Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Lions DE Trey Flowers helped healthcare workers, and finding inspiration in his sister's battle with cancer


Tue, December 29, 2020, 8:17 PM EST


Lions DE Trey Flowers helped healthcare workers, and finding inspiration in his sister's battle with cancer | Brad Galli has more with the Lions nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

In one year, Dolphins’ defense goes from worst to 1st in NFL




3 min read

MIAMI (AP) — In one year the Miami Dolphins have gone from worst to first in the NFL in points allowed, which is a big reason their playoff hopes are on the rise.

So why is cornerback Xavien Howard the Dolphins’ only Pro Bowl player?

“Miami always gets overlooked,” Howard said. “If some of the guys were on a different team, they’d get recognized. As a team, we can pick that off with a Super Bowl, and everybody will be happy.”

The Super Bowl is heady talk coming from a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game in 20 years, and the Dolphins are probably still not-ready-for-prime-time players — in February at least.

But their improvement under second-year coach Brian Flores has been dramatic, especially on defense.

Last season the Dolphins gave up a franchise record 494 points, 30.9 per game and the most in the NFL, and went 5-11. This season they’re allowing 18.4 per game, the league’s lowest average, and are contending for an AFC wild-card berth at 9-5.

Because defense is often the best way to win on the road, especially in December, the Dolphins’ final two games — at Las Vegas and at Buffalo — don’t seem quite so daunting. They probably must win both to reach the postseason for only the third time since 2001.

Flores’ defense is a blitz-loving, ball-hawking bunch that leads the league in takeaways (26) and third-down conversions (33%) but ranks near the bottom in star power. That was confirmed by this week’s Pro Bowl picks, when Miami’s lone selection was Howard, who leads the league with nine interceptions, more than nine teams.

“He’s just a guy that you can count on consistently week in and week out,” Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. “He’s really a complete player.”

But as with any good defense, the Dolphins’ success is a collective effort that includes five new starters this year: four free-agent acquisitions and second-round draft pick Raekwon Davis.

“We wanted to add the right people — guys who are tough and smart and competitive and team-first,” Flores said. “With every addition, we have that in mind.”

Safety Bobby McCain has been with the Dolphins since 2015, which gives him seniority on the defense and a unique perspective on this year’s transformation.

“We’ve got 11 guys who want to do their job well and play for each other,” McCain said. “That’s one of the biggest things — understanding that we’re a family, not just a football team. We have a lot of guys who are being selfless, just doing what they’re supposed to do and having fun doing it.”

McCain is part of a secondary that has allowed only 16 touchdown passes, second fewest in the NFL, after getting torched for a league-high 39 in 2019.

Sacks have increased to 37 from a league-low 23 last year. And the Dolphins’ streak of at least one takeaway in 20 consecutive games is the NFL’s longest.

“It’s just playing hard, just all effort,” the 330-pound Davis said. “It’s not a secret, not a scheme, not a play. It’s just chasing the ball down, getting to the ball and getting the ball.”

Davis’ teammates echo that attitude, a reflection of a unit that may be low on big names but is also low on ego.

“We’ve had a number of interceptions this year where there has been good pressure, and there have been a number of sacks where there has been good coverage,” Boyer said. “It all kind of goes hand in hand. We’ve got a good group of guys who play for each other and are all genuinely happy when somebody else has success.”

The disruptive nature of the defense diminishes the significance of some statistics. The Dolphins rank in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed rushing, passing and overall. They’ve been outgained by 426 yards, but are tied for the fifth-best point differential.

Which stat best defines a good defense?

“Wins,” Boyer said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

T.J. Hockenson is the people's choice in NFC Pro Bowl voting


You wanted a Pro Bowl season out of T.J. Hockenson. Looks like you got it.

The NFL announced the top vote-getters at each position Monday after the fan ballots closed last Friday and Hockenson came in at No. 1 among NFC tight ends.

Not bad for the former eighth overall pick.

It's a deserved honor for Hockenson. He leads all NFC tight ends in receiving yards (675) and ranks second in touchdowns (six) and receptions (60).

His second-year surge is the result of more opportunities and a more 'professional' mindset.

