but didn’t have a catch as a wide receiver.

The Alex Smiths – One Alex Smith is the former No. 1 overall pick who had one good year as the 49ers quarterback but is now fighting to regain his starting job. The other Alex Smith is a tight end who had 129 catches and 11 touchdowns in four years in Tampa Bay. He was traded in the offseason to New England, where he will compete with one of the Chris Bakers for time at tight end behind Benjamin Watson.

The Chris Clemonses – One Chris Clemons is a defensive end who has 17 career sacks in five years. He now starts for the Eagles. The other Chris Clemons is a fifth-round draft pick from Clemson (anagram!) who will fight for a cornerback job in Miami this year.

The Michael Johnsons – One Michael Johnson is a two-year veteran who starts at safety for the Giants. He had 72 tackles and two picks last year. The other Michael Johnson is a third-round draft pick who could start at defensive end for the Bengals in his rookie season.

The Chris Henrys – One Chris Henry is an oft-troubled wide receiver who has been productive when he’s gotten on the field in his four years with the Bengals. He has 107 career catches for 1,590 yards and 19 touchdowns. The other Chris Henry is a former second-round pick who hasn’t yet panned out as a Titans running back. He had only one carry in his second season in ’08.

The Kyle Williamses – One Kyle Williams is a defensive tackle who has started for the Bills for three years and has four career sacks. The other Kyle Williams started three games last year as a rookie with the Seahawks.

The Marcus Thomases – One Marcus Thomas is a two-year veteran who started every game at defensive tackle last year for the Broncos and had 34 tackles. The other Marcus Thomas is entering his second year. He played in three games for Detroit last year and is trying to make the Browns’ roster this year.

The Brandon Williamses – One Brandon Williams is a wide receiver who has played in 23 career games and will try to make the Steelers’ roster this fall. The other Brandon Williams is a linebacker whom the Cowboys picked in the fourth round this year.

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FR: Cutbacks update

As the league year ended, we compiled a list comparing the cuts teams made  in this post. But in the time that’s followed, there have been several more high-profile cuts that we need to address. So we’ve started a new relativity poll to address the cuts between Feb. 27 and the beginning of the draft. 10 is the most impactful cut; 1 is a cut that just doesn’t matter. (Note: After the release of Torry Holt, the Rams replaced the Cowboys on the top rung of this comparison.)

10 – Rams (cut OT Orlando Pace, WR Torry Holt, and TE Anthony Becht) – Pace played 12 years with the Rams, and was at a high level for most of those. He made 7 Pro Bowls and was a top 5 left tackle for quite a while. (I always considered him behind Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden but on par with anyone else in the league.) But Pace was hurt much of ’06 and ’07, and he wasn’t the same player when he came back last year. The Rams don’t yet have an adequate replacement, but they figure to take one at No. 2 overall in the draft next month. As for Pace, at this point he’s a marginal starter who would probably fit best as a veteran backup for a contender than as a starter somewhere. He’s also big enough to move to the right side if he’s willing to do so. Becht started 11 games last year but has never lived up to his hype as a first-round pick back in 2000.
Holt spent 10 years in St. Louis and played at a high level throughout. He’s made 7 Pro Bowls and compiled numbers that will put him on a Hall of Fame short list when his career is done. While he’s no longer the unstoppable force he was in the Greatest Show on Turf days, he still is an above-average receiver who would be a boon to a contender like Tennessee, Philadelphia, the Giants, or his hometown Panthers (if they ever clear adequate cap space). I’d take Holt over Marvin Harrison in a heartbeat. As for the Rams, they’ve now lost two of the stalwarts of their Super Bowl teams in Holt and Pace. That has to be a huge blow to their fans, who must now hope that these moves will expedite the rebuilding process. The Pace move might, but losing Holt isn’t worth saving what was a fair price ($8M) against the cap.

