NFC East: Larry Johnson

Redskins in a bind with Portis injury

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
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Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a groin injury, according to coach Mike Shanahan. This will be the second consecutive season Portis has missed a significant amount of time, and Shanahan does not have many options. This is the downside of the reclamation projects known as Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, who went to training camp with the Redskins for no apparent reason.

Washington's lead back is Ryan Torain and his backup is someone named Chad Simpson. The Redskins will certainly have to add another running back to the roster, but it shouldn't have come to this. Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs always told me that Portis was an absolute warrior once you got him in games. But until this past offseason, he pretty much blew off the Redskins' voluntary conditioning program.

There was really no reason to enter training camp with three aging backs. And it's not like Shanahan knew enough about Torain to think he'd ultimately be the answer. He missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury and was released from the Broncos in 2009.

Shanahan left himself thin at running back and wide receiver. Now he's paying the price. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings may have saved their season with a stunning trade for Randy Moss. The Skins will stick with Santana Moss and Joey Galloway, who's hoping to celebrate his 40th birthday with the Skins someday.

NFC East High Energy Player of the Week

October, 5, 2010
10/05/10
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NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 4.

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan drafted running back Ryan Torain from Arizona State in 2008 and he was quite familiar with the player's injury history. Because of that knowledge, Shanahan gambled that he could hide Torain on the practice squad to start this season.

[+] EnlargeTorain
Howard Smith/US PresswireRyan Torain set the tone for the Redskins on offense against the Eagles.
When the running back was promoted to the 53-man roster in Week 3, he made an immediate impact against the St. Louis Rams with seven carries for 46 yards. On Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, Torain set the tone for an upset win by bowling over safety Quintin Mikell on his way to a 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter. This was an offense searching for an identity and Torain's 18 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown provided that in a huge game.

"I guarantee he will not be put on the practice squad the rest of this season," Shanahan said after Sunday's game.

Torain ran with power and speed. He may end up saving Shanahan, because the coach made the curious decision to sign veterans Larry Johnson and Willie Parker -- both since cut -- this past offseason. If Clinton Portis continues to have injury issues, there's a good chance Torain will become the feature back for the Redskins.

On Sunday, it was his punishing style that helped stake Washington to a 17-6 halftime lead. And that's why he edges out NFC East stalwarts Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Albert Haynesworth and Lorenzo Alexander for this week's award.

Larry Johnson has left the building

September, 22, 2010
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Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan raised eyebrows in the offseason by building his running game around backs who peaked in 2006. Now only the team's favorite social commentator, Clinton Portis, remains on the roster after former Kansas City star Larry Johnson was released Tuesday.

Johnson, who seemed like an odd fit from the start, didn't make much of an impact in the running game. In fact, his 10-yard loss on a run in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans may have sealed his fate. It was obvious that Shanahan didn't have any faith in Johnson's ability because he only gave Johnson five carries in two games. The Skins are apparently comfortable going with undrafted rookie Keiland Williams out of LSU as Portis' primary backup.

"We were caught completely off guard by it," said Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer. "It was not something that we were expecting. I was told by the Redskins that this was a short-term situation brought on by the need to have a special-teams running back, that they cannot afford the luxury of two starting running backs for this week."

The Redskins have the option of bringing Johnson back into the fold soon if he's not signed by another team, but I think Shanahan probably wants to see how Williams performs. The Redskins have a one-cut approach to the running game that doesn't really fit with Johnson's lumbering style.

To his credit, Johnson had accepted his limited role and hadn't caused any problems in the locker room.

Now we'll return to our regularly scheduled Michael Vick programming.

Washington Redskins cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
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Check here for a complete list of the Washington Redskins' roster moves.

Surprise move: No huge surprises for coach Mike Shanahan, but he managed to let the suspense build by waiting until 9:08 pm ET to release his roster moves. I was mildly surprised to see running back Ryan Torain end up on the list. He played well for Shanahan in Denver, so it seemed like he would make the roster.

The biggest name on the list was obviously Willie Parker. He was buried on the depth chart throughout camp and never really had a shot at making the team. The Skins will go with aging backs Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Washington tried to move former third-round pick Chad Rinehart but couldn't find any takers. It's almost like Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen are trying expel all of Vinny Cerrato's draft picks.

No-brainers: Pretty much all of their moves fit in this category. Terrence Austin had his moments at wide receiver but maybe he can find a spot on the practice squad. I thought Robert Henson out of TCU was going to be a decent player, but he never really recovered from an embarrassing tweeting incident last season.

