NFL positional update: Quarterback

NFL Scout has been scouting NFL quarterbacks, and there are some intriguing results from the preseason, including what the 49ers are attempting to do with Cody Pickett. Get a heads-up on which quarterbacks might be headed for up or down years, and which are moving up or down depth charts around the league. With less than two weeks to go before the season begins, here's some analysis exclusive to subscribers.

SAN FRANCISCO: QB Cody Pickett, a fourth-stringer, saw some action on special teams in the preseason, as coach Mike Nolan looks for a way to get the promising second-year player on the field. "I can't think of anything I don't like about Cody Pickett," Nolan said. "Not every quarterback even wants to cover punts and play on punt return and kickoff return. It gives us another dimension. If he's able to help us in the kicking game, teams have to be aware. He can be a threat on special teams just by being a quarterback and having the possibility of an offensive play take place."

PITTSBURGH: QB Tommy Maddox has looked good in practice and preseason games, nailed down the No. 2 job and, despite rampant rumors, will not be traded. QB Ben Roethlisberger has not led his offense to a TD in three preseason games. He 14 of 30 passing for 121 yards and two interceptions with a 30.0 passer rating.

BALTIMORE: QB Kyle Boller has thrown for a meager 198 yards this preseason. In 15 drives against starting defenses, the Ravens have produced four interceptions, one touchdown pass and a 27 percent third-down conversion rate (the Ravens converted 35 percent last season). This isn't what the Ravens envisioned when they hired Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator, signed receiver Derrick Mason on the first day of free agency and drafted receiver Mark Clayton in the first round. If the preseason is any indicator, the Ravens will once again rely on their running game to carry the offense and offset a struggling passing attack. But the Ravens believe they can rectify the problem before they meet the NFL's standard in passing offense, the Indianapolis Colts, on Sept. 11. "We're getting there," said Boller. "We still have a lot of work. We have two weeks until the opener, which is a lot of time." Their problems in the passing game is a combination of Boller's lack of poise in the pocket and ragged pass protection. Boller, who still doesn't seem to have a comfort zone in the pocket, often looks antsy and locks onto his receivers. In Friday's 21-6 win over the New Orleans Saints, it appeared that he threw to his first look on eight of 11 pass attempts.

MIAMI: QB A.J. Feeley has a chance to claim a spot with the first-team offense with a better performance in Thursday's preseason finale against visiting Atlanta. After leading the Dolphins to a touchdown on their first series against Tampa Bay, Gus Frerotte completed only seven of his final 22 passes with one interception in a 17-14 home victory. Feeley looked much sharper, leading a touchdown drive for the first time this preseason in an eight-of-14 performance. "I think A.J. did a good job when he was in there," said Dolphins coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the regular season Sept. 11 against Denver. "We're going to give him more opportunities to see what he can do. "I'm not going to comment on or worry about who the starter is and when the starter is (being named). The bottom line is like what every Dolphins fan and everyone in this building wants, which is to play the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win. That's what we're trying to do and work toward."

Frerotte outplayed Feeley in Miami's first two exhibition games but has struggled to complete deep passes and made some questionable decisions. Frerotte, though, hasn't been helped by dropped passes, a rash of turnovers and inconsistent protection from his offensive line. Coach Nick Saban said Frerotte's advanced knowledge of the offense from having spent the past two seasons in Minnesota playing under new coordinator Scott Linehan may be working against him. "I think we have one instance at quarterback where we have a guy who has a little more experience in the system and that may be affecting him a little bit in that maybe everybody else hasn't caught up to that," Saban said. "In another case (with Feeley), we have a guy who is learning and growing in the system and getting more confident as he goes."

CHICAGO: QB Kyle Orton was given the nod as the starter Sunday. Orton doesn't talk or play as if he's at all intimidated by the prospect of running the team -- or of leading it. "I think that just comes with the position," he said. "I think you have to be in a leadership role, even though I'm probably not seen by the team as a leader (yet), just because I'm so young, and I'm just not accustomed to everything. But when you do step in the huddle, you have to have everybody's attention, you have to be a leader and really just give a feeling to everyone that you're going to get the thing done." Orton is already giving off those vibes. "He's a confident kid, borderline cocky, and that's always good in this business because you've got to have a little swagger about yourself," said 10-year veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who took the blame for not coming down with a slightly high Orton bullet in the end zone two plays before the touchdwn. "He's thrown the ball on time, and he's completed some passes. He's made some good decisions."

QB Chad Hutchinson has been demoted all the way to fourth in the rotation for Thursday's preseason finale, behind Kyle Orton, Jeff Blake and Kurt Kittner. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Hutchinson released by then.

PHILADELPHIA: QB Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens connected on five passes for 131 yards and a game-opening 64-yard touchdown in just two quarters of work against the Bengals. Owens was McNabb's target on nine of his 23 attempts. "You just try to go through your progressions,'' McNabb said. "They gave us an opportunity to hook up on a lot of throws. It was good that we were able to get out there in a game situation and work on our combination and chemistry.''

DALLAS: QB Tony Romo will likely win the backup quarterback job over Drew Henson. Romo led the Cowboys to two touchdown drives against the Texans. Henson did not play in the game. Consider that Romo is a former undrafted free agent in his third year with the team. Henson was given $3.5 million in guaranteed money last year after returning to football from baseball.

