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NFL: The envelope, please

Associated Press

One of the four leading contenders for the defensive player of the year award had a lot to say about another this week.

Backbiting? Nope. Miami end Jason Taylor’s remarks about San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman’s four-game suspension for a positive steroid test were right on point.

“There are certain rules and guidelines we have to abide by to play in this game and … a performance-enhancing drug is, obviously, what it is,” Taylor said.

Merriman’s original response was he didn’t know what he ingested contained a steroid. That’s what everyone suspended for that kind of substance says. It doesn’t work with the NFL and it doesn’t work here.

So he’s out of the running for this defensive player of the year selection. More on the winner later.

Here is one opinion on the NFL’s awards.

MVP

It has to be LaDainian Tomlinson, doesn’t it? He’s on the best team. He’s shattered the record for touchdowns in a season. His coach, a big Jim Brown fan, already has called him the best running back ever.

Except that Drew Brees, who played in San Diego with Tomlinson last season, has helped carry New Orleans, 3-13 last season, to an 11-4 record, second best in the NFC.

Go beyond that. Michael Turner, Tomlinson’s backup, is averaging 6.4 yards a carry. Might not the Chargers be 13-2 if he was the starter? Uh, no.

So L.T. is the MVP.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER:

Tomlinson. No one else is close.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER

Under normal circumstances it’s a four-man race: Merriman, Taylor, Chicago’s Brian Urlacher and Denver’s Champ Bailey.

Taking Merriman out of the mix, it’s Taylor, Urlacher, Bailey.

Taylor is on a losing team. So what? He disrupts every offense he faces and he’s returned two interceptions for touchdowns, giving him seven for his career, tying the record for a defensive lineman

So he’s the defensive player of the year.

Runners-up: Bailey, Urlacher. Honorable mention: Bart Scott, Baltimore. Asterisk: Merriman.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Usually someone who turns around a losing team and makes it a winner. Often a first-year coach. That applies to New Orleans’ Sean Payton and the Jets’ Eric Mangini.

But how about a respected veteran who started 0-5 with no talent, has won his last six games with a rookie QB and has an outside chance for the playoffs? That’s Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher.

Or a coach who lost his star quarterback, plugged in a journeyman, won four straight and leads his division: Philadelphia’s Andy Reid.

Or a guy who’s in his 20th season as a head coach and has the best record in the NFL, San Diego’s Marty Schottenheimer.

Or a Super Bowl-winning coach who was on notice to win or be fired. He’s winning: Baltimore’s Brian Billick.

Or a three-time Super Bowl winner who suffered through free-agent defections and injuries and won his division, New England’s Bill Belichick.

The conventional route wins. Sean Payton.

Runner-up: Eric Mangini. Honorable mention for the rest.

ROOKIES

Dozens, on both offense and defense. From the top to the bottom of the draft. Plus Chicago’s Devin Hester, who doesn’t play offense and only a little on defense, but set a record with six returns for touchdowns.

But how can the offensive award not go to Tennessee Titan QB Vince Young? Six straight victories are the significant stat for a quarterback, not a 69.7 passer rating, especially because he’s run for 523 yards.

On defense, the most consistent has been the first pick of the second round, linebacker DeMeco Ryans of Houston. He’s second in the league in tackles to Miami’s Zach Thomas. He doesn’t get suckered out of position like most rookie LBs. He’s just good.

So is LB A.J. Hawk of Green Bay, who may be the better player in the long run.

It’s DeMeco Ryans, Houston.

COMEBACK PLAYER

Always a difficult call because there are all sorts of comebacks.

From injury we have Chad Pennington, Javon Walker, Deuce McAllister, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed.

From late-season or playoff injury we have Drew Brees and Carson Palmer.

From college injury, there’s Frank Gore

From a career on the downslope, there are Jeff Garcia and Travis Henry.

From a career that never was there’s Ron Dayne.

The Jets were supposed to go nowhere. Pennington was coming off rotator cuff surgery in two consecutive offseasons and couldn’t possibly throw the ball well enough to play effectively as Jets QB.

Despite the bashing he took from the ESPN booth on Monday night — remember that the “E” stands for entertainment” — he’s played well enough to lead a team that was supposed to be at the bottom of the league to the brink of the playoffs.

Chad Pennington, New York Jets.

Runner-up: Javon Walker, Denver. Honorable

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