- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ben Roethlisberger’s jaw-breaking motorcycle accident on Monday continued a turbulent offseason for AFC quarterbacks.

Not only are the passers for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh (Roethlisberger) and North champ Cincinnati (Carson Palmer) questionable to open the season because of their serious injuries, but seven of their 14 conference rivals could have new men under center in September, too.

Miami (Daunte Culpepper), Cleveland (Charlie Frye), Tennessee (Billy Volek or Vince Young), Oakland (Aaron Brooks) and San Diego (Philip Rivers) have already changed quarterbacks while Baltimore’s Steve McNair and the New York Jets’ Patrick Ramsey could supplant incumbents Kyle Boller and Chad Pennington, respectively.

Tuna goes Cajun — Dallas made serious noise this offseason with the additions of talented but troubled receiver Terrell Owens, ace kicker Mike Vanderjagt and rookie linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

But watch out for coach Bill Parcells’ draft gambles from Louisiana. The Cowboys took Grambling defensive end Jason Hatcher in the third round and LSU kick returner Skyler Green in the fourth.

Hatcher, a tight end until his junior year, was the highest drafted player from Grambling since 1991. Coincidentally, that was the year Dallas found Emporia (Kan.) State defensive lineman Leon Lett in the seventh round. After Hatcher dominated in rookie minicamp, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the 6-foot-6, 285-pounder reminded him of Lett, who developed into two-time Pro Bowler.

“I’m definitely going to make an impact,” Hatcher predicted.

Green, the first player Parcells has drafted as a kick returner since his New York Giants chose Dave Meggett in the fifth round in 1989, won’t make an impact for the Tuna without losing some weight.

“He’s too fat,” Parcells said at rookie camp of the 5-9 Green, expecting him to trim 10 of his 198 pounds in a hurry.

Should Green turn into anything like two-time Pro Bowl pick Meggett, he would solve a serious Dallas deficiency. The Cowboys’ 6.3-yard average on punt returns in 2005 was their lowest in 19 years. They haven’t returned a punt for a touchdown since 2001 and haven’t taken a kickoff, other than an onside kick, to the house since 2002.

Like father, like son — Not only did Carpenter’s father, Rob, play for Parcells on the 1983-85 Giants, but the Cowboys signed rookie free agent linebacker John Saldi, whose father, Jay, was a Dallas tight end from 1976 to ‘82 after also being a rookie free agent.

“This is a dream for me,” said John Saldi, who grew up near Texas Stadium and is a lifelong Cowboys fan.

Thanks, son — Kansas City’s Herman Edwards knew more than most coaches do in advance about their sixth-rounders because receiver Jeff Webb started ahead of Edwards’ son, Marcus, at San Diego State.

“Jeff’s a big guy who can run,” Edwards said of the 6-2, 211 Webb, who was sixth in the nation with 7.18 catches a game last year. “He can run down the field. He can knock DBs around.”

Payton’s place — New Saints coach Sean Payton, Parcells’ offensive coordinator the past three years, is trying to rebuild confidence in New Orleans after the 3-13 season spent entirely on the road in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The baby-faced Payton looks even younger than 42, but he’s no softy. He cut longtime starter Brooks and dealt underachieving defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, whom the Saints had traded up to take sixth overall in the 2003 draft.

The departure of Brooks — who slumped in 2005 — made former San Diego starter Drew Brees the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. Sullivan, listed at 315 pounds, had tipped the scales at more than 350 during his New Orleans tenure and his desire was questioned.

Payton’s practices have been long and hard. He told the players no one makes the team without buying into his program. Following Parcells’ example in Dallas, Payton had the fleur de lis logos removed from the helmets until the players earn their roster spots.

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