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    Vic Carucci's Tuesday Huddle

    Vic Carucci's Tuesday Huddle


    By Vic Carucci
    National Editor, NFL.com


    OPENING DRIVE
    (July 11, 2006) -- In searching for the team with the best running back situation in the NFL, one might choose to look no further than the Seattle Seahawks.

    Not a bad choice.


    Shaun Alexander has all the tools to be successful behind a couple new linemen.
    Shaun Alexander pretty much carried the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL. Along the way, he won the league's rushing title and had an NFL-record 28 touchdowns.

    The operative word here, though, is "situation." That expands the scope of the discussion beyond the featured running back to include contributions of reserves and the offensive line, and whether the coach is genuinely committed to moving the ball on the ground.

    This is how I would rank the top 10 teams with the best running back situations in the league:

    1. Kansas City: New coach Herman Edwards is going to bring a more power-oriented approach to the Chiefs offense, and that means Larry Johnson will have every opportunity to win the rushing title. Priest Holmes would be an impressive backup, provided his body allows him to play another season. If Holmes should retire, Dee Brown is a solid No. 2 who won't see much of the football.

    2. Carolina: A healthy DeShaun Foster is a top-flight starter. If he can't give the Panthers a full season, first-round draft pick DeAngelo Williams figures to fill in nicely for short or even long stretches, or take the starting job himself. The Panthers are fully committed to pounding the ball to help ensure optimum performance from their dominant defense and to help set up big pass plays to Steve Smith.

    3. Seattle: Alexander should have another excellent season, although running behind an offensive line that lost the best guard in the game (Steve Hutchinson), he probably won't be quite as dominant as he was in 2005.

    4. Tampa Bay: With added strength and knowledge, Cadillac Williams should be an even more explosive force this season. Michael Pittman is an effective playmaker running and catching the ball, but he likely will see only spot duty given the Bucs' tendency to allow Williams to carry the bulk of their offense on his shoulders.

    5. San Diego: LaDainian Tomlinson remains one of the foremost double threats in the league. He is lobbying for a larger role in the Chargers' passing game than he had last season. San Diego's coaches would figure to oblige, especially because it can only help build confidence in new starter Philip Rivers.


    At 30 years old, Tiki Barber set career highs in attempts, rushing yards and total yards.
    6. New York Giants: Tiki Barber gets better with age, and Tom Coughlin will continue to use a run-first approach to complement his defense and ease the pressure on Eli Manning. Keep an eye on backup Derrick Ward, who has shown that he could make an impact if given the chance.

    7. Arizona: Edgerrin James is an extraordinary talent, but it remains to be seen whether the Cardinals' offensive line can develop the same tremendous synchronization and chemistry that the Colts' line had with him in running stretch plays to perfection.

    8. Atlanta: I know this seems a little low for the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL the last couple years, but so much of the Falcons' production on the ground depends on the scrambling of Michael Vick. That said, Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett make for as solid a combination as any in the league.

    9. Miami: Ronnie Brown has the perfect blend of power and speed, and Ricky Williams' suspension means that he will carry a greater share of the load. Brown should be up to the challenge, although the Dolphins are still looking to fortify their depth at the position.

    10. St. Louis: New coach Scott Linehan is replacing Mike Martz's bombs-away offense with a run-oriented philosophy that will take full advantage of the size, speed and power of Steven Jackson. Marshall Faulk is likely to retire because of a persistent knee problem, so Jackson won't be sharing the ball too much.

    Best of the rest: Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, Cincinnati, New Orleans.

    SHORT YARDAGE
    •Archie Manning had it right when he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that his son, Eli, has the ideal personality to handle the intense media scrutiny of New York. "He doesn't go high or low," the elder Manning said. Eli Manning's even-keeled approach is good for coping with the daily barrage of criticism, and even praise. But I'm not so sure how well it serves him when it comes to getting his teammates to view him as the leader Manning is supposed to be as a quarterback. I get the feeling the rest of the members of the Giants offense want to follow Manning and believe he is capable of taking command in the most difficult and pressure-packed situations. Manning might very well be able to do that, but his tendency to keep his emotions suppressed (at least in public) might be causing him to fall short in the inspiration department.


    The Broncos should be ready for full-speed drills as soon as camp opens.
    •Maybe it isn't about how many offseason workouts that teams have, but when they have them. The Denver Broncos recently held the NFL's only July minicamp and the feedback from their players has been extremely positive. First, it makes the wait for the start of training camp seem shorter. Second, it replaces the monotony of lifting weights and other off-field activity that players throughout the league normally do this time of year with actual football drills. Third, it allows the coaches to have a better gauge on the progress of players, mentally and physically, at the start of training camp rather than going more than a month without seeing them.

