Commentary

Training Camp Notebook: Will Brown start?

Updated: August 29, 2007, 12:57 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

It's a thought fantasy owners dread: Is Cam Cameron becoming the new Mike Shanahan?

As Shanahan has done in Denver for so many years, Cameron has played coy about his running back plans all preseason, suggesting that Jesse Chatman, a former player of his during his days as offensive coordinator in San Diego, actually might be a candidate to win the job. Could what initially might have been merely a ploy to motivate the incumbent Ronnie Brown, a second-round pick in most every fantasy league so far this season, actually become a reality when Cameron names his starter on Monday?

All signs point to Brown retaining his starting role, despite his inconsistencies near the goal line and underwhelming -- albeit solid -- numbers in his first two NFL seasons. Keep an eye out for Cameron's announcement, but you can count on the football world being shocked if it's not Brown being tabbed. Think to even higher levels than had Shanahan officially tabbed Mike Bell his Week 1 starter ahead of Tatum Bell last season.

Chatman hasn't appeared in an NFL game since suiting up for the Chargers in 2004. The fact that Chatman's still a factor in the backfield doesn't speak well for Brown. By all rights, Brown should start and get the overwhelming majority of the touches; Chatman, who averaged 6.0 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns in his most recent season in 2004, probably will be worked in more often than initially expected. Chatman could sneak in as a third-down back, cutting into Brown's touches, or worse, he could develop into a goal-line option, further hurting Brown's appeal.

The upshot of Cameron's posturing is that Brown owners need handcuff him with Chatman, at least until the Dolphins' depth chart is settled. Don't push Brown down from his current 16.2 average draft position, though. He's still every bit talented enough to repeat or improve upon his 2006 numbers. Here's an interesting little tidbit that could help in leagues that allow bonus scoring for it: Brown and Chatman have been splitting the kick/punt return duties, which could mean a little gravy for either in the TD department.

Other News and Notes

• Though recent training-camp activity seemed to indicate otherwise, the San Antonio Express-News reports that Marion Barber III's role from a year ago isn't expected to change this season. That means the bruising goal-line back should continue to get the bulk of the work there, as well as in third-down situations. There had been some talk this preseason that Barber and Julius Jones would share carries in all situations, with Jones being worked in more frequently near the goal line. That could yet happen, as Barber seems unlikely to match last year's astonishing 16 TDs, but for fantasy, it again seems likely that Jones will be the better candidate to crack the 1,000-yard plateau, Barber the 10-TD plateau. While it's possible either could step up as the go-to guy, the tandem's success last season only increases the chances the team repeats its 2006 plan.

Jason Campbell apparently will start at quarterback in the Redskins' preseason finale on Thursday, his knee bruise now fully healed. That's hardly significant to fantasy owners in terms of his value -- he's being picked 29th on average at his position -- but a healthy Campbell should make people feel safer about having guys like Santana Moss or Chris Cooley on a roster. Any absences by Campbell would leave the ball in the hands of the erratic Mark Brunell or the untested Todd Collins, which could alter drastically the receiving totals of either Moss or Cooley.

Hines Ward underwent minor surgery Tuesday to repair a broken nose apparently suffered during practice, according to a Pittsburgh radio station. Coach Mike Tomlin said afterward that Ward still could play in Thursday's preseason finale, and he'll certainly be ready to play in Week 1. Ward, who has averaged 1,089 yards and 9 touchdowns the past five seasons, actually has been a slight draft bargain thus far, going 18th among receivers.

• The Broncos placed Rod Smith (hip) on the physically-unable-to-perform list on Tuesday, ruling him out for the first six weeks of the season (five games). The former fantasy star wasn't draftable this year, but his absence virtually guarantees Brandon Marshall will start opposite Javon Walker in Week 1. Keep in mind Marshall managed 233 receiving yards and a score working with quarterback Jay Cutler the final five weeks of last season, and in an expanded role he could be a great late-round value pick for 2007.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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