CHICAGO BEARS UPDATE 

lFANTASY NOTEBOOK: BEARS BUST A MOVE; RB NOTES & MORE

Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... But no just any old Fantasy Notebook. Nope, this will be the last in this year's series of 20 weekly off-season Notebooks. With NFL teams opening training camps in coming days, it's time for your humble correspondent to take some time to cobble together this year's AugustUpdate -- which officially goes live on Aug. 5.

The pre-season AugustUpdate, of course, turns into the regular-season FlashUpdate come Week 1. You'll find that both are jam packed with exactly the kind of information you've come to rely on in the weekly Notebook. ... Times 100.

Those familiar with our premium services already know what I mean.

I strongly encourage newcomers to find out what regular readers already know: There is no better way to makes sure you're the best-informed owner in your league. ...

Before we get down to brass tacks, it's time for this week's edition of the Brett Favre "unretirement watch" -- a quick review of previous days' developments in the NFL's soap opera du jour. And the most worrisome plot development?

This train wreck could continue well into the regular season.

As ESPN insider Chris Mortensen first reported Wednesday, Favre is in no hurry to make his official request for reinstatement.

"We have no definite plans to ask for reinstatement," Favre's agent, James "Bus" Cook told Mortensen. "Right now we have until the sixth week [of the regular season] and Brett has made it pretty clear that he is not willing to come in as a backup."

Cook's comments came shortly after local reports out of Green Bay suggested the letter was imminent.

But as Cook explained: "If he asks for reinstatement and they start fining him $15,000 a day [for not reporting to training camp], well that just doesn't make sense. ... We're going to let Green Bay decide what they want to do. It's their move."

General manager Ted Thompson has made it clear the Packers will not grant Favre, who announced his retirement in March, his release.

Meanwhile, as FOXSports.com insider Jay Glazer first reported, the Packers have accused the Vikings of tampering with Favre.

In fact, Associated Press sports writer Chris Jenkins, citing an unnamed source close to the situation, reports that Packers officials believe that interest from the Vikings was the driving factor in Favre's sudden change of heart about playing football in 2008.

Jenkins went on to report the league already has reviewed evidence provided by the Packers and team officials believe a league examination of telephone records would indicate more than "normal contact" between Favre and Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, a former Green Bay assistant.

Packers officials also believe the contact began before Favre and Cook formally asked the Packers to release him. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Jenkins the league had no comment on the report.

Making matters (possibly) worse, Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio has heard rumors suggesting Vikings head coach Brad Childress might have been among those in direct contact with Favre.

Adding to all the intrigue were Favre's first "On The Record" comments regarding the entire affair.

During what the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel characterized as a "carefully orchestrated chat" with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren -- an interview interminably spread out over a three-night span, Favre detailed anger and frustration with both the franchise and more specifically Thompson over his future and his past.

Favre expressed frustration with three specific incidents involving Thompson.

At one point Favre said, "I worked my butt off two years ago to try to get them to sign Randy Moss," adding that he was willing to give up salary to land the talented receiver. In a second instance, Favre said he once tried to convince Thompson to re-sign Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, two key linemen, but the two got away and signed elsewhere.

In a third case, Favre told Van Susteren he tried to convince Thompson to interview Steve Mariucci for the head coaching job vacated by Mike Sherman. Favre said Thompson ended up hiring Mike McCarthy instead.

(A move, which by the way, worked out pretty well considering McCarthy was voted AP Coach of the Year after leading the Packers to a 13-3 record -- albeit with plenty of help from Favre -- last season.)

Can you say hurt feelings?

Or is it possible Favre confused the role of general manager with that of legendary signal caller -- perhaps believing the latter status somehow grants him rights to the former?

Whatever the case, Favre's approach is starting to wear thin.

As St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers succinctly summed up: "Right now, the score is something like Green Bay Packers 35, Favre 3. It's a rout.

"Favre hasn't gotten his release, he has been demoted to backup, he has been discouraged from reporting to Packers camp at all and he has been called a liar and, now, a traitor.

"He might want to take a knee."

If Favre doesn't, I do. Please wake me when it's all over.

All right then. ... With all that stuff out of the way, let's get on with this year's final off-season Fantasy Notebook, eh?

We'll get the ball rolling in Chicago, where the Bears signed running back Kevin Jones to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

During four years with the Lions, Jones rushed for 3,067 yards and 24 touchdowns on 761 carries. Jones, who played for Virginia Tech, was drafted by Detroit in the first round of the 2004 draft. Last season, Jones rushed for 581 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns on 153 carries. He also had 32 receptions for 197 yards.

