Around the AFC: Clemens named Jets starting QB
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: If you're looking for a decision on the Bills' starting quarterback for Week 9 in this space, sadly, you won't find it. Coach Dick Jauron said during his Monday news conference he'd take more time before announcing his decision. "Come back on Wednesday and we'll tell you," said Jauron, according to the team's official Web site. "We don't know if [Trent Edwards] is healthy. The hypothetical is something we don't want to address, so we'll talk about it on Wednesday." Edwards is recovering from what has been described as a bruised wrist, which was suffered when he was sacked in the third quarter of Sunday's game, resulting in his having trouble gripping the ball. J.P. Losman completed three of his five pass attempts for 113 yards and a score in relief of Edwards, but all indications are that Jauron's delay in an announcement is more about Edwards' health than an actual quarterback controversy. Fantasy owners don't want either player, given the way they have performed to date. One interesting note, though: Lee Evans bounced back with a five-catch, 138-yard, 1-touchdown effort in Week 8, and two of the catches, 104 yards and the score came when Losman was at quarterback late in the game. Evans now has 17 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown in his past four contests, much of that working with Edwards, so it seems he's back to fantasy respectability regardless of who is under center.
Miami Dolphins: Coach Cam Cameron was noncommittal when asked during his Monday news conference whether Cleo Lemon's starting role was in jeopardy. "His decision-making has been solid," said Cameron, according to the team's Web site. "It can improve. For us to win, he's got to take care of the football." Lemon has completed only 59.1 percent of his pass attempts, fumbled three times, thrown three interceptions and been sacked six times in his three starts, and with the Dolphins now 0-8, it might not be long before rookie John Beck gets a look in the role. Cameron said Monday the team would review things during its Week 9 bye, but a quarterback switch might be in the works later this year, especially if Lemon continues to struggle.
New England Patriots: Kyle Brady was on the sidelines for the second half of Sunday's game, according to The Boston Globe. Coach Bill Belichick didn't offer details on the nature or severity of Brady's injury during his postgame or Monday news conferences but said that the team was forced to remain in three- and four-receiver sets despite boasting a significant lead. "We kind of offensively got knocked out of all of our regular formations there at the end of this game," said Belichick. Brady remains only a fill-in consideration when Benjamin Watson is sidelined, and that's only if he's declared fully healthy for Week 9. ... Belichick also snapped back at reporters during Sunday's postgame news conference when asked about his team running up the score late, particularly the decisions to go for it on fourth down on two seperate occasions (when up 38-0, and then 45-0). "What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?" said Belichick. "It's 38-0. It's fourth down. [We're] just out there playing." While the Redskins -- particularly Randall Godfrey -- had their complaints about the Patriots' decisions in those circumstances, fantasy owners don't care. They'll take their numbers from Tom Brady et al, so it's good to hear Belichick has no doubts about his decisions.
New York Jets: After weeks of speculation, coach Eric Mangini announced during his Monday news conference that Kellen Clemens will take over as the team's starting quarterback, replacing the erratic Chad Pennington. "I made this decision not based on singling out Chad for where we are, but based on the fact that I think Kellen has earned this opportunity," Mangini said. "And I want to give him this opportunity. In no way is Chad totally responsible -- we all are. There are plenty of things each person can improve." Despite completing 67.4 percent of his pass attempts, Pennington averaged only 188 passing yards in his seven starts, completing nine touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Clemens, meanwhile, is an untested sophomore who has completed only 49.2 percent of his passes for one touchdown and four interceptions in limited action this season. Still, the switch should inject some energy into an offense that has lacked it of late, even if it seemingly puts the team into the high-risk category for fantasy. As for how Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery might be affected, consider that in Clemens' limited action thus far, Coles has earned 11 targets (20.4 percent of the team's total targets under Clemens) while Cotchery has 13 (24.1 percent). That's not bad, and it helps encourage their owners that the two receivers should be reasonably useful No. 2/3 options in most weeks looking forward. As for Clemens himself, consider adding him for depth in larger leagues.
