NFL Nation: Jake Plummer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Somewhere, this week, in the expansive quiet that is northern Idaho, there was a man going through his own preparations as the clock winds down toward Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

"I've got to make sure we're all ready to go with the (satellite) dish, I don't want to miss a play," said one Jake Plummer.

Plummer, who was the Denver Broncos' honorary captain before last Sunday's divisional round win against the San Diego Chargers, just happens to be the last Broncos quarterback before Peyton Manning this past Sunday, to win a divisional round game and get to the AFC Championship Game. That 2005 Broncos team had stumbled into a home game for the conference championship when the Pittsburgh Steelers had upset Manning and the Indianapolis Colts the week before. Those Broncos certainly didn't make the most of it, the Steelers led 24-3 at halftime and went on to win, 34-17, on their way to a Super Bowl XL win.

Cornerback Champ Bailey is the only current Broncos player who played in that game.

For his part, Plummer has seen the Broncos plenty this season and having prepared to face New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- the Broncos defeated Belichick's Patriots in the divisional round following the 2005 season -- Plummer sees a few important items on the Broncos' to-do list.
Moreno
Things like:

Get running back Knowshon Moreno going. Moreno had a career-best 224 yards rushing in the Broncos' Nov. 24 loss to the Patriots on a career-high 37 carries. The Broncos rushed for 280 yards overall, working almost exclusively out of a three-wide receiver set.

"I think at times Knowshon can quite possibly be the MVP of that offense in the kind of situations you get in the playoffs," Plummer said. "Peyton's going to throw it in the red zone, he's going to get his touchdowns, but Knowshon is huge for them to keep things going.

"Knowshon is so good in the passing game, as a blocker in there and as a receiver, but if they get Knowshon going, then they have play-action, it keeps the rush off Peyton and when Peyton has the option of play-action, defenses, man, they don't know what to do with that offense then. Because they can come at you in the same action up front, run or pass, and Peyton sees those guys on defense coming up, he's going over the top."

Be ready to adjust. While every coach before every game talks about taking away something the opponent wants to do, Plummer said Belichick is simply one of the best at doing it.

"He's just always focusing in on stopping what you do well and then see if you have anything else in your back pocket, he almost never lets you beat him with what you do best," Plummer said. "With his own guys, he takes players and finds their strengths, rather than just trying to jam everybody into a system ... he has a way of getting those guys where they need to be and knowing how to shut down what you do well and seeing if you've got anything else in your repertoire. There will come a time in the game when the Broncos have to have other people make those plays.

"If the Broncos open it up a little bit, like they like to do, I could see Belichick attacking Julius (Thomas) and Montee (Ball) in the passing game. That could give them a little bit of trouble. I could just see Belichick, in search of a matchup, shift some things around to force Julius and Montee in to a tough choice in pass protection, where they're 1-on-1 with a defensive end or a linebacker. Julius, man, that guy is a superstar waiting to happen, but right now he has some things blocking that need some work and if they get the chance Belichick will try to create an issue there so the Broncos will have to have an answer."

Manage the moment. Plummer's former teammate, Broncos Ring of Famer Rod Smith said Thursday he didn't think some of the Broncos handled that end of things in the loss to the Steelers eight Januarys ago.

"We didn't have to go to Indy, Pittsburgh had to come to us and everybody was excited about that," Smith said. "And I'm like 'no, you gotta go play.' It's not about being excited about playing at home, it has nothing to do with it. You've got a football game ... and honestly I kind of saw a lot of our younger guys got lost in the fact we had a home game instead of getting lost in the fact of getting in that playbook, getting focused in, being disciplined on the things we need to do as a team and we didn't play well and we lost."

But both Plummer and Smith see players, such as Manning and Bailey, as key in the effort to keep their teammates dialed in. Smith said last January's loss should still sting the Broncos players who lived it and Plummer said it's often the team that handles that early-game emotional swirl the best is the one that plays closest to the form that got it this deep into January in the first place.

"You're asking me like I'm a pro, I went once to the AFC Championship," Plummer said with a laugh. "But the whole thing changes. ...The pressure is huge, but you have to try to approach it like any other game, it is just a football game, it's the same thing you played in Week 1. There's just so much more riding on it. You're one game away from the game everybody starts the season wanting to get to. The pressure mounts. There's no way to not feel it, but the guys who stay calm and do what they do best that's the key. With Peyton back there I kind of feel like, whatever storm New England brings, they'll come out on top and move on to New York."
Andrew Luck Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesQB Andrew Luck utilized a solid fourth-quarter plan, plus a little luck, to lift his Colts over Seattle.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, a man of few words when a microphone or tape recorder is in his face, couldn’t stop talking when asked about the player responsible for getting him the ball.

“It always helps having a guy like Andrew [Luck],” Hilton said. “He can do it both ways. On the ground. In the air. He’s so smart. He sees what the defense is doing. He’s smart. He’s strong. There's nothing he can't do.”

Hilton would have kept talking about "12" if not for his desire to head home after the Colts handed the Seattle Seahawks their first loss of the season, 34-28, at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

And in what's become typical Luck fashion, he did it in comeback style.

Sunday was the ninth fourth-quarter comeback by Luck in only 21 NFL games. Yes, nine of the Colts' 15 victories over the past two seasons have been been come-from-behind wins led by the second-year quarterback. Jake Plummer is the only other quarterback who can say he has nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his first two seasons. Luck still has 11 more games this season to top Plummer.

“That’s a good question,” Luck said when asked if he savors the come-from-behind victories. “Maybe there’s something special about the close ones. A win is a win. I’m sure you ask every guy in the locker room and they’re happy with a win.”

That, too, is typical Luck. He was not interested in talking about his individual success. It's all about what's best for the team.

