Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... Hey now! Back from a one-week break that really wasn't a break at all. For those interested, I spent the previous two weeks putting together the final three of this year's FSP annuals, the Fantasy Football Cheatsheets
The last two were finished in parallel over the last week. And yes, I'm glad they're done.
Not just because I'm eager to get three more great magazines on newsstands, where they'll join the 20th Anniversary edition of the Fantasy Football Pro Forecast. It's also because I get a little bit uncomfortable when the FootballDiehards.com site isn't stocked with the kind of goodies necessary to keep you all on the edge of your collective seat -- even if it's the slowest news month of the year.
So here I am.
A quick note: In case you've somehow missed it, Brett Favre remains unemployed -- for now. That is all but certain to change in coming days. Until it does, I'll continue to keep the focus on other Fantasy-specific stuff of interest (as always, those looking to track the Favrepalooza can do so on his FootballDiehards.com Profile page).
Also... I'd like to take a moment to note the tragic loss of Steve McNair, who was shot to death on July 4, and express my condolences to those closest to the former Titans and Ravens signal caller. I'm truly saddened by the fact that four children suddenly face a life without their father.
In discussing the uncomfortable circumstances surrounding McNair's incomprehensibly violent end (along with the situation Donte' Stallworth is currently dealing with) on this week's FootballDiehards.com Podcast, I found myself addressing the need to make the "right" decisions.
The need to do better applies to all of us. Rich and famous. Poor an anonymous.
It's a simple equation: Good decisions lead to good results. Poor decisions often don't. Either way, the choices we make have consequences. Without fail.
Life isn't checkers, it's chess. Speaking as somebody who has made more than their fair share of lousy calls, I'll kindly suggest thinking a couple moves ahead.
With the preliminaries out of the way. ...
We'll get the ball rolling this week in San Diego, where Associated Press sports writer Stephen Hawkins reports that LaDainian Tomlinson is rather dismissive of the notion that 30-year old running backs tend to hit the proverbial wall.
"That's the one thing that I'm eager to prove, is that doesn't necessarily go for every player. Turn 30, that doesn't mean that you can't play anymore," Tomlinson, who celebrated his 30th birthday on June 23, two days later. "There are some guys out there that defy the odds, and I'm eager to prove that."
As Hawkins suggested, the skeptics have plenty of reasons to wonder about the 2006 NFL MVP.
Tomlinson is coming off a career-low 1,110 yards rushing, though that was still fourth in the AFC. Slowed by a toe injury most of last season, LT hurt his groin in the season finale. He was forced out of an overtime playoff victory against Indianapolis, and then sat out the next week against Pittsburgh -- the first time he missed a game in his career because of injury.
Tomlinson started off-season workouts in March and said he hasn't had any problems. The only change from past years is that he sees more doctors, including a therapist recommended by NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith.
"Just kind of making sure my body's in great shape, and making sure I'm as strong as possible," Tomlinson said. "I haven't missed any time, worked out every single day. ... I haven't had a setback at all."
Tomlinson told Hawkins his energy level is still high and that he works out as hard as he always has. He insists there are no lingering aches and pains, and has even another reason to know that his legs are still good.
"I can still jump pretty high, can still dunk the basketball," the 5-10 Tomlinson said. "If I can't dunk anymore, it's doing downhill."
Clearly, LT doesn't believe he's on that downhill slope just yet. Oh. And he seems especially eager to disprove those who believe he is.
"It's almost like you want to go at it, you really want to start the season now," he said. "I can't tell you the feeling inside me about how I feel about it, but I read the magazines, see it on television and stuff. I'm just wondering what they are going to say whenever I go out and lead the league again, and win a Super Bowl."
I'm not sure what "they" will say, but it's certainly safe to assume a number of "them" will be surprised if Tomlinson meets those objectives. But not me.
After spending the last 16 seasons covering the NFL, I am so cynical and jaded that absolutely nothing surprises me anymore. With that qualification noted, I'm not looking for a huge season -- and by huge I mean a top-1 or -2 effort -- from LT.
By the same token, I don't expect a fade of Shaun Alexander-esque proportion.
Meanwhile, I'll point out that some who have followed him closely have rather high expectations. Take former San Diego Union-Tribune beat writer and current SI.com insider Jim Trotter, for example.
