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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

They've Taken Up New Arms

November 02, 2002|Sam Farmer

Remember 1998?

In some ways, it doesn't seem that long ago that John Elway was putting the finishing touches on his storied NFL career. Then again, if you're browsing the list of the league's current starting quarterbacks, those Elway days seem as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Just two weeks ago, the roster of starting quarterbacks included Michael Vick, Chris Redman, Chris Weinke, Quincy Carter, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Ray Lucas, Chad Pennington, Tommy Maddox, Marc Bulger, Drew Brees and Patrick Ramsey.

In a word: Who?

Consider this:

* The season is only halfway over, and 15 teams have turned to at least two quarterbacks as starters. Washington, Cincinnati, Carolina and St. Louis have rotated in at least three starters.

* Only four teams have starting quarterbacks who predate 1998 in their current roles: Jacksonville (Mark Brunell), Tennessee (Steve McNair), Green Bay (Brett Favre) and Arizona (Jake Plummer).

* Fourteen teams -- less than half the league -- are starting quarterbacks who have been on the job longer than 1 1/2 seasons.

The situation even baffles former San Francisco 49er Coach Bill Walsh, the league's preeminent quarterback guru.

"I can't explain why, but there needed to be a changing of the guard in recent years," Walsh said. "We were all wondering where all the quarterbacks went, just a year ago. I kept saying that the colleges are developing far more quarterbacks than ever, because all the colleges and high schools are throwing the ball now.

"Virtually every school throws it 30 or 40 times a game, so you're bound to develop good quarterbacks. There isn't any way to avoid it."

Walsh said several new starters in the current crop have caught his eye, particularly San Diego's Brees, Detroit's Harrington and Pennington of the New York Jets. But Atlanta's Vick is in a class of his own, Walsh said.

"When he came out of college, I wasn't sure he could really do it. I thought he was too inconsistent a passer," he said. "I wasn't sure if he was accurate enough, but it appears he is. He's a sensation. You have to deal with him differently."

The way Walsh sees it, good cornerbacks are in short supply, in part because "the glamour is out of the position" in high school.

"A lot of high school players who would make good corners would rather concentrate on playing running back," he said. "And when they get to college, they don't want to be tackling big fullbacks when they could be carrying the ball."

*

Personnel Approach

They were high school rivals at Loyola and Crespi, football teammates -- and roommates -- at UCLA, and now George Paton and Sean Howard will square off on national TV.

Well, sort of.

Paton, 33, is director of pro personnel for the Miami Dolphins, who play Monday night at Green Bay, where Howard, 33, is assistant director of pro personnel. They are two of the up-and-coming executives who could wind up as NFL general managers within a decade.

Both spend extensive time on the road scouting opponents and keeping tabs on every available player, from those cut by an NFL team to hopefuls from NFL Europe, Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League. They have both negotiated player contracts too, a process that allows Howard to make use of his University of Oregon law degree.

On a typical Sunday, Howard might be in New Orleans preparing a report on the Saints and making note of every nuance that doesn't necessarily show up on tape. He'll keep a detailed account of just about everything, whispering notes into his tape recorder.

"I'll spend a lot of time just watching what's happening on the sidelines," said Howard, a former Bruin linebacker who began his NFL career as a scout with the 49ers in 1999. "I'm looking to see if a guy's moving around gingerly on an ankle, or how a team runs personnel packages out on the field, or when do they break the huddle? How much time's left on the clock when they're snapping the ball? Tempo is huge."

Each Monday, Paton turns in a 50-page report on the upcoming opponent, a study that includes a detailed breakdown on all 53 players. He comes up with a list of "game tips" and presents them before the entire team when the Dolphins start their week.

"An offensive lineman will ask about a defensive end: What are his favorite moves? What are his weaknesses?" said Rick Spielman, Miami's vice president of football operations. "George has to know all aspects from a personnel standpoint. You can't fake it with these guys. Once you lie, you're going to lose your reputation."

Spielman brought Paton from the Chicago Bears, where they worked together under then-Bear coach Dave Wannstedt, now coach of the Dolphins. This is Paton's sixth season in the NFL. He played some low-profile professional football in Italy and Austria before working in computer sales, then as an assistant coach at Loyola.

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