9- Cowboys (cut WR Terrell Owens, S Roy Williams) — Owens’ release has been huge news this week because he is still one of the best known players in the entire league. He’s a true No. 1 receiver, even though his dominance is starting to wane just a bit. (He’s behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and maybe a couple of others on the wide receiver hierarchy now.) But the idea that Roy Williams (receiver edition) can replace what Owens did is farfetched. The Cowboys will undoubtedly miss Owens’ talents. But few players in the last decade have made the waves Owens has, and that’s something the Cowboys won’t miss. The question is whether the absence of T.O.-related hullaballoo will help Dallas in the end. The Cowboys still have weapons, and they have the talent and the offensive line personnel to be a dominant running team. That’s the approach that will make this cut work. If the Cowboys try to fling the ball around as much as they did last year, the offense will start to sputter because of T.O.’s absence.
As for Roy Williams (the safety edition), that move doesn’t hurt nearly as much. Williams was a top-10 draft pick, but he is a safety who plays the run really well and plays the pass unbelievably poorly. Ever since the Cowboys moved to a 3-4 scheme under Bill Parcells several years ago, Williams has been a bad fit for the defense. So moving on is better for him and for the Cowboys. Dallas still needs safety help, but Williams’ tenure had gone so far south that he was never going to be able to provide it there.

8 – Giants (cut WR Plaxico Burress) –  Burress delivered on his big salary with the Giants until last year, when he was suspended for chronic disregard for team meetings and then shut down following his hyper-publicized gun incident. He can still play at a high level, but his problems make his ‘09 availability a question. Still, some team will take a flier – for 2010 if not next season.

7 – Redskins (cut DE Jason Taylor) – Taylor battled injuries and only had 3.5 sacks in his year in Washington, and he agreed to be released instead of staying in D.C. in the offseason for the team’s training program. The best analysis I’ve heard on this is that it might have been because he was so misused by the Redskins. For some reason, the Redskins left Andre Carter in the prime pass-rushing position and used Taylor more as a run-stopper. Taylor can still help a team in a pass-rush role, especially if he can save his dancing legs for somewhat limited duty. Washington wasn’t going to use him correctly, but someone will figure out how to.

6 – Panthers (cut CB Ken Lucas) – Lucas was a solid starter in Carolina for four years after arriving as a big-ticket free agent from Seattle. In fact, in his first year as a Panther, Lucas was a top-5 corner league-wide. His physical style fit well in Carolina’s off coverage system. But Lucas has slipped a bit over the past couple of years, and Carolina was ready to move Richard Marshall into the starting lineup across from Chris Gamble. Lucas is still good enough to be at least a starter somewhere else, but given the Panthers’ roster and ultra-tight salary cap situation, the move makes sense. Still, it’s going to be a loss for the Panthers.

6 (con’t) – Ravens (cut CB Samari Rolle and LB Nick Griesen) – Rolle had been with the Ravens for four years, and when he started in Baltimore he was still among the elite corners in the league. But last year was not a good one for Samari (or Doorknob, as I still like to call him). He missed six games because of injury and never was able to get healthy enough to play at an elite level. He wasn’t going to start for Baltimore, so he requested his release. The Ravens also cut Rolle’s fellow starting CB Chris McAlister, and so their secondary is in major upheaval. Baltimore has signed Dominique Foxworth, who will definitely start even though he’s probably not even above average as an NFL starter. The other starting spot goes to Fabian Washington, at least for now. The Ravens tried to do right by Rolle by letting him go as he wanted, but they might have done wrong by themselves in the process. Griesen signed a 3-year deal last year to be an inside linebacker and special-teamer, but he never could make an impact in the defensive 11 last year. He could be a decent backup for someone but not much more.

5 – Jaguars (cut WR Matt Jones) – Jones, a former college quarterback turned first-round pick at receiver, is coming off his best season (65 catches, 761 yards, 2 TD) of four in Jacksonville. But off-the-field problems led to his release. Jones missed three games last year on a league-mandated substance-abuse suspension after a cocaine-related arrest last summer. But recently, he spent a week in jail for violating the plea agreement that resolved that charge by drinking alcohol. It seems that Jones was given an ultimatim and didn’t abide by it. It’s a loss for the Jaguars, who have also cut WR Jerry Porter and let former first-rounder Reggie Williams enter free agency as well. They need to find some wide receiver help and may be hoping that Michael Crabtree falls to them at No. 8 overall in the draft.

5 (con’t) – Dolphins (cut DE Vonnie Holliday) – Holliday is a long-time veteran defensive end who is still an acceptable part of a rotation. But he’s no longer an impact starter, and his Dolphins contract paid him as one. Holliday would actually be a pretty good fit as Taylor’s replacement in Washington or in a similar role where he’s looked at more as a run-stuffer than a pass rusher.