Trotter recently advised readers he looks for Tomlinson to bounce back "in a big way."
In addition to citing the motivation factor explained above, Trotter suggests Tomlinson should benefit from the return of outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, arguably the league's dominant defensive player and best pass rusher.
San Diego struggled to stop opponents over the first half of the season and, consequently, it had to play a lot of catch-up in the fourth quarter. That meant more passes for Philip Rivers -- he ranked eighth in the league with a career-high 141 fourth-quarter attempts -- and fewer rushes for Tomlinson, whose 51 carries were the second-fewest of his career.
And in Trotter's view, if the defense is strong, there should be more opportunities to run out the clock, which will mean more carries for Tomlinson.
It makes sense. Especially if Turner makes good on his stated desire of having Tomlinson to carry the ball more than 300 times.
So in the end, where do I stand?
Although I wasn't as strong an LT supporter earlier this year, I'm coming around. Checking my latest FootballDiehards.com Rankings will reveal that I have Tomlinson at No. 6 among all running backs. As always, you'll want to take a careful look at his Average Draft Position (ADP) before burning an early pick to secure his services.
It's safe to say you'll be able to land him a little later -- and perhaps end up with decent value. ...
In a related note. ... Pro Football Weekly reports the Chargers are the latest team jumping on the "Wildcat" bandwagon.
The team tested it out at its recent mini-camp -- calling it the "Frog," in reference to Tomlinson, who played collegiately for the TCU Horned Frogs -- using LT and versatile wideout Legedu Naanee at quarterback and splitting Rivers out wide.
Although coaches said they practiced it more to prepare their defense for the unusual look than anything else, they are still expected to use it on occasion this season. ...
In Miami. ... Twenty months after tearing a knee ligament, Ronnie Brown claims he feels "stronger and better" and is "taking the weight on my shoulders" to improve the Dolphins' running game.
Brown averaged 4.3 yards a carry in 2008 -- 5.7 on 56 Wildcat runs but 3.8 otherwise.
The former first-round pick realizes that a year ago he was ahead of where he should be in recovering from the torn ACL he sustained in 2007. So, compared to last year, Brown was recently asked if he feels stronger, faster or shiftier?
"All of the above," he laughed confidently.
As Miami Herald staffer David J. Neal advised readers, a more confident air than we've seen in the past surrounds Brown this offseason. Or maybe, Neal suggests, Brown is just more comfortable with his own body.
Two years ago, Brown's weight and conditioning were questioned. Too much of one and too little of the latter the critics claimed. According to Neal, there are now questions at this point.
While Brown allows that he would like to be a little leaner, he's apparently the only one espousing that belief.
"As far as shape goes, he's outstanding right now," head coach Tony Sparano, who isn't shy when it comes to expressing his opinion about such things, recently said of Brown. "That sounds like a company line, but I mean it. In the weight room the guy is super right now.
"He weighs 230 pounds, he's running better, he is stronger, so all of those things from a progress standpoint I see as positives."
There are other positives, too.
Of most interest to Brown would be his blockers. "We've got the offensive line in order," he said of an upgraded unit.
The other positive lies in the fact running backs rarely return to return to form until two years after a knee injury.
Edgerrin James averaged 3.6 yards in 2002, the year after his torn anterior cruciate ligament, but 4.1 in '03 and 4.6 in '04. Jamal Lewis, who tore his ACL in 2001 training camp, averaged 4.3 in '02 and 5.3 in '03.
Brown was averaging 5.1 before his injury in the seventh game of 2007. He had been on pace for 2,265 combined rushing and receiving yards when he got hurt Oct. 21 against New England.
Last summer, he was just hoping to get back for some of training camp.
"The coaching staff stressed to me the need to be in training camp," Brown said, wallowing in understatement.
Said Sparano: "I just watched film a little while ago, and watching the tape, he makes this catch on the sideline today, extends for the ball, and ends up really kind of hyperextending both legs to do this. No sign of any of those hesitations, any of those things that he went through a year ago."
Brown's 2008 season, spurred largely by the four-touchdown game against New England out of the Wildcat, ended with the Pro Bowl. And the trip to Hawaii has more than a little to do with his newfound confidence.
Indeed, Brown told Neal he returned from Hawaii feeling as though he belonged there among the best in the league. And perhaps that boost in confidence is what prompted Brown to say, when compared to last year, "I think I'm more explosive."
