Preseason rarely enough to boost backup QBs

In part, preseason games are designed for fans to get excited about their team’s backup quarterbacks. They are not, however, about backup quarterbacks getting excited about themselves, at least not in terms of improving their status on a club’s depth chart.

Does Whitehurst have a real shot of unseating Hasselbeck?
(Ted S. Warren/AP Photo)

And this year, through the first preseason weekend, things aren’t a lot different.

Unless, that is, your name is Luke McCown(notes), or Sage Rosenfels(notes), or Charlie Whitehurst(notes).

With the Monday night Jets-Giants contest yet to play, there were 10 backups in the first week of play who registered at least 10 pass attempts and recorded a passer rating of 90.0 or better. But in the big picture, while they may have moved their teams, few of them nudged the needle on the depth-chart fuel tank.

Think Jon Kitna(notes), or Kyle Boller(notes), Rex Grossman(notes), or Patrick Ramsey(notes) played well enough to dislodge the No. 1 quarterbacks for their respective teams? Probably not, even though each of those itinerant passers enjoyed solid performances, and doubtless assuaged any residual uneasiness about their game readiness for their head coaches and offensive coordinators.

Third-year veteran Dennis Dixon(notes) played well in Pittsburgh, and drew a lot more cheers than Byron Leftwich(notes) from the Heinz Field crowd, but he’s still not likely to be the guy keeping Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) seat warm for the first month of the season.

Despite starting for most of the second half of the ’09 season Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) probably won’t wrest the top job from Trent Edwards(notes) in Buffalo.

There’s no way Detroit coach Jim Schwartz is going to promote Shaun Hill(notes) ahead of Matthew Stafford(notes) in the Detroit Lions’ pecking order.

One week’s numbers, mostly compiled against second-stringers or guys who will soon read their names off the league’s waiver wire, isn’t good enough.

Still, in the performances of Rosenfels and Whitehurst and McCown, there was something more. Not enough to elevate any of those peripatetic passers to starter’s status, but enough to stir the kind of intrigue usually lacking in the league at this very early juncture of the preseason.

Rosenfels is 32, working for his fourth franchise, and was the subject of trade rumors for much of the spring. Assuming Brett Favre(notes) returns at some point before the regular-season opener, the much-traveled veteran will probably be trade fodder again. But the nine-year veteran logged more series (11) and more snaps (55) than any quarterback in the league over the weekend. And he made the most of his extended exposure, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns (with zero interceptions), and a healthy quarterback rating of 125.9.

Suddenly, Rosenfels, who is hardly into his football dotage (sometimes quarterbacks take longer to mature), could be an interesting alternative to Tarvaris Jackson(notes). This correspondent has long argued that Minnesota was good enough in ’09 to have won the division with Jackson as the starter. Part of that rationale is that the NFC North was so uninspiring; part of it was the belief that Jackson, while likely not good enough to have piloted the Vikings to the NFC championship game, as Favre did, was still pretty competent. Should Favre do the unthinkable, and opt for riding his tractor around his Hattiesburg estate instead of leading the Vikings’ offense again in 2010, Jackson will be the guy.

Maybe by virtue of this weekend, though, Rosenfels narrowed the gap.

And if not, well, he certainly showcased his wares to a lot of teams still seeking to firm up their backup situations. Even though Rosenfels insisted he didn’t feel as if he was being “showcased” by the Minnesota staff for future trade possibilities, there were a lot of scouts’ eyes following him.

Odds are good that, despite his recent injuries, Matt Hasselbeck(notes) will be the starter for the Seattle Seahawks. But in throwing for 214 yards, and notching a couple of touchdown passes, Whitehurst may have quieted some of the critics who felt the Seahawks were loony for having invested so much in him, paying him $8 million for two seasons on a new contract. Hasselbeck, 34, is still better than his critics think. But he isn’t going to play forever, and Whitehurst, who played in only two games in San Diego, and recorded no pass attempts in four seasons, might have signaled that he is the heir apparent.

McCown has had starting chances in the past, and remains well behind David Garrard(notes) in Jacksonville, for sure. But Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who might have to win in ’10 to retain his job, has been less than flattering at times in the offseason in discussing Garrard. And while a repeat of 2007 isn’t likely, when Del Rio switched from Leftwich to Garrard as his starter the week before the regular-season opener, stranger things have happened.

History has demonstrated that, despite media hype, there haven’t really been too many quarterback competitions period – much less won – in the preseason. Over the past four years, by unofficial count, only three non-rookie quarterbacks have won jobs in preseason play. If Edwards is the starter in Buffalo – and he certainly seems to be – there are no real battles left in the league at the game’s most crucial position right now.

And so while it’s great to tout the No. 2 guy, to pull for the underdog, the pragmatic reality is that the preseason makes little difference – except maybe in isolated cases. For now at least, after just one week, Whitehurst, McCown and Rosenfels might be those cases.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.


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Updated Monday, Aug 16, 2010