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lFANTASY NOTEBOOK: PORTER & JONES; TACTICS OR TRULY TWEAKED?

Hey now! Training camps are up and running in all 32 NFL cities (as of today) and the daily drumbeat of updates pouring out of team headquarters is picking up in tempo while insiders and pundits are offering real-time assessments of each and every situation as they arise.

Which brings up something I first posted on the Diehards Message Board earlier this week. It went something like this:

Just a thought about current news in general: It's provisional. It's the best we know today. It will almost certainly change tomorrow. It's ongoing.

I say this because I believe being well informed is a constant process. One news item in and of itself isn't of much interest. It's when we combine it into a series of news items going back over a period of time that we can truly start to make judgements.

Think of it as building a graph. One data point isn't sufficient. The more points you add, the better your results. News is the same. ...

So, while we certainly make it our business to keep up with the minutiae of daily camp updates (check the News & Views section of the site -- and the upcoming AugustUpdate Draft Guide), sometimes it's nice to sit back and look at some of the week's more interesting stories from a broader-based perspective.

Hence, the Fantasy Notebook. ... Those who have been following along all offseason know what we're up to here; we're sure those just getting in on the fun as training camps open will pick up quickly, too.

Now, an interesting development arose earlier this week that seemed to have a bit of a ripple effect.

As Profootballtalk.com editor Mike Florio first reported on July 21 and further explained last Tuesday, an increase in daily fines for players under contract who don't show up for training camp was negotiated last week by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, as part of an ongoing effort to iron out loose ends from the negotiations that supposedly were concluded in March.

Florio went on to explain the quid pro quo for the increase in the holdout fines was a decision by the NFL to go with lower fines for infractions such as losing the playbook, tardiness at meetings, and being overweight.

As a result, the maximum daily fine for those holding out is now $14,000. The previous maximum was $6,000.

Now, that $14K might not seem like much when compared to the multi-million deals many of these players work under, it does add up. We'll also remind you that not all of these guys live in a seven-figure contract.

But as Florio reminded a pair of high-profile holdouts -- Denver's Ashley Lelie and New England's Deion Branch -- Tuesday: "Beware, Deion and Ashley -- that $14,000 a day becomes $98,000 after one week, and $196,000 after two."

The Rocky Mountain News carried the math out a little further on Lelie.

If the disgruntled wideout (who hopes to be traded) stays away for the days the Broncos practice or play before their Aug. 19 preseason game, it would cost him $294,000. That total balloons to more than $600,000 if he stays away for the entire preseason.

I don't care how much you make, that's a considerable chunk of coin.

And given the increased penalties, a couple of stories that developed this week, bear closer scrutiny.

Starting in Oakland. ... Raiders receiver Jerry Porter is demanding a trade. Yet again. This time, he wants out only 17 months after signing a five-year contract that could net him as much as $15 million.

Porter's latest trade demand stems from a falling out he had with new head coach Art Shell in a get-to-know-you meeting soon after the Raiders hired Shell to replace Norv Turner on Feb. 13, according to people close to Shell and Porter.

Shell took exception to Porter's stance in response to Shell outlining what he expected of his players. From there, the two exchanged heated words, with Shell getting the last word and booting Porter from his office.

The Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle reported Porter's unhappiness with the Raiders on Tuesday; Chronicle staffer Nancy Gay offered Porter's account of that meeting -- with wide receivers coach Fred Biletnikoff present -- as follows:

"They were asking me what I was going to do as far as the offseason program goes," said Porter. "And I told them, 'I just bought a place in Florida, so I'm going to go down to Florida and work with a trainer.'"

Porter continued. "And this is [Biletnikoff] talking. He said, 'What's the matter, stud, you're not gonna stay here for the program?' And I'm saying, 'Nah, I've got to get away and charge my batteries.'

"And [Biletnikoff] says, 'Well, your battery's not charged?'

"And I'm like, 'No.'"

From here, as Porter remembers it, the dialogue grew more heated.

Biletnikoff: "Your batteries aren't already charged?"

Porter: "No, they're not."

Biletnikoff: "So, what's the problem?"

Porter: "Well, for one thing, I don't like the way things are going around here."

At that point, Porter recalls, the head coach intervened.