 To no surprise, Chiefs' two-time All-Pro Travis Kelce led the way among AFC tight ends. He ranks first in the NFL at his position in every major receiving category. In fact, his 1,318 receiving yards rank second in the NFL overall.

Kelce garnered 309,710 votes, fourth most overall after Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Derrick Henry. Hockenson garnered 148,713.

Former Lions co-captain Quandre Diggs garnered the most votes among NFC free safeties after another strong season for the Seahawks.

Official rosters for the 2021 Pro Bowl, which is going virtual via Madden 21, will be announced Monday night. The fan vote counts for one-third of the final tally, with the players and the coaches getting an equal say as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

8 Rams players who deserve to be selected to Pro Bowl


December 16, 2020 3:55 pm

C Austin Blythe

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It should come as no surprise that Blythe improved after moving back to his natural position of center. He’s been an anchor in the middle of the Rams’ offensive line, helping shore up what was one of the weakest parts of the offense last season.

His overall grade of 73.1 puts him sixth among all centers, according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s allowed just one sack with one penalty committed in 913 snaps. That’s an impressive ratio, especially considering the defensive tackles he’s gone up against.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Brian Baldinger: Brandon Scherff exemplifies 'Hog football'


Ryan Homler

Tue, December 15, 2020, 12:45 PM EST·2 min read


When referencing "The Hogs" of the Washington Football Team, it's assumed that one is speaking about the dominant offensive lineman that sported the Burgundy and Gold in the 80s and early 90s.

That is usually the case, as the likes of Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic and others set the standard for what superb offensive line play looks like. However, former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger believes there is still one "Hog" on Washington's current roster.

His name is Brandon Scherff.

Reviewing his tape from Washington's win over the San Francisco 49ers, Baldinger was blown away by Scherff's performance and effort. From start to finish of each play, he was clearing lanes for runners. That had Baldinger viewing him as a descendant of "The Hogs."

“All the 'Hogs' would welcome him to the club," Baldinger said. "They take him into the shed. This is how you get after it.”

Scherff, a three-time Pro Bowler, has been a consistent force along Washington's offensive line since entering the league as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Set to enter free agency after the season, Scherff wants to continue his career nowhere else but Washington.

That is good news for Washington, should the team get a deal done. Keeping Scherff, according to Baldinger, would allow Washington's offensive line to continue on "The Hogs" tradition.

There’s only one sheriff in Washington, Brandon Scherff...That’s Hog football right there, is it? That’s the Hog football," Baldinger said. 

Report: Key Iowa assistant coach expected to be top candidate for open coordinator jobs


Spenser Davis | 1 day ago


Iowa linebackers coach  Seth Wallace is expected to be a candidate for major defensive coordinator openings in this cycle of the coaching carousel, according to a report.

That’s per ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, who says Wallace, 41, could be a candidate to replace Clark Lea at Notre Dame. Lea is expected to be the next head coach at Vanderbilt.

Indiana’s defensive coordinator position is also vacant, as Kane Wommack took the South Alabama head coaching job earlier this week.

Iowa’s defense has been one of the best in the Big Ten this season. It’s a key reason why the Hawkeyes are on a six-game winning streak heading into Championship Weekend.

Wallace has been the linebackers coach at Iowa since 2016 and has been on staff since 2014. He was previously the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator and has also coached defensive backs and the defensive line. Wallace served as a graduate assistant from 2006-08.

Prior to re-joining the Iowa coaching staff in 2014, Wallace was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State from 2010-13. In 2012, he helped Valdosta State win the NCAA Division II national title with a 12-2 overall record.

Wallace is an Iowa native and attended Grinnell High School. In his playing days, he was a team captain at Coe College, which is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Monday, December 14, 2020

PFF ranks Austin Blythe top 6 center in NFL


Should Washington decline to offer Brandon Scherff a long-term contract?


By Ben Standig, Mark Bullock and Zac Boyer Dec 11, 2020


There are a lot of myths around the NFL. If you’re a fan of the show “MythBusters,” you might enjoy how we’ve decided to examine football myths this week. We’re using the show’s template to poke holes in some of the NFL’s biggest myths. Read the full series here.

