Barry Back?
Mike and Mike: Chris Mortensen reviews Barry Sanders' chance of returning.
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Chris Mortensen Archive
Which RBs could run for 2,000 yards?

MORT'S MAILBAG | July 1

Q: I know that RB Fred Taylor recently said he is aiming at a 2,000-yard season, but don't you think this is a bit lofty? Would you say that it's possible? And if so, who do you think could do it this year? -- Rick Smitts, Texas
MORT
-- Taylor is obviously setting a lofty goal and there's nothing wrong with that. He does have the talent, but as you know he also has a substantial history of injuries. That would preclude the Jags from overworking him, I think. Also, the the Jags are installing the West Coast offense, a scheme that has had productive backs but one that probably won't produce a 2,000-yard runner. My best 2,000-yard candidate? Hmmm, I would nominate Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jamal Lewis (Ravens) and LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers).

Barry Sanders
Lions fans might dream, but don't expect Barry Sanders to un-retire.
Q: I listened to your discussion and views about Barry Sanders' chance of returning. I agree with some of what you said -- although being a huge Detroit Lions fan, I believe the grievance was well-justified given Barry's extremely late and out-of-left-field notice. Anyhow, I know that Barry was ordered to repay money on a yearly basis until it's all paid. I'm curious if, when all monies are paid, Barry has the option of entering into negotiations with any team, or is he still "restrained" by his previous contract? -- Mike Wright, Burlington, Wisconsin
MORT
-- Mike, Barry Sanders actually paid the Lions in full -- $5.4 million almost three years ago, even though he was obligated to simply do it on a year-by-year basis. However, his contract was "tolled," which means he is not free and that the Lions still own him by NFL standards. By the way, I did one of those ESPN commercial shoots last week for NFL Countdown and Barry was there. He'll appear in the ad campaign. I did not get a sense that he is gearing up for a return. Not at all.

Q: I'm sure you saw the New Orleans Saints choke the past two seasons, and this led me to believe that QB Aaron Brooks can do nothing but smile when we're losing. Do you believe Brooks can ever lead the Saints to the Super Bowl? -- Bill, New Orleans, Louisiana
MORT
-- Bill, I don't know. The Saints are hoping Brooks matures. The team recently brought in a leadership group -- headed by ex-NFL QB Frank Reich -- to conduct a seminar. Even though people like coach Jim Haslett and others participated, it was aimed primarily at Brooks, hoping he grows into the type of leader a Super Bowl quarterback (probably) needs to be. I spoke to Aaron last week and he is saying all the right things. As for his "smiling," I think that's his personality. I don't like it after a loss, either. Let's see if he moves in the right direction. He's very talented. Plus, I can't see just blaming him for the past two December slides.

Q: Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott, Aaron Stecker, Travis Stephens, Terry Kirby, Thomas Jones ... what will be the pecking order of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield in 2003? And who should it be? -- Scott, Atlanta
MORT
-- The Bucs are operating somewhat on the assumption that Pittman will not be available for part or all of the season because of his alleged violation of probation on the domestic problem (he also faces NFL suspension for a possible second violation). Alstott will remain in his role, but I don't think coach Jon Gruden wants to make him the primary carrier. They like Stecker as a change-of-pace back. They will see about Thomas Jones, but I know that Gruden is still searching. And if somebody gets cut this summer -- a Garrison Hearst? -- you can bet the Bucs will take a shot. Oh, Gruden still hasn't abandoned his attempts to talk Ricky Watters out of retirement, but that's a long shot. As for who it should be, I will defer to Gruden.

Q: RB Tony Hollings is entering the supplemental draft. Where will he end up? Would the Dallas Cowboys take him to give Troy Hambrick some competition? Or the New England Patriots, since they have a lot of picks next year, and Antowain Smith a free agent? -- Joe, Atlanta
MORT
-- Hollings (Georgia Tech) is creating quite a stir as the supplemental draft is conducted next week. Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, who does a great job of developing running backs, thought Hollings would have led the nation in rushing last year before he went down with the ACL injury. Therein lies the problem. He played only four full games. He's a converted defensive back. He's coming off ACL surgery. What do you bid for a guy like that? A second-rounder? Third? Fourth? A lot of teams are working overtime on him. The Patriots do have the best cushion to take a chance with a high pick. Good call there. We'll see.

Q: Do you think that Seattle Seahawks rookie safety Ken Hamlin will have any success in the NFL? And when will he get playing time? -- Jonathan, Little Rock, Arkansas
MORT
-- Jonathan, Hamlin was an outstanding second-round pick for the Seahawks. The ex-Razorback might have been a late first-round pick if he hadn't slipped with some youthful off-the-field mistakes. I did a lot of research on him and I think he's an excellent risk and a future Pro Bowl safety. Arkansas has a pretty good tradition of sending safeties to the NFL. He'll have an adjustment, but I'll be surprised if I don't see him in Hawaii one day. He's too good, I think, not to play quite a bit as a rookie.

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