questions surrounding NFL players

Every year there are players that have question marks attached to their names, for one reason or another. Heading into the 2003 training camp season, the questions have again heated up.

Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams: After leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl victory a few short seasons ago, Kurt Warner has quickly gone from the penthouse to the doghouse. In defense of Warner's play, there are numerous reasons behind this player falling from his lofty perch. From injury to the lack of quality personnel protecting the signal-called, to even Mike Martz's questionable play-calling. The question is, can Kurt Warner remain healthy?

Warner was close to being released by the Rams this off-season, if it weren't for a significant salary-cap hit the Rams would have suffered by releasing or trading Warner, he may have been lining up for another team this preseason. The Rams have worked diligently to upgrade the offensive line this off-season, but the bottom-line will be the health of Warner and his dynamic running back Marshall Faulk. This is likely it for Warner, if he struggles the Rams will turn to Marc Bulger, who adequately replaced Warner when he was injured during the 2002 season.

Either Warner or Bulger will be under center in St. Louis, and that player will have a significant amount of talent surrounding him at the skill positions. Back are wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt. Marshall Faulk returns to regain the title of the best running back in the game. The Rams will again be an explosive offensive team, the question is whether it will be Warner or Bulger raising their arms in victory.

Tommy Maddox and the Pittsburgh Steelers: In Pittsburgh, it is Tommy Maddox or bust heading into the 2003 season. Coming off an unexpected and impressive 2002 season for the Steelers, Maddox heads into training camp entrenched as the starting quarterback, leading an explosive Pittsburgh offense. Throwing for 20 touchdowns once replacing Kordell Stewart, Maddox also was a league leader in touchdown passes to pass attempts. The Pittsburgh offense is tailor-made for the talents of the veteran signal-caller, having targets like Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress to throw the ball to certainly helps.

Despite the tremendous season Maddox had in 2002, the Steelers have not been inclined to offer him a contract extension. Burned in the past with such deals (Kordell Stewart comes to mind), the Steelers have reservations about Maddox's ability to stay healthy and they want to see him work his magic again in 2003 before committing to a long-term deal. If Maddox falters or is injured, the Steelers are in trouble. Charlie Batch is the backup quarterback in Pittsburgh and he does not excite the masses as the popular Maddox has.

The power running game, a fixture in Pittsburgh for the better part of twenty-five seasons is all but done. The Steelers have become an increasingly diversified offensive team with Mike Mularkey as the offensive coordinator, don't expect much to change in the 2003 season, which makes keeping Tommy Maddox healthy a priority in Pittsburgh.

Patrick Ramsey and the Washington Redskins: Holding out of training camp early in the 2002 preseason hurt quarterback Patrick Ramsey and the Washington Redskins more than anyone could have realized. The situation escalated to the point where head coach Steve Spurrier tried to trade the second round draft selection, rather than groom him as the future signal-caller of the Redskins. That was then, this is now.

Being part of the quarterback carousel in Washington during the 2002 season, Ramsey struggled when called upon, but the experience the rookie gained last season has gone a long way to his development as he heads into training camp as the Redskins starting quarterback. With a limited understanding of the offense and less of a feel for the game in the NFL as well, Ramsey spent a serious off-season of training, in both the film room and weight room. Claiming to now have an understanding and feel of the offense and what it takes to compete and play at this level, Ramsey has been provided with some weapons to kick-start the up and coming Redskins. Strong of arm and not waning in confidence, Ramsey has grasped the role of quarterback and leader in Washington.

A young and talented wide receiver group led by free agent acquisition Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner will provide Washington and Ramsey plenty of opportunities to showcase the talents of this quarterback from Tulane. If Ramsey fails, Washington will have to depend on the oft-injured Rob Johnson, a thought that Spurrier and Redskins have to be concerned with.

Hutchinson/Carter and the Dallas Cowboys: Imagine being a young quarterback on a team that has historically been one of the best football organizations in the NFL. Add the pressure of not being experienced and having an owner that demands immediate results. If it couldn't have gotten any worse, the rough and tough Bill Parcells is now your head coach. Enter the world of Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter.

Hutchinson is the quarterback that the personnel men in Dallas believe has all the physical tools to be an exceptional player. Physically big and strong, Hutchinson gained valuable experience in his rookie campaign with the Cowboys in 2002. Heading into training camp, Hutchinson is the unnamed starting quarterback. The coaching staff has been impressed with his mental development under new offense coordinator Maurice Carthon and quarterbacks coach Sean Payton. Some within the Cowboys organization compare Hutchinson to a young Vinny Testaverde, a quarterback that Parcells has much success with while he was the head coach of the New York Jets.

In the case of Carter, we are speaking of an extremely athletic player at the quarterback position. He is a threat to run with the ball, he has the ability to create and escape an on-rushing defense. Throughout his first two seasons, Carter has been erratic and inconsistent, but his ability to make big-plays have forced the offensively challenged Cowboys to take notice. These are qualities that could prove to be beneficial to the Cowboys as their running game is in question, as the team is relatively unproven in the backfield. The offensive line, a serious weakness in 2002 should be improved as Parcells has focused on this unit. The quarterback position is available for the taking and the Cowboys will be disappointed if Hutchinson does not win the competition.

Couch/Holcomb and the Cleveland Browns: Tim Couch was labeled a franchise quarterback by Team President Carmen Policy when the Browns selected him with the first overall selection in the 1999 NFL draft. The expectations were lofty for the team and the quarterback that was almost expected to be a savior before ever playing a game in the league. Throughout his four seasons in the league, Couch has battled injuries, less than average talent surrounding him, and the same expectations have placed the burden of the franchise on his shoulders.

Couch may not be a savior, he may not be one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, but one thing is certain, Couch will line up on Sunday and leave everything he has on the field. The pressure began to mount for the young signal-caller in the 2002 season as the team struggled offensively. While injured to start the season, backup Kelly Holcomb grabbed the spotlight and hearts of many Browns fans with solid performances. Again midway through the season, Couch again was injured and Holcomb almost stole the show leading a comeback rally of 20-plus that fell short when a Holcomb pass was intercepted in the end-zone as the Browns were going in for the game winning score, in a nationally televised game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Couch returned to lead the Browns to a playoff berth, but was lost for the season with a broken leg in a late season victory against the Atlanta Falcons. Again, the Browns called on Holcomb and he did not disappoint, if anything a full blown quarterback controversy was created in Cleveland. In the Browns season ending playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Holcomb entered his name in the NFL record books with a 400-plus yard passing performance.

Entering training camp, the starting quarterback job is up for grabs. Couch is the more athletic player, Holcomb is the player that knows the offensive system better due to playing in the system under Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in Indianapolis. Both players have been receptive to the competition throughout the off-season and into the mini-camp sessions. It is make or break time in Cleveland for Tim Couch, if he loses the competition to Holcomb, the end will be near for him with the Browns.

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