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Fantasy Notebook: Gore Giving Martz Benefit Of The Doubt
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... Before we break out some actual news of interest, let's review this week's biggest non-news story. As Green Bay-Press Gazette staffer Tom Pelissero framed it: "What a shock -- Brett Favre says the unretirement rumors aren't coming from him. ..."

"[Returning is the] last thing I'm thinking about," Favre told's Peter King on Friday. "I have no idea where that came from, but it certainly didn't come from me. I'm happy about my decision and I haven't once said, 'I wonder if I made the wrong decision.' I know it's the right one."

All this after Los Angeles Times NFL beat writer Sam Farmer reported Thursday that agent James "Bus" Cook was quietly inquiring whether teams would be interested in trading for the 38-year-old Favre.

Cook later flatly denied the report.

In a subsequent appearance on NFL Network "Total Access," Farmer outed Cook as his source. independently reported the same.

Wisconsin State Journal staffer Jason Wilde also advised readers there was "at least something to" the story, although Wilde's unnamed source conceded that Cook -- who obviously stands to gain from Favre's return -- could have done his sniffing around without his client's knowledge.

Whatever the case, I'm with Pelissero, who summed up by suggesting the rumors will continue at least until Favre files his retirement papers -- something that he has no pressing need to do.

In other words, steel yourself for continuing unretirement stories. ... Until then, let's check out some more relevant news and notes of interest, shall we?

We'll get the ball rolling this week in San Francisco, where Frank Gore reported for the team's off-season program after a bittersweet return to his home in Miami. It was during this year's annual trek to Florida it finally hit home that his mother Liz Gore, who succumbed to a kidney disease prior to the Niners' Week 2 game against St. Louis last season, was truly gone.

Gore was extremely close to his mother, who raised three children on her own in the tough Coconut Grove section of Miami. She arranged special academic assistance for her son during his struggle with dyslexia.

"The season kept my mind busy last year, but it was really tough once I was staying back at the house and I'd sit there remembering so much stuff," said Gore. "So, that was really tough, but I just have to stay strong and try to get better at dealing with it."

Meanwhile, as staffer Chrissy Mauck reminded readers this week, Gore also had to deal with his recovery from last year's high ankle sprain -- an injury that Mauck believes would have sidelined most players much longer.

Gore, who had already missed training camp and the preseason with a broken hand, allowed himself to rest the ankle only one game in 2007. And even though he failed to deliver as Fantasy owners might have wanted, Gore still became only the fifth player in team history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons with 1,102 rushing yards.

"It was tough every week with people grabbing it," said Gore. "After the games, the painkillers went away and I could barely walk, but it was a tough year for everybody."

Even after a month of rest, the ankle was still sore when he began his off-season training in Miami.

Eventually the soreness wore off and Gore was able to benefit from working with other top NFL athletes including Anquan Boldin, Plaxico Burress and Fred Taylor.

"We all go at it," said Gore. "I especially like to compete against Taylor because we really push each other. We have our strengths in different things. In my strengths, he tries to get me in that, and whatever he has his strengths in, I try to get him at that."

Now that he's back in San Francisco for the team's off-season program, Gore expects newly signed backup running back DeShaun Foster to provide additional motivation.

"I feel that if a team wants to get better, there has to be competition," said Gore. "So we'll compete, try to get each other better and help the team win."

For what it's worth, San Jose Mercury News staffer Daniel Brown recently noted that Foster is a big fan of Gore, who has 572 of the 49ers' 796 rushing attempts -- 72 percent -- over the past two seasons.

Asked what his role in San Francisco would be, Foster told reporters: "Just basically to get in there and spot Frank."

But there will be major changes for Gore and the offense far beyond the addition of Foster.

Gore started on "Issue One" this past Tuesday.

He met the man he hopes can help transform the 49ers last ranked offense into a consistently competitive offense to be reckoned with.

As Mauck suggested, given all that's been written about Mike Martz' supposed tendency to overlook the run game, one might assume Gore would be down in the mouth about his new offensive coordinator.

Gore doesn't see it that way.

"By me looking at his playbook, it's similar to Norv Turner's offense, and that was the best year of my career," said Gore. "I think if the players buy into the system, we can do great things."

I'll go ahead and remind you that Martz told reporters upon arrival in San Francisco that he views Gore as the 49ers' offensive centerpiece and foresees rebuilding the team's offense around him.

"I think looking at the tape, the potential with that offensive line and to build that offense around Frank Gore is pretty exciting," Martz said during an introductory conference call back in January. "There are a lot of really outstanding pieces there that we just need to tie together."

