Around the AFC: Garrard could miss 'significant time'
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: The Bills continue to be ravaged by the injury bug on defense. Coach Dick Jauron said during his Monday news conference that linebacker Leon Joe suffered a bone bruise and defensive end Chris Kelsay an ankle injury during Week 7. Both players were scheduled to be examined further on Monday, according to the team's official Web site. "I just don't know about Joe and Kelsay for sure," Jauron said. "We're going to be optimistic and hope it's day-to-day, but we won't know until tomorrow and possibly not until Wednesday." Jauron also wasn't sure defensive end Ryan Denney would be able to play in Week 8. "I wouldn't be too optimistic, but I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "We'll test him again. My understanding was he'd rehab last week, which he did, and we'll test him again. It may not be until the end of this week." Things simply continue to get worse for the Bills, it seems. They have the game's No. 31-ranked defense (402.5 yards per game). Don't expect much improvement from the unit in the near future, if at all this year.
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Miami Dolphins: Ronnie Brown, who through seven weeks of the season was tied for the most fantasy points (115) among running backs in ESPN standard leagues, is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday. He sustained the injury trying to tackle the Patriots' Randall Gay, who had intercepted a Cleo Lemon pass in the end zone, and will undergo season-ending surgery in the next seven to 10 days. "He was having a Pro Bowl season,'' said coach Cam Cameron during his Monday news conference, according to the team's Web site. "It's the normal reconstruction, and the success rate is 90 percent.'' Unfortunately for Brown, it often takes a running back more than a calendar year to regain full effectiveness, so those of you in keeper leagues should be forewarned that he might not be quite himself in 2008. For now, Jesse Chatman becomes the Dolphins' starter, although Cameron said Monday that he and general manager Randy Mueller will actively scour other teams' practice squads, as well as the waiver wire, to build depth. "We'll move Lorenzo Booker up," Cameron said, "and we know Jesse is a solid back. Patrick Cobbs, we'll move up, and we'll use those three guys this week." Cameron refused to comment on his team's interest in Ricky Williams, preferring to wait until when or if the veteran is reinstated by the NFL. Fantasy owners should snatch up Chatman, who should be given a hefty workload in the short term.
New England Patriots: In his Monday news conference, coach Bill Belichick heaped heavy praise upon receiver Wes Welker, who had another big game -- nine catches, 138 receiving yards and two touchdowns -- in Week 7. "Wes is quick. He's smart. He understands coverage and leverage how to take advantage of a defender's position and get open," Belichick told reporters. "And he catches the ball well and can run after the catch. The sum elements of those are part of his package as a receiver, and it's a very good one." It's the second consecutive week in which Welker has been a fantasy standout; he had 11-124-2 numbers in Week 6 at Dallas. One could make the case Welker, considered the Patriots' No. 3 receiver, is still involved enough in the team's pass-happy offense to warrant weekly No. 3 -- or better -- consideration. Keep riding the hot streak.
New York Jets: In his Monday news conference, coach Eric Mangini, who had been a staunch supporter of Chad Pennington as his starter the past few weeks, failed to label a starting quarterback for Week 8. "I'm going through the process of evaluating everything," Mangini said. "With Chad, I thought he did a lot of good things. He got us in some really good checks, made some really nice throws, and obviously, the interception he'd like to have back." It sounds as if he's seriously considering making a switch to Kellen Clemens, though it's unclear when such a decision might occur. "I don't have a set timetable right now," Mangini told reporters. Don't be surprised if Clemens is under center in Week 8, especially if he's getting first-team reps during practice midweek. Even as a starter, Clemens would be a risky fantasy option, though, and would be someone to trust only if the matchup was right. How Clemens works with his receivers, if he takes over, will be the most interesting thing for fantasy owners to track because, in spite of Pennington's problems, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery both rank among the top 20 at their position in fantasy points.
Baltimore Ravens: Coach Brian Billick expressed optimism during his Monday news conference that many of the Ravens' injured players should be ready to return after the team's Week 8 bye, according to the Baltimore Sun. In particular, Billick indicated Steve McNair, troubled by back problems the past three weeks, should be ready to reclaim his starting role. "I have nothing to lead me to believe that he won't be as healthy and as fresh as when we started the season, which is kind of unique," Billick said. Kyle Boller managed 375 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception in two starts in place of McNair, and he has the stronger arm to exploit his team's deep threats. Still, McNair is probably the safer, more consistent option of the two, even if he lacks much fantasy upside and limits his receivers, too. It's obvious the starting quarterback job is McNair's when he's healthy, so keep that in mind when evaluating this team looking forward. Billick also lumped Todd Heap (hamstring), Chris McAlister (knee), Trevor Pryce (wrist) and Adam Terry (ankle) in as players he expects back after the bye. Heap should immediately reclaim must-start fantasy status. Tight end Daniel Wilcox (foot), meanwhile, might be headed for injured reserve.
Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that Rudi Johnson, who sat out Week 7 with a hamstring injury, might be ready to play in Week 8. That hardly means Johnson is guaranteed a starter's workload, though. He has only 21 carries for 17 yards in his last two active games -- Weeks 3 and 6 -- while backup Kenny Watson has 66 carries for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the team's past four contests. Johnson should get a chance to reclaim his starting role over time, but it could be a challenging, uphill climb for him, especially accounting for his upcoming matchups (Week 8 versus Pittsburgh, Week 10 at Baltimore, Week 12 versus Tennessee and Week 13 at Pittsburgh). Lewis also played coy in regard to whether Chris Perry would be activated off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week. "There's a chance," Lewis told reporters. Perry's only hope at fantasy value, especially with Watson performing well in Johnson's stead, is to sneak in as an active player in a backup capacity sometime in the next few weeks, in order to impress enough to work his way into the mix. It's a long-shot prospect, though, meaning fantasy owners shouldn't bother adding Perry, at least not yet.
Cleveland Browns: Coach Romeo Crennel said during his Monday news conference that Jamal Lewis, who sat out Week 6 with a strained right foot, will be limited in practice this week, according to the team's Web site. "Jamal is making progress, but he's not going to be out there [Monday]," Crennel said. "He'll probably be a little bit limited on Wednesday." That's not an encouraging report on Lewis, who was supposed to be fully healed once the team returned from its bye week. If Lewis is forced to sit again, Jason Wright again would start, with Jerome Harrison backing him up. Lewis owners should ensure they have Wright -- and/or roster depth -- as a fallback option. Crennel also said Joe Jurevicius, who has battled knee problems the past couple weeks, was also limited during Monday's practice. Jurevicius is mostly a No. 3/4 receiver option when the matchup favors him, but if he's limited, he'd be someone to avoid entirely.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers, surprisingly, were rather reliant on the pass Sunday despite facing a Broncos team ranked dead last against the run entering the contest. "We knew that they would come out in preparation to stop the run, and they [did]," said coach Mike Tomlin during his Monday news conference, according to the team's Web site. "It's the same cat-and-mouse chess game. That's just football." With the Broncos focused on shutting down Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport, Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes, including three to tight ends (Heath Miller 2, Matt Spaeth 1). Interestingly, Roethlisberger has been looking for his tight ends a lot in the red zone recently. Miller has four touchdowns, Spaeth three and Jerame Tuman one on the season, compared to four scores for Santonio Holmes and just one for Hines Ward. That's a promising sign for Miller's fantasy value, and it actually makes Spaeth a desperation/bye-week option when the matchup is favorable.
Houston Texans: Coach Gary Kubiak said during his Monday news conference that Matt Schaub, who suffered hip and lower leg injuries this past Sunday, is day-to-day, according to the team's official Web site. "All the tests were negative, all the X-rays were fine," Kubiak said. "He's just beat up. He's got an extremely beat-up hip, a lower leg, he's got the thigh that he's been nursing for a couple weeks but we think he's going to be OK. He's day-to-day right now, and hopefully he's out there Wednesday and can do something." Sage Rosenfels, who completed 22 of 35 passes for four touchdowns and three interceptions in Schaub's absence in Week 7, would stand to start in Week 8 should Schaub be unavailable. Considering Rosenfels has proved adept at finding open receivers, his presence shouldn't hurt players like Andre Davis or Kevin Walter, who have actually become respectable No. 3 fantasy receiver options.
Indianapolis Colts: Marvin Harrison played only limited snaps in his return to the lineup this past Monday night, and coach Tony Dungy told the Indianapolis Star afterward that he had his veteran receiver on a "play count." Harrison, coming off a bruised knee he suffered on Sept. 30, caught only three passes for 16 yards and was targeted five times while on the field. Reggie Wayne, by comparison, was targeted 13 times and caught nine of those passes for 131 yards. Harrison should be closer to his usual workload in Week 8, though his gradual work back to the lineup does detract a bit from his appeal as a No. 1 receiver option. Monitor his performance in practice this week, as any limitations might mean a lessened workload for him again next Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Coach Jack Del Rio said following Monday night's game that David Garrard, who suffered a sprained left ankle during the second quarter, might miss significant time, according to the Florida Times-Union. "He's got a pretty good sprain in there, so I would think that in all likelihood, he'll be missing some time," Del Rio said. "He tweaked it pretty good." Quinn Gray, who completed only nine of 24 passes for 56 yards and two interceptions, stands to start for Garrard in Week 8, though the team likely will seek further help elsewhere. "In all likelihood, based on the initial prognosis, [we'll have to bring in another quarterback]," Del Rio said. "I would think that'll be either [Lester Ricard] moved up to active or a veteran brought in, but we'll sort through that [Tuesday]." With Garrard, who hasn't been intercepted in 148 pass attempts this season, now on the sidelines, lower your expectations for the Jaguars' offense, which seemed much easier to defend after he left Monday. Gray represents a noticeable downgrade.
