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That, of course, will lead up to a month of intense training-camp and pre-season coverage prior to the start of the regular season. This in turn will give us four joyous months of regular-season drama leading to the playoffs, followed by the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, scouting combine, free agency and next year’s draft. Can you say "year-round reality show?" The NFL can.
Anyhow, we'll get the ball rolling this week in New England, where the Patriots are convinced Randy Moss is ready to revert to the All-Pro form he never really demonstrated in his two seasons as a Raider.
It could happen. ... Or not.
Despite Brett Favre's apparent belief that Moss' presence on Green Bay's roster was the only thing standing between the Packers and immediate success -- and the reports shortly after he was acquired in a draft-day trade that the aging superstar ran sub-4.3 forties for his new boss, Bill Belichick -- there are skeptics.
And with good reason.
After not missing a start for five seasons, Moss has not played 16 games in a season since 2003, and his production has slid noticeably.
It began during his final season in Minnesota, in 2004, when that franchise was in turmoil. He caught only 49 passes for 767 yards. Still, he scored 13 touchdowns and averaged nearly 16 yards per catch, numbers that convinced the Raiders a change of scenery was all he needed to blossom once again.
Now it is the Patriots who feel that way after Moss's two disappointing seasons in Oakland, including last year's slide to 42 catches for 553 yards and only three scores, the worst season of his career. Moss was not active for the last three games because of persistently aching legs and his constant criticism of the offense and the organization.
Former Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh isn't sure Moss can ever be the guy who averaged nearly 13 touchdowns a season in his first seven years in the NFL.
"Randy Moss is a player whose skills are diminishing, and he's in denial of those eroding skills," Walsh told Boston Globe staffer Ron Borges last week. "Randy was a great receiver but he lacked the work ethic and the desire to cultivate any skills that would compensate for what he was losing physically later in his career."
One could easily argue that Walsh, who was fired along with Art Shell following last season's 2-14 debacle, has a bit of an ax to grind here. Still, he only seems to be confirming what we all saw with our own eyes.
Not surprisingly, Shell agreed with Walsh, telling Borges: "[The Patriots will] find out Randy can't run consistently anymore. He'll drive [Tom] Brady and Belichick crazy. He teases people because every now and then you see something, but he can't keep it up consistently anymore. ..."
While that's interesting stuff, it's still possible a change of scenery -- and a move to a more successful organization -- can rejuvenate Moss.
If that's going to happen, however, Moss will have to get on board with the one-for-all work ethic that has helped the Patriots win three of the last six Super Bowls.
Walsh isn't sure Moss can deal with that.
"Randy Moss has great football IQ," Walsh told Borges. "He's tremendously gifted. I think he can still play, but his legs will determine how much work he can handle. We used to take him out of Friday practices because the quarterbacks wanted the receivers running near game tempo and when Randy was on the field, the whole practice slowed down so much we started giving him the day off.
"Once he got discouraged, he just faded."
It's worth noting that Moss himself blames the losing he experienced in Oakland.
"I think what I have done in the past as far as losing and sometimes getting out of control, I think it's just my competitive nature of wanting to win and helping my team get into a position to win," he said in a conference call after the trade to New England. "Like I said, losing sometimes can get contagious, but as a player I can't let that settle in, and I think that's one of the things that bothered me [in Oakland]."
Even though Walsh was disappointed with the Moss he grew to know, he still concedes that when the former Marshall star is right physically and mentally, defenses will struggle to stop him.
"When he's right, he still makes an impact," Walsh said.
Borges believes Moss can be whatever he wants to be:
"Team player. Malcontent.
"Dynamic deep threat. Undisciplined route runner.
"Competitor who only wants to win. Guy who quits on his team.
"Victim of circumstance. Victim of aging legs. ..."
At this point, it's impossible to say which path he'll take. But as SportsLine.com columnist Clark Judge pointed out, the Patriots see this as a no-lose situation. They spent a fourth-rounder on Moss. That's no big deal because they have an extra first and third-rounder next year.
If Moss becomes the player he was in 2003 the Patriots may have bought themselves a ticket to another Super Bowl.
And if he doesn't?
As Judge suggested: "At least [the Patriots] tried. They view this as a low-risk deal, with a huge upside if everything works out. ...
Meanwhile, in a related note. ... Belichick had previously indicated Moss wouldn't take part in the Patriots off-season conditioning program, but the mercurial one showed up in New England to do just that this week.
For years, Moss has trained on his own in Florida rather than take part in off-season programs with the Vikings and Raiders. He didn't have to report until June 5, when the team's full-squad mini-camp kicks off.
