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Several single-season records may fall on Sunday

Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, AP

With the NFL season coming to a close on Sunday, several players are on the verge of earning top spots in the NFL Record and Fact Book for their performances in 2012. Let’s take a moment to appreciate some record-setting performances this season.

First, here are some single-season records that have already been broken this year:

Most receiving yards: Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has 1,892 yards this season, topping the old record of 1,848, set by Jerry Rice in 1995. On Sunday we’ll see whether Johnson can be the first player in NFL history to top 2,000 receiving yards.

Most 50-yard field goals: Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh broke the NFL record previously owned by Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson, with nine 50-yard field goals this season.

Most punts inside the 20: Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt got his 42nd punt inside the 20 on Sunday, tying an NFL record. That was only the record for a few hours before Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil broke it by landing six punts inside the 20-yard line on Sunday against the Bears, upping his season total to a new NFL record of 44. Zastudil may add to his record on Sunday, or Colquitt may surpass him, giving us a reason to watch two good punters on two bad teams on Sunday.

Most passing yards, rookie: Andrew Luck has 4,183 passing yards this season, topping Cam Newton’s year-old record of 4,053.

Most passing attempts, rookie: Luck owns this record, too, with 599 attempts this season, topping Sam Bradford’s two-year-old record of 590.

Here are the single-season records that could be broken on Sunday:

Highest passer rating, rookie: Ben Roethlisberger owns this record at the moment, with a 98.1 rating in 2004. But Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is currently on pace to break that record, with a 104.1 rating, while Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is at 98.0 and could break it as well.

Highest completion percentage, rookie: Roethlisberger owns this record, too, at 66.44 percent, and Griffin is right behind him, at 66.40 percent.

Lowest percentage, passes had intercepted, rookie: Charlie Batch owns this record, with 1.98 percent of his passes intercepted (six interceptions on 303 attempts) as a Lions rookie in 1998. Griffin has thrown interceptions on just 1.33 percent of his passes this season (five interceptions on 375 attempts), so this record will belong to Griffin unless he throws at least three interceptions against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Most touchdown passes, rookie: Wilson has 25 touchdown passes this season, one away from Peyton Manning’s record of 26. Have you noticed there are some pretty good rookie quarterbacks this year?

Most completions, rookie: Luck has 325 completions this season, putting him third all time. He needs just two completions on Sunday to pass Peyton Manning for second place all time (326) and needs 30 completions to break Sam Bradford’s record of 354.

Most sacks: Houston’s J.J. Watt has 20.5 and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith has 19.5, putting them both in striking distance of Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5.

Most 100-yard receiving games: In addition to breaking the single-season yardage record, Calvin Johnson has tied the single-season 100-yard game record. Johnson has 11 games of at least 100 receiving yards this season, equaling Michael Irvin’s NFL record, and Megatron can get the record all to himself with a 12th 100-yard game on Sunday.

Most pass attempts: Detroit’s Matthew Stafford has 685 attempts this season, putting him seven passes away from breaking Drew Bledsoe’s single-season record of 691.

Highest net punting average: Saints punter Thomas Morstead is currently averaging 44.4 net yards per punt. He’s well on his way to breaking the all-time record, which the 49ers’ Andy Lee set last year when he averaged 43.99 yards per punt.

Most fair catches: Jets punt returner Jeremy Kerley has fair caught 33 punt returns this season, tying the all-time record set by Brian Mitchell of the Eagles in 2000. Mitchell is the NFL’s all-time leader for most punt returns and most punt return yards, and he probably wouldn’t mind giving up an unimportant record like most fair catches in a season — the kind of weird record it would make sense for someone on this weird Jets team to own.

Most interception return touchdowns: Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has three interception return touchdowns this season, tying Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Ronnie Lott for the most ever by a rookie. If Jenkins has another pick-six on Sunday, he’ll have the rookie record all to himself and a share of the all-time record of four in a season.

