NFL Nation: Larry Johnson

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The news that linebacker D.J. Williams has been suspended an additional three games is not a shock to the Denver Broncos.

It has been expected in NFL circles that Williams would get a three-game NFL suspension after his second conviction on an alcohol-and-driving charge. Williams is already serving a six-game NFL ban for using a banned substance, meaning that will be eligible to play in Denver’s 10th game, Nov. 18 against visiting San Diego.

Frankly, Williams has become an afterthought in Denver. He was barely a presence in training camp as the Broncos prepared for his suspension. Wesley Woodyard and Keith Brooking have been playing at the weakside linebacker spot.

There is no guarantee Williams will regain his starting job when he returns. Williams is a talented player, but his off-field issues have worn thin in Denver and the Broncos are currently focused who is on the roster, not who isn’t.

In other AFC West news:

As expected, Kansas City running Peyton Hillis (ankle) and defensive end Glenn Dorsey (calf) will not play Sunday against Baltimore after sitting out last Sunday's game.

Meanwhile, Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson (groin) is questionable. Cornerback Brandon Flowers practiced fully Friday and is probable with a heel injury.

It looks like Chris Kuper will play Sunday at New England. The Broncos listed the standout guard as probable on the injury report Friday to play in the game. He broke his forearm in August.

Jacksonville signed receiver Micheal Spurlock. The return man was cut by the Chargers this week.

Former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson has been arrested in Las Vegas on a domestic battery charge. He had several arrests in his NFL career.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson cast his recent contract extension as a move to finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jackson
A salary reduction for 2012 was also part of the agreement.

Along similar lines, I'd like to know what the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has in mind when he suggests an extension could be in the works for him as well.

Protecting the interests of all parties can be a challenge when great players are nearing the latter stages of their careers. Jackson, like Wilson, would ideally finish his career with St. Louis. He has plenty to offer in the short term, but there's no reason for the Rams to make a meaningful commitment beyond Jackson's current deal.

Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2012 and again in 2013, the final two years of his contract. He'll be 31 years old when the deal expires. How much longer than that does Jackson plan to play? How much longer than that will the Rams want to pay him? How long can Jackson remain productive?

The market for 31-year-old halfbacks barely exists. Jackson might become an exception, but the Rams should not realistically bet that will be the case.

NFL teams entered Week 1 last season with seven halfbacks age 31 or older at that time: Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris and Derrick Ward. Those players combined for 16 regular-season starts. Retirement awaits some of them now.

Jackson has plenty to offer in the shorter term. Unlike many high-profile players, he has played well enough to justify the high salaries awaiting him late in his contract. His current deal seems appropriate for what Jackson has to offer and what the future probably holds -- a couple more good seasons for the Rams' all-time rushing leader.

Four 1,100-yard rushers in one division?

December, 7, 2011
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Passing is generally the key to victory in the NFL.

This helps explain why quarterbacks earn the most money, why teams often draft pass-blocking tackles over top runners and why fullbacks have become endangered.

Teams still value running the ball, of course. Defenses would have an easier time defending quarterbacks if they knew with certainty a run was not coming. And every team seeking support for young or average quarterbacks would be better off with a strong ground game.

NFC West teams fall into this group. Each team in the division is on pace to produce a 1,000-yard runner.

One division has produced four 1,000-yard rushers in a season five times since divisional realignment in 2002. Each NFC West team's leading rusher is on pace for at least 1,100 yards. Only one division, the AFC North in 2010, has produced four players with at least 1,100 yards since realignment.

Frank Gore's yardage production for the 49ers has leveled off in recent weeks. Continued strong defense and increased production from quarterback Alex Smith have helped the team keep winning. Facing two backup quarterbacks -- Arizona's John Skelton and St. Louis' A.J. Feeley -- simultaneously lowered the bar for the 49ers in recent weeks.

I would expect the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch to gain the most rushing yardage in Week 14 among NFC West backs. Seattle wants to field a run-first offense, which makes sense this week.

