- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

The New York Jets should have seen this coming.

Running back Curtis Martin missed the final 10 games of last season because of a right knee that needed surgery for the second time in two years. Martin, 33, has carried the ball more times than all but two backs in NFL history, and the wear and tear finally got to him. Now, his career is in jeopardy.

But the Jets chose to stand pat in the offseason rather than sign or trade for a quality veteran or use an early draft pick on a back.

Martin remains on the physically unable to perform list, and the Jets have only undistinguished Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock and fourth-round pick Leon Washington as alternatives. The club acquired oft-injured Lee Suggs from the Cleveland Browns on Monday, but he failed his physical.

That leaves the Jets searching for any available back. Blaylock rushed for just 53 yards last season and Houston for only 302 — 433 fewer than the aging Martin produced in just six games.

The Jets have declined to discuss Martin’s health, but it’s believed that his knee is now bone-on-bone. When the Jets held an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 6, Martin was spotted limping inside Giants Stadium. He may have carried the ball for the last time.

Same old Cards? — The Arizona Cardinals began the preseason by beating the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers and opening their new stadium to rave reviews. Season tickets were sold at a record pace this spring because of the stadium and the signing of running back Edgerrin James.

The Cardinals, however, in some ways remain their old, lamentable selves.

Quarterback Matt Leinart, their top pick, became the last NFL draft choice to sign. Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner from Southern Cal, is the sixth straight top pick to miss at least part of the Cardinals’ training camp.

“Any reports that we’re low-balling Matt are simply not true,” Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves said before Leinart signed on Monday. “We haven’t been in a position of trying to low-ball anyone … over the last couple of years.”

Coach Dennis Green said Leinart couldn’t handle the financial consequences of dropping from the top of the draft before last season to 10th this year.

“We had 10th pick money,” Green said. “Everybody’s got to get used to being the 10th pick.”

Reveille call — Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher treated his team to a military morning on Aug. 7. First, Fisher had the Titans awakened at 5 a.m. for the trip to Fort Campbell (Ky.), where Sgt. Rhonda Myree put them through a workout with 8-pound simulated M-16s.

“GI Jane was tough on us,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “Given the chance, she’d still be up there ripping reps off. She brought a number of [players] to their knees.”

The Titans watched a rappelling drill, then went on a mile run while singing cadence. Cornerback Pacman Jones, their designated sprinter, later outran a drill instructor. Players and coaches ate breakfast at the base and signed autographs for the soldiers.

“The soldiers talk about how they work in teams and tell some of their war stories and you see how important a team concept is in that way of life as well as here,” Bulluck said.

Browns not blameless — The Cleveland Browns certainly were unlucky to lose top free-agent center LeCharles Bentley to a season-ending knee injury, replacement Bob Hallen to sudden retirement and street free agent Alonzo Ephraim to a four-game suspension.

However, Browns fans shouldn’t forget that former coach Butch Davis let center Shaun O’Hara depart as a free agent in 2004 and that current general manager Phil Savage traded O’Hara’s successor, Jeff Faine, to move up a couple of spots in this draft’s second round and dealt backup Melvin Fowler for unimpressive tackle Nat Dorsey.

Those three players are starters now — O’Hara for the New York Giants, Fowler for the Minnesota Vikings and Faine for the New Orleans Saints. Meanwhile, the Browns will open with either journeyman Ross Tucker or undrafted rookie Rob Smith at center.

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