News & Info/Headlines
We'll get the ball rolling in San Francisco, where, as San Jose Mercury News beat man Dennis Georgatos put it Tuesday: "Unable to keep the man, the 49ers kept his system." And that, QB Alex Smith said Monday, will enable him to survive the loss of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator.
In fact, Smith said in addressing Turner's departure for the first time, he expects to thrive.
"I look forward to year two in an offense. It's been a while since I have had that opportunity," said Smith, who has played in three systems the past three years dating to his final college season.
"That's how you get to be a successful offense and win divisions and win championships. The Indianapolis Colts are the epitome of that. You look at their offense and they've been together for nine years."
Smith, 22, said the promotion of Jim Hostler to offensive coordinator also will ease the loss of Turner, who left last month after one season to become head coach in San Diego. Smith and Hostler, the former quarterbacks coach, have been together the past two years.
They worked closely to learn Turner's system after Mike McCarthy, the offensive coordinator in 2005, left after Smith's rookie season to become Green Bay's head coach.
"We speak the same language," Smith said of Hostler.
Smith believes that continuity is vital to the team's success.
"When you look at successful offenses in the NFL, there aren't many in the top 15, that are first-year offenses," he said. "A lot of them have been together, they've been established."
Smith cited the Super Bowl-winning Colts, a team that will go into its 10th season with the same quarterback (Peyton Manning) same leading wide receiver (Marvin Harrison), same offensive coordinator (Tom Moore) and same offensive line coach (Howard Mudd).
"When you don't know the offense, you have to stay a little more simplistic, you have to keep it narrowed down in a sense," Smith said. "In year two, you can start expanding, and adding some wrinkles."
For example, the 49ers might work more with an empty backfield, use more motion and get tight end Vernon Davis into favorable mismatches, according to Smith.
Georgatos went on to remind readers that Smith made tremendous strides in his one season with Turner, throwing 16 touchdown passes and compiling a 74.8 passer rating. As a rookie, he had one touchdown pass and a 40.8 passer rating.
But Smith said he believes he can build on that success without Turner -- and he isn't the only person who thinks so. Turner told him the same thing, Smith said.
"He took note that the system wasn't going to change, and his thought to me was I didn't need him any more," Smith said. "I did take a lot from the year I had with him, and I think it will help me throughout my career. And just because he's not here this year, I think his influence will still be here."
Smith said there will be changes in the playbook as Hostler puts his stamp on the offense, but some of them would have happened anyway.
"Even if Norv had stayed, we were going to do some things differently," Smith said. "You can put in some new wrinkles, move guys around. There's lots of things you can do with Vernon Davis. That's going to be explored, obviously. We're going to give defenses something more to worry about."
Smith added that he's looking forward to working with recently signed wide receiver Ashley Lelie, who was among five major signings in the first week of free agency.
"I think this team is excited," Smith said. "To see the organization step up and make some moves, that feels good. It makes you feel you're part of something here."
He had little to say about the March 1 release of Antonio Bryant, his leading receiver last season with 733 yards. Smith said he hadn't seen Bryant since shortly after the season.
"He and I got along," Smith said. "I just wish him the best. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
For what it's worth, Smith said he'll start throwing to running backs, tight ends and receivers next week.
According to San Francisco Chronicle staffer Kevin Lynch, Smith has long said that it was his hours developing timing with receivers that made him grow from an obscure, skinny quarterback at the University of Utah his sophomore year to an eventual first-round pick after his junior season.
Smith hopes to replicate that success during this offseason.
"You kind of get a feel for especially receivers. You get a feel for how they run, how they get out of breaks, their body language," he said. "So when the season does come around you can anticipate what the receiver is going to do and be a step ahead. ..."
The good news? Lelie seems to be on board with that and reported Monday for the team's off-season program. But he and Smith hadn't actually met as of Thursday.
This week players have been at the team's Santa Clara facility for only a couple hours of conditioning and weight work.
Smith has been in an early session, while Lelie has taken part in a later session. This week, they will finally get a chance to meet as some football work on the field will be incorporated into the program.
According to Sacramento Bee staffer Matthew Barrows, Lelie said he never developed a rapport with Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. As a result, he finished with 430 receiving yards, his worst output in five NFL seasons.
He said one of his top objectives is finding a rhythm with Smith.
"Second to me getting faster and stronger, that's the next thing -- to get along with him and start getting that timing down so he can read my body language, and we can start reading each other," Lelie said. ...
