PHILADELPHIA EAGLES UPDATE 

lFANTASY NOTEBOOK: WESTBROOK LOOKING FOR MORE CARRIES

Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook -- this time the final edition of the offseason. But don't despair; I'll still have plenty of news, notes and other Fantasy-specific intelligence of interest on a daily basis throughout the regular season via the FootballDiehards.com FlashUpdate. It's FREE and you can sign up for it right here.

Also, for those who haven't already been taking advantage of the pre-season AugustUpdate, this week's Notebook was culled from the hundreds of updates featured this past week.

You can check out all of last week's (and the previous two weeks') updates here. I'll also remind you, the final 2007 AugustUpdate cranks up Monday at midnight and includes, in addition to constant news updates, multiple cheatsheets, depth charts and more. ... So, with all that out of the way, let's jump into some stories of prime interest.

We'll get the ball rolling in Philadelphia, where in his perfect world, Brian Westbrook would like to get 20 to 25 carries -- not touches -- per game this season, a whopping number given the Eagles' recent run-pass ratio.

"I think to be a very good running back and put up the numbers that the great running backs, the good running backs in the game, are putting up, you have to have at least 20 to 25 carries per game to put those types of numbers up," Westbrook said on Wednesday.

As Philadelphia Inquirer staffer Ashley Fox reminded readers, only five times last season did Westbrook get at least 20 carries. In fact, of the top-10 running backs in the league last year in total rushing yards gained, Westbrook had the fewest carries per game, by far.

In 15 games, Westbrook averaged 16.0 rushes per game.

Nonetheless, Westbrook finished seventh in the league with 1,217 rushing yards, by far a career high. He also caught 77 passes for 699 yards, and led all NFL running backs in yards per touch (6.0 for players with a minimum of 250 touches).

Still, Westbrook wants more this season.

"I would love to have more carries as far as the run," Westbrook said. "But in this offense, when we have a guy like me who can catch the ball out of the backfield and can present matchup problems with linebackers, the coaches have to try to take advantage of that as well. So that's where the catches and things like that come in."

I still believe Westbrook benefits from his work as a receiver -- in terms of getting the ball in open space. But I certainly wouldn't argue against more carries, either. ...

In a related note. ... Hailed as a much needed power-rushing complement to Westbrook, rookie Tony Hunt has quickly found a niche as the Eagles top short-yardage and goal line running option.

The rookie ran for just seven yards on six carries against Carolina, but he scored both of the Eagles' offensive TDs in goal-line scenarios during the 27-10 victory. "Short-yardage, I take that pretty personally I think," said the third-round draft pick. "Those are usually the differences in the ball game: making third down conversions and fourth down conversions. Those are back-breakers."

After the two back-breaking scores against the Panthers last Friday, Hunt appears to be in line for more. ...

Also in Philadelphia. ... After working his way back from off-season sports hernia surgery, tight end L.J. Smith had finally returned to the practice field during training camp, and a week later participated in contact drills for the first time.

But within a matter of one day, he had to start the whole process over again.

Smith was going out for a pass in a one-on-one drill when he pulled his groin. Smith's injuries are not directly connected, but they are in the same area, so initially there was some concern it could be a major setback.

"I was just frustrated and scared, but after some MRIs it showed that there wasn't any separation (from the bone)," Smith said Monday.

And now?

Two weeks later, Smith is able to run on the treadmill again. Starting Monday, he can do strength training for his lower body and he will return to practice fairly soon. "I'm feeling good, a lot better than I did at camp," Smith said. "While those guys were (practicing), I've been in here getting treatment and feeling better every day.

According to the team's official web site, Smith is eager to return to the field, but knows he must be healthy before doing so, especially in mid-August. For now, his plan is to work hard to better. ...

Meanwhile, Trenton Times beat writer Mark Eckel reports that rookie fifth-round pick Brent Celek has been the most impressive player of the first-year group and could actually start the season at tight end if Smith isn't ready for Week 1.