    •I always find myself looking at Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor and thinking, if only he could stay healthy, he could have an off-the-charts career. Taylor is very good, but at some point on the way to greatness he encounters a road block, such as the nagging knee problem that he said does not bother him any longer. Taylor is doing all he can to take control of keeping his body in one piece and allowing himself to perform at the highest level possible. He has worked with a personal trainer during the offseason, and, at 227 pounds, he is about seven pounds lighter than his playing weight in recent seasons. He told Jaguars.com he expects that, in addition to the power to withstand collisions, he should be able to have burst. If so, Taylor could do something special in an offense desperate to replace the loss of its best playmaker in Jimmy Smith.

    •The Houston Texans are determined to make tight end a major component of their offense. They have two good ones in Mark Bruener and Jeb Putzier, whom new coach Gary Kubiak brought with him from Denver, as well as fourth-round draft pick Owen Daniels from Wisconsin. Another candidate at the position is Bennie Joppru, who has been sidelined by groin muscle and knee injuries since joining the Texans in 2003 as a second-round draft pick from Michigan. Joppru is healthy and expects to get a legitimate shot to stick with the new coaching regime, which, he told me, has helped create an unmistakably higher level of excitement within the team. "Last year at this time, there were probably about 10 guys down in Houston working out (at the team's facility)," Joppru said. "On (July 6), we had an optional run and 27 or 30 guys showed up for the run. There's a whole new attitude down there. We're all working hard. I think we're going to make our fans happy this year."

    •Among the many reasons for second guessing the Buffalo Bills' coaches last season was their underutilizing Willis McGahee in red-zone situations. McGahee was a disappointment last year, especially after failing to live up to his public declaration of being the best running back in the NFL. Nevertheless, he was -- and still is -- the Bills' best offensive talent, and having him more involved in scoring situations should be a no-brainer. There is reason to believe that new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild recognizes as much. Although McGahee's decision to stay away from the vast majority of offseason workouts in Buffalo was unpopular with the new regime of general manager Marv Levy and coach Dick Jauron, he at least made a good impression by showing up for his lone minicamp appearance in top physical condition. I think McGahee, motivated in part by the desire to get a better contract, is determined to show great improvement over what he did in '05.

    •It's easy to find reasons to doubt the New England Patriots' ability to return to their dynastic ways, but one difference-making development should be the return of safety Rodney Harrison from a knee injury. So far, there is no specific timetable on when he might be on the field. He could very well miss all of the preseason, but if he is playing by the start or the early portion of the regular season, the Patriots defense should be automatically stronger. Harrison's contributions go beyond what he can do physically. He does a superb job of communicating the many calls involved in the scheme and is a consummate leader.


    Ask Vic!
    Have a question for Vic on anything NFL related? Don't just sit there -- send it to AskVic@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!
    •There shouldn't be too much fuss over the possibility of Bill Parcells calling the Dallas Cowboys' offensive plays to fill the void created by the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean Payton, who now coaches the New Orleans Saints. I've heard concerns voiced by Cowboys followers that it might compromise Parcells' ability to manage other aspects of the game. But Parcells has ample experience in multitasking on the sidelines. He started to become heavily involved in offensive play-calling as head coach of the New York Jets, periodically taking the duties away from a young assistant who would go on to become one of the best offensive play-callers in football -- Charlie Weis. Parcells knows when he has a good feel for an opponent's defense and how to best exploit it. He also knows how to push the right buttons to get more production from Drew Bledsoe than anyone who has ever coached the veteran quarterback in the NFL.

    •The Detroit Lions are counting on the return of injured linebackers Boss Bailey (ankle) and Teddy Lehman (foot) to contribute heavily to their defensive revival under new coach Rod Marinelli, but the fact neither was able to do much of anything during offseason workouts is cause for serious concern. For one thing, the players will have little time to work on their conditioning and stamina. For another, they need all the practice they can get in the new Cover Two defense that Marinelli is installing. The defense requires each player to carry out his assignment with perfection (or as close to it as possible). Otherwise, the offense can easily find an opening to exploit for a big play.

    FIVE REASONS WHY …
    …Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes should retire:
    •Concerns over whether his injured neck can hold up through the punishment of another NFL season.
    •He can only diminish, rather than enhance, a career in which he established himself as one of the all-time great rushing/receiving threats.
    •Inability to work out during the offseason because of the neck problems.
    •He is likely to see very little of the football as a backup to Larry Johnson.
    •After battling back from three knee injuries and a displaced hip, he doesn't have to prove anything to anyone.

    RANDOM THOUGHTS
    -- Forget about all of the drama that surrounded Brett Favre's decision to return for another season and the questions surrounding the inexperience of new coach Mike McCarthy. An offensive line that probably will include a pair of rookies at guard -- Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz -- is going to make or break the Green Bay Packers' season.

    -- The Texans' selection of Gary Kubiak as their coach was made, in large part, because of his ability to make quarterbacks better. So far David Carr has shown significant improvement in his arm strength, accuracy and footwork in the pocket.


