Column: Mornhinweg should unleash McMahon

Lions' head coach Marty Mornhinweg wants to keep second-year quarterback Mike McMahon in the pocket, essentially taking away McMahon's genuine strength: the ability to not only buy time for his recievers by escaping the pass rush, but gain yards by himself as well.

Detroit Lions starting quarterback Mike McMahon came off the field Friday night, lightly jogging to the sideline, only to find out that he was done for the night. Disappointed, McMahon took his helmet off, his forehead dry. He had barely even broken a sweat, but now all he could do was watch from the sidelines.

Yet, he did what he was "supposed" to do. He showed more discipline and more poise in the pocket. He resisted the urge to tuck the ball and run with wreckless abandon, perhaps not only to gain yards for his team, but to maintain the average male life expectancy. No, he didn't run. He stayed in the pocket, just like head coach Marty Mornhinweg has been telling him to do.

As much as an athlete Mike McMahon is, critics and coaches alike think it would be best for McMahon to show more patience before abandoning the play. But few realize that if McMahon stands any chance in staying alive not only in the quarterback race, but PERIOD, he will have to resort to his "old ways" and continue being the extremely mobile and agile quarterback that he is.

Last year, McMahon's athletic skills were apparent. On Thanksgiving day against the Packers, McMahon replaced an injured Charlie Batch. Ty Detmer wasn't an option, and with the game seemingly out of reach, McMahon had nothing to lose. Scrambling all over the place, running for his life, and buying time for his recievers, the 5th round draft choice awoke the few who remained in the Silverdome -- and on National Television -- with dazzling agility and running skills.

On one particular play, McMahon rolled out to the right side of the field, escaped oncoming defenders, in the process buying time for rookie Scotty Anderson, and tossing a 29 yard touchdown strike that brought the Lions closer to the rally upset. It wasn't to be, the Lions still lost, but McMahon instantly gratified Lions' fans, giving them hope for the future.

Now back to the present.

Mornhinweg wants to keep McMahon in the pocket, essentially taking away McMahon's genuine strength: the ability to not only buy time for his recievers by escaping the pass rush, but gain yards by himself as well. If you ask anyone remotely familiar wth this Lions team, and they will tell you that Mike McMahon isn't the most accurate quarterback. But they will also tell you he is among the fastest quarterbacks in the league. And that is a very valuable asset.

Mobility can prove to be one of the best tools a quarterback can have. What does Peyton Manning do when all his recievers are covered? Usually, like most other "pocket-passers," he gets sacked. Same thing happened to Charlie Batch, if you remember right. And the "quick read" argument doesn't apply here, either. There are no quick reads when you're playing behind the Motor City's O-Line. The Lions' quarterback stable will tell you that, and Charlie Batch could confirm it.

What does Donovan McNabb do if all of his recievers are covered? He tucks the ball away and runs, and is praised for it. McNabb has the ability to take over the course of the game because of the simple fact that he can move his legs. So can any mobile quarterback.

Not to compare McMahon with the likes of McNabb, but there is a point here. When all is lost, a mobile quarterback can do things by himself to gain yards, and more importantly, move the chains. When that happens, defenses change their coverages, making it easier for recievers to get open, and occasionally even rushing with only three defensive linemen, using the fourth as a "spy," in case the quarterback decides to take off.

Defenses aren't worried about Peyton Manning taking off. They aren't worried about Kurt Warner taking off. But mobile quarterbacks like the Falcons' Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and yes, even Mike McMahon, worry defenses to the point where they will watch for the run by the QB, leaving themselves vulnerable elsewhere.

As soon as Joey Harrington's name was called in the NFL Draft a few months ago, Mike McMahon was stripped of the "Quarterback of the Future" title. Even as Marty Mornhinweg gives lip service to the media and the fans about each man being given equal chance, everyone knows that basically whatever happens; Harrington will be the starting quarterback for this team, perhaps sometime this year.

McMahon is certainly smart enough to figure this out as well. So whatever Mornhinweg hopes to accomplish by teaching McMahon "discipline" in the pocket should be disgarded, because McMahon has nothing to lose here. The starting job isn't his to lose. It's been lost, he's just keeping the seat warm for Harrington.

Not only would letting McMahon lose benefit McMahon, thereby permitting him to utilize his strongest weapon, it will benefit the team. The fans won't stand for another two victory season, especially on the new Ford Field. Mornhinweg should just let the Rocket from Rutgers off his leash so he can run like the headless chicken he is. Many people would be appreciative, including McMahon himself.


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