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Fantasy Notebook: Cards Will Run, But WRs Will Get Theirs
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... Although the NFL has done a phenomenal job of turning their league into a year-round reality show (one that many of us have watched on a daily basis all offseason), is there anything that gets the ol' football juices flowing like the first week of exhibition play? I can't think of anything -- certainly nothing until Week 1 of regular-season play.

Not surprisingly, the start of pre-season play means more news. ... Check that. Tons of news. Certainly more than can be dealt with effectively here in the weekly Notebook. What's that? You need to know every pertinent training-camp detail. Not a problem; check out the AugustUpdate Pre-Season News & Notes page. That'll keep you busy for a few minutes.

With that out of the way, we can get back to what the Notebook does best: Going a little more in-depth on some of the upcoming season's top offenses and Fantasy prospects.

We'll get the ball rolling in Arizona, where the early word out of Cardinals training camp says new positions, a new offense and the new coaching staff won't make Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin any less dangerous.

While Fitzgerald and Boldin already have Pro Bowls on their resume and huge statistical years in their pockets -- and they're clearly the Cards' most lethal offensive weapons, some observers have expressed concerns about how they'll fit in new head coach Ken Whisenhunt's new offense.

After watching the first week of training camp practices, staffer Darren Urban offered the following take: "Somehow, that doesn't seem like it will be an issue. ..."

What leads Urban to this conclusion? The ball simply never hits the ground during practice sessions. When the Cards run 7-on-7 drills, the two are close to perfect. Same with 11-on-11.

Perhaps the real question is how the two will fare in Whisenhunt's scheme, widely considered a run-first offense. That probably isn't a fair assessment. Will the Cardinals rely heavily on a power-rushing attack? Absolutely. But not to the exclusion of a passing attack. insider Peter King might have put it best when he wrote: "Whisenhunt is not Woody Hayes. He's not Mike Martz either."

Indeed, Whisenhunt has proven to be a bold, fearless play caller adept at creating favorable matchups both on the ground and through the air. His strengths include the creative use of formations, motion and personnel packages.

And make no mistake about it: Whisenhunt is sharp enough to use the talent on hand.

Four 100-yard games this season will make Boldin the most prolific receiver in that category in team history. Twice, Boldin has hauled in 100 catches in a season. Last year, he had 83 receptions for 1,203 yards.

Fitzgerald already has nine career 100-yard games, including a career-high 172 yards on 11 receptions at Minnesota last season. He would have been an even greater factor last year had he not missed three games (and been limited in another) due to an injured hamstring.

Now both men are beginning to realize what might be within their reach in Whisenhunt's scheme.

Boldin told Urban there will be packages of him in the backfield, packages using him on the goal line. Whisenhunt has already promised Boldin will throw the ball at some point this season, and Boldin said the Cards will probably have a package in which he lines up at quarterback.

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, has the look of a guy headed back to Hawaii. By all accounts, he has shined as brightly as any other player on the roster. He has made the spectacular catch time and again.

According to Urban, Whisenhunt has noticed Fitzgerald's play.

The coach has also noticed Fitzgerald's focus on the little things, like finishing plays, blocking and route running. Any worries about lingering issues following last year's injury-marred campaign or the firing of close family friend Dennis Green have been dispelled.

In fact, Fitzgerald seems determined to raise his level of stardom.

Fitzgerald is at the "X" receiver position, the one that mostly stays stationary, allowing Boldin to be the "Z" and the one in motion. That plays to both players' strengths. It also underscores what Fitzgerald said was Whisenhunt's greatest coaching attribute: The ability to look at a player, know what he does well and put him in the right spot.

While Boldin will run the ball and throw it, Fitzgerald said he is content to play pass catcher. He smiles about Whisenhunt's desire to run the ball, joking if the Cardinals can pass the ball 60 percent of the time, "That's a great split. We can win a lot of games and keep everyone happy."

