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Fantasy Notebook: It's Time; Benson Loaded For Bears
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... No shortage of Fantasy-specific fodder for this week's edition -- much of it running-back related. The recent trend toward more effective use of committee approaches is definitely of great interest to Fantasy heading into 2007.

And while more teams are gravitating toward that multiple-back attack, it's comforting to know others are standing by the time-honored feature-back approach.

So we'll get the ball rolling in Chicago, where Cedric Benson is determined to make the most of an opportunity to prove what he's believed all along: He is capable of handling a featured role at the NFL level.

With former starter Thomas Jones traded to the Jets and Adrian Peterson and rookie Garrett Wolfe slated strictly for complementary roles, Benson is the undisputed main man in the Bears’ running game.

"It feels good," Benson said of his new status. "There's a bit of relief not only for me but for the team that there's not that outside talk about who's going to start or who's going to be in the backfield. We don't have any doubts this year. We can go into camp focused on winning."

As staffer Larry Mayer reminded readers this week, sharing the workload with Jones, Benson emerged during the second half of last season, rushing for 432 of his 647 yards in the final seven games.

He capped the regular season with the first 100-yard game of his career, gaining 109 yards in a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

"He finished the season strong last year," said head coach Lovie Smith. "I think he's ready to step up and carry the load full time."

Just the fifth back in NCAA history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons, Benson is excited about once again becoming a workhorse who can wear down defenses.

"You get different looks and you get more plays and you get put in more situations where the defense can't just focus on you," Benson said. "Not only do you get better as the game goes on, but you get better as the season goes on.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity for me. I'm thankful that it has come and I'm looking forward to making the best of it."

Still, as Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Brad Biggs noted, the workhorse who carried 1,112 times at Texas without suffering any serious injury hasn't been able to stay on the field as a pro.

A sprained knee knocked him out as a rookie, and when it appeared he was on the verge of wrestling the starting gig away from Jones last summer, he suffered a shoulder injury in training camp on a freak play.

Then he was knocked out of Super Bowl XLI with a knee injury that many questioned after his second carry.

"It was serious enough that I would've missed some games," he said.

But Biggs went on to suggest that if Benson can withstand the rigors of an entire season, the Bears see their running game remaining the thing that makes the offense go.

"It was time," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "No question. What we did a year ago with both of them playing worked. Obviously, we got to the Super Bowl and had a pretty good season. It worked. But obviously it was time, 'Cedric, you're the guy, let's go."'

Turner envisions a few adjustments to the playbook to take advantage of Benson's strengths. That being said, he doesn't want to pigeonhole him as just a bruiser between the tackles.

"We'll emphasize the things he does well," Turner said. "I don't think he's a one-dimensional back. He's got acceleration. He's got quickness to get the ball to the perimeter. I think he can do that as well."

"My durability isn't a concern," Benson told Biggs. "Not only do I know I can carry 300-plus times, I know what I have to do to continue to do that 20 some weeks out of the season."

Two thousand yards, the elite measuring stick for running backs, was something Benson mentioned when he arrived as a rookie. It's still on his mind.

"It's a great moment," he said of being the top back now. "It's finally here. The moment I have been waiting for, the dreams I dreamed as a kid, they are here now."

He appears to be intent on making those dreams come true. Working with the No. 1 offense in last weekend's mini-camp, Mayer reports that Benson ran with power, speed and confidence.

Team officials are convinced he'll continue to do that when the snaps mean something this fall.

"What we did a year ago with both [backs] obviously worked; we got to the Super Bowl and had a pretty good season," Turner explained. "Thomas was valuable. We loved Thomas. But it was time for Cedric to get the opportunity and to step up. It's time for him to go.

"Everything starts with us running the football and Cedric is very talented. I think Cedric is going to have a heck of a year."

As Smith put it: "We drafted him to be our tailback, and it's time now.

General manager Jerry Angelo agreed -- in the simplest of terms: "It's time. ..."

In Baltimore. ... After Willis McGahee's first practices with the Ravens last week, team officials couldn't say they gained any insight into whether their new running back is primed for a career year or if he is going to add any punch to the passing attack.

But as Baltimore Sun staffer Jamison Hensley suggested, the Ravens did learn something about McGahee: He is a man of his word.

Often criticized for missing voluntary workouts with the Bills, McGahee lived up to his promise that he would attend the Ravens' mini-camps -- something he avoided in Buffalo -- and expects it to pay dividends.

"I'm motivated, I've got to step my game up," said McGahee, who was indeed on hand for last week's mini-camp. "My teammates are expecting a lot of me. I'm going to go out there and dish it out. Hopefully, we can all work together and make that run we want."

McGahee said his trade to the Ravens has given him a fresh start and a new environment.

"The vibe in the air is totally different," McGahee said. "These guys know what they want, and they know what they need to do. The coaches treat you like men. Everybody is making sure everybody is on top of their game.

"We're not messing around. When one player messes up, you might laugh here or there. Jokes aside, we help each other out."

While the dedication is there, Hensley reports the comfort level is not. McGahee acknowledged that he made a couple of mistakes and estimated that the learning process could last through training camp.

"I was a little nervous out there; I feel like a rookie all over again," he said. "Everybody messes up. I expect myself to mess up. It's like we're breaking the seal right now."

The biggest transition for McGahee is learning the new terminology.

"I'm moving in pretty good," he said "Coach [Brian Billick] says we have to learn fast and he's talking fast. It's hard on anybody coming in and trying to learn a whole new playbook. It's going to take a little time, but I'm not worried about it."

It could be a different playbook for everybody.

With McGahee, the Ravens expect to open up the offense more than they did in the past with a pure power back like Jamal Lewis. Because McGahee is more of a slasher, they can use more one-back formations and make him more of an integral part to the offense.

"I think he's going to be a great addition to the team," Steve McNair said. "Looking at him and how he's getting a feel for this offense, he's not only going to help us in the running game, but also the passing game. If you give him the ball at 5 yards, he'll get you 10 out of it."

As Hensley reminded readers, this type of explosiveness has eluded McGahee recently.

In 2004, he scored 13 touchdowns and broke 10 runs of at least 20 yards. In the past two seasons, he has totaled 11 touchdowns and eight runs of at least 20 yards.

That will have to change if the Ravens, who had a top-10 running attack in 2003 and 2004 but plummeted to No. 25 last season, are going to turn things around.

"We want to have our running game back to where it was when it was a dominant running game in the league," coordinator Rick Neuheisel said. "As much as all the good things Jamal Lewis did for our offense, we think McGahee can help us with that. ..."

In Cleveland. ... General manager Phil Savage can't wait see former rival Lewis get busy in a Browns uniform. And Savage isn't paying much attention to those wondering how much the bruising tailback has left in the tank.

"I know this about Jamal," Savage said of his new feature back. "He's hungry to prove he has more left than people say.

"I think we're gonna be pleasantly surprised. I may be dead wrong, but ..."

If he is, it wouldn't come as a major surprise. At least not based on the majority of media observers. As Canton Repository reporter Steve Doerschuk put it: "National analysis of Lewis has been insulting."

The consensus is that Baltimore is better off with 25-year-old McGahee than it would have been by keeping Lewis. That prompted Doerschuk to wonder if McGahee deserve such credit.

That in turn drew the following comparisons from Doerschuk:

"Lewis gave the 2006 Ravens 1,132 rushing yards and nine touchdowns; McGahee gave the 2006 Bills 990 yards and six TDs.

"Lewis leads McGahee 7,801-3,365 in career rushing yards and 45-24 in TDs.

"Lewis is 27, not 57 -- he will turn 28 on Aug. 29.

"Even though Lewis' per-carry average has slipped recently, his career average is 4.3. McGahee's is 3.9, with no season topping 4.0. ..."

All of which led Doerschuk to conclude: "McGahee is a theory. Lewis is a track record."

And don't forget: Savage, a top Baltimore personnel man when Lewis helped the 2000 Ravens win a Super Bowl as a rookie No. 5 overall pick, then had one of the league's great seasons in 2003 (2,066 yards at 5.3 per carry), knows a little something about that track record.

So, when Savage wanted more talent and speed than ex-Brown Reuben Droughns offered, Lewis came immediately to mind.

"I'm a Jamal Lewis fan," the GM explained. "I'm not ashamed to say that."

When Lewis signed a one-year deal with the Browns, he said he can still run the way he did in his monster year.

"Everyone looks for me to gain 2,000 yards every year," Lewis said. "It's only been done once by each running back that got it. That was a phenomenal year, and I work hard to get close to that."

He said offseason surgery to remove bone spurs will be "a major plus."

"I couldn't really fly off like I wanted to last year," Lewis said. "I couldn't really plant on that ankle. I tried to fight through it and I gave it my all."

Still recovering from the surgery, Lewis is being held to a modest workload in spring practice. In a few chances during Tuesday's drills, Doerschuk reports that Lewis showed good explosion to the hole and acceleration after making a cut.

If the Browns offensive line improves as hoped, Lewis could provide solid draft-day value this year. ...

While Benson, McGahee and Lewis all seem destined to handle the bulk of their respective team's carries, others face the prospect of sharing. ...

In Minnesota. ... Chester Taylor, in his first public comments since last month's draft, expressed no concern about the fact the Vikings used the seventh overall selection on fellow running back Adrian Peterson.

"They said they were going to give me some help," Taylor said Tuesday. "All they did was add depth to our running back crew; if I go down I'm confident that these guys will be able to take over and do the job."

Perhaps Taylor missed that whole seventh pick overall thing with Peterson. He certainly seems to be taking an optimistic approach.

Of course, Taylor did establish a franchise record for rushing attempts in a season last year with 303. His 345 touches were the third-highest total in Vikings history.

But he also racked up some bruised ribs that kept him out of a game in Detroit in December and what the injury report called "overall body soreness," a condition brought on by the pounding that comes with those kind of totals.

"You don't want to break the carries record," fullback Tony Richardson said. "That's not a record you want. You might want to break the yardage record or touchdowns, but you don't want to (set the record for) carries. You won't last in this league."

Peterson's presence should certainly help Taylor remain fresh. It might keep him fresher than he'd like.

"It's always good to have a one-two punch," Taylor said. "So we can come in, spell each other and as long as it's efficient and working, just keep doing it."

According to Minneapolis Star Tribune staffer Judd Zulgad, Peterson made a good impression on Taylor when the two met for the first time last Monday. "He's a nice guy," Taylor said. "He looks up to me as being a vet, and I'm going to help him through all the tough times. Whenever he gets stuck, I'll help him out."

Said Peterson: "He told me to go out there, compete and just work hard. To help improve yourself and help the team win anyway possible. That's what I plan on doing."

Taylor, meanwhile, said he feels fine physically and was able to resume heavy training in April after giving his body some time to heal. "I'm feeling really good right now," he said. "I'm just ready for the season to start."

But will Taylor be the starter when the season starts?

Head coach Brad Childress told reporters he envisions using both backs at the same time on occasion this season, making it harder on opposing defenses to key in on just one guy, as they so often did last season.

And the coach doesn't expect any problems from Taylor, whose soft-spoken demeanor is a contrast to the prima donna complex that seems to afflict many starting running backs.

"Chester's not a big ego guy, he never has been and I think he can coexist," Richardson said. "The thing about it is both of these are good quality young men. It's not like Adrian is coming in here saying, 'I'm the big dog on campus.' He's very humble and just wants to get to work and help the team win."

And in a copycat league, if the setup is good enough for the Bears and Colts, who rode two running backs into the Super Bowl, it's good enough for the Vikings.