OAKLAND: QB Kerry Collins ranks second in the NFL in passing yardage, has completed 71 percent of his passes, has thrown three touchdowns and one interception and has a QB rating of 105.7. "He is playing at a level that we'd like to see him play," coach Norv Turner said. "(Friday) night he throws one touchdown in his 40 snaps but he could have thrown four easily." Drops with players either in the end zone or well past the defense were made by Ronald Curry, Randy Moss and Courtney Anderson.

INDIANAPOLIS: QB Tom Arth will be the Colts' No. 3 signal caller for the present time with Travis Brown out for the season. Arth was in NFL Europe last spring and has seen limited mop-up work this preseason. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and has been recovering from a shoulder injury that he incurred as a collegiate senior. For the time being, coach Tony Dungy appears to be comfortable with Peyton Manning, Jim Sorgi and Arth as the team's three quarterbacks. "We're not actively searching for a third quarterback right now, or a fourth quarterback, or a fifth quarterback, or whatever number there is," he said.

QB Peyton Manning, who appeared to be in mid-season form during his two-and-half quarters of work against the Broncos last week, is a realist. He knows that preseason success doesn't necessarily equate to the regular season. "It can go different directions," Manning said. "I've played teams in the preseason that I left saying, 'Boy, they aren't very good this year.' Maybe it was an NFC team and the next thing you know, they're on fire, undefeated. "Certain guys have different gears they switch to, some of the older guys. They just light it up. You know, the jets don't fly over in preseason games. They wait until the real games, and some guys get tuned up for that."

CLEVELAND: Rookie QB Charlie Frye played well for the third straight time in the preseason and nearly rallied the Browns to victory over Carolina, but coach Romeo Crennel is holding off naming him the backup to Trent Dilfer. Doug Johnson is in the running.

NEW YORK JETS: QB Chad Pennington has never thrown an interception in the red zone during a regular season game but got picked off twice in the end zone in the Jets' preseason loss to the Giants last week. The first pick came as Pennington tried to hit Laveranues Coles with a 10-yard fade in the corner, only to put it in the cradling arms of Giants corner Corey Webster. The second came in the closing minutes of the first half and the Jets with a 1st-and-goal at the 1. This time Pennington threw at tight end Chris Baker and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan came across to snare it. "We just can't turn the ball over,'' Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "We've driven the ball, but the problem is when you turn the ball over in the gold area and you don't score points. That's not good.'' Pennington was 5-of-11 for just 36 yards with two interceptions and he was sacked twice, a tough performance to swallow considering Pennington was 9-of-10 the game before. "When you get into the red zone you want to be aggressive, but when you don't have the look that you want to take care of the football, you don't want to squander three points,'' Pennington said. "You have to come away with three when you get inside the 20. I shouldn't have forced it; I should have went for another down.''

BUFFALO: QB J.P. Losman could be in trouble if the run game struggles, if last Friday is any measure. The Bears' tough defense, led by star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, held Willis McGahee to 61 yards on 21 carries (2.9 average) in a 16-12 preseason victory at Soldier Field. Chicago played eight men in the box - a sight the Bills will see frequently - and invited Losman to beat them through the air. He couldn't do it, going 9 of 18 for 82 yards with no touchdowns and two sacks. The Bills went three-and-out on four of their first six drives. Losman said he saw men open, but just didn't have the confidence to fire the ball. "It wasn't a good performance from my standpoint," he said, taking full blame. "I was hesitating a little bit to pull the trigger. . . . I see it, it's wide open, and for some reason I'm pumping, I'm pumping instead of letting it go." Coach Mike Mularkey was mostly distressed by Buffalo's ineffectiveness on the ground in the early going when a tone needed to be set. On a third-and-one, McGahee was stuffed by Urlacher for a three-yard loss. On second-and-nine, McGahee was thrown for a seven-yard loss when several receivers left cornerback Nathan Vashar unblocked. On a second down run deep in Bears' territory, McGahee fumbled.

CAROLINA: QB Stefan LeFors will be the team's No. 3 quarterback this season. The team released 11 players on Sunday, including quarterback Rod Rutherford, who spent most of last season on the team's practice squad. LeFors had shown some spark in the two first two preseason games, while Rutherford did not play in Carolina's last two outings and his reps in practice were slowly diminishing. Rutherford and LeFors, a fourth-round draft pick from Louisville had been competing for the No. 3 job behind starter Jake Delhomme and backup Chris Weinke, who remains light years ahead of LeFors when it comes to knowledge of the offense.

QB Aaron Rodgers made a slight improvement Friday over his first two preseason games. This year's first-round draft pick completed five of nine passes for 52 yards playing most of the second half in relief of Brett Favre. Rodgers, though, was sacked once, recovered his own fumble and had an ill-advised pass intercepted. For the preseason, he's only 11-of-24 throwing for 80 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions, a team-high four sacks and an abysmal passer rating of 19.4.

DETROIT: QB Timmy Chang, who set a number of NCAA passing records at Hawaii, was signed by the Lions and will get a look in the final two weeks before the regular season begins. The Lions like his arm and his mobility, and might try to find a way to keep both Chang and fifth-round draft pick Dan Orlovsky on their practice squad.

MINNESOTA: QB John Bowenkamp is expected to be signed to the practice squad after being cut by the Vikings.

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