Which brings me back to the original point: It isn't what the duo is used to, but it is starting to make sense, this idea of using two star receivers in an offense designed to make defenses fear the run. After seeing how they are doing in training camp, Whisenhunt isn't going to forget to use them.

"If they have to put eight guys in the box and we get one-on-one coverage with Larry or Anquan," Whisenhunt said, "I like our odds."

I'm with him. And if Matt Leinart progresses as expected under Whisenhunt -- the coach who brought the best out in a healthy Ben Roethlisberger -- I'm convinced that both Fitzgerald and Boldin can be every bit as productive as they've been in the past. ...

In Atlanta. ... An evaluation of the past three seasons indicates that the Falcons' passing attack - which ranked 32nd in the league last season - should improve under Joey Harrington.

"Based on our numbers Joey Harrington was a better passer than Michael Vick in two of the last three seasons and they were basically equal in 2005 as passers," Aaron Schatz, the lead writer of Pro Football Prospectus 2007, which does a statistical analysis of the NFL, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.

Schatz and the writers from have come up with different ways to measure a quarterback's effectiveness.

"Our DVOA [Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average] rating is where we break down every play during the season and we compare it to the league average and adjust for opponents," Schatz said. "Based on that over the last few years, Harrington ranked 28, 28 and 32nd for '04, '05 and '06. Vick ranked 36, 26 and 37."

As Journal-Constitution staffer D. Orlando Ledbetter pointed out, the DVOA doesn't account for Vick's rushing yards.

"The thing about the running ability with Vick is that he broke open games, but it also caused him to give up on passing plays early," Schatz said. "The running ability made Vick more of a risk-and-reward guy."

And if Friday night's exhibition opener against the Jets is any indication, things could work out okay. Harrington completed four passes for 66 yards -- including a 22-yard third-down hookup with Joe Horn and a 37-yard third-down connection with Dwayne Blakley -- to lead Atlanta to its first score, albeit in a losing effort.

He finished 6-of-9 for 88 yards, a passer rating of 98.4 and with a great deal more confidence than he's expressed up to this point in his career.

"My confidence level is miles beyond what it was in Miami and Detroit," Harrington said. "I feel so much better as a person and player right now than I have in my time in the NFL. I feel it's showing up in my play."

Four receivers, including Jerious Norwood, caught passes from Harrington, who played the entire first quarter. Two incompletions came on overthrown balls to Roddy White on deep passes. The other was thrown behind Michael Jenkins. Harrington threw three times on Atlanta's first four plays.

"Joey was on point," said Horn. "He was on top of his game, and that impressed me. He knew the defenses and he had great timing with the receivers."

All in all, an encouraging debut. But it's only a debut and there's plenty of data that suggests the Falcons will not be better off with Harrington.

Vick has a 40-30-1 record as a starter, including a 2-2 mark in the playoffs. Harrington has a 23-43 career record with no playoff appearances. Vick has a quarterback rating of 75.1 to Harrington's 68.1.

In the all-important, touchdown-to-interception ratio, Vick has a huge edge. He has thrown 71 touchdowns and 52 interceptions. Harrington has 72 touchdown passes and 77 interceptions.

Still, Harrington doesn't view himself as a stop-gap player.

"I'm not looking to fill a void," Harrington said. "I'm looking to do my job. There are things that Michael did well, and there are things I do well. I'm not looking to fill anybody's shoes. I'm looking to do my best to contribute to this team and do it in the way I know how to."

Bottom line? Harrington has a long way to go before he sheds his reputation as ineffective player. But we've all seen players turn careers around with new teams -- Rich Gannon in Oakland comes immediately to mind -- and there's a chance Harrington is one of those guys in the right place at the right time.

In Philadelphia. ... As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi reminded readers this week, Brian Westbrook has overcome stereotypes throughout his career. ... Undersized. Injury-prone. Third-down back.

With every carry and each catch during his first five seasons with the Eagles, Westbrook has proved he's one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL.

