Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... Don't look now, but the Bills opened training camp on Saturday and the 2009 NFL season -- at least in terms of Fantasy study -- is pretty much on.
And with this year's AugustUpdate Draft Guide set to crank up on August 4, that means there's only two more Fantasy Notebook this year (including this one). For those new to the site, once we crank up the premium content it becomes the focus.
So. ... Let's roll past the usual disclaimers: Those looking for more on the NFL's ongoing dramas will find what you're after on the FootballDiehards.com profile pages for Brett Favre (here) and Michael Vick (here).
There. Now let's get busy. ...
We'll get the ball rolling this week in Tampa, where the team's upcoming quarterback battle apparently won't be of the storyline of greatest interest -- at least from a Fantasy perspective -- when considering the Buccaneers offense.
This after Tampa Tribune staffer Ira Kaufman reported last week that the team's offensive philosophy appears to be set -- and whoever earns the right to start at quarterback seems likely to spend a lot of time handing the ball off.
According to Kaufman, new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is committed to a run-oriented attack, whether rookie Josh Freeman, Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich starts under center Sept. 13 when the Cowboys hit town for the regular-season opener.
"We will be a successful team running the ball -- I promise you that," said Jagodzinski, who improved Green Bay's ground game from 30th to 23rd in 2006 when he became offensive coordinator of the Packers. "That's one of my strong suits, my knowledge of the running game."
Kaufman reminded readers that in Jon Gruden's seven-year tenure as head coach, the Bucs never ran the ball on more than 46 percent of their snaps in a season, usually finishing below the league average of rushing attempts.
Jagodzinski is convinced Tampa Bay has the offensive line and running backs to forge a powerful ground game. That's good news for new head coach Raheem Morris, who vows the 2009 Bucs will force their will on opponents.
"When you talk about the violent football teams, the physical football teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, you think about downhill running and people smashing you," Morris said. "When you talk about violent teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, you talk about people running the ball downhill. We want to become those guys."
Jagodzinski envisions a power running game, with Earnest Graham and newly acquired Derrick Ward breaking tackles and rarely losing yardage in the backfield.
That could be good news for Fantasy owners -- if we can figure out the team's true plan at tailback.
In an initial, pre-training camp depth chart, St. Petersburg Times beat writer Stephen F. Holder indicated that Graham will open camp as the starter -- and not without reason.
In fact, the team's running backs coach, Steve Logan, recently said as much.
Asked specifically how will the Bucs' backs split up the carries this fall, Logan replied, "I think Earnest, everybody, the fans and coaches know what Earnest is and what he can do. I think Derrick is going to give us a good change of pace from Earnest.
"Earnest has a lot of power and is very quick in short spaces. I think Derrick has a little more speed, for lack of a better word, and might give us a little bit more plays outside the tackles. I see a nice complement between those two."
I understand why Logan and the Bucs might a take that approach -- at least publicly.
Graham hurt his right ankle last year against the Vikings in Week 10 and missed the rest of the season. He rushed for 563 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry with four touchdowns before missing the final six games.
He seems to be on board with a rotation.
"I love the idea," Graham said of sharing with Ward. "I went through a season two years ago where I was the only back and got all the carries and never came off the field. It was tough. ... I am definitely looking forward to it."
Others could contribute, too.
That includes speedy Clifton Smith, who made the Pro Bowl last year as a return specialist and who is also likely to receive some touches in Jagodzinski's scheme.
According to Logan, "Clif is going to be the joker that can give us some really different things. ... Clif may have a more expanded role in this offense, rather than just as a punt returner."
Carnell "Cadillac" Williams -- even if he opens camp on the PUP -- could provide fresh legs as the season progresses.
Whoever has the ball in their hand will have to meet certain expectations.
"We are going to be a one-cut, downhill, physical football team," Jagodzinski said. "I feel very, very fortunate about the type of line that we have here. I think that's one of our strengths. If you have a strong running game, you're going to have eight up in the box and you're going to have your opportunities to take some shots."
That makes sense. Jagodzinski previously said the Bucs plan to be very aggressive through the air in the red zone, settling for field goals only as a last resort.
Tampa Bay threw only 18 touchdown passes last season and ranked 30th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 22 of its 56 opportunities inside the 20.
While the new coordinator's comments make it a little easier to figure out where new tight end Kellen Winslow fits in, it still leaves major questions when it comes to projecting workloads for Graham and Ward.