Luck took another step Sunday in distancing himself from the rest of the quarterbacks taken in his draft class. Washington’s Robert Griffin III, the player taken right behind Luck, led the Redskins to the playoffs last season, but he has to prove he can last a full season and be just as mobile after having knee surgery in January.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson is the only other quarterback from that 2012 class to lead his team to the playoffs last season.

So Sunday was more than the Colts trying to give the Seahawks their first loss of the season. The subplot was whether Wilson could outplay Luck to close the gap between the two of them.

Wilson put on a show -- throwing for 210 yards and running for another 102 yards -- but Luck was the last one standing, finishing 16-of-29 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

“His last name fits the bill,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said about Luck. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”

The two were neck and neck in the passing game for more than three quarters.

Luck and Wilson had identical numbers of 15-of-27 for 210 yards passing at one point in the fourth quarter.

Seattle's stingy defense, seven fourth-quarter points allowed all season, or Luck pulling off another comeback?

Something had to give.

Luck, according to right tackle Gosder Cherilus, entered the huddle on the final play of the third quarter and told them “let’s go get this.”

The Colts went on a 14-play, 86-yard drive that ended with Donald Brown scoring from 3 yards out. Luck was 5-of-7 on the drive. His best throw, though, came when he threw back across his body to find Reggie Wayne for a two-point conversion and 31-28 lead.

“Truth is, we know we have to do our part because we know he’s going to do his part,” Cherilus said. “We know the kid has major heart. As long as we do our part -- I’m talking about all 10 of us -- we know he’ll do his. It’s one of those things where we keep playing and keep going we’ll be fine with him leading the way.”

The Colts were stuck in idle on their first three offensive series. They were three and out each series and Luck was 5-of-13 for 97 yards in the first half. Seventy-three of those yards came on a touchdown pass to Hilton.

Luck used the snap count more and got some help in the running game in the second half to help overcome their first-half performance. He was 11-of-16 for 132 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

“He just wills this team to a victory,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s able to stick to the process. It doesn’t matter what the score is, what the situation is, the guy just finds a way to make plays, finds a way to get out of the pick, finds a way to extend. Obviously, the guys believe in him. We can jump on his shoulders, jump on his back.”

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman added, "He executed down the stretch. That's all that counts."

Seattle’s secondary, the best in the league, has been rock solid all season, but that didn’t stop Luck from taking shots against them.

He was 4-of-5 for 140 yards and two touchdowns on passes of at least 15 yards.

“Against that team? Extremely difficult,” Pagano said. “That’s Andrew being Andrew. We’re very lucky -- no pun intended -- to have him.”

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The number is now one. Yes, after all of the games that have passed since, all of the players who have come and gone in the Denver Broncos' locker room since Halloween 2004, cornerback Champ Bailey now stands alone.

A party of one. He is the only player remaining who was in a Broncos uniform for a remember-when game against Michael Vick. At the time, Vick’s jersey sales were off the chart and he was the next level of athleticism with a power arm. Vick represented what the future of the position just might be.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoOn Oct. 31, 2004, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams tries to slow down the elusive Michael Vick.
When he was the guy, even those among the NFL’s elite would simply stop to watch when he had the ball in his hands and a small window of open space in front of him.

“At that time, no question, there wasn’t anybody really like him," Bailey said. “That’s how we looked at it that week. We put on the tape and you watched him and he just did things other guys weren’t doing, with speed nobody else had, really. That game, I still look at that even now like that’s still probably one of his best games of his career. We had no answer for what he brought that day."

On that day, Vick was 18-of-24 passing for 252 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-28 Falcons win that saw any memory of Jake Plummer's franchise-record 499 yards passing disappear in Vick's jetwash. Vick did not throw an interception and the Broncos sacked him just once. Vick also ran for 115 yards on 12 carries, including a 44-yard, double-take worthy effort on a third-and-3 play during the Falcons’ first possession of the day.

That was all before Vick’s arrest, his incarceration, his life’s rebound and his career resurrection in Philadelphia. Vick returns to Denver Sunday, his first trip back as a starting quarterback since the ’04 affair and he returns as a slightly different player, almost a decade older and once again on the cutting edge of whatever becomes of Chip Kelly’s offense in the NFL. Asked this week if he could recall the ’04 trip to Denver, Vick said; “I think Jake Plummer was the quarterback, Mike Shanahan was the coach ... and it’s not an easy place to play."

Reminded he had rushed for more than 100 yards in the game, Vick said with a laugh; “Well, I was a lot younger back then."

“He was a bigger threat running the ball back then, I believe," Bailey said. “But he’s still a threat, a great threat running the ball. But he was just on point that day. He didn’t show all that on tape in previous games. That was one of his best games of his career. I know it because he probably ran for 100 and threw for two-something ... I look back and I think that was a big moment for him, because I don't think I had seen him put a whole game together like that, running, throwing, in the pocket, on the move, until that day."

And there have certainly been times in Vick’s career when his NFL peers perhaps appreciated his athletic gifts more than the public at large. In Vick’s time in Atlanta, players often responded to any question that included “most dynamic" or “most athletic" or “toughest to defend" in it with Vick’s name.

“I think that’s true," said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, an eighth-year veteran. “Guys I knew would always be talking about how (Vick) played, what he did. And then I would talk to friends who weren't in the league or something like that and they would say they didn't see it, or whatever, but I think guys in this league have known what (Vick) can do."

And also in Kelly’s read-option attack Vick, who is suddenly the oldest player on the Eagles’ roster. Another sort of remake for the only quarterback in league history to have thrown for at least 20,000 yards and rushed for at least 5,000 yards in a career. He has a 400-yard passing game already this season -- 428 yards in the loss to the Chargers earlier this month -- and he’s also been sacked six times, by the Chiefs last week, as the Eagles try to settle in to a new way of doing things in a 1-2 start.

“But I just look at it now, he’s still doing those things, he’s still breaking off those big runs, escaping, all those things," Vickerson said. “It all looks the same to me."