But according to his agent, Tim DiPiero, Moss has been champing at the bit.
"He wants to know that offense, he wants to know [Brady]," DiPiero said Friday. "I'm sure he's looking forward to camp."
Even the skeptics will have to admit that's a promising -- although certainly not defining -- development. ...
In Green Bay. ... While he admits to being frustrated the Packers did not trade for Moss, Favre told reporters during mini-camp Friday this was no knock on his teammates.
"Not once did I say anything about the guys I play with," Favre said at a news conference. "And I know that has been brought up, and I want proof that I said something about the guys I play with. Never did I say that."
Favre's appearance came after a tumultuous week in which he publicly complained about the Packers' front office, deflected reports that his agent had asked the team for a trade and considered skipping this weekend's mandatory mini-camp to help plan parties for his daughter's high school graduation next week.
The 37-year-old star is still recovering from off-season ankle surgery, but he passed a physical Thursday and participated in a part-time role in Friday's lone practice. Favre said he hadn't thrown a football since the season finale, but he took a few snaps in all drills except 11-on-11.
Favre said he really came to Green Bay to show his commitment to the Packers and clear the air about reports that he asked for a trade.
"I don't think anyone can question my leadership and determination to win, and that hasn't changed," Favre said. "I know at times people want to do that. And had I not shown up, it becomes even a bigger issue."
As noted here last weekend, after Favre criticized the front office during interviews at his charity golf tournament in Mississippi last Saturday, FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer reported that his agent, Bus Cook, had asked for a trade when the team failed to complete a trade for Moss.
Favre and Cook spent this week issuing carefully worded denials that seemed to leave wiggle room. But Favre issued a stronger denial Friday, saying a trade was never mentioned or requested.
"I just don't know where it came from," he said. "That's not true."
Favre acknowledged that he has disagreed with decisions by the front office, but he said he has spoken with GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy this week and wants to put all this behind.
Favre reiterated that he thinks the Packers have plenty of young talent. He recalled that he was ridiculed before last season when he said the 2006 Packers might be the most talented team he ever played on.
"You thought I was crazy," he said.
Yeah. But not as crazy as when he seemed to believe that Moss was the missing ingredient for a title run. ...
Moving on to other Fantasy-specific news and notes of interest from around the NFL. ...
In Miami. ... If Ricky Williams makes a comeback, it most likely will be with a new team. Head coach Cam Cameron, speaking publicly about Williams' latest drug relapse for the first time, said nothing has changed regarding the suspended running back's status.
And we shouldn’t expect the coach to have a change of heart.
"The easiest predictor of future behavior is previous behavior," Cameron said Friday.
As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine reminded readers, since becoming Miami's coach in January, Cameron has declined to say whether he wants Williams back. He explained his reluctance to talk about Williams.
"I will not allow our fans to be let down by people that are not on our roster -- not again," Cameron said. "It's my responsibility not to let that happen. We have the greatest fans in the game, and we've got men on our team that we're going to focus on."
An NFL rushing champion for the Dolphins in 2002, Williams tested positive for marijuana again last month, which will delay his return to the league until at least September.
Williams, who turns 30 on Monday, has played only 12 games since 2003. His current suspension began in April 2006 after he violated the league's drug policy for the fourth time.
Following the Dolphins' offseason practice Friday, running back Ronnie Brown said he was surprised by Williams' latest positive drug test but didn't consider it a setback for the team.
Brown also said Williams isn't a regular topic of conversation in the locker room.
"I think we're beyond that point," Brown said. "None of us knows why he does what he does or the choices he makes."
One signal the Dolphins weren't counting on Williams came last month, when they selected running back Lorenzo Booker of Florida State in the third round of the draft. Booker has been assigned Williams' locker. ...
The Dolphins have reportedly been in contact with the agents for former Titans tailback Chris Brown, who is also said to be of some interest to the Packers, the Patriots and perhaps even to his former team. ...
Also in Miami. ... Daunte Culpepper practiced on a limited basis Friday, the latest step in his recovery from two knee operations. Culpepper said he's certain he'll be able to take part in the Dolphins' mini-camp June 8-10.
"It's small steps right now," he said. "I feel good. No real pain, which is a good sign. I just want to ease my way into it."
According to Wine, Culpepper dropped back and threw short passes during drills with other quarterbacks.
The one-day team workout was one in a series leading toward training camp in late July, and for Culpepper it was part of a long rehabilitation.
Cameron declined to assess Culpepper.
"Until a guy is 100 percent, it is not fair to evaluate him," Cameron said. "That's the approach. Keep it simple. When the guy is 100 percent, evaluate him and then go from there."
