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Fantasy Notebook: A Brief Break From Free Agency Anyone?
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... I don't know about the rest of you, but after spending what seems like 46 of the last 48 hours chasing all the latest info available on signings, possible signings, visits, travel arrangements and other free-agent related news, notes, rumor speculation and innuendo (those interested in keeping up in semi-real time will want to park on the News & Views section of the site), I'm more than ready to take a few minutes to consider some other stories of interest to Fantasy owners.

Fortunately, there are plenty of situations worthy of review in the wake of the recently completed NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where a vast harmonic convergence of NFL personnel men, coaching staffs and more media than you could shake a stick at generated reams of fodder for our consideration.

You know, stuff about rushing attacks, quarterback quandaries and other sundry and fascinating Fantasy-specific tidbits useful in building our off-season baseline of information.

So what are we waiting for?

We'll get the ball rolling in Chicago, where all eyes will be on the quarterback competition set up by the nearly identical deals handed to Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. But the Bears have other positions worth watching this offseason.

And I don't necessarily mean wide receiver, where Bernard Berrian's departure (he signed with Minnesota on Saturday) and the release of Muhsin Muhammad (now back in Carolina) leave them paper thin.

While the issues at quarterback and wideout are important, Chicago's passing attack hasn't been of much use to Fantasy owners for some time. That's why I believe running back is the position to watch.

As Chicago Sun-Times staffer Mike Mulligan suggested last weekend, "the Bears' offense was as one-dimensional as a kung fu movie" in 2007. Mulligan went on to explain: "There was an occasional action scene in the passing game, but the running game lacked character development and the offense lost the plot."

What has changed?

Certainly nothing that instills hope in a sudden turnaround.

Indeed, Mulligan contends there there's reason to believe it will be even worse than it was last season. Remember: Two starting offensive linemen -- Fred Miller and Ruben Brown -- are gone, along with the team's best downfield blocker, Muhammad.

But as Mulligan further suggested, sometimes it's not about who's leaving. Sometimes it's about who's still there.

In this case, the Bears still have the three running backs who played -- and came up a bit short -- last season: Cedric Benson, Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe.

Benson, who has hauled in nearly $13.8 million for three years of what Mulligan characterizes (and not unfairly so) as "remarkable mediocrity," has a cap number of $3.35 million with a base salary of just $820,000.

He's coming off a broken left leg that required a small metal plate to be inserted to hold bone together. One source told Mulligan the injury may cost him a step, prompting Mulligan to write: "Imagine, a slowed-down Benson, slower even than the one who couldn't find top gear last year."

Benson came up 27 yards shy of triggering a conditional roster bonus worth $1.73 million. He has the same provision in his deal for this year, which means he'll make another $1.73 million if he gains just 701 yards or hits some other easily attainable -- in theory, anyway -- milestones.

Why continue to pay him when he's regarded as such a bust that NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock told Mulligan he cashed in on a dinner bet he made with a prominent football evaluator.

"I felt he was a pretty good kid, but I didn't think he had -- from a work-ethic perspective -- what you needed from a No. 4 pick in the draft," Mayock said. "After God and family, if football is not next, you have a problem."

If football isn't next for Benson, as Mayock suggests and fans suspect, then why is he still on the team?

Remember, general manger Jerry Angelo has said character evaluation is now a top priority in the team's drafts, and he predicts a better success rate in the future as a result of some of the things the Bears are doing.

Mulligan reminded readers that Angelo went so far as to say the team will take more players than ever off its draft board after researching their football character and citizenship issues.

So, Mulligan wondered, "Shouldn't that concept be applied to guys already on the team? Or is the standard different with former first-round picks?"

Well. ... That remains to be seen.

Arlington Heights Daily Herald beat man Bob LeGere reported during last month's combine that Benson hasn't played himself out of a job. ... Yet.

This after Angelo admitted Benson will have to compete to reclaim his job as the Bears' featured runner.

"He's got to compete," said Angelo. "He's got to go out there and win the job. We're going to try to create competition at the position. We're going to certainly look at the running back position."

Not that Benson didn't flash at times.

While he clearly struggled early (averaging just 3.0 yards per carry through the first nine games), Benson did put together back-to-back games in which he averaged 7.0 yards per carry -- only to suffer the season-ending injury in Week 11.

So, health issues -- and slow starts -- have become the norm.

In the first nine games of his first three seasons, Benson has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, but in the last seven games of those seasons (when he's been healthy enough to play), he has averaged 5.2 yards per attempt.

"When you started to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, he got hurt," Angelo said. "Injuries are a real problem now with Cedric. He's been hurt four times, and you have to be mindful of that.