Washington right guard Brandon Scherff embodies the team-first, tough-guy mindset every NFL coach desires. That the fifth selection in the 2015 draft has largely lived up to that status — which is not easy, considering he plays an unsexy position — says plenty about his ability as a pass blocker and his athleticism in the run game. Pro Football Focus ranked Scherff fifth among guards through Week 13.

The issue with the three-time Pro Bowl selection is his durability. Since the start of 2017, Scherff has missed 18 games, including three this season, with an assortment of pectoral, shoulder, elbow and knee injuries.

The ability-versus-availability debate is one to watch as Washington ponders a long-term contract extension for Scherff, who is a free agent after the season and is playing on a $15 million franchise tag. After trading longtime left tackle Trent Williams during the offseason, there’s also something to be said for stability. That’s something Scherff provides when he’s out there, but whether he’s among the best in the league at his position — or perhaps whether his talent warrants paying out a lucrative, multi-year contract — is up for debate.

— Ben Standig

The witnesses

Rivera: “I really like what we’re getting from him. I think he’s done a great job. He really has. It doesn’t matter who he lines up next to, he’s a great communicator. I think that’s as important as it gets. He does a great job. He and Chase Roullier are really good together in terms of their combinations. Watching them with Morgan (Moses) has been really cool. He’s helped David Sharpe really nicely. He’s helped David out a lot. I think when you have a guy like that it really doesn’t matter who you put next to him. He’s going to be able to communicate and get things worked out, and that’s what he’s shown us.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner: “Brandon’s toughness, his consistency, and then just the resiliency that he shows, dealing with that (knee) injury earlier in the year, being able to come back … he’s just the steady rock. Him and (tackle) Morgan (Moses) playing on that right side together. … Those guys working together, playing together … those are the leaders so far for us. They’ve done a great job, Brandon in particular. He brings it every day … the toughness, the blue-collar mentality. It helps (as) the engine that drives our team. … He’s a guy that we trust is going to get his block done. If we can ask a little bit more of him than someone else and give a little help to the other side, that’s definitely something that we do. That’s definitely a factor we know, I know, when he’s out there.”

Quarterback Alex Smith: “I think Brandon’s the total package. From a talent standpoint, I think that he’s the best player in that position in the league, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. It means so much to him. He’s so invested into this team. You can feel his energy in the huddle. You certainly miss it when he’s gone. It’s significant. He’s that type of player. Not just from like I said a talent standpoint, but certainly his leadership, his energy and the attitude he brings to the huddle every day.”

— Standig

The film

From a film perspective, Scherff has the total package as a guard. He’s very athletic, which enables Washington to use him in various schemes, such as pulling to the edge on sweeps, leading the way on screen passes and climbing to reach linebackers at the second level of the defense in zone run schemes.

He also possesses outstanding strength combined with a nasty streak coaches love to see in offensive linemen. That means he’s capable of knocking over defenders at any point in the game, either pulling to kick out on a power run scheme or simply tossing them aside in gap schemes.

In pass protection, Scherff uses his athleticism and strength and backs them up with great technique. He’s excellent with his hands, landing strong punches to knock defenders off balance and regularly mixes in quick sets, in which he jumps toward the defender in front of him to close the gap and lands a quick punch, taking away the defender’s initial rush plan and forcing him to go to Plan B quickly.

He’s overall an excellent player with just about every trait a team could ask for in a guard. He’s certainly one of the best in the league when on the field and gives Washington great flexibility in what it can do schematically, which is rare from the guard position.

— Mark Bullock

The numbers

If you’ll remember, Scherff was a left tackle for much of his time at Iowa, where he earned the Outland Trophy after his senior season in 2014. He figured to start at right tackle upon being drafted by Washington, but not long after training camp began, he was moved to right guard and has remained there since.

Evaluating offensive linemen is tricky given the lack of certainty over their responsibilities on any given play, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tried. Essentially, analysis boils down to one underlying criterium, regardless of run or pass: Was the player beat by a defender on that play?

Scherff rarely is. Pro Football Focus graded him as its seventh-best guard overall last season, giving him a 75.2 on a scale that considers players reaching the low 80s to be elite, and through Week 13, he’s ranked fifth with a grade of 82.5. Over his first five seasons, he routinely ranked in at least the 90th percentile in run blocking, and he was the only guard who played at least 250 snaps who allowed 10 or fewer pressures in each of the past two seasons.

Last season, he earned PFF’s fourth-highest run-blocking grade among guards behind the Eagles’ Brandon Brooks, the Colts’ Quenton Nelson and the Cowboys’ Zack Martin — fairly elite company. Through 12 games this season, PFF has given Scherff a grade of 79.9, good for eighth. In ESPN’s run-block win-rate metric, which evaluates the percentage of snaps on which linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer, Scherff is first at 78 percent, with a strong performance Monday against the Steelers moving him fractionally ahead of Nelson.

Those scales have historically regarded Scherff more highly in the running game than in the passing game. Last season, PFF handed Scherff a 72 in pass protection — his lowest mark since he was a rookie. He was credited with giving up just one sack and allowed pressure on just 2.7 percent of his snaps. Through 580 snaps this season, Scherff has graded out at a 78, putting him seventh among guards. ESPN, which lists only its top 10 performers in its pass-block win-rate metric, did not include Scherff in its rankings after last season, but he appeared in the picture after Monday’s game, ranked eighth at 94 percent.

One other less-scientific method to consider: In a vote of his peers, Scherff has been selected to the Pro Bowl in three of the past four seasons — though offensive linemen know that honor is mostly reputation-based. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. On the flip side, he’s yet to be named an All-Pro, and that’s as much of a product of his injury history as it is the quality of the other players who have been honored.

— Zac Boyer

The verdict

Standig: Part of this exercise is considering whether Washington should keep the Pro Bowl guard knowing the cost. Scherff’s one-year deal on the franchise tag for $15,030,000 gave him the highest annual salary among guards, but three others with longer-term deals were close behind, including NFC East rivals in Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks (four years, $56.35 million) and Dallas’s Zach Martin (six years, $84 million). Therefore, offering Scherff a similar annual salary isn’t out of line with the market’s top end.

Bullock: I have no doubt Scherff is one of the best guards in the NFL. His film is full of consistently excellent play with great technique combined with strong athleticism for the position. His presence allows Washington to be extra creative because of the range of things he can do at a high level. He’s an anchor on an offensive line that is starting to find some rhythm and momentum. His talent merits the contract it would cost to keep him, and Washington should be doing everything it can to keep him as the key piece on the offensive line to build around.

Boyer: No matter which way he’s evaluated, Scherff is one of the best players at his position. Washington was comfortable having him play on the franchise tag knowing that meant he’d be paid as one of the best. He has been recognized by those around the league, and the ways his performance can be quantified, as one of the best. Could he improve? Sure, but he’s taking care of business, and that’s worth rewarding, especially given Washington’s salary-cap situation.

Our decision: Busted

Scherff has proven he ranks among the top at his position. Considering the questions on Washington’s left side, the team trading away a Pro Bowl lineman in Williams and its strong 2021 salary-cap situation (approximately $50 million available), paying one of the best guards in the league seems like a prudent move, even if that’s not a traditional position on which teams spend big.

(Photo: Daniel Kucin Jr. / Associated Press)

Friday, December 11, 2020

Trey Flowers named Lions' nominee for 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year


Dec 10, 2020 at 08:55 AM


Allen Park, Mich.— The Detroit Lions announced today DE Trey Flowers as the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year presented by Nationwide. Considered one of the league's most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league's 32 nominees were announced today.




"Walter Payton was a great person, what he stood for. A legacy lives on forever. It's about the things that you do with the time that you have on this Earth. I just hope that a long time from now, people can remember the impact that I had on their lives and the impact that I had on the community. I hope that my foundation can continue to do great things in the community. I just want to inspire, I want to encourage because I know how important it is. This world, in order to get better we have to inculcate the things that we've experienced and the knowledge that we have on to the youth, which leads them to be even better."


In April 2019, Flowers founded Flowers of the Future Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization with the mission of establishing community engagement, promoting physical fitness, developing positive values and engaging in philanthropic endeavors that aid in the overall betterment of the youth in an effort to plant seeds that continuously grow 'flowers for a better tomorrow.' Currently the foundation supports these efforts in Flowers' hometown of Huntsville, Ala. and Detroit, with plans to expand nationwide.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

NOTEBOOK: Hockenson taking off in second season


Dec 09, 2020 at 03:29 PM

Tim Twentyman

Senior Writer

When the Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson No. 8 overall in the 2019 draft, they knew there would be some growing pains as a rookie. Playing tight end in the NFL is tough business for first-year players, and while Hockenson showed flashes as a rookie, he needed to get more comfortable playing in the NFL.