But according to Maaddi, that label isn't enough. Westbrook hopes to be mentioned among the elite players at his position.

"I want to be one of the best running backs in the game," said Westbrook, who was excused from training camp on Wednesday for personal reasons.

Can he make good on that desire?

Westbrook is coming off his best season as a pro. He surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the first time, finishing at 1,217. His average of 5.1 yards per carry was a franchise-record and he ran for seven touchdowns. Westbrook also had a career-high 77 catches for 699 yards and four TDs. No other back averaged more yards per touch (6.0) or per catch (9.1) last year.

Despite his diminutive size, Westbrook has long insisted he's a workhorse-type back capable of carrying the ball 20-25 times per game. But head coach Andy Reid's offensive philosophy always had been pass first. It wasn't until Donovan McNabb went down with a season-ending knee injury last year that Reid sought a more-balanced approach centered on Westbrook.

And Westbrook delivered. He ran for over 100 yards four times in seven games without McNabb, including twice in the playoffs and excluding a meaningless regular-season finale.

With McNabb returning, Westbrook's workload could decrease slightly. Tony Hunt, a third-round pick, also could take some of the goal-line or short-yardage carries.

Still, the offense took on a different identity last season with Westbrook in the forefront. So, with Reid willing to let offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who took over the play-calling duties after McNabb was hurt last year, continue in the play-calling role this year, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Westbrook continues to serve as the team's primary offensive weapon as McNabb works his way back up to full speed. ...

In Indianapolis. ... The Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts offense has been among the NFL's most potent the past four seasons, ranking No. 1 in scoring in what was a historic 2004 and No. 2 the other three years.

But as Indianapolis Star beat man Mike Chappell noted this week, that doesn't mean the team's primary offensive weapons are satisfied with their accomplishments.

"There's always more," Reggie Wayne confirmed. "The sky's the limit for this offense. I don't see any stop sign nowhere."

Not surprisingly, the standard by which the Colts measure themselves is the 2004 season. That's when Manning eclipsed Dan Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes (49) and shattered Steve Young's quarterback rating record (121.1, to Young's 112.8). The Colts' 522 points were a franchise record and league best.

The offense remained one of the NFL's premier units a year ago, ranking No. 2 in scoring, No. 3 in total offense and No. 2 in passing. However, there is room for improvement.

Manning and head coach Tony Dungy said the offense can challenge the numbers put up by the '04 squad. That includes Manning exceeding 40 TD passes, which a quarterback has done only four times in NFL history.

"We talked about that a lot," Manning said of offseason conversations with coordinator Tom Moore and assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. "In '04 we kind of had an onslaught with the touchdowns and the rating and having three receivers with over 10 touchdowns.

"You'd like to get back to that level."

Dungy won't be surprised if the offense does that.

"I just think we didn't play as well as we could play last year," he said. "We have room to improve. We can do some things better."

In Miami. ... Trent Green, like several teammates, have been raving about new head coach Cam Cameron's offense, noting its "long track record of success." So what should Fantasy owners expect from an offense that has been used, with variations, by Don Coryell, Norv Turner, Martz and others?

In an article published earlier this month, Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson compiled a sneak peek at the possibilities from those who might best know.

Cameron's greatest strength as a play-caller? "He knows how to counter any defense," Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "He made our offense so explosive by creating match-up problems. He forces people to play the way they don't want to play, forces you to put a linebacker on a receiver. Miami's offense is definitely going to be better."

Cameron will call the plays in Miami this season.

Chargers radio analyst Hank Bauer, a former player and assistant coach, said "the beautiful thing about" Cameron's offense "is its flexibility -- its multiple personnel groupings and formations. It's as much shifting and movement as any team and great coaches do that. That creates confusion. Defenses are calling signals and often that communication breaks down and you've got guys running free."

Look for Cameron to experiment with creative sets, Bauer said.