Celek has shown excellent hands and the ability to get yards after the catch and is a better blocker than advertised. He has outperformed veteran backup Matt Schobel throughout camp and had a good opening preseason game in Baltimore.

The 6-4, 255-pound Celek still needs to acclimate himself with the intricacies of the West Coast offense, but for now Eckel believes the newcomer is the best the team has at the position.

In Kansas City. ... Asked Wednesday if he thought he'd be 100 percent ready by Sept. 9 when the Chiefs open at Houston, Larry Johnson said, "No, it'll take a little bit more than that. ..."

Say what?

The star halfback, who ended his 25-day holdout Tuesday, added: "Obviously, coaches are going to do a great job trying to get me on track to where week two or week three of the season I can hit my full stride. ... I'm going to try pick up as fast as I can."

Still, as Associated Press sports writer Doug Tucker noted, after working out twice a day in Arizona while his teammates went through training camp in River Falls, Wis., Johnson appears to be in top shape. And many think that taking off during camp and the first three exhibition games could prove beneficial after Johnson carried an NFL-record 416 times last year.

"What I know about myself is I've never been a fast starter coming out of the blocks in a season," he said. "I've always been -- the last eight games is when I really turn it on. So I'm going to push myself as hard as I can to try to even it out. ..."

It should be noted, though he expresses doubt, Johnson isn't ready to completely rule out being at full speed for the opener.

"It all depends on how I'm feeling. Of course, the adrenaline takes over," he said. "You're excited about playing. So we'll see. It all depends on what type of game we'll get ourselves into. It will come in due time. My legs are as fresh as can be right now. It will all help me when it comes to the last week of the season. ..."

For what it's worth, I strongly suspect Johnson is sandbagging here -- at least to a degree. ... Whatever the case, the chances of Johnson not being the opening-day starter -- and getting the bulk of the carries -- lie firmly between slim and none.

Or in other words: Play him if you got him. ...

Also in Kansas City. ... By all accounts, the Chiefs' starting quarterback spot was Brodie Croyle's to lose heading into Thursday night's game against the Saints. Croyle responded by hitting five of 17 for 45 yards and the Chiefs were shut out in his three quarters in a lopsided loss.

The Chiefs responded by officially announcing that Damon Huard will start the regular season opener Sept. 9 against the Texans in Houston.

As Kansas City Star beat writer Adam Teicher noted, head coach Herman Edwards seemed to be leaning toward starting Croyle. But the coach obviously had a change of heart after watching the younger QB in Thursday night's loss.

Huard, because of a sore calf muscle, did not play against the Saints.

He did not lead the Chiefs to any touchdowns in either of the first two preseason games, but he had some success last season filling in for Trent Green last season. And even though I'm not much higher on Huard than I would have been Croyle -- at least from a Fantasy perspective, Huard is clearly a safer choice for the Chiefs. ...

In Atlanta. ... There has been no official declaration that Warrick Dunn would start over second-year player Jerious Norwood, but head coach Bobby Petrino said Thursday that Dunn's experience -- especially key nuances like blitz pick-up and pass protection -- give him an edge.

According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Steve Wyche, Dunn's delayed participation in training camp while recovering from back surgery left Petrino wondering how best to use the 10-year veteran in the Falcons' new scheme when Dunn returned.

After less than two weeks of practice, Wyche advises readers that Petrino has seen enough not only to begin to figure out how to use Dunn but also to determine that Dunn could be the best fit to start at tailback.

Dunn will start in his preseason debut Monday night when the Falcons host the Bengals. He will get the majority of the snaps as the starters will play into the second half, Petrino said. Norwood will spell him.

Dunn has had little aggravation from the pre-training camp surgical procedure to shave away a portion of a disc in his lower back that was pressing on a nerve. Conditioning is his biggest issue, and he said that isn't really much of an issue anymore. ...

