News & Info/Headlines
That being the case, I'll advise those who might still be unaware that two prominent players suddenly face emerging (or increasing) off-field issues: There was a hit-and-run accident in Buffalo involving Marshawn Lynch's car (and perhaps Marshawn himself). In Chicago, Cedric Benson was arrested and charged with DUI in Texas -- his second alcohol-related arrest this year.
Also worth noting is the speed with which the Raiders got Darren McFadden under contract.
And that brings us to another roster-related story and the rest of this week's Notebook. ...
We'll get the ball rolling in Denver, where the plan to make Travis Henry the engine of their powerful rushing machine ground to a halt Monday when the veteran running back was released one season into his five-year free-agent deal.
Signed by the Broncos as a free agent in March 2007, Henry rushed for 691 yards on 167 carries with four touchdowns in 12 games in his only season with the team.
In announcing the release, head coach Mike Shanahan didn't hesitate to explain the reason.
"Although Travis has the ability to be one of the top running backs in the NFL, we have to make decisions that are in the best interests of our organization and its goal of winning a Super Bowl," Shanahan said in a statement. "We did not feel his commitment to the Broncos was enough to warrant a spot on this football team."
Henry, who suffered a hamstring injury last month while running sprints, has been slow to heal and the team did not expect him to return to off-season workouts until late this week.
That clearly wasn't soon enough.
So, where does that leave the Broncos -- and more importantly, where does it leave Fantasy owners?
The first two words that come to mind would be. ... Selvin Young.
Sure, the addition of Michael Pittman (which in hindsight provided a clue about Henry's future) gives the team an additional option -- along with holdover Andre Hall and rookie Ryan Torain; but make no mistake about it:
Henry's release is an indication that Shanahan is coming to grips with the notion of rolling with Young as his primary back.
For those who missed it, Shanahan openly stated his belief that Young was too small to handle a steady workload earlier this year. But according to Denver Post staffer Jim Armstrong, that viewpoint has changed. Young's workout-warrior routine has helped him increase his weight to 212 pounds from 207, engendering hope that he can carry the ball 20-25 times a game.
"Some guys can't handle more than 10 carries a game, but Selvin can," Shanahan said this week. "He's going to have to get himself in excellent shape, but I'd like to see him handle it and get it done.
"When you're averaging over 5 yards a carry, we'd be crazy to take him out."
Young ran for 729 yards and 5.2 yards per carry after taking over for Henry. How confident is he that he can be The Man in the Broncos' backfield?
"In my mind, I'm competing with myself," he said. "I feel pretty sure other guys feel like they're competing with who they're competing with. I feel like, if I come out here and take care of business, I'm talented enough to be the guy for this team and lead this team for years and years and years.
"It's a whole different mind-set when you're running No. 1 and getting those reps. I don't want to be a guy who goes in, then has to come out a couple of plays. I'm pretty sure a bunch of people are saying I can only carry the ball 10 or 15 times a game. I don't feel that way at all. I'm doing everything necessary to reach my goals.
"Why not go for things you believe in?"
Armstrong went on to explain that unlike Henry, Young gets it. He knows the history of the tailback position in Denver. He wants to be a star.
And as reported in last week's Fantasy Notebook, Young wants to run for 2,000 yards this season.
As Armstrong summed up: "It remains to be seen if Young can withstand the test of time, but, when it comes to assessing his talent, his coach agrees with him. ..."
And if they turn out to be wrong?
Six times in Shanahan's 13 seasons, a No. 1 tailback in training camp has lost his job as the season wore on. And if history is any indication, Torain could be a factor.
Shanahan's offense has produced four rookies who have run for 1,000-plus yards. Not only that, Shanahan on draft day called Torain a first-round talent if not for some injury issues at Arizona State.
Pittman is also a possibility. Pro Football Weekly notes that the 32-year old veteran offers toughness, experience and the versatility to play fullback as he did with the Buccaneers in past seasons.
He has been a strong No. 2 tailback in his 10-year NFL career with Arizona and Tampa Bay; and given his pass-blocking and pass-catching ability -- he has 3,400 receiving yards in his career -- Pittman profiles more as a third-down back. ...
In Arizona. ... Apparently, it's never too early for a quarterback controversy. The Matt Leinart versus Kurt Warner debate has simmered since the Cardinals drafted Leinart out of USC with the 10th overall pick in 2006, and there's no reason to believe that will change when the club goes to the tall pines of Flagstaff for training camp next month.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt selected Leinart as his starter as soon as last season ended.
