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Friday, November 21, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Starting rookie QBs a good idea, sometimes

Maybe handing Matthew Stafford the keys to the Edsel is a good idea.

The Detroit Lions' rookie, who has been designated as the starting quarterback by coach Jim Schwartz, could be the next Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco.

A year ago, Ryan (Atlanta) and Flacco (Baltimore) became the first rookie quarterbacks to start all 16 games and lead their teams to playoff berths. But there are always contributing factors to be taken into consideration.

While Ryan compiled a fine 87.7 passer rating and threw for 3,340 yards, he was augmented by a ground-gouging running game that ranked No. 2 in the NFL. Michael Turner, whose debut for the Falcons was a 220-yard game against Detroit in the 2008 opener, ran for 1,699 yards, the second highest individual total in the NFL. And Jerious Norwood proved for the third straight year that there are few better No. 2 backs in the league.

In Baltimore, meanwhile, Flacco jumped right from the University of Delaware to throwing to longtime great Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and tight end Todd Heap. No team relied more on its fullback - Le'Ron McClain put up 902 yards - and the Ravens added the 1-2 punch of Willis McGahee and Ray Rice at running back. Only three teams in the league rushed for more yards and, don't forget, Baltimore had the No. 2 defense in the NFL.

This is not to diminish what Flacco and Ryan accomplished. Both played extremely well and rallied teams from disastrous 2007 seasons - the Ravens were 5-11, the Falcons were 4-12 and both offenses ranked … well, let's just say they were rank.

The quarterbacks were the missing ingredients and, with plenty of help, had immediate impacts.

The Lions present a little different challenge. They were, and until further notice remain, the worst team in the NFL.

Plus, as northwest Ohio's pro football fans - whether they point their cars or channel changers east or north on fall Sundays - well know, the Flacco/Ryan success story doesn't always work.

The expansion Browns of 1999 - as opposed to the expansion-like Browns of 2009 - panicked after one game and a 25.2 passer rating from Ty Detmer and threw rookie Tim Couch right into the fire behind an offensive line that was anything but flame retardant. It started ugly, got uglier, and Couch has rarely been heard from since he and the Browns parted company following the 2003 season.

The 2002 Lions made Joey Harrington their top draft pick and offered him no better competition or backup than Mike McMahon over the next three seasons. By the end of '05, Harrington was gone from Detroit and, for the most part, as an NFL starter.

The current Lions did have competition for, and an option to, Stafford in veteran Daunte Culpepper. But Schwartz said Stafford clearly won the job and Culpepper said yesterday he'd been given "a fair opportunity" and supported the decision.

If Couch and Harrington proved anything, it is that young quarterbacks often are ill-served by being rushed into the starting lineup, especially with teams that lack many quality parts. But last year's results from Flacco and Ryan may have trumped that strategy. The NFL is a copy-cat league and it is an impatient league.

So, the first two quarterbacks selected in last spring's NFL draft, Stafford and Jets rookie Mark Sanchez, both of whom lengthened their pro odds by leaving college early, will be under center in their pro debuts.

Ready or not, the future is now.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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