Tennessee Titans: Though Vince Young missed his first game of the season this past Sunday because of a quadriceps injury, coach Jeff Fisher said during his Monday news conference that he thinks the sophomore quarterback could return in Week 8. "We have moved forward and said, 'OK, you've healed to the point where you can go, so we expect you to take all the reps Wednesday on the practice field, and we'll put this behind you,'" Fisher said, according to the team's Web site. Kerry Collins did an adequate job stepping in for Young, completing 25 of 42 passes for 280 yards. However, he failed to complete a touchdown pass, as he and the Titans' offense sputtered near the goal line, settling for eight field goals. Collins isn't reliable enough to trust for fantasy, but since he's more apt to air it out than Young, he could help bump up the receiving totals of Roydell Williams and Bo Scaife in the short term if he gets another start. Fisher also noted he was pleased with Chris Henry's performance in Week 7, though he didn't detail plans to expand the rookie's role. "He came in there, gave us a change of pace, was explosive and caught the ball well," Fisher said. "He's doing exactly what we thought he'd do, and that's good to see. It reassures us that we have that much more depth at the position." Fisher said Chris Brown, who sat out with an ankle injury, would return to a platoon with LenDale White once he heals, a sign that Henry isn't yet in the running back mix.
Denver Broncos: Coach Mike Shanahan said during his Monday news conference that Travis Henry "is a little bit sore" but that he doesn't believe Henry has a fracture in his ribs, according to the team's official Web site. All indications are that Henry merely has bruised ribs, although his status won't be known until midweek practices get under way. His owners should already have backup Selvin Young as a handcuff, especially accounting for Henry's possible suspension, and it's Young who would probably start and shoulder most of the load should Henry need to sit out Week 8. Mike Bell and Andre Hall, who had previously been mentioned as running back-by-committee participants should Henry be suspended, both were inactive for Week 7, indicating their diminishing status on the depth chart. Shanahan also said he didn't know whether Champ Bailey, who missed Week 7 with a quadriceps injury, would be able to return to practice by Wednesday. In addition, Shanahan said Dre Bly suffered a slight shoulder separation during Week 7, but the coach didn't believe Bly would need a harness and "should be all right." Monitor Bailey's and Bly's status throughout the week because their presence is critical to the success of the Broncos' pass defense. With them absent, opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers could become standout fantasy starters in the coming weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs: Despite missing a key 30-yard field goal attempt with his team down six points in the third quarter, Dave Rayner will keep his job, coach Herm Edwards said. Edwards pledged faith in his kicker during his postgame news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "I don't want to have another kicker tryout again," Edwards said. "We've done that. He's our guy right now, and he should make those." Rayner, who has only one game of double-digit fantasy points (13, Week 4), doesn't warrant fantasy attention, though, despite Edwards' vote of confidence. Edwards also was pleased with Priest Holmes' performance in his first game action since Oct. 30, 2005. "For a guy who hadn't played in a long time, I thought he did a good job," Edwards said. "He got through it, and now he'll be more involved in it." Holmes, who ran four times for nine yards, is talented enough to warrant handcuff consideration for Johnson owners in deep leagues. Still, it's likely that the only way he makes a fantasy impact is if Johnson suffers some sort of significant injury.
Oakland Raiders: Judging by coach Lane Kiffin's comments during his Monday news conference, it appears Daunte Culpepper should get a longer look as the team's starting quarterback. "What excited me about Daunte's play was that he improved on issues from last week's game, mainly protecting the ball," said Kiffin, according to the team's Web site. "We were trying to run the ball, and he made better decisions. He threw the ball away a couple times and until the last play of the game, he played it turnover free." Culpepper, who has passed for 457 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions the past two weeks, hasn't done enough to warrant fantasy attention, but he bears watching. He brings more upside to the table than the alternative, Josh McCown, and could develop into a "matchups start" with a few more weeks of improvement. Still, with McCown likely to return to practice soon, an official decision on the role won't be known until later this week.
San Diego Chargers: In light of numerous fires in the region, the Chargers are considering traveling to Arizona on Tuesday to resume their practice sessions for Week 8. They were forced to cancel Monday's practice. "There's nothing we could do [Monday]," coach Norv Turner said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We have a dozen guys who have evacuated their houses and have stuff they've got to deal with." Don't expect many early-week reports on the health of any of your Chargers, not that there were many injuries of great concern. More than anything, any delay in practice sessions means more lost time for new acquisition Chris Chambers to get acclimated to the offense. Granted, the Chargers' system is similar to the Dolphins', meaning Chambers should be factor right away. But less practice time might slow his adjustment to his new team. With Chambers on board, Vincent Jackson could see a decrease in targets, as could rookie Craig "Buster" Davis. Don't expect overwhelmingly strong fantasy numbers for either Chambers or Jackson, who might in effect cancel each other out some weeks, though each has No. 3 receiver potential when the matchup is right.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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