In San Diego, Bauer said Cameron used five receivers at times and surprised people by passing out of one set featuring three tight ends, a running back and a fullback.

"Expect the unexpected -- reverse passes, halfback passes, throwbacks to the quarterback," Bauer said. 'You'll see something and say, `I can't believe he did that.' It makes defenses tentative."

Meanwhile, Chris Chambers is pleased he'll line up in the slot at times, unlike last year.

Chambers also complained one year about not being able to adjust his route during a play. Cameron's system allows that at times, Green said. "If you're running a 12-yard comeback, that will be run three or four ways depending on how the defensive back is playing," Bauer said. "It's impossible to stop."

Bauer said when the Chargers "didn't think we could run against a great defense, we ran a hot swing pass" to the running back. The question, though, is will that play be anywhere near as successful with Ronnie Brown or Lorenzo Booker as it was with Tomlinson?

Whatever the case, Brown expects to catch more passes, like Tomlinson did.

This brings us to San Diego, where new head coach Turner is looking for ways to get Tomlinson even more involved in the passing game than Cameron did.

"LT is such a good route runner and is so good at catching the football that we're going to really use him as much as we can in that area," Turner said this week.

Turner knows how to get running backs involved in the passing game.

With the Raiders in 2005, LaMont Jordan led all NFL running backs with 70 receptions. Last season, San Francisco's Frank Gore tied for third among running backs with 61 catches.

Of course, Tomlinson's role in the passing game has been central to the offense since his arrival in San Diego. Over his six-year career, LT has averaged 66 receptions per season. He and former Cardinals FB Larry Centers are the only backs in NFL history to catch 100 passes in one season.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for another 100-catch season, but seeing Tomlinson surpass his career average (66 catches) wouldn't surprise me in the least. ...

In New York. ... Brandon Jacobs, in the spotlight after two seasons as the short-yardage back, will try to fill the void left by Tiki Barber's retirement. The coaching staff and those who follow the team closely have high hopes for his success.

According to New York Newsday staffer Arthur Staple, the Giants don't want the overall running game to change too much, though how the backs accomplish that will be different. Barber's exceptional vision and ability to see two and three moves ahead will be replaced by the 6-4, 265-pound Jacobs' raw power, though Jacobs promises to show off some moves and try to avoid running over defenders.

But with Jacobs and the 5-11, 220-pound Reuben Droughns, the Giants will have a north-south running game they haven't had since perhaps Rodney Hampton.

"I'm trying to change my style up a little bit and try to mix it up, so you never know, I may be able to go back to running over and he can get a little jitter," Jacobs said. "We can switch it up every game."

But Droughns has been taking a back seat to Jacobs. "I'm just letting him flow," Droughns said Wednesday between practices. "He's got that type of mentality that he wants to be the guy you can count on. Right now, he's the starting running back."

Droughns' acknowledgement of Jacobs' No. 1 status doesn't mean much to Jacobs, who has no problem with Tom Coughlin's desire to keep the hot back on the field.

"Reuben can be out there, he could be hitting it and doing good and just making everything go," Jacobs said. "Me, I'd want to stay with him, too, if he is hot, and I hope he feels that way about me.

"It all depends on who's hot. Someone gets in a zone and there it is."

Sounds good; but if that someone is anybody but Jacobs, I'll be surprised. ...

In Cleveland. ... According to Yahoo! Sports correspondent Jason Cole, the words tattooed along the inside of Kellen Winslow's lower left arm is should be the motto of the Cleveland Browns:

"There is no success without struggle."

As Cole went on to suggest, "If years of struggling were the barometer of such things, Cleveland would be this season's Super Bowl favorite. But the Browns' current state pretty much dismisses that possibility. ..."

And caught in the Browns' web of misfortune have been Winslow and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, two players who must come through in a big way for Cleveland to have a realistic shot at getting the team pointed in the right direction.

While Winslow seems to have gained an understanding of his importance to the club, Edwards still has a ways to go.

