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THE RECENT three-team trade that sent running back T.J. Duckett from the Falcons to the Redskins is an ominous indicator of Clinton Portis's status. Portis has been nursing a dislocated left shoulder for more than two weeks, and several coaches say that the injury will bother him all season. He'd be fine if he were playing a position that isn't so physically demanding, but Portis will frequently take hard shots on the joint, and it will often be the first thing to hit the turf when he's tackled. One NFC coach says that even wearing a harness will be problematic because it would severely limit Portis's ability to raise his arm to catch passes. In other words, Portis is now the biggest risk among elite backs.
The trade should, however, excite fantasy owners interested in Warrick Dunn. The Falcons running back ran for a career-high 1,416 yards in 2005 but only scored three rushing touchdowns. Now that Duckett is gone, Falcons coach Jim Mora says Dunn will take over the short-yardage and goal-line responsibilities that once went to Duckett. Don't be surprised if Dunn doubles or triples his touchdown total from last year.
ALTHOUGH Julius Jones remains the Cowboys' featured back, backup MARION BARBER will have an expanded role in his second season. Jones gets the start because he has more home-run-hitting ability, but Barber is a better inside runner and pass receiver, so he'll play a lot on third downs. And Jones's injury history makes Barber an even more valuable commodity.
BY CATCHING everything thrown his way in camp, Darnerien McCants has earned the third receiver spot for the Eagles, behind starters Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett.