News & Info/Headlines
The dedicated staff here at FootballDiehards World-Wide Headquarters -- yours truly included -- have been putting our most diligent effort into creating this year's Fantasy Football Pro Forecast and DraftBook magazines. With deadlines imminent, the focus has been on final touches.
Which reminds me. ... Those interested can place orders for all four FSP Fantasy annuals, including the Pro Forecast and DraftBook, on our secure, on-line Order Page. When your order is complete, head back this way, for yet another theme-based Notebook. This time? Receiver-related news and notes of interest.
We'll get the ball rolling in Kansas City, where one year after setting an NFL record with 416 carries, All-Pro tailback Larry Johnson will likely become an ever bigger part of Kansas City's offense in 2007.
So says head coach Herman Edwards, who on Wednesday expressed his intentions to get Johnson more touches not as a tailback -- but as a receiver.
"That's the next step in his development as a running back in this league: His ability to come out of the backfield running routes," Edwards said. "We need to get the ball to our backs a little more than we did last year."
As Kansas City Star staffer Jason King reminded readers, Johnson caught a respectable 41 passes for 410 yards in 2006, but Edwards said that number should rise to at least 60 this season. He said Johnson's bullish running style and 6-1, 230-pound frame are ideal for a back who doubles as a receiver.
"If you've got athletic players like Larry who can catch the ball out of the backfield, they can make plays," Edwards said. "If he catches 60 passes. ... To me it's like an extended run. It's almost like a toss play.
"He's out of harm's way and he's in the secondary already when he gets the ball, so he doesn't have to run through the defensive line. When you can do that with a guy who has some speed and is hard to tackle already in the open field because he's so big and strong, it gives you another weapon."
Of course, before he begins to worry about gaining yards, Johnson has to catch the ball first. Simple as the task may seem, it's not always easy for running backs -- especially those who haven't been utilized in such a fashion before.
But Johnson isn't without receiving skills. After all, he's pulled in 74 passes the last two years. He also snared 41 passes as a senior at Penn State.
Edwards said it's been obvious during the Chiefs' organized team activities the last two weeks that Johnson is focused on enhancing his role as a receiver.
"He's been the leader of the backs," Edwards said. "He's finishing all his plays. He's very conscientious of coming out of the backfield and being a productive pass-catcher. He's working on being more defined in his routes."
That would be a good thing.
As Edwards suggested, there's a big difference between pounding the ball up the gut and taking on opposing defenders in open space after catching a pass. And after a 400-plus carry season, limiting wear and tear on Johnson without cutting too deeply into his overall touches would be a very good thing. ...
In Seattle. ... According to Seahawks Insider staffer Mike Kahn, this fall is Deion Branch's time and he knows it. With a full off-season of training with the Seahawks as opposed to coming in a trade from New England for a No. 1 draft choice after the 2006 NFL season had already begun.
Despite being limited to just 13 starts, Branch still managed to haul in 53 passes for 725 yards on the fly.
Now, the 27-year-old former second round draft choice and Super Bowl XXXIX MVP for the Patriots, expects to make a more consistent and dominant impact after being moved to flanker from split end last season.
Of course, playing receiver for the Seahawks also means you will play flanker, split end, slot, constantly go in motion, and even on occasion come out of the backfield.
Generally speaking, though, he's now the Seahawks starting flanker.
According to Kahn, the Seahawks moved Branch to flanker because it means he's usually a yard-and-a-half off the line of scrimmage and it gives him more room to utilize his quickness coming off the ball without getting jammed.
"I think it helps any receiver if they know where they are going to play," head coach Mike Holmgren said. "We move guys around when we bring in three and four wide receivers. The advantage the flanker has is he is off the ball, most of the time. It is a little bit easier getting off press coverage -- that is one thing. We can move him. He is a motion guy, he can move. He can wind up in different positions. He has to learn it.
"My expectations for him haven't changed. When we signed him I knew we signed a great football player. ... I expect him to have a great year. He is a good football player. I expect him to have a great year there."
With Darrell Jackson having been traded for a fourth round pick on the second day of the draft, Branch, D.J. Hackett, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson will be the top four receivers in receivers coach Nolan Cromwell's groupings.
Cromwell loves to keep all the receivers involved at all the different spots as the schemes continuously change.
"Any position is going to suit Deion," Cromwell said. "He's very athletic, he knows what to do. He studies. He works at it hard. Whatever he position he's at, he'll be effective. We mix it up quite a bit with him and everybody else. Him learning our offense, then being more comfortable learning more than one position and the terminology of how we do things will be big for him and us.
"This way we can put him in formations at all types of positions so the defense can't key in on where he'll be at any one time."
The move to flanker won't be the only positive change for Branch. A full offseason and training camp to work with Matt Hasselbeck should certainly help the cause. ...
In Miami -- following up on an item in last weekend's Notebook. ... Among the changes this offseason have been a switch from defensive-minded coach Nick Saban to Cam Cameron, considered an offensive guru. And as Miami Herald staffer Jeff Darlington noted, for Chris Chambers, it has also meant spending the past month adjusting to a new role at receiver.
This after Chambers was moved from the Z position to X receiver. It's a subtle change that could have substantial results.
As Darlington went on to explain, Chambers would line up primarily on the less-crowded side of some formations, leaving him more space to exploit mismatches.
Cameron said Chambers seems to have embraced the change through the initial stages of off-season workouts.
"He's progressing," said Cameron, who has moved at least four starters to new positions. "It sounds crazy -- a Pro Bowl player, a veteran guy, progressing. But that's what it's all about. The minute you quit getting better in this business, you're on the way out. He's still getting better."
The hope is that Chambers will rekindle his Pro Bowl production from 2005, when he had 82 catches, 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns. But those numbers dipped to just 59 catches for a career-low 677 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Chambers' franchise record of five consecutive seasons as the Dolphins' leader in receiving yards ended.
With Daunte Culpepper's future in doubt as the Dolphins pursue Kansas City's Trent Green, the quarterback situation appears as unstable as it was last season. But the trust factor has been resolved, Chambers said.
According to Darlington, Chambers takes comfort in this fact: When Cameron was the coordinator in San Diego, his offense was just as prolific when it was run by Philip Rivers last season as it was when Drew Brees ran it in 2005.
The Chargers led the NFL in scoring (30.8) and were fourth in total yards last season. The Dolphins were 29th in scoring (16.2) and 29th in offense.
I'm not looking for the Dolphins to suddenly produce at a Chargeresque clip right off the bat, but it's hard to imagine the entire unit -- Chambers included -- improving noticeably.
Chambers agrees. His goals are to finish with close to 80 catches and 10 touchdowns. More power to him -- although I'll be watching for resolution of the quarterback situation before getting too excited. ...
In Houston. ... As soon as the Texans released Eric Moulds prior to free agency, head coach Gary Kubiak named Moulds' replacement.
As Houston Chronicle staffer Megan Manfull reported, Kubiak didn't hesitate and he didn't dismiss the question until training camp. Kubiak made it clear he wanted Kevin Walter as the No. 2 target for quarterback Matt Schaub.
After weeks of watching film of the 2006 season, Kubiak kicked himself for rarely utilizing Walter.
"I think what you're looking at right there is a player that earned the right to play," Kubiak said. "I went back and watched our film, and it felt like if I gave Kevin Walter more chances to make plays, we win a few more games. That's what he is. He's an overachiever, so to speak, a tremendous worker. His teammates can count on him.
"He's going to win out because of his work ethic in the long haul, and that's what we want around here."
Of course, as Manfull pointed out, Walter doesn't enter the starting lineup with credentials like Moulds'.
Instead of four 1,000-yard seasons, Walter has just one in which he cracked 200.
But opportunities have been hard to find for Walter. He spent his first three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, a team which thought he had a promising future but already had two established young receivers in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
When he arrived with the Texans last season, he fell in behind Johnson and Moulds. Walter finished with just 17 receptions for 160 yards and had only three receptions in the Texans' final five-game stretch in December.
The good news? In the first two weeks of organized team activities, Walter's play stood out to Kubiak. He made some big catches on the field and also showed the work ethic for which he's becoming known.
"Kevin is a go-getter," Schaub said. "He wants to get better. He's a hard-worker, and he gives 110 percent every single play no matter what he's doing, whether he's running a route or blocking. He's a guy you want on your side."
With Walter starting opposite Johnson, the Texans have a young receiving corps. Andre' Davis and Charlie Adams are 27, Walter and Johnson are 25, Jerome Mathis and David Anderson are 23, and Jacoby Jones is 22.
Walter is sticking closest to Johnson, trying to absorb all he can from the two-time Pro Bowler. Walter did the same when he was playing alongside Chad Johnson and Houshmandzadeh.
"Andre is a class-act on and off the field," Walter said. "He works extremely hard, and I'm just working to try to be like him."
That's exactly what Kubiak wants to hear.
"It's very important, him and Andre working side by side," Kubiak said. "You know what you're going to get from [Andre]. You're never going to get anything out of his mouth other than, 'What do you want me to do?' The more guys we've got like that, the more ground we're going to make up."