Vick has been battered at times in his three previous seasons as the Eagles' starter. He missed three games each in the 2010 and 2011 seasons with rib injuries and missed six games last season after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys last Nov. 11. And questions have swirled about whether Vick is the long-term answer at quarterback as for Kelly's offense, or as a long-term an answer as a 33-year-old quarterback who is his team’s second-leading rusher can be. But as far as the Broncos are concerned those are decisions for another day by other people.

They see only Vick now, for the most part, as he was back in 2004.

“Michael Vick has been a talented football player as long as he’s been in the league," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “He’s been a guy that can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm … I kind of feel like that’s always been the case and in particular when he’s healthy and part of a good team."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you really want to feel what the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders rivalry should be, what many of those who fill the seats in each city in each football weekend expect it to be, you’re going to need a few things.

Like …

Gray hair.

A good memory, as in a really, really good memory. You know, almost Mensa.

VHS.

Oh, and quarterbacks. Game-changing, rivalry-stoking quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsQB play has helped Denver dominate its rivalry with the Raiders in recent seasons.
As the Broncos and Raiders prepare to open up AFC West play for each on Monday night, these two ships will again pass in the night. The Broncos, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, consider themselves a Super Bowl contender, complete with plenty of eight-figure contracts and a parcel of off-the-field drama in tow.

The Raiders are in Year 2 of not just a re-build job, but they have largely scrapped the lot and elected to start from the ground up. With that the team's decision-makers, including general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach (and former Broncos defensive coordinator) Dennis Allen, have handed the offensive keys, at least for the moment, to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, their latest hope behind center.

The bottom line is it’s been quite some time since this long-standing, annual battle between two of the AFL’s original eight, has been a give-as-good-as-you-get rivalry. Even with all of the road the two have traveled together, the fact is they have rarely been good together, facing off at the peak of their powers.

One of the two has most often been up, flexing potential postseason muscle, and the other has basically been the welcome mat. There have been just five seasons when both the Raiders and Broncos made the playoffs in the same year. And since the start of the 1992 season, they have both made the playoffs in the same year just once -- in 2000 when the Raiders won the division at 12-4 and the Broncos were a wild card at 11-5. That’s a long way from the zenith, the 1977 season when the two didn’t just meet in the playoffs, they met in the AFC Championship with a Super Bowl trip at stake.

Or as Broncos Ring of Famer Randy Gradishar put it; “Now that’s what a rivalry looks like. If people ever want to know what it looks like, what it feels like, that was it right there."

Since, however, there’s also the Shanahan effect. When Mike Shanahan was hired by the Broncos, it was his second stint as an NFL head coach since his first stint had ended rather unceremoniously in Oakland four games into the 1989 season. Shanahan and the late Al Davis also had a long, well-chronicled tiff over some bonus money after the firing, adding some emotional hot sauce. So, needless to say, Shanahan liked beating Davis’ team and made it an organizational priority. And Shanahan did it a lot, going 21-7 against the Raiders in his time with the Broncos.

Current coach John Fox is 3-1 against the Raiders in his two previous seasons on the Front Range. The only time since Shanahan’s first season in Denver the Raiders have had an upper hand against the guy wearing the big headset for the Broncos was during Josh McDaniels’ just-under-two-year tenure when the Raiders were 3-1 against the Broncos.

But like most things in the league these days, success and failure over the long haul can often be traced back to what happened at quarterback, how the draft went and just how many ill-conceived contracts were handed out to free agents who didn’t perform.

While the Broncos have certainly had their draft/checkbook stumbles over the past two decades, they have had fewer than the Raiders. Even as the quarterback search in the post-Elway era has had some ups and downs in Denver -- seven different quarterbacks have started against the Raiders for the Broncos since Elway retired following the 1998 season -- it has gone far better than the mistake-filled search behind center for the Raiders.

Brian Griese, Jay Cutler and Peyton Manning have been named Pro Bowl quarterbacks for Denver in the post-Elway era while Gus Frerotte, Tim Tebow, Jake Plummer and Manning each started postseason games for the Broncos over the past 15 years. By contrast the Raiders have started 13 different quarterbacks against the Broncos since the start of Shanahan’s first season in Denver. And Rich Gannon is the only Raiders quarterback to have started at least five consecutive meetings with the Broncos over that span.

Sure, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey will often say "we don't like them and they don't like us," when the division games come rolling by, but Broncos-Raiders is really a remember-when rivalry right now, something maintained and nurtured because folks feel it’s the right thing to do along the way. The bones are there, though, just waiting for both teams to cooperate and make it what all involved always seem to hope it will be.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In some ways folks look at Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler as Brock OMG — as in if Osweiler were ever to start a game, that would mean Peyton Manning did not. That all kinds of potential disasters would follow.

Other than the 2011 season he missed because of neck surgeries, few players, if any — quarterbacks or otherwise — have played more snaps than Manning since he entered the league in 1998. Still, people in the Rocky Mountain region have the worry beads out at times these days. Especially when they count Manning's birthdays and think about his continued rehab from those neck procedures that even Manning has conceded "change the way I do some things.'' And especially after Manning takes as big a hit as he took in the preseason loss in Seattle.

But when the Broncos make their final cuts to get down to 53 players later this week, Osweiler will be the team’s No. 2 quarterback, just like he was last season when he was a rookie, and just like the Broncos had him inked in on the depth chart from the moment the offseason started.

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
AP Photo/Jack DempseyAgainst St. Louis on Saturday, Brock Osweiler gave the Broncos hope that he can be at least somewhat like Peyton Manning should the need ever arise.
Saturday night against St. Louis, Osweiler offered a glimpse of what he can do with a little time to do something. And that may really be the best thing that came out of the game.

“We like where Brock is right now,’’ Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said after a recent practice. “He’s shown us improvement, work ethic and the ability to learn and handle the position and he appreciates the position he’s in, the opportunity he has.''