"Durability is a big deal when you're talking about running backs."

Especially those drafted fourth overall. Expectations are a bit higher. Certainly high enough to draw the attention of local media when said player comes up short. Those expectations lead people like Chicago Tribune staffer Vaughn McClure to write rather unflattering things like: "Benson continues to take baby steps although he's fully grown."

Unfortunately, Peterson failed to impress after Benson went down. And Wolfe will never be mistaken for an every-down back, so the Bears are expected to draft a running back this year and/or sign one in free agency.

"We'll look at anywhere for the competition," Angelo said. "I'm not ruling out that we wouldn't do something in the marketplace and/or in the draft, whatever presents itself. We want to be a running football team. That's our goal.

"Our philosophy hasn't changed, and we have to have good backs to do that, so I'll leave it at that."

I'll go ahead and point out that of Benson's 196 carries, only one gained more than 21 yards. Of Peterson's 151 carries, none gained more than 21 yards. Wolfe averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.

So, I have a one word suggestion for Angelo: Explosiveness.

Look into it. ...

One last item in Chicago, jumping back to the looming quarterback competition. ... More than a few observers have questioned whether Orton (the early favorite) and Grossman should be the sole participants in the battle.

According to's Peter King, Byron Leftwich, Trent Green and Daunte Culpepper all think they have NFL starts left in them. And King believes Culpepper would be a perfect fit for the Bears and he should join the battle with Orton and Grossman.

For the record, Culpepper told insider John Clayton late last month that he's looking forward to a fresh start. "I'm approaching this free agency opportunity like it was my second draft," Culpepper said. "I'm completely healthy."

Culpepper is now two seasons past his knee reconstruction. He should be ready to work at full speed. ...

In Green Bay. ... Head coach Mike McCarthy has no plans to de-emphasize his zone-blocking running scheme in favor of a more power-oriented rushing attack for the cold climate of Wisconsin.

As Green Bay Press-Gazette staffer Pete Dougherty recently reminded readers, McCarthy brought in the zone scheme as part of his version of the West Coast offense when general manager Ted Thompson hired him in 2006.

It was a significant departure from the more power-oriented run games of previous coaches Mike Sherman, Ray Rhodes and Mike Holmgren.

Ryan Grant showed in the second half of last season that a good running back is more important than any particular running scheme, but the Packers still had crucial times when they couldn't run the ball well enough, including short-yardage situations and, most notably, in the NFC championship loss to the New York Giants.

Dougherty went on to suggest that -- given the "arctic-like weather at Lambeau Field" -- a decent running game might have gotten the Packers to the Super Bowl. But Grant gained only 29 yards on 13 carries, while Giants running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 130 yards on 37 carries.

That ability to control the ball was obviously a determining factor in the outcome.

Still, with most of the Packers' self-scouting from last season finished, McCarthy told reporters he has no plans to de-emphasize the zone scheme despite some of the issues that became so obvious under frigid conditions.

"Yes, we're staying with the zone-run scheme," McCarthy said at the combine. "We do run aspects of power schemes that are adjustments to our zone schemes, so that's why I don't think that's a valid criticism, (that) because we play in cold weather we're running the wrong kind of run-game offense."

Though his approach is based on the unique brand of the zone scheme devised by former Kansas City, Denver and Atlanta offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, McCarthy says his version differs because it's based more on inside runs than the outside -- or "stretch" -- runs favored by Gibbs.

That said, both schemes emphasize the same kind of blockers and McCarthy said he wants to stay with the quickness-oriented linemen.

While it's safe to say the team needs to improve up front, one thing is clear: Grant did wonders for the run game.

Dougherty, however, believes Grant's ability to break off long runs, while sparking the offense, also occasionally masked the team's inability to run the ball when weather conditions or down-and-distance demanded it.

As an example Dougherty cites Green Bay's other bitter-cold game last season, a loss in Chicago. The Packers gained 125 yards on 21 carries, but 60 of those came on one run, a touchdown by Grant. They gained only 65 yards on their other 20 carries (3.2 yards a carry), which wasn't much better than Grant's 2.2-yard average against the Giants in the NFC championship game.

Perhaps more telling, the Packers ranked last in the NFL in converting on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 combined.

But McCarthy insists the zone scheme lends itself to consistency that will come as the offensive line improves. The coach also dismissed the notion his offense can't run in the cold.

So, with the zone scheme, McCarthy will enter 2008 knowing the Packers have one halfback who functions well in the zone scheme in Grant, who runs with surprising power and excellent instincts for the critical quick cutbacks the zone blocking affords.

