Call it the QB Shuffle. Or the QB Quandary.
Whatever it’s called, the NFL position that normally needs more stability than any is in a state of flux from coast to coast.
Nine teams — Buffalo, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Tennessee, Oakland, Philadelphia, Carolina and Detroit — already have used their backup quarterback. Some of the moves were because of injuries, but five clubs already have turned to No. 2 by choice, even if just temporarily.
So what in the name of Peyton and Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees is going on?
“It is getting tougher and tougher to play the position, not only from a physical standpoint of throwing the ball, but from a mental standpoint and what you are seeing from defenses,” says Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles starter and now ESPN’s analyst for Monday night football games. No one watches more film of quarterbacks than Jaworski, which gives him particular insight into the upheaval at the position through just two weeks of the schedule.
“You always will have the elite guys, but once you start getting beyond No. 12 or 13, it’s hard to find the other 19 consistent quarterbacks in this league.”
Hard? Maybe impossible.
The quarterback changes thus far run the gamut from bad health to bad play to bad vibes.
In Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland, injuries had plenty to do with the switches. Even those, however, merit further examination.
The Steelers knew since April that Ben Roethlisberger would be suspended for at least four weeks. They hoped to get by with Byron.
But Byron Leftwich, an eight-year veteran, hurt his left knee in the preseason, which meant third-stringer Dennis Dixon moved behind center. Dixon was a winner in Week 1, even though the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown until overtime, and that came on a long run. He went down in Week 2 with a left knee problem, bringing in Charlie Batch and making wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback in college way back at the beginning of the century, the second-stringer.
Now Leftwich, who was waived last weekend and re-signed Monday, is back. And backing up Batch.
“He’s been with the starters, he’s been with the second team, he’s been with the third team,” wide receiver Hines Ward sums up Batch’s career. “He understands all the wide receivers. He probably understands this offense better than anybody. We feel good, we’ve just got to protect Charlie.”
The Eagles couldn’t protect Kevin Kolb well enough and he sustained a concussion in an opening loss. Michael Vick came in and starred, then did even better in a victory over Detroit with Kolb sidelined.
So Vick stays as the starter after coach Andy Reid reversed his earlier decision not to strip Kolb of the job because of injury.
“I think Kolb probably is a basket case right now,” says Jaworski, who knows the Eagles as well as anyone. “Kolb was their guy, they traded Donovan McNabb to give him a chance. To yank the guy and take his job away has got to be brutal for him.”
A brutal hit by Julius Peppers on Matt Stafford sidelined the 2009 top overall pick with a right shoulder injury in Week 1, and Shaun Hill took over for the Lions. When Stafford is ready, he will step back in.
So, it seems, will Jake Delhomme in Cleveland once his ankle as healed enough for him to replace Seneca Wallace.
Two starters, Jacksonville’s David Garrard and Tennessee’s Vince Young, are in no danger of losing their jobs despite being taken out last Sunday during losses.
Where things get confusing is in Oakland. And Charlotte. And Buffalo.
When the Raiders dealt with Washington for Jason Campbell, team owner Al Davis compared Campbell with Jim Plunkett, who merely won Super Bowls for Oakland. Maybe he meant JaMarcus Russell, because Campbell has been demoted and Bruce Gradkowski will start against Arizona.
Matt Moore got the quick hook in Carolina, where coach John Fox is in the final year of his contract and essentially is a lame duck. So why not try rookie Jimmy Clausen — even if Moore pretty much saved Fox’s job by going 4-1 late in 2009?
Buffalo hired offensive mastermind Chan Gailey as coach, hoping to invigorate an anemic offense. The Bills have scored a league-low 17 points and Gailey has replaced Trent Edwards with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“They have some game experience and sometimes a change can ignite a football team,” Jaworski says of the backup QBs. “But for the most part when you are going to these kinds of players, it’s usually a team in trouble. These are not guys who are front-line quarterbacks over a 16-game schedule.”
There are so few of those. Jaworski thinks he knows why.
“The league has to find a way to develop quarterbacks,” he explains. “I think it got hurt when the Europe league was disbanded. These guys need places to play like the UFL and the Arena League. They need the chance to develop skills and mature as a player, like Kurt Warner.”
Warner, by the way, has retired and is showing off his footwook on “Dancing With The Stars.” Too bad, because the Arizona Cardinals are probably wishing they had him back behind center right now.