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Changing Quarterbacks

Posted Sep 22, 2010

NFL teams seem to be quicker to make a move in a quest to improve

The Cardinals' Derek Anderson is entrenched at quarterback, but the Raiders decided to start Bruce Gradkowski this week instead of Jason Campbell.


Larry Fitzgerald noticed the TV in the locker room Wednesday – tuned to the NFL Network – as a story popped up explaining how Michael Vick now was the starting quarterback in Philadelphia over Kevin Kolb.

Fitzgerald sounded a little surprised Reid passed over Kolb for now and a lot surprised Vick has looked so good after spending two years away from the game and just one season back.

What Fitzgerald wasn’t surprised about was that the Eagles – or a handful of other teams around the league – have already been willing to swap out their quarterbacks just two weeks into the season.

“This game is about winning,” Fitzgerald said. “Whatever a coach feels is going to give his team the best chance to win, he’s going to do.

“The New York Giants, they are (struggling). We’re talking about a team that won the Super Bowl three seasons ago. And they are talking about that coach being on the hot seat – a perennial playoff football team. That shows you how fickle this league is. It don’t matter what you did two years ago. People just don’t care. What are you doing right now today? Are you having success with your quarterback play, that’s all that matters. In Tennessee, Vince Young, wins what, 10 of 11 down the stretch last year and he gets benched Week Two. That’s just how it is these days.”

Sunday, the Cardinals host the Raiders , who officially put Bruce Gradkowski into the lineup over Jason Campbell Wednesday. Rookie Jimmy Clausen is taking Matt Moore’s spot in Carolina. Ryan Fitzpatrick is replacing Trent Edwards in Buffalo.

Young will go back in for Tennessee even though Kerry Collins relieved him last weekend. If Luke McCown hadn’t blown out his knee, he might have permanently replaced David Garrard in Jacksonville. And none of this includes the injury replacements, like Charlie Batch in Pittsburgh, Shaun Hill in Detroit and possibly Seneca Wallace in Cleveland.

Once upon a time, NFL teams loathed to make a change at quarterback. To do so showed a serious problem.  

It still might, although coaches seem to be quicker on the trigger.

“I don’t know those situations,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I’m certainly not going to make a judgment on another team.”

Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson has been through quarterback switches in season a couple of times while playing for the Browns. That teams would make a move this soon doesn’t faze him.

“You have to win,” Anderson said. “You have to make the throws. You have to play well. You have to be a leader for your team and that’s the bottom line. I understand that and everybody who plays quarterback in this league understands that.”

Anderson has been under fire from a fan base thinking it wants a change with the Cardinals, although Whisenhunt is unlikely to make such a move. To begin with, Anderson’s backup is rookie Max Hall. Whisenhunt also has been steadfast in his belief Anderson will improve.

While Fitzgerald insisted otherwise, it’s tough not to think a quarterback change impacts the locker room greater than another position change. There’s a reason one of the topics of the past few weeks, for example, has been the concept of Anderson and Fitzgerald building chemistry together.

“Win or lose a lot of (responsibility) is going to go on the quarterback so (a change) is always a big deal,” Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “The way a team responds is what really matters. On some teams, it has no effect on the locker room.”

That’s why making a change is about walking a fine line. The Raiders just won last weekend, yet they are switching up (although Gradkowski played the second half). Back in 2004, then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green decided to replace Josh McCown with Shaun King the night before a game in Carolina. McCown hadn’t been playing great but the Cards had won four of six games. The next day, the Cards fell behind 28-0 at halftime in a blowout loss.

“Whatever the situation or position is, you’re doing nothing more than trying to put your best foot forward,” Oakland coach Tom Cable said. “When you start talking about quarterbacks, you’re talking about the one who gets all the attention. If you want to talk about the left tackle spot and (the Raiders) playing two guys, we can do that.

“Coaches want to win and you’re going to try and find the best combination of players to put on the field.”

And if there is a change, players find a way to adapt. That’s what they always do.

“You work to develop a trust with your quarterback,” wide receiver Steve Breaston said, “but no matter who is out there, you go carry out the game plan.”
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