For what it's worth, Frank Gore did not take part in any workouts this past week. Fortunately, it had nothing to do with agent Drew Rosenhaus' recent talk of a contract extension. Gore was in Baltimore for the Ed Block Courage Awards dinner.
Club spokesman Aaron Salkin told Santa Rosa Press Democrat staffer Matt Maiocco that Gore is expected to take part in the program, beginning this week. ...
Moving on to another developing quarterback, this one in Washington. ... Only two months removed from his first season of actually taking the field and still four months from his first training camp as an NFL starter, Jason Campbell resumed work last week.
"This is an incredibly important time for Jason," Al Saunders, the Redskins' associate head coach-offense, told Washington Post staffer Jason La Canfora. "There is nothing elementary to that position -- the quarterback position is probably the most intricate position on the football field for all the things you're required to do.
"And what Jason hasn't had is the same system two years in row. This is the first time in his career he will be able to be taught the techniques and fundamentals he can fall back on and rely on in times of stress."
According to La Canfora, the Redskins look for an improved offense after a lengthy adjustment period to Saunders's playbook last year, and Campbell must know the attack as well as anyone.
Saunders and quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor weren't able to begin hands-on work Campbell until this past week -- under NFL rules teams cannot begin voluntary offseason workout programs until March 19 -- but Campbell was able to begin working on fundamentals on his own the week before, watching film and studying the offense.
Plans call for him to throw regularly to teammates in April.
Campbell had worked under a different offensive coordinator and offensive system for six straight seasons, dating from his freshman season at Auburn, and said he is thrilled at the chance to spend a second straight offseason studying under Saunders.
The opportunity to work daily with the first-team offense is a novelty as well. Campbell ran the scout team and threw to reserves before replacing quarterback Mark Brunell in November.
"What I'm really looking forward to is getting my technique down and getting a chance to work with the other receivers," Campbell, who threw 10 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, told La Canfora. "I didn't really have much of a chance to get the timing down with Santana [Moss] and Brandon [Lloyd] and [Antwaan] Randle El and those guys because I didn't really start throwing to them until I started some games.
"And the speed of everything is so much quicker with them, how they run their routes and the way they play and that's something we have to work on together. You can't just get that timing down in one week or a few practices or even over seven weeks like last year."
Getting the ball rolling early will help.
Beginning this week, Saunders said Campbell will be at Redskins Park at least four days a week for strength and conditioning -- like many other players -- and from Tuesday through Thursday he'll work with Saunders and Lazor, with Tuesdays and Thursdays designated for throwing to teammates.
Campbell will spend two hours in the classroom each morning, an hour on the field and another hour lifting weights and working on conditioning.
"There are other things he'll do on his own to augment his skills," Saunders said, "and for us some days might be longer or shorter depending on what we're looking at. Depending on his interest level we could end up going a lot longer some days."
The plan calls for Campbell to spend April refining the decision-making process and in May, when the Redskins begin full team practices, the rhythm and timing of the offense will be emphasized.
There's no doubt the Redskins have assembled a talented cast of talented skill players. Given the time necessary to build chemistry with that supporting cast just might be enough to make Campbell a legitimate Fantasy prospect. ...
Moving on to other Fantasy-specific news and notes from around the league. ...
In Buffalo. ... According to the Sports Xchange, when Travis Henry and Willis McGahee were both on the Bills roster, some fans and media called it a problem. Now both are playing for other teams, both in the AFC no less, and the Bills didn't have a proven ball carrier on their roster heading into the second full week of free agency.
As the Xchange suggested, "Now that is a problem."
The Xchange went on to note the Bills -- who shopped McGahee for a month -- obviously felt moving the former Hurricane to the Ravens was a positive step.
They were able to shed his on-again, off-again work habits, the demands of a contract hike from his agent, Rosenhaus, and picked up two extra picks in next month's draft, a third and a seventh, to address many needs. With four first-day picks, the Bills will have great flexibility to wheel and deal.
What made trading arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL, despite McGahee's failure to top 1,000 yards last season, somewhat odd is that it came a week after the Bills signed three notable offensive linemen to block for him.
How well McGahee would've run behind a left side featuring 328-pound rising star Jason Peters and 325-pound newcomer Derrick Dockery, one of the most coveted guards on the market, will remain a topic for bar stool debate.
"We're confident we will run the ball and we will run it effectively," said head coach Dick Jauron, whose team ranked 27th in rushing last season. "We can't tell you who it's going to be with right now. (But) we believe it was in our best interest to make this move."
