Quietly, a potentially significant move was made on the Jets' roster late last week, and it's had no bearing on a game.
It could, however, have some bearing on the future.
Jets' rookie quarterback (of the future?) Kellen Clemens was elevated from being buried as the No. 3 to the No. 2 backup for the Jets' game against the Bears. It'll surely mark the final time Clemens is the No. 3, barring any unforeseen setbacks, and it's surely the first sign that Patrick Ramsey, who was the No. 2, will not be back in 2007.
Ramsey is earning $1.688 million this season and is due a $1.4-million roster bonus if he remains with the Jets in the spring. If Clemens is who the Jets believe he is, which is the heir apparent to Chad Pennington, then he'll either be starting or backing Pennington up next season, and that'll leave no room for a veteran backup earning Ramsey's money.
As for Clemens, though, the elevation was a significant one in that it shows his progress. That Eric Mangini has him a play away from playing shows the kind of confidence the coaches have in him.
Surely, should the Jets suffer another loss this Sunday in Minnesota and fall from playoff contention, Clemens will get some playing time in an effort to get him some game experience and get him a head start entering the '07 season.
The move was orchestrated last Wednesday, when Jets' offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told Clemens and Ramsey the No. 2 job was open and that there would be a three-day competition leading into the Buffalo game.
After the Saturday night meetings were complete, Schottenheimer informed the two of the result.
Clemens got into Sunday's game very late in garbage time and was sacked twice without throwing a pass.
"It had been awhile,'' Clemens said, referring to being hit. "I'm learning how much faster defenses are at this level.''
As for Sunday as the No. 2, Clemens said, "It was a different situation for me. I had to have my helmet a little bit closer to me. Other than that, I was still charting plays and trying to be as involved as I could. It didn't really change my mindset, but I am one step closer to needing to be ready to play.
"It's a great opportunity for me right now to be able to get some extra reps running our offense as opposed to whatever team were facing each week, and I'm thankful for the opportunity,'' Clemens went on. "It was something I was hoping would end up resulting the way it resulted and I was excited to have the opportunity.''
Eric Mangini, whose mantra is that no job is safe and who is big on practice performances, said Clemens has opened his eyes with his progress in practices.
“He's had some really good weeks,’’ Mangini said. “Like with any position, it's open. That's something that I stress across the board, I stress to the quarterbacks. As I evaluate the weekly practices. We evaluate it throughout the week. Brian and I talk quite a bit about it.
“I thought Kellen had really strung together some good weeks. I thought he had earned being bumped up to two. It was just that time where he had earned it. Whether it had happened week two or week 13, it really doesn't matter. It's just that he had earned that opportunity.’’
Clemens said he "had a hunch'' things were changing for him in recent weeks.
"The last couple of weeks, I have gotten more reps with our offense _ more being any,'' he said. "I didn't know the specifics of what the coaches were looking for. I'm definitely excited to apparently be making progress in the coaches' eyes. I came here to compete and help the team out in any way that I can, and being No. 2 and moving up the chart a little bit I'm excited about moving hopefully in the right direction.''
Clemens, who was drafted in the second round by the Jets in April, has had to sit idly and watch some of his fellow rookie quarterbacks get a lot of playing time. It took only a matter of weeks before Vince Young (with the Titans) and Matt Leinart (with the Cardinals) were starting. And, two games ago, Jay Cutler was elevated to starter in Denver.
Asked if yearns to be in the same situations as those players, Clemens said, "It's six one way, half-dozen the other, really. I would love to play; any competitor would love to play. But I have an opportunity to learn behind the second most accurate passer in NFL history right now in Chad and it's a great opportunity for me to learn.
"I look at Cutler and Leinart and Vince Young and all three are doing good things and all three are learning throughout their rookie year. I have Chad in front of me, who's obviously the starter with no questions.''
Asked if he felt this move to No. 2 was permanent for the rest of this season, Clemens said, "I don't know. It'll be up to the coashes. They may reopen it, they may not. Who knows? Patrick and I just do our best every week to be ready.''
Ramsey, who’s thrown one pass this season, said, “What I'm going to do is come out here, work on the game plan and be ready whenever the time comes and do whatever I can to help the team. Obviously I want the opportunity to play again."
Asked if he thought the demotion was a permanent one, Ramsey said, “I'm not sure whether it is or not.’’
Mangini said, “Like with any other position, that's the approach. It will be open again this week. Whoever plays better will be the No. 2.’’
Don’t, however, expect Clemens to be taking any steps backward. This was clearly a move that signifies his progress toward the future.
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
Quietly, running back Kevan Barlow has been one of the classiest people in the Jets’ locker room. And that hasn’t come easily for him considering the fact that he’s been left off the active roster for the last two games _ a first in his career _ and he isn’t sure when he might again be active.
Barlow, remember, came to the Jets via a trade in training camp and was immediately involved in that flap where he called his former coach with the 49ers, Mike Nolan, “Hitler.’’ He apologized publicly and has become a huge fan of Mangini’s despite the fact that his role isn’t what he wants it to be.
This week, Barlow revealed that some arthroscopic left knee surgery he had in the offseason has left him feeling as if he’s “playing on one leg.’’ Privately, there are those high in the Jets’ organization that acknowledge that Barlow has been slowed by injury.
Barlow said he bumped into former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis Sunday night at Mickey Mantle’s restaurant and Bettis, who had the same surgery, told him it takes at least a year to recover.
"That's why I ain't K.B., but I'll be back,'' Barlow, who has 334 yards and six touchdowns on 113 carries this season, said. "I'm know I'm a great ... uh, really good running back. You haven't heard the last of me. I'm definitely going to be playing, whether it's this year or next year."
Barlow, who’s truly been a solid team player here, said he wants to remain a Jet because “there's some sense of stability here that I'm comfortable with and happy.''
Yet he’s due to earn $3.25 million next season and is not going to be the feature back. With younger players, such as Leon Washington and Cedric Houston, both of whom are playing ahead of Barlow right now, it’s difficult to imagine there will be room for him even if he takes a pay cut.
If is released, he’ll be missed in the locker room.
Chad Pennington has been extremely proficient in games played in domes. He has a 69.7 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, one interception and a 124.3 passer rating in games at Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis. The Jets lost two of those three games, however. They play the Vikings in the Metrodome on Sunday.