DENVER BRONCOS UPDATE 

lFANTASY NOTEBOOK: THE MARSHALL CONUNDRUM & MORE

Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... But not just any Notebook. This week's edition will be the last of the 2009 offseason. Why?

Because it's "go time."

And by "go time" I mean this year's premium content cranks up on Tuesday, when we break out the AugustUpdate, our pre-season guide. The August Update will take us up through Week 1 with real-time news updates, analysis, depth charts, rankings and much more.

(The regular-season FlashUpdate will take over Week 1.)

In case you haven't been paying attention (or just began visiting), anybody buying an FSP magazine this year (the FF Pro Forecast, Cheatsheets, DraftBook or FootballDiehards) can access all this year's premium content at no charge (using codes provided in the magazines). Those who haven't seen any of our publications can purchase full access to this year's premium content for the price of a magazine ($8.00) -- and we'll give you a mag, too.

So. ... There you have it. Thanks for following along this offseason. Hope regular readers found it useful.

Now, without further adieu. ...

We'll get the ball rolling in Denver, where Brandon Marshall took part in his first official practice since last season on Monday. But that doesn't mean he was especially happy to be there.

As Denver Post staffer Mike Klis suggested, Marshall, who passed his initial physical and a grueling conditioning test despite off-season hip surgery, arrived seemingly to tell the Broncos he wants out.

According to Klis, "Marshall said this through his slack body language. He said this by what he wouldn't say. He said this through the thinly disguised words he chose."

"I have faith in the conversations I've had with ownership and my agent and I'm going to put my faith and belief in everything that I've heard," Marshall said.

He was referring to his private meeting June 12 with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Marshall has said he asked for a trade then, and that Bowlen said he would try to accommodate his wishes.

Bowlen has not commented on his meeting with Marshall and was not at the team's headquarters Monday.

Worth noting: Marshall's agent, Kennard McGuire talked briefly with head coach Josh McDaniels on Monday morning and for a good 10 minutes with general manager Brian Xanders outside the team's facility Monday afternoon before the latter conversation moved inside.

According to Klis, the Broncos are respectfully listening to Marshall and his agent but there are no indications they will act upon his request to be traded.

And Klis went on to suggest another theory that makes sense. Perhaps once Marshall, who is normally an engaging and friendly sort, gets around his teammates and personally experiences the production a receiver can generate from McDaniels' offensive system, he will want to play for the Broncos again.

Whether it unfolds that way or not, McDaniels didn't seem especially worried.

"I'm not going to comment on his state of mind," McDaniels said. "You know, he's out there, he went through every drill today. Everything we asked him to do he did, and he'll be effective at doing them when we do them full speed."

The new coach might be right.

That was clearly the case Friday morning, when Marshall took part in his first, full-squad session since the hip was repaired. By all accounts there was no limp, no detectable sign of rust. And also by all accounts, Marshall put on a show.

"You could tell by watching him, he obviously has been working hard to try and get back where he was at last year," said tight end Tony Scheffler.

"He came out and looked real good," said receiver Brandon Stokley. "He ran good routes; he looked precise."

Was McDaniels pleasantly surprised by how Marshall performed on the first day of training camp?

"Excited about it; I wouldn't say pleasantly surprised," McDaniels said. "I know he's a good football player. I'm excited about watching him fit into our system and making plays."

Unfortunately, it's not clear that Marshall wants to fit in.

Marshall became disenchanted with the Broncos for their medical treatment after he discovered the injured hip he played through while catching 104 passes last season required surgery on March 31.

One might also reasonably conclude that Marshall would have been quite satisfied to continue playing under former head coach Mike Shanahan, who was fired two days after the 2008 season ended, and with Jay Cutler, who was traded to Chicago on April 2.

And then there's the biggest issue: Marshall is also upset with his contract. He was paid a combined $1.5 million in his first three seasons and is scheduled to make $2.198 million.

"What's my market value?" he said. "Hundred-something catches two years in a row, I don't know what my market value is."

Marshall went on to suggest the $15,888 daily fine for skipping out on training camp was a major reason he reported.

"I mean, it's got to stop eventually and I definitely didn't want to get that fine," he said before adding: "It's my obligation to be here and I'm here."

According to Klis, the usually ebullient Marshall spoke with no trace of enthusiasm.

And that's the conundrum Fantasy owners face. How do we assess his desire given the circumstances?

In all the mock drafts I've taken part in this offseason, Marshall has gone much later than a player coming off back-to-back 100-catch seasons should -- even one playing under a new coaching staff and with a new quarterback.

