Around the AFC: Holmes coming back
What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: Coming out of their Week 6 bye, the Bills' most pressing issue in their lineup is at quarterback. In his Monday news conference, though, coach Dick Jauron didn't officially name a starter for Week 7, according to the team's official Web site. "We split time it was just like a bye-week practice," said Jauron. "I would say just about (equally). ... They'll know before we start practicing on Wednesday." J.P. Losman's knee is apparently healthy enough to allow him to play, though Trent Edwards' 410 passing yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions as a starter in Weeks 4-5 could be enough to earn him another start. Even third-stringer Craig Nall got a share of the snaps during Monday's practice, though he's a bit of a long shot for the job. Neither Losman nor Edwards is anything special for fantasy, but their performance is important for owners of wide receiver Lee Evans, terribly inconsistent to date. Sure, Evans had 38 catches for 735 yards and 6 TDs in his final seven games of 2006 working with Losman, but he also had only 5 receptions for 29 yards and no scores in Losman's three starts to begin this season. Under Edwards, Evans had 7 catches for 84 yards and no scores the past two weeks; better but still not trustworthy fantasy totals. Looking ahead, the Bills have as many soft matchups (@NYJ, Week 8; CIN, Week 9; @MIA, Week 10; @CLE, Week 15) as difficult ones (BAL, Week 7; NE, Week 11; @JAC, Week 12; @WAS, Week 13), and the longer this QB controversy persists, the less likely Evans will be able to hit a groove and be a useful matchups play.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback Trent Green, currently sidelined with a Grade 3 concussion, said Monday he intends to play football again this season, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He returned to full participation in Monday's walk-through, and coach Cam Cameron said during his Monday news conference that he'd offer further updates on Green's health on Wednesday. "I think to me, we're looking at now,'' said Cameron. "Is he physically able to play? Can he help us? Is it this week, is it next week, is it after the bye?" Cleo Lemon managed two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in Green's place in Week 6, and should continue to start until Green heals. It's likely Green will miss a significant chunk of the remainder of the season, and one has to wonder with the Dolphins now 0-6, whether they'll be inclined to rush him back this year. Rookie John Beck might have as much of a chance at starting a game this season as Green at this point.
New England Patriots: Coach Bill Belichick offered no update on running back Sammy Morris' status during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. Morris suffered a chest injury in the third quarter of Sunday's contest, forcing him from the game after he had managed only 14 rushing yards on 10 carries. Expect the goal-line back -- and starter the past three weeks -- to be on the injury report for Week 7 at Miami, and monitor the mid-week practice reports to get a sense of his progress. Running back Laurence Maroney would stand to benefit most from any time Morris misses, as he'd stand a better chance at reclaiming the goal-line work most expected he'd receive in the preseason, though remember that Maroney himself has missed the past three games with a groin injury. Kevin Faulk, who rushed 13 times for 50 yards in Week 6, is third on the depth chart and would step in should neither Maroney nor Morris be able to play. In deeper leagues, it's probably worth adding Faulk as a just-in-case move.
New York Jets: Despite quarterback Chad Pennington's dreadful 647 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions the past three weeks combined, coach Eric Mangini gave his starter a vote of confidence in his Monday news conference, according to The Journal News. "He's the starting quarterback," said Mangini. "I'll continue to assess the whole situation, not just with that position but with every position." Many people are calling for the Jets to make the switch to Kellen Clemens, accounting both for the team's 1-5 record and Clemens' respectable 260-yard, 1-touchdown, 2-interception effort in his one start this season, in Week 2 against a stout Ravens defense. That indeed could take place if Pennington continues to struggle, but not yet, so says Mangini. Note that Laveranues Coles has 9 receptions for 116 yards and no touchdowns while Jerricho Cotchery has 9-102-0 numbers in the Jets' past two games, distressing statistics to their owners. A switch to Clemens might breathe some life into the offense, even if it would put either receiver at risk for short-term inconsistency.
Baltimore Ravens: You couldn't ask for a more seemingly obvious quarterback controversy than what we witnessed in Baltimore this past Sunday, but coach Brian Billick, in his Monday news conference, stood by Steve McNair as his starter, health willing.
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Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that running back Rudi Johnson, who returned from a hamstring injury in Week 6, "came through the game" but experienced some tightness during the third quarter, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Johnson had only four carries for eight yards in the contest, hardly enough to make him a worthwhile fantasy consideration, a concern since he'll face a fantasy-friendly matchup in Week 7 against the Jets. Kenny Watson got the bulk of the work this past Sunday, rushing 13 times for 68 yards and adding three receptions for 14 yards, and might have temporarily overtaken Johnson as the Bengals' starter. Keep tabs on Johnson's status during the week, as he'd be a useful No. 2/flex option in Week 7, but only if he's cleared to start the game. Watson, if he starts, would earn flex status if he's the starter. ... Running back Chris Perry (ankle) is eligible to return from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list in Week 7, though Lewis declined to discuss Perry's status on Monday. Perry could be a factor in a backup role if Johnson's injury persists, though he'll need to be activated and have some favorable practice reports before being worthy of a fantasy pickup.
