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SPORTS EXTRA / NFL 2000 | THE NFL

Backup Plans

Those Who Don't Have a No. 2 Quarterback Ready to Go Might Be Doomed

August 26, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD

A year ago, we thought Kurt Warner was misspelled.

We thought the New York Jets had a chance to reach the Super Bowl with Vinny Testaverde.

We thought Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson would be the NFL's leading rushers.

We thought wrong.

The question shouldn't be, "Are you ready for some football?"

It should be "Are you ready for some MRIs?"

That's not to say the season will be a dud--Trent Green's knee injury gave rise to Warner's transcendent season for the St. Louis Rams, one of the great stories of this or any other NFL season.

The point is, who's ready?

Who can withstand a major injury--most important at quarterback?

In the age of parity and the salary cap, backup quarterback isn't always a priority--and that's one of the biggest gambles in sports.

All but eight teams turned to a second quarterback at some point last season, either because of injury of performance.

The only quarterbacks to start every game and play at a very high level were Warner--himself an obscure backup before Green's injury--Steve Beuerlein, Peyton Manning, Brad Johnson, Rich Gannon and Elvis Grbac.

Green Bay's Brett Favre also started every game--but did it with a sore thumb, and wasn't himself. New England's Drew Bledsoe started every game too--though some Patriot fans wish he hadn't.

The other 23 teams all made at least one change.

So let's take a look: Which are some of the teams that could be in trouble should their starter get injured or falter?

* Indianapolis--This is how the whole thing could crumble: Manning's backup is Kelly Holcomb. Point made.

* Jacksonville--Brunell has a history of injuries, the line is a shambles--and the backups are Jonathan Quinn and Jamie Martin.

* Carolina--Behind Beuerlein-- coming off five surgical procedures at 35--it's either Jeff Lewis or Dameyune Craig.

* Baltimore--Tony Banks' backup, Trent Dilfer, isn't playing as well as rookie Chris Redman.

* Detroit--Backup Mike Tomczak broke his leg, so behind Charlie Batch--still trying to recover from a broken bone in his knee in time for the first game--it's Stoney Case.

* Kansas City--After Grbac, choose between Warren Moon, who turns 44 in November, and Todd Collins.

* Cleveland--Oh, heck, what's the point?

Which are some of the teams in the best shape?

* Washington--Jeff George, owner Daniel Snyder's quarterback-in-waiting, had the NFL's third-best passer rating last season at Minnesota before the Vikings let him sign with Washington, content to go with Daunte Culpepper. One problem-- a quarterback controversy might loom.

* St. Louis--It's obvious: The Rams' backup is Green, the player good enough to start before his injury opened the door for Warner.

* Buffalo--Doug Flutie is recovering from a groin injury, but should be waiting if Rob Johnson gets hurt again.

* N.Y. Jets--It took a while to get past Rick Mirer to Ray Lucas after Testaverde's Achilles' tendon injury in the first game, but Lucas was solid down the stretch and the Jets are set.

* Tennessee--Neil O'Donnell was 4-1 as the starter when Steve McNair was injured.

* Denver--Gus Frerotte, solid at Detroit last season, is Brian Griese's backup.

* Pittsburgh--Kent Graham, but he might end up the starter, not Kordell Stewart's backup.

* Dallas--On name alone, you can't go wrong with Randall Cunningham.

Throw in the teams that have competition at quarterback to start with--Miami, San Francisco, San Diego--and figure they'd be all right with the alternative.

HEY, 'ROOK'

It's the year of the first-year coach--but so far, no sightings of a coach getting the mummify-the- rookie-in-tape treatment.

Who are the coaches with 0-0 NFL records?

* Dave Campo, Dallas

* Al Groh, N.Y. Jets

* Jim Haslett, New Orleans

* Mike Martz, St. Louis

* Mike Sherman, Green Bay

With the departures of Bill Parcells and Mike Ditka, the only active coaches with 100 NFL victories are Atlanta's Dan Reeves, Carolina's George Seifert and Indianapolis' Jim Mora. (Seattle's Mike Holmgren needs seven to reach 100.)

COME ON BACK

Two high-profile busts of recent drafts--Ryan Leaf and Ricky Williams--appear poised for comebacks, but withhold judgment: Leaf was good in the preseason as a rookie and lost the job during the season.

GAMES WITH BACK STORY

These aren't necessarily the best games of the season--though some of them qualify--but they are games with a little extra juice because of what happened in the past.

* Tennessee at Buffalo, Sept. 3: Bills still smarting over what Titans call "Music City Miracle," the controversial lateral that beat the Bills in the AFC wild-card game.

* Atlanta at Denver, Sept. 10: It's the Knee Bowl: Jamal Anderson and Terrell Davis see who has come back strongest from the knee surgeries that knocked them out last season. Also: Reeves, the Falcon coach and former Bronco coach, returns to Denver.

* New England at N.Y. Jets, Sept. 11: Bill Belichick returns to New York after shunning the Jets for the Patriots. It's not only the team he has to worry about, it's the tabloids.

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