Jones' deal is worth $605,000 with no incentives -- far less than the $2.35 million he would have made this season had the Lions not cut him.

"Yeah, I'm cool with a one-year deal because it gives me the opportunity to prove I can stay healthy, get out there and do what I have to do to make the team," Jones said. "When I show them the type of back I am, then I may be a Bear a long time."

Which brings up the issue of health.

Jones is coming off a right ACL tear suffered on December 23. Thanks to the help of surgeon D.S. Ping, Jones claims to be well ahead of schedule.

That said, he still expects the Bears to start him on the physically unable to perform list when training camp begins July 23, limiting him to individual running away from his teammates. If he begins the regular season on the PUP list, he wouldn't be eligible to join the 53-man roster until after Week 6.

But Jones has his sights set on full participation a couple of weeks into camp.

Once Jones is able to work at full speed -- and all the optimistic assessments of his progress notwithstanding, I find it hard to believe Jones will make good on that "couple of weeks" timetable -- he'll compete with rookie Matt Forte for the starting tailback spot left open in the wake of Cedric Benson's release.

As Chicago Tribune reporter Vaughn McClure reminded readers on Wednesday, the battle was expected to be one-sided in Forte's favor. But no one anticipated the Bears would sign a veteran after head coach Lovie Smith stated last month that the team had no plans to sign an established back.

The need, however, is obvious.

The Bears ranked last in the league last season in yards per carry, so a two-back system could help their cause. And I'll readily concede that if healthy, Jones could push Forte for the starting job.

But again, I have major questions about the "if healthy" side of this equation.

Knee reconstructions typically require a minimum of eight months to rehabilitate. That tends to take longer in the case of positions most reliant on speed, agility and elusiveness. ...

Like running backs.

I'm not trying to tell you that Jones isn't ahead of schedule or that his return hasn't been impressive. I just prefer being realistic. And the notion that Jones will be ready to push for a contributing -- let alone a starting -- role before midseason just doesn't seem very realistic to me.

I'm also not as high on a healthy Jones as others. Indeed, I tend to agree with Detroit Free Press blogger Jamie Samuelsen's take on the former first-round pick.

According to Samuelsen, "When Jones was healthy and was given the chance to be a featured back, he was good. Not great, but good. He ran the ball hard. He was hard to tackle. No, he wasn't the shiftiest back ever. He was just a good workman running back who could move the chains."

The good news?

Sharp Fantasy owners can use this situation to their advantage. Even if Jones isn't ready to make an immediate contribution, his mere presence will be sufficient to improve Forte's value on draft day without making a significant dent in the youngster's role this fall.

As for Jones? It appears the Bears couldn't pass up a player they believe could wind up being the biggest bargain of the offseason -- whether the investment pays immediate dividends or not.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch might have summed it best, however, when he wrote on Wednesday: "Jones won't be comfortable on that knee until next year, when he's playing for someone else. ..."

In Tampa Bay. ... In case you missed it, Earnest Graham, the four-year veteran running back who put together a breakout season in 2007, agreed to terms late last month on a multiyear contract extension believed to be worth at least $10 million.

Graham's extension comes in the wake of his best season yet, one in which he filled in for injured tailbacks Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman and ran 222 times for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 starts.

The extension should keep Graham in a Bucs uniform through at least the 2011 season.

So now, as St. Petersburg Times beat man Stephen F. Holder recently suggested, "If there's one offensive position the Bucs aren't concerned about, it's running back."

Other positions?

Starting quarterback Jeff Garcia remains disgruntled about his contract and exposes himself to injury too much for the team's liking; the offensive line is going through growing pains, though it should continue to improve with the addition of center Jeff Faine; at receiver, the Bucs haven't found anyone capable of unseating aging (but still speedy) Joey Galloway as the No. 1 option.

The backfield, however, is stocked.

Graham, Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett make a formidable lineup. I'm not including Williams for reasons outlined below; but even without the Cadillac, Holder suggests there's only one real problem:

They use just one football on Sundays.

That being the case, it will be interesting to see how the Bucs handle what could be a delicate situation among three capable backs. So far, coaches aren't letting on how they'll do it.

What has been established is the Bucs have three types of runners:

Dunn is shifty with an uncanny ability to change directions quickly; Graham isn't fast, quick or particularly athletic but possesses a toughness neither of the others can boast; Bennett is flat-out fast, having once pursued a career as a world-class sprinter.

As Holder went on to suggest, Dunn is the kind of running back head coach Jon Gruden loves. Don't be surprised if you see a whole lot of the 33-year-old former first-round pick. Gruden sees the same thing in Dunn he admires in Williams: Big-play potential.