Still, I'll be a little surprised if Ward is limited to a complementary role, even if it's one he was most effective in as a Giant.
I tend to agree with ESPN.com NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, who believes that Ward -- if given the bulk of the carries -- is capable of rushing for 1,500 yards. While I consider that an accurate projection based on Ward's abilities, the question is obvious:
Will Ward -- or anybody -- get the bulk of the carries?
Heading into camp that's clearly a situation Fantasy owners will want to get a handle on. It'll obviously be critical to assigning accurate values for both Ward and Graham.
If Logan is to be believed, one thing is certain: My current rankings (with Ward well ahead of Graham) are all but certain to change significantly before all is said and done. ...
In Indianapolis. ... According to Colts.com staffer John Oehser, a glance at the pre-season analyses focused on the Indianapolis Colts these days at times reveals a general misinterpretation of the wide receiver situation.
In an article published by Examiner.com, Oehser noted a question often asked is, "How will the Colts move on without Marvin Harrison?"
A more appropriate question is, "Will they be better without him?"
Oehser suggests the answer is they just might be.
Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection from 1999-2006, was released this past offseason for what the team described as salary cap reasons, and while it may be counterintuitive to think the Colts could improve at receiver without a player who probably is a future Hall of Fame selection, Oehser believes that may be the case.
First, the Colts have three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne as well as third-year veteran Anthony Gonzalez. The duo forms a solid top two receiving tandem.
Wayne has been the Colts' primary receiver the past two seasons and is expected to play an even more prominent role this year.
In 2007 (with a knee injury limiting Harrison to five games), Wayne had a career-high 104 receptions for a league-leading 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns.
And what about last season's drop in production?
With Peyton Manning recovering from knee surgery that kept him from training camp and pre-season work, the passing attack got off to a slow start. Assuming that might be the case again this year would be unwise.
So would downplaying Wayne's Fantasy value.
Remember: He ranks third all-time on the Colts' career list for receptions (576), yards receiving (8,129) and touchdown receptions (53), trailing only Harrison and Hall of Famer Raymond Berry in each category. Only Harrison has more 100-yard games in franchise history than Wayne's 26, and Wayne has played in the last three Pro Bowls.
Look for more to come.
As for the No. 2 spot. ... I'll remind you that Harrison caught just 60 passes for 636 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Considering Gonzalez pulled in 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns while starting two games, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that he'll surpass Harrison's 2008 production as a full-time starter this fall.
At third receiver, the Colts don't have a player ready to step in who compares to Harrison in his prime, but that they have several options available next season that Oehser considers capable of performing at a level comparable to Harrison's 2008 level.
Early signs are that second-year Pierre Garcon is a possibility, as are rookie Austin Collie, third-year veteran Roy Hall and possibly second-year veteran Sam Giguere.
According to Oehser, Garcon was one of the big stories of the team's May/June organized team activities. He looked polished and explosive following a rookie season in which he played receiver sparingly.
The Colts in no way have said Garcon is the favorite for the job, but the way he looked in OTAs, Oehser believes he's the player to beat with a major reason being the player who appears closest to him -- Collie -- is a rookie in an offense in which rookie skill players sometimes struggle to make immediate impact.
Hall is a physical player with enormous potential who has yet to remain healthy in two seasons and Giguere is a former Top 10 Canadian Football League draft selection whose ability the team likes. None of the four is in any way out of contention for the role.
Oehser also suggested a second possible option: Having a combination of the all above play a variety of receiver roles.
He went on to explain the Colts often have played three receivers extensively in recent seasons, with Harrison, Wayne and Brandon Stokley going 1, 2, 3 from 2003-2006 and Harrison, Wayne and Gonzalez playing the roles the past two seasons.
This season, the Colts may not go 1, 2, 3, but 1, 2, 3, 4 and possibly 5, meaning they could make up for the loss of Harrison by a combination of all the younger players.
The third option -- and a very realistic one -- is to utilize tight end Dallas Clark as a receiver.
Clark has become more and more a key component in the offense, and last season, he caught a career-high 77 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns.
Even if the receivers behind Gonzalez and Wayne don't flourish, Oehser believes Clark will have a big year.
If they don't, he will be even more critical than before.
So if the bottom line question here is "will the Colts be better at wide receiver in 2009 than they were last year?" then Oehser's bottom line answer is "yes" because Gonzalez may be more productive than Harrison last season and because some combination of Garcon, Hall and Collie will combine to be more effective than Gonzalez was a year ago. ...