Baltimore Ravens: Steve McNair, who sat out Weeks 6 and 7 because of a back injury, returned to practice Monday, according to the Baltimore Sun. He appears set to reclaim the starting role from Kyle Boller, as was coach Brian Billick's plan when he decided to rest McNair before the team's Week 8 bye. Looking ahead, McNair does have a handful of passer-friendly matchups, including Weeks 10 (versus the Bengals), 11 (versus the Browns) and 15 (at Miami), and isn't a terrible desperation consideration in those weeks, assuming full health. ... Todd Heap, out for each of the Ravens' past three games because of a hamstring injury, sat out Monday's practice and is questionable for Week 9, according to the Baltimore Sun. Heap's persistent injury problems make him a high-risk option looking forward, though if he's anywhere near 100 percent, he'd reclaim must-start status once again.
Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that Kenny Watson, who was shaken up late during Sunday's game, suffered a concussion. "[It] subsided today," said Lewis. "He'll undergo the normal procedure and looks to be fine." Watson could get another start in Week 9, with Rudi Johnson's status still uncertain because of a hamstring injury. "We'll see Wednesday," said Lewis, when asked about Johnson. Watson should continue to get the bulk of the work in the Cincinnati backfieldand is an underrated No. 2/flex option until Johnson shows a significant turnaround. ... Chris Perry, on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list all season because of an ankle injury, is probably 3-4 weeks away from returning to game action. Lewis was unsure whether Perry must resume practicing this week, under league rules; the team is checking with the league office. "I think when Chris does come back to practice, we'll probably use the two to three weeks anyway," Lewis said. With Watson performing nicely as Johnson's stand-in, the Bengals have no reason to rush Perry's return to a backup role. In addition, fantasy owners have no need to add him as a potential handcuff.
Cleveland Browns: Jamal Lewis, who carried the ball 17 times for 61 yards Sunday, came through the game without any problems with his foot. "He hadn't practiced in awhile, so we didn't want to overtax him in that game. So we rotated a little bit," said coach Romeo Crennel during his Monday news conference. "But we felt good about what he was able to do, and it looks like he made it through the game OK. Now hopefully he'll continue to get better as we go down the road." Lewis missed Week 6 and was knocked from Week 5 after only one carry because of the foot injury, but he should be fine looking forward. Jerome Harrison, who carried the ball five times for 32 yards Sunday and has 13 carries for 89 yards (6.8 yards-per-carry average) in his last two games, is seemingly becoming the next in line should Lewis get hurt again, though. Jason Wright, the team's Week 6 starter, had only four carries for 19 yards Sunday, and has 39 carries for 137 yards (3.5 yards-per-carry average) in his last three games. Keep tabs on the backup situation in the next couple games, because although Lewis is again a reliable No. 2/flex option, his health questions are enough of a reason to handcuff him.
Pittsburgh Steelers: With his two touchdown passes Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger now has 15 on the season, moving him into fourth place in the NFL. He also ranks eighth in passer rating (102.2) in what's quickly shaping up as a breakout season for him. In six of his seven games this season, Roethlisberger has managed at least 12 fantasy points, and he has 38 combined fantasy points in two games since the bye. He's also doing an exceptional job escaping opposing defenders. "I think we are all getting comfortable with expecting those kind of plays from him because that is what he is capable of," said coach Mike Tomlin during his Monday news conference. "He is tremendously talented and very smart. Generally, he is a great decision-maker under those circumstances when plays break down. I think that's what makes him different than most. He remains calm, and he makes good decisions as those plays break down." Roethlisberger, in Tomlin's system, stands an excellent chance at maintaining his current pace, keeping him a weekly fantasy option regardless of matchup. Keep riding the hot streak; it seems Roethlisberger erratic ways are now fully in the past.
