Around the League - Monday, August 22, 2005

Denver Broncos rookie running back Maurice Clarett hasn't slid down the team's depth chart, because he's already at the bottom. But Clarett hasn't done much to endear himself to coaches or teammates. Read about Clarett and other Hot Topics in this week's edition of "Around the League."

Limited snaps while often working without key personnel makes it difficult to fully evaluate quarterbacks through the first two preseason games.

Take Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Few are predicting a sophomore slump based on two poor preseason appearances because wide receiver Hines Ward just recently reported to camp and other receivers were jumbled around in his absence.

However, with less than three weeks remaining before the start of the regular season, several teams have to be legitimately concerned about their quarterback situation. Three in particular have to be downright scared as they watch underachieving youngsters continue to falter.

Baltimore's Kyle Boller is 15-for-24 for 145 yards, has thrown three interceptions and has been sacked three times in just over three quarters of action this preseason.

"You've got to be confident at this position; you can never doubt yourself," Boller said. "You can learn from your mistakes, but if you go out next week and be hesitant and don't make throws because you don't want to throw an interception -- you can't play it that way at this position."

Washington and Detroit are in similar boats. Patrick Ramsey had some strong moments in the Redskins' second preseason game, but he also threw two interceptions. Meanwhile, Joey Harrington has yet to throw a touchdown pass for the Lions this preseason. The good news for Harrington is his backup, Jeff Garcia, has thrown three interceptions.

There are only two true battles for a starting quarterback job still open. Rookie Alex Smith has struggled in his first two games for the 49ers, who might opt to go with veteran Tim Rattay to open the season. And just when Gus Frerotte appeared to have pulled ahead of A.J. Feeley in Miami, he turned in a poor outing Saturday.

"I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I want every guy to know they have an opportunity to be the quarterback if they do a good job," said Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who has alternated starts between Feeley and Frerotte. "Somebody's got to take the bull by the horns and be the leader and make things happen for us offensively. I'm not sure that's happened yet."

Considering the Dolphins are 0-3 in the preseason and have scored fewer points in each successive game, it's pretty clear no one has taken the bull by the horns in Miami's quarterback battle.

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DENVER BRONCOS
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HOT TOPIC

Denver Broncos rookie running back Maurice Clarett hasn't slid down the team's depth chart, because he's already at the bottom. But Clarett hasn't done much to endear himself to coaches or teammates.

Clarett was left behind when the Broncos traveled to Houston for a week of joint practices and their preseason opener against the Texans because he had a groin injury. A MRI on Clarett's groin showed no muscle tears, so the team was a bit surprised when Clarett wasn't ready to practice when the team returned from Houston.

Clarett finally returned to practice on Aug. 18 after almost two weeks on the sideline, and lost valuable practice time. He did not play in the Broncos' second preseason game either and is still fifth on the depth chart at tailback.

"I haven't had a chance to coach him very much," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I was hoping to have a chance in the next couple weeks to coach him. Any time you're out of practice for as long as he has, it's almost like starting over."

Clarett had little to say when asked about what he thought about his future or his standing on the team. "I'm still on it," Clarett said. "I'm serious, I'm still on it."

Clarett could be released even though he was a third-round pick. The Broncos wouldn't lose any money if he was cut -- Clarett signed an incentive-laden contract on the eve of training camp that included no signing bonus.

The Broncos could bring him back to the practice squad although some team might take a chance on him if he was on waivers. Or, the Broncos could keep their fifth-string tailback -- who has done little to impress during practice.

Clarett's teammates say he has been quiet and reserved in the locker room, so they don't know much about him on or off the field.

"Everybody as a rookie, when they come in here they're just a guy," Broncos linebacker Keith Burns said.

"You have to do something (during practice) to, I guess, stand out and for guys to notice you. I guess until he goes out and does something, he goes unnoticed. It's not a big deal."

Broncos receiver Rod Smith spoke about the difference between being hurt and being injured when asked about Clarett, and made it clear that Clarett had some ground to make up.

"If you have a tweak here and there, which has been the case for me all camp, you have to find a way to get going each and every morning to come out and practice," Smith said. "Some of those guys are going to have to grow up quick with that because in this business they are not going to wait on you."

Clarett probably won't play much in Denver's third preseason game, because Shanahan uses that game to play his starters into the second half. That means Clarett's best chance to make an impression might be in Denver's final preseason game at Arizona on Sept. 2.

NOTES

--The Broncos sent out condolences to the family of Thomas Herrion, the San Francisco offensive lineman that collapsed and died after a preseason game at Denver on Aug. 20.

"The entire Denver Broncos organization has its hearts and prayers going out to the Herrion family and the San Francisco 49ers," Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano said. "It's a tragic situation."

--Mike Anderson was impressive in Denver's second preseason game. Anderson, who missed all of last season with a groin injury and had only 12 yards on six carries against Houston in the Broncos' preseason opener, said he felt more comfortable in his second game back.

"I kind of had to get that monkey off my back," Anderson said.

Anderson, who has strengthened his hold on his role as Denver's starting running back ahead of Tatum Bell, had 39 yards on five carries and caught a 2-yard touchdown.

--Denver's starting defense allowed Houston to move the ball with little problem in its preseason opener. In the Broncos' second preseason game, they held the 49ers to eight yards in the first quarter.

"We did all right," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "We had some breakdowns but we played pretty well. It's never going to be perfect."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos lost backup safety Chris Young, a valuable special-teams player, to a knee injury in their first preseason game. Rookie safety Brandon Browner broke a bone in his forearm in Denver's second preseason game and might be done for the season, so Denver is getting a bit thin at safety. The team moved cornerback Curome Cox to safety last week.

--S Sam Brandon's roster spot grew even more secure when the Broncos lost Chris Young for the season with a knee injury. Brandon, who is in his fourth year, had a good camp and is Denver's third safety.

--DT Dorsett Davis moved up the depth chart because of an injury to Mario Fatafehi and took advantage of his extra reps. Davis, who has great physical talent but hasn't produced much, seems to be coming around in his fourth year.

--K Paul Ernster was much better on kickoffs in his second preseason game. Three of his first four kickoffs reached the end zone. Ernster is trying to make the roster as a kickoff specialist.

--RB Tatum Bell had a good game against San Francisco with 62 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but he also failed to hold a block long enough on the punt team and Todd Sauerbrun's punt was blocked as a result.

--WR Todd Devoe is trying to make the team and has helped himself in each of Denver's two preseason games. He caught a 92-yard touchdown in the opener and had two catches for 42 yards against San Francisco.

INJURY REPORT: DE Courtney Brown should return to practice the week of Denver's final preseason game. Even if Brown, who has a dislocated shoulder, doesn't play in Denver's final preseason game, it looks like he's on track to be ready for the regular-season opener... DT Mario Fatafehi, who has a sprained knee, should return to practice this week... CB Jeff Shoate's injured knee is not responding well. He rarely practiced during camp... CB Champ Bailey is being very careful with his sore hamstring. He has yet to play in the preseason... TE Nate Jackson's hamstring injury lingered for a week and he did not play against San Francisco.

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