After the Jets' quarterback change was announced Monday, Kellen Clemens went from the show-team QB to the man in charge of the first unit. That promotion affects no position group more than the wide receivers.
"Practice is very important," said Jerricho Cotchery before today's practice. "You have to get used to another quarterback and take that time throughout the week and work on the little things, take that extra time after practice to gain that chemistry that you need so you can be on point when it's time to play on Sunday."
The last time Clemens took first-team reps at a Wednesday practice? Seven weeks ago, to be precise, when he stepped in for a hobbled Pennington before the Baltimore game. Against the Ravens, Cotchery had a career-high 165 yards receiving on a team-high seven receptions.
"Any quarterback change, you have to get used to a different ball because each quarterback throws the ball differently," he said. "He definitely throws the ball differently than Chad, but you can get used to it throughout the week."
Laveranues Coles, held to one catch Sunday against the Bills, has a relationship with Pennington that extends far beyond the playing field. The two have developed a great comfort level and don't need eye contact to know what one another is thinking. Coles, who has 42 receptions, including six TDs, this season, said his approach will change because there is an unknown.
"What I have to do is try to figure out what role I will be fitting in this system with him being the quarterback," Coles said. "Of course, me and him don't have the same relationship that me and Chad had, so I have to approach things totally different. I have to sit back and see how he feels with me and of course he is going to get comfortable with somebody out there. Whether it's me or not, you just have to roll with the punches and go from there."
Whether it will be Coles vs. the Redskins isn't certain, since head coach Eric Mangini told Washington reporters on his conference call that Coles suffered a concussion against the Bills. There will be more on the Coles' status when today's injury report is issued after 4 p.m.
One receiver who might benefit from Clemens' promotion is Justin McCareins. The seven-year vet, who is now a situational receiver and has just four catches, shined in the summer while playing with the Oregon product.
"Me working with the second group most of the off-season and in the summertime, that meant going with him a lot more," McCareins said. "It's just one of those things. We have a little bit of a relationship, and I think he understands where I'm going to be a lot and I'm used to how he's going to throw the ball."
Many fans remember McCareins' fourth-quarter drop in Baltimore. With the Green & White moving for a potential tie, Clemens delivered a nice spiral to his wideout but No. 81 saw it squirt through his hands. Moments later, Clemens returned to McCareins in the end zone but McCareins tipped the pass and it was picked off by Ravens LB Ray Lewis.
Clemens spread the ball out in his first NFL start, hitting six different targets — even C Nick Mangold was the recipient of a deflection.
"There's definitely a chemistry factor that a quarterback needs to have with his receivers," Clemens said today. "Fortunately I threw with them all summer, a lot of training camp and various spurts, I guess, through the season thus far. You know, three good days of practice out here this week will hopefully help. Then hopefully it will continue to grow going forward."
We'll have to wait until this weekend to see what kind of game plan coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is putting together for his second-year passer. Clemens has a stronger arm than Pennington and is more mobile, but Sunday's game against the Redskins will be only his second career start.
Mangini could have been talking about Pennington when he was asked about Clemens' command.
"That's what you saw on tape was that presence," Mangini said. "As you talked to his college coaches, the people that played with him and the people that knew him really well, that was one of the consistent characteristics that kept coming up. They'd also talk about his energy level and how his energy was contagious."
Clemens and his receivers will contend with a good secondary this week. Despite surrendering 52 points to the Patriots and missing talented CB Carlos Rogers, the Redskins still are formidable in the backfield with S Sean Taylor — the NFL's leader with five interceptions — showing the way.
Cotchery isn't really concerned whether Clemens will provide a spark. J-Co will take it from anybody.
"I am curious to see some kind of spark," he said. "It doesn't matter where it comes from, what position it comes from. I just want to see a spark, period, and hopefully that will ignite a spark throughout the team and hopefully we can get a win."