In the six games before Grant became the Packers' primary halfback, they averaged 65.7 yards rushing a game and 3.3 yards a carry. In the 12 games thereafter, playoffs included, they averaged 111.8 yards rushing per game and 4.5 yards a carry.

With all Grant gave them, though, the Packers seem likely to draft a halfback in attempt to find a second quality runner to pair with him.

Though McCarthy talked about the increased competition at the position with Brandon Jackson entering his second season and DeShawn Wynn having made gains in the weight room since going on injured reserve halfway through last season, Dougherty correctly suggests that neither looks like an every-down type back who could push Grant for the starting job or provide anything close to what Grant does if he gets hurt.

Jackson didn't show the explosiveness last season that he did in college at Nebraska, though he catches the ball easily and has the makings of a third-down back.

There are major questions about whether Wynn will make it in the NFL, because he has miles to go to show he's dependable and committed enough to play through the ailments that go with playing halfback in the NFL.

According to the Sports Xchange, Vernand Morency, relegated to a situational role after missing the entire preseason with a knee injury, isn't a must-have for next season but probably will be in the offseason competition for the backup jobs.

Morency is a restricted free agent.

Meanwhile, even after saying he feels much better about the running back position than at this time last year, McCarthy suggested the Packers could draft a running back with any pick.

"As far as taking another one in the draft, if he's the guy up on the board, I'm sure we have no problem drafting him," he said. ...

In Washington. ...'s Pat Yasinskas notes that new head coach Jim Zorn, while talking about quarterback Jason Campbell late last month, might as well have been talking about himself.

"I don't want Jason Campbell to feel like, 'Oh my gosh, if I make one mistake, I'm going to be pulled,"' Zorn said during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "That's not the way to go into this. That's not the way to go into any camp and it's not the way to go into any football season."

For a quarterback or a coach.

Given Zorn's current position, however, Campbell appears to be the more secure of the two in this case. After all, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has a rather unique history when it comes to changing coaches. Just ask Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner.

But Yasinskas believes things are about to change.

While the hiring of Zorn, who last worked as quarterbacks coach for the Seahawks, might give the impression that Snyder was looking for a puppet, Yasinskas disagrees. He suggests instead the combination of Snyder, front-office man Vinny Cerrato and Zorn might be just what the Redskins need.

As Yasinskas explained: "Maybe it's best to have an unknown coach who gets along with the owner and the guy who runs the front office than a big-name coach who doesn't."

For the first time in Snyder's tenure, Yasinskas argues, it seems like the Redskins have a brain trust that's firmly on the same page.

And, maybe, Snyder has learned from his past mistakes. ... At least for now.

Meanwhile, Zorn heads into the off-season program with former coach Joe Gibbs' staff pretty much intact, a lot of talent and what appears to be a clear-cut plan.

The defense already is good and the offense, which will switch to a West Coast approach, has a lot of talent. Zorn said he plans to keep running back Clinton Portis on the field most of the time and use Ladell Betts as a complement.

There's a solid tight end in Chris Cooley and Santana Moss is set at one wide receiver spot.

Zorn plans to shift the other receiver, Antwaan Randle El, into the slot and use him in a way that's similar to the way the Seahawks used Bobby Engram last season. The Redskins will look to the draft for a bigger receiver to play the other spot.

But, as Yasinskas stressed, more than anything, the fate of the Redskins (and Zorn) will depend on Campbell.

He's 26 and has made only 20 NFL starts. He showed some progress last season before going down with a late-season injury. Zorn wasted no time in declaring Campbell the starter over Todd Collins, who re-signed with the team this week.

But Collins is 36. Campbell has much more upside and Zorn has big plans for him.

"I'm surprised how tall he is with how well he moves his feet," Zorn said. "I think that's the thing I'm going to work on the most with him, is just his mindset on moving better in the pocket. I don't want him to think about himself only as a drop-back QB. I want him to think of himself as a guy that can move as well."

Campbell also needs some work in the passing game after throwing 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. But Zorn sees plenty of room for growth, and his experience as a quarterback mentor should help Campbell.

"I think he's cited that he's had seven offensive coordinators in the years he's played college and the pros," Zorn said. "I just say, 'That's the way it goes.' I can't change that. He can't change that. What we can do is not [dwell] on that. We can't use that as a reason he can't do something. He should be able to do a lot of things now.

"That's the way I look at it, you should be able to do everything now that you've had so many offensive coordinators."

While there's no doubt that Zorn is a quarterback guru, insider John Czarnecki notes that most of his offensive assistants are ex-running backs, and there isn't one of them, including Zorn, who has ever called plays in a NFL game.

