Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of the good, the bad and the ugly from the NFL's first week of preseason action...
• One of the few meaningful evaluations that can be gleaned from the NFL's mostly meaningless preseason is the general state of the league's backup quarterback play, because August is their time to shine. Or not to shine, as the case may be.
Some teams are probably feeling pretty good about their No. 2 QB situations in the wake of strong showings by their backup over the weekend. Jacksonville certainly moved the ball well when Luke McCown (11 of 15, 244 yards and touchdown passes of 73, 30 and 55 yards) was in the game at Philadelphia. Ditto for Cleveland's Seneca Wallace (4 of 8, 72 yards, two touchdowns), Washington's Rex Grossman (11 of 18, 140 yards, two touchdowns), and the Giants' Jim Sorgi (8 of 15, 146 yards, two touchdowns).
In Seattle, new Seahawks backup Charlie Whitehurst helped justify what Pete Carroll and Co. gave up to acquire him this offseason, completing 14 of 22 passes in a significant chunk of playing time against Tennessee, with two touchdowns, one interception and 214 yards through the air. And Minnesota's Sage Rosenfels, who's really his team's No. 3 quarterback but was auditioning to be someone's No. 2 later this year, had a nice little career for himself in the Vikings' rout of the Rams, throwing for a whopping 310 yards and three touchdowns in completing 23 of 34 attempts.
But it's also apparent that a whole bunch of teams have Grand Canyon-sized drop-offs on their quarterback depth chart once their starters leave the game. The gap between Peyton Manning and Curtis Painter in Indianapolis isn't even chartable. Painter had three interceptions and a botched snap against the 49ers, with San Francisco totaling more return yards (111) on those picks than Painter actually passed for (64).
In Arizona, Derek Anderson was supposed to push new starter Matt Leinart all preseason long. But Anderson has been his old erratic Browns-like self so far, throwing a pair of interceptions and for just 88 yards against the Texans Saturday night. The Cardinals actually might be higher on rookie QBs John Skelton and Max Hall than they are Anderson at the moment.
And what to make of the likes of Denver's Brady Quinn, Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich, Philadelphia's Michael Vick and San Francisco's David Carr, all once highly-touted first-round picks? They didn't exactly nail down their No. 2 spots on the depth chart with scintillating first showings this preseason. Leftwich might have lost ground to No. 3 Dennis Dixon in Pittsburgh, where the backup position really matters in the first Roethlisberger-free month of the season, and Quinn is probably destined for No. 3 clipboard duty in Denver with rookie Tim Tebow expected to be inserted into games as a Wildcat QB option.
In the case of Vick, it was understandable that he couldn't bounce back from two years in prison and provide real competition for Donovan McNabb last season, but now No. 7 isn't making anyone in Philly think twice about the dawn of the team's Kevin Kolb era. And Kolb owns all of two career starts in his first three NFL seasons. Carr was just so-so in relief of Alex Smith in San Francisco's win at Indy, with the lasting image we have of him getting swarmed under by the Colts pass rush (which had to inspire a Houston-era flashback for him).
While there are plenty of good young starting quarterbacks in the NFL these days thanks to the influx of talents like Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford in recent years, plenty of teams face slim and unproven pickings if their No. 1 goes down. If injury should befall Jay Cutler in Chicago, and he took a pretty good pounding last season behind a dreadful Bears offensive line, the fate of Lovie Smith, Jerry Angelo and a good portion of the roster will hinge on how backup Caleb Hanie handles his promotion. (And Hanie himself suffered a shoulder injury in a loss at San Diego this weekend, sending Chicago shopping in the veteran QB market).
The Patriots, Saints and Bengals might keep the train rolling if Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Carson Palmer go missing, but they'd strike no fear in any opponent's heart if Brian Hoyer, Patrick Ramsey and J.T. O'Sullivan were suddenly under center. I think it says something about the relative condition of the backup quarterback ranks in the NFL that young passers like Matt Flynn in Green Bay, Dan Orlovsky in Houston and Brodie Croyle in Kansas City are considered to be some of the best No. 2's in the league, despite us having not ever seen them do much of anything. Don Strock, they're not.
With three weeks of the preseason left, we're going to see plenty more of the NFL's backup quarterback crowd on display. And it may not be pretty. But the idea being that if you play them now, and stay lucky in terms of your starter's health, you won't have to play them later. Better in August than October, I suppose.
• Score another one for the science that is the draft scouting process. Now we know why the Giants issued a No. 3 jersey to rookie receiver Victor Cruz. It's because he was destined to score three touchdowns in his NFL debut Monday night against the Jets, a performance that obviously no scout or league personnel man saw coming, since Cruz went undrafted this year out of the University of Massachusetts.
Cruz, a Paterson, N.J., native and lifelong Giants fan, had six catches for 145 yards in the stadium-opening 31-16 win over the Jets, with touchdowns of 64, 34 and 5 yards in the second half. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has been gushing about the kid even before Monday night, so at this point he's got the team made unless he self destructs over the next three weeks, and that's not happening.
• Brian Westbrook's wait was worth it, because the veteran running back market finally provided him with a chance to go to a team with playoff aspirations in San Francisco. The Rams and Redskins wanted Westbrook and he could have been in camp with either team weeks ago. But he knew the playoffs were a long-shot in Washington and a pipe dream this season in St. Louis, so the 49ers look like a shrewd move for an ex-Eagle who's in win-now mode.
• Wonder if Laveranues Coles is getting tired of this "Hard Knocks'' stuff in training camp? Coles was a Bengal last season, but the current Jets receiver is now spending his second consecutive summer on HBO's acclaimed NFL reality series. Maybe it's written into this contract at this point.
• For a guy who couldn't wait to get to Miami, it has to be a little concerning to see new Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall dropping balls in the rain. I know they say it's always sunny in South Florida, but it's not. The other night against Tampa Bay isn't the only monsoon that Marshall will ever play in as a Dolphin.
• Looks like Tyler Thigpen continues to have the inside track on Pat White for the Dolphins' No. 3 quarterback job behind Chad Henne and Chad Pennington. And that means the Dolphins face a looming roster decision on the 2009 second-round pick out of West Virginia. Will they cut him, somehow find a way to carry a fourth quarterback, or reverse their oft-stated intention to not play him at receiver or kick returner?
• Before they get their Sam Bradford era off to a good start, the Rams better find a way to get their Jason Smith era successfully re-launched. The 2009 first-round pick better tighten it up at offensive right tackle, or it's going to be a short rookie season for the team's 2010 first-round pick. Bradford won't last long if he's getting sacked four times every two quarters.
• There were some pretty big showings by some pretty small rookie return men in Week 1 of the preseason. Baltimore cornerback Prince Miller, a 5-foot-8 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia, went 57 yards with a punt return against Carolina despite being touched by seven different Panthers.
Not to be outdone, 5-foot-7, 151-pound Redskins return man Brandon Banks (I really like the last eight letters of his name) took a punt back 77 yards for a touchdown against the out-classed Bills Friday night. Banks went undrafted as a Kansas State receiver.
And in New England, the Patriots first-round pick, Devin McCourty, had kickoff returns of 50 and 52 yards in a win against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints. At 5-foot-10, the ex-Rutgers cornerback towers over his two fellow rookie return men.
• I say Pete Carroll had every right to be excited Saturday night in Seattle. If you some how found a way to make a player out of former Lions first-round bust Mike Williams, you'd be jacked and pumped, too.
A 51-yard touchdown catch and run by the ex-Trojans receiver who once tipped the scales at 270 pounds? Are you kidding me?