For the first time in this preseason, Osweiler also got some starters around him. He entered the game at the start of the second half and enjoyed two possessions with the first-team blockers and receivers.

The Broncos went three-and-out on the first drive, with Osweiler playing a little too fast and things looking a little choppy. But the next time the Broncos got the ball Osweiler took the team on an 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive, completing 5 of 6 passes for 58 yards along the way.

The Rams' coaches noticed Osweiler's arm strength, how the 6-foot-8 quarterback can see over the rush, even as the defenders close in, and several said so following the game. Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer has said he likes what he sees from Osweiler, especially the ability “to spin it.’’

“It felt good,’’ Osweiler said. “To be out there with all of those guys, just a great opportunity to see where I am, what I have to work on.’’

Osweiler, who in the first two preseason games was sacked seven times and spent much of the rest of the time trying to avoid trouble, showed the full slate of offerings against the Rams — a powerful arm (as well as the poor decisions that sometimes come with it), good mobility, a firm grasp of what was a limited game plan and, perhaps most important, potential.

Asked if the opportunity to work with the starters was good for Osweiler, Broncos coach John Fox said, “Yeah, for his confidence. He’s been thrown out there with some other guys so far in the first two games. And I thought he operated pretty good. A couple of poor decisions, like any other young player. But I thought he did some good things as well.”

Osweiler finished with eight possessions that resulted in two touchdowns, a field goal, a fumbled snap, an interception and three punts. Still, it’s easy to see when a team responds, or doesn’t respond, to a quarterback.

The Broncos’ decision-makers like what they see from Osweiler day-to-day in the huddle and how those around him react to him. He’s had more freedom to make calls at the line of scrimmage in both practice and games.

Perhaps most importantly, he is an early riser.

Many inside the Broncos' Dove Valley complex say that when Manning, notorious for getting up early and getting right down to it, arrives each day, Osweiler is already there, ready to go.

Which is how the Broncos want him to be, hope he can be. Ready to go.

In the middle of a cold January night, the Chicago Bears hit a brilliant home run. Either that, or they struck out wildly. I just don't see much gray area in their decision to hire Marc Trestman as their next head coach, a man who was once a hot coaching candidate but was so thoroughly rejected by NFL teams that he fled to the CFL five years ago.

The Bears were so excited about hiring Trestman as their next head coach that they announced it in a press release issued at 4:07 a.m. local time. His arrival is either a stroke of genius for general manager Phil Emery, who clearly sought an offensive guru for this role, or a classic case of overthinking a process in hopes of finding the perfect candidate in an imperfect world.

There was a time when Trestman was the Mike McCoy of the NFL -- the league's top young offensive assistant with an impressive résumé of success who seemed destined for a head coach's job. That time, quite frankly, was more than two decades ago and predates the teen years of most players on the Bears' roster.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul ChiassonMarc Trestman led the Montreal Alouettes to three appearances in the Grey Cup, including consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010.
Trestman's offenses were explosive and innovative and loved by the quarterbacks who ran them. In recent days, some of those quarterbacks have advanced the cause of a coach they feel was unfairly passed over. We've heard from Rich Gannon and Steve Young, among others. They've spoken of Trestman's work with them, along with his success in developing a long list of other quarterbacks that include Bernie Kosar, Jake Plummer and Scott Mitchell. And Trestman's biggest benefactor might be former Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant, who hired him with the Minnesota Vikings in the mid-1980s.

You would be excused for a double-take after reading those names. Grant retired for good in 1985. Kosar has been out of the NFL for 17 years. Young's last season with Trestman was 1996. Mitchell last played in 2001. Today's NFL players probably view Gannon, the league's MVP in 2002, as a television analyst more than a contemporary.

In an industry in which teams are always looking for the next great head coach, Trestman was passed over repeatedly and without fail. His NFL success dates back to a long-gone era in a fast-moving league.

So in my view, Emery has either plucked a savant with exceptional ability to adapt over time or he has hired a relic based on a profile -- smart, innovative with head-coaching success -- whose window closed a long time ago. As we noted earlier this week, men of Trestman's age (57) almost never get a chance to be a first-time NFL head coach. Fair or not, general managers and owners value recent success and surely connect it to understanding the latest trends in the league.

Trestman's run as an NFL assistant began in 1985 -- when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was 2 years old -- and ended around 2002. His last NFL job, before he returned to the college ranks and later moved to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, was in 2004. Eight years is a long time to be away from the day-to-day workings of an industry.

To be clear, that alone doesn't make Trestman a bad hire or even over the hill. It means he is unique relative to the way NFL teams have typically done business in recent years, and it's why I think his chances to be a brutal strikeout are just as high as the possibility that he is a monster home run.

Living in Minnesota for the past 13 years, I can't tell you how many people I've heard speak reverentially about Trestman, a native of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park who played at the University of Minnesota. Those people range from Grant to Gannon to people Trestman went to high school with. They all believe he is a brilliant offensive strategist and quarterback guru, one whose professorial and quiet demeanor perhaps clouded the view of NFL teams who questioned his ability to command a room and lead an entire team. His name has been championed for every head-coach opening the Vikings and the University of Minnesota have had since I've lived here, and yet he has never received serious interest.

In terms of profile, Trestman fits everything you would imagine a general manager such as Emery would want. He has previous success in developing quarterbacks and has the capacity to elevate Cutler's game if the quarterback buys in. His ego is small enough, by all accounts, to trust the front office with all personnel moves. He was humble enough to take a CFL job and good enough to win two Grey Cups in the process.

But any skepticism is completely understandable. That previous NFL success is in many cases decades old, with schemes whose popularity have waned and with quarterbacks who haven't played in a long time. His success in Canada is better than the alternative, but the CFL is undeniably a different game at a lower level of competition with players of dissimilar mindsets than those in the NFL.