What's next: The Redskins will scour the waiver wire for defensive backs. They traded cornerback Justin Tryon and former Mr. Irrelevant Ramzee Robinson was released. Bruce Allen and Shanahan need to be looking at T.J. Houshmandzadeh. As of now, the Redskins may have the worst receiving corps in the league.

Any receiver who was waived today could appear as a starter in this offense. Roydell Williams remains one of the stalwarts of this bunch. And Devin Thomas will get one more season to try to meet expectations.

Wednesday Beastlines: McNabb angst

August, 25, 2010
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Let's take a quick spin around the division this morning and look at the top headlines. I'll be away from the blog working on our ESPN.com preview section most of the day, but Scouts Inc. stalwart Matt Williamson will make an appearance on the Beast at 1 p.m. ET to discuss offensive line continuity:

Cowboys

Eagles

Giants

Redskins

  • Don't be shocked if the Redskins release Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, writes Reid.

Will Shanahan improve run game?

August, 13, 2010
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Can Mike Shanahan make something of the Redskins’ running game?

Shanahan consistently makes chicken soup out of lackluster ingredients. Historically, he has not dedicated many resources to his running backs and has cultivated great offensive line play from late-round draft picks who did not meet the size and bulk criteria that most teams desire. Instead, Shanahan covets smart, mobile linemen who will cut out a defensive lineman’s knees without a second thought.

The Redskins’ offensive line was a massive liability in 2009 but Washington -- which opens its preseason Friday night at home gainst Buffalo -- has aggressively revamped the front five. First-round pick Trent Williams is an extremely talented rookie but first-year offensive tackles often struggle. His skill set fits what Shanahan wants from his blockers, even though he doesn’t have a ton of experience at left tackle. I would still consider Williams an upgrade for 2010 and certainly a fine long-term prospect. On the right side, Washington added Jammal Brown via trade. His reputation might exceed his production and he is switching tackle spots from his time with the Saints. But as with Williams, Brown can’t be looked at as anything but an upgrade. Former Viking Artis Hicks, who is expected to start at right guard, is also a move in the right direction. While Washington might not have an elite offensive line, it should be good enough -- especially considering the coaching.

Donovan McNabb can move an offense and provides an upgrade over what Washington had. But without breaking down every wideout, I will generalize that position by saying that I am less than impressed. Tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis appear formidable as receivers but not as run blockers. The Redskins wisely will employ a ton of double-tight end sets. Overall, I don’t think most defenses are going to fear this passing game enough to create a lot of space for this stable of old runners.

Willie Parker looks finished. He no longer has the speed that made him famous and never was much help in short yardage or in the passing game. Larry Johnson and Clinton Portis are once-great running backs who are held together with duct tape and have very few explosive traits left. Neither break tackles nor inflict punishment like he once did. Johnson has never offered much as a receiver and Portis’ receiving skills have quickly faded. Either might perform well for a game or two, but I don’t trust them to hold up over a long stretch. Johnson could only muster a 3.3 yards per carry average behind an excellent run-blocking line in Cincinnati last year. Still, he looked to have more left in the tank than Portis. While Portis is only 29 years old, he entered the league at a young age and doesn’t have the big body to withstand the type of punishment he has endured. Concussions, ankle problems and other ailments have plagued Portis in recent years.

Ryan Torain or Keiland Williams could take Parker’s job. Torain runs hard, but he takes a ton of big hits and can’t stay healthy. But Williams has an intriguing size-speed ratio and could be an unheralded player who Shanahan quietly develops. Keep an eye on Williams this preseason.

No team in the league got fewer rushing yards from their running backs in 2009. That will improve, and I expect Shanahan will manufacture a decent run game. Just don’t expect massive improvement.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Camp Confidential: Washington Redskins

August, 10, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 20

ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.

Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.

“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”

It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).

Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.

With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Donovan McNabb is working on building a rapport with his new group of receivers.
1. Can Donovan McNabb elevate this pedestrian group of receivers to new heights? There’s a reason that Santana Moss seems to have a perpetual smile on his face these days. He didn’t even have time to complete routes last season because of the Redskins’ woeful offensive line. Now, coaches are showing him film of the Texans’ Andre Johnson and saying he could do similar things. McNabb invited Moss and the rest of the receivers to work out with him in Phoenix early last month, and you can already see the benefits on the playing field.

“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”

But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.

2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.

Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIRookie tackle Trent Williams has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
3. Have the Redskins solved their issues on the offensive line? I think a lot of this season hinges on whether three new additions to the line play well. Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl player for the Saints at one point, but he hasn't played since '08. He'll have to knock off some rust while learning how to play right tackle. Rookie Trent Williams has a ton of ability, but he's working with a much thicker playbook now. There were questions about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. So far, he's said and done all the right things in Washington.

And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIAfter recording 581 yards last season, Larry Johnson is turning in a solid camp in Washington.
OBSERVATION DECK
  • I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
  • Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
  • If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.

Willie Parker is fourth-string RB?

August, 9, 2010
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The Washington Redskins have posted a depth chart on their website, and veteran running back Willie Parker's not in the top three. Ryan Torain is currently listed as the third-team running back behind Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker has not been receiving a lot of reps, and his placement on the depth chart is not a good sign for the former Steelers star.

It's also worth noting that Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly are listed as third-team players. Santana Moss and 38-year-old Joey Galloway are the starters at this point. I thought that Donovan McNabb might whip Thomas and Kelly into shape with his "Hell Week" outing in Phoenix, but neither player has apparently impressed Mike Shanahan and son Kyle. Kelly can't stay on the field because of injuries and Thomas is still too inconsistent.

At this pace, the Redskins could feature the NFL's all-time highest average age at the skill positions. Shanahan values experience, but having Galloway in the starting lineup is a little ridiculous. Someone needs to light a fire under Thomas and Kelly, and that may need to be McNabb.

I recently sat down with McNabb for a 20-minute conversation. You can read more about that in Tuesday's Redskins Camp Confidential.

The Observation Deck: Redskins style

August, 6, 2010
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ASHBURN, Va. -- If Albert Haynesworth ever qualifies to participate in one of Mike Shanahan's practices, I actually think he'd enjoy himself. Shanahan asks his players to pour everything they have into morning sessions before hosting jog-throughs in the afternoons. And judging from his red-faced appearance at today's news conference, the head coach is about ready for this episode to end.

The MRI on Albert Haynesworth's knee came back negative, and the Washington Post's Jason Reid reported Friday morning that the defensive lineman's tearing it up on the treadmill. So why can this man not make it through two 300-yard shuttle runs that were easily handled by ESPN's Mike Golic? Your guess is as good as mine. One reporter excitedly noted that Haynesworth had appeared to increase his work in individual drills Friday.

"He's been doing the same thing," snapped Shanahan. "He's been getting a few reps and individual work -- the same thing he's been doing."