It also helped Gore to hear from former Rams standout Marshall Faulk, who had outstanding production in Martz' system. "Marshall told me not to worry about people talking about how he throws the ball -- that I'll be featured and that I'll love this offense," said Gore.

In Martz's seven seasons with the Rams, the club ranked in the top five in the league in passing yards every season.

Despite an array of star power, Martz maintains the focal point of the offense was always Faulk, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards in three consecutive seasons while catching 80 or more passes four straight years.

Martz said there are similarities between Faulk and Gore, who has accounted for 3,718 yards from scrimmage the past two seasons.

Gore has led the 49ers in receptions the past two seasons and he tied for third in the league among running backs with 61 catches under Turner in 2006. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gore also led the NFL with 15 runs of 20 yards or more in 2006 and his 5.4-yard average ranked seventh in history among backs with at least 300 carries that year.

"Frank is a little bit bigger, more physical, but he has the receiving skills, he's an unselfish pass blocker and he's really a complete player that really shouldn't come out of the game, unless obviously he's fatigued," Martz said. "That's hard to find in this league anymore. I think you can put him as the centerpiece and build around that.

"That's what you do with Marshall, so I think there are some similarities in that respect."

While there's no doubt Faulk excelled under Martz, others haven't. ... Kevin Jones, before his release by the Lions last month, didn't shed any tears when Martz was fired after the season.

"Am I happy?" said Jones about Martz's dismissal. "Yeah."

According to Detroit News columnist Rob Parker, Jones felt betrayed by Martz. Jones said Martz was the reason the team didn't "Pound the Rock" as head coach Rod Marinelli always proclaimed.

"He had control over that area and wouldn't budge," Jones said. "He just wanted to throw."

Whether or not you're sold on Martz using Gore in a more Fantasy-friendly manner than he did Jones, it's impossible to argue that a change wasn't needed.

Martz takes over for Jim Hostler, who was fired as offensive coordinator after just one season.

The 49ers ranked last in the league in most offensive statistics, including yards per game (237.3), yards passing per game (145.0), sacks allowed (55), third-down efficiency (31.4 percent) and points per game (13.7).

Last year Gore publicly expressed his own personal goals. This go around, the only goals he's willing to share are those of his team.

"I have some pretty high goals, but I'll keep them to myself," said Gore. "From a team standpoint, I want us to go to the post-season, and I think to get there, we have to work hard and make sure we all have a high team standard."

Good enough... While Gore's personal goals might make for an interesting story, Fantasy owners still have to come up with their own (realistic) assessment of Gore's 2008 value. I'll do what I can to keep you in the loop and help you make that assessment in coming months. ...

Also in San Francisco. ... During a conference call with reporters late last month, Alex Smith said he expects to take part in the team's mini-camp in early May and should be ready to practice without restrictions in training camp this summer.

Smith, who underwent surgery to repair his throwing shoulder in December, said he is throwing 60-80 passes a day to 40 yards, but without the velocity he would put on a ball during a game.

"There's a few things I can't do overhead," he said, referring to his right arm motion. "I'm on a pretty regimented throwing schedule. It's a lot like a (baseball) pitcher's schedule. In the weight room, I feel really good, pretty close to getting back to 100 percent. The throwing is coming along. I'm still in a toss-and-playing catch. I'm not throwing to receivers.

"The projected goal is I still have another month to get to where I want to be."

And that will give Smith time to adjust to the arrival of his fourth offensive coordinator in four NFL seasons and a major shakeup of what San Francisco Chronicle staffer John Crumpacker characterized as "the worst group of wide receivers in the league."

Gone is underachieving Darrell Jackson. Free agents Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson were added to upgrade the position. As for the new coordinator. ... Smith said he is excited to be working with Martz, an acknowledged passing-game expert and a man with a proven ability to develop quarterbacks.

"You look at the track record he's had with quarterbacks, the numbers they've put up, where they've taken their game," Smith said. "I'm trying to reach my potential and play at the level I can play. I'm excited ... I have an offensive coordinator, a guy that understands quarterbacks, understands the fundamentals of the position.

"To have him coach us is a big opportunity."

When he reports to training camp, Smith will face competition for the starting job from Shaun Hill, who played remarkably well in relief of Smith and Trent Dilfer last season.

"It's different but at the same time it's not," Smith said. "It's part of football; it's inherent in the game. It's not something to be scared of. I can control what I can control. ..."

In a related item. ... Pro Football Weekly advises readers one of the most interesting things to watch in San Francisco will be how well tight end Vernon Davis is able to digest Martz' offense.

In regard to Davis' performance last season, PFW reports that one of his teammates told a team source that he had never seen an NFL starter make so many mistakes. ...

