A few missteps in QB shuffle

ON THE NFL

Nfl Week 1

September 08, 2002|By Ken Murray

Eight NFL teams changed starting quarterbacks since the end of last season, but how many can truly say they've bettered themselves at the position? Only a select few.

Drew Bledsoe for Rob Johnson is an improvement in Buffalo. Gus Frerotte for Jon Kitna is a positive step in Cincinnati. Trent Dilfer for Matt Hasselbeck was an upgrade in Seattle until Dilfer hurt his knee in the Seahawks' first preseason game and threw the opening-day job back to Hasselbeck.

The other changes were due to a commitment to the future (Michael Vick in Atlanta, Drew Brees in San Diego), breaking with the past (Chris Redman in Baltimore, Shane Matthews in Washington) or sheer desperation (Rodney Peete in Carolina). Vick and Brees are assured to get time to grow into the role, but the others, for various reasons, may not have that luxury.

Youth will be one of today's themes. Redman and Brees join the Houston Texans' David Carr in making their NFL starting debuts. Vick, the first pick in the 2001 draft, makes his third career start at Green Bay. Falcons coach Dan Reeves knows what comes with the territory.

"He's going to see some things that [the Packers] haven't shown," Reeves said. "I know in my experience with John [Elway], they're going to come after you with some things that are not necessarily sound, and see if he can pick them up."

Toward that end, Reeves wants Vick, 22, to get in and out of the huddle quickly to give himself time to look at the defense rather than rushing to take the snap.

At this point, Vick is not as good as the man he replaces - Chris Chandler, who went to the Chicago Bears - but he is a better athlete and could be a better quarterback in the long run.

Said Vick: "I know what I am looking for on the field and I have a good understanding of what's going on. I am the leader of this football team and I have to play like it."

Saving shot

San Francisco 49ers kicker Jose Cortez may have saved his job with a game-winning 36-yard field goal in the final seconds against the New York Giants Thursday night. He also saw a 25-yard attempt blocked and was short on a 48-yard try.

Cortez had fallen into disfavor when he missed seven of his last 14 field-goal attempts last season, including five that were blocked. The 49ers spent a fourth-round draft pick on Jeff Chandler and kept him on the 53-man roster. He knows the score.

"They're keeping me as an insurance policy," Chandler said. "It's kind of like being a freshman all over again. Just wait it out, that's all I can do."

Not so efficient

Even though the Philadelphia Eagles reached the NFC championship game last season, they were 29th in the league in third-down efficiency. They converted just 21 of 54 third-and-shorts (3 yards or less) for 38.9 percent. They threw the ball 30 of those 54 third downs and made only six. And they were 14-for-23 when running the ball on third-and-short. (They also gained a first down by penalty.)

"The average number of punts [per game] in the NFL is five," said Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress. "Last year, ours was 6.5. Just to be able to stay on the field for another set of downs, not only does it help you be able to change the field position during the course of the game, [but] it keeps the defense off the field, chews up the clock. Not to mention that you've got another opportunity to score."

Texans go young

The Texans will start five rookies on offense in their inaugural game tonight against the Dallas Cowboys, including wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who beat out Jermaine Lewis. The former Raven will play as the third receiver and return kickoffs and punts.

"He's obviously a guy you'd like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible," coach Dom Capers said of Lewis.

Other rookies starting on offense tonight are Carr, linemen Chester Pitts and Fred Weary and fullback Jarrod Baxter.

The bottom feeders

Today's matchup between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals comes with an ugly distinction. It matches the two teams with the fewest wins in the league over the past five seasons (counting teams that have been in existence since 1997 or earlier).

The Chargers are a league-worst 23-57 in that time and the Bengals 24-56. The two franchises also have the longest active playoff droughts in the league. Cincinnati has missed the postseason 11 straight years and San Diego the past six.

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