Without question, hiring Marc Trestman was a courageous decision. There are plenty of people who consider it brilliant and decades in the making. The bottom line, however, is that most of the NFL rendered its judgment on him -- right or wrong, fair or otherwise -- a long time ago. Are the Bears smarter than everyone else? We'll soon find out.
For years, the theme in Denver was the Broncos were searching for their next John Elway.

Leave it to Elway to finally get the job done. It’s been a windy road at the most important position on the field in Denver since Elway -- who became Denver’s top football decision-maker last year -- retired after the 1998 season and back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

The Broncos now have greatness at the position again in the form of Manning. Let’s review what has happened during the often frustrating journey between Elway and Manning in Denver:

Brian Griese

Years as Denver’s starter: 1999-2002

Comment: Griese had the impossible task of replacing Elway. He had his moments, but he was not a special player and Denver couldn’t handle seeing the dip at the position.

Jake Plummer

Years as Denver’s starter: 2003-06

Comment: Plummer was probably better than he was given credit for. He won his share of games in Denver, but, again, he wasn’t a special player.

Jay Cutler

Years as Denver’s starter: 2006-08

Comment: He is the poster boy of Denver’s frustration at quarterback in its post-Elway existence. Cutler flourished under coach Mike Shanahan and he seemed like he was on his way to being an elite player for Denver. But he famously clashed with Shanahan’s replacement, Josh McDaniels, and he was shipped off to Chicago. It changed the course of the organization that has been felt all the way until Manning’s agreement to come to Denver.

Kyle Orton

Years as Denver’s starter: 2009-11

Comment: Acquired in the Cutler deal, Orton did a nice job for Denver, but he was just a journeyman.

Tim Tebow

Yeas as Denver’s starter: 2010-2011

Comment: He was McDaniels’ parting gift to Denver. Tebow started 16 games in Denver and it was a wild scene. But Elway was never comfortable with Tebow’s ability to be an NFL passer, and now it appears Tebow will be another quarterback who will be shown the door in Denver.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting the Raiders will sign Dave Rayner to kick Sunday against Kansas City.

Star Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski has a hamstring injury. There is hope he will be back to play when the Raiders return from their bye at home Nov. 6 against Denver.

Losing Janikowski, even for a game, is a hit for the Raiders. He has an amazing leg and he has shown great accuracy this season, making 12-of-13 field-goal attempts. The addition of Rayner means the Raiders are going to have to get as close to the end zone as possible. With Janikowski, the chance for points is still in play if the Raiders can get to their opponent's 40-yard line.

Rayner, 28, was chosen by the Raiders after he was among a group of kickers to try out Friday. The Raiders’ will be his eight NFL team. He has also played with the Chiefs and Chargers, both in 2007.

In other AFC West nuggets Saturday:

An Insider piece looks at the winner label on new Denver starting quarterback Tim Tebow and whether it will hold true in the NFL.

Congrats to former Kansas City and San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer. He led his UFL team, the Virginia Destroyers, to the league title Friday. And people said Schottenheimer couldn’t win when it counts.

Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine offers a scouting report on Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers, who will face the Jets on Sunday.

Former Denver quarterback Jake Plummer feels for former Denver starter Kyle Orton. Like Orton, Plummer was replaced as the Broncos’ quarterback during the season (in 2006). He abruptly retired after the season.

As expected, Jackie Battle is the Chiefs’ lead runner. Why not? He had 119 yards on 19 carries in Week 5. He needs to be given more opportunities to show he can salvage the Chiefs’ run offense in light of Jamaal Charles’ season-ending knee injury.

48 NFC West starters since Manning debut

September, 8, 2011
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Cool note from ESPN Stats & Information: First-year San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the last quarterback other than Peyton Manning to start a regular-season game for the Indianapolis Colts.

That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.

The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?

For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.

A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
  • There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
  • Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
  • Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
  • Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
  • Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
  • Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.

The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.

The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.

Big Question: Rex Ryan Coach of the Year?

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
5:40
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If the Jets advance to the Super Bowl, would Rex Ryan be the best coach in the NFL?


FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Peyton Manning in Lucas Oil Stadium, Tom Brady in Gillette Stadium and Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field.

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets head coach Rex Ryan
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaIf Rex Ryan completes another improbable playoff run, is he the league's best coach?
That's the gauntlet New York Jets coach Rex Ryan must traverse.

And if he makes it through still alive and advances to the Super Bowl, then Bill Belichick, Lovie Smith, Todd Haley or anybody else who wins a 2010 Coach of the Year Award ought to ship it on over to One Jets Drive.

The sixth-seeded Jets can accomplish a rarity if they defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for the AFC Championship. Wild-card teams have reached the Super Bowl before, but only one team ever has knocked off the first, second and third seeds to do it.

The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were the first, but the quarterbacks they faced in those playoffs were Carson Palmer, Manning and Jake Plummer. Not exactly a Murderer's Row.

Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger have won six Super Bowls and played in eight. They have a combined 32-17 postseason record.

"That's a pretty strong task when you mention guys like that," said Tom Flores, who coached the first wild-card champions, the 1980 Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl history. "They've been there before. They've experienced being in big games before and winning big games before.

"You're going against the best. There's no unknowns there."

In addition to the superstar opposing quarterbacks, the Jets are venturing into some of the most difficult venues in any sport.

Flores got past an impressive group of quarterbacks for his first Super Bowl (he won another two years later as a division champ): Ken Stabler, MVP Brian Sipe and future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts.

But that lineup isn't as tough as what the Jets are facing. Flores sees Sunday's game being less intimidating than their showdown against the Patriots.

"Their biggest hurdle was in New England," Flores said. "That was almost impossible to beat them there."

Unfortunately for Ryan, awards like coach of the year are based on regular-season results.

He led the Jets to a 11-5 record, but they faded down the homestretch. Their lopsided 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Week 13 followed the next week by an ugly home loss to the Miami Dolphins erased any chance of Ryan winning honors.