In St. Louis. ... Belleville News-Democrat staffer Steve Korte advised readers this week that Marc Bulger is trying to put the St. Louis Rams' dismal 2007 season behind him by focusing his attention on getting ready for the 2008 season.

Bulger, a native of Pittsburgh, has remained in St. Louis for the past two months.

"This is the first year I really didn't go to Pittsburgh, I stayed here all year round," Bulger said Wednesday. "I don't know if it comes with age (Bulger turned 31 Saturday), I'm happier treating it like this is my home and this is where I come to work.

"I have been coming in the last couple months pretty much five days a week. It's a routine that I've gotten into."

In the past, Bulger spent much of the offseason trying to get away from football.

"When you're younger, you don't want to come back," Bulger said. "You want to stay with your friends. I'm just trying to get as far away from last year -- and get this year going -- as I can."

Bulger said he's trying to make sure the Rams improve upon last year's 3-13 record.

"It was disappointing," Bulger said. "I just told myself in January that I'm not going to keep beating myself up or beating up teammates or coaches. It's just not worth it. I know, and everybody knows, I have to play better. I have to do a better job preparing -- mentally, physically, everything.

"It does no good to go back and beat ourselves up. We know how bad it was."

Bulger completed 221 of 378 (58.5 percent) for 2,392 yards with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. He had a quarterback rating of 70.3.

It was his lowest completion percentage and quarterback rating in his seven NFL seasons. It also marked the first time that he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in a season.

But of course, there was plenty of blame to go around. Indeed, one could easily argue that Bulger's poor showing had more than a little to do with the 37 times he was sacked (as a team St. Louis gave up 48 sacks, the fifth-highest total in the league).

Thanks in large part to that lack of protection, Bulger missed four starts because of broken ribs and a concussion.

But he gave himself a clean bill of health Wednesday.

"Nothing from the concussion, my ribs feel great," Bulger said. "Those are the only two issues I had."

In fact, Bulger claims his body feels better now than it did at the same time the previous two years.

So, the first order of business can be the business of getting the team's dismal offense turned around.

With that goal in mind, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Bill Coats reports that Bulger has constant companions in offensive coordinator Al Saunders and quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, new additions to head coach Scott Linehan's staff.

According to Coats, Saunders is drilling Bulger on the intricacies of his attack, which is similar in approach to Martz' offense and produced league-leading numbers several times in Kansas City.

The hiring of Saunders, who was let go in Washington after coach Joe Gibbs resigned, came as a surprise, Bulger said.

"I was pretty shocked when he became available," Bulger said, "and then when we got him, I was really excited. ... He's creative, like Mike, with getting matchups and a lot of shifting and motioning. He's been successful everywhere he's been. It's going to be fun to play for him."

Saunders, Dick Vermeil's wide receivers coach with the Rams in 1999 and 2000, began developing his offensive philosophy when he was as assistant on Don Coryell's staff in San Diego in the early 1980s.

Bulger should fit well is his system, Saunders said.

"He's been to the Pro Bowl, he's had a 4,000-yard passing year (in 2006)," the coach noted. "I think he's a veteran guy you can build things around."

Saunders has been conducting classroom sessions "for three or four weeks already," Bulger said. "A lot of stuff is coming back; it's not completely new. There's going to be some new verbiage. But it's mostly reteaching myself what I tried to deprogram myself from the last two years," when Linehan and former coordinator Greg Olson ran the offense.

The presence of new backup Trent Green, who played for Saunders in Kansas City, should help Bulger get up to speed.

That said, nobody should expect a seamless transition.

"I think we all have to realize how hard we're going to have to work to be where we want to be," Bulger said. "It's important everyone understands how important this offseason is."

Shea is working to refine Bulger's fundamentals. "He's really thorough," Bulger said. "Nothing's taken for granted, from the way I put my hands under the center's butt to how my stance is. ... The smallest things.

"It's nice that it's early in April and we're already working on that stuff. We have time to get that to the point where once September rolls around, I can just play and I'm not thinking about (fundamentals) anymore.

"It'll be just ingrained in me."

That'll be a start. ... But without noticeable improvement along the offensive line (or at least a bit more continuity), Bulger's ability to fall back on those fundamentals will be limited by the same kind of pressure he faced last year.

Nonetheless, Bulger is optimistic.

"If we can stay healthy, I think we'll be really good up front," Bulger said. "We've learned it just takes one or two injuries to set everything off."

There's no doubt that better overall team health will help.

That's especially true along that maligned offensive line, where the Rams only got 18 total starts out of 80 from their projected starters (tackles Orlando Pace and Alex Barron, guards Mark Setterstrom and Richie Incognito and center Brett Romberg).