Now in his second season, his production has seen a significant uptick. Hockenson currently leads all NFC tight ends in receptions (52), yards (614), yards after the catch (288), first downs (33), 10-plus-yard completions (28), and he's second in touchdowns (5) and third in 25-plus-yard receptions (4). As a result, Hockenson leads the Pro Bowl voting at tight end in the NFC.


"I think he's doing a really nice job for us," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said Wednesday of Hockenson. "He can kind of do it all. He can block, he can run, catch and do all that sort of stuff for us. So, his role just keeps expanding. His route tree does the same just keeps expanding in the things that he can do. Hock's obviously a young player, but a talented player, and he's doing a nice job."


Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell was asked Wednesday what he's seen as the biggest development from year one to year two with Hockenson.


"I think that's the most important part about this thing, is he's willing to learn the X's and O's, he's really willing to put the time in, out on the field he's getting extra stuff with Matthew (Stafford) and the quarterbacks at times," Bevell said.


"It's the behind the scenes things that you don't get to see that he's doing every day. He works hard at his craft. There is stuff you get a comfort level – remember, at the beginning of the year he's coming off that injury; we're limiting him a little bit. So he has that comfort level with Matthew, I think they have that good relationship where they know what each other is getting ready to do. I think that helps as well. Right now, he's playing really well for us."


Hockenson will look to keep his impressive season going this week against a Green Bay defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard performance by any opposing tight end this season and has only allowed three touchdowns to the position all year.

Matchup Of The Game: Bengals Looking For Another Kick Against NFL's Top Special Teams


Dec 03, 2020 at 09:49 AM

Geoff Hobson

Senior Writer

Shawn Williams looks to captain another stalwart special teams day.



Darrin Simmons, the superstitious long-time coordinator who broke the Bengals special teams hex while making them one of the most consistent kicking games in the NFL's 21st century, is doing more than knocking on wood this week.


But, as usual, he won't say what as he prepares for Sunday's (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) showdown in Miami against the Dolphins' top-ranked special teams. With the help of two successful fake punts in the last three weeks, the Bengals have climbed back to No. 6, according to Football Outsiders. Simmons won't say if he called the play from the bench or if Williams, his on-field alter ego as punter Kevin Huber's personal protector, made the check and ran for the first down.


"I," says Simmons, "wouldn't answer my own mother if she asked me that."


According to Williams, it doesn't much matter. Other than Huber and his personal long snapper Clark Harris, Williams has taken the most snaps under Simmons since he arrived in 2013. In that stretch, according to Football Outsiders, the Bengals have finished in the top 10 in that hidden phase of the game four times and that includes last year's No. 1 ranking.


(Remember what Simmons inherited. The year before he arrived in 2002, the Bengals allowed four return TDs. Under Simmons, they didn't allow their fourth TD until the opener of his eighth season.)


And they care about stuff like that. "We want to be one of the reasons we win, not the reason we lose," Huber says of his fellow specialists. They know where they're ranked and where their foe is ranked.


"Darrin and I are kind of on the same wave pattern as far as thoughts," Williams says. "I can ask in my head, 'What would Darrin do here?' I know Darrin like nobody on this team does. Well, not as much as Clark and Kevin."


If Simmons won't answer his mother, Williams can remind Fejedelem, "Who his Daddy is." Williams checked in with Fejedelem after Sunday's game the Bengals teamers almost stole one from the Giants and reminded him of this Sunday's appointment.


"I taught Fej everything he knows," Williams says. "Darrin is still his Daddy. But I'm his big brother. Brayden is his uncle."


"Brayden," is Brayden Coombs, Simmons' former assistant who took the Lions' head special teams job this season. All of them went to Fejedelem's wedding back in March in Chicago and a few days later Fejedelem signed with the Dolphins.


Fejedelem, the fearless NAIA Illinois walk-on the Bengals took in the seventh round in 2016, blossomed into a Pro Bowl alternate under Simmons and Coombs and now what does that make Danny Crossman, the Dolphins special teams coordinator?


