02 August 2009

Texans lose C Myers to high ankle sprain

Texans C Chris Myers is out indefinitely after suffering a high ankle sprain at Tuesday's practice.
Myers, a 16-game starter last year after the Texans acquired him via trade with the Broncos, is a key to Houston's zone-blocking system. Myers' status for Week 1 isn't clear. Third-round pick Antoine Caldwell will see more reps.

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Clinton Portis: 'Skins Looking to Limit His Workload

In an effort to decrease Portis' wear and tear, the Redskins have told backup Ladell Betts that he will play more this season, the Washington Post reports. Betts may replace Portis in almost every third-down passing situation.

Although he'll be just 28 years old this season, Portis has already logged over 2,000 carries and has topped the 325 mark in four of the last five seasons. He hasn't missed a game since 2006, but has been the victim of numerous injuries over the last few seasons that will eventually start to take their toll. If you draft him in the early rounds, it's imperative that you grab Betts later as insurance.

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No Winslow

The Bucs have begun practice and apparently Kellen Winslow, Jr., and Antonio Bryant are not practicing. Winslow has an ankle sprain and Bryant has a swollen knee.Winslow is not in pads but participating in agility drills.

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Shockey looks sharp at Saints practice

Tight end Jeremy Shockey had one of his best days during the New Orleans Saints' camp during a light rain Tuesday -- a day that featured the first live hitting sessions of training camp.

Shockey did well in early pass blocking drills, holding each defender to a stalemate at the whistle. In the final red zone portion of practice, he caught two straight touchdowns. On one, he bounced off a pair of defensive backs on a down-and-in, and on the other he scored off a quick slant.

"He's someone you look for," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "He's a big target with pretty quick feet in space."

After 10 minutes of blocking drills, Payton said there would be three turns remaining to decide a winner between the offense and defense. Shockey stuffed safety Usama Young, but linebacker Anthony Waters beat fullback Heath Evans. In the deciding matchup, Bush and linebacker Marvin Mitchell battled to a standoff.

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DT Damione Lewis is going to get asked to do things that may not be natural for him (like playing over the center), but he can still rush the passer. He used a nifty move on C Ryan Kalil to “sack” QB Jake Delhomme on the first snap of a team segment. Passers are off limits from contact, or else Lewis might have just swallowed him he was there so quickly.

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Vikings tackle McKinnie looking for new deal?

Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie(notes) is saying that he isn't looking to change his current contract, but he changed agents the other day to Drew Rosenhaus. And Rosenhaus won't make a farthing from McKinnie until they've got a new contract worked out with one team or another. Do you think Rosenhaus is going to wait till the end of 2013 to get some payment from this new client?

Rosenhaus says he's not planning to do anything with McKinnie's contract but the Vikings have reason to worry if they pay any attention to the kinds of things McKinnie is saying: "I'm just trying to change a lot of things that have been going on with my career, starting with my agent," McKinnie told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "[Rosenhaus] gets a lot of things done that I want to get done so I want to see what they can do with me."

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Beason shrugs off hamstring injury

The Carolina Panthers got two scares Monday morning, the second one coming minutes after defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu was carted off the Wofford practice field with a torn Achilles tendon.

This time, it appeared Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason had injured his left hamstring when he limped off and watched the rest of practice with his upper leg wrapped.

But it was nothing serious, Beason said later.

“I just tweaked it,” said Beason, who added that he hadn't warmed up sufficiently before practice. “It was my fault.”

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Campbell up to challenge

FLAGSTAFF - At 6-feet-8 inches, filling a big pair of shoes has never been a problem for defensive end Calais Campbell, at least in a literal sense. Yet, ask many Cardinals coaches and players about Campbell's potential starting role this season, and the metaphor pops up consistently.

"He's got some big shoes to fill," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

"He's going to have to fill some big shoes right now," inside linebacker Karlos Dansby said.

The Cardinals didn't make many personnel changes on defense in the off-season but they did allow starting right end Antonio Smith to leave for Houston via free agency. The Cardinals planned for the departure a year earlier, drafting Campbell in the second round out of Miami and Kenny Iwebema in the fourth out of Iowa.