One of Buffalo's big concerns was having a disgruntled McGahee on their hands. Rosenhaus opened the door for re-working his deal that had one year left with a base salary of $2.5 million. Despite the fact McGahee averaged a career-low 3.8 yards per carry, Rosenhaus wanted him to be paid like a top-five back. The Ravens obliged, handing him a reported seven-year, $40.12 million deal with $26.5 million guaranteed over the first five years.
Buffalo spent lavishly to retain defensive end Chris Kelsay and to land offensive linemen Dockery, Langston Walker and Jason Whittle, so taking on Rosenhaus wasn't something they looked forward to.
But more than money, it was about value.
Assuming McGahee would've agreed to play out his contract with the Bills -- and play hard for them -- he would've left as a free agent and Buffalo would have gotten nothing in return. And had the Bills franchise tagged him in 2008, they'd have been paying him a top-five salary in the end anyway.
"You weigh everything," Jauron said. "I'm not saying money wasn't a factor, but it wasn't the deciding factor."
So where do they turn? There's the draft and a player like California's Marshawn Lynch, assuming Oklahoma star Adrian Peterson doesn't fall to them at No. 12.
According to Buffalo News beat writer Allen Wilson, even if the Bills draft a running back early, the rushing attack is expected to be a group effort in 2007.
Anthony Thomas was re-signed to be a part of that committee. The seven-year veteran averaged only 6.6 carries per game last season as McGahee's backup. But with McGahee gone, Thomas' touches are sure to increase this year.
In fact, Jauron has no problem with Thomas being the primary ball carrier.
Although he hasn't been a lead back since posting two 1,000-yard seasons in three years in Chicago, Thomas showed he could still be a heavy-duty back in 2006.
In three games when McGahee was injured, Thomas gained 95 yards on 20 carries against Green Bay, picked up 109 yards against Indianapolis and had 56 rushing yards and caught seven passes for 33 yards against Houston.
As Wilson summed up, at 6-2 and 225 pounds, Thomas is a physical, down-hill runner. He lacks great speed but runs with good vision and balance. ...
In St. Louis. ... With the additions of wide receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael, Marc Bulger feels like this season he'll be leading the St. Louis Rams' most potent offense during his tenure as a starter.
As Belleville News-Democrat staff writer Steve Korte noted on Tuesday, the two free agent signings bring even more firepower to a Rams offense that ranked sixth overall in the NFL last season.
"We'll definitely have the most talent on our side of the ball since I have been a starter," Bulger, who was among the 26 players who participated in the first day of the team's voluntary conditioning program on Monday, told Korte.
Bulger stopped short of comparing the 2007 Rams with the team's Greatest Show on Turf days of 1999-2001.
"Just since I have been playing. That first year was pretty good in '01," Bulger said of his rookie season spent on the sidelines as the Rams' No. 3 quarterback.
Now, as Korte suggests, Bulger must find a way of keeping the Rams' multitude of offensive weapons happy. That won't be easy with running back Steven Jackson, and wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, along with Bennett and McMichael all wanting the ball.
"I'd rather have that problem than trying to find that one guy," Bulger said. "I'll make them happy, whether it's getting them the ball or getting them something else."
Bennett said Bulger played a big part in his decision to join the Rams. Bennett and Bulger hung out together the night prior to him reaching a six-year, $30 million deal with the Rams.
"He said, 'I promise I'll throw you every pass,"' Bennett joked. "No, it was Marc more as a person than a player. As a person, I was impressed with him as well. He is very down to earth, very friendly guy."
Bennett also likes Bulger as a player.
"His anticipation is what sets him part from any quarterback in the NFL," Bennett said. "Marc throws the ball way before you come out of your breaks, and it's always right there."
Bennett was generally considered the top wide receiver available in free agency. He signed with the Rams knowing that he'll likely be the No. 3 wide receiver behind Holt and Bruce.
Korte went on to note that Bennett doesn't have Curtis' breakaway speed, but his 6-5 frame provides the Rams with a tall target in the red zone.
"It's no secret that in the red zone, it's going to help," Bulger said. "Sometimes when I'm running out of the pocket and there's one-on-one coverage, and you can't get it to your other guys, you can throw it in the area of the tall guy and at worst it's going to be a pass breakup. I think that's an area that we haven't had here in sometime."
McMichael caught 62 passes for the Dolphins last season, which is more than double the 27 passes caught by all of the Rams' tight ends last season.
"I've been fortunate enough to be one of the focal points of the passing game the last five years in Miami," McMichael said. "I'm aware that we have Torry and Isaac, and they are the No. 1 and No. 2 guys, and that is going to take some getting used to, but I know I can fit in."