"And then Art chimes in, 'Who the f -- do you think you are?'" Porter recalled. "And then it starts from there. Art says, 'Who ... do you think you're talking to?'

"And that was that." Porter said.

Shell did not dispute Porter's recollection of their meeting, but he definitely had a response.

"The culture is changing," Shell said firmly, "and everybody has been on board and trying to get involved in the process of winning football games, and getting in here, working. You can't have inmates running the asylum.

"That's not gonna be. Not under me, and 99.9 percent of the players here feel that way. They want direction. We're going to give them direction. And I'm not going to back down off of that.

"A couple of the inmates have been trying to run the doggone culture around here. They've been running the program. And that's not gonna be anymore. I'm the head coach. I'm the guy in charge."

As Contra Costa Times beat man Steve Corkran reminded readers, Porter, 28, joined the Raiders in 2000, "with a Hummer-sized chip on his shoulder that oftentimes has overshadowed his immense talent and potential."

He took exception to the Raiders drafting kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round and waiting until the second round to select him out of West Virginia. He showed his discontent by holding out of training camp and finally arriving with a jersey emblazoned with the No. 1.

When asked the significance of the number, Porter said it was to show that he should have been a first-round selection. That, among other things, landed him in then-coach Jon Gruden's doghouse.

Porter requested a trade at the end of his rookie season. No go. He stewed over his having to wait his turn behind the likes of veterans Andre Rison, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice his first five seasons.

Midway through the 2004 season, Porter said he wouldn't play for the Raiders again upon hearing a rumor that the team was interested in trading him before the trade deadline. That never happened.

All appeared well in Porter's view when Brown retired before the 2004 season and Rice got traded two months or so later. So, Porter signed a five-year extension in February 2005.

A week or so later, the Raiders traded for receiver Randy Moss. Again, Porter found himself out of the spotlight. Six seasons, not so much as one 1,000-yard season to his resume and a career of being a complementary player.

Adding further fuel to the fire, Porter participated in the team's first training-camp practice Tuesday morning, but pulled up with a limp before the afternoon session and did not work out again until Friday.

Perhaps a mini-holdout in an effort to punctuate his trade request? A mini-holdout minus the $14,000 daily price tag?

Nobody but Porter can say for sure.

The only thing we know is that Porter wants to play for a team other than Oakland -- and he means this year.

"Yes. Absolutely. I've told them that," Porter replied when Gay asked if he wanted to be traded.

Porter is clearly frustrated. Perhaps he's afraid to work under another hard-nosed coach. His problems working under Gruden have been well documented. Porter simply wilted in the heat of Gruden's in-your-face, confrontational coaching style.

He had it fairly easy under more laid-back head men Bill Callahan and Turner.

Now, Shell is suddenly demanding effort, commitment and discipline now that he's taking over a franchise that death-spiraled to 13-35 the past three seasons, expected 100 percent attendance at every mini-camp, meeting and organized team activity this past offseason.

He also hoped star employees -- Moss and Porter, for instance -- would work out religiously at the facility, to set a positive tone. To be the examples.

One might be delivering; Moss ran 100-yard punishments after both practices Wednesday as part of Shell's penal code for crimes involving offside infractions and dropped passes.

Porter? He demanded a trade and pulled up lame.

As Gay put it: "What a slap in the face to Shell. To owner Al Davis -- who handed Porter a $13 million signing bonus in 2005 to re-sign with the team -- and everyone else in Silver and Black."

In an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio with Rice and host Tim Ryan, Warren Sapp had a few things to say about Porter's desire to be traded and unhappiness with the new Raiders coaching staff:

"Trade him or whatever he wants because you can't have a malcontent on a team where on Sunday we're going to be looking for you to make plays," Sapp said. "I mean, he just got a brand new contract from us, didn't he? Let's go perform for the money that you got."

"All this riff-raff and this talking, that's not going to get anything done for anybody."

Well said. ... As Gay further explained: "Porter doesn't have the cred, or the numbers, to be the royal pain Terrell Owens can be and force the issue with a stubborn owner."

In six NFL seasons, Porter has caught 239 passes for 24 touchdowns and 3,215 yards. He has led the Raiders in receiving yards only once, in 2004, with 998 yards.

A second-round pick out of West Virginia in 2000, he has not made a Pro Bowl team.

