With best supporting cast, can George prove himself?

ON THE NFL

October 24, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Jeff George is a perfect example that a great arm does not a good quarterback make.

George, the first player picked in the 1990 draft, has a million-dollar arm that makes scouts' hearts flutter.

But he's on his fourth team because he lacks the intangibles and leadership abilities that are critical for a successful quarterback.

He's remembered most in the pros for his shouting match on the sidelines with former Atlanta coach June Jones after he was benched.

George is known as an aloof loner who lacks social skills and rarely makes many friends on a team. He's not quick to take responsibility for his mistakes, and he has a reputation for holding the ball too long and taking sacks because he doesn't want to throw interceptions.

That explains why nobody wanted him as a starting quarterback after the Oakland Raiders released him in the off-season. The Minnesota Vikings signed him as a backup, and he wasn't happy he couldn't get a starting job.

"It stinks," he told a reporter when describing his situation. He wasn't complaining about the Vikings, but that he couldn't believe there were 31 better starting quarterbacks in the league.

He got off the bench in the second half last Sunday and completed 10 of 12 passes in Detroit for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He probably would have beaten Detroit if coach Dennis Green hadn't gotten conservative and played for a field goal at the end, only to see Detroit come back and trump it with a field goal.

That effort convinced Green to bench Randall Cunningham and hand the starting job to George against San Francisco today. Considering the shaky state of the 49ers' secondary, he could have a big day today.

All the old doubts remain about George, even though Green tried to put his best spin on George's promotion. "I think you'll see a guy who's learned from his mistakes," he said.

People who know George insist he's not as bad as his reputation, but concede he's not an easy person to get to know.

One factor that will help is that he has a much better supporting cast than he had in Indianapolis, Atlanta and Oakland.

Not that he concedes he's even made mistakes in the past, much less learned from them.

"I've been the same person from Day One. Winning cures all. I'm not trying to win people over," he said.

George won't even concede this is his last chance, but now that he's got a good team around him, he's got to show he can make the best of it.

If he can't get the ball to Randy Moss -- it'll be pointed out. Particularly by Moss.

Benched

So how was Cunningham reacting to his benching?

Better than you might think.

Cunningham's always marched to the beat of his own drummer, and he almost sounded relieved to be out of the firing line.

"Very smart move by Denny," he said. "We're a team, you know. And if one of the guys isn't doing his job, Denny has to make a decision. I have to applaud Denny, as much as I don't want to sit on the bench. I was the hot man last year. Jeff was the hot man [Sunday]."

Getting a chance

Kurt Warner's success is changing the way scouts think about the Arena League.

The old conventional wisdom was that it was a gimmick league that couldn't be taken seriously.

The new conventional wisdom is that the speed of the game on the small field is a good training ground for quarterbacks because they have to make decisions quickly.

The result is that the Arizona Cardinals have signed a 31-year-old Arizona Rattlers quarterback named Sherdrick Bonner.

"This is not a token PR gimmick," said Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson. "This is a legitimate shot. He's got the chance to come in and be part of this organization for a long time."

Rattlers vice president Gene Nudo said, "I think Sherdrick Bonner is a better NFL prospect than Kurt."

This isn't Bonner's first shot at the NFL. He's been cut by the Miami Dolphins and the Falcons.

The NFL might consider having some of its young quarterback prospects try the Arena League. It's got to be better than sitting on the bench in the NFL.

Convincing them to try it is another matter. The San Diego Chargers floated the idea of having Ryan Leaf go to one of the teams in NFL Europe next spring.

You'd think a young guy would like the idea of a free three-month stay in Europe plus a chance to play football.

Leaf, being Leaf, turned it down.

"It's just not an option," he said. "It's just not going to happen. Period. I just think I'm better off here working during the off-season and getting myself ready."

Leaf probably didn't notice that five former World League quarterbacks (Warner, Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson, Stoney Case and Doug Pederson) started last week and two others (Damon Huard and Jay Fiedler) came off the bench to win games.

Maybe Leaf's snub is for the best. Leaf might cause an international incident in Europe.

No welcome mat

49ers coach Steve Mariucci doesn't seem eager to see Steve Young return from his latest concussion.

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