Smith never made a Pro Bowl in five seasons with the Cardinals but he developed into a consistent, productive player. He was a force in the Cardinals' playoff run and a popular player among his teammates. They loved his personality and his perseverance.

Taken in the fifth round in 2004, Smith was cut once, and then played in Europe before eventually becoming a starter.

"It was hard to lose Antonio," Dansby said. "He had been around for five, six years and we had grown a bond together."

He's up for it
The challenge isn't lost on Campbell, who is bright and perceptive. He spent part of his summer attending the NFL Business Management program at Harvard and plans to take advantage of similar opportunities in the next few years.

"The question mark is always going to be there when somebody new comes in and I understand that," Campbell said. "All I can do is be technically sound and get ready to play every day. I feel like the sky is the limit if I just do the little things and really work hard."

Campbell played in all 20 games last year, both as a backup defensive end and a special teams player. Even though he's 290 pounds, he runs well enough to be on the kickoff team.

The question now is whether he can hold up at defensive end.

"When you're as tall as Calais you have to work extra hard at staying low and pad level," Davis said. "He has a great knack for getting off blocks and making plays. He finishes very well. We have to help him start better, and again, that comes from (his) length."

If Campbell succeeds, it will validate the decision to part with Smith, who signed a $35 million deal with Houston, including a $12.5 million signing bonus. The Cardinals, with a handful of other veterans to re-sign, decided not to spend the money on Smith.

'Humble' youngster
Successful NFL franchises, such as the Steelers, have allowed good players to leave via free agency, counting upon younger, cheaper players to replace them. Campbell's performance this year is a small test of the Cardinals' acumen in personnel decisions.

"I think a big part of the NFL now is developing younger players," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "When it's time for those younger guys to play, they have to step up. And we've been very good the last few years with that happening for us and hopefully it will be the same with Calais."

If Campbell fails, it won't be for lack of work ethic. He regularly attended the team's off-season workouts, concentrating on gaining upper body strength. The team's veterans have been impressed by his work habits and his commitment.

"He's very humble," strong safety Adrian Wilson said. "He's willing to work and I think that's one of the main things with young players. Are they willing to work? Are they willing to make the sacrifice to become great players?"

While Campbell is the starter now, he needs a productive preseason to hang on to the job. He has competition from other young defensive ends, including Iwebema, Keilen Dykes, and veteran Rodney Leisle.

"He's got a professionalism and a maturity to him that's going to help him take the next step," Davis said. "But he has to take the next step.

"And that's what is fun about training camp. You get a chance to watch young guys develop. The doors open for them and we'll see if he walks through it or not."

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Reggie Wayne: perennial Pro Bowler and very much a team leader

Veteran WR Reggie Wayne arrived at Indianapolis Colts 2009 Training Camp Sunday riding in the passenger seat of a yellow dump truck. He wore a tool belt on his waist, dirty boots on his feet and talked of how it was time to go to work. Super Bowl Under Construction, his hard hat read, and after he spoke a few minutes to the media, Wayne disappeared, on his way to his ninth NFL training camp.

As he did, it occured to me sometime in the last few years Wayne had become more than a very, very good player, more even than a perennial Pro Bowler.

He's a true team leader.

And outside QB Peyton Manning, there may be no Colts player quite so important.

That's true on the field, and it may be as true off of it.

This isn't the case just because of Wayne's arrival Sunday. He has been coming up with clever, memorably arrival themes the past few years, taking over their implementation from longtime friend and teammate Edgerrin James, who made a habit of high-profile arrivals during a memorable Colts career. Wayne commemorated James' 2006 departure by wearing the latter's Arizona Cardinals jersey as he arrived at that year's Colts training camp and a year later -- months after the Colts won the Super Bowl -- he arrived in camoflauge. His message: that the Colts had to be prepared because that year they would be hunted.

