THIS YEAR’S BEST QUARTERBACK BATTLES
July 18, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
NFL training camps will begin to open this weekend and that means players battling for jobs. There is no better battle than at QB in several camps including the NY Jets, Philadelphia and Buffalo.
Let’s start in Philadelphia where new coach Chip Kelly will try to figure out if Michael Vick is the answer. Vick is the incumbent starter, but he is now 33 and has been inconsistent. Vick may be a good fit in Kelly’s offense, but injuries and turnovers are major reasons why Coach Kelly must explore all options. Vick had 21 turnovers in only 10 games in 2012. Nick Foles is the other QB battling Vick for the starting job. Foles was only 1-5 as a starter last season, but completed better than 60% of his passes. Foles isn’t very mobile so he doesn’t fit in Coach Kelly’s offense. USC’s Matt Barkley was selected in the fourth round after a disappointing senior season. Barkley was considered a Heisman candidate and may have been the #1 pick in 2012, if he had decided to enter the NFL Draft. Despite his age, the wear and tear on his body, and his turnover-prone nature, Vick has the mobility and athleticism Kelly desires from his quarterbacks.
In New York, there’s always a QB battle going on with Mark Sanchez. Coach Rex Ryan is saying all the right things concerning Sanchez, but we all know things aren’t settled for the Jets. Tim Tebow is gone and now Rookie Geno Smith out of West Virginia is ready to battle Sanchez for the starting position. It’s only fitting that Smith, who many believed was not only the top quarterback prospect entering the 2013 NFL Draft, but also had a shot at being the No. 1 overall pick, ended up with the Jets after tumbling down draft boards and out of the first round altogether. Sanchez will have to battle Smith and learn a new system under OC Marty Mornhinweg. Sanchez may have the upper hand because he is the veteran, but if he struggles out of the gate and Coach Ryan wants to keep his job, Smith may be in the lineup very soon.
In Buffalo, the Bills shocked a lot of people by selecting Florida State QB EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the first round. Whether the team took Manuel too high is certainly up for debate, but it’s also immaterial at this point. If Manuel is the future, the only question that remains is when will that future be? After Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with Tennessee as a free agent, the Bills agreed to terms with former Arizona starter Kevin Kolb on a two-year deal. Kolb’s track record as a starter in the NFL certainly leaves a lot to be desired. He’s just 9-12 in four seasons and has yet to start more than nine games in a season. His two years in Arizona can best be described as forgettable, as injuries limited him to 14 starts and he managed just 17 touchdown passes. Manuel went 25-6 as the Seminoles’ starter and everyone raves about his athletic ability. The jury is still out on if he’s ready to step in right away, and if that’s the case, then Kolb probably gives the Bills the best chance to win in 2013. On the other hand, three rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs in 2012, and the Bills do have some pieces already in place.
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert, the #10 overall pick in the 2011 draft, is now entering his third season in the league and has another head coach. Gabbert is 5-19 as a starter and with all the instability, we know why. The good news for Gabbert is that a new head coach (former Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) offers him yet another opportunity to impress a new staff. The bad news is that this is probably his last chance, and the Jaguars still have plenty of other questions on offense. If Gabbert struggles out of the gate, the Jaguars coaching staff probably won’t hesitate to turn the offense over to former Miami QB Chad Henne. The sixth-year pro won just one game after Gabbert was lost for the season with an elbow injury in Week 11, but Henne out-performed Gabbert (11 TD passes compared to 9) in fewer starts (6 vs. 10).Even though the main battle should come down to Gabbert and Henne, don’t be surprised if the other quarterbacks on the roster — veteran Mike Kafka and undrafted free agents Jordan Rodgers and Matt Scott — all get their chance to stake their claim to the job. That’s what happens when a team enters training camp with a new head coach for a third straight season.
The Cleveland Browns thought they had the answer in Brandon Weeden, Cleveland’s first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Weeden was good enough to beat out Colt McCoy for the starting job but was inconsistent in running the Browns offense. He finished with more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14) and never seemed to adjust to former head coach Pat Shurmur’s West Coast system. He will have a chance at a fresh start running new OC Norv Turner’s system, which will put Weeden in the shotgun more, a position he is accustomed to going back to his days at Oklahoma State. Weeden also is different from the rest of his 2012 draft class in that he’s older, so his age (will turn 30 in October) is another factor to consider here. The Browns traded McCoy to San Francisco in the offseason and signed Jason Campbell as his replacement. Campbell has started 71 games for four different teams, including one for Chicago last season, in his seven-year career, while Weeden has a total of 15 starts under his belt. Thaddeus Lewis is also on the roster and he, not Weeden, was the Browns’ starting quarterback in Week 17 last season.
Oakland traded for Seattle backup QB Matt Flynn. Flynn didn’t play in Seattle because of Russell Wilson and was behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He started just two games during this time, but he made that last one count. Subbing for Rodgers in the 2011 regular-season finale, Flynn set franchise records by throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns against the Lions.That game alone was largely responsible for netting Flynn a three-year free agent deal with Seattle, but he suffered an elbow injury early in the preseason and ended up losing his job to third-round draft pick Russell Wilson. With Wilson firmly entrenched as the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback, Flynn was traded to Oakland for two draft picks (fifth-rounder in 2014 and conditional one in ’15) in April.The assumption is that Flynn will replace the departed Carson Palmer, who was traded to Arizona, but he will still probably have to beat out backup Terrelle Pryor, fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson and undrafted free agent Matthew McGloin in training camp.This could very well be Flynn’s last chance to be a full-time starter in the NFL, as the Raiders will probably struggle to win games once again this fall and will end up with yet another top-five pick for the 2014 draft. Even if Flynn impresses, he’s already 28 and unless Pryor or Wilson or McGloin emerge, chances are the Raiders will probably strongly consider finding their next franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft. There figure to be no lack of options next April with players like Tajh Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Braxton Miller among those who could be available.