Notes From Around the League
The injuries that have kept Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch out of action this summer have raised questions about the Bills’ ground attack. They’ve also prevented coach Chan Gailey from playing around with the Wildcat. Last year, the team used the formation for nine plays; this year Buffalo fans can expect more of it, probably with dazzling rookie C.J. Spiller having a prominent role. “We’re not so polished in one area that we can stay in that and beat people,” Gailey said. “We’re going to have to consider everything.” … Anthony Fasano, the Visanthe Shiancoe of 2010? Don’t count on it. Even though the Miami tight end caught a pair of second quarter touchdowns in the team’s last preseason game, he remains a lower-level fantasy prospect. Brandon Marshall received more red zone targets than any player last year, and although that number will likely decline in Miami, Marshall will remain the team’s best option when it passes near the goal line. … Said Laurence Maroney to a Boston Herald reporter this week: “I know how good I am. And I know the type of player I am and how much help I can bring to the team.” In the Patriots’ first game the veteran back scored twice and averaged 3.8 yards per carry in a reserve role, then didn’t play the following week. For whatever it’s worth, coach Bill Belichick was supportive of Maroney in comments he made this week: “I think Laurence has worked hard and has been out there every day and taken his reps, and I think he’s ready to go.” … The Jets’ decision to sign center Nick Mangold to a record deal says plenty about the value the team places on its blockers up front. It probably helped Mangold’s cause that starting quarterback Mark Sanchez started wearing his knee brace again after getting a scare last weekend. The Jets do not allow many sacks, thanks in part to the interior protection Mangold and the guards provide. But good protection or not, fantasy owners might want to give Sanchez a closer look before drafting.
Speaking about the separation between Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, Baltimore running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said, “It’s not like there’s a one and then there’s a two. … Willis is practicing every day as if he’s the starter and not as a backup, and we as coaches see Willis as a starter and not as a backup.” Uh-huh. Sure. Fantasy owners of Rice need not worry; the Ravens might continue to use McGahee as a change-of-pace back, but he won’t share carries with Rice evenly. If anything, sounds like Baltimore might be ready to take McGahee to market. … Cleveland running back Montario Hardesty was back in action this week, telling reporters, “I’ll be ready way before the opener.” Hey, Montario, “way before” was two weeks ago. Most fantasy owners have already wisely moved on to Jerome Harrison, leaving Hardesty as a waiver wire consideration for later. … A popular sleeper pick (and must-have handcuff) this offseason has been backup running back Bernard Scott, who has led Cincinnati in average yards per carry in each of the team’s last two preseason games and had 113 yards from scrimmage against Denver. The coaching staff admitted this week that Scott would have an increased workload this year as the team tries to lessen the burden on starter Cedric Benson. If Scott keeps up his current pace, Benson might soon be spelling him. … Former Indianapolis assistant and current Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Rashard Mendenhall reminds him of former Colts do-it-all backs Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James. “He has that kind of skill set,” said Arians. “There is no doubt he can do what those two did.”
Florida papers were buzzing this week over the Jaguars’ absent rushing game. The backfield gained just 54 yards on 19 carries last week, and just 14 yards on nine carries in the team’s first game. It’s important to note that Maurice Jones-Drew has carried the ball only six times (but has gained negative-two yards on those carries). Coach Jack Del Rio stated the obvious when addressing the matter: “We have not really made that an emphasis point in the first couple of games.” Maybe, but it is still something for fantasy owners to be concerned with, especially when considering the Jaguars enter the season with a completely rebuilt defense and might be forced to abandon the run if that unit fails. … During its preseason fantasy show, one member of the on-air ESPN crew questioned why Vince Young would be ranked ahead of someone like Matthew Stafford. Young might be the best person to answer. Through two games he has completed 14-of-19 passes — much more efficient than his .576 career completion percentage. And the development of his young receiving corps suggests Young does belong in the second tier of passers, where most fantasy sources have him ranked. … No one can be sure just how secure Joseph Addai’s job is in Indianapolis. Or Donald Brown’s backup job, for that matter. Devin Moore has been the team’s most effective rusher in two preseason games, and while his success has come against second- and third-string defenders, Moore’s speed has made the team take notice. With 10 carries for 52 yards, a punt return of 49 yards and a kick return of 38 yards, Moore will be given more chances in these final weeks. What does it mean for fantasy owners? Probably not a lot, but it does add confusion to an already-muddled backfield picture. … The Texans will turn to Jacoby Jones to return punts, which suggests Kevin Walter will remain in the lineup at wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson. Jones has been a favorite of fantasy owners this summer and still has value as Houston’s No. 3, just not quite as much value as he had a week ago.
