Jonathan Quinn is entering the fourth and final year of his Jaguars contract. Just ahead are the most important spring, summer and fall seasons of his life.
"I think I'm close. I think it's just experience. Hopefully, this NFL Europe will be the last piece," Quinn said when asked where he was in his quest to become an NFL-caliber starting quarterback.
His future with the Jaguars and as an NFL quarterback will depend to a large degree on his performance this spring with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe. Quinn has been allocated to NFL Europe by the Jaguars, in hopes Quinn will acquire the experience at the position he needs to complete his development into, at least, a quality backup.
That's what Quinn hasn't been able to establish the previous two seasons. He lost the Jaguars backup job to Jay Fiedler in '99, then to Jamie Martin this past season.
They were two demoralizing seasons, following a rookie year in which Quinn was pressed into high-profile action late in the season and responded with two promising performances. Then, there was little doubt Quinn would become a solid backup to Mark Brunell.
Now, doubt has been replaced by demand; patience by urgency. Quinn has to establish himself at the position this season for the Jaguars to include them in their future plans. Quinn is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next winter.
In Europe, Quinn will play a 10-game regular season this spring that will represent his best-ever exposure at football's most important position. Only twice previously has Quinn quarterbacked 10 games in a season; in his senior college and high school seasons.
Peter Vaas will be his coach in Berlin. Vaas, a former quarterback at Holy Cross, was an assistant at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz when Ricky Watters and Jerome Bettis were the Irish stars. Vaas is in his second season as the Thunder's head coach and he is an offensive mind who leans toward the passing game.
"Our base offense is going to be three wide receivers and one back. It's real simple. You have one pass-protection and the quarterback controls everything. He wants people to go out there and play, not think about it," Quinn said of a conversation he had with Vaas.
The Berlin roster includes quarterbacks Leon Murray of Tennessee State and Kevin Nawracaj of Central Arkansas. Murray was allocated by the Giants; Nawracaj by the 49ers.
Quinn was tabbed to play in Europe last spring, but Coughlin decided to keep Quinn in Jacksonville when the Jaguars lost Fiedler to the Dolphins in free agency. This spring, with the clock ticking on Quinn's career with the Jaguars, gaining experience in Europe is an absolute must.
"It's a great opportunity to go over there and play and work on some of my weaknesses, such as experience; moving in the pocket and knowing when to dump it and when to hold it," Quinn said.
"I would like to be a starter for an NFL team. My goal is to win the World Bowl, come back and win the backup (QB) job (with the Jaguars)," he added.
Training camp for NFL Europe begins March 19 in Tampa, and the league will begin play on April 21, which is also the first day of the NFL draft.