It's a time-honored debate, and there are credible arguments to be made on each side. Rookie quarterbacks: Throw them into the fire, or bring them along slowly?
Before we begin the debate, let's make sure we understand this one fact: Most quarterbacks drafted high were selected by teams who had distinct need at the position, and there are far more examples of rookie quarterbacks getting thrown into the fire than being brought along slowly.
John Elway was one of those prize rookie quarterbacks, the first pick of the 1983 draft, who had to be pulled from the fire before he was consumed by the flames. Elway was the starter on opening day in '83, in Pittsburgh, where Elway completed one of eight passes for 14 yards, was intercepted once and sacked four times. He was pulled at halftime.
Elway got the next four starts, too, before the beatings he absorbed became fearful. He twice injured his elbow, and sustained a shoulder injury and a concussion. During that five-game stretch that began his career, Elway threw one touchdown pass, five interceptions and was sacked 15 times. For the sixth game of the season, he was yanked in favor of Steve DeBerg, and Elway sat out the next four games until DeBerg was injured.
The final stats for the first season of what would become one of the most glorious careers in NFL history would show seven touchdown passes, 14 interceptions, a 47 percent completion average, a mere 1,663 yards passing, 28 sacks for a quarterback with sensational scrambling ability, and a 54.9 passer rating. Bust? That's what they were saying back in 1983. Get the point?
If Elway is the poster child for "bring them along slowly," then Dan Marino speaks loudest for "throw them into the fire."
Wow! What a hit he was. Marino replaced David Woodley as the Dolphins' starting quarterback for the seventh game of the '83 season. By season's end, Marino had thrown for 2,210 yards, 20 touchdowns against only six interceptions, a 58 percent completion average, 96.0 passer rating, and had led the Dolphins to a 7-3 record that put them in the playoffs.
So, Marino lets us know it can be done; a rookie quarterback can be thrown into the fire and be successful. The problem is Marino is the only quarterback in NFL history who enjoyed such rookie success. All of the others are somewhere between Marino and Elway, and most of them fit into the Elway category.
But the "throw them into the fire" people will tell you the impact of playing a rookie quarterback is not symbolized by his stats that season. They'll tell you the impact of the decision to play him as a rookie is reflected by how quickly he achieves success in subsequent seasons.
Bernie Kosar may be the best example of that assertion. Kosar was awful as a rookie in 1985, but led the Browns to the AFC title game in '86. You remember "The Drive," don't you?
All right, how about a quarterback who was brought along slowly? There aren't a lot of them, but we've had the luxury of getting a first-hand look at one of them, Steve McNair.
The third pick of the 1995 draft, McNair's first start didn't come until the 15th game of that season, and he didn't start again until late in his second year. In all, McNair enjoyed only six starts before becoming the Oilers' full-time starting quarterback in his third season. Bring him along slowly? It worked for McNair and the Oilers/Titans. Now in his ninth year, McNair is one of the league's best quarterbacks. Dare McNair? Not on your life, now.
Of course, the "road" is littered with quarterbacks who were brought along slowly and never made it into "the fire." They are too many to mention. Akili Smith is a good example of one.
Byron Leftwich may get thrown into the fire this Sunday, and the man who will be attempting to make Leftwich's debut Elway-like is a "throw them into the fire" guy.
"It takes time, but the whole complexion of the NFL with free agency has changed. You have to make a decision," Texans coach Dom Capers said. "Are you going to let them learn on the field or let them sit. I've gone through it twice and I've gone with the young kids," added Capers, who threw Kerry Collins into the fire in Carolina in 1995 and did the same with David Carr in Houston last year.
Where do you stand?
Now, here's "10 things" the Jaguars have to do to beat the Texans.
- Minimize Leftwich's importance--Every indication is the rookie will start. Don't put the game on his shoulders. He's a rookie, for goodness sake.
- Protect the quarterback--Leftwich is going to get every blitz Dom Capers has in his book of blitzes. The Jaguars' offensive line is going to be put to a supreme test and it must respond.
- Turn and run--The Texans have two receivers with deep speed and a quarterback who can lay it out there.
- Make Fred the difference--The Texans' running game is weak; the Jaguars' is strong. Fred Taylor can be the difference if he gets the ball.
- Be emotionally prepared--The Texans have four former Jaguars who have issues with their old team, the least of whom is not Marlon McCree. Beyond that, the Texans could reach 2-2 going into their bye week. Be prepared for a dogfight.
- Sack the quarterback--It replaces "stop the run" because the Texans' running game isn't that good and they rely much more on David Carr's right arm.
- Sack the quarterback, again--After two games without a sack, two sacks this week shouldn't be too much to ask.
- Look in the mirror--Hey, guys, you're 0-3. It's about time, right?
- Cover somebody--The Jaguars have allowed seven touchdown passes this season, which is more than any quarterback in the league has thrown.
- Jump around a lot and look angry--I really don't think this is important but the fans like it.