For those interested, Marshall's current MockDraftCentral.com ADP stands at 13. That leaves him behind Marques Colston (10), Dwayne Bowe (11) and Wes Welker (12) in PPR leagues.

While I admittedly haven't been in a rush to secure Marshall's services to date, I have certainly begun to take notice of the sudden value he represents.

After all, McDaniels employs an aggressive spread offense that caters to moving the ball up and down the field through the air. I'll also note Randy Moss' staggering production in 2007. Marshall won't reach that territory, but another 100-plus receptions for close to 1,300 yards and double-digit TDs certainly is attainable -- assuming he's able to move past the off-field stuff.

Unfortunately for Fantasy owners, determining Marshall's ability to move past the issues and keep his focus on the field when the snaps mean something is the kind of "gray area" assessment that makes our hobby so challenging.

Needless to say, I'll be watching the situation closely and reporting on it diligently when the AugustUpdate cranks up on Tuesday. If nothing else, you'll have the info needed to make the best decision possible come draft day. ...

In Minnesota. ... Not to avoid the big story surrounding the Vikings (I've pretty much laid out my thoughts on the team's quarterback situation here), but I'd rather make better use of this year's final Notebook.

And it seems to me an Adrian Peterson update qualifies as better use.

That being the case, it's worth noting Peterson said he learned a valuable lesson this offseason.

"Not to talk about my weight," he said.

As Minneapolis Star-Tribune staffer Chip Scoggins reminded readers on Friday, Peterson made headlines this offseason when he said he hoped to add seven to 12 pounds and report to camp between 225 and 230 pounds. Peterson said the topic got overblown but he did manage to reduce his body fat while adding three pounds.

"It was overblown a little bit," he said. "That's one thing I learned I must say. Not to talk about my weight because it's something you'll hear about the whole summer.

"I came in at 220. I feel like that's a pretty good weight if I can stay in the 220-range. I'm feeling good. I'm not feeling too heavy. I put on some good weight this offseason. I'm just ready to get it going."

Peterson said he focused on little things this offseason that he believes will help improve his overall game.

"Just going out and running better routes," he told Scoggins. "Things like that. Having the right position and body language when you're going to take on a block. Just little things like that really make a difference."

Peterson said the arrival of Percy Harvin when he signs should help loosen things up on the offense because he's another playmaker who defenses must account for.

(Harvin remains unsigned but the two sides are talking and hope to have a deal done soon.)

"The potential is great," Peterson said. "We have the potential with the guys we have here to really make a defense switch up the scheme. Not able to stack the box and add that extra defender. Hopefully when the season comes around we won't be getting that full box."

Peterson was asked about ball security after he experienced some fumble problems last season.

"That's all a mindset," he said. "Of course during running back drills you do ball security work, but it's not something I think about. That really was my problem last year. I was thinking about it too much. I got caught up in it. It's not something I'm really focusing on. I've been doing this since I was 7. I know to hold onto the ball so that's what I'm going to do."

Peterson also talked about his individual goals, specifically the 2,000-yard mark.

"It's something I think about and dream about, but I don't focus on it because you'll never accomplish it that way," he said. "That's my bar. It will always be 2,000 or more. God willing and with the guys I have surrounding me, I'll be able to accomplish that one day."

What about NFL MVP?

"Oh yeah," he said. "That fits into that category as far as my personal goals."

Hey. ... Personal goals are great; I'm always interested in players setting expectations. But I prefer to base my own values on what I know. And here's what I know about Peterson:

He played in all 16 regular-season games (17 if you count playoffs) in his second NFL season after missing two games in 2007 because of a knee injury. He touched the ball 385 times after having 273 touches as a rookie (both totals include kick returns) and averaged 110 rushing yards per game, 4.8 yards per carry and had 20 carries result in gains of at least 20 yards last season.

So, while the critics bring up injury concerns and point to his relatively low TD total (10) and nine fumbles (only four were lost), I don't share in their worries. Instead I focus on his past accomplishments and make my projections based on those facts -- and a few less tangible factors.

For example?

Superior speed, agility, vision and a playing behind a top-notch O-line are enough to keep Peterson at the top of our list. ...

In Buffalo. ... When head coach Dick Jauron first expressed an interest in adding a third running back he said it was partly in the interest of lightening the load carried by Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Though Jauron liked the way both backs were utilized in Buffalo's offense last season, it was clear he wanted another back that was dependable.

"We'd like to take a little bit of pressure off of them," said Jauron of Lynch and Jackson. "We wanted to find a guy with a little more experience in that third spot."