When I sit down with Shanahan this evening, I'm not going to lead with Haynesworth. I'm going to ask the coach to compare this Redskins team to some of his Broncos teams. And I'm curious to pick his brain about why he thought Donovan McNabb was the perfect fit for the Redskins. The guy's not known for his accuracy, and that's something Shanahan values. Now let's take a look at what caught my eye in practice Friday morning:
  • I talked to one longtime Redskins reporter who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's feeling really good early in camp. He's finishing off every run and he's actually shown a burst at times. He also appears to be really comfortable with his new surroundings. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Willie Parker making this roster. He's not getting many reps and it just doesn't look like Shanahan's giving him much of a chance. Ryan Torrain is receiving more carries than Parker from what I can tell.
  • Mike Shanahan doesn't miss a beat during practice. During drills, he'll stand away from everyone and just study different things. He also takes mental notes of which players don't hustle between drills and calls out their names at the end of practice. Those players are forced to run extra sprints. As one local beat reporter put it, "The adults are in charge again." I liked Jim Zorn, but he probably gave his players too much latitude.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions. No matter who wins the starting role, the other guy will receive plenty of playing time. By the way, Carter told me after practice that he thinks David Diehl's the best left tackle he's faced in the Beast.
  • Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll send him on a lot more blitzes.
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. If Haynesworth passes the conditioning test in the next month or so, he'll likely see a lot of time at right defensive end.
  • Torrain could end up serving as the third-down back, but he can't drop a perfect swing pass as he did Friday.
  • When former Cowboys receiver Joey Galloway broke free on a deep ball, Haslett just about lost it. "How many [expletive] times do we have to do this?" he shoutd in the general direction of safety LaRon Landry. By the way, Landry has a very difficult time not destroying receivers across the middle -- even when players are in shorts. In Friday's morning session, Landry pulled up at the last possible moment when Chris Cooley caught a McNabb pass across the middle. It looks like one of Cooley's brothers (Taylor?) was conducting some interviews for the tight end's blog after practice. They were focusing on Santana Moss.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams. At this moment, Moss and Galloway are your starting wide receivers. I think it's the weakest part of this team, but Moss tried to convince me otherwise during a 20-minute visit following practice.
  • If you need a Rudy type player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red-zone target. But he's quick and appears to have good hands. I'm interested to see if he can make some plays in the preseason. I'd love to see the little fella get some reps returning punts. He's not very sturdy, though. He caught a short pass Friday and then a shove from cornerback Kevin Barnes almost sent him into a crowd of corporate folks. I think a stiff wind might have the same effect on young Banks.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Perhaps Henson realizes that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin will do something similar to his Frogs in Week 3. Beck botched a handoff to Portis in Friday's practice. He didn't last with the Dolphins because of a side-arm motion that led to a lot of balls being deflected. If Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee can't fix a problem, then I'm skeptical of the quarterback having much of a future in the league. Lee has worked with Tony Romo, Chad Henne and Tim Tebow (Senior Bowl).
  • Haslett is trying to change the mentality of this defense. You'll hear the word "strip" over and over again in practice. Haslett wants one defender to strip the ball and another to come over the top and go for the scoop. There's an emphasis on takeaways in almost every drill.
  • Shanahan thinks that Jammal Brown and Malcolm Kelly will return to practice Monday, but he's not certain about that. I get the feeling that the Redskins are starting to lose patience with Kelly, who is nursing a tight hamstring. Late in Friday's practice, the receiver would've broken away from the peloton had he not been on a stationary bike. It's not like the guy has a bad attitude or anything. McNabb and Moss have both taken a special interest in the former Oklahoma star, but he has a hard time staying on the field.
  • Grapevine, Texas, native Richard Bartel continues to throw the ball well in practice. Everyone's focused on Beck since he arrived, but Bartel's the backup who seems to take advantage of every rep.
  • Brian Orakpo said he had some lofty personal goals for this season, but he's not willing to go on the record at this point. He spent much of our conversation talking about the Big 12 finding a way to stay together. With Nebraska defecting to the Big 10, Orakpo says this year's game between his Texas Longhorns and Adam Carriker's Cornhuskers will carry added significance. "I'm still trying to recover from when they almost beat us," said Orakpo, referring to the Big 12 title game.
  • Safety Kareem Moore is having an excellent training camp and it will be tough to keep him off the field. The Redskins have actually developed some nice depth at safety. But on that topic, I'm not sure what's happened to Chris Horton. Two years ago, he took the league by storm when injuries forced him onto the field. Now, he's barely getting any reps in practice.
  • I thought left tackle Trent Williams looked pretty quick in team drills. He tweaked his hip a little bit in practice, but Shanahan thinks he'll be fine.

Beastlines: Portis motivated to play

July, 16, 2010
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Dallas Cowboys

Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com takes a quick look at Illinois defensive lineman Joshua Price-Brent, whom the Cowboys selected in the seventh round of the supplemental draft.

Terrell Owens has a grudge against Chiefs head coach (and former Cowboys receivers coach) Todd Haley.

The Cowboys' team site analyzes the middle of the offensive line.

Continuing his "Proving Ground" series, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon looks at offensive lineman Travis Bright.

NFL.com recently released a list of the top 10 Cowboys of all time and the No. 1 Cowboy is ...

New York Giants

Michael Strahan thinks defensive end Justin Tuck will step up and be a leader on defense.

The Giants waived return man Domenik Hixon and signed sixth-round draft pick Adam Jennings.

Newsday has five training camp questions for the Giants.

Philadelphia Eagles

The team does not plan to cut backup quarterback Michael Vick. Meanwhile, the trustee that handled Vick's bankruptcy case is seeking repayment of at least $2 million that the quarterback gave to friends and family before he went to prison.

The Philadelphia Inquirer previews the Eagles' running game.

Washington Redskins

Clinton Portis will report to camp in shape and motivated to hold off Larry Johnson and Willie Parker for the starting job.

Coach Mike Shanahan reaffirms that the team has no intention to pursue Terrell Owens.