But if Ryan can navigate this rugged playoff stretch and make it to the Super Bowl, then we'll know who really deserves to be considered the best.

"Well, I can say this: It's not easy," Ryan said. "I don't know who's next. [Terry] Bradshaw?

"Clearly, we have a ton of work to do to pull this off. But we think we're the men for the job, and we're going to find out Sunday."

Panthers now must focus on offense

January, 10, 2011
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It looks like Ron Rivera will be the new head coach in Carolina, but he might not be the most important hire the Panthers make.

The Panthers believe that who they hire as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach will be almost as important as who they hire as the head coach. They feel so strongly about this that team officials might try to steer Rivera toward hiring certain offensive coaches, and one name you should keep an eye on is Marc Trestman.

He’s been coaching Montreal in the Canadian Football League, but Trestman has a long history as an NFL coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Although this logic didn’t apply with Bill Cowher, there’s another reason Trestman might be on Carolina’s radar. He has a home in the Raleigh area and lives there during the CFL’s offseason. Trestman did a stint at North Carolina State before heading to Montreal.

Carolina owner Jerry Richardson has made it very clear he expects the new coach to improve an offense that was dismal last season and predictable throughout much of the John Fox era. With Andrew Luck electing to stay at Stanford and not enter the NFL this year, it’s unlikely the Panthers will use the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on a quarterback.

They could draft one later or they could target a quarterback in free agency. The Panthers realize they can’t sit still at quarterback, although there are people within the organization who believe that Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike still have the potential to develop into decent NFL quarterbacks. The belief is that Clausen and Pike didn’t have a chance to succeed as rookies because they weren’t getting great coaching and were in an offensive system that didn’t give them a chance to prosper.

Through his career, Trestman has worked with Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon and Jake Plummer in seasons where those quarterbacks put up big numbers.
The Great Debate series wouldn’t be complete this year without a discussion about Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow.

Tebow is one of the most talked-about players in the NFL and he hasn’t even played in a regular-season game. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Florida is a polarizing wonder. Tebow’s NFL future has been serious water-cooler conversation ever since Denver shocked the NFL by trading three draft picks to move up and take him with the No. 25 pick in April. Everybody has an opinion and the opinions vary.

And that is the case with ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and AFC West blogger Bill Williamson. Clayton is taking the stance that Tebow’s game will not translate to the NFL, while Williamson believes it will.

Let’s get started:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Chris SchneiderSome have suggested Tim Tebow's sidearm throwing motion cannot be fully corrected.
John Clayton: Bill, we were at Broncos camp at the same time, which is why I’m surprised we have come to such different opinions. Because I know you so well, I know you are an optimist. Like most people, you would like to see Tebow succeed as a quarterback. I would like to see him succeed too. At the moment, though, I don’t see it in the immediate future and when I say immediate future, I’m thinking the next two, maybe three, years.

Remember how we watched Tebow throw with the proper mechanics in warm-ups. He kept the ball high and was consistent with his release point in pre-practice. Then we watched practice and some of the old habits returned. He would throw the ball with more of a sidearm delivery. At times, there would be a little hitch in the throw. The release was slow and sometimes the passes weren’t accurate.

In sports, it’s hard to change habits. While it’s possible for him to fix the delivery in time, it’s going to take at least two years. I give Josh McDaniels credit, he recognized the dilemma and covered the organization by giving Kyle Orton a one-year contract extension. Both of us agree Orton is good, not great. It’s also nice that he recognizes that both of us respect his abilities, leadership and the way he runs an offense.

What I like most about watching Tebow is his dedication. He won’t fail because of a lack of effort. How about the extra stretching and muscle-building exercises he does at practice? Too bad we can’t find a "throw doctor’" we can send him to for a quick fix.

Bill Williamson: Mechanics is a fair enough place to start on Tebow. That, of course, is the biggest knock on him. He has an awkward delivery, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t think it’s a sure sign of failure for a quarterback. Philip Rivers doesn’t have the prettiest motion in the league, nor did the late Steve McNair. Rivers is an elite player and McNair was an NFL MVP. They were able to adjust in time and Tebow will have time.

Even though we will see Tebow as a rookie in special formations such as the Wildcat, he probably won’t start until 2012 unless there is an injury to Orton. Rivers and McNair sat and they were better for it. Plus, Tebow already has made strides in a short time under McDaniels’ guidance. He’s a much better quarterback today than he was the day he was drafted four-plus months ago. He got better as the offseason program went on and he made improvements in training camp and in the preseason. Tebow’s delivery appeared to shorten as the preseason went on. He is working on improving himself. Imagine what is going to happen when the learning curve continues for two years?

Plus, several NFL folks I have talked to, including Rivers, say that Tebow doesn’t necessarily have to refine his entire motion, just naturally work on it and still be the player he is comfortable being. I think taking this player’s delivery and making that the premise for his ultimate failure may be a tad short-sighted.

JC: Because you covered the Broncos in Denver, you can appreciate this: Denver is one of the toughest cities to be an NFL quarterback, and I think the Broncos made a big mistake by hyping him up after the draft.

The biggest mistake was making him a first-round pick. Quarterbacks taken in the first round tread on John Elway’s turf. Those who tread on Elway’s turf get worse than turf toe. They eventually become unemployed. The worst I remember was Tommy Maddox. He came to town when Elway was still a top quarterback. He eventually had to go into Arena Football and then the Steelers to have any kind of a successful career. The quarterback expectations eventually caught up to Brian Griese and Jake Plummer.

Now, here comes Tebow, perhaps the greatest college leader of our time. By him being taken in the first round, Tebow jerseys flew out of stores. Fans expected his college skills to translate into the NFL with instant success. Columnists in town took their sides, and some of the most influential called for McDaniels to have guts and just go with Tebow. Had that happened, Tebow might be destined for the Arena League.