That player proved to be Dominic Rhodes, a versatile veteran who learned what it takes to win during his time with the Colts. As BuffaloBills.com staff writer Chris Brown pointed out, some observers see Rhodes' presence as a negative for Lynch, knowing in some way it will take opportunities away from Buffalo's feature back.

But Brown argues it's also likely to keep Lynch a lot fresher come the end of the season, when the running game is even more important.

While Brown is quick to note Lynch is as tough as they come, a severe high ankle sprain in 2007 and a badly bruised shoulder in 2008 cost the former first-round pick four and a half games over his first two years. When it comes to running backs, injuries are often a product of the number of hits they take.

In Lynch's case a lot of times the yards he's had to fight for can make his 297 touches last year, for example, feel more like 400. He's not exactly a back that shies away from contact.

Fully aware of Lynch's physically demanding running style, the staff wants to effectively manage his carries and plan on doing so by making use of Jackson and Rhodes. To what degree remains to be seen.

In addition Buffalo's plan to run an up tempo offense a good portion of the time this season will also reduce the down time in between snaps. That could be an issue for a back carrying more muscle this season. “I feel pretty much the same," said Lynch. "I bulked up to about 230 and put some mass on. We'll see how that's going to work. I haven't lost a step."

What is likely to help keep Lynch fresh down the stretch this season more than anything else is the fact that he'll be playing three fewer games this season due to his league suspension.

While I understand the desire to keep Lynch fresh down the stretch, it's not like he hasn't been effective when it counts.

Indeed, Lynch's yards per carry average is actually better in the second half of the season than the first half. Over his first two seasons Lynch has averaged 3.64 yards per carry in September and October (271-987 yards), and 4.5 yards per carry in November and December (259-1,164 yards).

As the Sports Xchange's Derek Harper suggested in this year's Football Diehards magazine, given the changes in Buffalo in the offseason, this could be the year Lynch breaks out. Having Terrell Owens and Lee Evans outside should back safeties off the line of scrimmage and create bigger alleys for Lynch.

That does assume the Bills' new-look offensive line jells and that Jackson and Rhodes don't cut into Lynch's playing time. One other item worth noting, Lynch has appealed his suspension.

Should commissioner Roger Goodell cut the current three-game penalty by a game or two, Lynch's value will rise.

If not, I'd suggest draft-day bargain hunters will find one in the former first-round pick, whose current ADP -- 22 among running backs -- is selling him short even if he misses all three games.

In Kansas City. ... ESPN.com AFC West blogger Bill Williamson reports that Larry Johnson was not only ready to open training camp with the Chiefs on Thursday, he was thrilled about it.

Six months ago, that seemed impossible. Johnson's departure from Kansas City seemed inevitable after a rough 2008 season that was his sixth in a productive but rocky career in Kansas City.

Johnson requested a trade on numerous occasions in the past year.

Now, however, the standout running back wants to be in Kansas City. In his first comments about his change of heart, Johnson told Williamson that his rebirth in Kansas City is due to the arrival of general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Todd Haley and assistant head coach Maurice Carthon.

"I want to be here because of Scott Pioli's commitment to winning," Johnson said. "He has a no-nonsense approach and coach Haley's offensive system fits me. My decision to want to stay here is really based on what those guys are doing here."

As the Associated Press reminded readers this week, Johnson was indirectly critical of the previous Kansas City regime. General manager Carl Peterson and head coach Herman Edwards were not brought back after the Chiefs went 2-14 last season.

"These guys are going to put the players on the field who can best help the team. They are not going to worry about four or five years down the road," Johnson said. "There is a new excitement in Kansas City. I believe in these guys and what they are going to do to make the Chiefs a winner."

Johnson acknowledged that he had to work to gain the trust of the new Kansas City leadership. He said he had to shed his perception of being a "locker room cancer." He said he did so by "working my butt of and shutting my mouth."

Johnson attended the team's off-season workout program and tried to impress his coaches with his work ethic. He said he bonded with Carthon, who will oversee the team's running backs, as well as Haley.

"I think I fit their power running offense and I think I can be a workhorse in this system," Johnson told Williamson. "I'm very excited about the opportunity here."

Haley seems willing to give Johnson a chance to succeed.

"I have not had an issue with Larry Johnson," the coach said Friday. "Larry has obviously proven in the past that he capable of being a very good running back in the league. He's a top echelon guy and right now running back in general is one of the groups I'm excited to see how it plays out because

"I think we have some talent there and we've got some competitive guys. It should be an interesting battle as we go forward.