On the radar: Beast RB rotations

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The NFC East teams have an embarrassment of riches at certain positions. The Eagles, Cowboys and Giants are remarkably deep at wide receiver and some of the league's elite pass-rushers reside here. But running back is sort of a mixed bag, so let's compare the different rotations in the Beast in this week's edition of "On the radar," which is now syndicated in more than 37 countries and East Texas.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Geoff Burke/US PresswireThe Giants are hoping Brandon Jacobs can return to his form from 2008.
In Washington, Mike Shanahan must be hoping for a magic time machine, preferably one that returns his backs to the '06 season. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker were at the top of their games four seasons ago, but they've been in steady decline since. Actually, Portis had an excellent first half of the season in '08 before trailing off because of injuries. I think the Redskins have the weakest group of the four teams. There's not a home-run threat in that bunch, which makes life easier on opponents.

I think the Cowboys will have the best unit if Marion Barber and his leaner frame can stave off injuries. He's looked a lot quicker in practice sessions this offseason and there's a chance he regains his '07 form, which led to a lucrative contract extension. Felix Jones is the biggest home-run threat in the division because of his speed and quickness. Offensive linemen don't have to hold their blocks as long when Jones is in the backfield. And with Tashard Choice as the third back, the Cowboys could have something similar to what the Giants featured during their Super Bowl season ('07).

I have the Giants and Eagles neck and neck at running back. Ahmad Bradshaw's going to be the X factor because he has the potential to be a dominant back. But there are questions about his durability after watching him hobble around in protective boots last season. If Bradshaw's truly 100 percent, he's capable of being the best running back in the division. Seriously. I think some of us have forgotten those carries during the Giants' playoff run.

Brandon Jacobs will have a hard time holding on to his starting spot, but he's a proud enough player that he might find a way. He was too tentative last season. He gave the Giants their offensive identity in '07 and '08. Like Barber, he needs to somehow regain that form. I think Gartrell Johnson has a good shot to be the third running back. It just seems like Andre Brown has fallen too far behind in his developmental process following a ruptured Achilles tendon in last year's training camp. You don't hear about a lot of backs making full recoveries from that particular injury.

With the Eagles, I'm anxious to see how LeSean McCoy handles the feature role. He's obviously started games in the league, but he had Brian Westbrook around to point him in the right direction. McCoy needs to become more consistent catching the ball. If he's able to do that, he has the potential to be a Westbrook-type player. I watched Mike Bell a couple of weeks ago and he's a little quicker than I remembered. I think he could be one of the most underrated pickups of the offseason. And we all know what Leonard Weaver can do from the fullback spot.

With a new quarterback in place, the running game will be more important than ever for the Eagles. Now we'll see if Andy Reid changes his approach. I have my doubts.

What can Brown do for Skins?

June, 20, 2010
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It wasn't long ago that Jammal Brown was a borderline elite left tackle in this league. But when he missed '09 with hip and sports hernia injuries, the Saints didn't appear to miss him on their way to a Super Bowl title.

Now, the Washington Redskins will provide Brown an opportunity to re-set his once-promising career via Saturday's trade, which was reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter. Brown wanted a long-term deal with the Saints, but that wasn't going to happen because of his injuries and the club's excellent depth at offensive tackle. Washington doesn't have that luxury, so it should be a tremendous opportunity for Brown.

[+] EnlargeJammal Brown
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBy acquiring Jammal Brown, the Redskins showed they are serious about winning now.
If first-round pick Trent Williams looks ready at left tackle during training camp, Brown will likely start on the right side. That's not Brown's preference because he'll have a harder time justifying a lucrative contract extension at right tackle. But I guess it's better than backing up Jermon Bushrod in New Orleans.
"I just think coming here, playing for Coach [Mike] Shanahan -- I watched him in Denver -- I like the scheme of offense that he runs. The zones, things like that," Brown told the Post on Saturday. "I'm gonna come in; they want me to play right tackle.I still think I'm a left tackle, but I'm going to do what they want me to do. I know they got my college teammate Trent [Williams] on the left side. We'll see how that all plays out. But I'm going to play wherever they want me to play. I'm just excited to be here and to be a part of a first-class program."

Here's what NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas thought about the trade. I don't think Saints fans are broken up about losing the 29-year-old Brown. But the tackle could be an excellent fit in Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. If he's 100 percent healthy (as he claims), Brown immediately makes this a better offensive line. I don't think Donovan McNabb was thrilled about having an inexperienced player in Williams matched with a journeyman in Hicks as his bookends. Now, Hicks can compete for the starting job at right guard, where the enormous Mike Williams currently resides. As I've said before, I don't think Mike is a good fit for the Skins' new blocking scheme because of his lack of athleticism at this point in his career.