In a related note: Norwood returned to practice Thursday after missing a week's worth of drills and the team's second pre-season game because of a stomach infection. Norwood practiced for a second-consecutive day Friday, taking one-third of his usual workload.

And for the second day, Norwood went directly to the trainer's room after practice as the team continues to closely monitor his blood levels as the Falcons continue their cautious approach to his health issues.

Nonetheless, getting Norwood on the field for game action is key, Petrino said, because Norwood absorbs the new offensive package best when getting reps. ...

Also in Atlanta. ... Tight end Alge Crumpler knows the Falcons' new offense but now has to execute on the field.

"He knows [the plays], but he's hesitant at times and just has to get to the speed that we need," Petrino said.

The Falcons have a plan to ease Crumpler back into the thick of things. He has missed most of camp recovering from knee surgery and returned to full workouts this week.

"We are going to start out utilizing him more as a receiver, but he has to be able to do all three [catch, block and pass protection]. That's the position," Petrino said. ...

In Chicago. ... As Arlington Heights Daily Herald staffer Bob LeGere noted Tuesday, in their first pre-season game, the Bears had 43 passing plays and just 21 runs, which is not indicative of their offensive philosophy.

That changed Monday night against the Colts with 32 rushes and 31 passes.

"We run the football," head coach Lovie Smith said before the game. "We get off the plane running the ball, playing defense. That will never change as long as I'm the head coach. ..."

Featured ball carrier Cedric Benson got just 5 carries in the opener but had 10 Monday, although he struggled to pick up 24 yards, just 1 more than he had in the opener.

"No doubt I'd like to see more from it, and I think in time we will," Smith said of Benson and a running game that produced a disappointing 68 yards on 32 carries. "We're a running football team."

According to LeGere, Benson is expected to get a bigger majority of the carries this season than Thomas Jones did last season. Jones rushed 296 times in 2006, while Benson got 157 carries.

"Last year we split time a little bit," Smith said. "This year we're not in that situation. Cedric is our lead. ... He'll get the majority of the carries. ..."

Also in Chicago. ...Rookie tight end Greg Olsen has proven to be everything the Bears expected. While he has been running with the second team mostly in the base offense, he has gotten ample time with the first team in expanded two-tight end sets and it's clear the Bears may have gotten a real bargain with the 31st pick.

As Chicago Sun-Times staffer Brad Biggs noted this week, Olsen runs well and, more importantly, is running good routes. He has soft hands and has caught nearly everything that has come near his 6-5 frame.

He has been particularly impressive in situational third-down drills where Rex Grossman tends to look for him. ...

In Detroit. ... The clock is ticking on Kevin Jones and his recovery from a severe foot injury. Will the Lions return him to practice or keep him on the physically unable to perform list? "We're going to have to make a decision soon here," head coach Rod Marinelli said. "It's going to be with doctors. We've got to use their medical knowledge."

According to Detroit Free Press reporter Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Jones still hopes to return for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Oakland. And offensive coordinator Mike Martz has said he is optimistic Jones will be back based on the way Jones has been working out.

But as Cotsonika reminded readers, the injury is tricky.

"He's working hard and cutting, but it's not like cutting in pads," Marinelli said. "That type of injury's just not clean. ... We've got to be right."

Cotsonika went on to suggest that if Jones is going to return for the opener -- or early in the regular season -- he needs to start practicing soon so he can see can get into game shape and see how the foot reacts. If the Lions keep him on the PUP list, he must miss the first six weeks of the regular season. After that, there is a three-week window in which the Lions can return him to practice.

Once they return him to practice, they have three weeks to put him on the active roster or injured reserve.

While team officials claim they don't want to rush Jones back, Pro Football Weekly notes that Aveion Cason currently is running second on the depth chart behind Tatum Bell, with T.J. Duckett more likely to fill the role of short-yardage runner.

Bottom line? Jones' return would be a huge benefit to what was the league's worst rushing attack in '06 -- whenever he makes it back.

In a related note: Jones apparently sought some unusual therapy for his foot in the offseason.

As the Sports Xchange reported, maybe three times a week, he would drive about an hour, go down into an Asian man's basement and undergo heat acupuncture. "It's not conventional or traditional," Jones said with a laugh. "I just was willing to try kind of like anything because I was, you know, hurting. ...

"That's one of the reasons why my recovery is speeding up so good. ..."

In Washington. ... Head coach Joe Gibbs continues to assert that had last Saturday night's contest against the Steelers been a regular season game, Clinton Portis would have been in the lineup, and that the tendinitis in his right knee is not severe.

Gibbs and team doctors have supported a schedule of rest and rehab in an effort to limit stress on the knee as long as possible. There is no timetable for when Portis will return to practice, and he continues to catch and run light drills, but only going straight ahead, with no cutting or turning.

According to Washington Post staffer Jason La Canfora, Portis has appeared jovial throughout camp and said his injury has not dampened his spirits. On the contrary, he's excited for the regular season to begin and the drudgery of August to subside.

"It's not actually getting me down," Portis said. "I'm actually getting really excited the closer I get to the regular season, because I'm starting to feel better. Actually, I'm getting excited. ..."

I'd like to join Portis in his excitement, but at this point I can't.

If the fact he still isn't able to make cuts while running isn't scary enough, throw in a summer-long inability to practice with the offense and the presence of a viable alternative in Ladell Betts, and Portis currently tops my list of players I wouldn't touch with your ten-foot pole. ...

In Denver. ... Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has moved quickly from head coach Mike Shanahan's doghouse to Jay Cutler's favorite target. After nursing a strained quad muscle for a period that went beyond Shanahan's comfort level, Marshall was nudged out of the training room and onto the practice field Aug. 10.

Eight days later against Dallas, Marshall caught three passes -- two for first downs. "I'm very surprised -- shocked, really -- at how good my leg feels right now," Marshall said. "But I've got a lot of experience around me as far as [the training staff] and coach Shanahan knowing the injury. ..."

According to PFW, however, Broncos officials are said to be disappointed a bit because they believe Marshall could have practiced through the injury, and it shouldn't have come to a Shanahan intervention. ...

In a related note. ... According to the Denver Post, the return of Brandon Stokley, who had been out with a strained quadriceps, settles the Broncos' receiving corps for the first time since training camp began in late July.

With Javon Walker and Marshall locked in as the starters, Stokley was slated to play the No. 3, or slot, receiver position against the Browns last night.

"He's very talented, very quick," Shanahan said of the former Colt. "He knows what he's doing. The main thing we have to do is make sure he's healthy."

Stokley had been one of the team's most impressive players before he was hurt. ...

And in a semi-related note. ... According to SI.com insider Peter King, the Broncos might have the best tight end depth in the NFL. "We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things," starter Daniel Graham said.

King is among those who believe Graham will be given the chance to shine in the passing game far more than he did in New England. Backing him up is Tony Scheffler, quick and athletic, and Nate Jackson, who has had an excellent camp. No. 4 is Stephen Alexander, a polished receiver and blocker who would make many rosters in the league right now.

According to PFW, Jackson has made a number of impressive catches in camp, but playing time could be tough to come by when the regular season starts, as Scheffler fills a similar pass-catching role and is getting back up to speed following a broken foot suffered this summer. ...

In Green Bay. ... Receiver Donald Driver "probably" will be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 against Philadelphia, GM Ted Thompson announced Friday afternoon. "He was feeling better today, and the doctors are still fairly encouraged," Thompson said.

Driver sprained his right foot in the second quarter of Thursday night's game against the Jaguars and was carted to the locker room.

Head coach Mike McCarthy was given a brief medical report from team doctor Patrick McKenzie before addressing reporters after the game.

