They might be a year late for the traditional "breakout" season expected of quarterbacks, but Houston's David Carr, Detroit's Joey Harrington and Washington's Patrick Ramsey still have opportunities to become quality NFL quarterbacks entering their fourth seasons.
Carr is the unquestioned starter in Houston, and the play of his offensive line might be what kept him from taking that next step last season. For the other two, 2005 could well be the make-or-break season of their careers.
Harrington is hardly a fan favorite in Detroit, and now he's out of excuses. The Lions have spent a first-round draft pick on a wide receiver in each of the past three years, and Kevin Jones is one of the most promising young running backs in the game. If Harrington stumbles out of the gate, coach Steve Mariucci won't hesitate to bench him in favor of Jeff Garcia.
"I want to change the losing -- obviously -- so there is some common ground there," Harrington said. "The fans are not going to go away, and the only way to turn them around is to go out and win some football games, and that is what we are going to do."
Ramsey isn't quite on the hot season Harrington is, but only because he doesn't have Garcia lying in wait. Mark Brunell proved last season that his best days are well behind him, and rookie Jason Campbell is too green to take over this season.
"I do feel like it's my best opportunity," Ramsey said. "I feel fortunate to be starting. It's a year for me to come in and play well."
Ramsey struggled in Saturday's scrimmage against Baltimore, but he knows the Redskins offense is his show to run following a 2003 season in coach Steve Spurrier's whacky offense and a 2004 season in which Brunell started the first nine games.
"I do think of myself as the starter, (but) entrenched is strong," Ramsey said. "I want to play well in the preseason and show that I deserve it. It's somewhat of a different viewpoint (being the starter). If we're going to run a two-minute drive, it's helpful to be the first one out there, to kind of set a standard."
Brown, the first overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, dislocated his left elbow on the eighth day of Broncos' training camp and will miss 3-6 weeks. He played only 31 of 64 games the past four seasons with Cleveland, because of knee, biceps, ankle and foot injuries.
Brown injured his elbow when he extended his arm to make a tackle and it was hit by a teammates' helmet.
"He's a great guy and a great kid, and he will come back," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "God will bless him. He's had too much bad stuff. He'll come back. OK? He'll come back. That guy is going to get a break."
Brown signed with Denver in March and had impressed teammates and coaches with his size and strength, and also his work ethic as he tried to rehab a foot injury that limited him to two games last season.
He had been working as Denver's strong-side defensive end in the first-team defense before the injury. Marco Coleman, who started 16 games last year after Trevor Pryce went down with a back injury, moved into the starting lineup to replace Brown.
"He's done everything he possibly can in the offseason," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "To have something like this happen to him sure is disheartening."
The Broncos were actually relieved at the extent of Brown's injury. When Brown went down, Denver's indoor practice facility went silent and the only sound was Brown screaming in pain.
"I've had him come off the sideline and talk to me nice and calm, and that was for serious injuries," said Andre Patterson, who is Denver's assistant defensive line coach and was Brown's defensive line coach in Cleveland. "So I know it had to hurt."
"The good thing is it's not broken," Shanahan said. "If it's broken he's gone for the season."
The Broncos are hopeful Brown misses only three weeks and can play in their final preseason game. Former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe dislocated his elbow in a 2002 game against Oakland, and he missed only three weeks.
Brown is one of four former Browns linemen the Broncos are depending on this season to make up a big part of their defensive line. Michael Myers and Gerard Warren have been working as the starting tackles and Ebenezer Ekuban will be a big part of the defensive-line rotation.
Brown will be a big part of the defensive line too, if he can come back and stay healthy.
"Obviously, he was in a lot of pain but just a lot of frustration," Ekuban said. "Probably (he) has going through his mind, 'Why me again?'"
Shortly after he signed with Denver, Brown talked about trying to get past his bad luck with injuries.
"Some of us have to endure injuries in this game, some more than others," Brown said. "I've had my share of injuries. My attitude now is putting it in the past and moving forward. I have a blessed opportunity to be here, I have a fresh start in Denver."
--Cornerback Lenny Walls, who hired Drew Rosenhaus as his new agent about a year ago, let Rosenhaus go and hired Denver-based agent Peter Schaffer.
Walls, who signed a $1.43 million tender as a restricted free agent last year, should be in line to get a big payday next offseason.
"I just think it's a better fit," Walls said. "Drew's got a lot going on, he's a busy man. I feel like Schaffer can give me the attention I need."
-- Rookie cornerback Darrent Williams has been playing well in camp. Williams, a second-round pick, has been working with the starting defense with Champ Bailey nursing a sore hamstring and passed Jeremy LeSueur for the team's nickel cornerback job.
"I've made a few plays and got my hands on a couple balls and I'm learning the defense real fast," Williams said. "I haven't made as many mistakes as I did in the previous camps. The coaches can see I've been in my playbook."
-- Receiver Jerry Rice, the best receiver in NFL history, said he is actually looking forward to the preseason.
"I'm hoping to get some action. I really am," Rice said. "I need to get the feel for what's happening. You can go through practice and it's totally different. Game speed, when you're out there against an opponent, it's faster. I'm hoping to get some reps and make some plays, and get my feet wet."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Defensive tackle Mario Fatafehi will miss most, if not all, of the preseason after injuring his knee in practice. Fatafehi sprained his MCL during a goal-line drill. The Broncos still have plenty of depth on the defensive line, even with Fatafehi and end Courtney Brown expected to miss most of the preseason.
--C Chris Watton was brought back to the Broncos after he was released by the Buccaneers. Watton has spent time on Denver's practice squad and he was in the Broncos' training camp all of last season.
--S Jeremy LeSueur was demoted from the nickel cornerback spot in favor of rookie Darrent Williams, but he should still have a place on the team. LeSueur is learning the safety position after being drafted as a cornerback and should be a valuable special-teams player.
--TE Nate Jackson, who is converting to tight end from receiver, has had a good camp. He's still not a great blocker, but his size and speed combination has been a benefit at tight end.
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