In Miami. ... If you believe head coach Tony Sparano and his players, there's no doubt the Dolphins have a legitimate No. 1 caliber wide receiver. As Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson recently advised readers, they say there is someone on the team who can be Chad Pennington's go-to guy, someone who can lead the offense in receptions and be there when a desperation pass needs reliable hands to finish a big play.
The Dolphins insist they are comfortable with that guy.
They just don't know that guy's name yet.
"I would say that, yeah, I would say I feel that way, sure," Sparano said in June. "Who that guy is, I am not quite sure of yet. I think there are a couple of contenders out there that I am curious to watch when we get through this whole thing."
This is curious in its own right -- at least considering there’s really only one candidate.
Because time is short and the regular-season looms, Jackson is convinced that Ted Ginn is the only player with a true chance to accomplish that.
The plan has been for Ginn to be Miami's No. 1 receiver from the moment he was drafted in the first round in 2007. But his first two seasons haven't yielded the hoped-for totals. Last season's 56-catch effort was his best.
But Jackson suggests the disappointment would fade if Ginn could manage the 2009 breakout season some Dolphins coaches, players and fans believe he's capable of delivering.
"We know he has the straight-ahead speed," No. 2 quarterback Chad Henne said. "What we are working on is route running right now. He is doing what we ask him to do, and right now he is getting a lot of balls, doing a good job using his technique and everything."
Ginn has the speed to be a No. 1 receiver. He has the work ethic. He has the good hands. If he can deliver the consistent performance -- and the big numbers that come with that consistency -- Jackson believes Ginn will gain confidence and respect and complete the résumé of a No. 1 receiver.
And if he doesn't?
Greg Camarillo knows how to play and was leading the team in receptions last year before a knee injury. Unfortunately, that injury leaves some uncertainty about his ability to return to form early this season let alone step into a leading role.
Davone Bess? His improvement has been impressive, but Jackson notes that Bess will never have elite speed nor elite size.
The Dolphins have high hopes for rookies Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline. But Jackson was correct in asking if we couldn't let them catch their first NFL pass before believing them candidates to be Miami's No. 1 receiver?
All of which prompted Jackson to sum up: "There is only one player on Miami's roster that should be the No. 1 receiver in 2009.
"Ted Ginn, this has to be your year. ..."
And there's no guarantee it will be. I'll readily admit that Ginn has legitimate play-making skills, but his six drops led the team last year. His route-running also needs work.
Indeed, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel might have put it best when they noted earlier this offseason: "So far Ginn has been a decent decoy, but does he have the skill set and desire to become the Dolphins' true No. 1 wideout?"
The jury is definitely out. ...
In New York. ... Jerricho Cotchery realizes what people are saying about him and the rest of the New York Jets' wide receivers.
"We don't take it personal," Cotchery said during a June mini-camp. "It's just something that adds to whatever you're doing, your work ethic or whatever. It's extra juice."
Let's hope so. Because questions about the Jets' receiving corps are legitimate.
In fact, Cotchery, a five-year veteran with 260 career receptions, is the only proven receiver after Laveranues Coles signed with Cincinnati.
Behind Cotchery we have quarterback-turned-receiver Brad Smith, sure-handed Chansi Stuckey, speedy David Clowney and athletic Wallace Wright at the top of a list of mostly anonymous players.
Those four have combined for just 92 career catches, and that has lots of fans and media insisting that help is needed.
"I don't care anything about that at all, not even a little bit," Clowney said. "At the end of the day, that's all talk. Everybody wants to sit there and speculate. At the same time, they only watch TV and watch the games. They don't see what guys are actually doing in practice."
Still, on a team that will feature either rookie Mark Sanchez or far-from-experienced veteran Kellen Clemens under center, a little more seasoning on the outside would certainly be helpful.
Even if the Jets don't agree.
"I want everybody to understand that I'm really not blowing smoke, but we have a lot of talented guys at wide receiver," Cotchery argued. According to the Associated Press, that's an assessment with which wide receivers coach Henry Ellard agrees.
"I think we'll be fine with what we already have," Ellard said. "We're a little short on experience, but that's going to come with time."
And as Cotchery suggested, the questions are nothing new.
"Even when Laveranues was here, people still said we needed somebody else," Cotchery said. "The past couple of years, I've led the team in receiving while being the so-called No. 2. I think it's just who's going to make the plays for you when the game is on the line."
And it's not like the talent on hand isn't. ... Well, isn't talented.