This season's message was just as pertinent, and it struck me listening to Wayne talk about the reason for this year's theme that he had fully developed into not only an elite level receiver, but the sort of leader that great teams must have on and off the field. He spoke of being excited about the season, but more than that, he spoke of needing to work to achieve goals:

I’m real honest about this. I really mean it. I feel like this year we have some work to do. (WR) Marvin (Harrison) is gone. There’ s a new defensive coordinator (Larry Coyer). We have to rank among the highest in the league as far as young guys playing. We have to really get into this and figure it out.

Those are the words of a player who has succeeded and who knows what it takes to succeed again, and also of a player keenly aware of his role as team spokesman.

As for his onfield importance, few players outside Manning are as critical. The defense needs DE Dwight Freeney's pass rush and C Jeff Saturday is critical, but while the Colts won in recent years with Harrison's production on the decline doing so without Wayne would be far more difficult. Harrison made big, game-breaking plays, but Wayne's ability to make crucial plays in the clutch has helped make him a legitimate go-to receiver, one capable of producing big numbers not only when Harrison was in in his prime but also for the past two seasons when Harrison was past it. Harrison long has been the most high-profile receiver around the Colts, but the truth is Wayne has been the Colts' best receiver the past three seasons, and his 2007 season was as impressive as any single season of Harrison's Hall-of-Fame career,

Wayne long has been one of the most respected players in the locker room. Now, with Harrison and P Hunter Smith gone, Wayne has been with the Colts longer than any position player other than QB Peyton Manning and C Jeff Saturday. Still, not every long-time veteran's words carry cache in the locker-room. Wayne's do -- as much as any Colts player.

All of which is what made the dump-truck arrival an intriguing scene. It was a team leader, and a veteran in his prime, setting the tone for a season in an entertaining fashion.

A few minutes before Wayne's arrival, media gathered around first-year Head Coach Jim Caldwell and talked to him about the process of making the Colts his team. I was one of the questioners, and I wrote Monday on Examiner how the Colts were becoming his team.

That's true, but as I saw Wayne arriving in his hard hat and soiled boots Sunday, as I watched Wayne send the right message at the right time time in the right way, I couldn't help think that in a very real way, the Colts are at least partly his team, too.

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Friend's death leaves Jets' Kareem Brown with heavy heart Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/2009/08/05/2009-08-05_friends_death_stuns_kareem_brown_.html#ixzz0NLATR8Nd

CORTLAND, N.Y. - On the second day of training camp, Kareem Brown went home to bury a friend.

He returned to Miami last Saturday to attend the funeral of Jeffrey Nelson Jr., who was killed on July 24 in a horrific one-car crash. They were childhood buddies, always together, and they were together when Nelson, 24, died right there in the median on University Drive in Miramar, Fla. He was a couple of blocks from home and a couple of months from the birth of his first child.

Brown, driving behind Nelson as they returned from a Miami nightclub around 3:30 a.m., witnessed the crash. The Jets' reserve tight end still seemed shaken Tuesday as he stood in the sunshine at SUNY-Cortland, haunted by images that aren't going to fade.

"It's something that's going to stick with me forever," Brown said.

He's one of the interesting stories in camp, a former defensive lineman who dropped 60 pounds from his college weight and is learning to play a new position. He's 6-4, 260, surprisingly nimble, with a decent chance of sticking as a tight end. But it's hard to concentrate on football. Not even the isolation of a remote training camp can take him away from July 24. He spends his idle moments thinking about his friend, texting Nelson's pregnant girlfriend, Tessie Fitzpatrick.

"He's going through a lot," Fitzpatrick said in a phone interview. "They did everything together. He was a good friend. Kareem is always checking up on me. He's awesome. He always texts me, 'Are you okay?' When I need to cry, he lets me let it out."

They console each other, both haunted by the mystery of what happened that night. Brown knows this much: His old high-school football and basketball teammate lost control of his car, drove up a median and into a tree. He was driving alone and was ejected from the crushed car, according to the police report. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Brown doesn't believe his friend had been drinking. Neither does Fitzpatrick, who said, "That's out of the question." Results of the toxicology report won't be known for a few weeks.

"The way he hit that tree, the way his car was wrapped around that tree, I knew he was dead," Brown said. "No one could've survived that. I got out of my car and called his mom. I called his girlfriend....It just hurt. It hurt to witness. It hurt to be around something like that."

