Around the AFC: Schaub, Johnson set to return
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: Marshawn Lynch suffered a sprained ankle in Week 10, though preliminary reports suggest it's not a serious injury. In fact, the team's official Web site reports that the rookie believes he'll be able to play in Week 11. "There is concern and we'll have an MRI, there is one scheduled," said coach Dick Jauron during his Monday news conference. "We'll just have to see what happens there. We don't believe anything is broken. He's very optimistic and we'll certainly know more by [Tuesday] and we should have a real good feel for where it is Wednesday." Lynch has been a key in the Bills' offensive attack, accounting for 871 of the team's 2,559 total yards (34.0 percent), six of the team's 10 offensive touchdowns and averaging 21.8 carries per game. "You can see the talents that he has, so in order to win games he's got to get the ball," Jauron said. "We do not like it when he carries the ball 30-plus times a game. We would like to keep it in the low 20s, but there will be games when he gets the ball 30 times in a football game." Keep an eye on the reports concerning Lynch's health once midweek practices get underway, and if you own him and have the bench room, consider adding Anthony Thomas and/or Dwayne Wright, who would presumably share time if Lynch misses game action. Wright, surprisingly, has been getting more work in the running game the past four weeks, with 17 carries to Thomas' five, for what it's worth. ... Jauron issued a statement through the team's media relations department, saying that J.P. Losman would start at quarterback in Week 11. Losman has won back-to-back games and totaled 452 passing yards and one score during that span, so it's not a huge surprise.
Miami Dolphins: Coach Cam Cameron said during his Monday news conference that a decision on his starting quarterback for Week 11 won't be made until Wednesday. He said he'd meet with Cleo Lemon and John Beck on Tuesday after further analyzing tape of the team's Week 10 contest. "Our staff, we'll go back through the tape again [Monday night], get a chance to reflect on it [Tuesday] and then we'll know by Wednesday what direction we're going," said Cameron, according to the team's official Web site. "I can tell you this; I don't know of an NFL quarterback that doesn't come in on a Tuesday." Lemon has completed 57.8 percent of his pass attempts for 923 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in five games, four of them starts, not horrible numbers. Still, with the Dolphins now 0-9 and looking towards 2008, it might behoove them to see what they've got in Beck. Regardless of who starts, neither warrants fantasy attention. Running back Jesse Chatman is about the only fantasy-worthy option on the team.
New England Patriots: Troy Brown, who has been on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list all season while recovering from knee surgery, returned to practice on Monday, according to the team's official Web site. The team has until 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 29 to activate him from the PUP list, if he is going to play at all this season. With the Patriots' receivers all performing at an elite level, Brown's best chance at making an impact this season is as a depth option. Don't bother adding him to a fantasy roster. ... The Boston Globe also reports that only safeties Eugene Wilson and Mel Mitchell and linebacker Eric Alexander were absent from Monday's practice, coming off the team's Week 10 bye. Ben Watson, who caught two passes in his return from an ankle injury in Week 9, did practice, a promising sign looking forward. Expect better things from him ahead.
New York Jets: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Oct. 27, underwent knee surgery, performed by his own surgeon, on Wednesday. Although the team has been secretive with details, coach Eric Mangini said Monday that Vilma would be available to speak about his status on Tuesday, according to the team's official Web site. "With any injury, you don't know [the timetable for his recovery] and you have to see how the healing process takes after the surgery and where he is," Mangini said. "Even through the course of the rehab process, each guy is different. I've been a part of a lot of different surgeries that have been the same, or what you think is the same, and the players come back at different points." Many news sources have suggested that Vilma might not be 100 percent healthy in time for the 2008 season, and that he could be on the trading block during the offseason. His isn't a devastating loss for the Jets' defense this season, though his presence wasn't really helping the unit much, either.