And McMichael said he was looking forward to being a part of what is being projected as a high-powered attack this season.
"It's going to be fun," McMichael said. "You're not going to be able to double cover anybody; you're not going to be able to roll your coverages. I know a lot of teams try to take Torry away from us, but we have so many weapons now I think that is going to free him up."
In Cleveland. ... Profootballtalk.com editor Mike Florio, in an item first published Monday morning, advised readers that there are some major questions surrounding Kellen Winslow's return from microfracture surgery performed Jan. 30 on the troublesome knee first injured in a May 2005 motorcycle accident.
Florio went on to suggest the powers that be in Cleveland are not counting on Winslow to be available for the 2007.
"There really is a good chance he won't play this season," an unnamed league source told Florio.
NFL Network insider Adam Schefter, however, reported on Tuesday that neither Winslow's doctors, trainers nor the tight end himself believes that his 2007 season will be curtailed.
According to Schefter, they all are expecting him to be ready for training camp.
General manager Phil Savage chimed in on Thursday.
"The procedure was done to help him be better this year than he was last year," Savage said. "Toward the end of the year, he did struggle some from that knee. We feel like he'll be back. He's been around the building. He should be good to go in June or July.
"There's never been any talk about (Winslow missing 2007) that I'm aware of. We've never even given a second thought he wouldn't be back with us for this next season."
In case you missed it, Winslow caught a franchise record 89 passes last season while battling through a sore knee and decided on surgery after the season, about 18 months after his initial surgery following the accident.
He spent about six weeks on crutches and got off them only about two weeks ago. He is now working diligently on his rehab.
"I really just started with concentrating on the little things," he told ClevelandBrowns.com staff writer Zac Jackson in the wake of Florio's report. "I'm following the program that our medical staff laid out for me before we decided to have the surgery. I first need to get the strength back in my leg, then progress from there. It's a step by step process, and my next step is running.
"But I am feeling great. As far as my rehab goes, I am ahead of schedule. I'll be back by training camp, if not before."
We'll see. ... While Florio's report clearly falls under the category of rumor/speculation, fast recoveries from microfracture surgery is far from certain.
So even though Winslow and team officials insist the star tight end will be good to go before training camp starts -- and recent history suggests that is indeed possible -- the overall track record for those having the procedure is mixed at best.
Bottom line? Those interested will want to follow Winslow's progress closely this offseason. ...
In Tampa Bay. ... According to the St. Petersburg Times, Jon Gruden finally is going to pull the trigger on using the shotgun formation next season.
The coach hinted about implementing the formation, which is rarely used in the west coast offense but is an effective tool to help provide protection for the quarterback.
Chris Simms said Tuesday following two days of meetings with Gruden that it appears the shotgun will be a go in 2007. The Bucs are believed to be the only team not to utilize that formation in some capacity.
Both Simms and second-year pro Bruce Gradkowski played extensively in the shotgun formation during their college careers.
"I think it is going to come true, yes," Simms said. "Coach has been talking about it and I think he's pretty serious about it. We'll see when that first practice rolls around. But as of right now, I think we're going to have the shotgun and I'm extremely excited about that."
No one stands to benefit more than Simms.
Even at 6-4, he struggled last season with having passes batted down, particularly on three-step drops. The shotgun also will help the Bucs offensive line, which struggled in pass protection last season.
"I'm a big believer in it," Simms said. "You know, it's a good wrinkle to put in the offense for protection purposes, so the quarterback can step back and look at the defense as a whole. I'm excited for it."
Simms also pronounced himself healthy after a long rehabilitation from season-ending surgery to remove his spleen last October.
For what it's worth, new quarterback Jeff Garcia shot down any notion he has a wink-wink, nod-nod agreement with Gruden that guarantees he will be the first quarterback under center next fall.
In fact, Garcia said Simms might have a slight advantage because of his familiarity with Gruden's version of the West Coast offense.
Meanwhile, Simms said he was not surprised the Bucs signed Garcia and called it a good move.
"It's part of the NFL. It's competition. I've been through it before. We've tried to sign every quarterback under the moon since I've been here," Simms said.
Simms also debunked the perception that the starting quarterback job in Tampa Bay is Garcia's to lose.
"I think at the end of the day, coach is going to play the best player," Simms said. "There's too many lives at stake here to be messing around and playing favorites. This is the National Football League and coach's family's livelihood, and my livelihood and other coaches and players all depend on it.
"At the end of the day, you're going to have the 22 best players on the field. ..."