Most rushing yards: This is the big one. Peterson has 1,898 yards this season, putting him 208 away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105, set in 1984. According to NFL information man Randall Liu, the NFL single-season records for rushing yards and receiving yards have only been set in the same season once, and that was in 1932 — the first year the NFL began recording single-season statistical records, when by definition every record was set. With Johnson already having the receiving record and Peterson having a shot at the rushing record, this could be the year that those records are set simultaneously once again.

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Bucs are keeping door open for a trade down

Winston Getty Images

The Buccaneers opened their offseason program on Monday.  General Manager Jason Licht met with the media in conjunction with the launch of the offseason program.  And he understandably was asked plenty of questions about the team’s plans for the first overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Licht’s comments continue to point to Jameis Winston being the first overall pick.

“Going back all the way to [the Scouting Combine], we said we had a leader in the clubhouse, we still do,” Licht said, via a transcript prepared by the team.   “If we had to pick today, we would feel very comfortable making the pick.  With that said, we’ll wait.  We’ll use the majority of our allotted time.  There is always something that could pop up that you wish you would’ve waited, talking about a scenario where somebody offers you something you can’t refuse.  We’ll use the allotted time, but everyone in the organization feels very comfortable right now with where we are at.”

What would it take to get the top pick?

“It’s fair to assume someone is going to have to make a really good offer, yeah,” Licht said. “And this time of year you get a lot of calls every day.  Not making offers, but just throwing, gauging your interest of if you would be open to it or not.  And that will continue.  But it would have to be an offer that makes this franchise, that sets this franchise even further ahead than what you thought you were going to with the decision you made.”

So the Buccaneers are keeping the door open for a possible trade down, and if no one makes them an offer they can’t refuse, they’ll take the guy they’ve been planning to take all along.  And the widespread belief continues to be that Winston will be the pick.

Not surprisingly, Licht also was asked about the research the team has done regarding Winston’s off-field issued, specifically relating to the sexual-assault lawsuit filed against him last week by Erica Kinsman.

“It didn’t surprise us,” Licht said regarding the civil complaint.  “The information that came out with it was not a surprise to us.  We’re very confident in the amount of work we have done.  Maybe 25 years from now I’ll write a book, but we feel very confident in the amount of work we’ve done internally.  We have had work done externally, third parties, on and on and on.  So there have been no surprises.”

Licht sidestepped the question of whether he has spoken to prosecutors or to Kinsman’s lawyers.

“Well, I’ll answer that this way:  We’ve talked to a lot of people,” Licht said. “‘A lot’ is probably not a big enough word.  But, we’re not going to publicly talk about who we talked to.  That’s just what we decided internally.  We are not going to talk about the process.  All I’ll tell you is that the Glazer family, the head coach, the General Manager, our staffs, we all couldn’t feel more confident about the process we have gone through so far.”

There’s no reason to think the Buccaneers haven’t done everything they need to do, given the stakes of the decision they’ll be making.  It’s the fifth time in franchise history that they’ve been in this spot, and the goal will be to get another Lee Roy Selmon, who made it to the Hall of Fame — and not another Bo Jackson, who never played for the team.

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Mychal Kendricks absent from start of Eagles offseason program

Mychal Kendricks Getty Images

Offensive lineman Evan Mathis wasn’t the only player absent from the start of the Philadelphia Eagles offseason program on Monday.

According to CSNPhilly.com, linebacker Mychal Kendricks was also a no-show at the Eagles facility.

Per Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News, Kendricks had a scheduled trip planned and will join the offseason program soon. Kendricks’ instagram account appears to show him on vacation in Costa Rica.

The offseason workouts are voluntary and there is no penalty for missing the start of conditioning season.

With the addition of Kiko Alonso this offseason, just how the Eagles will work their linebackers onto the field remains to be seen. Alonso, Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans all are capable inside linebackers. Kendricks appeared in 12 games with 11 starts last year for Philadelphia. He recorded 83 tackles with four sacks and three forced fumbles.

 

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Tomlinson thinks Rivers wants out of San Diego

Rivers Getty Images

The star running back who once had to leave San Diego believes the star quarterback that used to be his teammate wants to move on, too.