Left tackle Ryan Clady returned to Broncos practice Aug. 25 and could be ready for the team’s Week 1 contest. This is great news for fantasy owners holding Broncos players; Clady’s presence plays a big role in how well the unit performs on the ground and through the air. … With its first unit seeing plenty of time last weekend, the Chiefs’ coaching staff used Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay as an opportunity to test Dwayne Bowe. The receiver was given six looks (tied for the most on the squad) and hauled in three passes for 33 yards. Bowe remains a fringe No. 2 fantasy receiver in the eyes of most fantasy owners. … San Diego rookie running back Ryan Mathews had minor surgery on his nose Aug. 24 in an attempt to stop recurring nosebleeds. During his playing career, the back has dealt with nosebleeds and was forced to miss a series against Dallas last week after getting struck in the face. Said Mathews of the procedure, “They put some stuff up in there to numb it, and they burned some veins. It sucks. You can’t sneeze. You can’t do anything. I mean, I feel like I’m sick right now because I’m so congested, but it is worth it so I don’t have to bleed like that again.” Fantasy owners banking on Mathews sure hope so. … Oakland running back Darren McFadden made a return to practice Aug. 24 after missing two weeks with a bum hamstring. Fantasy owners considering McFadden might want to watch the team’s game against San Francisco this Saturday to get a feel for where the third-year back stands in his recovery. Heading into this summer, McFadden was viewed as the favorite to win the No. 1 job, but most fantasy owners have shown a preference for Michael Bush lately.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Cowboys kicker David Buehler is making progress in camp after some early struggles. In practice Aug. 19, Buehler missed his last four field goal attempts; on Aug. 24, Buehler was 6-of-7, including successful tries from 38 and 39 yards. … Donovan McNabb will miss this week’s preseason contest against the Jets and likely the Redskins’ final one as well. McNabb sprained his left ankle last week against Baltimore and coach Mike Shanahan said the injury was so bad, McNabb wouldn’t play this week even if it were a regular-season game. Maybe the Redskins are being cautious, or maybe watching Eli Manning get smacked around by the Jets a couple weeks ago scared the coaching staff. … Philadelphia’s offensive line has failed to protect Kevin Kolb this preseason, and the rushing totals suggest the line could do a better job of opening holes, too. It’s reason for fantasy owners to have concern; Kolb’s stock continues to rise, evident by his average draft spot, and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek all rank favorably at their respective positions. A bad offensive line is bad news. But coordinator Marty Mornhinweg suggested this week there is no need to worry yet. “I think our offensive line has a bright future here,” he said. “They can be one of the very best in the league.” “Can” is nice, but fantasy owners would much rather hear the word “will.” … Brandon Jacobs’ absence from the Giants’ loss to Pittsburgh was the result of not stretching before doing a set of shoulder shrugs. Jacobs had a stiff neck and sat on the sideline with Manning. The injury shouldn’t concern fantasy owners as much as how good Ahmad Bradshaw looked. On one run he bowled over a Pittsburgh defender and finished with 28 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
Here’s a number to consider for those fantasy owners who have doubts about Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings this season: 31. Nope, it’s not Jennings’ yards receiving through two games, but rather his average yards per catch in those contests (four catches, 124 yards). Last week he caught a bomb on the Packers’ first play from scrimmage, and the week before he hauled in the team’s first touchdown. If the preseason is any indication, Aaron Rodgers will go over the top early and often to the Packers’ No. 1 receiver this season. … Lions running back Kevin Smith has finally returned to action, perhaps just in time to carry rookie Jahvid Best’s pads to and from the locker room. Through two games Best has been superb — 4.8 yards per carry in his first contest, 6.1 last week — and it has become more unlikely that, even if healthy, Smith will be able to win back his job. … The best sighting in Chicago this summer? Gotta be Matt Forte’s 89-yard touchdown run against Oakland on Saturday. A top-five fantasy back for the 2008 season, Forte fell off the face of the earth last year. Teammates suggest he was more hurt than he was letting on. Maybe his 109-yard effort against the Bears (on five carries) is evidence a comeback is in the works? … Sidney Rice’s pending hip surgery opens the door for another Vikings receiver to step into the No. 1 role. Fantasy owners would love for it to be Percy Harvin, but it’s unlikely the team will change how it uses Harvin just to satisfy the void created by Rice. Instead, Bernard Berrian’s stock should be on the rise. Berrian has been thrown to just once in each of the team’s two games (both completed passes), but that will change now that the team needs to prepare for a half-season without its top wideout. As for newly signed Javon Walker (Favre’s one-time favorite weapon in Green Bay), don’t count on much.