In Seattle. ... The Seahawks expect Matt Hasselbeck to do some light throwing in the May mini-camps before resuming normal throwing for the June camps.
That was the word Tuesday from Seahawks president Tim Ruskell.
"I have been told he's ahead of schedule," Ruskell said of the quarterback's rehabilitation from surgery for a torn labrum performed on his non-throwing shoulder in January.
"I would anticipate that maybe he would do some light throwing in the post-draft camp -- for sure looking at the June camps to be able to throw," he added.
Initially, the team said Hasselbeck was expected to return by training camp in July "if not before."
"I think he could throw a Nerf ball right now, and he probably does with his kids," Ruskell said of Hasselbeck, who has two daughters and a son. "We're feeling really good about that."
For what it's worth, Ruskell also confirmed what was quickly becoming a foregone conclusion: Jerramy Stevens' days with the Seahawks are done.
"I would say it's probably a time for a change of scenery and to move on," Ruskell said.
The team's interest sank last week when Stevens was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
Police claim he was nearly three times the legal limit.
Hours after Stevens' arrest on March 13, the Seahawks signed veteran Marcus Pollard, giving them four tight ends under contract.
"I think we're in good shape," Ruskell said.
In Detroit. ... While there will be a battle for the No. 2 receiving position between Mike Furrey and recently signed free agent Shaun McDonald, Booth Newspapers and MLive.com beat writer Tom Kowalski suggests it really won't mean much because they'll both be on the field most of the time.
Kowalski went on to advise readers to look for the Lions to go heavy with their three-receiver package this season because coordinator Mike Martz finally has confidence that they'll all successfully execute the offense (both Furrey and McDonald previously spent several years in Martz's system).
Neither Furrey nor McDonald has the size or downfield speed to be effective in the long game, but they'll both be very difficult to contain in the 10- to 15-yard range. ...
Also in Detroit. ... When head coach Rod Marinelli was asked how much Mike Williams weighed when he reported for voluntary off-season workouts this week, the coach really didn't want to address the situation.
"I'm going to keep that issue. ... (Their weight) is their own business," Marinelli explained. "We've had a chance to weigh in just about everybody. Now it's moving forward and get these guys in position where we'll get them to the weight where we want them at."
The Lions want Williams to play at 220 pounds, a weight he never achieved last year and, as a result, was constantly fined. Williams has reportedly said that he wants to play for the Lions, but only if they are more accommodating about his weight issue.
Williams said he played at USC at about 230 and feels comfortable there, but Marinelli has insisted that Williams must get down to 220.
"I don't want to lower expectations, I want a faster team," Marinelli said. "Everything I've talked about, in free agency and this upcoming draft, is that we need speed. We need foot speed on this defense and on offense and we cannot settle for anything less than being as good as we can be. We just can't do it and I won't accept it."
When asked how Williams looked, Marinelli said, "It's kind of a start. You're never pleased; this is the beginning, the first step of your off-season. Some guys will be out of shape more than others and some guys will be running all year long and be in great shape.
"But this is your starting point and you wouldn't expect them to be all gazelles right now."
Or in Williams' case, ever. ...
And finally, in Atlanta. ... In his first public comments on the subject, Vick said Thursday the hidden compartment in a water bottle he tried to take through Miami airport security contained jewelry.
"I had earrings in it, and I had jewelry in it," Vick said of the 20-ounce Aquafina bottle, which was red-flagged at the security checkpoint because liquid containers of that size can't be carried through. "They took the bottle. I don't know what they did with the bottle. I guess they were trying to, I don't want to say frame me, but at the same time look at what I had to go through."
His account was disputed by the police department that investigated the Jan. 17 incident.
"That's the first we've heard of that," Detective Nelda Fonticella, spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, said when asked if Vick was carrying jewelry in the bottle. "If he has any kind of problem with the way things were handled, then he needs to talk to internal affairs."
It's also worth noting, there was no mention of jewelry in the initial police report, the statements provided by both security agents involved, in the Florida state attorney's case memo or any of the other related documents obtained by Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Steve Wyche.
Wyche went on to remind readers that Vick never said there was jewelry in the bottle until Thursday.
GM Rich McKay, who addressed the incident a day after it happened, never mentioned jewelry in the hidden compartment. In fact, McKay said Thursday he has never spoken to Vick about the contents of the bottle. Vick didn't say what happened to the jewelry in the bottle. ...
Anybody else wondering why Vick suddenly started discussing this? Seems like the silent approach was working much better for him. ...
That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday. ... In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.