"They've asked for two No. 1s for me (in a trade)," Porter said his agent told him. "Why ... would you ask for a No. 1 for me, or ask for two No. 1s for me, when I wasn't even a No. 1?"

Gay summed up by suggesting: "Maybe Porter answered his own question. And if he's watching from the Raiders' bench in September, he'll have plenty of time to ponder how all of this might have happened. ..."

For what it's worth, Florio, citing two different sources, reported Tuesday night that the Raiders are willing to trade Porter, if an interested partner can be identified. One source told Florio that the Raiders discreetly have been shopping Porter for several months.

Teams that might be interested include the Eagles, Packers, Bears, Patriots, Jaguars, Saints and 49ers. ...

Meanwhile, in the Windy City. ... Chicago Sun-Times beat man Mike Mulligan advises readers the conspiracy theorists were out in full force Thursday at the opening practice of Bears camp. Thomas Jones tweaked his right hamstring during a morning fitness test and did not practice.

That's the same Jones who skipped "voluntary" mini-camp practices after changing agents in the offseason and as a result of that decision, was scheduled to begin practice second on the depth chart to Cedric Benson.

Although Jones says he's happy to be with the Bears, he's clearly not satisfied playing behind Benson or making $2.5 million this year, which is less than half the average of Benson's five-year contract which could be worth as much $35 million and included nearly $16 in guaranteed money.

So. ... Jones defined his condition as day-to-day and the Bears said they'll know more about the injury after seeing how he responds to treatment overnight.

But as Mulligan suggested: "The coincidence of a disgruntled player suffering an injury before the first practice of training camp required a flexibility and open-mindedness that few in the media could muster."

Indeed, Mulligan openly wondered if Jones had contracted "Jerry Porter Syndrome," a version of the curious leg affliction that sidelined the receiver a day after he demanded a trade from the team.

Were Jones and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, running some sort of shell game on the Bears to force a trade? Was the hamstring injury a cover story to keep Jones off the field while the team attempted to trade him to the Broncos for Lelie?

Or had Jones simply tweaked a hamstring?

Let's see. .... Jones is a workout fanatic, known for long hours in the weight room and an intense commitment to fitness. He also has a high pain threshold, which allowed him to play through bruised ribs and a sprained knee last season.

"I don't think I was as stretched as I should've been," Jones said of his morning sprint. "Plus, it was early and I had just gotten up. So I was in a rush to get it done."

Hmmmm. ... Mulligan went on to advise readers that Jones is without doubt the most mysterious and enigmatic player on the team. Never one to seek publicity, he has gone further into a shell since deciding to skip mini-camp.

Generally regarded as a good teammate, he was nonetheless immediately suspected of breaking the golden rule of team sports: Putting his personal feelings ahead of the collective good.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact Jones still hasn't explained fully what triggered his self-exile from the team. Does he want more money? Was he miffed by trade rumors? Has the eagerness of some in the organization to get Benson on the field offended Jones?

As Mulligan pointed out, it has to be tough making significantly less money than a guy playing behind you.

Jones said he should be the starter based on his performance the last two years but conceded that salary structure "definitely dictates what happens in this league."

According to Mulligan, Jones declined to comment when asked point-blank if he would welcome a trade.

But he had plenty to say about who he felt should be the team's No. 1 halfback.

"Anybody who has done what I've done the last couple of years is a guy who should be a starter," Jones explained while watching teammates go through their paces Friday. "I think I was the leader on the offense the past two years. I think I've been very productive despite some of the situations I've had to be in.

"I've worked hard. I've kept my mouth shut. I stay out of trouble. I do what I'm supposed to do and what the coaches ask me to do. As far as me being a starter, I was the starter the past two years. So we'll see how it goes."

That he was watching practice rather than actually practicing certainly added to the uncertainty of that last sentence.

Getting back to a possible trade. ... DailySouthtown.com staffer Bob LeGere reported on Saturday that general manager Jerry Angelo had little to say about reports the Broncos had inquired about acquiring Jones for Lelie.

He didn't totally dismiss the notion, however.

"I'm not going to get into trades," Angelo told LeGere. "I'm not going to get into any of that."

Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith have insisted that the team needs two quality running backs, but they have one to spare if they consider third-stringer Adrian Peterson, who led all Chicago backs with a 5.1-yard per carry average last year, a viable starter.

