Preseason Notebook: O'Sullivan, Orton impressive

Getting the nod as an NFL team's starting quarterback is an opportunity that does not come along every day. Now two pretenders to the throne can't say they weren't given the chance.

In San Francisco, J.T. O'Sullivan got the start last night for the second straight preseason game. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but O'Sullivan got upstaged by Kyle Orton. Orton was 10-for-17 with 147 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for the Bears and made Lovie Smith's decision to name him the starter over Rex Grossman appear, at least for now, to be a good one. And while O'Sullivan's numbers weren't all that gaudy, he clearly outshined his main competition for the starting job, Alex Smith. O'Sullivan had a perfect passer rating, completing seven of eight passes for 126 yards and a touchdown against Chicago. Couple those numbers with Smith's 6-for-17 night, coming off last week's 5-for-12 performance against Green Bay, and it appears that O'Sullivan is the best bet to be under center Week 1.

Hopefully Troy Smith of the Ravens was watching and taking notes, because his shot comes Saturday against St. Louis. Coach John Harbaugh said that Smith will play as many as three quarters so that the team can properly evaluate him. Kyle Boller has not exactly wowed the coaching staff this preseason, having committed three turnovers in the team's first two games, nor has he really done anything special in his 42 regular-season starts for the Ravens. With first-round draft choice Joe Flacco waiting in the wings, the window for Smith to grab the starting job is rapidly closing, and this weekend might be his last, best chance to grab the brass ring.

Not-so-merry Merriman

When you hear the name Dr. James Andrews attached to a story about your favorite player, it's usually time to panic. But Shawne Merriman's recent visit to the good doctor was said to be merely a follow-up to the surgery he had on his knee five months ago. This sounds like a lot of wishful thinking. Coach Norv Turner says Merriman has looked really good in practice when he's played, but a combination of soreness in his knee and a case of strep throat has seen Merriman on the sidelines for the past two weeks. Still, Turner insists he isn't concerned and expects Merriman to be in the lineup Week 1 against Carolina ... as he does tight end Antonio Gates, who was taken off the PUP list, and passed a physical, two key steps in his recovery from surgery.

Gates' return we can buy, but Merriman's? We're not so sure. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports Merriman is pondering seeing even more doctors to decide if and when he will play this season.

"It's finding out what do I need to fix, what I need to do," Merriman told the paper. "If it's left up to me, I want to play football. I can't stand sitting out."

It's that word "if" that continues to worry us.

Other news

• With the stroke of a pen, Steven Jackson made a whole lot of fantasy owners breathe a whole lot easier Thursday, signing his name to a six-year contract with the St. Louis Rams. Now, don't expect to see Jackson on the field Saturday night against the Ravens, but he is expected to be on the sidelines, wearing a Rams uniform. Jackson practiced Thursday, and head coach Scott Linehan said he reported in good shape, but obviously it will take some time for Jackson to be ready for full-on contact.

We can expect to see Jackson taking some first-quarter snaps next week against Kansas City, but more importantly, the man who rushed for 1,000 yards for the third straight season despite missing a month of action in 2007 will be on the field Week 1 in Philadelphia. Fantasy owners who passed on Jackson, thinking his holdout might last into the season, might be regretting that decision. Jackson should be taken at the very latest with the No. 5 pick in the first round of any fantasy draft.

Ronnie Brown owners aren't as happy with the latest news coming out of Miami. Brown will likely miss Saturday's game against the Chiefs with a strained right thumb. He was injured in the team's game against Jacksonville last week and hasn't participated in contact drills all week. While Brown is trying to downplay the extent of the injury, his claim that "it just hurts a little when (he tries) to make catches and stuff" certainly might make fantasy owners a bit nervous ... especially if the "stuff" he's talking about includes taking handoffs, which is kind of important for a running back to be able to do. With Ricky Williams leading the team in preseason rushing, it certainly isn't as imperative to rush Brown back into action, especially if Tony Sparano is being honest when he says the Brown trade rumors are completely untrue.

• The Philadelphia Eagles say they are not in the market for another wide receiver, even after the announcement that Kevin Curtis will likely miss the start of the regular season after having surgery to repair a sports hernia. Reggie Brown is also hurting, with a strained hamstring, meaning that the Eagles may be relying on the trio of Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett and rookie DeSean Jackson to provide Donovan McNabb with targets downfield come Week 1. With veteran Joe Horn having just been released by Atlanta and Anquan Boldin demanding a trade from Arizona, you would think the team might be interested, but Andy Reid said that's not the case, telling reporters that "other guys will have to step up."

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.