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Key to some big games can be found up front

September 20, 2009|SAM FARMER

If is often said that NFL games are won in the trenches. If so, here are pivotal matchup in Week 2:

Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg vs. Scott Mruczkowski: San Diego's Mruczkowski won't be asked to take on two Baltimore defensive tackles, of course, but he's got to step into big shoes. Mruczkowski, who has one NFL start (at guard in 2006), is filling in at center for the injured Nick Hardwick. It would have to come against one of the league's best defenses.

Giants offensive line vs. DeMarcus Ware: In the Giants' 20-8 loss at Dallas last December, Cowboys outside linebacker Ware had three of his team's eight sacks and two forced fumbles. The Giants can take comfort in the fact they didn't have Brandon Jacobs in that game, and linemen Kareem McKenzie (back) and Rich Seubert (illness) were unable to finish.

Sean Locklear vs. Justin Smith: Seattle's Locklear has moved from the right side to fill in for Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, who is recovering from his second knee surgery in eight months. His task is keeping San Francisco's Smith off quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Smith is coming off a terrific game against Arizona. His sack of Kurt Warner on the final play secured the victory.

Jake Long vs. Dwight Freeney: Miami's Long had his hands full last week with Atlanta's John Abraham, giving up a pair of sacks. It won't get any easier for the left tackle Monday night against Indianapolis, when he lines up against four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Freeney, whose whirling-dervish moves can frustrate the best blockers.

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When good is bad

The last player selected in each year's NFL draft earns the title "Mr. Irrelevant," a nickname coined by former USC and NFL receiver Paul Salata of Newport Beach. The player and his family are invited for a week of festivities in Southern California, including a roast in which the player receives the Lowsman Trophy, a send-up of the Heisman.

Needling aside, two Mr. Irrelevants are making news in Missouri. Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop had a 53-yard field goal and three extra points in Sunday's loss at Baltimore, and St. Louis linebacker David Vobora has moved into the starting lineup.

"We've put our tongues in our cheek and said they're going to screw it all up for the last picks because they're not supposed to make it," Salata said. "They're messing up our average."

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Double move

Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, selected 10th by San Francisco in April, is the only player from the 2009 draft class who has yet to sign. If he doesn't sign, he could reenter the draft next year.

If so, he would join a small group of players who were drafted twice by NFL teams. Reader David Saw, an NFL draft junkie, provided a partial list of modern-era NFL players who, for one reason or another, were selected in consecutive drafts:

Craig Erickson

(Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, 1991-92)

Bo Jackson

(Tampa Bay, L.A. Raiders, 1986-87)

Melvin Bratton

(Miami, Denver, 1988-89)

Matt Darwin

(Dallas, Philadelphia, 1985-86)

Monroe Eley

(Kansas City, Atlanta, 1973-74)

John Tate

(New York Jets, New York Giants, 1974-75)

Brownie Wheless

(Miami, Detroit, 1970-71)

Chris Myers

(Houston, Miami, 1970-71)

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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Bulletin-board material

Notable quotes from around the league:

"We're not going to tiptoe our way through this thing. You don't line up and beat a Bill Belichick-coached team by tiptoeing in there." -- Jets Coach Rex Ryan, clarifying his statement earlier this year that he didn't come to kiss Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings.

"You go out from the first quarter on, from the first play on, and try to embarrass them. Not just go out there and try to win, try to embarrass them. Try to make them feel bad when they leave here." -- Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, on Patriots.

"I know when I'm going out there Sundays I'm being watched. I'm a marked man." -- oft-penalized Rams guard Richie Incognito on officials keeping an eye on him.

"Albert's a good player, but let's not make him King Kong. He did his job. That's what we want him to do. Good player -- very, very good player -- but not Superman." -- Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache on his defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth.

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