Baltimore Ravens: Much to everyone's surprise, coach Brian Billick didn't announce a change at quarterback during his Monday news conference. Instead, he said a decision would wait until after the team gets a look at Steve McNair's left shoulder, which The Baltimore Sun reports became sore Monday morning. "I'll have to wait and see," said Billick, regarding a decision on his Week 11 starter. "We've got some more work to do before I can definitively tell you what direction we're going in." It's possible that Billick isn't jumping at the chance to change to Kyle Boller because the latter hasn't impressed in three starts or in limited action in four other games, logging a 74.6 passer rating, not far off McNair's 73.9. The main difference between the two is Boller brings a stronger arm, more likely to better exploit the team's struggling deep threats. Neither is much of a fantasy consideration, though, but any switch at quarterback can mean different chemistry with the receivers, something to watch in the coming weeks if Boller gets the call. ... Billick also said Monday that Demetrius Williams suffered a high ankle sprain, usually a multiweek injury, in Week 10. Devard Darling might get more looks in three-receiver sets if Williams misses significant time, though he's not worth adding to a fantasy roster.
Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis said during his Monday news conference that tight end Reggie Kelly, who sat out Week 10 with a knee injury, is expected back in Week 11. The team's official Web site notes that Kelly's return should help boost the play of the running game, which managed 70 yards on 34 carries (2.1 average), marking the fourth time all season the team rushed for fewer than three yards per carry in a game. Lewis said Monday that Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson, who have been sharing the rushing workload recently, must do a better job of "staying on their tracks," especially after averaging 1.9 yards per carry the past two weeks combined. Johnson's hamstring injury, which cost him Weeks 4, 7 and 8 and limited him in Week 6, is clearly affecting him, perhaps leading to a time-share of some sort the remainder of the year. He logged 22 carries to Watson's nine in Week 10, somewhat more encouraging, but remains a shaky fantasy option except against weak run defenses for the foreseeable future.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns came out of their Week 10 contest with only bumps and bruises, and all players with previous injuries suffered no further complications, coach Romeo Crennel said during his Monday news conference. However, he said the team "will probably add another offensive lineman" to replace Seth McKinney, placed on injured reserve on Saturday with a separated shoulder, according to the team's official Web site. Ryan Tucker did an adequate job stepping in at guard for McKinney in Week 10, and between him and Lennie Friedman, the Browns should be fine on their offensive line. That'll help Jamal Lewis' chances looking forward, though Lewis' 16-carry, 35-yard (2.2 average) effort against the Steelers demonstrates how he's more a matchups consideration than a weekly starter. Fortunately, after the Browns' Week 11 contest at Baltimore, they don't face another top-10 run defense the entire season, something to keep in mind.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Though from a defensive perspective, the Steelers managed their worst fantasy effort in Week 10, credit much of that to the Browns' offensive improvements. The Steelers failed to record a sack and managed minus-2 fantasy points. "We knew there would be potential of us not getting a bunch of pressure," said coach Mike Tomlin in his postgame news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "I think the difference in what they have done at this point offensively since we played them the first time is that [Derek] Anderson makes quick decisions with the football. He gets the football out of his hands." If you're among the few remaining people still skeptical about Anderson's performance, Tomlin's statements should help convince you he's for real. Don't look at Pittsburgh's no-sack, no-interception day as a troubling sign; Tomlin wasn't worried about the numbers. "It's not about sacks, it's about pressure and pressure was sufficient," he said.
Houston Texans: Both quarterback Matt Schaub (head, ankle) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (knee) returned to practice on Monday, coming off the team's bye week, according to the team's official Web site. "[Schaub] looked good," said Kubiak, who confirmed his quarterback is 100 percent. "I think he looked like himself a little bit. Y'all know he practiced a little bit before we left on the break, and he's felt well. I think the break did him some good, so all indications today that he's fine. Actually, Sage [Rosenfels] is probably more beat up than he is, but they were both on the field [Monday]." Schaub's healthy return alone doesn't restore his status as a spot-start fantasy option, but having his top receiver, Johnson, back would certainly help his cause. "[Johnson] looks good," added Kubiak. "I think the best thing we did is not play him in Oakland. That was really hard not to do, but I think it was good for him. He looks like his old self right now, so everybody's excited to see him back on the field." Expect Johnson to step back in as the team's No. 1 receiver beginning in Week 11, restoring his status as a must-start and perhaps leading to some useful matchups to exploit with Schaub. As for the impact on the Texans' depth chart at wide receiver, Kubiak on Monday detailed his plans looking forward. "Andre Davis is our third receiver," he said. "Andre [Johnson] goes to his spot, Kevin [Walter] stays at his spot, Davis will work as a third, Jacoby [Jones] as a fourth and then it'll be a decision whether we suit five guys up or not from now on, probably." That seems to indicate that beyond Johnson, Walter will be the best fantasy choice of the team's receivers on a matchups basis. He's mainly useful in deeper leagues, though.
