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■ Chargers RB Ryan Mathews: Mathews led the nation in rushing (150.6 yards per game)

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews:

Mathews led the nation in rushing (150.6 yards per game) and 19 TDs. His 1,808 yards rushing ranked fourth in WAC histo- ry. The all-time leader? The guy he’s replacing, LaDainian Tomlinson.

Bills RB C.J. Spiller: Spiller was the

ACC Player of the Year from Clemson. He not only rushed for 1,212 yards and 12 TDs, he caught 36

not only rushed for 1,212 yards and 12 TDs, he caught 36 Bryant passes with four

Bryant

passes with four TDs and returned four kickoffs and a punt for TDs.

Cowboys WR Dez

Bryant: Bryant slid to the 24th spot of the draft because of char-

acter concerns, but there’s no denying his ability to make big

plays as a receiver and kick returner.

Lions DT Ndamukong Suh: Has there

ever been such a can’t-miss prospect who failed? Well, yes, the Lions’ draft history is filled with them. Not since Alex Karras and Roger Brown more than 40 years ago have the Lions had such a force in the defensive line.

ago have the Lions had such a force in the defensive line. Berry ■ Chiefs S

Berry

Chiefs S Eric

Berry: The Chiefs ignored conventional wisdom by taking a safety with the fifth pick of the draft, so Berry needs to be the next Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu. Berry will

provide much-needed back-end speed to the defense, but he’ll need a pass rush and some run stoppers in front of him to be effective.

— Randy Covitz

stoppers in front of him to be effective. — Randy Covitz ■ Washington QB Donovan McNabb:

Washington QB Donovan McNabb:

Won’t this be a strange sight: McNabb in a Washington uniform? But if Brett Favre can be a Jet or a Viking and Joe Montana can play for the Chiefs, then McNabb — the face of the Philadelphia Eagles for 11 years, five NFC

the face of the Philadelphia Eagles for 11 years, five NFC McNabb Championship games and a

McNabb

Championship games

and a Super Bowl — can play for an NFC East rival. McNabb, 33, is not as elusive as in past years, so he’d better pray left tackle Trent Williams, the club’s first-round draft pick, gets to camp and can play right away.

Raiders QB Jason Campbell: Give Al

Davis credit. He took the hit and pulled the plug on the JaMarcus Russell debacle — though maybe a year late — and traded for Campbell after Washington acquired McNabb. Campbell’s head must be burst- ing with different formations and termi- nologies. Campbell, Washington’s first- round draft pick in 2005, will be playing for his third head coach and fourth offen- sive coordinator in six seasons.

Bears DE Julius Peppers: Peppers

was the plum of the unrestricted free agent class, and the Bears shelled out $42 mil- lion in guaranteed money for one of the game’s most feared pass rushers. Peppers’ 81 sacks since he entered the league as the second pick of the

sacks since he entered the league as the second pick of the Peppers 2002 draft rank

Peppers

2002 draft rank third

among active players.

He had 14.5 sacks in

2008 and 10.5 in

2009, and no Bears player has had double-digit sacks in back- to-back seasons since Rosevelt Colvin in

2001-02.

Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall:

There’s little question about Marshall’s ability. But he has had many issues off the field and in the locker room. Marshall caught 101 passes, including 10 TDs in 15 games for Denver last season (his third straight season of 100-plus catches) before he was deactivated for the season-finale against the Chiefs. Bill Parcells gambled two second-round picks on Marshall, who gives the Dolphins a badly needed No. 1 receiver who can stretch the field and draw double coverage.

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin: Boldin

bristled at being overshadowed by Larry Fitzgerald at Arizona and forced a trade to Baltimore, where he has a chance to be a true No. 1 receiver. Boldin’s big-play ability will be helpful in the development of third-year QB Joe Flacco and should

in the development of third-year QB Joe Flacco and should Boldin take the heat off 14-

Boldin

take the heat off 14-

year pro Derrick Mason, but he’ll have to remember that the Ravens have built their offense around the running game, defense and then pass- ing.

— Randy Covitz

2010

NFL

SEASON

PREVIEW

and then pass- ing. — Randy Covitz 2010 NFL SEASON PREVIEW ROBERT GAUTHIER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT New

ROBERT GAUTHIER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT

New York Jets running back Shonn Greene, No. 23, rushed for 540 yards last season while splitting backfield duties with Thomas Jones, who rushed for 1,402 yards.

B Y RANDY C OVITZ
B Y RANDY C OVITZ

McClatchy Newspapers

for 1,402 yards. B Y RANDY C OVITZ McClatchy Newspapers NFL teams using multiple running backs
for 1,402 yards. B Y RANDY C OVITZ McClatchy Newspapers NFL teams using multiple running backs

NFL teams using multiple running backs to split workload

NFL teams using multiple running backs to split workload MARK CORNELISON/LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER/MCT New Orleans

MARK CORNELISON/LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER/MCT

New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas, No. 23, left, celebrates a touchdown with teammate Reggie Bush, No. 25, right, during Super Bowl XLIV.

upon in the red zone and on passing downs. Both will benefit from the blocking of ageless fullback Tony Richardson.

Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles and

Thomas Jones: Once Charles got hold of the starting job last sea- son, there was no stopping him. During the last eight games of the season, only the Titans’ Chris Johnson (1,047) rushed for more yards than Charles, who capped the year with a club-record, 259-yard performance at Denver. But Charles is slightly built — 5-11, 199 pounds — and the muscular Jones — 5- 10, 212 — will help keep Charles fresh for the long grind as well as extend his own career.

onship game, when he converted a fourth- and-1 in overtime that kept the game-win- ning drive alive. But he also produced 21 runs of 10 yards or more during the sea- son. Bush’s speed keeps defenses honest. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry and is only the second active player to score at least 10 TDs each by rushing and receiv- ing in his first four NFL seasons.

Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart and

DeAngelo Williams: Carolina coach John Fox loves to run the ball, and this is the ultimate thunder and lightning combina- tion: Stewart, a burly 235-pounder, and Williams, who is compact but fast. Their production was nearly identical last sea- son: Stewart carried 221 times for 1,333 yards and 10 TDs; Williams, 1,117 yards on 216 carries and 7 TDs. That total of 2,250 was just shy of their 2,351 yards in 2008, the most by a running back combi- nation since 1984.

Cowboys’ Marion Barber and Felix

Jones: Barber, a battering ram; Jones, a blazer; and Tashard Choice, perhaps the most complete back on the roster, combine to give Dallas one of the best groups of runners in the league. Even though all three were nicked at one point of the season, the Cowboys still averaged 4.82 yards per carry, second- best to Tennessee. If Barber remains healthy, he’ll still be the fea- tured back, and Jones may be more involved as a receiver, much like the Saints’ Bush.

involved as a receiver, much like the Saints’ Bush. Saints’ Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush: Thomas

Saints’ Pierre Thomas and Reggie

Bush: Thomas was the unsung hero of the Saints’ championship season, picking up the tough yards when needed, especially in the NFC champi-

JOHN

SLEEZER/

THE

KANSAS

CITY

STAR/

MCT

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, No. 28, led the league in rushing last season with 2,006 yards.

he NFL had its first 2,000-yard running back in six years last sea- son: Tennessee’s Chris Johnson. But Johnson, who carried a league-most 358 times, was a rarity. Because of the wear-and-tear of a 16- game schedule — in addition to the differ- ent skills required in multiple offenses — most teams are doubling up in the back- field and splitting the workload between two and sometimes among three running backs. Take the New Orleans Saints. They won the Super Bowl without a 1,000-yard rusher. Pierre Thomas was the featured back, and Reggie Bush was the change-of- pace back. That’s why several teams fortified their backfields this season, starting with the Chiefs, who signed free agent Thomas Jones, the third-leading rusher in the NFL for the Jets with 1,402 yards. He’ll team with the league’s 11th-ranked rusher, Jamaal Charles, who ran for 1,120 yards, 968 of which he gained in last season’s final eight games. The Jets filled the large cleats of Jones by signing former San Diego Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL’s top active rusher. He’ll be paired with second- year man Shonn Greene, who ran for 540 yards last season. And what about Washington’s commit- tee of running backs? New coach Mike Shanahan, reunited with Clinton Portis, also brought in Willie Parker from Pittsburgh and Larry Johnson from Kansas City — by way of Cincinnati — to play in his running-back friendly offense. We’ll see if there are enough footballs to go around — and enough room for egos — in that huddle.

LEADING TANDEMS

N.Y. Jets’ LaDainian Tomlinson and

Shonn Greene: Tomlinson did everything but reach a Super Bowl in nine seasons at San Diego, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a former Chargers assistant, knows how to push the right but- tons for Tomlinson, 31. The best guess is Greene will carry between the 20s, and Tomlinson, who ranks third on the all-time touchdown list with 153, will be called

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Minnesota at New Orleans: What better way to start the season than with a rematch of the NFC Championship Game? Saints fans will celebrate the Super Bowl title, the players receive their champi- onship rings and Drew Brees will duel Brett Favre (assuming he re- turns), who limped out of the Superdome after taking a beating.

N.Y. Giants at Indi- anapolis: This will be Manning Bowl II, and like the first one in 2006, it will be a prime-time, Sunday nighter. The last time the Manning broth- ers met was the 2006 season opener at Gi- ants Stadium, won by older brother Peyton, 26-21. But that was be- fore Peyton or Eli had won Super Bowls.

Washington at Philadelphia: Washing- ton QB Donovan McNabb will return to Philadelphia in a scene that will rival Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay last season. Considering that Eagles fans once booed Santa Claus, imagine the re- ception McNabb will re- ceive. Unlike Santa, he’s heard it for years, so it shouldn’t bother McNabb.

Minnesota at New England: This Halloween game will be the first time that Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss will face his original club, the Vikings, for whom he starred from 1998 to 2004. It also will be the first time since 2002 that Tom Brady has played against Favre, assuming he returns. (Brady was injured in 2008 when Favre was with the Jets.)

Indianapolis at New England: A year ago, Bill Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 deep in his territory in the final minute, against the then-unbeaten Colts, a decision that altered the course of the season. This is not a Sunday- night game yet, but it’s the first week a game can be flexed into prime time.