Clemens named Jets' starter as Pennington heads to bench


There were no awkward moments or uncomfortable conversations. Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens had already prepared for this situation.

When Jets coach Eric Mangini announced Monday that he was turning to Clemens as his starting quarterback, Pennington recalled the discussions he and the 2006 second-round draft pick had recently.

"Our promise to each other was that no matter what happened, we would give our full support and do whatever we needed to do to help the other one be successful," Pennington said.

It's Clemens' turn to see if he can turn around the Jets' season from a 1-7 start, starting Sunday against Washington.

It's also time for Pennington to turn into a mentor, much in the same way Vinny Testaverde helped him along at the beginning of his career. The fact Pennington has handled his benching with grace has made the transition from backup to starter a bit smoother for Clemens.

"Ten times easier," Clemens said. "It's all just a credit to the man that Chad Pennington is, to the teammate he is. He wants to win as much as anybody and I know Chad's thought has always been the team first, and I'm sure that won't change."

Mangini's announcement wasn't a huge surprise. It's a move fans and media have been suggesting for weeks as the Jets have struggled to a 1-7 start.

"I made this decision not based on singling out Chad for where we are, but based on the fact that I think Kellen has earned this opportunity," Mangini said. "I want to give him this opportunity. It's in no way an indication that Chad is solely responsible. We all are."

The 31-year-old Pennington, in his eighth season, has failed to move the offense effectively as the Jets have lost five straight and rank 30th in total offense; only Buffalo and San Francisco are worse.

"Coach made it clear that I'm not the villain here," Pennington said. "And I'm not the only one to blame for the lack of our success or our problems, but he did feel like Kellen deserved a chance."

Clemens, in his second season out of Oregon, replaced Pennington late Sunday in the Jets' 13-3 loss to Buffalo. He was just 5-of-12 for 67 yards and two interceptions, but one of those came on a desperation toss as time expired.

"It's exciting to have the opportunity and I'm looking forward to the chance to play," Clemens said. "At the same time, there's a losing streak right now that this entire team needs to work hard to turn around."

Clemens' first start came in Week 2, when he stepped in for an injured Pennington and nearly led the Jets to a fourth-quarter comeback at Baltimore.

"Getting your first start out of the way I think is pretty big," Clemens said. "So now going into what will be my second start, I feel a lot better, a lot more confident."

Pennington, one of the Jets' most respected and well-liked players, was having a disappointing season after overcoming consecutive rotator cuff operations and winning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award. The second-most accurate passer in NFL history has thrown for 1,317 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games, but has seven interceptions &

including three that sealed losses.

"I'm disappointed and it's a frustrating time for me," Pennington said. "At the same time, it's not about me. It's about our team and our team moving forward and I understand that."

Clemens has a stronger arm than Pennington and is more mobile, perhaps able to add a few more elements to the offense than the veteran could. Mangini wouldn't commit to Clemens beyond this weekend, but it would seem highly unlikely that the Jets would go back to Pennington in what has become an opportunity to see what they have for the future.

"We're 1-7, so we're trying to do anything possible to get a win," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "He let us know that this wasn't the only change, so there will be other changes. It's the one that gets the most attention."

If Clemens holds on to the starting job, it's possible Pennington has taken his last snap with the Jets. He'll be a highly paid backup with a questionable arm after restructuring his contract in March 2006 to help relieve salary cap issues for the team, but he's due big money in the next few seasons.

Pennington, whose contract runs through 2010, is due a $4.8 million base salary next season.

"It's not fair to my teammates in that locker room that I discuss my future with this organization or with another team," Pennington said. "They're working extremely hard to just get a win. We just want to get that winning feeling back."

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