Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Humbled Culpepper should be motivated
By Jeffri Chadiha
Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher spent Monday afternoon playing in the most high-profile pickup softball game in the Windy City. For the second consecutive year, he led 10 of his best buddies deep into an undisclosed suburb to play a team created by former Chicago Bulls star and current Charlotte Bobcats part-owner Michael Jordan. Apparently, Jordan was eager for revenge, too.
"Last year we kicked their butts," Urlacher said. "We won both games we played, and we took the first one 20-8."
As much as Urlacher enjoyed the chance to face Jordan again in this secret contest, his upbeat mood also was the result of an offseason once again filled with promise. Despite all the issues surrounding the Bears during the past few months -- from the departure of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to the contract dispute of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to the eight-game suspension of defensive tackle Tank Johnson -- Urlacher remains convinced his team can repeat as NFC champion.
As proof, Urlacher cites the positives from the Bears' defense this offseason. The return of Pro Bowl defenders Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, both of whom were lost to injuries last season, should help immensely. The improved health of cornerback Charles Tillman, who underwent back surgery earlier this year, is another plus. Urlacher even says Briggs' fill-in, second-year linebacker Jamar Williams, has turned some heads with his athleticism during offseason workouts.
"We all know what this team can do, so it's not hard to get up for next season," Urlacher said.
Speaking of next season, this first installment of Three and Out will take a closer look at a trio of other topics that should be of interest as the offseason winds down. Here we go:
|Brian Urlacher led a Bears defense that allowed only 15.9 points per game last season.|
1. Latest Pacman Jones chapter
This is one of those stories that seemed impossible to believe from the moment it rolled across the news wire. It doesn't matter that much that Jones wasn't directly involved in the shooting outside an Atlanta-area strip club early Monday morning. Police, who want to question Jones, are investigating whether Jones' friends are involved. If they were, Jones has already lost a lot more leeway in the eyes of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the man who suspended Jones for a year and promised complete banishment from the league if Jones didn't alter his lifestyle. What's even scarier about this incident is that it happened less than a week after Jones met with Goodell and agreed to drop his appeal of that suspension.
When I try to make sense of all this, I keep coming back to a comment made by a person who knows Jones well. This source explained to me that Jones comes from such a rough background in Atlanta that he just can't grasp how bad all his run-ins with the law appear to the public, regardless of whether Jones is involved in the action.
"Pacman probably has spent his entire life being questioned by police about something that happened around him," the source said. "It doesn't mean he's guilty of the things they ask him about. It just means that he's gotten used to the idea of police coming around looking for information. That's just the way it was when he grew up."
If that's the case, Jones should start realizing how bad it looks when the police come calling. If he can't do that, he'll be wondering what happened to his career in the not-too-distant future.
2. Bountiful backfield in Washington
Redskins fans searching for positives this season need to focus first on a rushing offense that should be even stronger than in 2006, when it ranked fourth in the NFL. That's because offensive coordinator Al Saunders has spent the offseason deciding how best to use running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts.
Although Portis missed eight games last season because of shoulder and hand injuries, his absence allowed Betts to enjoy a breakout season (1,154 yards in nine starts) and gave Saunders reason to be optimistic about the 2007 campaign.
2006 Season Stats
"Having those two guys will give us a lot of flexibility," Saunders said. "It's comparable to the situation we had in Kansas City when we had Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. This offense is built around the running back, and we're definitely not going to be one-dimensional."
Saunders was especially complimentary of Betts, who he calls a three-dimensional back because of his skills as a runner, receiver and blocker. Saunders isn't quite sure how he'll involve both backs, but he plans to make the most of their talents. He added that the only thing he worries about is the health of both players (Portis, the expected starter, already has been held out of offseason workouts as he recovered from hand surgery). If they can stay on the field, they can ease the pressure on young quarterback Jason Campbell and help a defense that must improve drastically.
2006 Season Stats
3. Daunte Culpepper's future
Put aside for a moment the sheer stupidity of this drama unfolding in South Florida. Regardless of what happens after Daunte Culpepper's grievance hearing June 29 -- when he'll make the case that the Miami Dolphins recently breached his contract by prohibiting him from participating in practice drills -- the real question is whether this former Pro Bowl quarterback can reach an elite level again. I believe it can happen now for one key reason: The man has been humbled.
It's one thing for Culpepper to rehabilitate a severely damaged right knee that has been so problematic that it cost him most of the 2006 season. It's quite another when a new head coach has spurned him for the second time in as many seasons (first Minnesota's Brad Childress dealt Culpepper to Miami, and now Miami's Cam Cameron has brought in Trent Green to be his starter). As hard as Culpepper has worked on his knee during the past 18 months, you can bet he is willing to invest even more energy into proving that somebody made a mistake in writing him off.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.