Turner knows the feeling of playing rookie QB

Everyone has their theories on whether or not to play a rookie quarterback, especially a first-round pick, immediately or to wait. Oakland Raiders head coach Norv Turner has been there on a couple of occasions.

Turner will look across the field Saturday night when the Oakland Raiders visit the San Francisco 49ers and see his opponent in that very same situation. The 49ers took quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall pick as a result of last season's ghastly 2-14 record.

Smith will start Saturday's game and could begin the season under center when San Francisco opens its regular season on September 11 against St. Louis. Again, everyone has an opinion on whether or not a team should throw a rookie into the fire immediately or wait for a period of time.

"I think each guy can handle it differently," Turner said. "Everyone says you should do this or you should do that. I think you've got to have a real gauge on your guy."

After all, for every Ben Roethlisberger there's a Troy Aikman or a few Heath Shulers. Turner should know as well as anyone. He's been there twice in recent years.

While Turner was coaching the receivers and tight ends of the then-Los Angeles Rams, Aikman, who was Dallas' No. 1 overall pick in the draft in 1989, struggled mightily as the Cowboys went 1-15. As Aikman got better talent around him, he and the team evolved into a three-time Super Bowl champion in the 1990s. Turner joined the Cowboys in 1991 and was the offensive coordinator for three seasons, two of which were Aikman-led Super Bowl championships.

Turner then became the Washington Redskins head coach as the team spent a third-round draft choice on Shuler, who flopped massively after three seasons.

"Troy was so mentally tough, it wasn't going to phase him," Turner said. "He was beat up a little bit. We played Heath Shuler early and it was hard for him. We probably would have been better off if we waited a year with Heath."

Turner, however, added that Saturday's game against the 49ers is one where they will not play defense any differently despite the presence of a rookie quarterback.

"You just have to go play," Turner said. "You don't have control over whether you're playing a pro bowl quarterback or a guy starting his first game. Everyone in this league is here because they can make plays. We've got to be prepared for a quarterback who can run. He's a very good athlete."

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com

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