- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Jamal Lewis’ indictment on drug trafficking charges Wednesday was only the most glaring news in a tumultuous offseason for the AFC’s starting running backs.

Not only might Lewis, who rushed for the second most yards in NFL history for Baltimore last season, not play this year, Denver is on the verge of trading two-time Pro Bowl runner Clinton Portis to Washington.

New England has cut Antowain Smith, its starter in its Super Bowl triumphs in 2002 and 2004. Cincinnati is looking to trade Corey Dillon while fellow longtime starters Eddie George of Tennessee, Curtis Martin of the New York Jets and Jerome Bettis of Pittsburgh are in jeopardy because of their age and high salaries.

Norv Turner’s departure from Miami could make the Dolphins’ offense less centered on Ricky Williams, and Turner’s arrival in Oakland could mean a diminished role for Charlie Garner. Cleveland is hoping William Green can bounce back from the off-field woes that cut short his promising 2003 season.

Only stalwarts Priest Holmes of Kansas City, LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego, Edgerrin James of Indianapolis, Fred Taylor of Jacksonville and surprising 2003 rookie Domanick Davis of Houston should feel secure with their status as No.1 backs.

Parcells, Hutchinson at odds — Dallas coach Bill Parcells has given backup quarterback Chad Hutchinson a put-up or shut-up assignment. Hutchinson, who went to training camp last summer as the favorite to start, soon lost the job to Quincy Carter and threw two passes all season. Now Parcells wants to see if Hutchinson can at least beat out practice-squad types Greg Zolman and Wesley Phillips to start for the Rhein Fire.

“Quite frankly, it has been my experience if a guy goes over to Europe and can’t play over there, he’s going to have a hard time playing over here,” Parcells said.

Hutchinson countered with the examples of such late-blooming passers as Rich Gannon and Kurt Warner, not to mention Brad Johnson and Jake Delhomme.

“For me to come off 31/2 years of not playing football [while pitching in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system] and this is my second year [in the NFL] to make that decision that ‘he can’t play,’ that’s a brutal judgment,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve gotten 10 games in. How can you make a judgment off of that? You can’t.”

Kordell’s a goner — Chicago has the league’s most inexperienced staff with its 19 coaches having only 38 years in the NFL. Coach Lovie Smith and his offensive (Terry Shea), defensive (Ron Rivera) and special teams (Dave Taub) bosses are all in their jobs on the NFL level for the first time.

But that inexperience hasn’t stopped Smith and Co. — as well as general manager Jerry Angelo — from determining that last year’s high-profile quarterback signing, Kordell Stewart, is a bust. So even though Stewart is relatively affordable at approximately $2.5million, he’ll be cut because he doesn’t fit Shea’s offense and won’t accept being a backup, at least to Bears second-year passer Rex Grossman.

Unsung hero — New England nose tackle Ted Washington hasn’t been to the Pro Bowl the last three years, but he’s still had quite an effect on his teams. Chicago went from 4-12 to 13-3 in 2001 with new arrival Washington stuffing the middle. The Bears started 2-0 in 2002 before Washington suffered a season-ending foot injury, and the team went 2-12 the rest of the way.

Traded to New England last summer, Washington was instrumental in the Patriots soaring from 9-7 to 14-2 and winning the Super Bowl. New England allowed only 12 points a game after Washington returned from a six-game absence because of a broken left leg. Counting postseason, Washington’s teams are 27-5 in games he played during the last three seasons.

Rocky Mountain low — Thirteen NFL mascots, including San Francisco’s Sourdough Sam, will gather next week in Denver and Vail, Colo., to “network, plan, exchange ideas,” according to a press release. … Now that’s a convention worth covering.

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