Looking for the next L.J.


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Jan 22, 2006
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Looking for the next L.J.

By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports
May 20, 2006

Finally, Lovie Smith gets the full-squad training camp he envisioned.

While the rest of the NFL world focuses on the Chicago Bears' defense, or Rex Grossman's brittle limbs – or why the team did so little to upgrade the offense this offseason – Smith will smile over the luxury he wasn't afforded last season. His first-round draft pick will be in camp on time. Granted, it will be last season's first-round pick, but it's progress all the same.

For a Bears team in need of a booster shot on offense, Cedric Benson's development is the offseason addition that didn't cost a dime. And when the regular season commences, he could stand out as the league's best young veteran not listed No. 1 on his team's running back chart. If Benson can't wrestle the starting job from Thomas Jones in training camp, it's not expected the two will split carries evenly. But this much is certain: The Bears will be looking for a way to get the ball into Benson's hands on a regular basis.

"I still think there's a one and there's a two and you have to establish that, which we've done," Smith said. "Our No. 1 is Thomas Jones. Our No. 2 is Cedric Benson. Our No. 3 is Adrian Peterson. I feel like we could win with either one being our starting guy. The one will get the majority of reps. But it's a long year. You have to play the two some. That's what we're going to do. That's the only plan we have right now is that.

"We're planning on [Benson getting more carries]. Cedric is planning on going into training camp fighting and winning the job. It's like Brian Griese and any other player in a backup role right now. That's only going to make our starter better at any position, just like the guy who is backing up Olin Kreutz. And that's when we really become a good football team, once we have a definite threat behind every position."

From a league-wide standpoint, Benson represents one of the most talented young veteran backups – if not the most talented one out there. And that's saying something considering some of the talent filling out the No. 2 slot on some depth charts. Yet, after being drafted fourth overall out of Texas, he's fallen off of the radar after one holdout and injury-plagued season.

A few months from now, he could be this season's Larry Johnson.

Here are five more young veteran running backs that could have breakout seasons in 2006:

Ciatrick Fason, Minnesota Vikings – He never got a legitimate opportunity under Mike Tice, and his role is still up in the air with the Vikings. But with Mewelde Moore expected to be used on special teams, Fason should handle most of the snaps as the backup behind Chester Taylor. Considering Taylor's size, there is no guarantee he will be able to stand up with a full workload. Fason has good game speed and has potential as a flanker.

Greg Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars – We keep hearing how Fred Taylor is ready to play a healthy season again, but it's not plausible. Jones showed flashes of being a big-time back last year but struggled behind a mediocre offensive line. If the Jaguars can open the holes for him, Jones has a rare combination of size and speed and could be a punishing hybrid fullback/running back like Mike Anderson.

Ryan Moats, Philadelphia Eagles – Moats averaged 5.1 yards per carry in very limited opportunities last season, but he had eye-opening performances in back-to-back games against the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams. He's short but very compact, and he has big-play ability. With Brian Westbrook struggling to stay healthy, and the Eagles vowing not to return to last season's pass-happy game plan, Moats should see consistent touches.

Chris Perry, Cincinnati Bengals – Perry has to find a way to stay healthy, but when he was at the top of his game last season, he showcased remarkable quickness and versatility. From a talent standpoint, the Bengals think he could fill in and thrive as a starter if Rudi Johnson were to go down with a significant injury. Like Michael Turner, Perry could end up being a top-notch starter with another team.

Michael Turner, San Diego Chargers – Beyond Cedric Benson, perhaps no young backup packs the punch and quickness of Turner, who many believe will end up being a quality NFL starter elsewhere. Though he's only carried the ball 77 times in his first two seasons, Turner has averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. What he lacked was a breakout moment – until he finally got it with last season's game-sealing 83-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.


The trade market for Denver Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie has been modest at best, with cursory interest from the Kansas City Chiefs, Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. But it is expected to improve if the Broncos are willing to sit tight until July. Right now, the asking price of a third-round pick appears a tad high, but when some teams are faced with going into training camp with thin talent at wide receiver, Lelie's trade value should firm up. Don't rule out Jacksonville as a dark-horse landing spot. And don't put a lot of stock into the talk that Lelie could be deactivated – unless David Terrell makes strides in training camp and Javon Walker's knee appears satisfactory.

If he's healthy, don't be surprised if LenDale White wins the Tennessee Titans' starting running back spot. The Titans think White can play tougher than either Chris Brown or Travis Henry and still stay healthy. As it stands, White is expected to be a big part of red-zone packages, but his role could increase exponentially if he fares well in training camp. The big concern is getting him onto the field in time to learn the pass-protection packages. Since rookie minicamp, White has been weighing around the high 230s consistently – a weight the team has deemed acceptable as long as he dedicates himself to the weight room.

If you're looking for a reason why the Steve McNair saga is dragging out in Tennessee, it's largely due to Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher wants McNair back maybe more than anyone in the organization, and he has repeatedly admitted that losing McNair would severely hinder the franchise's chances at success in 2006. Behind closed doors, Fisher has made it clear he's in favor of allowing McNair to return to the team's practice facility if it would aid in a contract renegotiation.
What Fisher hasn't been able to control is the blood feud that has developed between the quarterback and the front office – and the fact that the Baltimore Ravens have laid a double-digit signing bonus on the table for McNair. For now, the issue of McNair being barred from practice facility workouts is going to arbitration, and don't expect any renewed trade talks between Tennessee and Baltimore before that. The Ravens are content to wait for the outcome, hoping that an arbitrator rules McNair must be allowed to return to the practice facility or be released.

Chalk up Ty Law as another player whose future isn't likely to be hashed out anytime soon. While Law recently took a physical with the New England Patriots, no offer was made and interest in his services across the league has been flat. One thing is clear: He won't be getting the signing bonus he thinks he deserves, and once again may have to wait until August to land a contract.

The Chiefs' flirtation with trading for New Orleans Saints running back Michael Bennett is as much a sign of irritation as it is a move to secure a backup for Larry Johnson. Kansas City's front office has expressed some internal frustration over the time running back Priest Holmes is taking to decide whether to play this season. The Chiefs don't want to rush Holmes publicly, particularly given the sensitive nature of last year's injuries, but they aren't willing to wait until training camp to hear his final answer. Holmes isn't expected to take part in the team's offseason activities, and K.C. is still waiting on him to attain medical clearance for 2006 – which he has yet to do.

The recovery of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards has remained on the slow track this offseason. The Browns have instructed Edwards not to talk about his progress publicly, but a league source said he will likely miss the beginning of the 2006 season. His first game action could be the end of September or the beginning of October.

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