Via Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego, former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said on NFL Network that he thinks current Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers won’t be back with the team in 2015.

I personally don’t think so,” Tomlinson said.  “I really think this is a situation where Philip Rivers wants to move on.  The reason why I think that and the reason why I feel like that is the Chargers have already approached Philip about doing another contract and he declined it.  He doesn’t want anything to do with it; he didn’t even want to talk about another contract with the San Diego Chargers.  That tells me that he’s thinking about moving on.”

Tomlinson didn’t say that Rivers actually told Tomlinson that; instead, Tomlinson surmises Rivers is thinking about moving on because he rebuffed the team’s desire to extend his deal.

So should the Chargers trade Rivers, if he doesn’t want to be there?

“You never want to trade your franchise quarterback,” Tomlinson said, “that’s never the case.  However, in this situation they might have no choice but to do so because I don’t know if Philip [Rivers] wants to be there anymore.  I think he’s lost confidence in the organization.   He’s seeing a lot of changes going on and the L.A. thing is valid; him not wanting to go to L.A., that is very valid, I can see that.  So no, it doesn’t make sense to move on from Philip because he’s a franchise quarterback and he still has three to four very good years left.”

Why he has lost confidence in the team?

“The receiving corps keeps on changing; Eddie Royal is now gone,” Tomlinson said.  “We talked about this before with Vincent Jackson leaving years ago.  There are so many parts that are leaving where Philip is looking around that locker room and he doesn’t see anyone he’s familiar with other than Antonio Gates.  Now to that point, Antonio Gates next year is a free agent.  Eric Weddle is going to be up.  Next year the Chargers have a lot of decisions to make with a lot of key guys, so Philip could be looking at the situation and thinking we’re not close to winning a championship anytime soon.”

Rivers hasn’t addressed his situation since going on the record about his reluctance to extend a contract that runs through the coming season, comments which coincidentally emerged only four days after the Steelers gave quarterback Roethlisberger a gigantic new deal.

As Krasovic notes, Rivers and coach Mike McCoy were shielded from the media on Monday, the first day of offseason workouts.  At some point Rivers needs to say whether he wants to stay or whether he wants to go.  Unless and until he does, the perception will linger that he wants to move on.

Tennessee continues to be the most likely destination, primarily because only the Titans are in position to give the Chargers a potential franchise quarterback to replace Rivers, via the second overall pick in the draft.  If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen in less than 10 days or not at all.

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Lions WR Jeremy Ross, six other ERFAs re-sign on Monday

Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jeremy Ross AP

Lions returner Jeremy Ross was among seven exclusive rights free agents re-signing with clubs on Monday.

The 27-year-old Ross returned 23 kickoffs for 584 yards (25.4 yards per attempt) and 32 punts for 284 yards (8.9 yards per attempt) in 2014. A wide receiver, Ross also added 24 catches for 314 yards and a touchdown, with four catches of 20 yards or more.

Other exclusive-rights free agents re-signing Monday were Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken, Giants defensive back Chandler Fenner, Chiefs wide receivers Frankie Hammond and Junior Hemingway, Ravens defensive back Tramain Jacobs and Rams offensive guard Brandon Washington. Hammond (four catches, 45 yards) started three games for the Chiefs a season ago, while Hemingway (12-108) made one start.

All re-signings were disclosed in the NFL’s Monday personnel notice.

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Seahawks re-sign center Lemuel Jeanpierre

Lemuel Jeanpierre AP

In need of additional depth along the offensive line, the Seattle Seahawks re-signed center Lemuel Jeanpierre on Monday.

Jeanpierre has spent each of the last four seasons as a backup to Max Unger for Seattle. He’s appeared in 53 games for the Seahawks and made 11 starts split between center and guard over that span.

Jeanpierre was placed on injured reserve at the end of training camp last year and released with an injury settlement. With Stephen Schilling going on injured reserve mid-season, Seattle re-signed Jeanpierre and he appeared in six games with three starts.