Culpepper hopes to receive medical clearance for next month's mini-camp from Dr. James Andrews. He performed reconstructive knee surgery on Culpepper in November 2005, then performed arthroscopic surgery last November to remove cartilage that hampered the quarterback's recovery.
Even if Culpepper fully recovers, it's uncertain whether he'll be with the Dolphins. They took Brigham Young quarterback John Beck in the second round of the April draft, and they have tried to trade for Kansas City quarterback Trent Green.
"There's no reason for me to feel like I'm in limbo," Culpepper said. "I'm going to be prepared for whatever happens. ..."
According to NFL Network insider Adam Schefter, we could gain some clarity on Culpepper's future in Miami soon, as the Dolphins and Chiefs are apparently closing in on a long-awaited trade that will reunite Kansas City quarterback Trent Green with Cameron, his first NFL position coach (in Washington).
Once that happens, it's safe to assume Culpepper will be given an opportunity to move on. ...
In Dallas. ... Although he delivered a 1,000-yard rushing season, Julius Jones looks back to last year and sees a season filled with yards and opportunities lost.
"I think maybe I was being told where to run and [was] not able to use my instincts, which is really what got me here at this point in my life - using my instincts and running how I know how to run the ball," Jones said. "Maybe I listened to coach [Bill] Parcells a little too much and was kind of running like a robot."
As Dallas Morning News staffer Todd Archer reminded readers this week, in the first half of the season, Jones averaged 20.6 carries and 86.7 yards per game. In the second half, those numbers dropped to 12.8 carries and 49.4 yards per game.
Part of it was teammate Marion Barber's production, but part of it was Parcells' belief that Jones was not built to carry the full load of a season.
Entering his fourth season, Archer suggests, Jones remains something of a mystery.
A cracked shoulder blade slowed his rookie season, but in the final seven games of 2004 he ran for 803 yards, making some wonder if he was the next great Cowboys' running back.
This offseason, Jones opted to work with a personal trainer in Arizona rather than attend the Cowboys' conditioning program. While new head coach Wade Phillips would like Jones to work out with his teammates, he and running backs coach Skip Peete like what they have seen in this mini-camp.
Jones said he likes the freedom of the system being used by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and hopes to run more instinctively this season.
"I'm all about business this year," Jones said. "That's why I made the switch to go to Arizona and train and get in the best shape I could possibly be in. It's all about business. This is my fourth year. I've got a lot to prove."
Jones is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and it's not clear whether the Cowboys will make a play to keep him off the open market as they did a year ago with tight end Jason Witten and others.
The Cowboys will also have a decision to make on Barber, who will be a restricted free agent after the season. Barber led the NFC with 14 rushing touchdowns last year and ran for 654 yards on 135 carries. The Cowboys will retain the right to match any offer made to Barber.
Jones also saw his name involved in trade talks this off-season, although the Cowboys did not initiate any of the dealings.
"Yeah, this is the last year of my contract," Jones said. "Obviously I want to put up good numbers and have a good season."
And as Archer further suggested, "end some of the mystery. ..."
Also in Dallas. ... In an article published Thursday, Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor offered readers the following prediction: "Jason Witten's yards per catch will be close to 14 this season."
In his first four seasons, Witten has averaged 11.3 yards per catch with a season-high 11.8 yards last season. Taylor went on to report the tight end's work down the middle of the field was impressive during the mini-camp. He didn't catch dump-offs to the flat. He was down the field, pressing the safeties and behind the linebackers.
And according to Taylor, Tony Romo was finding him.
Remember: Jason Garrett had Randy McMichael the last two years in Miami and played with Jay Novacek in Dallas. Wade Phillips saw Antonio Gates up close the last few years in San Diego.
As Taylor summed up: "They know what kind of weapon a tight end can be in an offense. ..."
In Atlanta. ... With questions of age and durability now added to his lack of stature, Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat man Steve Wyche suggested this week: "Warrick Dunn either has a big hill to climb entering his 11th NFL season or additional chips to place on his surgically repaired shoulder."
"I have to go out and prove what I can do," said the 32-year-old, 180-pound Dunn. "It's a new coaching staff and every year you have to prove yourself. I have to prove my worth."
Dunn has been as valuable as any player to Atlanta's offense in each of the past three seasons, in which he's rushed for more than 1,000 yards and the Falcons led the NFL in rushing.
Now, though, there is a new system based on a power-running scheme. Jerious Norwood is bigger (210 pounds) and more seasoned to the NFL game after a standout rookie season (633 yards, 6.4 yards per carry). He's also a very good receiver, something mandatory in head coach Bobby Petrino's system.