Hard to argue that point. ...
In Cleveland. ... Braylon Edwards' one-day absence at the start of Browns' voluntary off-season practices evidently cost him his starting spot -- for now.
In the 90-minute practice open to the media on Tuesday, Cleveland Plain Dealer beat man Tony Grossi reports that Edwards worked mostly with the third-team offense. In position drills, Edwards was the last receiver in line.
"I don't know, talk to coach Romeo [Crennel] about that," Edwards said after practice. "It's a situation where guys were here, got the reps and put something in place. And we go from there. Coach told me that's where I was at, so who am I to complain?"
Edwards said he missed the first practice last week because of "a family deal, which was very unavoidable." He said he wants to keep it private.
"I'd like to move past [last] Tuesday," he said.
It might be worth noting the initial story explaining his absence claimed it was in connection with his recent pledge of up to $1 million to assist Cleveland-area students. Interesting that it changed. ...
Meanwhile, Crennel told reporters there was "no significance at all" to Edwards' place in the receiver rotation.
"He's kind of learning the system," the coach said. "It's not the same system that was in place last year. He did miss a day, so he's probably just a little bit behind.
"I told the guys the depth chart is not in stone. We're going to move it around a little bit so that we can evaluate the guys and they can learn the system and not work with the same group all the time."
Edwards has attended each of the five off-season practices after missing the first, yet he still hasn't caught up and reclaimed his starting spot?
"That's on Romeo," Edwards said. "I'm not really pressed about it. Today is May 29. At the end of the day, when I'm starting [in] September -- whatever, that's all that matters. It's all [about] learning right now."
In Edwards' place, newly acquired Tim Carter was the starting wideout opposite Joe Jurevicius on Tuesday. On the first play of team drills, a Charlie Frye pass bounced off Carter's chest. According to Grossi, other players also struggled holding on to passes -- long, intermediate and short.
It's also worth noting the new offense of coordinator Rob Chudzinski is more complicated than what was run here the past two years, according to Edwards.
"I think for us [receivers], we're all over the place," he said. "At any given time, we can be playing any [receiver] position in this offense. So I have to worry about everybody. Last year, everything was tagged. What I mean is they told you where to go.
"This offense is not tagged. Everything is numbers, formation, concepts. So you have to remember concepts as it applies to [each of the receiver positions]."
Nevertheless, Edwards remains an optimist at heart and Grossi reports the former first-round pick is enthused about the coming season.
"This offense will be something special. It can give the defense a chance not to be on the field as much or give the defense the chance to not play from behind as much," he said.
And if Edwards can help himself, he intends to be less outspoken than he was a year ago.
"This year I'm just gonna do what I have to do and I don't have to talk about it," he said. "We're all professionals. Everyone gets paid to do a job, so who am I to try and say what those guys should do?
"Nobody talked to me [about toning it down] and I don't think a light went off. I just read the response and saw the way in which I was perceived. It's a situation where I don't want to be in last year's category.
"I don't want that type of press, negative or positive, about me."
Showing up for workouts as expected would be a good start. ...
In Oakland. ... When Jerry Porter switched his number this offseason, he said he was ready for a new start and a new attitude after feuding last season with former coach Art Shell.
That attitude change has a price, though, and Porter is not willing to pay it.
The Oakland Raiders receiver said Wednesday he would have to pay $210,000 to switch his uniform from No. 84 to 81 in order to reimburse the team and Reebok for the cost of the unsold jerseys.
"Man, there's a couple of nice cars I'd like to get for that money," Porter said. "I could buy a nice vacation home, or at least go half on one with someone else."
NFL spokesman Steve Alic told the Associated Press that Porter could wait until next year, when the supply of unsold shirts would be depleted and the cost would be less, before making the change.
"The more advance notice a player can provide when requesting a number change, the less chance there is of financial ramifications," Alic said.
Porter was still wearing No. 81 at the Raiders' practice on Wednesday, but said he would switch back to his old number for the season even though he liked the new look.
"It's slimming," he said. "It's faster. It was working. Oh well."
Porter had a run-in with Shell over off-season workout plans soon after the coach was hired last February. The receiver also made public a trade demand at the start of training camp. Porter was inactive the first four games of the season and then suspended for insubordination.
The suspension was cut from four games to two after an appeal, but Porter played only sparingly after that, finishing the season with one catch.
That's what led to Porter's desire for the change and his new coach has liked his receiver's attitude.
"We couldn't ask more of what he's doing right now," Lane Kiffin said. "He's here every day. He's here early, he's staying late, he's working hard.
"He looks like he's out here like he's trying to win a spot, and he is."
