Backfield shakeup

Updated: June 21, 2001, 1:03 PM ET

A couple of new faces on the Vikings and Patriots should shake up the backfields of those teams, says ESPN's NFL reporter, Chris Mortensen. During his weekly chat, Mort talked about rookie Michael Bennett in Minnesota and the addition of Antowain Smith in New England. He also said Peyton Manning's critics need to get off their high horses.

In case you missed it, following is a transcript from Mort's June 20 chat:

Stash Graham (Tampa): In reference to the running back battle in Arizona, which RB has the advantage?

Chris Mortensen: Good evening. I'm jumping right in because I'm on jury duty, in the middle of deliberations. with a break. So we'll get a handful of these done tonight.

I think Thomas Jones has the advantage because Michael Pittman's off-the-field run-in has put him in some disfavor with coach the Cards. Plus, I just think Jones now has his feet wet, so to speak, and will be more comfortable.

matt(turlock);: I was wondering what your thoughts are on Vikings rookie Michael Bennett? I believe, with his speed, he could have a huge season in Minnesota with teams perhaps overlooking him due to the rest of Vikings lethal offense. Your thoughts?

Chris Mortensen: The best thing Bennett has going for him - besides his speed - is that Daunte Culpepper, Cris Carter and Randy Moss will draw the attention of opposing defenses (especially the safeties). If Bennett gets a crease, and somebody gets out of position, especially on Astro-turf, he could be gone. .

Houston: I am a huge Packer fan and I was wondering in your opinion does the Green and Gold have a shot at winning this year with there improved defense and Brett Favre at the helm?

Chris Mortensen: The Rams and Bucs are my early co-faves (leaning Rams), but I do believe the Packers could emerge as a real Super Bowl contender. .

Tim Fierst, St. Paul, MN: Who is going to win the finals. Lakers or Sixers???

Chris Mortensen: Lakers in 5. See, you didn't know I was an NBA guy, too, did you?

Eric(Hillsdale): Despite his great numbers, Peyton Manning is still being criticized for not taking his team farther in the playoffs. Since the Colts did little to bolster the offense, does Peyton have a chance to silence his critics this year?

Chris Mortensen: I think the critics of Peyton Manning have embarrassed themselves enough. I wish all these critics could talk to coaches throughout the NFL about Manning. If he isn't the most admired and respected player (not just QB) in the league, he's close.

carlos,springfild.mass: With the addition of Antowain Smith, how will he affect the Pats backfield situation, and do you think he will start?

Chris Mortensen: I guess Antowain Smith could get very motivated and win the job. But there was no consipracy to "get" Smith in Buffalo. He was a first-round pick of the Bills, and he consistently turned them off. Then a new coach (Gregg Williams) comes in, and he immediately turns him off, too.
So, just go into this thing with your eyes wide open.

Mark(san mateo): Someone told me a stupid rumor that the Rams and Eagles were going to make a trade. Jeremiah Trotter and a fourth rounder for Isaac Bruce. Is there any truth to this?

Chris Mortensen: The Rams aren't trading Isaac Bruce. They love him, plus he just got a big contract last year, so they could not trade him for salary cap accounting purposes. I'm sure the Eagles would make that deal, though. Just don't give it any credence.

Fletch: Does Garrison Hearst really have a shot at beating out Kevan Barlow and Paul Smith after almost two years off?

Chris Mortensen: It's probably a longshot, but Heast has looked pretty sharp (in shorts) since being back on the field. He'll get a good look in preseason. He has a huge heart, so I'm not ruling it out.

ThunderingHerdFan: Mort, how good a run stopper is Christian Peter really? If the Giants didn't re-sign him - was he too one dimensional - or just not that good?

Chris Mortensen: Christian Peter is a solid defensive tackle. The emergence of Cornelius Griffin made him expendable, but I think he does improve the Colts' front four, even if it means just having better depth.

Bill (Buffalo): How much do you think the loss of Ted Cottrell will hurt the Bills defense?

Chris Mortensen: Ted Williams is an outstanding coach but Gregg Williams (the new Buffalo coach) did a great job as the Titans defensive coordinator. Williams brought his Tennessee secondary coach, Jerry Gray, to Buffalo as defensive coordinator, so I expect that they will still be a very tough defensive team, though they have taken some hits this offseason.

Chris Mortensen: I'm having some trouble posting a few questions. . I've got a couple from fans in Houston. .
One, regarding the potential No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. I think University of Tennessee defensive end John Henderson is the early favorite.
Of course, a QB like Chris Simms could have a huge year and come out, but that's a little speculative at this point..

Another Houston question dealt with realignment, and whether it's fair with the Texans being throw in with Colts, Jags and Titans. Yes, on paper that looks like a terrific division but, really, you don't expect the Texans to be competitive for two or three years and a lot can happen between now and then. Also, only six of your 16 games will be divisional .

Steve (Tampa): With Jerry Angelo heading to the Bears, will this have a negative impact on the Buc's future as far as personnel.

Chris Mortensen: Even though Angelo has a lot of respect around the league, I still think you can make a case that the Bucs got better the day they hired Tony Dungy. He's still there, Rich McKay is still there so now the issue is whether they can get to the big dance. .

I have to run. Thanks. God bless and good night!



ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen returned for his weekly chat and looked around the NFL.