Brown reported to training camp last Thursday and met with the team psychologist, Sara Hickman. He practiced Friday and was excused for the funeral, returning to Cortland on Sunday.

"You try to think in a positive light," said Brown, who spent last season with the Jets after being waived by the Patriots in 2007. "I think, 'What would he want me to do?' He'd want me out here, busting my butt and getting the job done. I know he's watching over me."

And Brown is watching over Fitzpatrick, promising to be a father figure for her unborn daughter, Miy'arah Free Nelson, who is due Oct. 6. Brown's girlfriend also is expecting a daughter.

"He wants to take the responsibility for Jeffrey," she said. "He told me he wants our kids to grow up as sisters."
Brown was back on the field Sunday, trying to be a football player again. It would've been his friend's 25th birthday.

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Who's faster: McGahee or Figurs

While a group of reporters surrounded wide receiver/return specialist Yamon Figurs yesterday to talk to him after being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list, running back Willis McGahee walked by and asserted his claim to Figurs' title as the fastest player on the team.

"Right now, I am faster than him," McGahee blurted out as he walked past the small crowd to the gymnasium.

"Hey, don’t believe that," insisted Figurs, who underwent surgery on his right foot during the offseason.

Figurs was then asked if he could still run a 4.3 in the 40. "Yeah, probably even faster," Figurs said. "4.2 consistently."

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Moss, Phillips early camp stars again

Some things never seem to change. And that includes the Training camp stars.

Among the most impressive players at the first practice of camp today were spring sensation Sinorice Moss and last year’s camp darling Kenny Phillips. Moss, the small-but-speedy receiver continued to burn the Giants’ defensive backs on nearly every play he ran. And Phillips, who dazzled us all last summer with his big plays and big hits, opened camp with two interceptions.

Moss’ first time getting behind the defense was really a gimmie. Someone must have blown the coverage because LBs Bryan Kehl and Antonio Pierce were giving chase and S Michael Johnson was late coming over. Moss still made the catch, though he had to hold up for the underthrown pass from QB David Carr.

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Lance Leggett Making the Highlight Reel

The highlight of all the practices occurred when quarterback Brady Quinn connected on a 98-yard pass to Lance Leggett. Quinn released the ball about 5 yards into the end zone. Leggett got his hands on the ball at midfield while battling cornerback Corey Ivy and pulled it in after bobbling it but then concentrated on to catch it and took off to the endzone for a 80+ yard touchdown.

The crowd was screaming after than play.

Leggett shined on Monday morning. Leggett was pulling down catch after catch. If keeps playing the way he is now, then he might find a roster spot come opening day in September.

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Jennings Playing Well

Cornerback Kelly Jennings continues to play well. He had a nice pass defense on a deep ball against Nate Burleson where he was beat initially, but recovered to knock the ball away.

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Davis Dazzles

On an afternoon when the offense outperformed the defense, cornerback Tanard Davis intercepted two Vince Young passes and forced a fumble.

Davis, a University of Miami product, spent the end of last season on the practice squad. He’s in contention for one of several special teams jobs and could push for a limited role as a backup cornerback.

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Hard to keep down

Receiver Darnell Jenkins was on the practice squad last season. He impressed the coaches in the offseason and is off to a good start.

“He's in direct competition with a guy like Jacoby (Jones), so they're going to share return duties throughout the preseason, along with a few other guys, and they're out there battling as receivers,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “He's had a good offseason, and he'll have a good chance to make this team.”

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Kenny Phillips making big plays in expanded role

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Before the play, Kenny Phillips told Corey Webster he was going to jump the hook route if Domenik Hixon showed it. As a safety, Phillips had deep coverage, so he needed Webster -- a cornerback -- to give him help up top if Hixon faked the hook and went long.

When Hixon planted, Phillips broke to the spot.

"I didn't think he was still going to throw it," the Giants' second-year safety said of quarterback Eli Manning. "When he threw it, I was like, 'Okay I'll go.'"

The end result was the first of two interceptions in the first practice of training camp for Phillips, last year's first-round pick who played only sparingly as a rookie but is now a starter opposite Michael Johnson.