Sparano hopes that's the case. Brown's biggest runs last year came out of the Wildcat.
Though Sparano lays some of the blame on the line for not opening holes consistently, he also knows he wants more 20-yards-and-over runs from Brown.
"He knows our system right now, understands what we expect from him, that is a positive too," Sparano said. "I would expect that without hesitations, without any of those things right now from a physical standpoint, and without any of those limitations, that he takes the next step in having a super year. ..."
There is, however, some question about how much time Brown will spend in the Wildcat role.
Although Brown loved operating the Wildcat, he said it was "good" Miami drafted Pat White and will not be disappointed if White assumes that role. Others agreed.
"This will take our team to another level," Davone Bess said.
"Ronnie can throw it, but Pat can throw it better," Anthony Fasano said. That's key, because opponents stacked the line and blitzed the Wildcat at times, unconcerned about Brown's ability as a passer.
And despite Sparano's obvious desire to continue using Brown in that spot, White was drafted for a reason. That reason being the Wildcat.
Still, as Herald staffer Barry Jackson recently suggested, Brown and White also figure to play together a lot in that formation.
Brown said White's arrival "will open more opportunities, add new wrinkles and keep the defense guessing."
Greg Camarillo, eager to see what offensive coordinator Dan Henning has "up his sleeve," said "it's as exciting to learn the Wildcat as it is to watch it."
According to Jackson, the Dolphins are intrigued by the idea of using White in spread offense formations at times.
"Pat White," Ted Ginn said, "will be great."
But not as great as Brown -- certainly not from a Fantasy perspective.
Even with Ricky Williams spelling him to keep him fresh (and even if White cuts into the Wildcat work), I'll stand by our DraftBook assessment, which predicts Brown will still flirt with the 300-carry mark this year. If you apply his career 4.4 yard per carry average, Brown owners could expect a 1,200-yard season.
Bottom line? As DraftBook contributor and World Fantasy Games publisher Mike Beacom suggests: "Don't be the guy who forgets that Brown was tearing up the league back in 2007 before his knee injury. ..."
In Cincinnati. ... As Dayton Daily News staffer Carlos Holmes reminded readers late last month, when Cedric Benson was selected by Chicago with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, the Bears were expecting big things from the running back. Benson had just finished up an illustrious career at Texas, where he received the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back in 2004.
Unfortunately, Benson never quite lived up to the associated expectations and things quickly soured in Chicago. In the end, a lack of production and repeated brushes with the law led to his separation from the Bears.
Benson played in 11 games and rushed for 674 yards and four touchdowns in his last season with the Bears and he told Holmes the pressure that went with the high expectations was an issue in Chicago. But Benson wasn't making excuses.
"Yeah, there was a lot of pressure on me but there's always pressure," Benson said during the Bengals' most recent mini-camp. "They were expecting big things from me and I never had a season to really get grounded, or find a way to make it work best for me on the field. I guess towards the end of my last season with the Bears I managed to do that.
"By then, it was just a little too late for them. The fortunate thing is that the Bengals get to benefit from that."
True that. ... When a grand jury failed to indict Benson on a pair of (separate) alcohol-related incidents, the Bengals didn't hesitate to go after him. It didn't take long for Cincinnati's offense to reap the benefits of the player's talent.
He was named the starter after only his second game with Cincinnati.
Benson played in 12 games, starting 10. He rushed for 747 yards and two touchdowns and finished the season on a high note -- 282 yards rushing and a touchdown in the final two games of the season.
"He's explosive, smart, instinctive and strong," Carson Palmer said of Benson. "He's everything you want in a tailback. I wouldn't stay we're going to run the ball more than we ever have, but we'll run the ball better."
Benson had a reputation of being aloof and difficult in Chicago, but the fifth-year NFL player has become more accessible and a team player. After workouts, he often shoots baskets with Palmer.
"He's everything you've heard positive about him and nothing you've heard negative about him," Palmer said. "Guys can get portrayed wrong. I know firsthand from everything I've seen he's a classy guy. He's excited to be here and loves to work."
The team's coaches are as happy to have Benson on board as their quarterback is.
"Cedric brings energy," running backs coach Jim Anderson told Holmes. "He's a guy that's out to prove that he is a quality player in this league, and that he can perform and really achieve. That's what we want to do as a team.
