Learn­ing curve quick for young QBs

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Teresa M. Walker

Trade Marcus Mar­i­ota. Play Jared Goff now. Car­son Wentz isn’t as per­fect as Ea­gles fans thought only a month ago. Dak Prescott can do no wrong.

And where is Jameis Win­ston again?

Quar­ter­back is the premier po­si­tion in the NFL, and ev­ery­one is search­ing for that guy who can an­chor a fran­chise for at least a decade. Then they of­ten rush them on the field un­der pres­sure to win now, with pa­tience in short sup­ply.

For ev­ery Pey­ton Man­ning who sur­vived a rough rookie year on his way to NFL star­dom, be­ing picked first or sec­ond over­all is no guar­an­tee of suc­cess.

“The bot­tom line is we’re play-

ing th­ese kids well be­fore they’re ready to play,” said Rich Gan­non, the NFL’s 2002 MVP and now an an­a­lyst for CBS. “For many of them, they’re go­ing to have a bad ex­pe­ri­ence. And in some cases such a bad ex­pe­ri­ence, it can do real dam­age and ir­repara­ble harm to their con­fi­dence. The other thing is they learn bad habits as young play­ers they’re of­ten times very dif­fi­cult to break when you get an­other coach­ing staff that comes in.”

How a quar­ter­back fares over the first 24 games of his ca­reer can be a pretty good mea­sure of fu­ture suc­cess — or fail­ure.

Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 pick over­all in 1998, lasted only 25 games in the NFL. Robert Griffin III edged An­drew Luck for the NFL’s Of­fen­sive Rookie of the Year in 2012, yet is with his sec­ond team in five in­jury­filled years. Win­ston, the No. 1 over­all pick of 2015, just played his 24th ca­reer game, while the No. 2 pick over­all last year, Marcus Mar­i­ota, has 21 starts un­der his belt.

Yet Win­ston and Mar­i­ota al­ready are on their sec­ond head coaches in just their sec­ond sea­sons. Tampa Bay pro­moted Dirk Koet­ter from of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor to main­tain con­ti­nu­ity with Win­ston, while Mar­i­ota is work­ing with his third play caller in Ten­nessee since be­ing drafted out of Ore­gon. Coaches with both teams be­lieve they’ve seen enough to know they have the right quar­ter­back.

“Is he there yet? No,” Tampa Bay of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Monken said of Win­ston. “Are we there yet, col­lec­tively? No, but you’d rather have to try to reel a guy back in than try to de­velop some sort of tough­ness or will to win in com­pet­i­tive spirit. That’s what we have at quar­ter­back, and we need to em­brace that and con­tinue to mold that and de­velop that. That’s coach­ing, that’s play­ing, that’s run the football bet­ter and him tak­ing care of it bet­ter.”

Mar­i­ota has helped the Ti­tans (4-5) win more games than in all of his rookie sea­son with seven games left.

“I’m glad he’s our quar­ter­back. There’s no ques­tion about it,” Ti­tans coach Mike Mu­larkey said.

Fans in Los Angeles be­lieve Goff could be their quar­ter­back, though coach Jeff Fisher has kept this year’s top pick on the Rams’ bench. Gan­non cred­its Fisher both for know­ing his quar­ter­back and all the pieces the Rams don’t have just yet to help Goff.

“You think for a sec­ond Jeff Fisher, who hasn’t had a win­ning team in a while, would just sit there and go, ‘We’re go­ing to go 6-10 or 7-9 what­ever, it is just be­cause we want to be safe?”’ Gan­non said. “He’s go­ing to put his best guy who gives him the best chance to win. The best guy right now is Case Keenum. It may not be the sex­i­est thing, but be­lieve me, their problems are a lot more ex­ten­sive than the quar­ter­back po­si­tion.”

Some quar­ter­backs, such as Tim Couch in 1999 with the ex­pan­sion Cleve­land Browns and even Archie

Man­ning with the New Or­leans Saints, found them­selves drafted by teams build­ing al­most from the ground up. Sur­vival meant as much liv­ing to play the next week rather than wor­ry­ing about any ex­tended ca­reers.

Hav­ing an of­fen­sive line al­ready in place, a go-to wide re­ceiver or tight end cer­tainly helps.

Prescott, the sev­enth quar­ter­back drafted this year, has won seven straight in Dal­las, fit­ting well into the of­fense with help from fel­low rookie run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott. Prescott al­ready has taken a hand­ful of fran­chise rookie records from Troy Aik­man, who went 0-11 in 1989, and has given Dal­las rea­son to think of keep­ing vet­eran Tony Romo on the bench longer once Romo is fully healthy.

Be­ing picked at the top of the draft is much more chal­leng­ing be­cause quar­ter­backs go to teams com­ing off los­ing sea­sons. Mar­i­ota missed four games as a rookie be­cause of in­juries, so Ten­nessee traded for run­ning back DeMarco Mur­ray and bol­stered its line this off­sea­son to help him. As good as Wentz looked win­ning his first three games, the Ea­gles need more help at wide re­ceiver, which they can’t add un­til the off­sea­son.

Ten­nessee de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dick Le­Beau has schemed against plenty of quar­ter­backs in his 58 NFL sea­sons. He notes Ben Roeth­lis­berger, the 11th pick over­all in 2004, win his first 13 starts in Pitts­burgh. Le­Beau has a sim­ple rea­son why some quar­ter­backs suc­ceed and oth­ers fail.

“The an­swer is those guys are spe­cial play­ers,” Le­Beau said.

FRANK FRANKLIN II — AP FILE

Ea­gles quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz walks off the field dur­ing a re­cent loss to Gi­ants. Car­son Wentz isn’t as per­fect as Ea­gles’ fans thought only a month ago.

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