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Blackledge Loses Job, but Not Confidence

November 02, 1986|DOUG TUCKER | Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As a first-round choice in the Great Quarterback Draft of 1983, Todd Blackledge figured to be anywhere but on the bench.

But there he sits.

After three years as Bill Kenney's understudy in Kansas City, Blackledge was handed the starting job last May by Chiefs' Coach John Mackovic. Two weeks ago, after the Chiefs dropped to last place in total offense, Mackovic handed the job back to Kenney.

Though his NFL career hasn't moved along nearly as smoothly or swiftly as the five other first-round quarterbacks taken in the talent-rich 1983 draft, Blackledge says his time is coming.

"There are better days ahead for me," he said. "My plan of attack right now is to continue to work the way I've worked all through this season, training camp and off-season. I have to approach each game as if I were going to start because the worst thing that could happen is for me not to be ready if I'm needed.

"I'm just trying to keep a good outlook on my career."

Blackledge completed 77 of 169 passes through 6 1/2 games this season for 998 yards. He also threw seven interceptions. He was lifted for Kenney in the second half of the Chiefs' Oct. 19 game against San Diego after floating a screen pass into the arms of defensive end Leslie O'Neal, who returned it for a touchdown.

Kenney preserved the Chiefs' lead over San Diego and was effective in a 27-20 victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday that gave the Chiefs a 5-3 record. Barring an injury to Kenney, the NFL is unlikely to see much more of Blackledge this season.

"In high school and college you tend to think in terms of four-year periods," Blackledge, a graduate of Penn State, said. "But in the NFL, you start thinking in terms of a career. My career certainly hasn't started the way the others' have, or the way I wanted it to start. But that doesn't mean it can't end the way I want it to."

By others, Blackledge means fellow quarterbacks Dan Marino, John Elway, Tony Eason, Ken O'Brien and Jim Kelly. Marino and Eason have already been to the Super Bowl; all are starters.

On draft day 1983, Mackovic personally picked Blackledge, who led Penn State to the national championship in 1982 with a victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Blackledge, the son of Pittsburgh Steelers' assistant coach Ron Blackledge, was the second quarterback and seventh player taken in the first round.

Elway, from Stanford, was the the No. 1 overall choice, landing in Denver after a trade from the then-Baltimore Colts.

The 14th pick belonged to Buffalo, which went for Kelly of Miami, Fla. Immediately following the Bills was New England, grabbing Eason from Illinois. With the 24th choice, the New York Jets opted for O'Brien, a little-known passer out of Cal-Davis.

Then the Miami Dolphins, who had gone to the Super Bowl the season before, used the next-to-last choice in the first round for Pitt's Marino.

"I don't know any of those guys real well, although I've met them all," Blackledge said. "Our careers have taken some different paths up to this point, that's for sure."

Except perhaps for Kelly who played in the USFL before joining the Bills, Blackledge went to the weakest team.

"I'm not sure if that's worked against me as much as the lack of actual playing time and the opportunity to play has worked against me," he said. "I think that would be the most significant comparison to make between myself and those other quarterbacks."

After his demotion, Blackledge said he talked to his father every day for five days.

"A lot of times it's hard to distinguish between the coach and the father coming out in him," he said with a chuckle. "We don't talk too much about the mechanics of the quarterback position. He has a lot of respect for my quarterback coach, Pete McCulley."

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