Houston Texans: In his Monday news conference, coach Gary Kubiak expressed concerns about Ahman Green, who sat out Week 8 because of a knee injury. "His knee has been swelling on him since he got it banged up early in the season," said Kubiak, according to the team's Web site. "We've been trying to monitor him during the week, from week to week, and make sure we're doing the right thing with his reps. ... He took a couple of reps Friday and basically told me, 'Coach, I can't go. My knee is bothering me, it's hurting me. I need this week.' That's where we're at right now, and we'll see." The fact that Green has been battling knee trouble for much of the season, is 30 years old now and has nearly 2,000 career carries on his legs makes him a significant risk the remainder of the year. With Green banged up, Kubiak hopes to get Adimchinobe Echemandu, who rushed for 62 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry Sunday, more involved in the offense. "I liked what I saw," Kubiak said. "The kid ran well. I told y'all he tweaked his hamstring a little bit, which kept him from finishing the game the way we'd like to see him finish, with a lot more carries." Don't be surprised if the Texans craft an Echemandu-Ron Dayne timeshare for games that Green misses, which wouldn't be the greatest for fantasy. In that setup, Dayne likely would get more of the goal-line work. ... Kubiak stopped short of terming Matt Schaub's injury a concussion, though he labeled his quarterback day-to-day. Keep tabs on the practice reports later in the week; Sage Rosenfels would stand to start should Schaub be unable to play in Week 9.
Indianapolis Colts: Though Marvin Harrison sat out Sunday for the second time in three games because of a knee injury, coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference that the move was partly a precautionary measure. "It was one of those things where he played against Jacksonville [in Week 7], played about 35 plays and ended up still being a little sore and not making improvement," Dungy said. "We said, 'We can do the same thing again, play [him] 30 more plays, not improve and be in the same boat another month from now, or maybe with a full week off, he can get better and be able to practice again this week.' ... If it was a playoff game, I think he probably would have played." With the Colts' most challenging matchup of the season (versus the Patriots) due up in Week 9 -- one that should bring a playoff-type atmosphere -- Harrison should return to the lineup, barring a setback. Though many of his owners are worried he's now only a shell of his former self, perhaps a result of the mileage on his 35-year-old body, he still has the capability of being an elite fantasy receiver, assuming full health. Keep tabs on the practice reports; at 7-0 the Colts have no reason to push less-than-healthy players.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Despite completing only seven passes Sunday, Quinn Gray will earn another start in Week 9, coach Jack Del Rio said during his Monday news conference. David Garrard, who sat out with a high ankle sprain, isn't close enough to full health to play. "He's likely to walk around this week," said Del Rio, according to the team's Web site. "The most likely scenario is that he'll return against the Titans [in Week 10]. It would be very difficult for him to play this week." Gray performed better in his second game of the season Sunday, helping lead the Jaguars to a 24-23 win on an eight-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Matt Jones. Still, his presence greatly limits the fantasy potential of the Jaguars' receivers and the team's offense as a whole. For instance, six different receivers caught passes Sunday, with Maurice Jones-Drew being the only one who caught two of them. Jones-Drew remains the most trusted fantasy option in Jacksonville, but even his upside is a bit limited with Gray under center.
Tennessee Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher said during his Monday news conference that Chris Brown, who out in Week 8 because of an ankle injury, should return to the team's running back mix once healthy, but that might not be in Week 9. "I'm sure he's probably going to be questionable again for this week," Fisher said. "The ankle [injury] at the running back position is a difficult thing to overcome." With Brown sidelined, Chris Henry picked up four carries and notched 47 yards and a score. The second consecutive impressive effort by the rookie certainly got Fisher's attention. "He's doing a nice job," Fisher said. "He is a nice changeup. He has a pretty good sense. His pass protection is good. He didn't play a lot of plays yesterday, but he was effective when he got the opportunity. He runs hard. He's hitting the hole with speed, and he has intensity." LenDale White is clearly the Titans' starting running back, but the battle for his backup role is the interesting one to watch the next few weeks. Henry has performed well enough to avoid the inactive list, something he couldn't do in the early weeks of the year, and it's possible he'll challenge Brown for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Fantasy owners -- especially those in keeper leagues -- might want to stash Henry on their bench.