He was asked whether Driver had suffered a Lisfranc injury, the dreaded condition that sidelined Robert Ferguson for the season in 2006. "Pat didn't seem that it was that [extensive] as far as the location on the foot," McCarthy said. "He just told me it was a foot sprain. [Driver] is in good spirits. I don't have a diagnosis as far as weeks. ..."

Thompson declined to provide further details about the injury on Friday and wouldn't commit to saying Driver would be ready in a little more than two weeks.

Asked the same question a number of different ways, though, Thompson repeatedly expressed optimism. "We have don't have enough (information) to say that he won't (play Sept. 9)," Thompson said. "I just don't want to promise you something, then it doesn't happen. But we feel pretty good right now." He added: "Fortunately, we think we dodged something here."

As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suggested, Driver, probably the team's best player the last two seasons, would have been a catastrophic loss had the injury been more serious.

He probably would have been replaced in the lineup by rookie James Jones.

According to PackersNews.com staffer Rob Demovsky, as good as Jones has been as a rookie receiver, there's probably little chance McCarthy will throw him into the starting lineup anytime soon unless he absolutely has to.

That said, Jones' play during camp and the first two pre-season games has matched -- if not bettered -- what receiver Greg Jennings did as a rookie a year ago, when he won a starting job.

Why, then, wouldn't the staff consider elevating him into the starting lineup? The coaches have schooled Jones primarily in the "Z" or flanker position -- the same spot played by Driver -- and haven't used him often at the "X" or split-end spot that Jennings has played.

"I'm at 'Z' right now, and that's where I'm most comfortable," Jones said. "They've pretty much left me there, but I do know 'X' and 'Z' because you've got to know both of those spots."

In the three-receiver set, Driver typically moves inside to the slot position, meaning Jones assumes Driver's "Z" position.

Bottom line? At this point, it appears coaches still believe Jennings will be productive like he was early last season before an ankle injury slowed him. Jennings also has more experience playing multiple positions. Last year, he played "X" in the base offense but moved to the "Z" in three-receiver sets.

So why has Jennings been so quiet this summer?

Almost since the first day of camp, he has been the split end in three-receiver sets, which Journal-Sentinel staffer Tom Silverstein suggests in the West Coast offense is the playground equivalent of being told over and over again to just go deep and get out of the way. ...

In Dallas. ... Despite arriving about 20 minutes late for a recent practice, San Antonio Express-News reporter Tom Orsborn advised readers last weekend that Terrell Owens is having one of his best training camps in years.

The Cowboys has rested Owens at times because of sore hamstrings. This after he missed three practices in San Antonio with the hamstring issues and three others with back spasms.

Nobody seems concerned.

"The guy goes hard, so I don't have any problems with him," WRs coach Ray Sherman said of Owens. The 33-year old wideout claims the only time he feels his age is during two-a-days. "Training camp makes you feel older," Owens said. "But I was talking to (tight end) Jason Witten on the sidelines the other day, and I said, 'Dude, I feel good. ...'"

Still, the Cowboys aren't taking any chances with Owens, especially with the team's other 33-year-old receiver, Terry Glenn, recovering more slowly than expected following arthroscopic knee surgery performed early this month. ...

In Tampa Bay. ... David Boston was arrested Thursday night and charged with driving under the influence. Boston was found asleep at the wheel of his vehicle. The vehicle's engine was still running.

Although breathalyzer tests showed that there was no alcohol in his system, Boston was also given a field sobriety test, at which point it was determined that there was probable cause to arrest him and charge him with driving under the influence of a controlled substance or alcohol. Police are waiting on the results of Boston's urine tests.

Boston appeared to be making a push for a contributing -- if not starting role -- this summer. In fact, Tampa Tribune staffer Roy Cummings reports that Boston has been one of the more impressive players in the Bucs camp this preseason.