5 (con’t) – Saints (cut FB Mike Karney, CB Mike McKenzie and S Kevin Kaesviharn) – Karney is a good, old-fashioned fullback. He’s not much of a runner outside of short-yardage sets, and he doesn’t catch many passes, but he can block. The Saints replaced him with Heath Evans, who has more skills with the ball in his hands. But Karney has a place as a blocker somewhere. (That somewhere will be St. Louis.) McKenzie used to be a big, physical corner, but he has missed most of the last two years with two separate knee injuries. It makes sense for the Saints to release him and save $4.5 million, especially once they added CB Jabari Greer. McKenzie might have trouble finding work because of his physical situation, but he’s worth noting because his 11-year career was quality. Kaesviharn was let go after the Saints signed safeties Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau. He’s an average safety, or maybe a little below that level, and so no great loss. Still, he could hook on elsewhere.

4 – Browns (cut OT Kevin Shaffer) – Shaffer started all but one game over the past three years, playing one season at left tackle before moving to the right side after Cleveland drafted Joe Thomas. He’s probably still good enough to start, and his ability to play both sides makes him even more valuable. He should be able to find a new gig relatively quickly.

4 (con’t) – 49ers (cut OT Jonas Jennings) – Jennings was a big-money signing in San Francisco a couple of years back, but injuries kept him from full effectiveness in San Francisco. He was released to make room for Marvel Smith, who will likely take over Jennings’ ORT spot.

3 –  Bears (cut OL Terrance Metcalf) – Metcalf spent 7 years with the Bears after joining the team as a third-round pick, but he never panned out as a starter – getting just 25 starts during his Chicago tenure. Metcalf should have seized a starting guard last year to replace Ruben Brown, but he couldn’t. That’s why he’s gone. He could fit in as a backup elsewhere, but if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be a shock.

2 –  Broncos (cut LS Mike Leach, RB Cory Boyd, and QB Darrell Hackney) – Good long snappers can work forever, and so Leach won’t have trouble getting a new gig. The Broncos decided he was expendable after new head coach Josh McDaniels imported his former New England snapper Lonnie Paxton and paid him a million bucks a year. Leach won’t get that kind of coin (no longer snapper should), but he’ll find work somewhere. (That somewhere will be Arizona.)

2 (con’t) – Bengals (cut S Dexter Jackson) – Cincy let Jackson, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, go after three seasons. Jackson had started 25 total games for the Bengals in 2006 and ’07 but only three last season. Jackson might be close to being done, but he could also be a solid veteran reserve for a team with playoff aspirations — kind of a “break glass in case of emergency” guy.

2 (con’t) – Browns (cut WR Joe Jurevicius) – Jurevicius has had some productive seasons over his 11-year career, but a staph infection cost him the entire ’08 season. If he can get healthy, he could still step in somewhere as a No. 4 receiver and possession specialist. But health is still a huge question.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (cut RB Gary Russell) – Russell got to play in some short-yardage situations last year because rookie Rashard Mendenhall was hurt, and Russell scored three regular-season touchdowns and one in the Super Bowl, but he didn’t really distinguish himself. He could fit in as a third or fourth tailback for someone, but he’s not really a rotation-quality runner.

1- Chiefs (cut QB Quinn Gray, WR Will Franklin, and LS Jean-Phillippe Darche) – The six-year vet still could be a decent No. 2 quarterback, but with Matt Cassel joining Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle in K.C., Gray wasn’t going to make that roster. But with many other talented quarterbacks still on the market (J.P. Losman, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, etc.), Gray will have a hard time finding work anytime soon.

1 (con’t) – Colts (cut RB Clifton Dawson) – Dawson had a moment or two, but a numbers crunch knocked him out of Indy. He could be a backup elsewhere.

1 (con’t) – Vikings (cut LB Vinny Ciurciu) – This move made me laugh because it reminded me of a story. Ciurciu is a decent backup linebacker and special teamer who got his first real NFL action in Carolina when I was covering the team. The writers on the beat with me always laughed about an interview in which one of Ciurciu’s teammates was talking about him and kept calling him “Choo-Choo” (instead of the proper Chur-choo). So I hope that Choo-Choo gets another job, because a name that good needs to stick around.

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