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Training Camp Report - What Do We Know?
by Todd Kleinheinz
August 14, 2003
 

The season is still over 3 weeks away, but most drafts and auction dates are closing in. So what do we know as last minute list tweaks, and draft prep hits the point of no return? A lot, you just have to know where to look.

Sure, the questions surrounding the QB battle in Cleveland and the RB situation in New England still need to be sorted out, but what about some other battles. How about out in San Francisco between Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow? Or across the bay with the multitude of WRs in Raider camp?

In 49er camp, the hope had been that Kevan Barlow would rise up and be “the Man” to carry the load for the 49er running game. Unfortunately, Barlow has been slow in picking up the nuances of the blitz and the complexities of Head Coach Dennis Erickson’s passing game. Because of these reasons Hearst has maintained his role as the starting RB. Now this isn’t to say that Barlow won’t have a productive year, in fact he very well may end up starting by week 5 and out produce Hearst 2 to 1, but right now, Hearst remains the starting RB.

Although troublesome to many fantasy owners who view the 49er offense as a possible gold mine in terms of fantasy points, the RB situation should very closely resemble that of a year ago. Fairly evenly split, with Hearst in on a majority of passing downs. Barlow has 3 weeks to show he has the physical and mental makeup to be a true #1 back, but by that time, most people will have already selected him or passed on him in their draft.

MY ADVICE – In 10-12 teams leagues Barlow is projected as a strong 3rd RB or a below average 2nd if the fantasy team has already loaded up on WRs and a QB. I would be thrilled to see Barlow available as a #3 fantasy back, because he isn’t a backup in the sense that he only sees the field when the starter is hurt, he splits time. And with the encouragement of Dennis Erickson for him to become the feature back, Barlow may turn into the perfect 2nd half of the season performer. I’d take a gamble on him before Hearst.

Over in Raider camp is it possible to have to many weapons? Maybe it is. Which way do you look, do you look at the aging Jerry Rice who has remained productive for nearly 2 decades or do you look to the young Jerry Porter who led the team in TD receptions last year, but is having a hard time breaking into the starting lineup? What about Mr. Raider, Tim Brown, where does he fit into the passing game? What about that #3 or #4 WR spot, if Rice, Porter and Brown are rotating in and out as the starters, and all of them demand the ball, where does that leave players like Charlie Garner, Doug Jolly, and rookie Teyo Johnson? Without the ball is the answer.

So which one will rise to the top? So far in camp it is still up in the air as to which WR will be #1, but it is becoming clear as to which WR has lost a little something. Tim Brown, although not officially, has been moving down the depth chart. Both Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter have been shining stars in camp, producing, beating DBs, and showcasing their tremendous ability. Brown however has taken a smaller role, playing the slot receiver, working as a third option. So it is clear that Brown is at the bottom of the big 3 WR list in Raider camp.

As for Garner, Jolly and Johnson, they will get their touches, but only in certain situation. Garner will be the release valve that QB Rich Gannon relies on for the short pick up. Jolly will strictly be used as a changeup down the middle of the field to keep the linebackers and safeties honest in their pass coverage. And Johnson will be used in the Red Zone. The former Stanford basketball player has the athletic ability to go up in a crowd and pull down the tough catch. Being 6’5” helps as well.

MY ADVICE – Move Brown down, Porter up, Johnson up in TD only leagues and Jolly nearly off the board. The Raiders are in a transition time and the only sure thing is that the young buck, Jerry Porter, is going to see a lot of balls thrown his way because he is the future of the Raiders passing game. Because Rice has to retire sometime, doesn’t he?

Sometimes an NFL coach translator is needed during training camp. For instance, in the situation of the Cleveland Browns QB situation, when Coach Butch Davis says, “We have 2 good QBs”, what he is really saying is, “We don’t have one REALLY good QB.” And that can often times spell doom, unless the coach digs in his heels, make a choice and sticks by them. For the Browns it is tough, one is a 1st round QB being paid big bucks who has fought with the team through the expansion years, and the other is the QB who helped you late last season and took you to a playoff victory. Tough choice.

MY ADVICE – By Coach Davis opening up the QB competition, I really believe he is letting the play on the field dictate which QB becomes the starter, and as of right now, my gut tells me he is leaning towards Kelly Holcomb. Why? Well, Tim Couch has had the label “potential” on him since he came out of Kentucky as the #1 draft choice in the NFL. Holcomb, well he didn’t come in with the fanfare, but he sure has the fans in his corner, and why, because he was the QB that led them to playoff glory, if only for a moment. Cleveland isn’t flashy (as demonstrated by their uniforms and helmet), what they are, are die hard football fans who care more about winning then anything else. Holcomb was the winner at the end of last year, and will most likely be the winner at the beginning of this year.

And although these are just 3 of the many battles being fought in training camps all across the land, these are 3 of the more interesting. Not to mention, ones that matter to the fantasy football owner. As always, I will keep my eyes open and my ear to the ground, and provide you with the latest in fantasy football information.