So many of the team's offensive linemen are coming back from injury this offseason, the Sports Xchange recently advised readers it's impossible to know who will be healthy for 2008.

And don't forget, a groin injury limited Steven Jackson to 12 starts last season.

The good news?

Jackson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored six touchdowns despite the limited work, should thrive under Saunders, who plans to use the former first-round pick much like he used Priest Holmes in Kansas City. ...

In New Orleans. ... As Baton Rouge Advocate correspondent Les East noted this week, Drew Brees is enjoying a rehabilitation-free offseason for the first time since he joined the Saints two years ago.

When he signed with the Saints after the 2005 season, he was in the middle of recovering from major surgery on his throwing shoulder. Last season, he was recovering from a dislocated non-throwing elbow that he suffered in the Pro Bowl.

Now, the only thing he's recovering from is the disappointment of finishing 7-9 last season, a year after advancing to the NFC championship.

"What's nice about it is, you get some time to get away and get refreshed," Brees said shortly after joining the team's off-season program last week. "If you're going right into surgery and rehab, you don't really feel like you're getting away because you're right back to working every day and what you're working towards is just to get back to normal.

"You feel like you rehab, rehab and rehab. It was nice to be able to do some things this offseason to get a little bit better so coming in here in Week 1 and Week 2 of the offseason program, I feel like I'm better off than I was the year before and the year before that."

Brees said he was pleased to see the Saints re-sign several skill players on offense -- wide receivers David Patten, Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper, tight ends Billy Miller and Eric Johnson and running back Aaron Stecker.

"It was great to get Devery back, great to get Copper back -- we all know the roles that those guys play on this team," Brees said. "David Patten might have been one of the biggest guys to bring back because of his leadership and his presence."

According to East, Brees used the word "excited" a lot as he talked about a fresh start in the wake of a season that was a constant uphill battle after an 0-4 start.

"I feel like from what we were able to accomplish two years ago and then going through some tough times last year, that's all made us stronger," he said. "I think we've all grown as individuals, as players, and as a team."

"From what I've seen through these first few days of offseason conditioning, there's an excitement around here and there's competitiveness and a fire that's burning."

Brees said he hopes he's about to experience a turnaround reminiscent of one he experienced in San Diego when the Chargers followed a 4-12 season in 2003 with a 12-4 season in 2004.

"I feel like it's going to be the same way this year. The only reason that we're going to be able to accomplish what we're about to accomplish in '08 is because of what we went through in '07."

In a related note. ... Biloxi Sun-Herald beat writer Larry Holder recently reminded readers that Robert Meachem impressed management types and scouts alike a year ago as one of the top wide receivers coming out into the NFL draft.

One year later, he's trying to debunk the notion that he should have never been drafted with the 27th overall selection in 2007.

"It's very motivational to hear somebody say, 'Oh, well, he was a bust,'" Meachem said. "So (you want) to prove everybody wrong and just let everybody know you weren't a bust, and you're going to do what you're supposed to do."

Meachem's lack of progress has been well documented through his virtually non-existent rookie campaign.

He never caught a pass, nor did he ever touch the field. He never even suited up as he spent all 16 games last season watching from the sidelines.

And as East further noted, the vast majority of the time it wasn't because of the knee injury that nagged him from mini-camp up until about midway through last season.

But this offseason, Meacham plans to work closely with Patten, an 11-year veteran and three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots, who has battled knee injuries in past seasons. As PFW noted, Patten, who is known in the locker room as a hard worker, had his best statistical year since 2004 last season, ranking second on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns.

The consensus among those who follow the team closely says the veteran will be a perfect mentor for Meacham.

Meanwhile, New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Mike Triplett advises readers that Meacham is likely to battle Henderson for the No. 3 job -- unless Patten is too helpful and winds up fighting Meachem for his starting job. ...

In Tampa Bay. ... St. Petersburg Times reporter Stephen F. Holder notes it now appears even head coach Jon Gruden has given up on the possibility of Jake Plummer reconsidering his retirement plans.

"He's retired, man," Gruden said of the estranged Plummer on Wednesday.

Plummer, 33, was acquired from the Broncos in March 2007 but has never reported, maintaining his intent is to retire. Gruden made at least one visit to Plummer's home in Idaho in hopes of influencing him to return.

But after Wednesday's comments, Gruden seems resigned.

"We tried, that's all I can say," Gruden said. "I think still he's one of the top quarterbacks on the planet, personally. I think his performance (and) his won-loss record speaks for itself. We traded a seventh-round draft choice basically for Jake Plummer and unfortunately he's decided to stay retired."