And if you think that first one was a sign of great teamwork between Phillips and Webster, wait until you hear about the second one, which appeared to be a lucky bounce off Webster's hands on a fade route from David Carr to Steve Smith.

"He tipped it to me," Phillips said. "He saw me coming and he tipped it right to me."

Phillips made plenty of plays in the spring and is now off to a terrific start in training camp. Last year, he made a bunch of plays in practice but not many in the regular season when he recorded only one interception. One reason was his limited opportunities as a part of only the defense's nickel and dime packages.

The other reason, he admitted Monday, is he was being held back by safeties coach David Merritt.

"He kept me on a tight leash," Phillips said. "It's hard to gain the coach's respect as a rookie. This year, he's letting me play, he's letting me do my own thing."

So far, he's doing it well.

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Colts ready for Wayne's construction project

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Peyton Manning drove to from Indianapolis to Terre Haute, and first-round draft pick Donald Brown reported on time Sunday.

On another day, either appearance — or Jim Caldwell's first training camp as Indianapolis' head coach — might have trumped Reggie Wayne's comic routine.

Not a chance. The Pro Bowl receiver with the penchant for grand entrances got everybody's attention again by hitching a ride on a yellow dump truck, honking the horn to announce his arrival and delivering a loud, clear message.

"As you can see, we're under construction," he said. "I'm here ready to work. I've got my lunch box and I'm ready to go."

Wayne had the gig down flat — from the dirty shoes to the safety goggles. He wore a white T-shirt, black pants, an orange construction vest and a belt to carry his hammer.

The custom-made helmet had the words "Wayne's Construction" and "Super Bowl under construction" screen-printed across the front and side. And when the truck proceeded slowly down a small hill and pulled up in front of the dorm rooms at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, teammates knew it could only be one guy.

"Oh yeah, that's Reggie," said Bob Sanders, whose interview was interrupted by the blaring horn.

But Wayne's antics always have a serious side.

Indy begins practice Monday after its most tumultuous offseason in years.

Gone are Marvin Harrison, the franchise's career-leading receiver, Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and special teams coach Russ Purnell.

Caldwell has added two new coaches and brought back two offensive assistants who decided to come out of retirement, senior offensive coordinator Tom Moore and senior offensive line coach Howard Mudd. They are the only coordinator and line coach Manning has played for in 11 NFL seasons.

Caldwell can't wait to get started.

"We've got a lot of eager guys coming in and I saw a bunch of them crossing the street," he said. "I said 'Don't you wish we were practicing today?' I guess they're not as excited as me."

Fortunately, Manning made it to camp this year on his own. He was the first player to report.

Last July, Manning needed a chauffeur to make the 80-mile drive west, keeping his surgically repaired left knee elevated in the back seat. He's hoping that being around this year will help the Colts get off to a faster start.

"I've always kind of felt guilty not being with all those guys (last year) for two-a-days in the heat," Manning said. "Obviously, I wasn't having any fun. Believe me, I'd rather have been out here."

The big news Sunday was that Indy reached a deal with Brown, the Colts' last unsigned draft pick.

Terms were not disclosed, but the team has traditionally signed first-round picks to five-year deals.

The rookie running back arrived shortly after Manning but did not speak with reporters because he hadn't yet signed the paperwork. Rookies are not allowed to practice until they are signed, something team president Bill Polian expects to be completed by Monday morning when Indy holds its first practice.

"We're happy we got it done," Polian said. "Sometimes you do; sometimes you don't. The last couple of years, we've been fortunate enough to get them done."

But Wayne delivered the punch line, again.

In 2006, he showed up wearing Edgerrin James' Arizona Cardinals jersey, a tribute to his former college and pro teammate and longtime friend. In 2007, he arrived in camouflage gear — a symbol that the Super Bowl champs were ready to hunt for a second title instead of accepting their role as the NFL's hunted.

The message this year: Get down, get dirty, get another ring.

"I'm real honest about this; I really mean it," he said. "I feel like this year, we've got some work to do. We have a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator and it's time to get to work. We've got to really work at this and get it figured out."