"He has a lot of things going on and off the field that he wants to do," head coach Romeo Crennel said when asked about Edwards. "He's such a talented guy that everybody is looking to get him on all these endorsement, in clothing lines, all this stuff. I told him, 'You have to take care of football first and then all that stuff will come.' Do it on the field."

Fortunately, Edwards, who missed six games as a rookie in 2005 with a staph infection and a torn right ACL, is starting to get the message.

"Romeo has said a lot of things since I got here that have slowly started to set in," Edwards said. "I notice myself thinking about a situation and remembering what Romeo said."

Aside from focus, Edwards needs patience. During a loss late last season, he blew up on Frye, an incident that gained national attention.

"Everybody gets frustrated," said Winslow. "It's just that a [Terrell Owens], a Chad Johnson, a Braylon Edwards or a guy like me, they have a big name and the camera is going to be on them at all times. You have cameras on them at all times, so you have to watch when you say stuff.

"That was just frustration coming out at the wrong time. You have to learn from it and move on."

Winslow, of course, has found success after his own bout with distractions and frustration. Winslow, the No. 6 overall pick in 2004, missed all but two games his first two seasons. He broke a leg in his rookie season and a severely injured a knee in a 2005 motorcycle accident.

Winslow came back to catch 89 passes last season and is flashing brilliance in training camp. Moreover, he has an appreciation for the game from his two years in purgatory.

"This is all I ever wanted to do through my life from as early as I can remember and nothing is going to stop me from achieving what I want to do and being one of the best ever," Winslow said. "The accidents aren't going to stop me."

This despite the fact there's so much scar tissue in his knee that it takes Winslow an hour to warm up before practice. This offseason, he also had to have microfracture surgery on the knee to relieve pain from lost cartilage.

"Sometimes I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to practice, but I find a way. I have to work my way around it. Sometimes when I cut, it's really painful. I have to do things differently," Winslow said. "I think a lot of people wouldn't be playing through what I've been through."

It has to be equally hard, given everything the Browns have been through during that same time.

In Tennessee. ... According to the Sports Xchange, LenDale White had a very good first week of camp, doing all that was asked and fighting through a sore shoulder rather than asking out.

The Titans kept him out of contact periods for a day, but it would appear the second-year man is starting to understand what's required of him at the pro level -- something that hasn't always been a given.

As Nashville Tennessean staffer Jim Wyatt reminded readers on Saturday, in training camp last year he spit on a teammate and was suspended for the pre-season opener. Later he missed practices and games because of injuries or the flu. In the spring he showed up for workouts out of shape and overweight.

He was a no-show for a mini-camp practice, causing some teammates to publicly question his commitment.

Heading into Saturday night's pre-season opener against the Redskins, coaches and teammates said White seems to be doing his best to earn their trust.

"Can we trust him? Is he dependable? Can he do the job? Those are the questions he has to answer for the guys," running backs coach Sherman Smith said. "So far, he hasn't done anything to prove he can play in this league. He needs to go out there and do it. Not flashes here and there, but long term."

White has shared first-team reps with veteran Chris Brown during training camp. Teammates say they already have faith in Brown, who has 28 starts and 2,295 rushing yards. A rookie, second-round pick Chris Henry, is also in the mix.

But as Wyatt noted, White, who has finally made his prescribed playing weight of 240, arguably has the most upside and two weeks into camp the Titans are encouraged. "He's had a good attitude and has come in and gone about his business," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.

"We are expecting big things from LenDale," center Kevin Mawae said. "Whether he meets those expectations is completely up to him, but he is looking good right now."

White said he isn't sure he'll be able to prove himself much during pre-season games. Instead he's focused on practices, and he hasn't missed one since the start of camp. That he's battled through the shoulder issue and other soreness, taking the field when some teammates were given a day off, is clearly working in his favor.

Better still, White seems to understand that fact.