Indianapolis Colts: Yet again, coach Tony Dungy said during his Monday news conference that Marvin Harrison, who has been troubled by a knee injury, could have played in Week 10 had it been a playoff game. "We're trying to eliminate the Bob Sanders situation, where you play one, miss one, then play one and have a lingering effect," said Dungy, according to the team's official Web site. Sanders had a knee issue of his own in 2006, which plagued him for much of the year and cost him 12 games overall. With the Colts losing back-to-back games, though, one must wonder whether Dungy might press some of his players back into action sooner. Harrison has missed three of the team's past four games and played only limited snaps in his one appearance (Week 7), and at this stage one must wonder how much he'll contribute to fantasy looking forward. ... Tight end Dallas Clark (concussion), defensive tackle Raheem Brock (concussion), offensive tackle Tony Ugoh (neck), linebackers Tyjuan Hagler (neck) and Freddy Keiaho (ear), safety Matt Giordano (hamstring), wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (hand) and offensive tackle Dan Federkeil (concussion) also sat out Week 10. Unfortunately, Dungy offered no further update on any on those players' status for Week 11. "We don't know where they really are, and don't know for sure if we will know," Dungy said. "We'll see what happens. As of now, we're preparing other guys to play and get ready for this week. You can't get concerned with who's not going to be able to play. I don't know how long they're going to be."
Jacksonville Jaguars: In his Monday news conference, coach Jack Del Rio said the Jaguars might get David Garrard (high ankle sprain) back for Week 11. "We'll see how practice goes. We assume he'll be better this week," said Del Rio regarding Garrard's status. Despite two wins in three road games as the team's starter, Quinn Gray will presumably return to the bench once Garrard returns. Gray completed 51.0 percent of his pass attempts for 611 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions the past three-plus weeks, while Garrard was one of the most consistent, error-free passers in the game before getting hurt. Garrard had a 66.2 completion percentage, a 102.9 passer rating and hadn't been intercepted in 148 attempts. He was far more valuable to his NFL team than to his fantasy teams, however, throwing six touchdowns and an average of 190.2 passing yards in six games. He'd be a matchups play at best, though at least that's better than what Gray provided, and it'd perhaps make his receivers matchups considerations as well. ... Del Rio also said Monday that Josh Scobee (quadriceps) might return in Week 11. "He practiced last week and we'll see how he goes through practice this week," Del Rio said. "I do think he's getting closer to being an option for us." John Carney has converted 81.8 percent of his field goal chances (17th in the league) in Scobee's absence, and the fact that the Jaguars kept Scobee on their active roster while he heals indicates he's probably still regarded as the team's starting kicker. Neither is much of a fantasy option, but if you've been counting on Carney in recent weeks, don't be surprised if he's released in the near future.
Tennessee Titans: Though LenDale White left Sunday's game early with a leg injury, coach Jeff Fisher didn't seem concerned about his starting running back's health during his Monday news conference. "I would expect [White] to practice this week," said Fisher, according to the team's official Web site. White, however, might have a different backup in Week 11, depending on the health of Chris Brown's ankle and the status of Chris Henry's appeal of his pending four-game suspension. "[Brown] will practice this week," said Fisher, who added that Henry's decision on an appeal is an issue to be decided between the player, his agents and the league, not one in which he has any say. Henry remains the primary backup to White, at least while eligible to play, though Brown will presumably take over that role once Henry serves his four-game suspension, likely in the near future. Barring a setback by White, neither should be much of a fantasy factor looking forward. ... Justin Gage managed season highs with seven catches, 90 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 10, while playing the slot. "We're going to continue to get him more involved," Fisher said. "He's making a lot of plays for us." Despite Gage's strong effort, he's a matchups option at best in larger leagues, accounting for Vince Young's inability to exploit his deep threats thus far. Don't drop anyone useful to nab Gage as depth for your roster.