The Rams rank second in most sacks per pass attempt, a threat now that Seattle's best pass protector, Russell Okung, has landed on injured reserve. The Rams are averaging fewer than one offensive touchdown per game. That gives Seattle a good chance to win without taking as many chances through the air. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the NFL.

Note: With an assist from Anicra in the comments, I updated the projected totals for Jackson, Lynch and Wells to reflect their participation in only 11 games this season. I had previously divided their rushing totals by total team games (12 apiece), using the average to project totals for the remaining four games.

NFC East High Energy Player of the Week

October, 5, 2010
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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.

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.

Gailey doesn't do backfields by committee

July, 21, 2010
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The Buffalo Bills have three identifiable running backs on their roster: a 2008 Pro Bowler, a 1,000-yard rusher last year and the ninth overall draft pick in 2010.

With such talent in the backfield, folks have wondered how new head coach Chan Gailey will delegate the touches among Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Those who assume Gailey will spread around carries with a semblance of equity shouldn't be so sure.

In fact, if Gailey doesn't designate a workhorse and ride him hard, it would be the first time he declines to do so since his rookie season as an offensive coordinator in 1988.

In an ESPN fantasy football column, Matthew Berry provides an enlightening look at Gailey's history with running backs since the Dallas Cowboys hired him to be head coach in 1998. The chart also included Gailey's subsequent play-calling gigs with the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.


As we can see, Gailey doesn't split carries. True, he had Emmitt Smith in Dallas, but Gailey saddled up Lamar Smith in two seasons with Miami and Larry Johnson, who played only 12 games for Kansas City in 2008.

Not included in Berry's chart are Gailey's pre-Dallas stops as offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (1988-89) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-97).

The trend of one dominant back generally remains.

In his first season as an NFL playcaller, Gailey had a pair of over-the-hill backs in Tony Dorsett and Sammy Winder. Dorsett had 181 carries for 703 yards, while Winder ran 149 for 543 yards. The next season, however, rookie Bobby Humphrey took over with 294 carries, nearly three times as many as Winder.

Jerome Bettis was Gailey's go-to guy in Pittsburgh. Eric Pegram managed 509 yards on only 97 carries in 1996, but the Steelers' second-leading rusher the next season was quarterback Kordell Stewart.

Gailey's track record shows an obvious preference for one back taking 300-plus handoffs.

On the radar: Beast RB rotations

June, 24, 2010
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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!

AFC East backfields looking gray

June, 14, 2010
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NFL.com columnist Bucky Brooks recently produced an interesting look at tricenarian running backs who can contradict the dictum running backs of that age don't have anything left to give.

The piece featured a chart of all the 30-plus tailbacks, and five of the oldest seven play in the AFC East.

The NFL's three oldest backs -- Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris -- are New England Patriots.

Next is Miami Dolphins back Ricky Williams. Fifth is Michael Bennett of the Oakland Raiders, followed by former New York Jets workhorse Thomas Jones, now of the Kansas City Chiefs. Jones' roster replacement for the Jets, LaDainian Tomlinson, is seventh oldest.

Williams and Jones were the only two thirtysomethings to rush for 1,000 yards last year.

The Buffalo Bills' incumbent feature back, Fred Jackson, turned 29 in February.

Brooks compiled a list of five backs in their 30s who still could thrive this year.

  • Chester Taylor, Bears: "Given [offensive coordinator Mike] Martz's desire to involve his running backs in the passing game, Taylor, who has caught at least 40 passes in four of the last five seasons, will be a multidimensional threat."
  • Tomlinson, Jets: He "still has the vision, cutback ability and hands to be effective as a complementary back in New York."
  • Larry Johnson, Redskins: "Johnson's hard-charging running style is an ideal fit in the team's zone-based system, and the presence of Donovan McNabb will eliminate some of the eight-man fronts that defensive coordinators have used to clog up his running lanes in recent years."
  • Williams, Dolphins: "He has seemingly retained the power and burst that made him a dynamic runner between the tackles. ... With [Ronnie] Brown poised to return, Williams should continue to produce as a part-time playmaker."
  • Brian Westbrook, free agent: "Although he's contemplating retirement due to a series of concussions, Westbrook's skills as a runner and receiver would make him an intriguing third-down back in the right offense."
Not included on the NFL.com list were fullbacks. Had they been, the AFC East would have been even more prominent. Jets fullback Tony Richardson is the oldest running back of any type. He turned 38 in December.