In Denver, as you know, good isn’t good enough when it comes to quarterbacks. Griese was kicked away because he was a 60-percent thrower but a 50-percent winner. Plummer’s time ran out because he was a 50-percent thrower and a 60-percent winner. The standard in Denver is Elway, the ultimate arm and the ultimate winner. He carried the Broncos. Tebow can’t do that right away and I’m not sold he ever will. Even if he fixes his bad throwing mechanics, he has the chance to start his career as a 50-percent thrower. Because the talent around him is suspect, Orton, who is good, is going to struggle to make the Broncos a 50-percent winner this season. That means Tebow would have better than a 50-50 chance of being a disaster.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireTim Tebow's "Friar Tuck" haircut is just one example of him being a team guy.
BW: John, I think any team that would have drafted Tebow would have pumped him up. It goes with the territory of drafting a quarterback in the first round. Select Tebow in the first round and the situation magnifies greatly. This was a great draft with several top-flight players and Tebow stole the draft. The draft was all about the No. 25 pick. That wasn’t the case last year when Miami drafted Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis at No.25.

Tebow brings electricity. It’s because he has great intangibles. I know intangibles don’t pay the bills, but they can be a great difference-maker. Tebow has special intangibles. People gravitate toward him, including his teammates.

This whole Tebow Mania deal in Denver had potential to be a disaster. Tebow’s jersey instantly became the biggest seller in the NFL and Tebow is Topic A in Denver. This is the most popular team in the state of Colorado and all anyone wants to talk about is the rookie quarterback. That could have led to jealousy and hostility. It hasn’t happened.

It hasn’t happened because Tebow immediately earned the respect of his veteran teammates by being humble and working hard. Veterans such as future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey have been wowed by Tebow’s work ethic and attitude. Remember that hideous Friar Tuck haircut Tebow's teammates gave him prior to an open scrimmage? Tebow didn’t fret. He embraced the hazing. He’s a team guy.

During the preseason, his teammates have remarked how Tebow already has controlled the huddle. The Broncos believe in Tebow just as his teammates at Florida did. Elway and John Lynch have raved about Tebow’s intangibles after meeting him. If you impress these two guys, you have something going for you.

JC: After we left Broncos camp, I watched Tebow’s first preseason game and came to another disturbing conclusion. Because Tebow is fearless, I worry about his health.

That touchdown run he had in his first preseason game was exciting, but it also reminded me of the pounding Tebow took in college trying to get Florida to be a great college power. As a college quarterback, Tebow was bigger and more powerful than a lot of the linebackers and defensive backs trying to tackle him. In the pros, he’s a target and I worry about him getting concussions or more injuries. That preseason touchdown run bruised his ribs, and the injury was a result of Tebow not playing it safe. That’s the style that made him so good in college and it’s the style that could make his career ever so short in the NFL.

As great as Tebow is as an athlete, he runs a 4.7 40, which isn’t particularly fast for a NFL quarterback. His footwork isn’t the greatest either. In many ways, Tebow looks like a combination of Steve Grogan and Joe Kapp. Sorry for going old school on you, buddy, but the point I’m trying to make is what worked for Grogan and Kapp back in the day doesn’t work now in a league dominated by great passers.

Michael Vick is a better athlete and better thrower than Tebow will ever be and I’m not sold he can be a winning quarterback in the post-2005 NFL, which is dominated by quarterbacks who are accurate and can run the no-huddle flawlessly. Vince Young is the ultimate compromise that might work because he’s a 6-foot-5 quarterback who is faster than Tebow and is always looking downfield when he rolls out of the pocket. I fear Tebow tucking the ball away and just running, absorbing a big hit.

I do think Tebow’s in good hands with McDaniels now that Orton will be the starter for the next two years. I just hope he stays healthy, which he will if they groom him to be an eventual backup and see where he is as a developmental quarterback by 2012.

BW: John, I don’t think there is any gray area. I don’t think Tebow is going to be a decent backup. He is either going to be a star or be a failed experiment. And I don’t see him failing. He is simply not going to allow himself to fail.

In one of my conversations with Tebow, he admitted that he is afraid of failure. He is afraid to let down his coaches, teammates and family. The fire burns. That’s what McDaniels saw during the famous combine meeting when the Broncos’ brass fell in love with Tebow.

I have talked to countless folks about Tebow. There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether his game translates to the NFL. One is that Tebow is so focused and so determined that there is no way he’ll fail. The other is that he already has gotten all he can out of limited ability and has peaked as a player. Two head coaches have told me that, as have a couple of general managers.

However, there are many personnel folks who think Tebow will thrive under McDaniels’ guidance. I point to the immense improvement he already has made as evidence that Tebow has not peaked. He learns from his mistakes and he gets better. He reads defenses and senses oncoming defenders better than he did a month ago. He handles the pocket better than he did earlier in camp. Tebow is an ascending player. There’s little doubt in my mind.
Of all the reasons Brett Favre might cite for playing one more season, I think we've found the most interesting. Jason Vida of ESPN's Stats & Information points out that Favre certainly won't want to be known as the best quarterback in the history of the NFL to throw an interception on the final pass of his career.

Favre
Favre
As you might have heard, New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Favre at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship Game, and the Vikings did not get a possession in overtime. If that turns out to be the last pass of Favre's career, he would immediately jump to the top of a well-researched list Vida recently sent my way.

So check it out as we continue to count down the minutes until the start of training camp:

10. Kordell Stewart (Dec. 28, 2003)

9. Jake Plummer (Dec. 31, 2006)

8. Scott Mitchell (Nov. 25, 2001)

7. Jim Harbaugh (Nov. 12, 2000)

6. Trent Green (Nov. 23, 2008)

5. Phil Simms (Jan. 15, 1994)

4. Drew Bledsoe (Oct. 23, 2006)

3. Ken Stabler (Oct. 21, 1984)

2. George Blanda (Dec. 21, 1975)

1. Sonny Jurgensen (Dec. 22, 1974)

Bradford, McNabb and the Rams

March, 4, 2010
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Evading a question is one thing. Issuing a flat denial is another.