"I just told the team that there's opportunity for everyone, so every position is wide open right now."

Johnson, who'll turn 30 in November, was suspended a total of four games in 2008 by the Chiefs and the league after being arrested twice for incidents involving women in nightclubs. In March, he pled guilty to the two 2008 incidents and was sentenced to two years probation.

He had 874 yards on 193 carries (a 4.5 yard per carry average) in 2008. He believes he can become the 400-carry-a-season player he was in 2006 when he set an NFL record with 416 carries.

"The team is committed to running the ball and I think I'll be a big part of it," Johnson said. "I'm really happy to be part of it."

At this point, assuming he can run effectively enough to keep Jamaal Charles from cutting into his touches, Johnson's biggest worries have to be whether a rebuilding team with a less-than-imposing defense will be able to run the ball on a consistent basis -- or if they'll be relying more heavily on the passing attack while playing catch-up.

If it's the latter, Johnson is likely to be stuck at around 15-17 carries per game, where he was last season, making regular 100-yard games unlikely. Also, whereas the Chiefs once had the top offensive line in football, it's not a group without holes these days.

If the front five is stabilized, Johnson is a respectable bounce-back candidate capable of scoring double-digit touchdowns and gaining well over 1,000 yards. ...

In Oakland. ... In an analysis of the Raiders backfield published on July 21, Oakland Tribune beat writer Jerry McDonald stated his belief that Darren McFadden is ready to move into the starting spot this summer.

According to McDonald, McFadden was the man taking snaps with the first team more often than not during the offseason, although both Justin Fargas and Michael Bush got considerable work as well.

Apparently healed after having his season derailed by turf toe, McFadden is Oakland's most explosive offensive player as a runner/receiver, and his paycheck befits a lead runner.

But Fargas is a favorite of the coaching staff because he runs without fear and no regard for his personal safety. The feeling is it gives the offense a sense of toughness. But McDonald notes that Fargas is largely a between-the-20s player because of limited receiving skills with just six rushing touchdowns and no receiving touchdowns on 618 carries over the past three seasons.

Bush compiled most of his 2009 stats on the strength of games in Week 2 against Kansas City and Week 17 against Tampa Bay, but he is such a force when on a roll it will be hard to justify not significantly increasing his workload.

Remember, Bush was the subject of trade rumors this offseason, but most made little sense from the Raiders' perspective. After all, he is a first-round talent earning fourth-round money. And he was the dominant force in two of the Raiders five wins.

The concern? His inability to emerge as a consistent threat despite nagging injuries that slowed McFadden and Fargas was a bit of a disappointment.

Still, considering the attrition rate at the position, McDonald believes out that injuries will help determine the rotation.

If McFadden, Bush and Fargas are all healthy, attempting to split the load three ways could prevent any of them from getting in a good rhythm.

Ideally, McFadden should get at least 225 carries and 50-plus receptions with Fargas losing touches at some point in favor of Bush. According to McDonald, it's just a matter of when. ...

In Baltimore. ... The Ravens kicked off training camp Tuesday morning, although not all their key players are quite ready to practice. This after Willis McGahee was placed on active/physically unable to perform list to start camp.

As Profootballtalk.com staffer and NBC/Rotoworld.com honcho Gregg Rosenthal noted, the designation isn't a huge deal. Players can come off the list at any time and McGahee is expected to be ready to practice in a few days.

"I'm in fighting shape," McGahee said.

PFT contributor and Carroll County Times Ravens beat man Aaron Wilson confirmed as much, reporting that McGahee appeared to be in great condition.

Baltimore Sun staffer Jamison Hensley agreed, advising readers that McGahee seems more prepared this year for the rigors of Ravens training camp.

Perhaps the first challenge: Winning back his starting job.

"I'm pretty sure Ray is going to be the guy when we start out, but it's training camp," McGahee said late last week. "It's a long season. No pressure. Like I say: It's not how you start; it's how you finish."

Last year at this time, McGahee didn't report to training camp in shape and was sidelined most of the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He subsequently finished with 671 rushing yards and eight starts, both of which were career lows.

After undergoing another knee surgery this offseason, McGahee was sidelined for most of this year's mini-camps. When he returned, McGahee was primarily taking snaps with the second team while Rice was running with the starters.

Still, McGahee remains positive.

"I've got a lot of doubters out there," McGahee said. "It's going to be fun. They can look at me and smile and say: 'He's in great shape. He's doing this, he's doing that.' It's about me proving that I can be Willis McGahee. Yeah, they're sleeping on me, but I want them to sleep on me.