So what will Dunn's and Norwood's roles be?
According to Wyche, nobody knows right now because Dunn has been limited in offseason workouts, including the two mini-camps after having tissue from his right rotator cuff surgically reattached to the bone.
"It's a little early for that," Petrino said. "It would be great to see [Dunn] back doing everything. We could get a little better idea. It's still a process of getting to know each other and getting to know what they do best and getting them in the best situations to use their talents."
Norwood took most of the repetitions at mini-camp and reportedly dazzled coaches with his speed and hands.
"The great thing about Jerious is every time he touches it, he can go the distance," Petrino said. For Norwood, learning Petrino's offense has been a radical change, especially pass protection, but he made strides during mini-camp, the coach said.
However Dunn and Norwood are used -- in terms of starter, finisher, short-yardage specialist -- Petrino said he has faith that each can do what's asked.
One thing that's certain: Both men will be asked to catch more passes this year than last.
As for that big tailback Petrino desired but didn't get in free agency and the draft, Dunn and Norwood have changed his thinking. So has massive fullback Ovie Mughelli, who not only can run for the tough yards, but can clear a path.
"When you talk about power running you're talking about running down hill, lead plays," Petrino said.
"The running backs we have can do that. ..."
Also according to Wyche, the addition of Joe Horn and the drafting of Laurent Robinson could change the pecking order -- especially in the wake of new that Brian Finneran re-injured the same ACL that sidelined him all last year.
Finneran is now expected to miss all this season, too.
Horn is clearly the No. 1 guy and Michael Jenkins appears to be the solid No. 2. Roddy White had a good mini-camp but Wyche reports that Robinson, selected in the third round, created the most buzz.
In Washington. ... Head coach Joe Gibbs wrapped up the team's second week of OTAs by updating the injury status of Clinton Portis, saying the veteran running back has developed tendonitis in his knee. The tendonitis in his knee flared up last week. It is not considered serious.
Portis visited with Andrews, the team's medical consultant, on Wednesday.
"He has had some soreness in his knee, but he said he could run and work out on it," Gibbs said. "He's on his weight [training] program. We'll see how the running goes. We'll see how quickly we can get him back. ... The main thing now is to get it taken care of now. What we don't want is this when we go to camp."
Gibbs, who said the injury wasn't a result of Portis working out too hard or too often, isn't concerned about his long-term durability.
"He's actually a really young guy and hasn't had many injuries, just a shoulder in high school and a shoulder [and hand] last year," the coach said. "I don't anticipate a problem."
Portis is only 25, but as Washington Times staffer Ryan O'Halloran reminded readers, the tailback has taken a lot of hits during his five NFL seasons -- 1,385 carries and 158 receptions -- and the shoulder injury wasn't a minor problem.
True that. ... I will note, however, all indications are the shoulder is holding up well through rehab. Nonetheless, Portis, his shoulder and the knee certainly bear watching in coming weeks. ...
In Denver. ... In an article published Friday, Denver Post staffer Mike Klis wrote: "Matches may be made in heaven, but rarely do they instantly mesh down here on football fields."
Klis went on to cite Travis Henry and the Broncos' rush-block system as an example of one of those rare matches.
Henry has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in Buffalo and Tennessee -- neither known as offensive powerhouses in recent years -- in the three seasons in which he played at least 14 games.
He joins a Broncos blocking system so consistently good, it helped turn the likes of Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell into 1,000-yard rushers.
As Klis suggested: "On paper, Henry and the Broncos figure to pair like peanut butter and jelly, Andretti and asphalt, Manning and Harrison."
And maybe they will. After some work.
"The No. 1 thing I've noticed is we're running outside zone and inside zone and that's my forte, but what I have to do is trust the linemen," Henry told Klis following a Thursday mini-camp workout. "I know they're going to be there, but this is my second day and you can tell I'm kind of timid on certain runs. The No. 1 key is to get in the flow with the offensive linemen."
In other words, Klis explained, on plays when Henry starts right and makes the Broncos' famous one-cutback to the left, he shouldn't be waiting to see the block before shifting into a higher gear. He has to explode off the cut knowing the block will be there.
"It's going to be there," Henry said. "Once I get that down and get it out of my head, I can go and 'boom,' play my game. ..."
Also in Denver. ... The Broncos suffered their first major injury of the offseason program Friday when second-year tight end Tony Scheffler broke his left foot during the third day of the team's passing camp.
The second-year player, who made a major late-season contribution to the passing offense as a rookie, will undergo surgery Monday.
Local television station CBS 4, which first reported the story, said Scheffler will be out two months, which would allow him to return by the start of training camp.