When Simmons came to Cincinnati with head coach Marvin Lewis in 2003, Crossman replaced Simmons as the Panthers assistant special teams coach. With both raised under the special teams tree of Scott O'Brien, you wouldn't exactly call them twins but X and O cousins would be pretty close.


"There's probably not much different what he's telling his guys than what I'm telling my guys," Simmons says. 


When Simmons flipped on the tape this week, there were no surprises. Crossman has his people playing hard and in the right spots. Jakeem Grant leads the NFL in punt returns, the Dolphins are second in the league covering them and in a memo to Bengals kick return ace Brandon Wilson they are No. 1 covering kickoffs.


And as insurance, the balmy South Florida air has big-footed kicker Jason Sanders seventh in touchbacks.


Even though he missed the first three games, Simmons can see that Fej is Fej, leading the Dolphins in tackles as their special teams quarterback in the role of punt team personal protector.


That's the job he had here and when Simmons went searching for a new PP he didn't have to go far. Running back Giovani Bernard, who arrived a round before Williams in the 2013 draft, had done it before in spurts. But when running back Joe Mixon got hurt back in mid-October and Bernard became the No. 1 ball carrier, Simmons had to find someone else.


 "Darrin has higher standards for you than you probably think you could ever reach," Williams says. "That never changes regardless of the score in the game or the record at any point in the season. That's what makes Darrin the great coach that he is. His standards are not only high for the team, but for each player specifically."


That was a short search, too, once he lost Bernard and landed on Williams. But then, that's what the best NFL special teams coaches do. Their No. 1 trait has to be reacting because during the week the other coaches take from them to fill their own holes and the kicking game is left with guile, improvisation and not much else.


Especially in a year for the Bengals that has been devastated by injury and racked by COVID uncertainty.


"Special teams coordinators get the short end of the stick," says Huber, the longest-tenured Bengal. "They find out late Saturday, early Sunday who is going to be active, who is going to be inactive after a week of practicing guys. So he has to have multiple guys prepared, multiple lineups prepared in case one guy is down vs. another guy.


"Darrin does a great job with detail. Guys know what to expect. There aren't many looks we're going to see that we haven't seen already in practice. I'd say our guys are more prepared than any other special teams unit in the league."


Head coach Zac Taylor recognized Simmons' organizational skills when he appointed him assistant head coach during the offseason and while that probably kept interested teams at bay, it has also helped the club.


"He's a guy I turn to 20 times a day," Taylor says. "(We) talk about the roster, talk about schedules, talk about how to handle the game, how we're going to win this game on Sunday. I run everything that I'm thinking through him. He's been a great, great resource for me."


If Williams can hear Simmons in his head, Simmons can also hear Williams. He could hear him watching the tape of last Sunday's game. He heard him on that last punt return with two minutes left and the Bengals needing the 29 yards Alex Erickson got them to stay in it.


"I think our guys like the challenge of going against a team ranked like that," Simmons says. "They care about winning and doing the job well."


With pros like Williams. He blocked the gunner out of bounds and went back on the field to help out and get another block. That was after he helped spring Wilson for his franchise-long 103-yard kick return in the first quarter. It was after he ran seven yards on fourth down with a fake punt two weeks after he got 39 against the Steelers with another one.


That's how Simmons sees his unit. Everyone, and maybe most importantly his captain, a veteran like Williams who lost his starting safety job this year, making a big contribution no matter what.


"It's hard," Williams says of trying to adjust to a different role. "It's hard. Everyone sets out to have goals and standards and seeing it not come true, you deal with it. You do what you can to get over it, get through it and help your team."


So that means watching tape of the 5-7, 171-pound Grant gobbling up nearly 14 yards per return while taking one 88 for a score. "The little returner is really good," says Williams, who leads a crew that is ninth covering punts despite the revolving door at cornerback. Wilson, the Bengals' defending NFL kick return champ, has moved up to sixth and faces a Miami kick cover team that has put teams inside the 20 nine times when Sanders doesn't boot it out of the end zone.


"It should be a nice little game," Williams says. "Two good (units). Two coaches that came up together. Let the chips fall.


"We'll do what always try to do and help the team by bringing the juice."

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