And Dunn is a better receiver than Williams.

Gruden stressed to Bennett that he needed to grow more comfortable with the offense after his midseason trade last year. In three of Bennett's eight games with Tampa Bay, he didn't touch the ball.

After an offseason of extensive work, he believes he has positioned himself to make an impact.

"I think this is my chance to really get involved in a great offense," he said. "I'm still fast. I think I can beat that Smart car in first gear. I'm very comfortable. Coach is yelling at me every (few) plays instead of every other play. I'm definitely feeling good about the playbook. Last year I really kind of felt left out."

It's easy to say the Bucs should go with running back by committee, but not everyone would agree. Running backs will tell you they're at their best when they're in a rhythm during games.

Gruden likely will make it simple and go with whoever has the hot hand. ...

Other possible factors at the position?

Fullback B.J. Askew wants to get more touches. Last season, Askew caught 18 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns. His only rushing attempt was a three-yard gain in a loss to the Giants in the NFC wildcard game.

In his second season with the Bucs, Gruden might be less hesitant to call Askew's number.

"It's something I've done my whole career. I feel real good about it," Askew said of his receiving skills. "The thing is, even in New York, in practices I'd get touches and stuff. But game time would come around and there just weren't enough balls to go around -- which is fine. It's one of those things that if it happens, I'll be ready for it.

"I don't want to say anything. I'm here to block. Everything else is second. ..."

And Williams?

Gruden recently called the Cadillac's speedy comeback from last year's knee injury just short of a miracle.

"It's one of the most amazing comebacks that I've seen," the coach said in June. "He hasn't come back yet, but he is banging on the door. Our fans would be proud of him."

Despite the positive comments, Williams is all but certain to begin this season on the physically unable to perform list. He would sit out the first six weeks and become eligible to play again in Week 7, a home game against Seattle on Oct. 19.

If Williams appears ready to go by then, Gruden faces a can't-win situation.

As Tampa Tribune staffer Anwar S. Richardson explained, Gruden could roll the dice and activate Williams, gradually working him back in the rotation, but if he got hurt, the coach will be criticized for his decision. If Gruden elects to sit Williams and save him for 2009, he will be criticized for allowing his running back to gain rust.

However, odds are good the talk of Williams' miraculous return was just that. ...

Also in Tampa Bay. ... In an article published last Sunday, Holder took a shot at predicting this year's Graham -- an unexpected breakout player. Holder's list includes Antonio Bryant, Jerramy Stevens and Michael Clayton.

According to Holder, Bryant was one of the more impressive offensive players in off-season workouts. Now coaches are eager to see whether his play and discipline carry over into training camp.

Stevens, however, must serve a league suspension for the first two games and Clayton has been among the league's biggest disappointments in the three seasons since his ginormous rookie effort in 2004. ...

In Miami. ... More than one observer has gone public this week to express the belief that Ricky Williams looked like the best player on the Dolphins' roster during recent workouts.

According to Miami Herald staffer Armando Salguero, Williams ran with authority, he showed quickness, and he never let himself shift out of top gear, even in drills that didn't mean much.

Salguero wasn't the only one excited by Williams.

"I have to say, watching him practice, I was very impressed with his quickness, his explosion, his effort," CBS television analyst Charley Casserly, the former general manager in Houston and Washington, told Salguero after watching Williams work.

"The guy jumped out at you, watching him out there."

While Salguero concedes that practice came in June, in shorts, there's no reason to believe that when the Dolphins gather again this week for the start of training camp that Williams won't again be one of the team's better players.

Salguero added: "He might even be the most talented player the Dolphins' roster has to offer. ..."

"It wouldn't surprise me at all," Casserly said.

The Dolphins have to be pleased they have a seemingly committed, eager, well-conditioned Williams as the backup if Ronnie Brown completes his recovery from last year's knee surgery -- and all indications are his recovery is on track. But team officials have to be thrilled to see Williams ready to take the starter's role if Brown needs extra time to recover.

While I'm not big on handcuffing, it's hard to advise those gambling on Brown's return to prominence against buying Williams as insurance. ...

In Dallas. ... One of the burning questions heading into the 2008 season is the Cowboys plans at tailback. The general consensus has been that rookie Felix Jones will cut into Marion Barber's workload to some degree.

But how much?

According to Dallas Morning News beat writer Todd Archer, it might not be all that much.

Per Archer, Barber will be the every-down back, but coaches don't want to burn him out with 300-plus carries this season.