Denver Broncos: Javon Walker told The Denver Post on Monday that he expects to return before the six-week window estimated for his recovery from surgery on his right knee. "It will be sooner than six weeks," he said. "It will be much sooner than that. It feels much better now." Walker, who had the surgery on Oct. 19, will be a safer bet for your fantasy postseason if he can sneak in a healthy game or two beforehand, so this is great news for him looking forward. If you have the luxury of an extra bench spot, snatch him up if his owner recently cut him. ... Selvin Young picked up his first career start Monday and ran 18 times for 71 yards (3.9 average) and caught six passes for 49 yards in place of Travis Henry, who sat with bruised ribs. "I've got to look at the film, but I thought he did a very good job for his first game," said coach Mike Shanahan after the game, according to The Denver Post. With this effort, Young has proven himself capable of handling the starting role should Henry get suspended or hurt again at some point this season. He's a must-have handcuff for Henry owners. Andre Hall served as Young's backup, incidentally, rushing three times for 10 yards.
Kansas City Chiefs: Eddie Kennison, who has sat out five of the team's past six games, participated in individual drills on Monday, according to the team's Web site. "Yeah, he moved around pretty good," said coach Herm Edwards, when asked during his Monday news conference whether Kennison might play in Week 9. "We'll see what happens." Kennison has yet to record a catch in either of the two games in which he has appeared this season, and Dwayne Bowe is now the go-to receiver in the Chiefs' passing game. At best, Kennison might be a matchups option as a No. 3/4 receiver in the season's final weeks. ... Edwards also said he plans to get Priest Holmes more involved in the coming weeks. "I would say [I'd like to get him the ball] probably 10 or 12 times in the course of a football game," Edwards said. "That's with the offense getting about 65 plays. There are other guys that have to touch the football. Larry [Johnson] is going to have to touch the ball at least 30 times." With Johnson getting a 3:1 ratio of touches compared to Holmes -- which might even be conservative -- Holmes won't get many chances to be fantasy-relevant looking forward. He's only a handcuff for Johnson owners, and not one of the more necessary handcuffs around.
Oakland Raiders: With JaMarcus Russell being elevated to No. 3 quarterback status in Week 8, Andrew Walter could be waived in the near future, according to the Oakland Tribune. "We're [looking at that] that right now as of [Monday]," said coach Lane Kiffin in his Monday news conference. "We'll continue to look at things. Our roster will probably have some changes coming up, and that could be one of them." That's no indication that Russell is nearing a bump up to the starting role, but his elevation up the depth chart is at least an encouraging sign for his keeper-league owners. It's still probably going to be 2008 before he makes any sort of fantasy impact, though, if that soon. ... Kiffin also said Monday that the Raiders will look for ways to get Justin Fargas more carries after he managed 61 yards on 12 rushing attempts Sunday against the Titans. With LaMont Jordan managing only 87 yards on 41 carries (2.1 yards-per-carry average) since leaving at halftime of the Week 4 contest with a back injury, Fargas might begin stealing some of his work in the coming weeks. Jordan hasn't looked close to his old self since that game and might need an extended rest to have any chance at matching his hot start to the season.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers managed a career-high 143.9 passer rating in Week 8 despite attempting only 11 passes. He completed seven of them for 130 yards and three touchdowns, and for the third time in five games had at least 17 fantasy points. "It doesn't happen very often," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It was efficient. I just wish I wouldn't have missed Chris [Chambers] on the long one." Chambers' addition certainly seemed to provide some much-needed depth to the San Diego passing game, and that can only help Rivers' cause, as well as his own, in the coming weeks. Chambers hauled in two passes for 35 yards and a score and was targeted five times in the game, tops on the team. That's not bad for a receiver making his debut for a new team. Consider Chambers a useful No. 2/3 option when the matchup is right.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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