The Seahawks may have elected to move on from Jeanpierre this offseason but Schilling elected to retire rather than accept an offer from Seattle. With Unger in New Orleans, former left guard James Carpenter now with the New York Jets and Patrick Lewis as the only veteran center on the roster, a reunion with Jeanpierre once again became a viable option.

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Six RFAs re-sign with clubs on Monday

Austin Davis AP

The restricted free agent market continues to thin.

Six restricted free agents re-signed with their clubs on Monday, per the NFL’s personnel notice, which announces transactions.

Three Rams RFAs signed their tenders: safety Rodney McLeod, quarterback Austin Davis and tight end Cory Harkey. McLeod has been a two-season starter in the secondary, while Davis started eight games in place of the injured Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford a season ago.

Other RFAs signing their tenders were Browns linebacker Craig Robertson, Browns defensive back Johnson Bademosi and Steelers fullback Will Johnson. Robertson started 11-of-16 games for Cleveland in 2014, notching 99 tackles.

Teams have until Friday to sign other clubs’ restricted free agents to offer sheets. Thirty-four players were tendered as RFAs earlier in the offseason, with the majority already re-signing with their clubs.

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Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair dies at 84

St. Clair AP

Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bob St. Clair, who spent 11 seasons with the 49ers from 1953 through 1963, has died after a brief illness.  He was 84.

A third-round draft pick (32nd overall) from Tulsa, St. Clair served for three years as a team captain and made it to five Pro Bowls.

He blocked for the team’s “Million Dollar Backfield.”  In 1956, St. Clair used his height to block a whopping 10 field goals.  Those efforts helped qualify him for the All-Decade team of the 1950s.

St. Clair also was once kicked in the face while trying to block a punt by Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.  St. Clair made the play, but he lost five teeth.

“I went over to the sideline and they shoved cotton in my mouth and until it got so bad I had to take Novocain in my mouth, but I kept playing,” St. Clair said in 2010.

Via his biography at the Hall of Fame website, St. Clair was an unusual character, with habits that included eating raw meat.  Late in his playing career, St. Clair served as the mayor of Daly City, California.

The San Francisco native entered Canton in 1990, as part of the class that included Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Tom Landry, Ted Hendricks, Bob Griese, and Buck Buchanan.

The last line of St. Clair’s enshrinement speech often pops up in NFL Films productions with this simple message:  “I want to thank you very much for making my day in the sun so memorable.”

Condolences to the family and friends of Bob St. Clair, whose contributions to football at the dawn of the TV era helped make the game what it has become.

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Vikings remain intent on keeping Peterson, unless blown away by an offer

Peterson Getty Images

When it comes to running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have three options:  (1) keep him and try to make him happy; (2) keep him regardless of whether he’s happy; or (3) trade him.

The Vikings have adopted the position that they’ll keep Peterson regardless of whether he’s happy, and it doesn’t appear to be a ruse aimed at coaxing a greater offer via trade.  The Vikings want Peterson, and they’re confident that the passage of time will smooth over any ruffled feathers.

That said, it’s possible that someone will make them a trade offer that gets Minnesota’s attention — under the same theory pursuant to which any player on any team is, in theory, available via trade. If another team puts enough picks and/or players on the pile, even an untouchable player will be asked to pack his bags.

In this case, that’s not expected to happen.  A source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that a recent report that they’d want a first-round pick and a starting cornerback isn’t accurate, which suggests it would take even more than that to even begin to get the Vikings to consider making the deal.

And for good reason.  Absent a package that will have the same impact on the Vikings that Peterson could have in 2015, given an improving defense and a young franchise quarterback distributing the ball to a respectable complement of receivers, the Vikings have no reason to make a deal.

Look for plenty of noise and agitation about a possible trade over the next 10 days, with the possibility that someone will decide to put together a modern-day Herschel Walker-type package.  Absent that, the Vikings likely will keep Peterson’s rights and hope that he eventually realizes that his best move will be to honor his contract, accept $13 million, and resume his chase for the all-time rushing record, which remains 8,165 yards away.