"Whatever we have asked Cedric to do, he's willing to do it. When he's on the football field he's all business. He's like a sponge. When he is not getting a physical rep he's getting a mental rep. That's an outstanding trait for a guy playing in the NFL."
As Holmes suggested, Anderson would know.
He has coached a number of Pro Bowl backs in his 25 years as Bengals running backs coach. The coach said Benson is not a guy who says a whole lot but prefers that his actions speak for him. That can be seen on the practice field. Benson is very intense and likes to play fast.
Anderson went on to say that Benson feels more confident playing in the team's offense, and that will give him an edge when it comes time to execute.
Indeed, during the Bengals' final mini-camp, Benson ran with a lot of confidence.
According to Holmes: "[Benson] was very decisive and quick through the hole. He looked like the runner the Bears drafted."
With the Bengals putting more emphasis on the run this year, Palmer can see Benson as the workhorse back they have lacked the last two seasons. Benson isn't shying away from that notion.
"I can take the load," Benson said. "It's something I know how to do and I enjoy it. We've been working on the run game a lot. When we first started OTAs, (head coach) Marvin [Lewis] reiterated the fact that we're going to run the football.
"I'm banking on us getting a foundation of our offense started on the ground."
Although being a physical runner between the tackles is a big part of his game, Benson displayed exceptional speed on the perimeter. He also caught the ball well out of the backfield. Benson said he worked hard during the offseason on his speed and thinks he's gained a step or two.
Now that unwanted pressure has been lifted off Benson mentally and he is preparing himself for the physical grind. Bottom line he's looking to make his mark with the Bengals.
"No doubt, I'm ready to carry this team on my back," Benson said. "I'm due, hungry for it, miss it, and excited. It's good to be on a team that wants you. It's a great opportunity for me and I am definitely going to seize every moment.
"I plan to take full advantage of those opportunities and see where it takes us. I'm about whatever it takes to get the job done. I think I am in the best situation that I can be in and it has to happen for me here."
The best news for Benson probably lies in the fact the Bengals have nobody to push him for touches. Neither Kenny Watson nor newcomer Brian Leonard appear to be a big threat to his workload and the team didn't take a running back until the sixth round at April's draft.
Still, I'd advise against getting too excited. As the Sports Xchange's Derek Harper noted in this year's FootballDiehards magazine: "His 282 yards rushing on 53 carries in the final two games of the '08 season -- albeit against doormat defenses in Cleveland and Kansas City -- could be a fluke. …
"Or a harbinger of what's to come."
Or it could be something in the middle. ...
Even if the Bengals' offense rebounds significantly with a (hopefully) healthy Palmer directing the unit, the Bengals are a struggling franchise with more weaknesses than strengths.
Given that, I've laid off a bit in the last two mock drafts I participated in. Benson was taken in the sixth round of both -- at least a round earlier than I was targeting him. ...
In Atlanta. ... As the team's official web site recently reminded us, in the weeks following the Falcons trade for 10-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez few details emerged on how he'll integrate into the team's offense.
That Gonzalez will help the team's already potent offense is no secret. But according to AtlantaFalcons.com staffer J. Michael Moore, how much and in what capacity remains unclear.
Moore went on to explain that Gonzalez will obviously catch passes, but the Falcons built the offense around Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner.
"Tony will help our offense in a number of ways," offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said at the close of June organized team activities. "One thing he's going to do is that he's a productive blocker and that's important in our offense. ...
"As successful as he's been as a receiver, he's a good blocker too and he really doesn't get the credit that he should."
That may be, but I'll go ahead and state the obvious: Gonzalez is still the league's all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (916), touchdowns (76) and receiving yards (10,940). His 93 catches (1,058 yards) last season marked the third-highest single-season total of his career.
He also added 10 touchdowns -- the third time he's had 10 or more scores in a season.
So I strongly suspect Gonzo will get ample opportunity in the passing attack, even if he's asked to do his portion in the rushing attack. Still, the change of teams and a likely adjustment to his role makes it harder for Fantasy owners to accurately project his 2009 totals.
Gonzalez, coming off his fourth 1,000-yard receiving season, wasn't much help.
"Do I think I'll catch 100 balls?" he said when asked that very question by Moore. "I don't have to."