Cleveland Browns: With his team headed into the bye in Week 7, coach Romeo Crennel expressed optimism regarding running back Jamal Lewis in his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "We think that we'll have Jamal back by the next game," said Crennel. "We're going to continue to treat him and try to get him better and then next week we'll see where he is." Lewis sat out this past Sunday's game with a foot injury, paving the way for backup running back Jason Wright to run 20 times for 59 yards and a score. Wright remains a useful handcuff for Lewis owners, and owners in deep leagues should take a look at third-string running back Jerome Harrison, too. Harrison managed 57 yards on eight carries, earning praise from Crennel. "A sense of urgency has something to do with (his success) because he's been inactive and he wanted to show what his abilities are," Crennel said. "Sunday he was able to produce and show he has ability."
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers expect all four of their injured starters back in time for Week 7, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; the list includes defensive tackle Casey Hampton, wide receivers Santonio Holmes (hamstring) and Hines Ward (knee) and safey Troy Polamalu (ribs). "No doubt, I'll be back," said Ward. "I'd be ready if we played this week," said Polamalu during the team's bye in Week 6. With Holmes and Ward back, the Steelers' passing game should be particularly attractive to fantasy owners with the team hitting a meaty part of their schedule, matchups-wise (Week 8, @ Cincinnati; Week 10, Cleveland; Week 11, @ N.Y. Jets; Week 12, Miami). Holmes, Ward and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are all productive enough to warrant using regardless of matchup, though. Polamalu's presence, meanwhile, should help continue to keep the Steelers defense among the game's elite.
Houston Texans: Wide receiver Andre Johnson (sprained knee) could return to action in Week 7, according to the team's official Web site. "He's progressing well; very, very hopeful that he's ready to go this week," said coach Gary Kubiak in his Monday news conference. "Probably find out more (Tuesday). We'll run him. We liked the progress we saw last week, so we've just kind of got our fingers crossed that he's ready to go this week. We'll see. We'll know more Wednesday." Johnson managed 14 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 1-2 working with new Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, and his fantasy owners can't help but get excited about what he might do once healthy, accounting for Schaub's game management and sharp decision-making skills. Don't be afraid to use Johnson immediately upon his return, and as for who would start across from him, it's possible Kubiak will employ a receiver rotation involving Andre Davis and Kevin Walter. Davis has 12 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown in the past three weeks, Walter has 23-304-0 numbers during that span, each establishing himself as a better option than Jacoby Jones, who had no catches in his return from a shoulder injury in Week 6.
Indianapolis Colts: Coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference that he expects to have many of his banged-up players from Week 5 back for Week 7, according to the team's official Web site. "I think by Thursday we should have just about everybody back," said Dungy. "Our plan is we should have everybody back practicing." That list includes running back Joseph Addai (chest), wide receiver Marvin Harrison (knee), linebacker Freddy Keiaho (concussion), safety Bob Sanders (ribs) and tight end Ben Utecht (concussion). Dungy had noted before the team entered its bye week that most of that quintet could have played in the team's most recent game, had it been a playoff atmosphere, so consider this good news that no one suffered a setback or progressed slowly during the week's rest. Addai and Harrison remain must-starts anytime they're cleared to play, obviously, and Keiaho and Sanders do improve the defense's chances as useful spot-start status for fantasy. Running back Kenton Keith's owners, incidentally, shouldn't be too quick to let him go. He's a valuable handcuff for Addai owners, and on a team as strong offensively as the Colts, he'd be a must-start anytime he's called upon again, as evidenced by his Week 5 performance. He might well be a factor in the fantasy playoffs, should Indianapolis continue to roll and start pulling their starters in weeks 16 or 17.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for their best rushing effort of the season in Week 6, totaling 18 carries for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Texans. Coach Jack Del Rio spoke highly of the two in his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site, indicating that their arrangement shouldn't change anytime soon. "We're very happy to have an explosive combination in our backfield; a 1-2 punch like we have," said Del Rio. "We think it's important to have that explosive quality when one guy gets gassed or nicked." Taylor remains the better bet for consistent carries, as the team's starter, but it's Jones-Drew who is the better touchdown option of the two. Each limits the other's fantasy appeal somewhat, but with them performing at an elite level since the bye week, consider both No. 2/flex options at worst.