Kiffin is counting on Porter to play a key role on the offense, especially following the off-season trade of Randy Moss to New England. Porter led the team in receptions in 2004 and '05 with 140 catches for 1,940 yards and 14 touchdowns over the two seasons.
He joins Ronald Curry and recently acquired Travis Taylor as the top receivers on the roster for a team that went 2-14 and scored just 12 offensive touchdowns last season.
In Denver. ... "Daniel Graham will catch 55 passes in his first season with the Broncos." So said Denver Post staffer Jim Armstrong. Much more interesting than Armstrong's prediction is the fact that Mike Heimerdinger agreed with it.
"I don't think you're off," Heimerdinger, the Broncos' assistant head coach/offense, told Armstrong this week. "The tight end has always been a big part of this offense. We should be able to get him the ball."
Graham catching 55 balls?
The guy averaged 24 a season in five years with the Patriots. Not only that, no Broncos tight end has caught more than 37 since Shannon Sharpe retired.
But as Armstrong argued, Graham left New England so he could be a bigger factor in the passing game. It's not like the Broncos had a glaring need at the position, having used a second-rounder on a tight end in 2006, but their coaches believe Graham is a big-time receiver waiting to happen.
Let the record show the Broncos feel even more strongly about Graham after seeing him at the team's off-season camps.
"It was how he was used at New England," said Heimerdinger, explaining Graham's career high of 38 catches. "He's done some things even better out here than I thought he could as a route runner. I didn't know he was that good a route runner."
Good enough to catch 55 passes?
Said Heimerdinger: "If he keeps doing what he's doing, I would hope we get him the ball that many times. We need to get him the ball. ..."
Graham getting 50-plus catches is certainly interesting in theory. But it's just that. A theory. I'd still prefer second-year man to be Tony Scheffler over Graham if I had to pick today -- even knowing Scheffler is coming off surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot performed earlier this week. ...
In Minnesota. ... Vikings receivers coach George Stewart said it's too early to say who's starting, but Bobby Wade is the clear No. 1 by virtue of his 101 receptions in four seasons with the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans while second-round draft choice Sidney Rice and former starter Troy Williamson are considered the leading candidates for the other spot.
According to St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Don Seeholzer, Rice and Williamson have looked good during recent OTAs, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell indicated Rice has made a strong impression.
The rest of the receiving corps is a mixed bag, from draft choices Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams to veterans Billy McMullen and Randy Hymes to rookie free agent Todd Lowber, a former track star who never has played organized football.
A rather motley crew that leads one to question how much help they'll be to still-developing signal caller Tarvaris Jackson. ...
In New York. ... As Newark Star-Ledger beat man Mike Garafolo suggested, just when you thought it was happy hand-holding time at the Giants' off-season workout program, Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey pulled a disappearing act.
Neither players was in attendance for organized team activities this past week at the Meadowlands.
Eli Manning said Shockey was not in attendance at either of the first two OTAs that were not open to the media. But he did confirm that both Shockey and Burress participated in passing drills earlier this month.
"I don't know when they're here or not," Manning said. "You have to ask them."
When asked if he was bothered by the players' absence or if he's simply accepted their sporadic attendance, Manning said, "[I] accept it."
Or as the rest of us might have said: Yes. ...
In Dallas. ... Terrell Owens will get his $3 million roster bonus from the Cowboys even though, like several other starters, he hasn't been practicing with the team this week.
Owens will get that bonus, plus a $5 million salary for the 2007 season, since he was still on the roster Friday, when he was again absent from voluntary organized team activities.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had repeatedly said since the end of last season that Owens, who had 85 catches for 1,180 yards and an NFL-high 13 touchdowns, would remain with the team.
The Cowboys gave Owens, who did take part in a mandatory mini-camp last month, a $25 million, three-year contract when they signed him in the spring of 2006. ...
And finally this week, in Cincinnati. ... Chad Johnson is used to testing his speed against the NFL's best defensive backs. But on June 9, Johnson will try his luck against some four-legged opposition.
To benefit the charity "Feed the Children," Johnson will try to match strides with a 4-year-old colt named Restore the Roar over a turf course.
The event is billed as "Man vs. Beast."
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the horse will break from the inside from a starting gate at the eighth pole, and Johnson will break from the outside rail going 11/16 of a mile to the wire. The distances are calculated to create a photo finish.
It's worth noting that Johnson won't be the first Bengal to race a horse in this fashion. In July 1993, Cris Collinsworth attempted the feat and came up a nose short at the wire. ...
That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday -- undoubtedly with a robust edition. ... 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.