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?

Mort: Westbrook to visit Redskins

May, 11, 2010
5/11/10
1:47
PM ET
Just when you thought Mike Shanahan had cornered the market on the best running backs from the 2006 season, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that former Eagles great Brian Westbrook will visit Redskins Park on Wednesday. Apparently the Skins' new quarterback/scout, Donovan McNabb, has been campaigning on behalf of his old buddy.

Westbrook
As some of you have probably heard, the Redskins already have running backs Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker on the roster. It's difficult to imagine a four-man rotation, although it certainly would be something to behold. Perhaps this is simply a courtesy call to appease McNabb, who reportedly lobbied for the Skins to sign Terrell Owens earlier this offseason.

If that's the case, it's a pretty revealing statement about how much power McNabb is wielding at Redskins Park. There's also the chance that Shanahan didn't like what he saw from one of his former Pro Bowlers during two recent minicamps and decided he needed backup.

I recall AFC West blogger Bill Williamson telling me how much Shanahan loved veteran players. And now we're seeing that come to fruition in Washington. The Redskins and Eagles have already spiced up their rivalry with the McNabb trade. Signing Westbrook would be icing on the cake.

We'll keep you updated throughout the afternoon. I'm told that Wilbert Montgomery has been spotted in the Ashburn, Va., area this afternoon, but those reports are unconfirmed at this time.

Handicapping the Beast -- in April

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
3:11
PM ET

US PresswireWill Tony Romo, Kevin Kolb or Eli Manning be leading the NFC East's top team in 2010? Matt Mosley takes an early look.
One of the most important things to do when overreacting to a blockbuster trade within a division is to suggest one of the teams will leapfrog pretty much everyone in the league. And although I'm wired to have knee-jerk reactions in most phases of life, I've so far resisted the urge to elevate the Redskins to playoff contender status. Do they have a much better chance? Absolutely.

But in the spirit of wild, reactionary behavior, let's now handicap the most compelling division in football heading into this month's draft. I have analyzed all the free-agency moves and have looked at several of Mike Sando's NFL databases in my attempt to determine the early bird power rankings in the Beast. Now, here are the fruits of my labor:

My NFC East post-Easter, pre-draft power rankings:

1. Dallas Cowboys: The releases of left tackle Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, which may have been predicted in this space, caused shockwaves in the division -- until the move was trumped by Sunday evening's events. It's rare to see a legitimate Super Bowl contender release a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and a veteran starter at safety. Jerry Jones looked me in the eye recently (for an awkwardly long time) and insisted that Doug Free was capable of starting at left tackle in this league. I took this to mean that Jones would release Adams, but it happened sooner than most of us thought.

I don't think Friday's moves did serious damage to the Cowboys' hopes of winning another division title, but it puts enormous pressure on Free and whomever replaces Hamlin at safety. Right now, the candidates are Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin and a player to be drafted later. The Cowboys are still the most stable team in the division heading into the draft, but I'm a bit concerned wide receiver Miles Austin has chosen to work out in Los Angeles rather than Valley Ranch. Hey, I realize the recent trip to Hugh Hefner's mansion had to be an eye-opening experience, but Austin should come on home at some point.

This may be a ploy to get Jones' attention since Austin's a restricted free agent set to make roughly $3.6 million while fellow starter Roy Williams will collect somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million this season. And honestly, Austin and his agent, David Dunn, who showed nice separation skills from reporters at the recent owners meetings, have a pretty good point. But ultimately, I don't think staying away from Tony Romo and his other teammates will improve Austin's standing.

With that said, the NFC East title still goes through Dallas. Just ask Keith Brooking if you don't believe me.

Cowboys win prediction in April: 12

2. New York Giants: Our old friends from the New Jersey swamps have managed to fly under the radar this offseason -- other than that coin flip. General manager Jerry Reese has told me on three separate occasions this offseason the play at safety last season was unacceptable -- and I'm sure Giants fans would agree with that assessment. He's responded by signing former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle to an enormous contract and then bringing in journeyman Deon Grant, who's a definite upgrade over C.C. Brown.

With Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Michael Johnson and Grant, the Giants have some much-needed depth at the position. But don't be shocked to see them draft another safety in two weeks. It's hard to say how much of the Giants' failures on defense had to do with all the injuries and how much of it hinged on poor play. I'd lean toward the former, but Tom Coughlin and Reese aren't going to sit around and find out. They need to replace Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker. And you can't simply hope that Jonathan Goff or Gerris Wilkinson will get the job done. If the Giants land Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain at No. 15, they'll have an immediate starter and one of the most intelligent players in this draft.

It's just hard for me to imagine the Giants going through another awful stretch, as they did last season. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is poised to become an electric player and Steve Smith proved that he can be a front-line receiver. Mix in Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden and you have the makings of an elite receiving corps. Right now, you'd have to say the Eagles and Giants are neck in neck at that position.

I also think the arrival of fiery defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will solve some issues. He'll be more aggressive with the pass rush and he'll attempt to use Osi Umenyiora's unease to his advantage. I also think you'll see a much healthier Justin Tuck. He was limited for most of last season after being tripped by Flozell Adams in the Week 2 game at Cowboys Stadium. I think Tuck's poised to have a huge bounce-back season. That's a big reason why the Giants will return to the playoffs.

Giants win prediction in April: 10

3. Philadelphia Eagles: First of all, I think Kevin Kolb is going to win a lot of games with the Eagles. But there will be bumps along the way. No one really knows how he'll look as the full-time starter, but he's shown signs he can get the job done. I think he'll immediately be a more accurate passer than McNabb, but I also know that opposing defensive coordinators will go to great lengths to confuse him in coverage.

Kolb will reach out to fellow Texan Drew Brees this offseason for advice on dealing with all the adversity he's sure to face. I think that's an excellent move. The Eagles will surround Kolb with some potent weapons at receiver and tight end. But what Andy Reid truly needs to do is commit to the running game. That will help an inexperienced quarterback more than anything. Will Reid do that? I have my doubts.

The Eagles need to add more depth in the secondary during the draft. You can't depend on Marlin Jackson, owner of two surgically repaired knees, to be the answer. I think the Eagles have to draft a safety and a cornerback in the early rounds. Of course, that No. 37 pick should really help. If someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen begins to slip a little bit, the Eagles should be ready to take him. I think defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will be much more comfortable in his second season. But with the Redskins becoming more of a force and the Giants likely bouncing back, finding 10 wins will be tough. Kolb will one day lead this team on a deep playoff run. But that won't happen in 2010.

Eagles win prediction in April: 9

4. Washington Redskins: No, it didn't slip my mind that Washington landed an elite-level quarterback. But count me among the skeptics who think playing behind an offensive line that could feature Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer isn't a recipe for a huge turnaround. When the Dolphins had a remarkable turnaround two seasons ago, they benefited from the rest of the division wilting down the stretch. I don't think the Redskins can count on any help from their division rivals this season.

McNabb will make the Redskins better, but he'll need to make them at least six wins better to have a shot at the playoffs. He's still an excellent quarterback and leader, but I don't see him making a six-win difference. Brett Favre inherited a 10-win team and the best running back in the game last season. McNabb inherits a four-win team and a collection of fading stars at running back.

I know McNabb took a jab at the Eagles when he said the Redskins will run the ball, but it's not like a young Brian Westbrook's walking through that door. Mike Shanahan won Super Bowls with a young Terrell Davis. He then put up huge numbers with backs such as Mike Anderson, who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2000. But most of the running backs who put up big numbers for Shanahan were young and hungry. Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker are just holding on to their careers for another two or three seasons. McNabb needs to win nine games (or go to the Pro Bowl) in order for the Eagles to receive a third-round pick in the 2011 draft. I don't see it happening at this point. This team will be much improved, but it''ll need more than that in the rugged NFC East.

Redskins win prediction in April: 8

Editor's note: Mosley reserves the right to completely change his mind following the draft.

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