What I Learned In Preseason Week Two
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 23rd, 2011

After watching A LOT of football again this weekend, I wanted to pass on my observations that WILL impact fantasy drafts.

Ben Roethlisberger looks to be in midseason form already. He completed two-thirds of his twelve pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns against the Philadelphia "Dream Team" defense. This was without Emmanuel Sanders in the lineup. Roethlisberger has the ability to hang in the pocket and spot the open receiver, even with defenders all around. Both of the touchdowns were from at least twenty yards out. The Pittsburgh passing game looks strong once again.

Colt McCoy has played incredibly well in the first two preseason games. He revealed last Monday that he spent a "couple of days" in the offseason studying the West Coast offense with Brett Favre. The young passer was the one to reach out to Favre, and visited him in Mississippi. This was his way of getting coaching during the lockout. And, it has paid off. "... We worked on footwork, progressions, reads and things like that. It was definitely a positive trip" McCoy said. His three-touchdown performance against the Lions was impressive. He now has thrown for four scores in just 28 pass attempts. Can it be that the Cleveland pass offense will improve into the top half of the league? There is a chance as long as the young quarterback can be efficient.

Even with a middling 11 of 23 performance Friday night, there is growing sentiment that rookie Blaine Gabbert will take over for David Garrard as the Jacksonville starting quarterback sooner rather than later. The move is reflective of Garrard more than the rookie, but Gabbert does offer potential to a lackluster passing game. Peter King tweeted that it is " Only a matter of time before Gabbert supplants Garrard". Jimmy Johnson responded with his prediction of Gabbert starting by the third game. Noted talent evaluator Greg Cosell said (on Twitter) that Gabbert's "Biggest issue will be dealing with bodies around him. Bad tendency to pull away from throws. Did that other night w/no pressure." Yes, expect Garrard to move into the reserve role. But, Gabbert needs to improve. He comes from a spread offense at Missouri where he had hot reads and now must take a big step forward in his development.

Can Matt Flynn be the next backup quarterback in Green Bay to develop into a star? He has been a star of camp. Most do not remember all of the passers who Green Bay has made into stars. Matt Hasselbeck and Kurt Warner are just a couple of quarterbacks to get their start in Green Bay, in addition to Aaron Rodgers. Flynn has been on fire throughout training camp and in the preseason games. Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel went so far as to suggest that Flynn has performed better so far in camp than superstar Aaron Rodgers. Flynn performance, completing five of six passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, against Arizona Friday night should only add fuel to the fire. He is a free agent after the season and should get healthy contract offers from quarterback-needy teams. Flynn is a cool customer in the pocket and has an underrated arm.

John Beck secured the starting job with his play Friday night against the Indianapolis Colts. The Redskin quarterback completed 14 of his17 pass attempts for 140 yards during his stint in the first half of the preseason game. Beck will never be confused with Tom Brady but is efficient. The Colts are notorious for resting starters in preseason games so do not read too much into the big game. The take on it should be that the Shanahans wanted Beck to win the job and now they have reason to keep him in the lineup over Rex Grossman.

On a night where the Indianapolis Colts played mostly backups, fantasy owners saw how ugly the situation will be if Peyton Manning misses action if he is slow to return from the neck surgery. Chris Polian said of Manning's return, "It's impossible to predict". That sent a shock to fans after Friday night's game. Colts' backup quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky have played poorly throughout the preseason. They combined for 12 completions in 27 attempts, no touchdowns and one pick, against the Washington Redskins. The ineptitude is obvious to all. Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay had this to say on Twitter, "We r evaluating the QB sitch,#18 healing but we got 2 b prepared 4 early season possibility without him,defense has 2 pick it up,big time!" Keep a close eye on Manning's progress reports. If he misses any games, the receivers will suffer in a huge way. Fantasy owners, and fans alike, are hoping for a swift return and that the two backups do not see regular season action.

Adam Schefter seemed to know what was coming later that evening when he opined on Sportscenter Friday morning that Miami wants Reggie Bush to have a chance to be the featured back. "They're anxious to see if he's fully capable of being the workhorse," said Schefter. Was this because of the team's confidence in Bush or lack of confidence in rookie Daniel Thomas? Either way, Schefter seemed prophetic after Bush's big game. He looked agile and very quick against the poor Panther defense. The team did a good job getting Bush the ball in space where his quickness could be on display. The ex-Saint started the game and averaged six yards per carry on his eight rushes. Add in another 33 receiving yards and it is easy to see why the Dolphin coaches want to give him the ball (especially when compared to Thomas). This was his Miami debut and now expectations are high that the former Heisman winner can provide a spark to the lacking Dolphin offense. The one looming question revolves around durability. Can he stay healthy?

New England rookie back Stevan Ridley continues to impress. He followed up the big outing last week with strong game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The former LSU star gained 84 yards on 14 rushes. He added another 27 yards through the air. He now has gained 100 total yards in consecutive games. Adam Caplan had this to say on Twitter, "Ridley runs with terrific balance, vision. I've watched all his carries so far, very impressed." What sets the youngster apart are his feet. He makes strong, but quick, cuts and gets up the field in a powerful manner. There is no dancing around waiting for a hole to open up. Ridley is showing he deserves a regular role in the Patriot offense.