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Hester intends to be more productive

Devin Hester doesn't think it's asking too much of him to be the team's go-to wide receiver and to recapture his magic touch as a punt returner.

"It's what I'm here for; it's what I get paid for," Hester said. "God blessed me with max ability to go out and do the things that I'm capable of doing, and I want to go out and excel as the receiver and the punt returner this year."

Last year, his second as a receiver, Hester led all Bears wideouts with 51 catches and 665 yards, but his punt-return average dropped from 15.5 yards to 6.2. His 11 combined kick-return touchdowns (7 punts and 4 kickoffs) are just 2 shy of Brian Mitchell's NFL career record.

"This is a big season for me," he said. "Hopefully I can do good at both. I'm 2 shy of the record, so that's a goal in the back of my mind, (and) to just go out and be a complete receiver."

But Hester does believe last year's focus on playing wide receiver hindered his production as a returner.

"I would say it took a toll on me as far as me just really trying to get my foot wet at the receiver spot," he said. "It was a learning process for me last year. But now I have a year up under my belt as a receiver, and this year we're looking for bigger and better things."

Hester bounced back from a mediocre start to camp by consistently hanging on to the football Monday. He had a few drops over the weekend.

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Atkins Back at Practice

Defensive end Baraka Atkins practiced for the first time after being excused for two days to attend the funeral of a close friend in Florida.

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Focus on Portis' future has been running wild

Too much attention is being paid these days to the wear on Clinton Portis' tires - and whether it might be wise for him take out some more collision coverage. Granted, he's 9,202 yards down the road and turns 28 next month, but correct me if I'm wrong: Aren't we living in the Era of the Forward Pass? Are running backs, even backs as productive as Portis, really that important in the grand scheme of things?

Joe Montana won his first Super Bowl with Ricky Patton and Earl Cooper in the backfield. Tom Brady won two rings with Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk as his main ball carriers. And Peyton Manning, let's not forget, finally won the Lombardi Trophy the year after Edgerrin James left in free agency. I could cite plenty of examples like this.

Sure, it's nice to have a Pro Bowl running back to ogle every Sunday, but do you truly need one to be successful in the NFL? Or can you get by with merely a good back - or even a serviceable one? Three years ago, you may recall, Portis missed almost half the season with a hand injury. Did the running game go hurtling off a cliff? Hardly. Chris Samuels and Co. kept opening holes, and Ladell Betts ran though them for 871 yards in the final eight games.

That doesn't mean the Redskins aren't a better team when Portis is in the lineup. After all, he blocks, he catches passes, he does everything you need a running back to do. But it wouldn't be the end of the world if, over the next couple of years, his annual rushing yardage - 1,487 last season - gravitated closer to 1,000. That is, it wouldn't be the end of the world as long as Jim Zorn's West Coast offense continues to make strides under Jason Campbell.

Campbell's development - and the progress of the passing game - is much more of a concern than Portis' possible decline. Simply put, the Redskins can get by with a little less from Clinton, but they're not going anywhere until their quarterback starts playing at or near the Pro Bowl level.

So why don't we put away the slide rules and stop trying to calculate how much longer Portis is going to last. Clinton, ever the optimist/egotist, says he has five more "great" years left - and if he does, swell. But if he doesn't, don't worry, the Redskins will find a suitable replacement soon enough.

Why am I so sure? Because there's never any shortage of functional running backs in the NFL, backs you can win with. Heck, in 2006 there were 23 1,000-yard rushers; last season there were 16 - including two on the same team, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward of the Giants. (Ward has since moved on to Tampa Bay.)

The Falcons picked LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner, out of the free agent bin a year ago, and he gained 1,699 yards. There were also three rookies who came into the league and finished in the top 10 in rushing - Houston's Steve Slaton (sixth, 1,282 yards), Chicago's Matt Forte (seventh, 1,238) and Tennessee's Chris Johnson (eighth, 1,228). In Carolina, meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams suddenly became a 1,500-yard man after two years of part-time work. See what I mean?