And Pro Football Weekly reports that one long-time NFL executive wonders if Zorn may be biting off more than he can chew in Washington.

"Calling plays in this league is tough," the executive told PFW. "Being a head coach is a nightmare. Doing both. ... Few guys can (do it). I love Jimmy Zorn as much as a lot of people, and I saw him as a guy who could do one or the other, but both, I don't know. He's got a lot on his plate."

The executive, though, says he won't be surprised if Zorn at some point hands off the play-calling duties to new coordinator Sherman Smith, much as Vikings head coach Brad Childress did last season with first-time coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Whatever the case, it appears Snyder is ready to let Zorn make those decisions. ... At least for now.

In Minnesota. ... While we're speaking of Childress, it's worth noting the coach took another step toward committing to Tarvaris Jackson as the Vikings' starting quarterback for the 2008 season while speaking at the combine.

"I'm committed to him coming into training camp," Childress said. "His record is 8-4 in 12 starts."

Childress was then asked if that meant he isn't looking for any free agent help at the quarterback position. The Vikings have been mentioned as having interest in Green, among others.

"I would just say globally, about our football team, there are a bunch of different positions that we're looking for help on. Sixty quarterbacks played in the NFL last year, our guy missed four games.

"So you'd better have somebody who is a viable candidate because if your guy breaks his leg who is the next guy?"

Childress stressed the idea of creating competition, meaning the door could be open for Jackson to be pushed. Asked if his current quarterback crop could create the competition he desires, Childress said, "We'll see. We'll see."

Again, assuming Leftwich, Green and Culpepper will be the top candidates out there, you have to wonder if any of them are capable of pushing Jackson.

Leftwich doesn't look like a good fit for the scheme; concussions have kept Green from playing a full season since 2005; and Culpepper? It's safe to say that's not going to happen. ...

In New York. ... A year ago, Eric Mangini stepped onto the podium at the combine and announced Chad Pennington would be the Jets' starting quarterback. He did not repeat the performance this time around.

While the Jets' coach still exhibited a liking for his more experienced signal-caller, he said the competition for the starting job will be open between Pennington and Kellen Clemens in 2008.

"We will be able to look at that season during OTAs, training camp and the preseason games," Mangini said during a press conference at last month's combine, "and then make the evaluation about what gives us the best chance to win."

Mangini dismissed any thought Pennington might be traded by saying he likes his attitude and what he brings to the team.

"I feel very good about Chad Pennington," he said, "and there's a lot of things I've talked about with him about his huddle presence, leadership and a lot of the things he has been able to do.

"One of the things I really like about Chad is he wants to be the starter. That's what you want with any person on your team is that desire to be your starter. You respect that, and I definitely respect that with Chad."

But Clemens also had his points.

"Kellen had a really good off-season last year," Mangini said. "He did some good things in training camp, he did some good things with the opportunities he had during the course of the season. He's another guy who is going to work hard in the off-season."

Maybe so. ... But if you ask me, Clemens did little with his opportunity after taking over as the starter last October. If you ask me, Pennington will have a legitimate shot at winning the starting spot back.

That's assuming, of course, Mangini and GM Mike Tannenbaum are good to their word when it comes to not trading him. And they do have other issues to deal with. ...

Take, for example, Laveranues Coles, who recently said he was disappointed by promises he said the Jets failed to keep. Indeed, Coles went out of his way to make that stance clear.

The veteran wideout, who has the next two years remaining but wants a lengthier deal, told Newark Star-Ledger beat man Dave Hutchinson he's not going to report for the start of the team's off-season workout program this month.

"I don't want to seem like another greedy player, but I feel I've earned the right to know where I'll finish my career," Coles told Hutchinson. "I've done everything this organization has asked me to do and I'm asking them to do this for me. I think I've earned that much. I've put it all on the line every Sunday for this organization.

"They've told me for the past two seasons that they would take care of me and now I feel they're stringing me along. I'm not going through this for another year."

And if that wasn't clear enough, Coles added: "I've played hurt. I've been a leader in the locker room. I've held the team together in bad times. I was an intermediary between management and the players. I sacrificed my numbers for the good of the team. ...

"I don't want to be a disgruntled player. I want to be someplace where I'm happy."

According to Bergen County Record staffer Vinny DiTrani, the comments in some ways surprised Mangini since he had a constructive conversation with his No. 1 wideout before Coles' comments.

"Laveranues and I have a very good relationship," Mangini said at the combine. "I wanted to get his feedback on the season. He was one of the most impressive guys who I've been around who transitioned into that captain's role. I thought he embraced it and did a great job representing the players while working to move the organization forward."

