NFL notes: Running back and musical divas
Playing in Nashville offers the chance to make new friends and fans. Just ask Tennessee running back Chris Johnson.
He lunched with country singer Faith Hill on Tuesday, spending 45 minutes together at a place called Swett’s that serves up an old-fashioned meat and three vegetables. Johnson couldn’t remember how the lunch date was set up, but he said she asked lots of good questions. He gave her a signed jersey.
“She’s a real big fan. I’m a fan of hers now, too,” Johnson said.
This isn’t Johnson’s first country music moment. He was sent some drums last season by singer Martina McBride following a game in which he banged on some bongos in the end zone to celebrate a touchdown. He met McBride after she sang the national anthem at a Titans game.
So does Johnson like Hill or McBride more?
“I like both,” Johnson said with a smile.
STILL NO SIMPSON: When the Bengals made Jerome Simpson their second-round pick and the 46th overall last year, analysts wondered how long it would take the physically gifted receiver from Coastal Carolina to learn the complexities of the NFL game.
It’s 1 1/2 seasons and counting. Simpson has been inactive for every game this season, struggling to pick up the finer points.
“My views are that Jerome is doing everything he can to try to prove that he can get out there and make productive plays for us,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He hasn’t lost an ounce of his athleticism, but he has had a lot to learn in coming to the NFL. He’s working diligently.”
The Bengals were attracted by Simpson’s 44-inch vertical leap and huge hands: 11 inches across, the biggest of any receiver in the draft that year. They gambled by taking him in such an early round.
The learning curve and an ankle injury limited him to one catch for 2 yards and one kickoff return for 8 yards as a rookie. He appeared in six games.
Now that receiver Chris Henry is out for the season with a broken arm, there’s an open spot for another receiver. The Bengals have a coach working with Simpson during practice to try to get him to understand the adjustments he needs to make.
“Heck, he’s got his own coach, which is great,” Lewis said. “He’s getting personal tutoring on every single play, every single day. He’s just trying to get to where we can be confident, the quarterbacks can be confident in him understanding everything.”
SMART THROWS: Brett Favre has become more of a low-risk passer at this stage of his 19-year career, but he’s still the NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions. So, despite the wealth of talent around him on the Minnesota offense, the fact Favre was been picked off only three times in his first eight games has raised plenty of eyebrows around the league.
This is the lowest midseason total he’s had since 1993, the first time he began the year as a starter. What’s more, two of the three interceptions were tipped balls. One of them, a short throw to Chester Taylor, went right through the running back’s hands.
“We had one that fell in the bad category against St. Louis which you just say, ‘Come on,”‘ coach Brad Childress said.
“I don’t think he feels compelled to stick a round peg in a square hole,” Childress said.
Favre attributed his lack of turnovers to a number of factors beyond sound decision-making, like manageable third-down distances, a productive running game and balanced play-calling by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. He also credited his receivers for bailing him out a few times too.
Against Green Bay two weeks ago, Favre hit rookie Percy Harvin for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Three defenders were in the area and the throw was a little late, but Harvin adjusted his route and jumped in front of the coverage before turning to run for the score while two of the defenders fell down.
“It’s just kind of freaky how it turned out. Percy made me look good and turned what could have been a bad decision into a great play,” Favre said.
TIED UP: Veteran cornerback Ty Law needed his fellow thirtysomething defensive backs to point out things to him at times in his Denver debut against Pittsburgh. It’s not because he was unaccustomed to covering slot receivers, though.
“He’s been a matchup guy most of his career. So, if the matchup took him in the slot, he went in there plenty,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. “He’s played in there extensively at different times in his career. With the Jets last year, sometimes they used him inside, sometimes they used him outside. They matched up (Darrelle) Revis last year sometimes on a specific receiver and then Ty kind of balanced off of him sometimes.”
Law played 32 snaps against the Steelers just 48 hours after joining the Broncos. He would have played more had Denver kept the game close because the coaches were keeping a keen eye on his snaps so he could be fresh in the fourth quarter.
Safety Brian Dawkins was very impressed with his new teammate and perennial Pro Bowler.
“That is a tough, tough, tough position to be in. Give him props bigtime for being able to come in and do what he did as many snaps as he did in that game,” Dawkins said.
With the addition of Law, the Broncos’ secondary boasts a combined 20 Pro Bowl berths.
“The communication and anticipation of things to come is a huge benefit for us,” Dawkins said. “There is no panic when you have the guys that have been in those situations so many times.”
AP Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, and Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this story.