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Jets OC hesitant about Pennington's status

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (Dec. 27, 2005) -- Ever since Chad Pennington injured his right rotator cuff for a second time, the Jets have painted an optimistic picture about his future.

But offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger expressed hesitancy on the return of the franchise quarterback for the start of 2006, saying he was worried about Pennington because of the severity of the injury. Pennington injured his rotator cuff in September, less than a year after tearing it for the first time.

"They say he's ahead of where he was last year," Heimerdinger said. "Now how much that is -- I am hesitant because two rotator cuffs is, and a guy who makes his living throwing the ball, I'm hesitant to say he's way ahead. We've got to be careful with it.

"We don't need to push him because of the situation we're in. We need for him to be healthy and be confident in what he's doing throwing-wise, arm strength-wise, the whole bit."

Heimerdinger said he wasn't sure how much Pennington would be able to take part in minicamps or offseason training activities. Coach Herman Edwards was unavailable for comment because he was in Tampa, Fla., for the funeral of Tony Dungy's son.

When Pennington got hurt against Jacksonville, it became clear the Jets would be in the market for another quarterback come this offseason. But Edwards and Pennington continually have said they were optimistic about his return.

Pennington said after his surgery in October that he was grateful for having a few extra months to rehab his shoulder. Last season, Pennington injured his rotator cuff during the season but played through it and had surgery in February.

He accelerated his rehab to be ready for the season opener. He was, but looked shaky in his only three starts of the season. Pennington later acknowledged he wasn't completely ready to start, leaving many to wonder whether the Jets rushed him back. Pennington hasn't spoken since his surgery, and the Jets haven't provided an update on his progress.

But Heimerdinger seemed to believe the Jets need to go after a quarterback because Pennington's future is unknown. When asked about the prospects of drafting one, he said, "There's a lot of other things that will go into that, a little cap, a little Chad's availability."

While Heimerdinger added he didn't have all the information about Pennington, it is clear his loss sent the offense into a tailspin. When Heimerdinger arrived from Tennessee, he had grand plans about transforming what was a conservative unit.

Then Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler went down, and the Jets played musical quarterbacks with Vinny Testaverde and Brooks Bollinger before finally settling on Bollinger. Running back Curtis Martin, center Kevin Mawae, tight end Chris Baker and tackle Jason Fabini also were lost for the season.

After back-to-back games of relatively decent play, the offense sputtered Dec. 26 against New England. The Jets got their initial first down in the third quarter and had 171 total net yards.

"It's frustrating," Bollinger said afterward. "It's a snowball effect."

Perhaps the only bright spot of the season was getting Testaverde a chance to throw a touchdown pass for an NFL-record 19 consecutive seasons.

When about his plans for next season, Heimerdinger said, "I don't even know if there's a foundation there right now. I keep looking for the bright spot. A couple weeks in a row, we did some good things. Last night it really stepped way back. We stunk it up."

Then he gave a telling answer when asked about the prospects of rebuilding.

"We're about a million miles away after last night," he said. "In any offense in this league, you need a quarterback who can make plays, you need a quarterback that's got some mobility. Or you need a running back who can dominate the game and take pressure off the quarterback. We lost both."

AP NEWS
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