Like everyone else, Joe Theismann was thoroughly impressed by what he saw from Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper during the 2000 season.
In only his second season in the NFL and first as a starter, Culpepper passed for 3,937 yards and 33 touchdowns, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. His performance earned him a berth on the NFC's Pro Bowl roster.
It also resulted in an expectation that this would be the norm for Culpepper.
"The success he had in 2000 created a perception that he was already there," said Theismann, the former Redskins quarterback who is now a member of ESPN's Sunday night football announcing crew. "Every snap you take, every game you play in the NFL is a learning process. I don't believe you are ever really there until the day you leave the game because there is still more to learn.
"I think Daunte has a chance in the next month to be able to make good decisions with the ball and protect the football. If he can do those two things in the remaining games he will have made great strides towards next year. If he throws interceptions and does not protect the ball then he will have to go back to square one."
Theismann, of course, is referring to Culpepper's 20 interceptions and fumbling problems this season. However, Theismann is not pinning all the blame for the Vikings' lack of success this season on Culpepper — far from it.
"One thing you have to understand is the quarterback is the most dependent person on the field," Theismann said. "He depends on the running game, the offensive line, his receivers, his defense. … The best thing a quarterback possesses is a great defense. It gives you the freedom to make mistakes."
While Theismann said Culpepper must do a better job of protecting the ball, he feels the Vikings quarterback still needs to run with the ball, especially early in games.
"I can relate to that," Theismann said. "I used to have to get hit early in games, initiate some contact. You run around, make a play and it increases your focus and makes you more aware."
Steve Young knows a little something about what Culpepper has gone through this season. Young did not exactly set the NFL on fire when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 after a two-year stint with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL.
The quarterback spent two tough seasons with the Buccaneers before being traded to San Francisco, where he eventually developed into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks.
Now a member of ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" crew, Young said he sees some of himself in Culpepper and thinks this season will help the Vikings QB in the long run.
"I think the world of (Culpepper)," Young said. "Growing pains, upheaval in the front office, new coaches and stuff like that will have its effects. Randy is always going to have his effect.
"But I think (Culpepper) will come out of this a lot stronger player. He's a tremendous athlete. Coaching will always be a key with him. … Like with me, when you can do more things your mind starts to get ahead of yourself sometimes. You can drop it down, take it yourself. The last thing you want to do is give up on a play. I think the world of him and he's a great player."
Theismann, Young Believe In DC
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