"Training camp is when you earn the trust of your teammates by busting your butt and working hard and showing you are in it for the fight," White said. "If you know you can practice you play through it."

Hey, it's a start. ...

In Detroit. ... A report published on Friday and repeated on local radio claimed that Kevin Jones would miss the Lions' first six regular-season games because of his foot injury. The team, however, quickly denied the rumor.

"That is absolutely untrue," Lions spokesman Bill Keenist said in response to the reports. "That's premature. No decision has been made. He continues to rehab and make good progress."

The published report went on to claim the Lions had not made an official decision but were planning to keep Jones on the PUP list. If the Lions keep Jones on the PUP list, he would miss the first six weeks of the regular season. Then the Lions would have a three-week window to put him on the active roster or injured reserve.

And despite the team's denial, the notion that Jones will stay on the PUP list isn't all that farfetched.

As Detroit Free Press reporter Nicholas J. Cotsonika reminded readers on Friday, Jones is recovering from a serious foot injury and surgery. He said Tuesday the foot was not 100 percent stable yet and that he still needs to get into game shape.

The Lions have planned all along for the possibility Jones will not be ready, acquiring Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett in the offseason.

But Jones also said Tuesday he still hoped to return for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Oakland. He said he had been running well and doing some cutting, and he wouldn't need to play in any exhibitions.

Oh yeah. ... Jones also took a bit of a shot at Bell.

According to the Detroit News, Jones was "irked" by comments from Bell, who said he expects to be the starter and go-to back for the Lions.

"If I weren't injured, he wouldn't even be here," Jones said.

Jones added that his relationship with Bell is cordial, but he has no intention of laying down for anybody.

"I have to deal with competing for a job against him as a competitor," Jones said. "But when he says, 'It is mine,' that is when I have a problem. If I was 100 percent, it would not be a question. My goal is to come back and it (starting) won't be an issue.

"I am the better back and I will be the starter."

I agree on both counts; Jones is the better back and he will be the starter. But not until he's 100 percent and it looks less like he'll get there in time for the regular-season opener with each passing day. ...

In Kansas City. ... After signing what was probably his final contract this offseason, Tony Gonzalez, 31, appear to be thinking about his football mortality. In a concession to his advancing age, the Chiefs require Gonzalez at camp to practice no more than once daily even on days when his teammates are working twice.

But don't expect Gonzalez to concede anything come September.

The veteran superstar is closing in on career statistical records for tight ends currently held by former Bronco and Raven Shannon Sharpe. Gonzalez needs two touchdowns to pass Sharpe, so he should get that one early in the season. Others are more distant. Gonzalez needs 95 receptions and 1,351 yards to pass Sharpe, and time to claim those marks is running out.

"Do I want to play five more years?" Gonzalez said. "No. Or four more years? Probably not. Three more years, counting this year, is what I have my eye on at this point. ..."

As Kansas City Star staffer Adam Teicher suggested, three years should be enough to claim all of those records if Gonzalez stays healthy.

And finally this week. ... Though the NFL hasn't had much to say about the gambling aspects of Vick's indictment on federal conspiracy charges, that all could be changing.

Asked whether the details of the dog-fighting operation has overshadowed the fact that it was, in essence, a gambling enterprise, commissioner Roger Goodell, in an interview published by USA Today earlier this week, said; "Not from our standpoint."

As editor Mike Florio noted, the league's gambling policy is a stand-alone document, and its principles pop up in the Standard Player Contract. Knowingly associating with gamblers or with gambling activity is enough to get a player in serious trouble, including banned for life.

Florio went on to explain there are also indications that Goodell's ongoing review of the situation isn't necessarily focused on whether Vick is legally guilty. Instead, because Vick flatly denied to the commissioner in April that any dog fighting was occurring on the star QB's property, Goodell might have enough proof to justify imposing discipline under the conduct policy if he merely concludes that dog fighting happened there, regardless of Vick's level of involvement.

In which case, Vick would undoubtedly be toast. ...

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.

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