Which requires five seasons of, on average, 1,633 yards per year.  That’s a total Peterson has surpassed only twice in his career.

Based on how he performed in 2012 after tearing an ACL on Christmas Eve of 2011, it wouldn’t be wise to ever bet against Peterson.  But if he plans to prove the doubters wrong and if the Vikings plan to keep him for the next three seasons, Peterson’s best bet will be to stay put and to play hard.

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Former Bears LB Doug Buffone passes away at age 70

Doug Buffone, Walter Payton, AP

Doug Buffone, a Bears linebacker for 14 seasons, died Monday at age 70, the club said.

Buffone passed away due to natural causes, police said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Buffone played 186 games from 1966 through 1979, intercepting 24 passes. Early in his career, he was a part of a Chicago linebacking corps that included Dick Butkus.

After retirement, Buffone worked in media, perhaps most notably for Chicago sports radio station WSCR, for which he handled postgame coverage with fellow former Bear Ed O’ Bradovich.

“He will always be celebrated as one of the Bears greats for his contributions to his team and the fans who loved him,” Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said of Buffone in a statement on the club’s website. “There was no one tougher on Sundays than Doug Buffone.”

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DeAndre Hopkins has no interest in talking about Andre Johnson

Johnson Getty Images

For the first time since 2003, receiver Andre Johnson plays for a team other than the Texans.  And the receiver who arrived in Houston via round one a decade after Johnson isn’t inclined to talk about his one-time mentor.

Asked by reporters on the first day of the offseason program to discuss what it’s like not having Johnson on the team, DeAndre Hopkins said, “No comment.”

Asked later about being the No. 1 receiver with Johnson now gone, Hopkins said, “No comment.”

When the question didn’t include Johnson’s name, Hopkins said plenty.  For example, when asked to explain how it feels to be a leader of the receivers this year, Hopkins said, “It feels great.  My motto is I’m going to go out and work every day no matter who is here.  It’s a mentality that I always play with since I’ve been playing football.”

Later, when asked about helping new receivers learn the ropes, Hopkins managed to avoid saying Johnson’s name, referring to him only by number.

“I told those guys they could come to me,” Hopkins said.  “Coaches are going to help them transition into this offense, but a lot of wide receivers in there look up to me because we don’t have 80 here anymore.  I like that chip on my shoulder.”

The phrase “chip on my shoulder” doesn’t really apply in this specific context, but given Hopkins’ reluctance to answer questions mentioning Johnson and Hopkins’ decision to not even refer to Johnson by name hints at some possible tension between the former face of the franchise and the first-round pick who eventually supplanted him.

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Pierre-Paul to skip offseason program

Pierre-Paul Getty Images

With all 32 offseason programs now open, the players most likely to make news are the players who aren’t there.  For players who have received the franchise tag and who have not yet accepted it, their absence isn’t surprising.  But it’s still worth mentioning.

In New York, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul hasn’t signed the franchise tag, so he’s not under contract and won’t be participating in the offseason program, as noted by Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.

Pierre-Paul, per Ranaan, will continue to work out on his own.  Which entails some risk; if he suffers a serious injury while doing his own thing, the Giants would immediately rescind the tag, and JPP would be SOL.  If he signs the tender and shows up for offseason workouts, that same fluke injury would result in his full salary of $14.8 million being paid.

There’s a middle ground that a player can utilize.  An unsigned player subject to the franchise tag may attend the offseason program, subject to the understanding that he’d receive his full pay if he suffers a season-ending injury.  Most franchise players, however, choose to withhold services by staying away.

That typically results in the franchise-tagged player missing the entire offseason program and then signing (or not signing) a long-term deal just before the July 15 deadline for inking a multi-year contract.  At the latest, the franchise-tagged player shows up for Week One, since no one wants to miss those gigantic game checks, which for Pierre-Paul will be $870,588.

