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 Looking to the newest Cardinal 
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Post Looking to the newest Cardinal
By Adam Schefter
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(June 27, 2005) -- With Arizona running back Marcel Shipp coming off a broken leg and Troy Hambrick skipping the team's "voluntary" minicamp, Cardinals rookie running back J.J. Arrington seized control of the starting running-back position. And even though Arrington is the heavy favorite to win the job, becoming the first Cardinals rookie to start at running back since Thomas Jones in 2000, he is not expected to be a workhorse.

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The Cardinals envision their backfield looking like the one the Carolina Panthers fielded when Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster were healthy -- a one-two combination relying on Arrington's speed and Shipp's power. Arrington certainly has the speed.

In Indianapolis in February at the combine, Arrington turned in the fastest 40-yard dash time of any running back. Arrington outran Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, and he has kept moving -- right into Arizona's starting lineup. Shipp still is limping from his broken leg, but once he's healthy, there are carries waiting for him.

The Class of 2005 was noted for its running backs, and some already are staking their claim for starting jobs. Cadillac Williams already is running with the first team in Tampa Bay and he's expecting to start on opening day. Williams has impressed the Buccaneers with his conditioning and toughness, and it will be easy for him to become a huge part of Tampa Bay's ground attack. The Buccaneers haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 2000. And last season the team ranked 29th in the league in rushing. Williams is going to do what any fifth overall pick should do -- dramatically improve his team.

San Diego also drafted a running back who turned out to be the team's most impressive rookie at the minicamp. Rookie back Darren Sproles wowed the Chargers fans in attendance and, even more important, San Diego's defenders. Cornerback Quentin Jammer said the 5-foot-6, 181-pound Sproles was so small and so quick that he was impossible to see. Every time Sproles touched the football, fans cheered and defenders froze. Problem is, with LaDainian Tomlinson and Jesse Chatman in San Diego's backfield, Sproles might not be able to touch it very often at running back, other than on third down. So San Diego is planning to use Sproles as its punt and kick returner -- positions where there is a decided need. Eric Parker returned punts last year, but San Diego needs to preserve him. Tim Dwight returned kicks before moving on to New England. Look for Sproles on special teams. But also look for him to make the occasional appearance out of the backfield.

It still will be a few weeks before the flurry of first-round pick signings commence, but one of the more difficult negotiations could be between running back Cedric Benson and the Chicago Bears. Benson was the No. 4 overall choice -- the same spot where San Diego drafted quarterback Philip Rivers the year before.

Quarterbacks always get more, and Benson and his representatives are going to want money comparable to Rivers. Plus, Benson's agent is Eugene Parker, who represented last year's No. 3 pick, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald landed a blockbuster deal that averaged about $3 million per year.

Benson and the Bears haven't started talking yet, but they're going to have plenty to talk about before the Bears' Aug. 8 Hall of Fame game.

Last season Redskins running back Clinton Portis took a pounding. This offseason Portis engaged in a different type of pounding. He put on 10 pounds, going from 202 to 212. In the Redskins' more spread out offense, he could have occasion to use it. The plan is to get Portis outside more and take advantage of his speed more, which the Redskins did not do enough of last season. Then again, the Redskins didn't do much of anything on offense last season, ranking 31st in points scored. But offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been entrusted with the task of making the offense faster, quicker and more explosive. Portis -- a heavier Portis -- will be its centerpiece. And he does not plan on weighing down the Redskins.

So long to Giants running back Tiki Barber, who left June 27 for a weeklong trip to Israel. Barber didn't decide to go on his own. Former Israeli Primie Minister Shimon Peres invited him. Barber will address young Israeli and Palestinian athletes at the Peres Center for Peace, preaching the importance of cooperation in sports and, more importantly, life. And if Barber can do anything to bring together Israeli and Palestinian boys, then maybe he should be brought in to mediate the dispute between the Eagles and Terrell Owens.

Adam Schefter's "Around the League" reports and commentaries can be seen regularly on NFL Total Access.

June 28th, 2005, 9:36 am
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