Now, depending on the outcome of his urine tests and case, Boston, who was suspended by the NFL in 2004 for a positive steroid test, could face anything from a fine and suspended license to being released by the Bucs and/or suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The charges could also be dropped if Boston's urine tests do not test positive for any illegal substances. The Buccaneers, after checking into the situation, believe Boston will be cleared.

"We have investigated the David Boston situation and feel that we have an understanding of the facts," GM Bruce Allen said in a statement Saturday. "At this time, we have seen no objective evidence to support the charges that were brought against him."

Whatever the case, Maurice Stovall is next in line -- and head coach Jon Gruden told reporters this week that the second-year man is slowly rebounding.

"He's a magician. He disappeared on me for about 10 days," Gruden said of Stovall. "He's showing up again. I think his legs are coming back. He's become explosive again, and he did some great things (Wednesday). ..."

In San Francisco. ... According to ESPN's Colleen Dominguez, Frank Gore's broken hand is nearly 100 percent healed and the star running back continues to practice on a limited basis.

But even though his recovery is on pace -- there have been no setbacks -- Gore will not play in the 49ers' last exhibition game in San Diego, contrary to what coach head Mike Nolan said earlier this month.

"It might be one of those things if LT plays, Frank plays," Nolan said jokingly Thursday as the team wrapped up preparations for Saturday night's exhibition in Chicago. The coach was referring to LaDainian Tomlinson, who doesn't play in exhibition games.

"I think Frank, with 300 carries last year, knows where the holes are," Nolan cracked. ...

And finally, in New York. ... As Newark Star-Ledger staffer Mike Garafolo framed it Tuesday: "It took more than three years as an NFL quarterback for somebody to finally wake the sleeping Giant. ..."

Two days after being criticized on national television by Tiki Barber for a lack of strong leadership, Eli Manning ripped his former teammate and current NBC football analyst for distracting the team last season with his early retirement announcement and his criticism of head coach Tom Coughlin.

"I guess I'm just happy for Tiki that he's making a smooth transition into the TV world," Manning said. "You know, I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say (about a team) besides the Giants, and what his comments will be on that."

Normally reserved and never one to criticize a coach or teammate, Manning seemed to enjoy going after Barber, who retired after last season at age 31 to pursue a television career.

Speaking during the halftime show of the Sunday Night Football game between the Giants and Baltimore Ravens, Barber had said that Manning's attempt to lead an offensive meeting in the 12th week of the last season was "comical" at times.

As AP sports writer Tom Canavan noted, Manning didn't find the comment funny.

"It's just one of those deals. I'm not going to lose any sleep about what Tiki has to say," Manning said. "I guess I could have questioned his leadership skills last year with calling out the coach and having articles about him retiring in the middle of the season, and he's lost the heart (to play).

"As a quarterback you're reading that your running back has lost the heart to play the game and it's about the 10th week. ... I can see that a little bit at times. But I'm not going to get concerned. I'm going to go out there and play ball."

Veteran receiver Amani Toomer, who played his entire career with Barber, was stunned. "I thought Tiki and Eli were pretty good friends," Toomer said. "It's kind of strange to have him say something like that and to make a point of it like that. Maybe he had somebody else in his ear kind of coaxing him into saying stuff, because I don't believe he really believes that. I don't know why he'd say something like that. ..."

While Coughlin refused to get involved in the controversy, he was happy Manning defended himself.

"Well, he thought about what he was going to do, and he decided he would say exactly what he felt," Coughlin said. "More power to him."

That's it for this week's Notebook -- and for our weekly off-season visits on this site. Starting Week 1 of the regular season, you'll find the weekly Fantasy Notebook moves to SI.com's FantasyPlus page.

As for the immediate future. ... Keep an eye on this week's AugustUpdate to make sure you on top of all the necessary info heading into draft day. And once the season begins, there's no better way to make sure you're the best-informed owner in your league than making use of the FlashUpdate on a regular basis.

Otherwise I with you the best of luck this season and remind you not to get beat just because you didn't know.


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