But that hasn't stopped folks from speculating about Leinart's status -- especially after Warner took some snaps with the first team offense in recent voluntary workouts.
But Whisenhunt reiterated his original stance when asked about the situation on Monday.
"Same thing I said back at the end of the season: Matt's our starter," Whisenhunt said. "Kurt's going to be there pushing him."
Warner, a two-time NFL MVP, said he expects to have a chance to win the job.
"That's basically what has been shared with me, that the best player's going to play, and that's how I look at it, and I believe everybody else is looking at it the same way," Warner said. "I can only go on what I know and what I've been told.
"And with that, I'm going on the fact that I'm competing and I'm going to make every rep count and try to prove to these guys that I'm the best guy for the job."
Meanwhile, Leinart said he hasn't been too concerned about sharing practice time with Warner.
"I'm not really worried about who's getting the reps, when and where," Leinart said. "We did the same thing last year. I'm just really focusing on getting better as a quarterback and helping this team win."
Perhaps it's fitting that Leinart and Warner are splitting time with the first string, because that's what they've been doing the past two seasons.
Leinart replaced Warner as the starter five weeks into the 2006 season, but Warner started the last game after Leinart hurt his shoulder. Last year, Warner took over in October, after Leinart went on injured reserve with a fractured collarbone.
It's possible that Whisenhunt and his staff have been giving Warner first-team snaps in an effort to make sure Leinart doesn't take the starting job for granted.
In fact, Arizona Republic staffer Kent Somers suggested this week that to think that a message was not being sent would be naive. And what exactly was the message?
Per Somers: "Yes, you are the starter, but it's a job that could be taken away from you. Here's a little reminder that the guy behind you, the one who threw 27 touchdown passes last year, is pretty good. And you must play well through the summer to hang on to your job. ..."
Seems like a reasonable enough approach. It also sounds like the truth.
As ESPN.com's Mike Sando recently opined, Warner might be the third-best quarterback in the NFC West as things stand right now -- and Leinart isn't one of the two who are better. In fact, I've been in a handful of mock drafts so far this offseason and Leinart hasn't been first Cardinal quarterback taken in all of them. ...
In a related item. ... Team officials and Warner both said on Monday they will try to work out a contract extension for the quarterback by the time training camp starts in late July.
General manager Rod Graves said formal discussions haven't yet started, but "we're going to try to work to get it done (by training camp)."
Any new contract almost certainly would work on two possible pay scales, depending on whether Warner ends up as the starter or No. 2 quarterback. ...
In Seattle. ... Although he's happy to be in Seattle -- and perhaps even more pleased to no longer be in Dallas -- Julius Jones still admits to lingering bitterness about his tenure as a Cowboy.
"I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," Jones to Sando this past week. "I'm going to carry it every single year, every single practice, every single game. It's not going anywhere until I can prove what kind of back that I am and kind of redeem myself from the embarrassment that they have kind of put me through."
From the Cowboys' perspective, they didn't give up on Jones as much as they decided to go with a younger, larger and more inspirational alternative in Marion Barber.
Barber is the major reason Jones' touchdown production declined every season he was with Dallas, from seven as a rookie to two last season. The Seahawks might remember Jones for trampling their defense on his way to 198 yards and three touchdowns, but that was in 2004. Jones was on pace for a 1,300-yard season in 2005, but injuries cut short his season by four starts. The Cowboys stuck with him as their main man for 10 games in 2006 before cutting him back to about 10 carries per game, a pace that continued through Jones' final season in Dallas.
"It sucks," Jones said of the diminished touches. "I'm not an arrogant guy; I'm not a cocky guy. But I just know what I can do. I've been playing for a while and I've proven myself.
"When given the opportunity, I make things happen. I just want an opportunity. That's all I want."
Of course, the Seahawks have yet to separate Jones from longtime backup Maurice Morris on the depth chart.
And according to Sando, Morris remains an option. Fullback Leonard Weaver will touch the ball some as a runner and receiver. Head coach Mike Holmgren said he hasn't decided how to use free-agent addition T.J. Duckett: "Is he a fullback, is he a halfback, do I use him in short yardage, and who comes out of the game if I do that?"
Jones wants more than anything to emerge as an every-down back.
Despite all those starts in Dallas, his carries never exceeded 267 in a season. Predecessor Shaun Alexander averaged 330 carries per season. Not surprisingly, Jones believes he's capable of handling those touches -- and bringing something many in Seattle felt Alexander lacked: Toughness.
