Break out the 10-foot pole this week ...
Posted: Thursday October 23, 2003 6:23PM; Updated: Thursday October 23, 2003 6:26PM
By Bob Harris, Special to SI.com
As a "fantasy information guy," I spend a lot of time thinking about whom you should start and how I can provide you the information necessary to make the best decision when it's time to submit your lineup.
And over the years, I've discovered there are times when the best way to help readers decide whom to start is to point out whom not to start. And that's my mission this week.
So without further delay, here are five situations (in no particular order) I wouldn't touch with your 10-foot pole heading in Week 8:
Chicago Bears: Offense
Wow. ... Where do I start? How about with one of the most fragile quarterbacks to play the game in recent history? That's right, Chris Chandler will make his second straight start this Sunday and even if he's able to make it though the entire game in an upright position, he has to overcome injuries to most of his top weapons.
That would start in the backfield, where Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson, the team's top two halfbacks, are both listed as questionable. Neither man practiced Wednesday and even if they manage to hit the field on Sunday, it would be a stretch to believe either will truly be at full speed.
Then there's Marty Booker, who is bothered by a sore ankle.
Both Thomas and Booker sat out last Sunday, leading many observers to wonder if Chandler's first start of the season wouldn't have been a bit more promising with them on board.
But as the Sports XChange suggested early this week, a better question for Chandler to ponder than what players were missing was how much better his 2003 debut might have been had any of his receivers come up big on catchable balls that wound up as incompletions.
On at least four occasions, Chandler put passes where teammates could have made big plays but didn't. A second-quarter interception went through tight end Desmond Clark's hands and into the grasp of Seahawks linebacker Anthony Simmons. His 33-yard return set up Seattle's second touchdown.
Bottom line: We're talking about a ground game that might feature Rabih Abdullah and a passing attack spearheaded by Dez White. Need I say more?
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers, head coach "Butch Davis isn't saying if he's going to start the quarterback with the broken leg or the one with the battered confidence."
Davis wouldn't announce Wednesday whether Kelly Holcomb or Tim Couch will be the starter Sunday at New England.
"We'll have an update probably some time, 12 o'clock on Sunday," Davis said. "Stay tuned."
Okay. Sure. ... That'll work.
Apparently there's still some question as to whether Holcomb, who made his first appearance in a game last week since breaking his right leg on Sept. 21 at San Francisco, is really ready for action.
Holcomb came off the bench to relieve Couch late in the third quarter of last Sunday's loss to San Diego.
Holcomb said he has improved but isn't 100 percent. He also revealed that he has torn ligaments in his right ankle -- an injury that until now went unreported by the team.
But even though Holcomb wasn't completely healed last week, that didn't stop Davis from bringing him in after Couch threw the second of two costly interceptions.
On Monday, Davis acknowledged that he had put Holcomb, who responded with two TD passes, at risk by putting him in before he was completely recovered. Holcomb didn't complain and never questioned whether he was jeopardizing his season by getting hurt worse.
"You don't think about that," he said. "You take a risk every time you step on the field. You never know what's going to happen. They told me to go in, so I did."
Holcomb said he's ready if the Browns need him again.
"I think I can run the offense," he said. "I don't think I can run well. Another week would help, but I'm ready. If I'm called upon, then you gotta go in there and you gotta play."
Bottom line: Sounds like Holcomb and Couch will split reps in practice throughout the week, an especially worrisome development with Cleveland going up against the wily Bill Belichick and his equally cagey henchman/defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. ... Not good.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
Jay Fiedler has been listed as questionable for the Dolphins' Monday night game at San Diego because of a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt won't announce his starter before Sunday, but Fiedler was limited to individual drills Wednesday while Brian Griese worked with the first team offense.
Wannstedt added that the uncertainty over who will start will not affect the week's preparation for the Chargers.
"There are some things that one does maybe a little better than the other, but we would not fall into that trap of wasting time working on plays that either one couldn't work or run,'' Wannstedt said.
Fiedler, who wore a large brace on the knee during Wednesday's workout, was able to participate in individual drills, Wannstedt said.
"There never really was much pain in it," Fiedler said. "It's a mobility problem more than a pain problem."
But as Miami Herald staffer Armando Salguero noted Tuesday, after two weeks of vehemently rejecting the notion Griese could push Fiedler as the starting quarterback, coaches are now pondering scenarios in which Griese could play against the Chargers.
And even though Fielder wasn't playing particularly well prior to suffering this injury, Salguero's sources stressed any use of Griese would be prompted primarily by Fiedler's injury status rather than any perceived dissatisfaction with his performance.
One situation the Dolphins are keeping in mind: Fiedler starts but Griese has to substitute into the game if Fiedler's knee limits his effectiveness.