So, if the Rams quickly move for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb when the trading period opens at midnight ET, I'd be a little surprised.

McNabb
McNabb
Bradford
Bradford
"There's been no talks about Donovan," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo told Sirius radio's Scott Ferrall on Wednesday night.

Pressed further, Spagnuolo said, "No, there were no conversations."

Separately, Rams vice president Kevin Demoff used an NFL.com chat to explain how difficult it can be to draft good quarterbacks after the first round -- something to keep in mind as the Rams decide whether to draft Sam Bradford first overall.

"One thing that should be noted is the success rate of quarterbacks drafted in the second round is far worse than that of those drafted in the first round," Demoff wrote. "The only second-round quarterback to make the Pro Bowl in recent memory was Drew Brees, and he would have been a first-rounder if there had been 32 teams in the NFL when he was drafted."

Kordell Stewart (1995 draft) and Jake Plummer (1997) went to Pro Bowls as second-round choices, although neither enjoyed exceptional careers by elite quarterback standards.

"I believe at the end of the year, 18 of the 32 quarterbacks starting in the NFL were first-round picks, and the next most prolific round was undrafted," Demoff wrote. "If you look at the playoffs last year, nearly all of the starting quarterbacks were first-rounders, with the exception of Brees, Brady and Warner, who all could be in the Hall of Fame. The percentages are much better in the first round, but with the reward comes great risk."

From 1996 to 2006, about 41 percent of first-round quarterbacks became Pro Bowl players. The rate dropped to 22 percent in the second round, 13 percent in the third round, 6.7 percent in the fourth round and zero percent in the fifth and seventh rounds. Nearly 17 percent of sixth-rounders became Pro Bowlers (Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger and Derek Anderson).

I did not count quarterbacks drafted from 2007 forward, figuring they were still early in their careers. Also, quarterbacks drafted earlier probably received extra chances to succeed.

Shanahan knows what a QB looks like

February, 26, 2010
2/26/10
4:18
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Mike ShanahanAP Photo/Darron CummingsNew Redskins coach Mike Shanahan held court with the media at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- For years, Mike Shanahan hasn't had a presence at the NFL combine. Even with Broncos beat writers staking out every exit of his hotel, Shanahan's stealth-like approach allowed him to get in and out of Indy without being noticed.

That's what made his appearance Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium so unusual. He arrived at 10:45 a.m. ET and spent more than an hour visiting with reporters and other bystanders. At one point, Shanahan said, "Two more questions, guys." Then he stayed and did one-on-ones for the next 30 minutes. I'm not saying Shanahan's going to turn into an open book, but it's obvious that he's now the face of the Washington Redskins.

Now, if he'd just come out and tell us who he's going to take with the No. 4 pick in April's draft. Shanahan was predictably coy with most of his answers, although he didn't hide his passion for free-agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson when I broached the topic.

But the main thing on everyone's mind is the quarterback situation in Washington. Shanahan didn't exactly give incumbent starter Jason Campbell a ringing endorsement Friday, although he expressed his "admiration" for the way Campbell overcame so much adversity in '09 -- namely preserving most of his body parts while playing behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. Shanahan confirmed that the Skins will offer Campbell, a restricted free agent, a tender that probably will have first- and third-round compensation attached. If he signs the tender, Campbell would make $3.268 million in 2010 -- otherwise known as Sage Rosenfels money.

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Geoff Burke/US PresswireThe Redskins will offer Jason Campbell a tender for 2010, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Campbell is well within his rights to wonder why the Redskins would ask him to potentially start at quarterback while paying him second-string money. And while he's the ultimate team player -- as evidenced by his behavior last offseason while owner Dan Snyder fawned over other quarterbacks -- there's a chance Campbell could decide not to sign the tender and skip Shanahan's offseason workouts. General manager Bruce Allen is scheduled to meet with Campbell's agent Joel Segal during the combine, according to a league source. Maybe they'll flesh out some of the details. For now, though, Campbell's focused on remaining the starter in 2010.

"No matter who they take, I plan on winning the starting job," Campbell told me Friday. "My plan is to come out and have a great year."

Shanahan has had the good fortune of working with Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young and John Elway in the past. He knows better than anyone that this is a quarterback's league and that's what led him to trade the 15th and 68th overall picks in the '06 draft to move up and select Jay Cutler at No. 11. He made this move despite the fact that Jake Plummer had led the Broncos to the '05 AFC Championship Game. And by November of the '06 season, Shanahan had made Cutler the full-time starter.

I'm told that Shanahan became obsessed with getting a new quarterback after spending a lot of time with Peyton Manning during Pro Bowl week five years ago. He couldn't believe that Manning was actually studying for the Pro Bowl, something that a free spirit such as Plummer might avoid.

Obviously Shanahan's not going to tip his hand at this point, but you can guarantee that he already has a strong opinion on the top quarterbacks in this draft. I asked him how much college football he watched during his season away from the game and he admitted that it was more than usual. And you can bet that he was paying particular attention to Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Shanahan said he plans on going to the pro days for both of those quarterbacks.

"You just look at the film," said Shanahan, referring to Bradford. "He's played enough that people should have a strong opinion."

Of course, there's a decent chance Bradford will be off the board when the Redskins pick at No. 4. The St. Louis Rams could use a franchise quarterback about now. That leaves Clausen in the mix and perhaps Texas' Colt McCoy in the second round.

I think Shanahan definitely respects what Campbell has done with the Redskins, but the coach's track record suggests he's going to try to make a splash in this draft. And no matter how much you like offensive tackles Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga, the game's not about the left tackle.

On Friday, Shanahan didn't say anything particularly revealing, but in a lot of ways, his past speaks for itself.

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