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Heimerdinger not putting all eggs in Chad's basket

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

Chad Pennington Pennington

But offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger expressed hesitancy
Tuesday 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 mini-camps 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 have continually 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 two straight games of relatively decent play, the offense
sputtered Monday night against New England. The Jets got their
initial first down in the third quarter and had 171 total 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
straight seasons.

When asked 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."