    Ed Reed was good enough for a contract extension, but he can't do it all by himself.
    -- The Baltimore Ravens can't be comfortable about the fact that not only do they need to find a steady starter to pair with Ed Reed at safety, but they also have gaping holes at nickel and dime back.

    -- The Bears are hoping they can get fullback Bryan Johnson back in the lineup from a foot injury that could cause him to begin training camp on their physically unable to perform (PUP) list because their offense isn't quite the same without him.

    -- I'm a big Adam Vinatieri fan, but I have faith that rookie Steve Gostkowski will adequately fill the role that arguably the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history once occupied for the Patriots.

    -- This quote that Brian Jennings gave *****.com gives a whole new meaning to depth for a long snapper: "My goal isn't necessarily to snap the ball accurately. I don't spend my offseason just doing that. I spend my offseason trying to make myself a better person physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. The by-product of that goal is that I snap the ball accurately."

    -- You get the feeling that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan might not be completely sold on his presumed top two running backs, Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell, when you hear him talk about rookie Mike Bell, Cedric Cobbs and even fullback Cecil Sapp being in the mix for the starting job.

    -- Don't be surprised, if the Dolphins perform as well as many prognosticators think they will this season, to hear coach Nick Saban give some credit to the team's new 96,000-square-foot indoor practice bubble that should cut down on the number of practices shortened or cancelled because of inclement weather or extreme heat and humidity.

    -- One of the underappreciated aspects of the Buccaneers' defensive dominance was the inside work of lineman Ellis Wyms, who is capable of lining up at end but has made, with his quickness and explosiveness, a strong case to continue to receive considerable playing time at tackle.

    AUDIBLES (WHERE THE READERS ALWAYS WRITE)
    When will someone open his eyes to what is going on in Green Bay? Brett Favre is OVERRATED! Just look at his last few seasons. The numbers in the INT column should stick out. Not to mention his situational stats. Can anyone remember the last time Brett has looked halfway decent in a playoff game since the 1997 Super Bowl loss to John Elway's Broncos? All the Packer fans are B-L-I-N-D. They cannot admit that their precious hero is washed up. Favre WAS good. Key word: WAS! The Packers pay all this money to Favre, he doesn't produce, they hire the offensive coordinator of the ***** (the worst offense in several years) so he will come back. Am I the only one who thinks the Packers should be GLAD when he finally retires? -- Will D., Milwaukee

    As a lifelong Steelers fan, it is always nice to read compliments about the organization and coach you've followed and supported for years. But facts are facts. If I read one more time that "Big Ben is the beneficiary of being drafted by a great team …" Arrg!!! Taking a quick look at reality, we find that the Steelers won-loss record was 16-15-1 in the two years prior to his arrival and, lo and behold, 27-4 in his starts since. It would appear that the Steelers are the beneficiary of finding a great quarterback, and most certainly not the opposite. -- Mike D.

    Quoting you: "New York Giants: Can Eli Manning erase some or all of the flaws -- such as accuracy, arm strength and a tendency to be rattled by early pressure -- that surfaced in his first full season as a starter?" I really think that you need to cut Eli some slack. Not every quarterback can do what Big Ben has done. Yes, Eli has had his share of poor games, but you can't forget that this was just his second season as starter and his first full season completed. In this last year he has broken numerous Giants records (both season and game), brought the Giants to the playoffs, and finally brought some life back to the Giants passing game. He is a Manning and a hell of a QB. I really think it is pretty premature to start getting down on him considering the things he has shown us so far. -- Dave F.


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    RamsFan4ever's Avatar
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    Re: Vic Carucci's Tuesday Huddle

    Thats a good place for the Rams! But cardinals shouldnt be that high, their line isnt so great
    Last edited by RamsFan4ever; -07-12-2006 at 01:39 PM.

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    Re: Vic Carucci's Tuesday Huddle

    I hate to admit it, but that seems high for us IF, like Vic says, Faulk is likely to retire. I don't think we're going to run the ball as much as Mr. Carruci here seems to think, our o-line situation is getting better but is still less than ideal, and if Faulk leaves, our depth isn't great. Jackson is sure to improve, but I wouldn't rate him higher than Clinton Portis at the moment. I don't think Stephen Jackson and Tony Fisher compare favorably to Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson in Chicago either. They've effectively got two backs good enough to start, and we know for sure Chicago will run the ball. You could even make a case that New England could be above us with Corey Dillon and Lawrence Maroney. Trying to be objective here, I would have expected us to be in the "best of the rest" group because of depth concerns and the rest of the weapons on offense.

    That Cardinals ranking in the top 10 is pretty funny. Okay, so they've got Edge, but when it comes to depth, offensive line, and coaching philosophy, all the rest of last year's problems are still there.

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