On our desire to see kids play, now

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
11:41
AM ET
Unsatisfied with what we see, we want an alternative.

I understand this concept. In many aspects of my life, I live by it.

But in professional football, the alternative is cast as an alternative for a reason. Backups don’t start because their coaches judge them as inferior -- my word, not theirs -- to the guy ahead of them.

Recently, I’m struck by how many readers ask me about changes to some of these alternatives.

[+] EnlargeWhitney Mercilus
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireWith Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed ahead of him on the depth chart, Whitney Mercilus looks to remain a backup for the foreseeable future.
From Houston, I’m asked why the young receivers aren’t playing and if rookie outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus should be starting.

Well, the young receivers may have more explosive capabilities than Kevin Walter, but Gary Kubiak loves Walter’s precision, dependability and blocking. Those aren’t qualities a first- or second-year player typically possesses, and so Walter is going to continue to play more than the kids and get more chances than them.

Mercilus has flashed beautifully in increased opportunities. But Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are big-time players. Which one are you going to sit to play the rookie? I’m not sitting either of them. I’m just rotating Mercilus in to get the two starters some rest.

For Tennessee, I actually get questions about quarterback Rusty Smith.

He’s got a big arm, so when the Titans are way behind, shouldn’t he play ahead of Matt Hasselbeck?

In a word, no. The big arm hardly assures consistent deep pass-play connections. A trailing team faces a big pass rush, and he’s got minimal experience handling that. You play a third-stringer very rarely. You don’t look for reasons to get him in, you see reasons not to use him.

I understand craving alternatives. But let’s remember backups are backups for a reason.

An ascending player like Mercilus is ready to contribute. He’ll just have to wait for his time. We’re not sure what Keshawn Martin, Lestar Jean or DeVier Posey can do yet, but they are at the front end of careers. They are more about contributing a bit later than now. Smith might graduate from third-stringer to backup in another year or two, but in Week 9 of 2012 isn’t the time to force-feed him work to get a better gauge.

Coaches are not sitting guys they believe give them the best chance to win.

Sometimes they do stubbornly stick with veterans, refusing to give kids a chance. That’s not the case in anything we’ve been talking about.

The young players in question need to show continued patience. As do the people wanting to see them play more.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

Insider