Fantasy Speed Dial - Part 1
By Dave Larkin
August 22nd, 2011

The vast majority of coach speak – the lexicon of coaches in professional sports – is nonsensical and unnecessary. Ridden with clichés, it can be predicted prior to its utterance.

"We just didn't make enough plays."

"Hey, those guys get paid too. We didn't execute."

Or the all-time classic of former Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox...

"We picked a bad day to have a bad day."

Nevertheless, there are nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from coach speak from time to time, namely the mention of adjustments, especially at half time. In fantasy football, there is no half time. The equivalent of making adjustments to strengthen your squad comes at the conclusion of a round of games. We call it the waiver wire.

Make no mistake about it; the best fantasy owners are the ones who can most adeptly make adjustments on the fly to their rosters. That happens by informing oneself of the depth charts in the league, storing those kernels of knowledge until the time is right and then acting on them when the unthinkable occurs.

The NFL is a 'next man up' league. Injuries are an inevitable and unfortunate aspect of this physical, all-go game that we all love so much. How we as fantasy owners react to the chaos and, to coin an expression from the inimitable Terry Tate, 'condense the nonsense', can go a long way to deciding who is shining up their trophy at the end of the season and who is picking up the pieces of a devastating two win campaign.

So with that in mind, who are the players to seize should an injury occur to a stud player? Often new stars are born from other player's misfortunes. Who should you have on 'speed dial'?

Quarterbacks

Bruce Gradkowski, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals invested a 2nd round pick in Andy Dalton and he has more or less been handed the starting job. I've watched Dalton in college running the TCU offense, not exactly the most straightforward offense in college football. It is clear the kid is the cerebral type, unlikely to wow you with stick throws into tight windows, but has a knack for dissecting defenses. All of these things are in his favor, but he enters the 2011 season as one of only two (in all likelihood) rookie quarterbacks who will be the day one starter for their teams. That is a lot of pressure to put on young shoulders, especially considering the amount of repetitions missed during the lockout. When, not if, Dalton struggles and the Bengals stumble out of the blocks, don't be surprised if the veteran option Bruce Gradkowski is inserted into the lineup. Gradkowski will not be a superstar by any means, but if A.J. Green begins to shed some of the rookie mistakes and Cedric Benson and this strong Cincinnati offensive line can click, you could be looking at a sneaky value.

Jon Kitna, Dallas Cowboys

I think this one goes without saying, but let this be a gentle reminder that Tony Romo missed the majority of last season with a shoulder injury and the man who took over was not only efficient, but sometimes very productive. Granted, the 16/12 touchdown to interception ratio does not paint the rosiest picture of the cagey veteran Kitna and his on-field displays, but he can be a solid replacement for Romo owners in fantasy leagues if called upon. Dallas has an array of terrific talent to throw to, so don't think twice about adding Kitna if Romo can't go for whatever reason.

Billy Volek, San Diego Chargers

Continuing with the veteran theme, the Chargers are in the enviable position of having a backup quarterback who, when called upon, can be a very able replacement for the stud that is Philip Rivers. It is easy to forget that Volek once won a playoff game for the Chargers in Indianapolis against the Peyton Manning-led Colts. It is difficult to name even a handful of starting quarterbacks who did that, let alone backups! Volek is a capable passer with a great understanding of offensive football. With no shortage of talent to throw to, Rivers' owners can wipe those tears away if they can get their grubby paws on Volek before the competition does.

Running Backs

Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons

Lest we forget that in 2009 Jason Snelling deputized for an ailing Michael Turner and posted a career year, totaling over 600 rushing yards and 250 receiving yards and scoring five touchdowns. Owners with short memories may dismiss Snelling as a career backup, but behind a steady Falcons offensive line he can prosper. The Falcons have been adopting more three-receiver sets in preseason, which will only spread out defenses and allow Turner and Snelling to more easily locate seams. Turner is close to hitting the 30-year-old plateau, and although he doesn't have as much wear as other runners his age, his downhill style makes him prone to miss games. If he does, have Snelling on speed dial.

Ben Tate, Houston Texans

I am sticking my neck out for a largely unproven player in Ben Tate, the former second round pick out of Auburn. However, what I saw from him in the recent preseason game against New Orleans really opened my eyes to his capabilities. Tate's rookie year was a wash due to injury, but he has come back strong. Head coach Gary Kubiak stated how impressed he was by Tate in the aforementioned game, praising how sound he was in pass protection. If you haven't had a chance to watch Tate, I encourage you to find the Texans/Saints game and take it in. The Texans rushing offense goes as Arian Foster goes, but it is not much of a stretch to predict that Ben Tate could rush for a 1,000 yards and 6-8 touchdowns if Foster were to go down. The less savvy owners out there will pick up Derrick Ward, the safer option. I recommend swinging for the fences and grabbing the more talented, up-and-coming back in Ben Tate.

Alex Green, Green Bay Packers

Consider this my long shot amongst running backs. The Packers offense is obviously pass-first behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the talented receivers he has to spread the ball to. Even so, Mike McCarthy will ensure that this offense is more balanced in 2011. Balance is a key to the effectiveness of most offenses; as good as Green Bay are, even they can't afford to pass for huge chunks of games. Alex Green is nestled behind incumbent Ryan Grant and James Starks on the depth chart, but if he gets an opportunity he can shine. The compact runner out of Hawaii is a favorite of the Packers' brass. He is a reliable pass blocker, which should give him extra opportunities to show what he can do initially. An injury to Ryan Grant is not out of the question, and should it happen, Alex Green is a talent you should definitely watch.

The next installment of "Fantasy Speed Dial" will cover the wide receiver and tight end positions. If you have any player suggestions, contact me via Twitter (@davlar87) or alternatively, you can email me at larkin@footballguys.com.

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