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Sharpe: Ravens made big mistake letting Boldin get away

STATELINE, Nev. -- If you have never been to Lake Tahoe put it on your bucket list and try to make it in your lifetime.

It is a beautiful setting in the summer and I'm sitting on the driving range of the Celebrity Golf Classic talking football with many of the 29 NFL players, coaches and former players. It's a relaxed atmosphere and football talk just seems to flow like nowhere else during the year.

Here's a few of the conversations I had Thursday and Friday morning that shed some light on the upcoming season.

Sterling Sharpe, former Packers WR

Sharpe is a fine golfer who takes his pastime seriously, and he still takes the NFL seriously. In the course of our conversation I asked him if any current NFL wide receivers remind him of his playing days. Without hesitation he said Anquan Boldin.

Sharpe said, "Boldin plays angry and I played angry. Off the field we are both quiet guys, but on the field both of us are physical guys that attack defensive backs."

Sharpe went on to say he thought it was a big mistake that the Ravens let Boldin go and wonders how the team could defend its Super Bowl title without him.

Marcus Allen, Hall of Fame RB

Allen and I got into a conversation about "bell cow" running backs after I discussed the most recent article I wrote for CBSSports.com. He had strong feelings that the NFL "copycat" mentality has led to many teams adopting a running back by committee philosophy and therefore missing the opportunity to let potentially great backs get into a rhythm and do their best work.

Allen went on to say he and his fullback or pulling guard would get a good feel for the defense in front of them and get hot late in games. We talked about how lucky Steven Jackson is by going to the Falcons. As he said, "With those two wide receivers (Roddy White, Julio Jones) and (Tony) Gonzalez at tight end Jackson is going to get lots of run opportunities against two high safeties, something he hardly ever saw as the marked man in St. Louis."

Carson Palmer, Cardinals QB

Palmer couldn't say enough about head coach Bruce Arians. He described Arians as a cool guy and a hard-ass who wants to empower the quarterback to go out and run the offense Arians wants to run.

Palmer described the playbook/game-planning sessions with Arians and Tom Moore as awesome and open-minded. As for Larry Fitzgerald he described him as "the same guy every day whether it was a good day or bad day."

Fitzgerald is a humble guy who works hard, has little to say, never complains and is a model for the young receivers. I had to laugh as he finished up that description when thinking about some of the other receivers Palmer had to play with in his career.

As for his present arm strength which has been criticized Palmer had a big smile on his face while answering that people will see just how strong his arm is right now when camp opens.

Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders PK

I have never seen Janikowski in as good a shape as he is right now and I asked him about it. He said he really hit the weights this off season and trained harder than usual. His contract is up after this season and I asked him if he had four years left in his leg and his answer without blinking was "eight years."

In regards to training in-season he said he doesn't kick all day like he did as a young player: "Instead of 60 kicks a day I may kick 25-40 times and it is just smarter."

The most interesting comment he made was about kicking in Denver. He has kicked in 12 games in Denver and he had a 63-yard field goal in 2011. I asked him what he could do in that stadium if given the chance and he said, "I kicked a 72-yard field goal warming up and feel I could make a 70-yarder if given the chance."

A.J. Hawk, Packers LB

Hawk usually wins the longest-drive contest at this golf tournament but it was canceled this year and replaced with a putting contest. With a smile on his face he said, "I don't think I have a chance to win that contest."

In talking about Brad Jones, his inside linebacker partner who steps in for the departed Desmond Bishop, he couldn't say enough about how fast he is and mentioned a 4.3 time in the 40. Hawk brought up Jones' pass-rush skills from his days as an outside linebacker and I concluded without him giving away any game-plan ideas that we should expect lots of pressure calls this year for Jones.

I brought up the Packers' opening game this year with San Francisco. The Niners put 45 on the Packers defense last year in the playoffs and Hawk still has a bad taste in his mouth about that game. He did say they have worked hard on defending the 49ers offense and I got the feeling we will see a very aggressive approach to the San Francisco "pistol" offense.

John Fox, Broncos head coach

Coach Fox didn't back off the high expectations everyone seems to have for the 2013 Broncos. In fact he embraced the idea the stakes are high and every guy in the locker room likes the challenge. Most coaches would try to play down the talk but Fox loved it.

I asked him about the linebackers and secondary and he had these comments:

"I think our secondary is very much improved and ready to go. As for the backers we could still pick up a veteran as we go thru camp."

The only player likely to start camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list should be center J.D. Walton, although that hasn't been decided yet. In regards to Peyton Manning, Fox sees the improvement in his physical skills and an uptempo offense that is much farther along than it was a year ago.

 
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