Jets Give Kellen Clemens the Keys
A 1-7 record in the competitive world of the National Football League may be an indictment on more than one person. The head coach and quarterback are usually the first two heads to be put on the chopping block. So it is quite easy to understand the reasons why Eric Mangini didn't waste any time during the week in naming second-year back-up Kellen Clemens as the New York Jets' starting quarterback for Sunday's home game versus the Washington Redskins.
Two days after a dismal 13-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills at the Meadowlands, the Jets head coach addressed the media and announced that a change was being made.
"Moving into Sunday, Kellen will be the starting quarterback," Mangini said. "I made this decision not based on singling out Chad (Pennington) for where we are, but based on the fact that I think Kellen has earned this opportunity and I want to give him this opportunity. It is in no way an indication that Chad is solely responsible - we all are."
Clemens will be making only his second career NFL start and looks forward to the opportunity. After he was informed by Mangini, he said, "I was excited. It's exciting to have the opportunity and I'm looking forward to the chance to play. At the same time, there's a losing streak right (five-game) now that this entire team needs to work hard to turn around and we're going to continue to work on it."
The bottom line in this league is how many touchdowns your quarterback drives the offense to. In two recent home games against less than stellar opponents (Philadelphia and Buffalo), the Jets were able to put only three points on the board in each. That will not cut it and Pennington has to bear some of the blame. Going from starter to cheerleader is not easy for anyone, especially for someone who has had as much success as he has.
When pressed on if it will be difficult to help Clemens preparing for the game this week, Pennington answered with the same professional attitude that he has always brought to the table.
"I don't think it will be hard at all," he said. "I've had a great mentor in Vinny Testaverde and I was on the other side of this situation in 2002, and learning from Vinny, how he handled the situation, how he treated me, how he never changed. Even though he wasn't the starter, his preparation never changed, his attitude never changed, how he practiced never changed how he approached the team, and really how us as teammates looked at him, it never changed.
"That's most important to me right now that I don't change for my team," Pennington continued. "I don't change for my teammates, that they see the same person, the same Chad Pennington day in and day out no matter what the circumstance is."
Wide receiver Laveranues Coles is one of the few players having a good season with 42 receptions and six touchdowns, and has a good relationship with Pennington on and off the field. As a veteran, he has to put aside his personal feelings and prepare for his new quarterback.
"It's difficult because I'm great friends with Chad," Coles said. "I'm going to pretty much feel the way that he feels. If he is cool with it then I'm cool with it.
"I will always support him no matter what," he continued. "He is my friend before football. However he feels, I'm with him."
A respected leader on the offense, Coles' production with the young gunslinger may have serious implications on the rest of the locker room. From what he said earlier in the week, it appears that the wideout may be harboring some sentiment for Pennington to a fault. When asked if Clemens is ready for this opportunity, Coles answered with a short, "We will surely find out." Not exactly a rousing endorsement, especially when followed up with the following about developing chemistry with the new starter.
"I don't know," said Coles. "It varies from quarterback to quarterback. It depends. Sometimes it can be immediately and sometimes it can take weeks. You never know. We will find out when we get into it."
That may have to wait until November 18, when the Jets host the Pittsburgh Steelers following a bye next week. Coles suffered a concussion against the Bills and was listed as 'Doubtful - Did Not Participate in Practice' on the team's official injury report released on Thursday.
"I'm going to let them (the medical and coaching staff) make the decision this time," said Coles. "Whatever decision they make is pretty much what I'm going to go with. I haven't had a decision handed down to me yet."
Not having the Jets' most dangerous receiver on the field will be an added challenge to Clemens, if Coles is in fact held out due to injury. Regardless, he will be going up against a Redskins defense that includes top-five league leaders in two defensive categories.
"They have very good players," Clemens said. "They've got Sean Taylor sitting back there at the safety position. I think he leads the league right now in interceptions with five. He has good range and a good nose for the ball. He's a very good player.
"London Fletcher I think has two picks as a middle linebacker and also has 89 (actually 67) tackles," he continued. "As a whole defense, they're a pretty sound group."
They will certainly be a challenge for an offense that is ranked no higher than 24th in all four categories league-wide. Clemens took over late and threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's loss to Buffalo, and has four for the season to go against one touchdown pass, which occurred in the Week Two, 20-13 loss at Baltimore. His 19 for 37 (260 yards) effort would have appeared much better if one of two incompletions went the other way. A late fourth quarter drop in the end zone by Justin McCareins and a last-minute interception by Ray Lewis off a tipped pass ended the comeback attempt.
Clemens realizes that while he has to forget that game, he can use parts of it as incentive to win this week. "Really the biggest thing that I took out of it, walking into the locker room afterwards is we gave them a run for their money down the stretch, I just thought we had a chance," he said this week. "It really helped my confidence going against a pretty good defense like Baltimore to know that. Coming right down the wire, we had a chance to at least put it into overtime and hopefully go on to win."
Which is the obvious objective. Something that 24 year-old Oregon product needs to learn fast in New York before the fans start chanting third-string quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo's name, regardless of how difficult it is to pronounce.