The Saints have experienced a number of injuries at the running back position, including Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill. Still, coach Sean Payton isn’t backing away from his philosophy that the team needs several backs to contribute. The Saints brought in former Packer DeShawn Wynn this week and will continue to mix up carries throughout the remainder of the preseason. Pierre Thomas is still a viable fantasy prospect, but fantasy owners hoping he would become a 20-carry back were brought back to earth by Payton. … The good news for Falcons fans is that Jerious Norwood, who has missed time with a sore hip flexor, is expected to make his preseason debut in Friday’s game against the Dolphins. The bad news is that Norwood will be hurt again at some point this season. Fantasy owners looking for a handcuff for Michael Turner should stick with Jason Snelling. … Quarterback Josh Freeman’s injured thumb will be in a splint for the next two weeks, limiting his ability to practice. Said general manager Mark Dominik, “It’s about the swelling, being able to grasp the football, being able the hold onto it and react.” The Buccaneers have still not ruled out Freeman’s return for Week 1, but in the meantime they will rely on fellow youngster Josh Johnson, who was 6-of-10 for 113 yards in a win over Kansas City. … Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been bothered by a sore toe — no, really — and told the media that it will take a while before he is back to full strength. “The doctor said it would probably be after the season until I feel 100 percent,” Clausen said. “He said I’d have to play through some aches and pains until the season’s over. That’s just the nature of football.” Somewhere, Dick Butkus is enjoying a good laugh.
The 49ers have been cautious in using running back Frank Gore this preseason, but Mike Singletary didn’t rule out a Gore appearance for this week. Then again, he didn’t confirm, either. “We know what Frank can do, but this offensive line has not really had the opportunity to feel the timing of Frank’s quickness and the way he makes cuts in a live situation,” said Singletary. Whether he plays the full game or misses every down of the rest of the preseason, Gore has cemented himself as a first-round pick in most fantasy league formats. … Fantasy owners were unsure whether to pick Justin Forsett or Julius Jones in drafts this summer. Leon Washington hopes the correct answer is “None of the above.” Washington is expected to get the start this week and could be in line for the No. 1 job. … Elite fantasy receiver Larry Fitzgerald remains on the sideline, nursing a sprained knee. But this week Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt shared some encouraging words for fantasy owners. “I don’t think there’s any question in any of our minds now that he’ll be ready for the first game,” said Whisenhunt. “I think he’ll be ready for the last preseason game, but obviously, that’s not something we’re pushing to do.” … As the Rams transition to Sam Bradford at quarterback, one thing in the offense has remained constant: running back Steven Jackson. In his first preseason action last week, Jackson averaged 5.0 yards per carry; as a team, St. Louis averaged 1.7 yards. With Jackson, the Rams can move the ball. Without him, they can’t. As left guard Jacob Bell summed up last week’s game: “Pretty good first drive. We keep Steven in the game, I think we can keep doing that.”
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.