It's interesting to note, though, that the Giants didn't get back to the Super Bowl with those two 1,000-yard runners. In fact, they lost their first playoff game. How did this happen? Simple, really. Their premier receiver, Plaxico Burress, decided to use his thigh for pistol practice, and without him the passing attack struggled mightily.

Which brings us back to my original argument: The rules have made it a passing game, and winning and losing has a lot more to do with quarterbacks and receivers - and offensive lines, too - than it does with running backs. All you need is a back who makes the defense respect the run; you don't necessarily need a back who makes the defense overplay with the run.

I was just glancing at a list of the league's top 30 career rushers. Only 13 have won an NFL title - and just two have won more than one (Franco Harris four and Emmitt Smith three). One of the 13, moreover, was Jerome Bettis, who was in his last season when he won the Super Bowl and was splitting time with Willie Parker.

Compare that with the list of recent Hall of Fame (or HOF-bound) quarterbacks who have won multiple titles: Bart Starr (five), Terry Bradshaw (four), Montana (four), Johnny Unitas (three), Troy Aikman (three), Brady (three), Roger Staubach (two), John Elway (two), Ben Roethlisberger (two), Len Dawson (one Super Bowl, one pre-Super Bowl AFL championship).

As I said, it's a quarterback's game.

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Trimmer Ray Lewis remains key figure in Ravens 'D'

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Down 15 pounds from his playing weight of a year ago, Ray Lewis enters his 14th season with the Baltimore Ravens unequivocally certain he's never been better than he is right now.

Another rigorous offseason training regimen enabled the 34-year-old middle linebacker to breeze through the team's first full training camp practice Friday. Lewis signed a seven-year contract last March, and the 10-time Pro Bowler talks as if he intends to keepplaying until the deal expires.

"Anytime I feel as good as I feel, and I can keep leading these men the way I lead these men, life keeps going," Lewis said. "That's why I train the way I train. Only God can tell you when it's over. I'm having too much fun playing this game."

His enthusiasm obviously hasn't waned, and even if Lewis isn't as quick as he was a decade ago, he intends to take full advantage of the knowledge he gained over the course of 13 stellar seasons.

"I think I'm probably better now because I'm just wiser. Talent fades, wisdom never fades. Wisdom grows," he said. "I'm a better player because I can make my team better. I can make guys around me better."

During his first training camp in 1996 — which was also the Ravens' inaugural season — Lewis was a 21-year-old out of the University of Miami who took instruction from veterans such as Eric Turner and Rob Burnett. It didn't take long for Lewis to become the leader of the defense, and there's little question he will maintain that title until he finally decides to call it a career.

The Ravens keep changing defensive coordinators — Greg Mattison is the latest to assume the role — but the leader on the field and in the locker room wears No. 52.

"Ray is the guy that's been here since the beginning. If it's anybody's defense, it's Ray's defense," coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously a great tradition has been built here, and you've got to say he's the one it's been built around."

The Ravens feared during the offseason that Lewis, as a free agent, would take his act elsewhere. But after flirting with a few other teams, Lewis returned to the place he's always been the most comfortable.

"I flirt with a beautiful woman I see walking down the street. That doesn't mean I talk to her," Lewis said.
Brett Favre, he is not.

"I'm bred here. I started my career here and I'm going to end my career here," Lewis said. "I will never put on another uniform and play for one year, two years. It's just not worth it."

Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan all became head coaches after directing defenses led by Lewis. So maybe there's something to Lewis' assertion that it's not the guy who draws up the plays, but the guys who run them on the field that win football games.

"The last 10 years, we've seen coordinators come in and out. Congratulations to Rex, go ahead and do your thing with the Jets," Lewis said. "We're Ravens. We're Ravens for life, and that's an honor. The way we play defense is our mentality, it's not the coach's mentality. So whoever comes and goes, it was good playing with you but it's time to go on."

Lewis made the Pro Bowl last season, led the Ravens in tackles, had three interceptions and recovered two fumbles. Yet, soon after Baltimore lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, he began working toward the 2009 season.

After consulting with linebackers coach Vic Fagio, Lewis sought to trim his 6-foot-1 frame to be faster from sideline to sideline.