But business is business, Mangini added. And he intends to sit down with Coles when the wide receiver reports to the off-season program.

If he reports. ...

In Detroit. ... Head coach Rod Marinelli says Jon Kitna is the Lions' starting quarterback, but added that Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton will have a legitimate chance to unseat him.

As Detroit Free Press reporter Nicholas J. Cotsonika reminded readers, new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto raised eyebrows when asked at his introductory news conference Jan. 17 whether Kitna was his starter. "At this point, he's just part of the squad," he said.

That statement might have been a touch strong.

"Jon is our starting quarterback," Marinelli said last Sunday at the combine.

But Cotsonika suggests that statement might have been a touch strong, too.

Kitna's status seems somewhere in between. Marinelli hasn't declared him the starter as definitively as he has in the past, but the competition isn't totally a toss-up, either. Orlovsky and Stanton will have a real shot, but to win the fight, one of them must knock out the veteran.

Marinelli praised Kitna, calling him a leader, saying he was tougher than nails, saying the Lions were counting on him. But Kitna will turn 36 on Sept. 21, and Orlovsky and Stanton are recent draft picks, the Lions' future. Orlovsky was a fifth-rounder in 2005, Stanton a second-rounder last year.

J.T. O'Sullivan was the Lions' backup last year, but he signed with San Francisco, where he'll reunite with former Lions' coordinator Mike Martz.

"Jon's been a stud for us," Marinelli said. "I'll say that each and every day -- leadership and intelligence, and he's a good quarterback. But we've got to make sure we're bringing these guys along, too. We've got two good, young quarterbacks behind him."

Still, as Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg pointed out, Kitna will turn 36 in September.

Rosenberg added: "Kitna has never been a great player, except in Mike Martz's mind. He won't be a great player next year." And while there quite a few better quarterbacks than Kitna, Rosenberg reminds us that none of them happen to be on the Lions' roster at this point in time.

Will Orlovsky and Stanton see more playing time in exhibitions this year?

"I think so," Marinelli said. "We're a ways away, but yes. We've got to see what they can do."

But in the end, the Lions won't have much choice. As Rosenberg summed up: "If Kitna is the same quarterback next August that he was last August, he will be their starter. ..."

In Arizona. ... While Larry Fitzgerald's contract issues currently dominate Cardinals-related news, there has been some reporting of interest with regard to their situation at tailback.

As PFW suggested last month, it didn't take Ken Whisenhunt long to find out that Edgerrin James was far from the ideal featured back in the first-year head coach's preferred offensive system because of James' lack of big-play ability.

But, contrary to recent gossip in league circles, that doesn't mean the Cardinals are ready to cut the cord with James, who is scheduled in 2008 to make $5 million in base salary that could be put to good use in other areas.

Instead, Arizona Republic staffer Kent Somers reports the Cardinals are searching for a young running back to share the load with James. Whisenhunt mentioned current backups J.J. Arrington and Marcel Shipp as contenders.

But they were on the roster last year and carried the ball little, so they likely aren't in the picture.

Whisenhunt remained complimentary of James' ability and pointed out that James gained 1,232 yards. But the Cardinals would like to add a back with more breakaway ability.

"It would be nice to have a guy who would give us the home-run ability at that position like we've seen a lot of young backs do recently," Whisenhunt said.

Arrington was once believed to be that guy; that seems to be changing. ...

And finally this week, in Oakland. ... It's been a while since I last addressed Lane Kiffin's status as head coach of the Raiders. In case you missed it, various reports indicated owner Al Davis asked for Kiffin's resignation in January; Kiffin refused.

So where do we stand now, after the situation has festered for more than a month?

Well, Kiffin may have been at the combine representing the Raiders as head coach, but's King wrote on Monday: "I say it's no better than 50-50 that he'll coach Oakland this fall. Trust me on this one, Raider Nation. I'm not trying to stoke the fires or keep beating a dead horse."

King went on to explain that Kiffin still isn't talking to the defensive coordinator he wishes he could have fired after the season, Rob Ryan, whose firing Davis put the kibosh on.

King added: "There's more backbiting inside the coaching staff and front office than in any other front office in football. As ridiculous as it sounds, I think there's just as much of a chance that James Lofton will be head coach on opening day as Kiffin."

It might sound ridiculous -- and from a football perspective it is, but King isn't alone in his assessment.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Ann Killion might have put it best when she wrote on Tuesday: "It's just the way Davis prefers it. Mysterious. Strange. And probably causing untold damage to his team.

"That's what Davis doesn't seem to get. Perception in the NFL is reality. And the perception is that the Raiders are a team in absolute chaos.

"Again. ..."

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.