Stuckey was a favorite target for Favre early last season and finished with 32 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns. Smith, who has 47 catches in three seasons, was a quarterback at the University of Missouri and is still learning the fundamentals of the position.
Clowney was impressive last preseason but an injury squashed his chances of being a regular-season contributor.
And make no mistake about it, Clowney considers himself the answer -- in large part because of his superior speed.
As ESPN.com AFC East blogger Tim Graham recently noted, Clowney "flies."
No doubt. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2007 NFL scouting combine. Only four prospects ran it faster.
"Clowney can run," Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris told Graham. "Separation is what you look for from a receiver. He's a fierce competitor and he poses a threat to any defensive back."
Harris knows Clowney from the Packers. They drafted Clowney in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, but he didn't make the roster. Instead, the Packers signed him to their practice squad. A month later, the Jets snagged him off the Packers' practice squad, waived him three weeks later and stashed him on their practice squad.
When Favre landed with the Jets last year, he was impressed with Clowney's development.
"I didn't think he'd make it three weeks in Green Bay, and he didn't," Favre said last November. "Maybe he made it four. It was more his, I shouldn't say attitude; I think he really wanted to be a good player. It was more his actions and stuff. He was acting like a young player, not that that's uncommon.
"This year it seems like every time [a coach] asks him a question, he knows the answer. That's the first step. The guys have to trust you to be in the game. I think he'll get his chance."
Favre could've used Clowney's breakaway stride last year when his wideouts struggled to separate. While Cotchery and Coles are capable of catching most anything they touch, they don't have game-changing speed like Clowney does.
In two full pre-season games last year, Clowney had eight receptions for a league-high 222 yards and two touchdowns. He caught four Brett Ratliff passes for 163 yards against the Browns. He zipped behind Cleveland's secondary for touchdowns of 71 and 70 yards.
"I knew I was ready after that Cleveland game," Clowney said. "I knew it. I came back against Washington and performed even better."
Clowney had four receptions for a comparatively modest 59 yards against the Redskins, but he broke his collar bone during the game. The Jets deactivated him until Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills.
Not surprisingly, Clowney won't concede the lack of regular-season experience hurts him.
"I have no doubts at all. None whatsoever," Clowney said. "They know I can do it. They know it's there. Now it's just making sure I'm consistently doing it."
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum was excited enough about Clowney and Smith to decide against drafting a wideout and April and it's safe to assume that excitement explains why the Jets haven't tried to trade for or sign a higher-profile veteran.
The current plan is to give Clowney and Smith every opportunity to succeed -- and then some. If they come up short, Stuckey could get a shot or the team could decide to take the free-agent route.
But at this point, the ball is in Clowney and Smith's court, and it's up to them to take advantage of their opportunity. ...
In Baltimore. ... As the Ravens wait to see whether receiver Derrick Mason will follow through on his stated intention to retire, head coach John Harbaugh, who spoke to Mason this week, says that there's no deadline for a final decision.
Nor is Harbaugh setting any expectations as to the outcome.
"I don't have an opinion on whether he'll be back because I have no idea," Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun. "Nothing's changed, and Derrick was very clear about that through our conversation.
"I'm hopeful that he'll be back because he's a good player. A Derrick Mason who is fully committed and focused on football makes us a better team."
With that last statement Harbaugh lent further credence to the belief that Baltimore needs to give Mason a little more money if/when he returns.
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio put it: "Though we suspect that the $4.4 million difference between playing and not playing will be enough to get Mason to show up, whether he's 'committed and focused' will depend on whether the team is treating him fairly."
Meanwhile, the team signed Drew Bennett to a contract on Friday. The former Ram and Titan joins a depth chart currently headed by Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams and also including Marcus Smith and Kelley Washington.
A former first-round draft pick from the University of Oklahoma, Clayton caught 41 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns last season while operating in a complementary role to Mason. For his four-year career, Clayton has registered 200 career receptions for 2,636 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"We all have a lot of confidence in ourselves and our teammates," Clayton said. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready for it and I'm sure the rest of the guys are, too."
You'll have to pardon my reluctance to take Clayton at his word.
And Bennett? The best news might be the fact he comes with no real risk after signing a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum ($745,000).
According to Sun staffer Jamison Hensley, adding Bennett could have an upside. The 6-5 veteran brings much-needed size and has the potential to be a deep threat. Joe Flacco has the accuracy downfield to be one of the top 5 big-play passers in the NFL. Hensley also reminded readers it was only three years ago when Bennett was averaging 16 yards a catch.