"I think losing the weight has been good for him," Harbaugh said. "He decided he wanted to be a bit lighter and maybe a little more active."

Said Lewis: "First of all, it's just a blessing from God that I can do it year after year — come back with no injuries, no setbacks, things like that. Anytime you can feel as good as I have this past offseason, you really have fun training. That's what I went back to."

His trainer, Monte Sanders, watched practice from the sideline Friday.

"Last year, he wanted to put on some weight. This year, he wanted to come down, get a little bit quicker and faster," Sanders said of Lewis. "For him, it was six miles a day of interval training, a bunch of ladders, a bunch of weightlifting. He's in incredible shape right now."

Looking at Lewis on the practice field, running hard on every play and yelling encouragement to those around him, a rookie can't help but be impressed. The veterans respect him, too.

"Ray is like the Michael Jordan on this team. His work ethic is totally off the charts," safety Ed Reed said. "His intensity and his character, and what he knows about the game, is what makes you want to get better."

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Wilfork To Take Care of Business

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Hester excited about starting training camp

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – With the Bears set to kick off training camp with a 3 p.m. practice Friday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, wide receiver Devin Hester shared his thoughts with reporters.

How big is training camp for you this year?
This camp is probably the most exciting camp I’ve ever been to as far as the NFL. I felt like I couldn’t wait until this camp started because of the quarterback that we have, Jay Cutler, and some of the other guys that are part of the offense. I feel like we have a more veteran team and this is a year I feel like we’ve got an opportunity to easily shoot for the playoffs and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl. I was really geeked up about coming into camp this year and I’m very excited and can’t wait to get started.

How much more familiar are you with the offense?
My first two or three years, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, Lord, camp.’ But this year I feel like I was ready for camp, like I know what’s going on, I know what to expect. It seems more like a field trip to me now, going out and just having fun and bonding with teammates. I look at [them] as brothers. I’m just happy to see everybody back together and just hanging out and getting prepared for the season.

What is Jay Cutler really like?
He’s really very laidback. He gets into a groove with us and then he chitchats and cracks jokes. He’s the type of quarterback that’s not really outspoken, but when you get him in a group of guys and he’s comfortable, that’s when he comes out of his shell and he has fun.

Will it be difficult for you to be a starting receiver and punt returner at the same time?
I don’t think so. It’s what I’m here for; it’s what I get paid for. God blessed me with the ability to go out and do the things that I’m capable of doing, and I want to go out and excel as a receiver and punt returner this year. This is a big season for me. Hopefully I can do well at both. I’m two punt returns shy of the record [for career touchdowns], so that is a goal in the back of my mind. And another goal of mine this year is to come out and be a complete receiver.

How do you explain your decline in production in the return game last season?
I would say [playing] receiver kind of [took] a toll on me as far as me just really trying to get my feet wet at the receiver spot. It was a learning process for me last year. We had a lot of new guys out there playing [on special teams]. This year I feel like all our guys are more veteran now and they’ve got a year under their belts. I have a year under my belt as a receiver, and this year we’re looking for bigger and better things.

What are your goals for training camp?
The most important thing is just to have fun. Learn a lot. Bond more with the players, mingle a little bit more and grow a stronger relationship. When you have a strong relationship with a team and everybody’s bonding together and everybody’s hanging out together and you’re communicating all the time, those are the teams that end up being successful. Just being a part of the team and everybody being back together and just communicating and going out and practicing and getting the job done, that’s all you can really ask for as a player.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of Jay Cutler getting on the receivers if needed?
We want that. That’s what we need. At the end of the day, it’s not about the coaches, it’s about the players. And whenever you get a guy like that that steps up as far as Olin Kreutz, Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher, those types of guys, they’re the ones that need to be coaching. They’re the key guys and that’s who the players are going to look up to and we’re going to listen to them. At the end of the day we’re out there playing with them. You can’t hear the coaches on the field [during games], so when those guys step up and get on a player, it really helps our team. That’s what bonds the players and brings us to a family, a unit. Whenever you get a quarterback like Jay, when he gets in his groove and starts speaking up and feels a little more confident, that’s when our offense is going to start clicking.

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