Max Who? Caleb What?
NFL teams have learned that going deep now refers to more than Andre Johnson running fly patterns. The days of carrying two quarterbacks on a roster are just about gone.
Sure, there are still the Peyton Mannings and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers who are in for just about every play _ when the games mean something, at least. But given the rate of injury, carrying only two quarterbacks is a luxury that has lost its luster. And sensibility.
Hey, even Brett Favre is talking about possibly missing a start because of elbow tendinitis, and the last time that happened was, like, never.
Although the number of starters for the 32 teams a month into the season has barely risen _ from 40 in 2009 to 41 _ that will change when Ben Roethlisberger comes off his four-game suspension and takes snaps for Pittsburgh on Sunday against Cleveland. Plus, the Browns likely will start McCoy, the rookie from Texas who is third on the depth chart behind Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, but first on the health chart.
If Jay Cutler has a recurrence of concussion symptoms, his replacement might not be journeyman Collins, who threw four interceptions in a win at Carolina as Cutler recovered, but Caleb Hanie. Yep, Hanie, now in his third season from Colorado State who has thrown all of 14 passes in his NFL career.
Through five weeks, 11 teams have put backup quarterbacks on the field for significant action. Two of those, Jacksonville and Tennessee, were temporary, with David Garrard and Vince Young reclaiming their starting roles and apparently prospering from a brief stint on the sideline.
Four teams _ Arizona, Oakland, Carolina and Buffalo _ went to second-stringers after the No. 1 QB flopped. Indeed, the Bills not only benched Trent Edwards for Fitzpatrick, they then cut Edwards and he wound up as Garrard’s caddie in Jacksonville.
Oakland made such a big deal about acquiring Jason Campbell on draft day from Washington, yet he got yanked after two starts for Gradkowski. Then Gradkowski damaged his right shoulder and Campbell was back behind center.
“It’s been a long year already for me,” Campbell said. “It started back from the time I was traded. Starting the season off, I was putting too much pressure on myself to make all the plays because of the high hopes for me this season instead of just relaxing and playing the game and let the game come to you. I tried to force the game. That’s one of the things I learned over the weeks when I was sitting out and doing the self-evaluation on myself and getting to learn the offense a little better.”
Max, as in Max Hall, is an undrafted rookie from Brigham Young who actually is the Cardinals’ third try at replacing the retired Kurt Warner. Matt Leinart didn’t make it out of training camp and now is a third-stringer in Houston. Derek Anderson failed, and the fiery Hall now has the job. He’s 1-0 as a starter.
Another rookie, Clausen, is in charge of an 0-5 team, which should feel familiar. As a freshman at Notre Dame, his team had the same record. He took over in Charlotte for Matt Moore after the first two defeats.
“The biggest thing I took from that is just keep battling, keep grinding, keep going out there and having a smile on your face,” Clausen said. “That’s going to turn over to the rest of the team. And even though you guys aren’t winning, it’s just a matter of time until you get to that point where everything starts clicking.”
Perhaps he’s right. It happened in Philadelphia, where Michael Vick was sensational after Kevin Kolb sustained a concussion in the opener. Kolb was back in two weeks ago when Vick hurt his ribs, and the Eagles are tied atop the NFC East at 3-2 despite being the only division team playing roulette at quarterback.
Things also have clicked offensively for the Lions, even though they are 1-4. Veteran Shaun Hill, one of the league’s top backups entering the season _ along with Vick, Chad Pennington in Miami and Kerry Collins in Tennessee _ ably replaced Matt Stafford, but when Stafford’s recovered from a separated right shoulder, he’ll play.
Roethlisberger will play the rest of the way if he stays upright. And if he doesn’t, the Steelers might not mind riding this carousel. They went 3-1 with original third-stringer Dennis Dixon and No. 4 Batch at quarterback.
So maybe that’s the secret these days in a league where, despite all kind of rules protecting this precious commodity, so many quarterbacks keep getting hurt. Make sure you have four of them.
Then again, if they perform as poorly as Edwards and Anderson and Moore, how much use are they?