"I'm a lot tougher than what people think," Jones said. "I like to take the ball up the middle. I like those tough yards. I'm not scared of contact at all. I'm just a pure runner. Some guys are this, some guys are that and some guys are just football players. I'm a football player."
Given the array of talent, there should be no shortage of bodies capable of handling a variety of roles in Seattle.
But Jones is right. And his talents make him a great fit in Holmgren's scheme. The former Cowboy is a willing blocker and good receiver in addition to possessing a running style that is more comparable to Morris than Alexander.
Bottom line? Jones is absolutely the back of primary Fantasy interest in Seattle and a player who could provide great value come draft day. ...
In Miami. ... The Dolphins are in the 11th week of a strictly regimented off-season program. Most of it is voluntary but is strongly suggested. And Ricky Williams has yet to miss a workout head coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday.
"Within his individual drills, I see the guy working hard to get better," Sparano said. "I think the guy shows up each day, and he has a purpose when he practices. He wants to get better at something each and every day. When you sit down and talk to him, he'll tell you those things."
Williams also will remind you that he hasn't had a full offseason to prepare like this since 2004. During the 2005 offseason, he was on a sabbatical. During the 2006 offseason, he was suspended for a failed drug test.
During the 2007 offseason, he had just returned from the Toronto Argonauts but had not yet been reinstated to the NFL.
But as Miami Herald staffer Jeff Darlington stressed this week, anticipating a return to greatness would be anticipating a lot. And Williams, no doubt, needs as much off-season work as he can get, considering he has played in only 13 NFL games in the past four seasons.
Williams also was forced to spend the start of this year rehabilitating a torn pectoral muscle sustained during his only action last year.
So, should anyone really expect him to get back into elite form, let alone return to starting form? Maybe not.
But local observers have been impressed with Williams' efforts.
In a blog entry published early Saturday, South Florida Sun-Sentinel beat man Omar Kelly wrote: "During inside run drills Williams continued to run hard. He's probably been the most impressive player in the four practices I've seen so far.
"I suspect he's going to have a really good year this season because he appears fast, and has been beating everyone to the outside corner on the sweeps. But then again, this isn't contract work so maybe it's misleading.
"However, the fact Williams has an extra gear the other backs don't is clear. ..."
Williams told reporters this week he's excited about the potential of sharing carries with Ronnie Brown, who is coming off reconstructive knee surgery. The two have been bouncing information off each other all offseason in a selfless way that has caught the coaching staff's attention.
As Darlington suggested: "If successful, a one-two punch between Williams and Brown (which seemed to be on the verge of working before Brown was hurt in 2005) could allow Williams to remain healthy and strong throughout the season."
And according to PFW, if Williams continues to earn coaches' trust with his play and attitude, Brown might be asked to sit out the early portion of the season to further ensure proper recuperation.
Is Williams earning that trust? So far, so great. ...
In Atlanta. ... The Falcons' offense has changed considerably since the end of his breakout 2007 season but Roddy White is certain he can do more in the run-oriented scheme being introduced by new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
In case you missed it, White finished last season with 83 catches for 1,202 yards and a career-high six touchdowns.
But what about the changes to the scheme and most likely under center?
"I feel good," White said Thursday. "I think I can go out there and perform at a high level. I want to make the Pro Bowl and I think this is the year I can catch a lot of balls.
"They have me doing a lot of things in this offense."
As Atlantafalcons.com editor J. Michael Moore reminded readers, Mularkey installed a strong running game in Pittsburgh from 2001 to 2003. The Steelers led the league in average rushing yards per game in 2001.
But the veteran coach never lost sight of the passing game. Indeed, he proved that receivers can succeed in run-first offenses with option routes and the play-action passing game.
In fact, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had some of his best seasons under Mularkey -- a career-high 112 receptions in 2002 and a total of 26 touchdowns from 2001 to 2003.
White, who is currently nursing a sore hamstring, is playing a position similar to Ward in the Falcons' new offense.
"I'm playing the Z position and that's the same position he played," White told Moore when asked about Ward's success under Mularkey. "I was watching film on Hines the other day and watching what he did in that offense. Watching someone succeeded in the offense is good for you."
White also likes what other receivers can do in the new offense.
"I think all of our receivers are good," he said. "Certain players can do certain things good. Laurent [Robinson] is more of a vertical player -- more of an outside game. (Michael Jenkins) is the guy in the middle that makes all the right reads on the option and short routes.
"Either one you go with would be a great compliment for me. ..."
White and Robinson ran with the first team during initial workouts and I suspect that will still be the case on opening day.