"You can't have enough good players at any position," Angelo said. "We have three good running backs. If it's a situation where we feel we could upgrade our football team (with a trade), we're certainly going to look at that situation. But right now, this is the hand we're dealt, and that's the hand we're playing."

Angelo said he has no control over Jones' state of mind.

"I can't make a guy feel something," Angelo said. "At the end, he knows what he has to do. It's about business now, and he knows what we expect of him and what he expects of himself. It's about the team and us being the best team we can be."

As Mulligan summed up, once you "get past all the intrigue of the off-season absence and the hamstring tweak, the injury might be a good thing for the Bears. It means Benson has a clear field to show exactly what he can -- or perhaps can't -- do. Few starting running backs play much in pre-season games anyway, and in a strange way, Jones going down on Day 1 of camp might prove his value to the team.

"Sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until it's not there. Maybe Jones' injury will remind everyone that old whatshisname is a pretty important part of the operation. ..."

In a related note. ... Chicago Tribune staffer K.C. Johnson reports that most players didn't seem surprised by Benson's ascension. Fair or not, the perception has existed that Angelo didn't burn the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft and then lavish him with $16 million of guaranteed money for Benson to warm a bench.

How it sits if the running back rotation stays that way long-term would be interesting to monitor given Jones' popularity and respect within the locker room.

"Obviously, Cedric is a young guy who has a lot of talent and we're excited to see what he can do," quarterback Rex Grossman said. "And Thomas is a proven player, the emotional leader of our team in the huddle. So we're set at running back."

As long as Jones sticks around they are. ...

Now. ... I'll be the first to admit that none of us can say with any certainty whether the minor injuries that had Porter and Jones watching initial workouts from the sidelines instead of taking part -- or if the increased fines for holding out had anything to do with it.

But the similarities between both their situations and injuries are certainly food for thought. If nothing else, they drew a great deal more attention to their perceived plights because of the injuries than they might have otherwise received. ...

Also in Chicago. ... According to LeGere, offensive coordinator Ron Turner says the coaching staff has seen enough of Benson to entrust the running game to him if he outplays Jones in training camp and the preseason.

"We know we have a good player," Turner said of Benson. "He's just got to get a lot of reps and get out and do it, but we're excited about Cedric and what he can do and his abilities and how he's going to be able to progress."

After Benson's month-long holdout last season, the Bears were hesitant to expose him to passing situations in which his inexperience and unfamiliarity with pass protection and as a receiver could jeopardize the quarterback.

Turner said that's much less a concern this year.

"That's where he's probably made his biggest strides in the off-season," Turner said, "catching the ball, running routes, and also in the protection schemes, knowing who to block. That's the first thing you have to do. It you have to block, you have to know who to block, and he's worked hard at it, and (running backs coach) Tim Spencer did a really good job of spending extra time with him going over that phase of the game.

"The running part of it, that comes easy. ..."

One other note out of Oakland. ... According to Pro Football Weekly, with Shell's intention of getting back to a more consistent ground game, expect more of LaMont Jordan's touches in Oakland to come by way of carries, as opposed to the 70 catches he had last season, a league high for running backs.

Jordan averaged only 19.4 rushing attempts per game last season. ...

In other Fantasy-specific news and notes from around the league. ...

In Denver. ... According to News staffer Jeff Legwold, the Broncos were on the field for all of two training camp practices and it already is clear Tatum Bell still is staring at the same hurdle standing between him and the job he wants.

He would like to be the Broncos' unquestioned starting running back. He would like to be the one playing on first down, second down and sometimes on third down. During the offseason he said, "I feel like I am the man, I just have to keep showing them. When my chance comes, I'll be able to prove it to them."

But Bell, whom head coach Mike Shanahan said has an "urgency about him right now," again finds himself a step down the depth chart.

While the plan at the moment is Bell and Ron Dayne will divide the carries, it is Dayne who lined up most often with the starters during off-season camps as well as Friday.

For his part, Shanahan has termed the competition "wide open," then offered the caveat he was calling it that because the "established guy" from the previous season was not returning for the third year in a row.

The Broncos like Bell's explosiveness; he had three touchdown runs last season of more than 20 yards. They like his speed. And they certainly like the idea of putting Bell on the field after they have pounded away at a defense with a little heavier runner for a while.

