By Kenn Ruby
Heading into the final weekend of preseason games, there are a surprising number of job battles coming down to the wire. Here are some key battles to watch this weekend.
The Titans keep giving LenDale White chances, and for the first time all month he delivered. White started Aug. 24 and rushed for 51 yards and tallied three receptions. His backup, Chris Brown, also played well, with 42 yards on the ground and 25 in the air. White is healthy (for now), but his inability to stay that way adds to Brown's value.
Chester Taylor started and outplayed Adrian Peterson for the first time the entire preseason in the third exhibition game. Taylor gained 61 yards on eight carries while Peterson had a respectable 41 yards on 10 attempts. Peterson is obviously the future at running back, but for at least the early part of the season, Taylor could be the feature back. The Vikings have a strong offensive line, so Peterson owners should be sure to also try to acquire Taylor.
DeShaun Foster was missing in action on Aug. 24, rushing three times for no yards. DeAngelo Williams wasn't a whole lot better -- he dropped a pass and missed two blocking assignments –- but at least he gained 29 yards on the ground. Foster still has the lead in this battle, but Williams is closing the gap. It should be noted that the offensive line –- which looked so good a few weeks ago -– is really struggling.
Rookie Brandon Jackson struggled with the running game again, gaining just 20 yards on 11 carries on Aug. 23. On the positive side, he scored a touchdown and caught four passes. Vernand Morency continues to sit out with a sore knee, but Jackson's struggles and his Aug. 26 concussion are major concerns. Morency hasn't practiced the entire preseason, but Green Bay could push him back for the opener. Noah Herron started in the fourth exhibition game with Morency and Jackson sidelined, but sprained his knee after catching a six-yard touchdown pass. DeShawn Wynn rushed 21 times for 54 yards in his first game after missing most of the preseason with a quadriceps injury.
Jesse Chatman scored a touchdown on Aug. 25, but did little to push Ronnie Brown out of his starting job. Chatman has had an impressive camp, but it remains unlikely that Brown will lose his job. Recent comments by the coaching staff indicating that Chatman could win the job were probably made just to light a fire under Brown. Brown's value is a little lower than it was a few weeks ago, but he's still expected to be a solid running back.
Tatum Bell left the Aug. 25 game early with a shin injury, though it's not considered serious. Good thing, too, because it looks like Kevin Jones might start the year on the PUP list, meaning he would miss the first five games at least. If neither Bell nor Jones can go, T.J. Duckett becomes the likely starter with Brian Calhoun backing him up.
Julius Jones rushed for 34 yards on Aug. 25, while Marion Barber had 14 on just six carries. Not much has changed in this battle. Jones is comfortable with the offense and will be the starter while Barber should see the majority – but not all – of the goal-line carries.
Lamont Jordan had 90 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on Aug. 24, but he also lost a chance at a second touchdown with a goal-line fumble. The yards per carry (Jordan had 41 yards rushing on just 18 carries) are a little concerning, but the Oakland offensive line does not look good. On the other hand, backups Justin Fargas (seven rushes for 32 yards) and Adimchinobe Echemandu (14 rushes for 60 yards) seemed to have no problems. Dominic Rhodes rushed 10 times for 29 yards in the team's fourth exhibition game on Aug. 30, as Jordan didn't get much action.
Brandon Jacobs, who had 43 yards on 11 carries Aug. 25, is now the unquestioned starter. Reuben Droughns will be the top backup, but will probably not have a lot of value unless Jacobs gets hurt.
With Travis Henry and Mike Bell missing the Aug. 25 game with injuries, Cecil Sapp started and rookie Selvin Young was the top reserve. Sapp gained 54 yards and is now clearly the top backup to Henry. Young, who rushed for 91 yards and a score, earned high praise from coach Mike Shanahan after the game. He likely forced the Broncos to keep him on the roster with this performance, but he'd need Henry and Bell to stay out a little longer to have a shot at cracking the starting lineup.
Warrick Dunn saw his first action of the preseason on Aug. 27, but he only gained eight yards on six carries. Jerious Norwood had 25 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards, including a touchdown. The Falcons are talking about starting Dunn this year, but Norwood is more of a big-play threat and should be more valuable to fantasy owners in 2007.
Leon Washington didn't do much running the ball on Aug. 25, but he scored a 79-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. He'll help the Jets passing game more than the running game this year, as Thomas Jones will be the feature back during most –- if not all –- running situations. Rookie Danny Ware should be the top backup to Jones and Washington in 2007.
Najeh Davenport cemented the backup job with 64 yards from scrimmage Aug. 26, but it doesn't look like he'll take goal-line carries away from starter Willie Parker. Kevan Barlow, who was a longshot to win the role, was released Aug. 27.
Michael Turner suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 25. Although the injury is not considered serious, if he misses any time, camp surprise Darren Sproles would be LaDainian Tomlinson's first backup. Sproles' preseason includes 83 yards rushing, 117 yards receiving and an 81-yard punt return.
Correll Buckhalter was named the backup to Brian Westbrook on Aug. 27. Tony Hunt may still see some goal-line carries, but the Eagles decided to go with the more experience Buckhalter.
Damon Huard was named the official starter, but he clearly won the job with his experience rather than his play. Brodie Croyle, who the Chiefs expect to eventually take the reins, continued his horrid preseason with a poor performance on Aug. 23. Huard, who missed the game with a sore calf, did not play Aug. 30 in the team's final exhibition game.