A tall, rangy speedster, Robinson showed incredible toughness and great hands throughout last season while appearing in 15 games (with six starts). In time, CBSSports.com believes he has a shot to be a deep-threat burner along the lines of Joey Galloway, but with better size.
Jenkins would move back to the No. 3 spot if Robinson earns that starting spot on a permanent basis while Joe Horn, obviously seeing the writing on the wall after those initial sessions, has requested a trade.
And what about the quarterback?
Assuming the team rolls with rookie Matt Ryan from day one, White, Robinson and Jenkins all have sufficient run-after-the-catch skills to help take advantage of the first-round pick's solid game-management skills. ...
Also of interest. ... According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Steve Wyche, Jerious Norwood is guardedly optimistic that this coaching staff, unlike others, will finally get the ball in his hands enough for him to fulfill his game-changing potential -- despite the addition of de facto starter Michael Turner this offseason.
Norwood expects to line up at running back and at any of the receiver spots, in a scheme that is based on establishing favorable matchups. The Falcons hope to get one of the NFL's fastest running backs in open space against linebackers or safeties, where he can possibly add to his 7.7 yards per touch average.
"He's a guy that can cause all kinds of problems for defensive coordinators," said head coach Mike Smith, a former defensive coordinator with Jacksonville. "Not strictly because of his speed but because of the potential matchup problems he can create. Jerious is a special athlete that can do a number of different things."
Added Norwood: "There going to get me in some one-on-one matchups, so it's going to be fun to see what happens."
Norwood said he physically feels better prepared for his potentially larger role because of gains in strength he has made under the program established by new director of athletic performance (strength coach) Jeff Fish.
"We measure guys on functional strength, not raw strength, but strength in football related movements, core-based strength, and Jerious is one of our most functionally strong guys," Smith said. ...
In New York. ... When Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens reported March 17 to the Jets' off-season program, they received an in-depth, individualized evaluation from the coaching staff. New York Daily News staffer Rich Cimini described the evaluations by asking readers to picture "a report card on steroids."
Each one includes a specific breakdown of last season's performance, plus a list of off-season objectives and ways to improve in 2008.
"It's certainly the most detailed and most thorough book I've ever received in the offseason," Pennington said Wednesday, calling the tome a "player makeover edition."
"There's a destination in mind, and there's definitely a road map on how to get there," Clemens said of his personalized critique.
According to Cimini, the evaluations are the handiwork of quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll, who received input from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Head coach Eric Mangini said Daboll is obsessed with detail, joking that the second-year assistant still has notes from third grade.
Each quarterback is evaluated in 37 categories, according to Pennington -- everything from throws to the left, throws to the right, throws over 15 yards and various third-down situations. Pennington admitted he doesn't agree with every critique, but he said the coaches are open to discussion.
It started in mid-March, with each quarterback receiving an individualized booklet for his three-ring binder. Since then, the binders have grown thicker. Each week, they are required to chart their progress, adding to the girth.
"There are many chapters," Clemens said.
Meanwhile, The Sporting News reported this week that that competing for a starting job at the age of 31 has prompted Pennington to reinvent the way he throws the football.
"The biggest point of emphasis for me right now is I'm changing mechanical issues with my throwing motion," Pennington told TSN's Bill Eichenberger this week. "I really went back and studied it, and I want to really focus on it to where I gain more consistency with my throws, be more consistent with the velocity and really take it to the next level."
Pennington has gone about the adjustment deliberately and scientifically, with plenty of film study and repetition.
"Changing the ball placement, how I'm holding the ball, would be No. 1," he said. "No. 2, I'm changing the actual motion and trying to incorporate more of a torque and twisting action with my upper body to where I can really incorporate my hips more.
"I want to be more compact with the throw and not be an all-arm thrower. When you're an all-arm thrower, you lose that consistency because some days you have it and some days you don't. If you really rely on your hips and your core and get a torque with the throw, that creates consistency, no matter what your arm feels like."
Pennington, who turns 32 on June 26, said what he is trying to accomplish is similar to a golfer changing his swing.
"Probably to the naked eye it's not going to look like very much, but to the athlete it feels different," he said.
What is obvious in recent workouts is Clemens' superior arm strength.
According to Eichenberger, throwing the same patterns side by side in passing drills, Clemens' passes arrive at their destination faster and with more zip than Pennington's.
Indeed, Cimini reported that Pennington has struggled to hit routine 15- and 20-yard out patterns at times.
According to PFW, Clemens' upside and youth makes him the favorite to land the job, although the notion that "it's his to lose," as has been speculated, seems to give him too much credit.