"I just want to show them. They've been counting me out since Day One, since I got into the league. What's another day? Let them keep counting me out."

Then, last year, McGahee couldn't stay healthy. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in training camp, McGahee dealt with injuries to his eye, ribs and ankle and managed a career-low 170 carries.

He started the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, rushing for 60 yards and two touchdowns. But he left with a neck injury after a crushing blow by Steelers safety Ryan Clark.

Injuries are "something that you can't control," McGahee said. "It was just one injury after another. It was an injury bug last year, and hopefully it's all behind me."

They better be.

Despite Le'Ron McClain moving back to fullback, the Ravens still have all the fixings for a three-man rotation. Unless somebody gets hurt -- or Rice comes on strong (or falls short) and renders the questions moot, it looks like another season of guessing which Raven will get the bulk of the work on any given Sunday. ...

In Seattle. ... According to SI.com's Peter King, Matt Hasselbeck was working out twice a day on vacation. And as King went on to suggest, "That's a good sign."

Last year, Seattle's season went down the drain when Hasselbeck's back acted up in the summer and never settled down. This summer he had a personal trainer, Ken Croner of Athletes Performance Institute, with him at his family vacation home in central Washington, on the Columbia River, putting Hasselbeck through the kind of two-a-days that should serve him well.

This is the fourth year Croner has worked with Hasselbeck, who turns 34 in September, and the trainer said Friday, "He looks by far the best he's ever looked since I've been with him.'

Hasselbeck's eight pounds lighter now (at 234) than he was a year ago and he said one of the things that has helped him this offseason is the simple length of it. Because he didn't play much last year, and because Seattle didn't make the playoffs, and because he had his back well-diagnosed by January, he's been in the weight room more, and longer, than in the past.

"I'm not worried about my back at all,' Hasselbeck said. "The only thing my back cannot do is sit in a three-hour run-game-install meeting without getting up and moving around. Of the things I'm worried about -- new coach, new offense, some new teammates -- I can promise you that health is not one of them.'

And I'm buying that line. So much so that I've made an effort to secure Hasselbeck as my QB2 on a regular basis in recent mock drafts.

While Seattle will no longer be running Mike Holmgren's West Coast system under new head coach Jim Mora and coordinator Greg Knapp, Hasselbeck believes the similarities are there.

The Seahawks still lack a home-run hitter at receiver, but signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a $42 million deal to become Hasselbeck's No. 1 option. Tight end John Carlson led Seattle in receptions and TDs last season (55 catches, five TDs) and it appears Nate Burleson is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered last September.

Deion Branch is said to be progressing, too.

Bottom line? Hasselbeck is definitely another player to keep on your list of possible bargains.

If it matters, I'm not the only optimist.

"I just want to let everyone know that Matt Hasselbeck and I will be leading the Seahawks to the playoffs this season," Houshmandzadeh told The Sporting News last week. "And we'll be going to the Pro Bowl as a tandem. We're both going to have top five seasons: He'll have a top five quarterback season, and I'll have a top five receiving season. ..."

From Houshmandzadeh's mouth to the Fantasy gods' ears. ...

And finally. ... From the "Change We Can All Believe In" file. ... We will be hearing and seeing more from NFL coordinators this year, thanks to a welcome revision to the NFL media policy.

As Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writer Tony Grossi reminded readers, to combat head coaches who keep coordinators off limits to the media, the league a few years ago required coordinators be made available every other week during the season. So coaches would give up the offensive coordinator one week and the defensive coordinator the next. Throw in the newly created special teams coordinator position, and it meant we wouldn't hear from the same coach for three weeks.

This year, the revision calls for every coordinator to be made available every week for a minimum of 10 minutes.

It's another small advancement in media access in a league that lost sight of its public relations responsibilities under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. As Grossi explained, on Tagliabue's watch, Bill Parcells started reducing media access to the teams he coached.

While Tagliabue looked the other way, Parcells' disciples copied his ways. Soon, other coaches followed step, saying, "If he can do it, I can do it."

And some of them -- Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini come immediately to mind -- took it to a whole new level. It'll be interesting to see if the increased access leads to more information.

We can, of course, all hope that's the case. And since hope is cheap, I recommend indulging yourself now before reality sets in again come September. ...

That's it for this year's Notebook. Remember, the AugustUpdate cranks up Tuesday and will carry you up to Week 1, when the FlashUpdate kicks in!

In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest in real time.


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