Miami Dolphins rookie running back Daniel Thomas continues to look very mediocre. Many had high hopes for the rookie after he was drafted into a seemingly great situation. But, talent trumps situation and Thomas has yet to showcase much talent. Through two preseason games, he has carried the ball 16 times for an ugly 57 yards, including the 52 yards and a touchdown against the porous Carolina Panthers this past Friday night. He looks slow and plodding most times he touches the ball. Most of the time, Thomas continues to look like a bigger back running weak, and trying to make defenders miss, like a smaller runner. This will need to change for the Dolphins to have any prayer of establishing the running game coach Sparano wants.

Quick Hits

I do not know if it is because of lack of trust, but Kyle Orton looks to Brandon Lloyd a LOT. The Broncos may pass less than last year, but Lloyd could be in for another strong campaign. After re-watching the game, it became obvious that Orton only had eyes for Lloyd.

Jahvid Best continues to struggle in the preseason. The Lions only ran him twice but Best will need big plays to accumulate yardage. He is proving not to be an every-down back. As we stated last week, Jerome Harrison could be the guy. The newly signed ball carrier averaged 4.5 yards per carry and could end up with a bigger role when it is all said and done.

After the New England Patriots drafted Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley early in April's NFL Draft, many forgot about the strong outings by Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season. Ridley's two big preseason games have overshadowed him, but Woodhead looked outstanding against the Buccaneers. His quickness and ability to make a play after the catch is an asset in the Patriot offense. The five carries for 63 yards was a sign of things to come. Coach Belichick and Tom Brady know how to put players in situations to succeed. Woodhead will have a prominent role in the New England offense this season. One item to note, Woodhead was knocked out of the game after it appears he suffered a concussion playing special teams. Green-Ellis also chipped in 51 yards, and two scored, on eleven carries. These are the two players to own in the Patriot backfield for this season. Woodhead will see action on early and passing downs while Green-Ellis will be used on short yardage and to churn out first downs when the team has the lead.

Philadelphia Eagles' rookie running back Dion Lewis looks GREAT! The moves he displayed on his 40-yard catch and run were amazing. Ronnie Brown played well, too, which will inhibit Lewis seeing the field much unless starter LeSean McCoy were to be injured. But, Lewis is definitely a player to watch. He had a remarkable season in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago and has talent.

Another talented young tailback residing in the state of Pennsylvania is Isaac Redman in Pittsburgh. He is much more than just a reserve behind Rashard Mendenhall. Redman looks to be developing nicely for the Steelers. Beat writer James Walker of ESPN went so far as to call Redman "one of the best players" he saw at Steelers camp. Keep an eye on him during the next two weeks of preseason.

Santana Moss will struggle to repeat his big 2010 season as long as Beck is under center. The efficient, noodle-armed passer just will not throw the ball down the field enough for Moss. If we remember, the veteran receiver had big years with Jason Campbell and Donovan McNabb at quarterback. Both have big arms and would take chances. Beck is not that type of passer.

Chad Ochocinco started for New England Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He looked to still be a step or two slow from the play-making times in Cincinnati a few seasons ago. But, the veteran will be used in the redzone, just like Friday when he caught the eight-yard pass on play-action. Ochocinco is much bigger than Deion Branch and Wes Welker and uses his size well. The other two will see endzone targets but the ex-Bengal offers another option. His presence may be at the expense of the young tight ends. The timing was off between Ochocinco and Tom Brady but that will come as the season gets closer.

Harry Douglas has regained his pre-injury speed. Douglas will be the slot receiver for Atlanta. The 76-yard catch-and-run was eye-opening. Matt Ryan now has three quality pass catchers at receiver, in addition to the venerable Tony Gonzalez at tight end. Douglas' speed is a welcome site for the Falcons. He just now needs to stay healthy.

The Baltimore Ravens desperately need Lee Evans to bond with quarterback Joe Flacco. His speed will open up the field for Anquan Boldin. The long catch by Evan down the left side of the field was nice to see. As with the rest of Evans' career, he will be inconsistent, but the Baltimore offense needs him to stretch the field.

No receiver has taken advantage of more practice (and game) reps than Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. His quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is trusting him more and more. Roethlisberger stated that he believes Brown "has a chance to be something really special" for the team this season. While Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders will be in the lineup when the season begin, Brown could be a star in the future. His 29-yard touchdown against the Eagles showed everyone why Roethlisberger has so much confidence in the youngster. He looks like a very good young pass catcher.

With Kevin Kolb now installed as the Arizona Cardinals' passer, the team is looking to solidify the receiver positions. Although Andre Roberts is expected to start opposite Larry Fitzgerald, the No. 2 receiver role could change within a game. As beat writer Kent Somers notes, the Cardinals are content with filling the job by committee. Roberts is the starter, but there will be certain packages for Early Doucet, Chansi Stuckey and even Stephen Williams. It's a position that is unlikely to sustain consistent fantasy production.

Reserve tight end Evan Moore continues to impress in Browns' camp. His two touchdown against the Lions showed the confidence Colt McCoy has in the former basketball player. He will not unseat Ben Watson without an injury, but could be used in special packages.

With the preseason here, please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any suggestions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there. I will also be active in the "wannabee" thread in the assistant coach forum.

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