Still, as SI.com insider Peter King recently wondered, "Don't [the Jets] know what [they] have in Pennington by now?"
Clemens might not have shown coaches what they wanted to see in his stretch-run audition last season, but King is right; after two shoulder surgeries and ample opportunity to secure the No. 1 spot, Pennington's best days appear to be behind him. ...
In San Diego. ... When Philip Rivers underwent surgery in January to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, head coach Norv Turner was resigned to the fact that his starting signal caller may not be able to participate in the team's offseason program.
"I was prepared to have him really not do anything except throw routes against air," Turner said Monday. "He's just making great progress."
After a week off, the Chargers resumed workouts this past Monday and Chargers.com staffer Casey Pearce advised readers that Rivers showed that he's taken another step forward as he led the offense in team drills throughout the practice.
"Just personally, I was excited about going today," Rivers said. "I was excited to play football again. Up to this point it's just been 7-on-7. You don't get a great feel for it with that. Today was fun. Sitting here the beginning of June, I feel really good about where we are (in the rehab process)."
Turner said that as a "Memorial Day gift" he allowed Rivers to take roughly 10 snaps with the offense in the team's final practice before last week's holiday. That was the first time Rivers had worked live against a full defense, and the five-year veteran increased his workload Monday morning.
Rivers has been pleased with his play throughout the spring and was encouraged by the fact that he was able to simply throw the ball without thinking about his knee during Monday's practice.
"I think throwing the ball I've been as accurate as I've been during an offseason," Rivers told Pearce. "If I can just keep working, the key thing is just make sure I'm completely comfortable in the pocket and not worrying about something happening. I really didn't think about it today. When you've got people flying around you, you don't have time to think about it. You just react and play. I felt like I stayed within myself."
For Rivers, Monday was simply another step forward in what has been a smooth rehab process that will likely have him ready to go full throttle when the Chargers open training camp in late July.
Still, North County Times staffer Mike Sullivan suggests with the regular season just three months away, the emphasis will be on ensuring Rivers doesn't suffer any setbacks between now and September. ...
Meanwhile, Turner joked that he saw tight end Antonio Gates run last week for the first time since off-season foot surgery. "He was a little bit late for a meeting the other day and he started running down the hall," Turner said through a smile.
In actuality, Gates is not yet running but has given his coach reason to be encouraged by his progress.
"He's exercising and working it pretty good," Turner said. "He's making great progress. I don't think they want him running yet. ..."
And finally this week, in Dallas. ...For five years, Terrell Owens got to see Jerry Rice up close in San Francisco. Rice, the NFL's all-time leading receiver and considered by many to be the best player, regardless of position, to play in the NFL, was able to play 21 years for three different teams until he was 42.
And according to Dallas Morning News staffer Todd Archer, before the Cowboys signed Owens to a four-year, $34 million deal earlier this week, Rice's name came up -- with regard to age.
With Owens turning 35 in December, age was (or is) a concern.
But to Owens, who will be 38 at the end of this contract, age is just a number. And to owner and general manager Jerry Jones, Owens is "uniquely physically fit."
Owens has played a full 16-game season just twice since 2000, although his 2005 season was ended when Philadelphia suspended him. But Jones said the injuries that sidelined Owens in 2004 (the ankle injury suffered on a Roy Williams' horse-collar tackle) and last season, when a high ankle sprain cost him a game and left him gimpy in the playoffs, were not a result of age but accidents.
In the end, a $12.9 million signing bonus proved the Cowboys weren't concerned about age.
And the truth is, Owens' statistics have been remarkably consistent. He has had at least 13 touchdown catches in six of the last eight seasons. He had six touchdown receptions in seven games for the Eagles in 2005 and has 28 TD catches over the last two years for the Cowboys -- more than any other receiver in the league over that span.
That's the number I would advise Fantasy owners to focus on.
Remember: Owens has Pro Bowlers at quarterback (Tony Romo) and tight end (Jason Witten) entering the primes of their careers as well as a Pro Bowl running back in Barber working alongside him. And despite his semi-advanced age, anybody who has seen Owens working in his traditional pre-game spandex garb realizes exactly what kind of shape the veteran is in.
"He's taken care of himself," Jones said of Owens. "When you look at where he is physically, he's inordinately healthy. ... He's still got his burst. He still has his quickness. Yet, he has that experience.
"I think it's a real value for the Dallas Cowboys. ..." Barring injury, Fantasy owners will be saying the same this fall. ...
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.