Trial by fire now standard for rookie QBs

The old saw about needing three years to prepare a quarterback to play regularly in the league is, well, old-school, it seems. The once rigorous process, a sort of Dead Man's (Learning) Curve, has seemingly been straightened out.

Over the past five years, seven rookie quarterbacks have started a regular season opener for their respective teams, and they've compiled a 4-3 record. Five first-year quarterbacks who started 10 games or more in their debut seasons led their clubs to playoff berths in the same stretch.

Both rookie quarterbacks who started all 16 games in 2011, Carolina's Cam Newton and Andy Dalton of Cincinnati, played in the Pro Bowl.

And so it shouldn't be all that surprising that in seven weeks -- barring injuries in camp or the preseason, or perhaps an extended holdout by Cleveland's Brandon Weeden - at least three rookie signal-callers are projected to start the 2012 opener for their clubs. Besides Weeden, the presumptive rookie starters, of course, are Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Washington's Robert Griffin III, the top two overall picks in the draft three months ago.

The fourth quarterback selected in the first round, Ryan Tannehill of Miami, is not expected to challenge for the Dolphins' starting berth until sometime during the season. Seattle's Russell Wilson has been touted by Seattle coach Pete Carroll as a potential starter, but the odds are against the third-rounder.

The old saw about needing three years to prepare a quarterback to play regularly in the league is, well, old-school, it seems. The once rigorous process, a sort of Dead Man's (Learning) Curve, has seemingly been straightened out. The apprenticeship has been scuttled in favor of on-the-job training, and a path to assuming the hardest job in professional sports includes considerably fewer potholes.

The ascension to the starting perch isn't necessarily easier, but more facile.

"And why not?" Griffin told The Sports Xchange over the offseason. "It happens at the other positions all the time, with guys drafted as (immediate) starters, and no one makes as big a thing about it. It seems like the colleges are preparing guys a lot better now. The passing games are (more sophisticated). Quarterbacks seem to be more ready. And the mental stuff is good, but you learn and get better by playing."

The last part certainly seems to be the approach now of team officials once rooted in the traditional mindset. Essentially from the time their names were called on draft night, Luck and Griffin were deemed as starters. It didn't take long in Cleveland for coach Pat Shurmur to acknowledge the 28-year-old Weeden as the favorite for the Browns' No. 1 job. There was never much doubt in Carolina or Cincinnati last year about their starters. Ditto Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore for the 2008 season.

When training camps open this week, nearly half the league's 32 teams will have quarterbacks taking first-team snaps who were chosen in the past six drafts.

While there are still plenty of well-tested and experienced veterans starting, there has been a definite greening of the top spot on depth charts around the league. But the younger quarterbacks, including even some of the proposed rookie starters, don't consider themselves green. Nor do most of the coaches and general managers ready to hand them the keys to the car.

The new Colts' football regime of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano noted that Luck spent much of his college career playing for John Harbaugh, whose Stanford-developed offense translated well enough to take the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC title game last season. The Redskins have won only 11 games in Mike Shanahan's first two seasons and the quarterback play has been dicey. The Browns have long needed an offensive boost.

Essentially, the Colts have mandated a fresh start and the Redskins and Browns need a jump-start. Each seems confident their rookie quarterbacks can fill the bill for the 2012 season.

"The (younger quarterbacks) are maybe a little more mature, in terms of having been in certain systems, than the guys were years ago," said Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who presided over the growth of Dalton in 2011. "It seems like they're more ready. And I think their teams are ready for them, too."

Said the general manager of one of the teams expected to start a rookie right out of the chute this season: "The (veteran) guys know the score. They know we drafted (the rookie) so start, and they know he probably gives us the best chance to win."

Indeed, as much as younger quarterbacks now enter the league planning to start as rookies, their teammates' expectations are similar. It's actually been one of the more understated but significant changes in the league the last few years. Not only are the rookie quarterbacks ready to take over, but their colleagues are ready for them to play as well.

"We're all going to have to be patient to some extent but, at the same time, it's kind of exciting," said Washington wide receiver Santana Moss. "Hopefully, it won't take too much time for (Griffin) to make a difference."

Their teams are counting, though, on time not being a huge factor.


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