Camp battles, Part III: Wide Receivers
Posted: Friday August 13, 2004 10:11PM; Updated: Friday August 13, 2004 10:12PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
Time for the third installment of my position-by-position look at training camp battles. This week the focus is on competition -- whether of the traditional head-to-head variety or not -- at wide receiver.
Here are a few examples of situations fantasy owners need to keep an eye on:
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald vs. Overwhelming Odds
A day after learning Anquan Boldin's knee injury was worse than first believed, head coach Dennis Green said he was hopeful that Boldin would return in time to make a contribution this fall. "I can't really add any more light at all on Anquan, except that I think we're very optimistic that he'll return at some point during the season, in the first half of the season, and he'll really be able to help us when he does," Green said.
But until Boldin and fellow starter Bryant Johnson, who will miss the bulk of camp with an injured foot, return man Karl Williams, will move into the starting lineup alongside Fitzgerald and Bryan Gilmore with Nate Poole, Jason McAddley and others bringing up the rear.
"We've got all kinds of options," Green said.
And at this point, all of them appear to be Fitzgerald. Which is a bit worrisome.
While there's no doubt he's as talented an incoming rookie as we'll see this year, Fitzgerald will be surrounded by a very questionable supporting cast running a new offense led by an unproven quarterback in Josh McCown.
And the winner is: Sorry. No winners here, folks.
Buffalo Bills: Lee Evans vs. Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw
As I noted back in April, Evans -- the fastest of this year's rookie receivers -- is more than capable of making an instant impact. Even after 2002 ACL surgery, Evans clocked consistent 4.35 to 4.41 times.
As position coach Tyke Tolbert recently said, "Lee gives you that dimension that's hard to coach. You can't coach speed, and he has that speed. He's a guy that we're looking forward to be a deep threat and stretch the field vertically and open up some lanes for other guys."
Evans demonstrated that speed early in last Saturday's scrimmage against the Browns when he hauled in a 50-yard pass from Travis Brown after blowing by veteran cornerback Robert Griffith
Asked about Evans later, Brown said, "He's different than most human beings in the gears that he has. Lee has just had a great camp."
So it's probably not surprising that Evans continues to work extensively with the first team offense while Josh Reed comes off the bench in three receiver sets and Shaw works with the reserves.
And the winner is: Evans!
This is the NFL, kids. Speed kills and Evans is a very dangerous man.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Reggie Williams vs. Keenan McCardell
In know, I know. McCardell is embroiled in a heated and protracted contract holdout with Tampa Bay, where he's plied his trade the last two seasons.
But as The Associated Press suggested Friday, the Jaguars have had a very difficult replacing the man whose departure broke up one of the top receiving tandems in league history.
In fact, McCardell and Jimmy Smith were the most productive receiving duo in NFL history over a six-year period and the list of those who have failed to get the job done over the last two seasons includes R. Jay Soward, Shaw, Patrick Johnson, Matthew Hatchette, Kevin Johnson, Troy Edwards and others. None of them came close to producing the way McCardell did.
Edwards is slated to start Saturday night's preseason opener alongside Smith, but the focus will be on Williams. Although he has struggled early in camp, Williams continues to flash the kind of ability that made him the ninth pick overall in April's draft.
And the winner is: Ernest Wilford?
According to the recent reports, Wilford (6-3, 220) has a similar build to fellow rookie Williams, but has distinguished himself with his sure hands and solid work ethic. He lacks great speed, but Wilford appears to have an edge over Williams -- at this point.
Meaning the real winner is: Williams.
Given his lofty draft status and accompanying expectations, Williams will have to fall flat on his face in order to prevent coaches from lining him up opposite Smith come opening day.
Miami Dolphins: Derrius Thompson vs. Past Failure
The Dolphins are trying to replace David Boston, whose season-ending knee injury last week left the team with little experience opposite Chris Chambers. Of course, Boston and Chambers were supposed to give Miami its best receiving duo since Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and take the focus off Chambers, who caught 164 passes for 2,580 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first three seasons.
Not anymore. Not with Thompson suddenly thrust back into a starting role.
In case you missed it, Thompson was a disappointment last season, catching 26 passes for 359 yards and getting partially blamed for missing the playoffs. And -- get this -- Thompson said that criticism hurt, lowering his self-esteem to the point that he just wanted to get as far away from Miami as he could. He went back home to Dallas, distancing himself from football and surrounding himself with family and friends.
He didn't expect to re-sign with the Dolphins.
Now he feels as if he has a second chance.
"I have a lot to prove," he said. "I'm definitely a better player than I showed at times last year. I know I can make plays, so I feel like I have to prove something to the coaching staff and my teammates and the league. That's the motivation right there."
And the winner is: Past failure!
Why? Because I haven't seen Thompson do anything to suggest otherwise since leaving Washington for Miami a year ago. Unfortunately, the Dolphins don't currently have anybody on the roster capable of pushing for the job.
Terrence Wilkins has just five catches in the last two seasons. Kendall Newson, J.R. Tolver and Sam Simmons have two career receptions combined.
In fact, the situation is so bad the Dolphins are seriously considering veteran free agent Antonio Freeman, who worked out for them Tuesday. They also are keeping an eye on McCardell's holdout in Tampa Bay.
That's all for now. Check back next week when we review tight ends and place-kickers.