NFL: Rookie quarterbacks ready to start

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 9, 2012

By Jerry Brewer
Scripps Howard News
Warren Moon was right. He’s not the trash-talking type, so we’ll have to do it for him.
Last spring, Moon put his Hall of Fame neck on the line, defended Cam Newton and even proclaimed that pre-draft criticism of the quarterback carried racist undertones. That ignited a national debate and left Moon open to ridicule if Newton proved him wrong.
Instead, Newton — once considered disingenuous, immature and, for many, incapable of running a sophisticated pro-style offense — turned out to be even more than Moon boldly declared he could be.
Newton set an NFL rookie record with 4,051 passing yards. He rushed for 14 touchdowns, an NFL record for a quarterback. He became the first player in league history to throw for at least 4,000 yards and rush for at least 500. He is the clear top candidate for the league’s award for offensive rookie of the year. And now, the 22-year-old is atop everyone’s list of emerging young franchise quarterbacks.
Moon, the former Washington and Seahawks quarterback, was right but can’t even take credit for it. All credit must go to his fast-learning protege.
Newton is now the poster child of a youth movement at quarterback in the NFL. Quarterbacks are more precocious than ever. They’re developing faster than previous models, and as a result, teams are changing their attitudes about what young quarterbacks can handle.
Newton would be the runaway offensive-rookie-of-the-year choice — if people weren’t also impressed with Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 3,398 yards and helped the Bengals make the playoffs.
In addition, Minnesota rookie Christian Ponder started 10 games and had some decent moments. Jacksonville rookie Blaine Gabbert struggled, but he started 14 games, and plenty of good quarterbacks have had worse first seasons than Gabbert. And in more limited action, quarterback Jake Locker was impressive backing up Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee and solidified himself as a trustworthy future starter.
This rookie class is continuing a trend that goes back as far as 2004, when Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in 34 years to be honored as the offensive rookie of the year — and he was the unanimous pick. Since then, we’ve seen quarterbacks Vince Young (2006), Matt Ryan (2008) and Sam Bradford (2010) win the award. There have been other early success stories, too, including Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez providing defensive-minded teams just enough offense to make postseason runs.
It’s still foolish to judge a quarterback too harshly too soon. But signal callers are running sophisticated passing games at earlier ages now, and it means that an advanced caliber of quarterback is entering the NFL.
“Well, my opinion in the last few years has changed on what the quarterbacks can do coming out of college,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I would have told you, in years past as an NFL coach, that young guys can’t do it, and there were only a couple that ever did, and that wasn’t enough to make that an expectation that you could count on. But I think that’s totally shifted.”
It used to be that, unless a team had a Peyton Manning-like talent, it would sit its highly drafted rookie quarterback for most, if not all, of his first season. Sometimes, the quarterback would sit for two years. Not anymore.
“There’s a carry-over in the upbringing of quarterbacks that now is allowing them to transition much more quickly, and I think you can go with a young quarterback,” Carroll said. “A few years ago, I’d have said that you can’t. I don’t believe that anymore, and I think it’s all a product of the whole football world of growing in the confidence and belief in the throwing game.”
A few years ago, the worry was that college spread offenses were making the NFL transition too difficult. But quarterbacks are growing quickly anyway.
Moon saw it. Newton proved it.
Dare we predict the damage Andrew Luck might do as a rookie?
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(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,
The Associated Press
01/06/12 12:25