Archer went on to advise readers that Jones looked fluid coming out of the backfield catching passes in off-season camps. It helps that the running game has similar terminology to what he had at Arkansas.

He needs to show he can be more than just a speed threat.

Julius Jones had about 12 touches per game in 2007. The Cowboys would want Felix Jones to have about 10 to 12 this season. ...

In Washington. ... Among the more interesting issues for the Redskins will be how new head coach Jim Zorn uses Clinton Portis. The good news for Fantasy owners? Washington Times staffer Ryan O'Halloran believes Zorn will use Portis "a lot, that's for sure."

O'Halloran went on to advise readers that Zorn will have Portis carry the offense, especially during an opening month that includes all three NFC East road games. An effective Portis would allow quarterback Jason Campbell to become accustomed to the new passing game.

In Zorn's previous stop, Seattle, head coach Mike Holmgren used Shaun Alexander an average of 331 times from 2001 to 2005.

Zorn already has said Portis won't have the freedom to take himself out of games, which means No. 26 will have to be a workhorse and the offense will run based on how he performs.

He will be 27 by opening night but already has 1,710 career carries. He's armed with a pay raise and didn't have any offseason surgeries. It's time to for him to become more of a big-play performer. ...

In Tennessee. ... According to Nashville Tennessean columnist David Climer, before, during and after recent mini-camp practice sessions, Chris Johnson has looked the part of a first-round draft choice. He accelerates through traffic. He cuts on a dime. He catches passes effortlessly.

Just as important, he has grasped the nuances of Mike Heimerdinger's offense.

"Everything they're throwing at me, I've got down," he said. "If I execute everything they've given me that will let them go ahead and start adding more ways to get the football in my hands."

While rookies often struggle to pick up pro schemes, Johnson hasn't.

Heimerdinger, who is in his second tour of duty as Titans offensive coordinator, will do his best to accommodate Johnson. Already, he has scratched out formations that put Johnson in the slot and flanked wide as well as his customary spot at running back.

"I haven't had a back quite like him to work with," Heimerdinger told Climer. "He can do a lot of things from a lot of spots. It gives you some options, some matchups."

Watch Johnson for a couple of plays and you are struck by his speed. At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he clocked the fastest 40-yard dash of any player -- 4.24 seconds.

But straight-ahead speed is one thing; football speed is another. Head coach Jeff Fisher calls it "useful speed" because Johnson is able to move laterally at full speed.

"There's a lot more to the way I play than just being fast," Johnson said.

Team officials need to be right on this one. Johnson was the 24th pick of the draft. It marks the third straight year the Titans have selected a running back among the top 50 picks.

LenDale White has established himself as the starter after a 1,110-yard season in 2007 but second-year pro Chris Henry has yet to make a mark. And as Climer suggested, if Johnson is as good and as versatile as advertised, it's hard to see Henry getting many touches.

"I just want to prove what I can do when I get the ball in my hands," Johnson said.

Climer summed up: "On an offense that needs playmakers, [Johnson] should get plenty of chances. ...

Another possible playmaker for the Titans?

Justin McCareins, the team's fourth-round pick in 2001, returned to the team this offseason after spending the past four seasons with the Jets. Though the signing received little fanfare due to his disappointing tenure in New York, SI.com insider Bucky Brooks advised readers that team officials have been pleasantly surprised by McCareins' play during workouts and hope that eight-year veteran is able to add a vertical element to their passing game.

"He has been impressive," one team official told Brooks. "We thought he would compete for a backup job, but he has done well with his opportunities. Despite being an older player, he still shows the ability to get down the field and make plays."

McCareins' potential return to prominence is not unexpected when you consider his most productive season as a pro came under the guidance of the other former Titan returning to Nashville -- Heimerdinger.

During his final season with Heimerdinger in 2003, McCareins set career-highs for yards (813) and touchdowns (7).

After a productive mini-camp, McCareins now has the inside track on the starting spot opposite Justin Gage and is being counted on to emerge as the big play threat the offense lacked last season.

"Heimerdinger knows McCareins' potential," Brooks' source explained. "His current role in the offense plays to his strengths, and he should have plenty of opportunity to make plays."

I'll remind you, however, that Vince Young will need to continue his progression -- and demonstrate the necessary understanding of Heimerdinger's scheme -- in order for McCareins to make good on his potential. ...

In Cincinnati. ... Chad Johnson is going to make sure he won't rush back from that June 18 arthroscopic ankle surgery. The Pro Bowl receiver told Bengals.com online editor Geoff Hobson on Wednesday that he can run in a straight line but he's holding off doing cutting and routes.