But there might be at least one disconnect -- something USA Today Sports Weekly editor and FSP contributor Howard Balzer posted on his Twitter account after the signing was announced: "The Ravens play tough; Bennett does not. ..."
In Cincinnati. ... NFL.com's Pat Kirwan reported this week that Carson Palmer couldn't say enough about wide receiver Chris Henry during a recent conversation. In fact, Palmer believes Henry could be on the verge of a Randy Moss-type career.
And as Dayton Daily News staffer Chick Ludwig recently noted, contract years have a way of bringing out the best in NFL players. To secure a future deal, they must produce in the present season.
That’s the situation Henry finds himself in.
“It’s going to be a big year for me,” Henry predicted during the club’s final mini-camp. “I’ve been working hard. I feel like I’m at my best right now, and I’m going to do everything I can to help the team get to where we’re trying to get.”
But can he be another Moss?
I wouldn't bet the ranch on that coming to pass. But I do believe Fantasy Football owners looking for some serious draft-day value could do worse than landing Henry, whose current MockDraftCentral.com ADP is 58 (he's only been drafted in 41 percent of mocks to date). ...
In Washington. ... While Washington added serious talent this offseason to its fourth-ranked defense, it's worth noting the Redskins did little to bolster their offense this offseason.
According to Washington Times staffer David Elfin, other than relying on improvement by the players during their second season in head coach Jim Zorn's West Coast attack, the Redskins are counting on a quantum leap by second-year receiver Devin Thomas to make their offense more dynamic.
Zorn also expects more from Thomas' fellow 2008 second-round pass-catchers, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis.
But Kelly's oft-repaired left knee is still a bit of a question mark and Davis remains stuck behind Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley.
As Elfin suggested, "That leaves it to Thomas to rise from dud to stud."
"We're looking for one sure starter out of those guys," Zorn said. "We play a lot of our stuff with three receivers, and I want to put Antwaan [Randle El] in the slot. You'd like to see one guy completely take over the position, but all those guys are going to play. Those [young] guys have to make a statement. I need to see a lot of changes."
Yeah he does.
Thomas failed the conditioning test that opened training camp last summer and missed 18 days with a pulled right hamstring, ruining his preseason. The 6-2, 220-pounder didn't fare much better in the regular season, catching just 15 passes for 120 yards and no touchdowns.
But he still managed to lead the Redskins in offensive pass interference penalties.
"Devin didn't get as many opportunities as I hoped he would've," receiver coach Stan Hixon said. "It seemed like something always happened. Devin plays 100 miles an hour, and he needs to learn to understand the game more."
But Thomas claims he understands more now what it takes to be a professional.
"I'm the wild child, but I'm going to contain that wild," Thomas said. "I'm going to be out there making plays -- no pass interferences. Last year I was in combine shape, ready to run 40s. This year I'm in NFL shape, ready to run routes. It worked to my benefit being here this offseason, getting a chance to work with [Jason Campbell], talking to him more so he can get to know who I am and I get to know him. That's huge for a quarterback and a receiver."
Hixon said Thomas "seems to be a lot more confident" because he knows the offense better, a statement with which Thomas agreed.
"You're going to see Devin Thomas make plays," Thomas said. "You're going to see more deep passes, across the middle, breaking tackles, doing whatever I do. It's going to be every game -- not a one-time thing. I already see the dance [after his first touchdown catch]. I see it happening real early, hopefully the first game."
Well now. ... Good thing he's learned what it takes to be a professional. I certainly feel better about him.
But nowhere near enough to list him as a draftable commodity. ...
And finally this week, from our "It's Good Work If You Can Get It" file. ... When Mike Shanahan was fired by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen after the 2008 season, he was still due $7 million for 2009.
Had he stuck around, he would have been the NFL's highest-paid coach. It turns out that there has been no buyout of that money. Instead, Shanahan simply has to adhere to one clause in order to collect from the Broncos.
According to Woody Paige of the Denver Post, Shanahan will get the $7 million as long as he refrains from saying anything publicly about the Broncos.
As AOL Fanhouse writer Bruce Ciskie noted, in the business world, some know it as "hush money."
A terminated employee can be paid it in exchange for refraining from making any disparaging remarks in public about their old job. In this case, that hush money just happens to make Shanahan a higher-paid guy in unemployment than any of the 32 actual NFL head coaches are this season.
Like I said: Good work if you can get it. ...
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.
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