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Eric Weddle not present for first day of voluntary workouts

Eric Weddle AP

The Chargers’ top defensive back was a no-show for the first day of the team’s voluntary workouts Monday.

Safety Eric Weddle, a three-time Pro Bowler, is seeking a new contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Kevin Acee, Weddle expressed unhappiness with the Chargers’ unwillingness, at least at this point, to come to the table with a new deal. Weddle is the final year of his contract and set to make $7.5 million in 2015.

“I feel highly, highly disrespected,” Weddle told the Union-Tribune in a story published Monday.

Weddle, 30, told the Union-Tribune he wanted to stay in San Diego for the remainder of his career, but he also felt a need to show the Chargers that he was “not very happy” regarding the lack of progress in negotiations.

The matter of how to pay Weddle in the next deal could be tricky for San Diego. By the 2016 postseason, he will be 32 years old. However, he has not missed a game since 2009.

Weddle notched 119 tackles and intercepted one pass a season ago for San Diego, for which he’s been a starter the last seven seasons.

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Greg Hardy asks for expungement of his criminal case

Greg Hardy AP

In February, criminal charges against Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed on the first day of trial, after his accuser failed to show up in court — which happened after Hardy reportedly reached a settlement with her.  Hardy now wants the State of North Carolina to pretend that none of it ever happened.

Per multiple reports, Hardy has filed a request that all records regarding the case be expunged.

“He’s been found guilty of absolutely nothing and he’s entitled to have a record of that charge eliminated,” attorney Tony Scheer said, via WSOC-TV.

If granted, everything related to the case would be removed from the Mecklenburg County court system — from Hardy’s mugshot to the conviction issued by a judge at the conclusion of a bench trial last year.  Given the intense coverage of the case and the long memory of the Internet, it’s a meaningless gesture; the accusations against Hardy will live a much longer and more noticeable life beyond the walls of the Mecklenburg County courthouse.

Most importantly, they’ll live long enough at 345 Park Avenue to result in a potential suspension of Hardy for the outset of the 2015 regular season.

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Dion Jordan does not attend first day of Dolphins’ workouts

Dion Jordan AP

Dion Jordan wasn’t there when the Dolphins reported to offseason workouts today.

Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that Jordan wasn’t there, although it wasn’t immediately clear why.

It could simply be that Jordan chose not to attend the voluntary workouts. That’s his right, although it would be a disappointment to the Dolphins, who are considering giving him more work at linebacker this offseason in the hopes that he can be a better contributor there once the season starts. Jordan has played primarily at defensive end in his first two NFL seasons, and has been a disappointment.

The Dolphins packaged both their first-round pick and their second-round pick in 2013 to move up and draft Jordan third overall, and in his first two seasons Jordan has only started one game and recorded three sacks. They’re counting on getting more from him this year, but this year is not off to a good start.

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Chris Harris says new defense will put corners on an island more

Harris Getty Images

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has the kind of confidence that only comes from making it in the NFL despite being an undrafted, five-foot, ten-inch defensive back.  That confidence will serve him well in the team’s new defense under coordinator Wade Phillips.

“We’re going to be out there on an island a lot, so there is a lot of responsibility on us to be able to shut our guys down,” Harris told reporters on Monday.  “Jack [Del Rio] put us on an island too, so it’s something that if you play corner you’re going to have to be on an island. In this defense, we’re just so aggressive that we’re going to be on an island even more.”

Harris still wishes he’d been on an island against T.Y. Hilton when the Broncos lost to the Colts in the playoffs.

“You always want to cover a guy like him,” Harris said.  “He’s small and shifty.  That’s what God put me on this earth for — for guys like him.  I was definitely irritated, but it’s a new year.  We’re going to play them again.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be on him this year.”

If Harris and Talib can both stay healthy and perform at a high level and cover their men with little or no help, the other nine members of the defense will be able to do other things aimed at keeping opposing offenses from scoring points.  Which will take pressure off the offense, and make it easier for the Broncos to make good on what multiple members of the team insist is a “Super Bowl or bust” season.

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