The fact that Falcons tight ends combined for 19 catches for 211 yards last season leads me to believe he won't be asked to, either.
After all, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan arguably has more options than his counterparts in Kansas City have in recent years. And as Moore pointed out, with defenses focusing on the unit's other Pro Bowler, wideout Roddy White, and Gonzalez, the Falcons will look to take advantage of the mismatches that focus will create.
Enter Michael Jenkins, who is coming off a career season, and second-year slot receiver Harry Douglas.
"It's going to be interesting to see how people match up with us and we'll try to create some mismatches with where we put people," Mularkey said. "That's kind of the offense anyway, even before Tony got here. We're trying to create mismatches and create problems for defenses.
"That's not going to change. That's our philosophy."
True enough. But I can think of another thing that's not going to change: Gonzalez' ability to get the job done in the red zone.
While Turner is all but certain to get top billing inside the five-yard line, it's impossible to dismiss Gonzalez as a scoring threat and to consider him anything but an elite-level Fantasy tight end. ...
In Buffalo -- following up on a previous Notebook. ... According to BuffaloBills.com staffer Chris Brown, how often the no-huddle offense will be used by Buffalo's offense is a compelling question. It's also a complicated.
Among the issues Brown points to are the effectiveness of Buffalo's defense and the opponent.
The Bills defense still had trouble getting off the field last season, and it was due in part to there not being enough playmakers to make something happen (sack, forced fumble, INT, etc.). If their takeaways go up and they can demonstrate consistency in getting 3-and-outs or (even 6-and-outs for that matter), Brown believes head coach Dick Jauron will be more confident in using the no huddle more of the time.
Buffalo's opponent will influence how much they use it too.
As Brown stressed, we have to realize this is the team's first season with the no-huddle as a main component of their offense.
That being the case, Brown suggests they're far from a smooth running machine. Brown further suggested, "Rolling it out full throttle against the Pats for example, in Week 1 could put a lot of unnecessary pressure on your defense if you can't convert a first down on your first three hurry up possessions. ..."
In conclusion, Brown advised readers that he'll be surprised if Buffalo uses the no-huddle for more than half their offensive snaps. He explained, "Jauron values time of possession and the run game -- and who wouldn't with the stable of backs the Bills now have?"
Well. ... Ralph Wilson comes immediately to mind.
The aging owner seems to be getting increasingly impatient with the team's failure to make it into the postseason. Indeed, given some of the team's off-season moves -- most notably the addition of Terrell Owens -- I get the feeling that Wilson will be lobbying for as aggressive approach as possible.
So, assuming Jauron values his job as much as he values time of possession and the run game, I suspect we'll see a little more of the no-huddle than Brown does. If you're going down, why not go down swinging for the fence?
And finally this week, from the "Ever Expanding Twitterverse" file. ... In an interview with radio station KGOW in Houston, Chad Ochocinco told listeners on Tuesday that he has big plans for Twitter: "I'm taking it a step further. I have my own application coming out where people will be able to interact and follow me. You know more than through just the keyboard and reading my messages -- you'll actually be able to follow me and when the season starts, it's going to get even worse. I'm going to really make it fun.
"I'm using Twitter during games, during halftime, after the games. I'm going to be taking it to the next level."
Uhhhh. ... Not so fast Chad.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, in an e-mail sent to Profootballtalk.com on Wednesday, noted the league "already [has] a rule that prohibits the use of cell phones or other handheld devices in the bench area during games."
On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Los Angeles Times that the league will soon make an official announcement regarding its Twitter rules, via an update to the NFL's current policies regarding the use of electronic devices.
It's safe to assume that new edict will put the kibosh on any possibility of in-game tweeting.
And the Ocho doesn't like it.
"Damn NFL and these rules," Ochocinco posted (appropriately enough) on his Twitter page in response. "I am going by my own set of rules, I ain't hurting nobody or getting in trouble, I am putting my foot down!!"
We'll see about that. ... Meanwhile, former NFL offensive lineman and current ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth used his own Twitter account to deliver the definitive take on this one:
"Ochocinco says he will tweet during games," Schlereth wrote. "And he wonders why Cincinnati can't win, Idea- play football during games!"
That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday. ... In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.
And don't forget to hit our secure on-line order page, where you can snag all four of this year's FSP magazines.