Shanahan's shown that he's not worried about acquiring players who've been labeled as "disgruntled" while with other organizations. Veteran running back Larry Johnson certainly comes to mind. Shanahan also values veteran players who've started a lot of games -- and Brown fits that description.

This is further proof that general manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan don't have any interest in a three-year plan. They're trading and signing for players who will contribute immediately. And if Brown's truly interested in salvaging his career, he couldn't have found a better destination.

I'm sure his ego's bruised by the fact the Saints achieved so much without him (think Jeremy Shockey with the Giants in '07), and he's anxious to show that he's still a talented player. Asked by the Post if he feels like folks have forgotten about him, Brown said, "If they have, I can easily remind them this upcoming year. They won't forget about me for long."

And in an unrelated note, Happy Father's Day!

On the radar: Skins' RB rotation

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm anxious to see how Mike Shanahan divides carries among his stable of former star running backs. Shanahan surrounds himself with running backs the way Jon Gruden used to do with quarterbacks. He believes there's strength in numbers and he's left no stone unturned when it comes to backs whose careers peaked in 2006.

Clinton Portis
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Redskins have some veteran options backing up Clinton Portis.
As we discussed on the blog this morning, the Redskins have now made an offer to former Eagles star Brian Westbrook. Shanahan has even lobbied Westbrook's younger brother, Byron, who plays cornerback for the Skins. In my mind, Westbrook would have a highly specialized role in the Redskins' offense. Coming off a year in which he had two concussions in a short period of time, there's no way Westbrook can have more than seven or eight carries per game. He'd be used as a third-down back and the Redskins would try to get him matched up one-on-one with linebackers.

If Westbrook signs with the Redskins, either Larry Johnson or Willie Parker would be the odd man out. It would be silly to keep all four players active. It's not like any of them can help you on special teams. Are you going to ask Parker to run down on kickoffs? From the folks I've talked to at Redskins Park, Parker probably would be the first player to go. He has not looked all that explosive in practice sessions, but obviously we have a long way to go.

Given Shanahan's success in Denver, we've come to believe that any back can have success in his zone-blocking scheme. But that wasn't the case his last couple of seasons with the Broncos. Denver had a ton of injuries and the Mike Andersons and Olandis Garys of the world stopped showing up out of nowhere. Just because the Redskins' running backs have recognizable names doesn't mean they'll automatically put up big numbers in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Johnson's at his best when running downhill. But Washington's offense will require him to be patient and wait for cutback lanes to develop. He's never seemed like a good fit in this offense to me -- even if he still had his '06 legs.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb is convinced that finally having a consistent running game will allow him to have more success. But I don't see anyone in this backfield who would scare an opponent. Is anyone worried that Clinton Portis or Johnson will take it to the house from midfield?

I'm curious to hear what Redskins fans think of this rotation. You guys think there's room for Westbrook?

Shanahan's recruiting Westbrook

June, 3, 2010
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It's no secret that Mike Shanahan likes to surround himself with veterans, but he's taken it to another level at running back. Once he assembled the aging all-star rotation of Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker this offseason, most of us thought he'd let it ride. But on Wednesday, Shanahan made it known that former Eagles star Brian Westbrook is still on his wish list:
Westbrook
"We want him to sign with us," said Shanahan. "Like I said, it could be some great competition. I really like Brian, what he's done and how he's handled himself. I'm sure he's weighing some options. It's not too far away from home. Any more I can do?"

For the record, quarterback Donovan McNabb was quick to remind us that he doesn't make personnel decisions. But you know that McNabb has endorsed his longtime pal and teammate in Westbrook. I'm sure at this point that Westbrook's looking at the Redskins' roster and wondering where he'd fit in.

It's highly unlikely the Redskins would keep all four veteran running backs heading into the season. Even without Westbrook in the fold, it seems like overkill. I'm thinking Willie Parker would be the first man overboard. Johnson could be your short-yardage back and Westbrook helps you in the passing game on third down. Portis should remain the starter.

So where do you guys think this is headed? Will Shanahan get his man?

Tuesday Beastlines: Coughlin on hot seat?

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
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Let's take a quick look around the division to see what you may have missed during the long holiday weekend. And make sure to stand down at 1 p.m. ET for our "Big Question" regarding the Giants' running backs.

Cowboys

  • Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News concludes that Cowboys defenders should intercept more passes -- and then run some of them back for big yardage.
Eagles

Giants

Redskins

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