- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

With Chad Pennington and Michael Vick already incapacitated, the Giants might want to consider a 24-hour armed guard for Kerry Collins, the third quarterback on the Redskins’ agenda this season. No sense in taking any chances until the real games start.

Once again, crumpled quarterbacks are the topic du jour in the NFL. Vick, the Falcon Flash, was supposed to be reinventing the position with his Deion speed to go with his Elway arm. But as the Ravens’ Adalius Thomas reminded us, there ain’t never been a QB who couldn’t be rode — or KO’d, for that matter. Quick feet giveth and quick feet taketh away. They’ll help you dodge bloodthirsty defensive ends … so you can get blindsided by rabid linebackers.

Given the bell ringings, cracked ribs, dislocated shoulders and all the rest, quarterback might well be the most dangerous position in pro football today. Behind a leaky line, a QB is a veritable tackling dummy. And if he isn’t particularly mobile, the target on his chest is even larger. Yes, quarterbacks are paid well for their hard knocks, but they also spend a disproportionate amount of their salary — far more than the national average — on life insurance.

Take the Redskins’ Rob Johnson. Did you ever read his medical chart? Let me give you some of the highlights (courtesy of the team’s media guide) so you’ll have a better understanding of the perils of his position:

2001 — Assisted off the field following a blow to the head late in the first quarter against the Jets (Oct. 7). … [Left] game with a broken collarbone at New England (Nov. 11). … Was inactive with a shoulder injury for the last seven games of the season.

2000 — Left [Tennessee] game in the fourth quarter after suffering a nerve injury in his ankle. … Left the [San Diego] game in OT with a sprained shoulder. … Suffered a concussion in the second quarter against New England (Dec. 17) and did not return.

1999 — Shaken up on a sack in the fourth quarter [against Philadelphia] and [left] the game.

1998 — Suffered a mild concussion on the first play of the second half against the Chargers and did not return. … Left the Rams game in the fourth quarter with a mild concussion. … Injured his ribs on the third play from scrimmage [at Indianapolis] and did not return. … Was inactive for the next four games.

And this is a guy who has spent most of his career as a backup. (In part because you can’t play quarterback on a gurney.) I’m not saying Johnson’s Adventures in Hospitalization are the norm for quarterbacks, but if a QB who has played so little (42 games and 29 starts in eight seasons) can be banged up that much …

When he was with the Bills, Johnson says, “the coaches told me not to run in the preseason” — that is, to save himself for the games that counted. “But it’s hard not to when you’re used to doing it.” One year in Buffalo, he rushed (or is the proper word fled?) for 307 yards in just 12 games. To put this in perspective, Scramblin’ Fran Tarkenton never racked up more than 376 rushing yards in a season.

But times have most definitely changed since Tarkenton roamed the gridiron. In recent years, a slew of quarterbacks have out-Franned Fran — from Randall Cunningham to Steve Young to Steve McNair to Donovan McNabb to Doug Flutie to Rich Gannon to Kordell Stewart to Daunte Culpepper to Mr. Vick. All have rushed for many more yards than Tarkenton did at his scramblin’-est.

Much has been written about the quarterback position being “redefined” by these iconoclasts, but the job description hasn’t really changed that much. It’s still, essentially, All About Throwing, all about reading the defense and hitting the open receiver. Being able to take off out of the pocket and pick up a first down is “a bonus,” as Johnson puts it, but not a required skill (see Kurt Warner). And it does have its hazards — in Vick’s case, a broken leg.

In the NFL, quarterbacks can run, but they can’t hide. Sooner or later — usually sooner — all these Catch Me If You Can types get waylaid. The NFL can all but legalize intentional grounding, allow QBs to spike the ball or throw it into the third row once they’re outside the pocket, but the injuries continue.

“Speed is no defense [for a quarterback],” says Johnson. “The difference between a 4.6 and a 4.3 is two yards. … The league has done a good job of eliminating the unnecessary shots, but it’s still a position where you’re unprotected, looking downfield” — and wondering where your next concussion is going to come from.

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