Tennessee Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher said during his Monday news conference that the team is awaiting MRI results on quarterback Vince Young, who suffered a thigh strain this past Sunday, according to the team's official Web site. "He could not practice (Monday) if we had practice [Monday]," said Fisher. "He's sore. But it's not as bad as we thought, so he'll be day to day. Our treatment path will be to try to get him back on the practice field as fast as we can." The good news is that Young won't require surgery, according to Fisher, but his owners will need to monitor him throughout the week. Kerry Collins, who was 10-for-20 passing for 125 yards in relief of Young in Week 6, would get the start if Young can't go. Collins wouldn't warrant fantasy consideration in that event, though. ... Running back Chris Brown will be limited in practice this week due to a sprained ankle, said Fisher. Brown missing Week 7 probably wouldn't be too disastrous to fantasy owners, though; LenDale White managed 25 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown in Brown's place in Week 6, and would get a significant boost in fantasy stock if Brown sits. ... Wide receiver Brandon Jones, meanwhile, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday. "He'll be out for some period of time, at least one week, maybe two, depending on how he responds," said Fisher. Roydell Williams, who started in Jones' place in Week 6, catching five passes for 44 yards, will presumably continue to step in for the injured receiver for now. Williams is only a bye-week option for owners in desperate circumstances, though.
Denver Broncos: Cornerback Champ Bailey (quadriceps) sat out Monday's practice, according to the team's official Web site. "I'm not where I want to be," he said. "But with a couple of more sessions of treatment and working out, I'll be well by Sunday." Bailey hopes to practice Wednesday and plans to play in Week 7, but monitor the reports on him closely as the weekend approaches. He was one of the few defensive players on the Broncos performing well before getting hurt, and his absence would boost significantly the matchups appeal of opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. ... Wide receiver Javon Walker, meanwhile, participated in the team's 90-minute practice session on Monday. "He got some reps in," said coach Mike Shanahan. "Hopefully there's no setback and he's ready to practice on Wednesday. He did some good things today." Walker, who has been battling inflammation in his knee, believes he'll play in Week 7, and if he's cleared to, he'll be worth immediately inserting into your active lineup. Brandon Marshall's owners shouldn't fret, either; Walker's return should defray more defensive attention, helping his cause as well.
Kansas City Chiefs: In a "blast-from-the-past" story, Priest Holmes appears likely to be a factor in the Chiefs' backfield in the coming weeks, according to the team's official Web site. In his Monday news conference, coach Herm Edwards wouldn't rule out the possibility Holmes would be available for the team's Week 7 game against the Raiders. "I'd like to see him practice first," said Edwards. "I'll be able to answer that Wednesday after practice or Thursday." Holmes, who has battled neck and spinal injuries since 2005, has been on the PUP list since reporting to training camp in July. According to NFL rules, he becomes eligible to practice this week. Still, with Michael Bennett on his way to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to the Kansas City Star, Kolby Smith is left as the only reliable backup to Larry Johnson on the roster. Holmes is only a dark horse candidate to have any fantasy value in the season's second half, and if anything, his presence might inspire starting back Larry Johnson to pick up his play. But should Johnson continue to struggle, as he did in the season's first few weeks, Holmes could get more work.
Oakland Raiders: Daunte Culpepper appears slated to earn another start in Week 7, according to the Oakland Tribune. In his Monday news conference, coach Lane Kiffin said Josh McCown's broken toe is still bothering him, and that he didn't know whether McCown would start once healthy. "I don't know because Josh isn't healthy," said Kiffin. "He's not all the way back so Daunte's our starter right now." Wide receiver Ronald Curry's owners have to be hoping McCown gets back soon; he has 7 receptions for 89 yards and none of Culpepper's three passing touchdowns in his last two games. Under McCown, Curry had 15 catches for 207 yards and two of McCown's four touchdowns in three contests. ... Speaking of Oakland quarterbacks, Kiffin was non-committal when asked when rookie JaMarcus Russell might get a chance to play. "When we think he can help us win, we'll put him in," said Kiffin said. "There's no deal where, 'OK, we're going to sit him and Year 2 he's going to start. Or we're going to look at it in Week 8 or we're going to look at it in Week 14.' We're going to look at it each week and see if we feel that he can help us win. When that time comes we'll put him in." Though Russell remains an attractive keeper-league prospect, there's a good chance we won't see him in action at all this season.
San Diego Chargers: Wide receiver Eric Parker (toe surgery) could be a candidate for the injured reserve list, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has been running well for the past few weeks, but has yet to cut or run side to side. Parker was scheduled to be re-evaluated on Monday, and the Chargers likely will make a decision on his status by late in the week. If he's placed on IR, Craig Davis and Malcolm Floyd will continue to duke it out for the No. 2 wide receiver role alongside Vincent Jackson, though the team would seek additional receiver depth on the free-agent market. ... Speaking of Davis, the team's official Web site reports he suffered a sprained ankle this past Sunday, a similar ailment to the one he was battling heading into Week 5. He's not productive enough to look at in fantasy, but if he misses time after the team's Week 7 bye, Floyd's stock could rise.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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