"My ankle wouldn't be able to take the pounding yet," Johnson said from Miami. "I'll be OK. I'm not worried. This is a marathon, not a sprint."

Ever since he was a rookie in 2001 the Bengals have spent training camp unsuccessfully trying to get Johnson not to take so many snaps in drills and practices.

He says the offensive coaches won't have to convince him this camp when the practices start July 28.

He's not sure if he'll be full-go ready for that Monday morning workout, "but I'm going to make sure I don't come back too fast," he said. "I don't want to overdo it. Because when I go out there I'm going to forget it and just go 100 percent. They're going to have to pull me out. ..."

Also in Cincinnati. ... Now that former Bengal Chris Henry's legal issues are behind him and he could possibly be reinstated, the question is: Where will he land next?

According to Henry and his agent, Marvin Frazier, a return to the Bengals is a possibility.

"We have interest in several teams, including Cincinnati," Frazier told ESPN.com's James Walker on Thursday.

Frazier says it's still early in the process, but the Bengals have shown preliminary interest in Henry since his assault charge was dropped in court earlier this week.

Henry says he wouldn't hold any grudges against the organization that drafted him in 2005. In fact, he would welcome a return to the Bengals with open arms.

"Going back to the Bengals is possible," Henry told Walker. "I wouldn't mind it happening because I loved playing in Cincinnati. I got real close with all the guys out there and I planned on being out there for a long time. I really had a good time playing ball out there in Ohio."

The Bengals issued a prepared statement in response.

"Chris is presently under NFL suspension, and until such time as he may be reinstated, we are not in position to comment," the team said. "Even in the event he is reinstated, he is no longer our player, and rarely if ever do we comment on any player who is not under contract with us."

Henry says he's been working out and getting back into football shape. He has no doubts that he can help a team this season. He had 88 career receptions for 1,370 yards and 17 touchdowns as Cincinnati's No. 3 receiver behind Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Henry still has to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to seek a lifting of his suspension. A date has not been set, but a meeting could take place within the next two weeks.

Henry could, of course, use the money. ...

One last Bengals-related item. ... Kenny Irons has no idea when he's going to be able hit the field again after Dr. James Andrews performed reconstructive knee surgery 11 months ago in Birmingham, Ala.

It was thought he would be back this spring, but he says he's had a couple of setbacks stemming from a buildup of scar tissue.

So he couldn't get on the field for the voluntary camps in May and June and since he's not sure when he can come back, that may mean he could be shelved until October.

And while he's won't rule out returning this year, the speedy tailback seems to be looking at 2009.

"If I can't come back until next year," he says, "I'll be a beast. I'll be big, fast, I'll be running through people. I'll have a double chip on my shoulder. They'll be saying, 'Who is that guy?'"

Hate to tell you this Kenny, but most of them already are saying that. ...

In Denver. ... According to Pro Football Weekly, Keary Colbert has a slight edge over Darrell Jackson to become the team's No. 2 wide receiver heading into training camp.

But rookie Eddie Royal is a dark-horse candidate for the job.

When he was drafted in the second round it largely was believed that Royal would contribute almost purely as a kick returner this season, but those views are beginning to change.

PFW went on to report that coaches like what Royal showed in the squad's mini-camps and are willing to give him a shot at passing the two veterans on the depth chart.

Observers of the Broncos' OTAs told PFW that Royal has been inconsistent at times, but his speed and ability to get in and out of breaks quickly have endeared him to the offensive coaching staff.

Regardless, Denver is feeling upbeat about its receiving corps at this point, with a potential top five of Brandon Marshall, Colbert, Jackson, Brandon Stokley and Royal. ...

And finally. ... As part of a recent survey, ESPN.com asked NFL head coaches to identify which player they thought teams would select first overall in a league-wide draft of current players. In other words, if each current player suddenly became available in a supplemental-style draft, which player would teams want to select above all others?

According to ESPN.com's Mike Sando, 29 of the 32 head coaches responded to this particular question and Tom Brady was the runaway winner.

Twenty-two coaches said they thought Brady would be the first player selected in such a draft. Six head coaches went with Peyton Manning. (Jason Taylor[?] received one vote, too.)

The coaches' stance is one shared by Fantasy Nation. Brady's current ADP is 1 while Manning is at No. 2 among all NFL QBs -- a fact I encourage you to follow up on by visiting the FootballDiehards.com customizable Live Cheatsheets on a regular basis over the remainder of the summer. ...

That's it for this offseason's Notebook -- but not for ongoing content. As always, you'll want to keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. And watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events as major stories break.

And make sure you check out the AugustUpdate and FlashUpdate. You'll be glad you did.


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