Scheffler made an impact last year as a rookie. He was one of new quarterback Jay Cutler's favorite targets late in the season.
His injury will mean more practice time in the short term for the likes of Daniel Graham, Stephen Alexander, Chad Mustard, Nate Jackson and Mike Leach. ...
In Detroit. ... Calvin Johnson apparently didn't act like a rookie in his first practice with the Lions' veterans during last week's mini-camp.
According to Detroit New beat man Mike O'Hara, the physical ability that made the Lions take Johnson with the second pick overall in last month's draft was evident, but another quality impressed Jon Kitna even more in the first practice of the mandatory mini-camp.
Johnson knew his assignments in Tuesday's drills.
"The great thing is, he breaks the huddle and doesn't have that quizzical look on his face," Kitna said. "You know he's going to be ahead of the curve at some point."
Johnson told O'Hara he has studied the playbook since leaving town after a three-day rookie camp.
"I've been doing what I can do, staying in my book every night, trying to learn," Johnson said.
He expected practices with the veterans to be at a higher tempo.
As Booth Newspapers staffer Tom Kowalski recently suggested, to play in the offensive system of coordinator Mike Martz, a receiver has to be in great shape and run full speed at all times. Whether it's practice or games, and whether the ball is thrown to you or not, every step has to be at full tilt.
Martz made one thing very clear last year: If you don't play at full speed, you don't play, period. Roy Williams learned that last season and played in the Pro Bowl; Mike Williams didn't, and is no longer with the Lions.
"It's different," Johnson said. "It's a much higher tempo. It's going to take getting used to."
Head coach Rod Marinelli doesn't believe he has to force Johnson into a situation where he might be in over his head. Roy Williams, who made the NFC Pro Bowl team, and Mike Furrey, who led the NFC with 98 receptions, return as the starters.
Two other veteran receivers, Marcus Robinson and Shaun McDonald, were signed as free agents in the offseason.
"We've got two guys who proved it last year," Marinelli said, referring to Williams and Furrey. "It's not about status. They did it. It's on film. [Johnson has to] get up and going and put his (performance) on tape this year."
I suspect there will be copious tape of Johnson before it's all said and done this season.
Unlike Mike Williams, the Lions don't expect Johnson to have any problem accepting Martz's standards. As Kowalski noted, speed is not an issue for the 6-5, 239-pound rookie, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
And Johnson was the No. 1 rated player on most draft boards because he also has a strong work ethic and is considered a very high-character player.
As Pro Football Weekly put it: "In the end, Matt Millen landed his fourth first-round receiver in the last five years, but also the consensus top player in the draft and a weapon that Martz was campaigning for behind the scenes leading up to the draft."
If you ask me, anything that makes Martz happy is likely to make Fantasy owners happy. ...
Also in Detroit. ... Kevin Jones didn't take part in any team activities this week, but was able to get in some running along the sideline. Jones, who has already had the final two screws removed from his foot, wasn't running at full speed, but he was running.
According to Kowalski, the Lions don't want to say much about it because there's always the possibility of a setback, but they're very excited about the possibility of Jones being 100 percent ready for the start of the regular season. ...
And finally, in Chicago. ... Head coach Lovie Smith revealed Monday that All-Pro return specialist Devin Hester will switch from defense to offense -- a move that began with this week's full-squad mini-camp.
According to those who follow the team closely, Hester will be listed at wide receiver, but will work out of the backfield at times and could be utilized like the Saints' Reggie Bush.
"I think Devin Hester is one of the most exciting players in the NFL with his hands on the football," Smith said. "This is in the best interest of us and him for him to achieve his full potential as a football player."
He apparently got off to a good start.
As chicagobears.com staffer Larry Mayer reported it: "The converted cornerback sparkled in his first mini-camp practice as a hybrid receiver/running back, displaying outstanding hands, a knowledge of the scheme and a rare explosiveness that elicited hoots and hollers from excited teammates."
Okay. So it's the team's official web site, but in my experience, Mayer is pretty straightforward in his reporting. Hester's defensive teammates agreed with Mayer's assessment.
"He's probably the most exciting player in the NFL," said safety Mike Brown. "Like I told him, the more times he has his hands on the ball, the more opportunities we get a chance to put points on the board.
"He's one of those guys that could score literally every time he touches the ball."
Smith sounded a bit more cautious, but is clearly optimistic.
"Right now we're not going to put any limits on it," the coach said. "We have a new piece to the puzzle. We're anxious to see what we can do with him and the role that he'll develop into. ..."
Fantasy owners will undoubtedly be watching with interest, too. ...
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.