Griese started 51 games for the Denver Broncos from 1998-2002 and played five of those games against San Diego. He threw eight touchdown passes and three interceptions in those games as the Broncos won three times.
For what it's worth, Palm Beach Post staff writer Joe Schad reported early Wednesday that Fiedler has told family members he will play at San Diego and that his knee sprain is not that severe.
"He told me it's nothing major," Ken Fiedler, Jay's father, told Schad on Tuesday. "You know, not a lot of people know that Jay played all four years of college with a brace on his left knee because of instability in there.
"In college they required him to wear it. He didn't like it because it was so bulky. Then he got to the pros and threw it away. But now they've got these half-ounce braces. He'll take it a little easy in practice this week. He tells me he'll play.
"The extra day off gives him a big advantage. There will be more scrutiny than ever on Jay because it's a Monday night game. But he'll be fine. He's been dealing with that forever. ..."
It's also worth noting that Griese himself is still recovering from a preseason ligament injury to his left great toe. He returned to practice three weeks ago and has been "doing everything" in practice, Wannstedt said.
"Probably the only thing he hasn't done is take off and sprint," Wannstedt said. "But when he's practicing he's doing all the same plays with the boots and the waggles and all that stuff."
Wannstedt is reportedly sensitive about not causing a stir among his players and knows a quarterback controversy would do just that. That's why he was hesitant to discuss how the offense might change under Griese.
"I wouldn't even go there now because it would be unfair," Wannstedt said.
Bottom line: The Monday night kickoff makes it all but impossible to know with any certainty who the starter will be. And even if we knew, my guess is whoever gets the nod will spend the vast majority of his evening handing the ball off to Ricky Williams.
New York Jets: Quarterback
As reported by AP sports writer Andrea Szulszteyn, Chad Pennington will make his return to the New York Jets on Sunday, although not as the starter.
Head coach Herman Edwards said Monday that Vinny Testaverde will start at quarterback, and Pennington will enter the game off the bench. Pennington, slated to be the starter this season, has missed the whole year after breaking his left wrist Aug. 23 in a preseason game against the New York Giants.
As expected, Pennington was in uniform last Sunday for the first time since suffering the injury. Though inactive as the third quarterback, Pennington wore his customary play sheet on his left forearm -- just in case. After the game, he wore an icepack on his wrist.
Edwards said he wants to get Testaverde in the flow of the game, but would not say when he plans to put Pennington in. He made the decision to start Testaverde because he does not know whether Pennington is in condition to play four quarters.
"Obviously can he make it through a whole game?" Edwards said. "I don't know that. When he falls down on this hand is that going to be a stinger? I don't know that, no one knows that. When you put Vinny in the game, he gets a feel early. Those are the things I thought about when I made the decision."
Edwards said Pennington will start Nov. 2 against the Giants.
"This is not musical chairs," Edwards said. "There is not going to be a quarterback controversy."
Bottom line: I beg to differ; from a Fantasy perspective, telling us in advance you're going to play two different quarterbacks in the same game is pretty darned controversial in its own right. ... Patience is a virtue; Pennington will be there next week. Hang tough.
Philadelphia Eagles: Wide Receivers
While most of the hullabaloo in Philadelphia seems to focus on Donovan McNabb, I tend to believe this is one of those cases where the quarterback gets too much blame when things go south.
Yes, McNabb's performance certainly put him near the top of the list when it comes to Fantasy disappointments, but I truly believe at some point, he'll pull out of his current nosedive.
But if and when that happens, McNabb is going to need some help. Specifically from a group of wideouts who have come up every bit as short as their batterymate this fall.
Take last Sunday for example, the three top receivers -- Todd Pinkston, James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell -- combined for one catch and 6 yards. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL that has not had a receiver catch a touchdown pass, and they are the only team in the league that does not have a receiver who has pulled in at least 20 catches.
"You see guys that make a play and then miss a play," head coach Andy Reid said when asked about their collective dearth of production. "I've seen most of these guys for at least two years, some three and four. I know what they're capable of doing. It's important that we step up and do a better job."
But in an article published Tuesday, Philadelphia Inquirer staffer Bob Brookover reminded readers that options do exist at wide receiver.
Reid could elevate Mitchell from third to second receiver and demote Thrash. The coach also could try to figure out a way to get rookie receiver Billy McMullen on the field more often on passing downs. McMullen has just one catch and has seen very little time outside of special teams.
However, Brookover summed up his piece by suggesting: "The best guess is that Reid will change nothing this week."
Bottom line: If Brookover is right and nothing changes, I'll go way out on a limb here and predict you'll be just as disappointed when you tally up Pinkston, Thrash and Mitchell's totals this weekend as you were last weekend. Adjust your strategies accordingly.