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Don't turn it over

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Ben from Phoenix, AZ:
The Indianapolis Colts are listed as having received a two-week roster exemption for Bob Sanders. What's the reasoning behind that? Is he hurt, or did he get the exemption purely because he held out through camp, and if it's because he held out, how do you justify that?

Vic: The league will provide, upon request, a two-game roster exemption for players who have been late in reporting to the team. If the team wishes for that player to participate in either of the exempt games, they must make that intention known to the league prior to the game. At that time, the exemption would be terminated and the team would have to release a player from its roster. Jimmy Smith is an example from last season when he returned to the Jaguars following his substance abuse suspension. The Jaguars were granted a two-game roster exemption for Smith but elected not to use it.

Charles from Jacksonville:
Does it cost a team anything to sign and then waive a player like Steve Christie before the season starts?

Vic: Players receive a nominal preseason stipend that does not count toward a team's salary cap. They do not begin drawing their salary until the regular season begins, so, it costs a team very little to sign and waive a player as the Jaguars did with Steve Christie.

Pete from Jacksonville:
I know it's his sophomore year, but Byron didn't look comfortable against the blitzes. How did Terry Bradshaw fair in his second season with the Steelers? Did he perform poorly when being blitzed?

Vic: It wasn't until Terry Bradshaw's third season that he was able to function at all, and it wasn't until his sixth season – the first year that he threw more touchdown passes than interceptions – that he became the great quarterback his talent always forecast. Quite simply, Bradshaw was horrible in his early years. In his first two seasons, splitting time with Terry Hanratty in 14-game seasons, he threw 19 touchdown passes and 46 interceptions. He struggled to read defenses, panicked in the pocket, forced the ball into coverage and displayed little in the way of leadership qualities. Always, however, there was that arm. It's what got him through the tough times. Coaches don't quit on that kind of an arm. Bradshaw faced very different circumstances than what young quarterbacks such as Byron Leftwich face today. For starters, a major part of a quarterback's responsibilities when Bradshaw broke into the league was calling plays. It made their development much more arduous and fans took that into account. It was widely accepted that it took five years to develop a starting quarterback, so, quarterbacks in Bradshaw's era were afforded much greater patience than what is being afforded Leftwich. Frankly, the demands that fans are putting on Leftwich are ridiculous to the point of embarrassment. It's ironic that you would ask about Bradshaw because I just happened to see a "Sports Century" feature on him last night. I guess I actually started to believe that bigger, stronger, faster crap, because when they showed clips of some of his big passes I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. "Did I really cover that guy?" I whispered to myself. What an arm! Yet, a lot of people back then wanted Bradshaw benched. They wanted Hanratty to be the starting quarterback. Fortunately, Chuck Noll had the patience to do what he knew was best. He stuck with Bradshaw.

Sam from Sacramento, CA:
Plain and simply put, you said field position was a big factor in winning games. So besides the defense getting turnovers, who do you see giving us that field position special teams wise?

Vic: Chris Hanson is a major weapon on this team. He has the ability to switch the field.

Pete from Brunswick, GA:
I don't understand all of the talk against the still-a-rookie (until the fourth game of 2004) quarterback Byron Leftwich. I always thought you shouldn't judge a quarterback until his third season in the NFL. I know Jaguars fans want to win now, and by huge points, but aren't some being just a bit quick on calling for him to be replaced? Let me have it Vic. I can take it.

Vic: The normal progression of a young quarterback is that he first learns what not to do. He has to learn to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack. He has to understand the importance of protecting the football; that not throwing interceptions is more important than throwing for 300 yards. Let's use Steve McNair as an example. It wasn't until McNair cut down on his interceptions that he began to show progress. Do you remember "Dare McNair?" Wanna dare him now? In 1997, McNair threw 13 interceptions vs. 14 touchdown passes, but seven of those interceptions were in the first five games. Then he began to show signs of development. He threw no interceptions over the next three games and the Titans won all three. I can remember Jeff Fisher applauding McNair's avoidance of interceptions; his new-found penchant for throwing the ball away. McNair's passing yardage dipped severely, but all of a sudden he wasn't turning the ball over and the Oilers were starting to win. That trend continued in 1998. McNair still wasn't throwing for a lot of yards, but he was becoming an efficient quarterback. In 1999, after missing much of the early season due to a back injury, McNair caught fire late in the year. He threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions in a late-season game against the Jaguars, and he took the Titans to the Super Bowl. Now, he's the whole package: high completion percentage, lots of passing yards and touchdowns, a minimum of interceptions and the highest passer rating (100.4) in the league last year. And it all can be traced to having learned what not to do. That's what I expect of Leftwich this season; to avoid turnovers.

Shane from Washington, D.C.:
To give a little more comfort to all the "Doubting Thomas's" about the offense, the defense allowed the fewest points of all the teams in the preseason at 29. If they keep that per-game average up all year, I think Doug Johnson could come back and lead them to 12-4.

Vic: Repeat after me: The preseason is meaningless, the preseason is meaningless, the preseason is meaningless.

Lane from Orlando, FL:
Call me crazy but the lack of depth at defensive tackle after the final cuts is alarming. Even the practice squad doesn't offer any relief. What's the deal?

Vic: How many tackles can you keep? Rob Meier is more of a tackle than an end, and Willie Blade was very impressive in training camp and in the preseason.

Richard from Greenville, NC:
I am a David Garrard fan but I am not anti-Leftwich. Both are very capable quarterbacks. My question is, during the regular season, under what circumstances would Garrard play? I see an organization that has made an investment in Leftwich, leaving Garrard only to contribute in preseason and in injury situations. Your thoughts?

Vic: That's a reasonable assumption.

Ace from Newport, RI:
What was the thinking behind cutting Mike Compton? Was he unable to get back to his level of play two years ago with the Pats?

Vic: Apparently.

Tony from Suwanee, GA:
I am a huge Jag fan here in Atlanta and I love your column. The problem is I think you are out in leftfield with the Falcons at number seven in your power poll. Vick has had extensive problems running the "West Coast" offense and their secondary is depleted and marginal at best. Why do you think they are a top 10 team in your power rankings?

Vic: Because they have Michael Vick. It's a long season. If they don't win, I'll adjust them downward.

Beau from Twin Falls, ID:
Where does the league stand, exactly, on substance abuse? I need a second "say so" to quiet my friends who disagree with me.

Vic: The league and the players union stand firmly against substance abuse and have provided in the Collective Bargaining Agreement for a plan that addresses substance abuse problems in such a way that they give aid to the player and offer protection to the game. It's called the "three-strike program," which means the third time a player tests positive for a banned substance he is suspended.

William from Dublin, Ireland:
Are you as disappointed as me when it comes to the release of Anthony Maddox? Was he really that bad? I think this is a terrible move and he should have least been given a year to try out.

Vic: I have long considered the possibility that a team of coaches who dedicate their every working hour to evaluating the performance of their players might know more about that player than I do.

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