All signs point to Charlie Frye as the starter in the opener. Brady Quinn has looked like the best quarterback in camp the last two weeks, but general manager Phil Savage announced that Quinn won't start the opener. With the Browns possibly keeping Ken Dorsey around to be Quinn's mentor, Derek Anderson could be the odd man out.
Daunte Culpepper outplayed Josh McCown in the team's final exhibition game Thursday on 11 of 19 passing for 109 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It is looking more and more like Culpepper will earn the start in Week 1. Andrew Walter, who has been the subject of trade rumors, will hold down the No. 3 job until JaMarcus Russell signs.
On Aug. 25 against Miami, Chris Simms saw only six plays in his first appearance since his spleen ruptured last September. Bruce Gradkowski, who threw for 104 yards and two scores, led the Bucs to a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win. He's likely to beat out Simms for the No. 3 spot. Meanwhile, starter Jeff Garcia and top backup Luke McCown did nothing to lose their jobs.
The first-team offense couldn't get going with Byron Leftwich at the helm on Aug. 23, but once again the Jaguars came alive under David Garrard, who led the Jaguars on two touchdown drives in his only two series of the game. Nevertheless, Leftwich is the starter, though his hold on the job is tenuous. Leftwich didn't play in the final exhibition game Thursday, while Garrard played sparingly.
Kelly Holcomb was traded to the Vikings on Aug. 27 and could push Tarvaris Jackson for the starting role once he's up to speed. Jackson is officially the starter, but if he struggles –- and with his receivers it's likely –- the more-experienced Holcomb wouldn't be a bad replacement.
Todd Collins started over Mark Brunell on Aug. 25, but Brunell helped himself Thursday in the final exhibition game by going 5 of 6 for 47 yards in the race to be Jason Campbell's backup. Campbell played just one series Thursday after missing the previous week with a bruised left knee.
Jacoby Jones continues to impress. He's still the third receciver, but in leagues where return yardage counts, he makes an intriguing prospect. Kevin Walter is still ahead of him on the depth chart, but don't be surprised if Jones is more productive this year. According to coach Gary Kubiak, "it's pretty obvious that [Jones] is going to be on the field a lot."
David Patten is really pushing Devery Henderson for the No. 2 receiving job in New Orleans. Henderson, who missed the Aug. 23 game with a sore hamstring, played Thursday but did not have a reception. Meanwhile, Terrance Copper looks like the fourth receiver with Robert Meachem, who is having a disappointing camp, falling all the way to No. 5, at least.
After catching six passes for 80 yards Aug. 23, rookie James Jones had a team-high five for 37 yards Thursday in the final exhibition game. Starter Donald Driver has a sprained foot, giving Jones a chance to crack the starting lineup. Even if Driver comes back for the opener as expected, Jones could still beat out Greg Jennings, who has only caught four passes in three preseason games.
Ike Hilliard started on Aug. 25 and caught one pass for 14 yards. David Boston was held without a catch. They remained locked for the starting job opposite Joey Galloway, but Michael Clayton and the fading Maurice Stovall could join them as part of a committee at the No. 2 spot.
Keary Colbert appears to be ahead of Dwayne Jarrett and Drew Carter for the No. 2 receiver job. Still, neither Colbert nor Carter have the talent Jarrett has, so the rookie could find himself in the starting lineup at some point this season. None of them look like strong fantasy picks just yet.
Drew Bennett started in place of Torry Holt on Aug. 24. He was targeted 10 times and appears to be the likely red-zone target for Marc Bulger instead of No. 2 receiver Isaac Bruce. Holt will probably be bothered all season by his surgically-repaired knee, but he should be ready for the opener.
Jabar Gaffney missed the Aug. 24 game with a sore leg. More important, he missed a chance to move up the depth chart. He should make the team but will only contribute if Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth stay hurt. Stallworth is back on the field, but Moss hasn't practiced since Aug. 1. They're both expected to be in the starting lineup in the opener, but Stallworth is more likely to be the top New England receiver in the early part of the season.
Dennis Northcutt and Ernest Wilford look like they'll be the starters this year. Although some are predicting a big breakout year for Northcutt, the Jaguars are a run-first team, so his numbers may not be as good as many of the other starters in the league. No other Jaguars receiver looks draftable right now.
Troy Williamson was held without a catch in two preseason games. As a result, Bobby Wade looks like the primary receiver for Minnesota this year. No. 3 receiver Robert Ferguson just joined the team but could pass Williamson soon. Billy McMullen, who had an outside chance to be a starter this year, has fallen out of favor and could be cut.
Roydell Williams might have the lead over Brandon Jones to start opposite Eric Moulds, though Jones caught a touchdown pass in the final exhibition game Thursday.
Ted Ginn passed Derek Hagan on the depth chart and has wrapped up the No. 3 role. He appears to be a favorite target on third downs and he'll return punts, so he could be a sleeper this year.
D.J. Hackett was held without a catch on Aug. 25 and has not had a strong camp, but he's still the starter opposite Deion Branch.
Ashley Lelie might have salvaged his career with a solid exhibition season. Although he's been playing mostly with the second team, he has probably moved ahead of Taylor Jacobs and may be pushing Arnaz Battle for a starting job.
Shaun McDonald is probably fourth on the depth chart, but is having a great summer. With Mike Furrey missing the Aug. 25 game with a sore knee, McDonald could force himself into the receiver equation.