"The two teams that represented the two conferences in the Super Bowl -- Indianapolis and Chicago -- had the two-headed monster and used it very effectively," Richardson said. "The faster we can get 'AP' up to speed with Chester, it's going to help us along the road. ..."

Getting Peterson up to speed might not be that big a project.

According to Star Tribune staffer Kevin Seifert, Childress noted the smooth pass-receiving skills displayed by Peterson this past week.

"He's done a great job, particularly in drills, with all the pass stuff," Childress said. "The run stuff comes very easy to him as well as you would think, but you get drilled with the nuances of the pass game, whether it be protection or route-running, and he's doing a good job with that. ..."

Based on recent mock drafts I've taken part in -- in which Peterson has gone well ahead of Taylor -- and's current ADP data (Taylor is ahead of Peterson, but currently ranks 27th among all running backs), expectations for the veteran certainly seem to be on the decline. ...

In Indianapolis. ... There's no question Joseph Addai had a terrific rookie season -- or that he had a lot of help from Dominic Rhodes in carrying the running load.

As Indianapolis Star beat man Mike Chappell, the plan could hardly have worked better.

In seven of 20 games, including the Super Bowl, Rhodes had more carries than Addai, and in another game they tied. Addai was rarely pushed like a lead back, carrying the ball 20 or more times in only four games.

The Colts' only other rushes came from Ran Carthon (three) and Peyton Manning (23, including kneel-downs).

The plan worked so well that even with Rhodes' free agent departure, even with Addai expected to improve on his 1,081-yard rookie season, the Colts aren't inclined to change the tandem blueprint.

"Joseph's going to be a real good player and I would love to see him getting more and more carries as his career goes on," head coach Tony Dungy said. "But obviously we saw how nice it was to have fresh running backs at the end of the year, and we still want to have that ability.

"We'd love to get another guy who could get 10-12 carries and we've got to develop that."

But that's the question: Who?

Whether the Colts can find a suitable sidekick for Addai remains anyone's guess as they begin a four-week summer school. DeDe Dorsey is the early favorite, but neither he nor any of the three other possible backups on the roster has rushed in an NFL regular-season game.

In fact, other than Addai, Dorsey is the only Colts back to have even appeared in an NFL game.

Is Dorsey the solution? After being claimed off waivers from Cincinnati before the 2006 regular season, his playing time was limited to special teams with the Colts. But he used practice time to learn the intricacies of the offense.

"With Dominic being gone, I'm taking more reps with the '1s' so it's really giving me the chance to show what I couldn't show last year," Dorsey said. "I think I can help contribute.

"I'm ready to take on my role."

Meanwhile, Addai made it clear he'll accept whatever role awaits him.

"Everybody wants to be the guy," he said. "But if (sharing carries) is the system we have to play in, I don't mind.

"We felt good from the beginning of the season to the end, even the Super Bowl," Addai added. "We had two different type running styles, so going into the game you never knew what to expect. ..."

One last note on this one. ... If the Colts look outside the club for a compliment to Addai, Chappell believes Chris Brown might be of interest.

In four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, he rushed for 2,295 yards and 11 touchdowns. Of his six 100-yard games, two came against the Colts, including a career-best 152 yards in 2004.

A downside is injuries; he has missed 22 games, including 11 last season. ...

Just a thought here, but if the Colts stick with Dorsey, I have to wonder just how serious they are about sticking with their two-back approach. If they land a veteran free agent like Brown? Seems like that would be something Addai owners would want to watch out for. ...

In Green Bay. ... Following up on a previous item, Vernand Morency is coming into camp knowing that he has every opportunity to win the starting job. He helped his cause this offseason by adding 10 pounds of "lean muscle" and is now up to 220.

Those additional 10 pounds could make a world of difference when it comes to shedding would-be tacklers. So long as his speed isn't negatively affected, he could legitimately improve on his 4.5 yards per carry average.