The Bucs aren't completely done with him, however.

The team filed a grievance in August to try to recover about $7-million in previously paid bonus money that is applicable to the unfulfilled portion of his contract. Tampa Bay inherited the provisions of his contract in the trade. The case is expected to be heard in arbitration later this year. ...

Of course, that still leaves the Bucs with five quarterbacks. ... For now.

Jeff Garcia returns as the starter with newcomer Brian Griese a strong favorite to wind up as his backup.

The others?

As Tampa Tribune staffer Roy Cummings recently noted, Chris Simms' future remains clouded in uncertainty. It will stay that way until long after he's returned to the field, tested his throwing mechanics and competed under fire.

The next month or so could determine Simms' future with the Bucs. A healthy and capable Simms may have more upside than any other quarterback on the roster right now. On the other hand, a struggling Simms may force the Bucs to spend an early-round pick on yet another quarterback of the future.

Unfortunately, Simms has decided not to take part in the team's voluntary workout program.

According to's Mike Florio, it looks like Simms wants out -- and that the Bucs will likely cut him at some point before the start of the regular season. Right now, however, Gruden is talking as if he hasn't made a final decision on Simms.

"It's hard to accommodate everyone's wants and wishes," Gruden said. "We paid Chris Simms $7.5 million. We want to win. He's part of our plans and we want him to compete. We're going to keep our best quarterbacks, I promise you that. Right now, we've got five quarterbacks and he's one of them."

Luke McCown has shown flashes of promise and even brilliance, but his problems sensing the rush and his inability to avoid turnovers and critical sacks has the potential for disaster.

Gradkowski doesn't seem to have starter's skills. He's mobile enough but he doesn't have the arm strength to throw the deep ball accurately, so he's always going to struggle to produce at a high level.

These are the reasons the Bucs felt a need to take a chance on trading for Jake Plummer last offseason, and why Cummings believes trading for Griese this offseason was a good move.

As Cummings summed up: "If we've learned anything since Jon Gruden came to Tampa Bay seven years ago, it's that his offense is best run by an experienced veteran quarterback. Griese fits the bill. ..."

In Atlanta. ... Once maligned as a draft bust, PFW advised readers this week that Roddy White could become the team's No. 1 option on offense next season.

In an otherwise dismal season, White, a first-round pick in 2005, emerged as the team's top offensive weapon last year, compiling 83 catches and 1,202 receiving yards, which marked the fifth-highest total in each category for a Falcons receiver in franchise history.

Though the addition of Michael Turner will create an added emphasis on the ground game, PFW believes White's ability to get separation from cornerbacks on short or long routes, while also shifting to different spots in the formation before the snap, could very well make him Atlanta's top offensive player.

PFW went on to report that White, who had more receptions and receiving yards last season than he did in his first two years combined, finally realized how great it feels to have individual success, and once he got a taste, he didn't let down.

No reason to believe that won't carry over into this year -- as long as the Falcons find somebody capable of getting him the ball on a consistent basis. ...

And finally this week, in Arizona. ... After seeing Internet photos of Matt Leinart partying last weekend at his Arizona home, head coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was "disappointed" in his quarterback.

Among the four photos splashed across Web sites and last weekend, Leinart was shown assisting a coed drinking from a beer bong in one and sharing a hot tub with four women in another.

"Matt called me Monday morning and we spoke for a while," Whisenhunt said in a statement. "I reiterated to him the type of behavior that we expect at all times from our players. He understands that as well as the level of scrutiny that he's under because of who he is. It's being handled internally.

"I was disappointed but at the same time have no doubts about his commitment to this football team or his ability to lead it."

Well. ... If Whisenhunt was disappointed with those first photos, it's safe to assume another pic -- this one released on Friday -- caught his attention (and perhaps led to even greater disappointment).

As PFT's Florio described it, the latest shot took Leinart's hijinks from the "boy will be boys" variety to the eyebrow-raising (in NFL circles) "boys won't do boys."

Florio went on to note that even though Leinart is apparently joking around (really -- hit the link above if you haven't yet), "it's an image that will burn onto the retinas of the hyper-heteros who populate NFL teams. ...

"In the locker room, partying with underage girls is a badge of honor. Pretending to, um, service another male might very well be a scarlet letter that no amount of Super Bowl trophies can erase.

"Regardless of whether it's wrong for pro athletes to harbor such biases, it's still the reality that they all face. ..."

True enough. ...

Whatever the subject matter, I have a sneaking suspicion more Leinart pics will be forthcoming. Stay tuned. If the level of tastelessness continues to trend downward, things could get very interesting in short order. ...

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.