Denver Broncos: Finally, we have some definitive word on Travis Henry's potential suspension. During his Monday news conference, coach Mike Shanahan said Henry would meet with the NFL on Friday, and that he believes he'll hear about the results of the hearing "the week after" it takes place. "We'll let due process take care of itself," said Shanahan, according to the team's official Web site, "but if the test was positive, after what he promised me, he would not be on this football team." In other words, if the league rules that Henry indeed tested positive for marijuana and is suspended, his season with the Broncos could be over sometime around Thanksgiving. That'd install Selvin Young as the team's starter, no small bit of news considering Young totaled 38 carries for 180 yards (4.7 average) and a score in starts in Weeks 8 and 10. As for Week 11, Shanahan said Henry's knee, which sidelined him in Week 10, is "still just a little bit swollen" and that he'll undergo an MRI exam. It's not inconceivable that Henry's season is already over, accounting for his injury today and possible suspension later, so look at Young as quite the sleeper prospect for fantasy looking forward. In addition, in larger leagues, consider adding Andre Hall, who would be elevated on the depth chart as Young's primary backup if Henry gets shut down for the year. ... Shanahan also said Monday that Javon Walker, recovering from knee surgery, is a "long shot" to play in Week 11. "He's got to get extra reps during the week," Shanahan said. "I don't think it'll be good for Monday night."
Kansas City Chiefs: While neither the Bills, Dolphins nor Ravens announced a quarterback change for Week 11, coach Herm Edwards said during his Monday news conference that his Chiefs will make a switch. Brodie Croyle will take over for Damon Huard, who committed two interceptions and a fumble in Week 10. "You need a spark," said Edwards, according to The Kansas City Star. "We've been in some contests now where we haven't had the ability to score points. That's part of your job as a quarterback, to put points on the board and move the football team. We've moved at times but we've also been very inconsistent." Croyle threw an interception of his own and had a lackluster 57.9 passer rating after coming on in relief of Huard in Week 10, so don't look at the switch as much more than a motivational strategy, one that will attempt to breathe some life into the offense. Huard, incidentally, suffered a neck injury in the Week 10 contest, though Edwards said Sunday that he'd have pulled him from the game regardless. Don't bother adding Croyle, but owners of Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez can only hope his installation as the starter will help them rebound from so-so recent performances.
Oakland Raiders: Unlike a week ago, when coach Lane Kiffin declared Josh McCown his starting quarterback on Monday, Kiffin failed during his Monday news conference this week to proclaim McCown his Week 11 starter. McCown suffered a leg injury during the Week 10 contest, which could force a switch back to Daunte Culpepper. "We have to look at [McCown's] health and take everything into account," said Kiffin, according to the Oakland Tribune. "We'll have more information for you on Wednesday." The Tribune, incidentally, suggested some of Kiffin's other words might offer a hint to his leaning. "You'd like to have the same guy start every game and play every snap for you for all 16 games and go to the Pro Bowl and everything would be great," Kiffin said. "Unfortunately that hasn't been the situation and we've gone back and forth and we may be going back again here." Neither Culpepper nor McCown has done much of significance this season, and if Culpepper is back under center in Week 11, remember that he's mainly useful in shotgun formations, which limits the team's offensive package.
San Diego Chargers: Despite a win in Week 10, his fourth in the team's past five games, Philip Rivers offered his fantasy owners yet another disappointing performance. He completed 13 of 24 pass attempts for 104 yards, no scores and two interceptions, and for the fourth time in his past six games, he managed a passer rating of 68.8 or worse (30.6). "I'm not happy with my play," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We got a win, and you can always build on that. This is a game-to-game deal. We're working to get better. I'm going to keep working to get better." Coach Norv Turner didn't indicate during his Monday news conference that a quarterback controversy is on the horizon, though for fantasy, Rivers isn't a trustworthy option right now, even facing a favorable matchup. Despite the addition of Chris Chambers, Rivers has offered his owners back-to-back poor outings, and for the year, he has 10 scores compared to 10 interceptions.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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