The only real obstacle Morency faces from now to the start of the season is winning the job. Rookie running back Brandon Jackson has gotten rave reviews, while there have also been a few reports that the Packers could use a running back by committee. ...

Moving on to a few non-running-back related items. ...

In Pittsburgh. ... According to the Associated Press, the Steelers continue to roll through their offseason program and we continue to learn more details about their plans for the upcoming season under a new coaching regime.

Among those details are new offensive looks on first and second downs that may involve four receivers and no fullback. The offensive checkoff system has been altered so quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be responsible for all changes at the line of scrimmage; before, the linemen and receivers made their own such calls.

"Sometimes," Roethlisberger said, "change isn't necessarily bad."

Sometimes, in fact, it can be a good thing.

According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffer Ed Bouchette, Roethlisberger got some especially good news from new coordinator Bruce Arians this past week.

"He said 'This is your offense; you tell me what you like and don't like,'" Roethlisberger explained.

And what does Big Ben like?

He wants to use the no-huddle offense more often.

As Bouchette reminded readers, it was a big topic during training camp last year but never really materialized during the season. Roethlisberger believes it will in 2007.

"I like the way he wants to run the no-huddle," the quarterback said. "Last year, we talked and talked and talked about doing it and never did it. We did it in the preseason against coach [Mike] Tomlin and Minnesota -- we marched down the field and I was done for the rest of the game. It was great. And then we never saw it.

"I like that he wants to do that and I truly believe this year that we will do it."

According to Bouchette, they will do much more of it if Roethlisberger can run it the way he did in practice this past Wednesday.

"He just had one of the best practices I've ever seen him have, and it was the no-huddle package," Arians said then. "He ran it to perfection -- smooth, without a hitch, his completion percentage is way up right now.

"I'm real pleased. I couldn't ask for anything more. His snap count, he's doing a great job with it, we're not jumping offsides. Those little things can create big things and make you a better offense."

The Steelers' new offense won't look like the Colts', but a bigger dose of the no-huddle seems in order. The Steelers will use the no-huddle in both the shotgun formation and with Roethlisberger under center.

"We have 60-some plays in that no-huddle package that I can call," Roethlisberger said.

In other words, Arians is ready to unleash his fourth-year signal caller.

Whereas the coaches protected Roethlisberger in his first few years, they are now allowing him to call audibles, call the pass protections and, as he hopes, run more no-huddle.

It could make for a very interesting season. ...

In Miami. ... Among the many tasks facing new head coach Cam Cameron is getting the most out of his offensive skill players.

And as Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson recently suggested, two players in particular, wideout Chris Chambers (coming off his most disappointing season as a pro) and tight end David Martin (trying to make the transition from Packer backup to Dolphins starter), need to emerge (or in the case of Chambers, re-emerge) as major factors.

According to Jackson, much of the burden falls on Chambers (and whoever winds up under center) after his receptions dropped from 82 to 59, yards from 1,118 to a career-low 677 and touchdowns from 11 (third in the NFL) to four.

Chambers asserts this offense "definitely" will maximize his skills. Among the differences: He's "moving all over the place again" in formations and will play in the slot at times, as he did in 2005. He expects more patterns "that I can use my speed on" -- including more deep balls.

"When I was with Norv Turner in the same type of system, I flourished," he said. "It's geared toward guys that can run."

Chambers has noticed Cameron "demands a lot of players" and "loves perfection."

When Chambers "missed a ball" in warmups last month, Cameron told him: "It's your last dropped ball" of the mini-camp.

Chambers said he missed another pass and spent the rest of that day's drills playing the slot, with Derek Hagan lining up in Chambers' customary position. "He sent a little message to me," Chambers said. "I liked that. It got me going."

Meanwhile, the Dolphins gambled that Martin (21 catches as Bubba Franks' backup in '06) will be an upgrade over Randy McMichael, cut after a 62-reception season.

"I'm not saying he's Antonio Gates, but he's going to be used in that fashion," general manager Randy Mueller said of San Diego's All-Pro tight end, whose offense Cameron ran.

Though the Dolphins believe Martin, 28, can stretch the field, he averaged fewer yards per reception last year (9.4) than McMichael (10.3). And he dropped six of 39 passes thrown toward him (15.4 percent), compared with 11 of 92 (11.9 percent) for McMichael.

It's also worth noting that Martin has as many catches in six injury-plagued seasons (87) as McMichael did in his previous 22 games. ...

Also in Miami. ... Daunte Culpepper said Friday he has not asked the Dolphins to clarify his status despite reports that he likely will be traded or released after the team acquires Trent Green.

Meanwhile, Culpepper cautioned that "it's not going to be a cakewalk" for Green -- or any player -- who joins the Dolphins.

Green said this week that he wants to play for the Dolphins and believes he would be given a "much more fair chance" to win the starting job in Miami than in Kansas City.

Culpepper, asked about Green's comments, told the Herald: "For a guy, for anybody who thinks that whatever their situation is where they're at and they're coming here, and it's going to be peaches and cream, that's not the case."

Culpepper said he hopes he's given a chance to compete for the starting job in training camp but indicated he feels no urgency for the Dolphins to tell him whether he's in their plans.

Culpepper continues to participate in some on-field work and expects to do more during the mini-camp June 8-10. Culpepper said he's "close" to 100 percent but not there yet. ...

At this point, given the team's obvious focus on acquiring Green -- and almost certainly inserting him into the starting lineup, Culpepper's best bet might be maintaining the "not there yet" stance until he's working out for other interested teams. ...

In Oakland. ... Head coach Lane Kiffin said former Vikings receiver Travis Taylor was signed to increase competition. Kiffin was asked if the move sent a message to the idle Mike Williams.

"I don't know, you have to ask Mike that," Kiffin said. "I would hope so."

Williams and quarterback Josh McCown were acquired in a trade with the Lions last month. A highly touted playmaker from USC, Williams did little in Detroit. So far with the Raiders, Williams has scarcely played because of a leg pull.

According to San Francisco Chronicle staffer Kevin Lynch, Taylor, who signed as an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, is a legitimate player who could win the starting flanker job.

"Here's a guy who had over 30 catches for six or seven years in a row," Kiffin said.

Even though Taylor has 311 receptions for 4,013 yards and 22 touchdowns, he hasn't quite lived up to being chosen 10th overall by the Ravens in the 2000 draft. He also had the misfortune of falling in Randy Moss' wake. He was acquired by the Vikings after Moss left for Oakland. Now with Moss in New England, Taylor comes to Oakland.

"No, don't give me that responsibility. It takes a lot to replace that guy," Taylor said. Should Taylor replicate last year's production (57 catches, 651 yards and three touchdowns) he'll have more than replaced Moss, who had 42 catches for 553 yards and three scores in 2006. ...

And finally this week. ... According to Philadelphia Daily News staffer Paul Domowitch, revisions in last year's collective bargaining agreement, which dramatically reduced the financial consequences of a holdout, combined with some of the ludicrous free-agent contracts that were handed out this offseason, could trigger a rash of veteran holdouts this summer.

Previously, a club was able to write language into a player's contract that allowed it to recover the remaining portion of the player's signing bonus if he held out or failed in any way to honor his contract.

But the amendments that were added to last year's CBA extension changed that. Now, if a player holds out, a team can only reclaim 25 percent of the prorated portion of the signing bonus amount for 1 year.

In other words, if a player signed a 5-year contract that included a $10 million signing bonus, a team only can take back $500,000.

"You're going to see an upsurge in holdouts of players under contract," Eagles president Joe Banner told Domowitch. "I think [it will be] dramatic. And it's mainly because of the gutting of the signing-bonus language."

It should make for a fun summer. ...

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.