The Broncos' question with Bell always has been durability. He has had some nagging types of injuries - he missed one game last season because of a chest injury -- and he had injuries in 2004 to his right middle finger, left shoulder and a hamstring.

"Any time a guy averages 5 yards a carry, right at a thousand yards, you know he's capable of having some big-time ability," Shanahan said. "The question is, you've got to decide, 'Is he capable of carrying the ball 25 times a game or is it better that you have another guy you think a lot of take half the reps or the majority of the reps?'

"You kind of have to deal with that as the preseason goes on."

Bell disputes the injury label but said the chest injury last season prevented him from lifting weights as much as usual down the stretch. It might be why Bell had only one game during the final eight games of the season in which he averaged more than 4.2 yards a carry.

That was after averaging more than 7.4 yards a carry in five of the first eight games.

"I want to play so they don't take me out," Bell has said. "That's my goal, play so they don't take me out."

Still, Shanahan, however, seems to be dead set on resurrecting Dayne's career -- perhaps because he uses the same zone-blocking scheme that Wisconsin did when Dayne became the NCAA's career leading rusher in the 1990s.

"The proof is in the pudding, obviously, but he ran that style offense when he was at Wisconsin and was a Heisman Trophy winner because of it," Shanahan said. "They ran pretty close to 100 percent zone-blocking scheme, very similar to what we're running. A zone-blocking scheme, for a running back, is a one-cut back where you don't have to dance. It's not a lot of counters. It's taking the ball downfield and making plays.

"At his weight and his size, he does have some power. We think he fits our system pretty good."

Dayne reported at 240 pounds and has worked diligently on building his stamina, in case he's called on for a big workload.

Former Giants teammate Tiki Barber insists it's too soon to count Dayne out.

"John Riggins was 32 years old before he got really good, and the same thing happened to me," he said. "I didn't play much my first three years, and at 30 and 31, I'm having my best years.

"There's still time for Ron because he doesn't have the mileage on him."

We'll find out about that soon enough. ... For the record, I've ranked Dayne slightly ahead of Bell all offseason but will be the first to admit the big fella is a risky proposition -- at least until he proves otherwise. ...

And finally, following up on an item in last week's Notebook, Chris Brown insists he does not run from competition. However, following the Titans' first training camp workout Friday, the running back did attempt to distance himself from a trade request made by his agents a week earlier.

"I have my agents try to do what's best for me," he said. "They're taking care of business. I have to come out here because I have a job to do. I have to help this team try to win. I'm going to go out, work hard in training camp and try to help us win.

"I want to be in Tennessee. I want to be in Nashville and I want to stay here."

The fourth-year veteran started training camp Friday at the top of the depth chart, a spot he has held -- when healthy -- for the past two seasons. He took the first handoff in every drill and said he felt fresh and strong after having added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame during the offseason, although he did slip and fall several times on a rain-soaked field.

But as the Nashville Tennessean pointed out Saturday morning, it's still not certain that he will hold that spot beyond this season, or even past training camp.

Those factors prompted Brown's representatives to ask for a trade to a team where his role would be better defined. Titans general manager Floyd Reese said the Titans would not honor the request.

"Chris starts out No. 1, but everybody is still competing," Travis Henry said. "At the end of the day, we both want the ball. That's no secret. ... Once the roles are given, you have to accept it and go out and compete at the role you've been given and then go from there."

As Tennessean correspondent David Boclair reported, the competition was far from intense in the first workout. LenDale White was not present because he had not yet arrived following the conclusion of contract negotiations a day earlier.

Brown and Henry -- as well as the rest of the backs in camp -- rotated through the lineup one play at a time.

"What we're going to do is build reps," head coach Jeff Fisher said. "The philosophy is to take one at a time and build to two and before the end of camp they will be taking five, six, seven reps at a time preparing themselves for a drive."

Once the games start, there won't be that many handoffs to go around, a fact that Brown said does not intimidate him.

"I went to Colorado and it was like Running Back U when I first went there," he told Boclair. "Everybody told me not to go there and I was fifth on the depth chart (when I started). It's nothing to me. I have to go out there, compete and let the better man win.

"I'm going to go out there and give you everything I've got. ..."

That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check back 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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