NFL Nation: Rob Johnson
The decision facing the 49ers, who have yet to name a starter for Week 13, bears loose resemblance to the decision Buffalo faced in replacing Doug Flutie for the playoffs following the 1999 season.
The Bills had gone 17-8 with Flutie as their starter over the 1998 and 1999 seasons. When they rested Flutie for a meaningless Week 17 game against Indianapolis, backup Rob Johnson lit up the Colts for 287 yards and two touchdowns during a 31-6 victory.
Johnson had posted a 102.9 NFL passer rating as a part-time starter in 1998. There was a sense in Buffalo at the time, at least among some, that Johnson might give the Bills' offense a better shot at winning in the playoffs. Johnson got the call for the postseason, a decision that became notorious when he completed only 10 of 22 passes for 131 yards during a 22-16 defeat to Tennessee in the wild-card round.
The 49ers' circumstances are different. Smith missed time because of a concussion.
There are still some similarities. Kaepernick, like Johnson, has played well in relief. The offense has in some ways appeared more dynamic with him in the lineup.
While the Bills were 17-8 with Flutie starting, the 49ers have gone 19-5-1 with Smith in the lineup since the start of last season. Their offense has improved in 2012, but advocates for Kaepernick see greater potential with the second-year pro behind center.
The charts compare basic passing stats for the relevant Bills and 49ers quarterbacks.
New England's situation with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady in 2001 also comes to mind.
Bledsoe, sidelined for an extended period when Brady emerged as the Patriots' long-term starter, shared some thoughts on the 49ers' situation during a conversation with "Mike & Mike in the Morning" Tuesday.
According to Bledsoe, Smith hasn't been sidelined long enough for the 49ers to disregard all the evidence the team weighed before naming Smith the starter over Kaepernick out of training camp. He also thinks the two defensive touchdowns San Francisco scored against New Orleans make it tough to emphasize Kaepernick's 2-0 starting record.
Veteran quarterbacks tend to sympathize with other veteran quarterbacks. We've seen Steve Young suggest the 49ers should stick with Smith, for example.
Every situation is different. They're all captivating.
A former coach delivered a reminder about Drew Brees that must feel like a punch in the gut and followed it up with a cheap shot.
Gregg Williams was a guest on Nashville sports-radio station 104.5 The Zone and sounded happier to be New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator than the Bills' head coach.
"I'm kind of at that point and time in my career," Williams said, "where the three W's are the most important of the choices that I make from now on in coaching: What am I doing? Where's it at? Who's it with?
"I'm never going to discount again on who's it with. I've been able to kind of pick and choose now after all these years about where I want to go to, and I really, really, really wanted to draft Drew Brees when I was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, and thank goodness that didn't happen otherwise I'd still be stuck up there in cold Buffalo.
"Now I'm here. I do have a chance to go with him into [the Super Bowl]."
The San Diego Chargers selected Brees with the 32nd overall choice in 2001, Williams' first season with the Bills.
The Bills took cornerback Nate Clements with the 21st pick and also owned the 46th pick. As Williams explained to Sports Illustrated's Peter King in the fall, the Bills hoped to trade up to get Brees but couldn't find a willing partner.
"I almost pulled a hamstring in the draft room, jumping up and down because I was so mad,'' Williams told King.
The Bills eventually drafted defensive end Aaron Schobel with the 46th pick. A very good selection.
But instead of having a franchise quarterback for the next decade, the Bills' starting quarterbacks in 2001 were Alex Van Pelt and Rob Johnson. They traded for Drew Bledsoe the next year and have since called Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm starters.
Williams lasted three seasons as Buffalo's coach. He went 3-13, 8-8 and 6-10.
The Buffalo Bills will avoid a quarterback controversy for at least another week.
Bills coach Dick Jauron already has announced concussed starter -- or at least he used to be the starter -- Trent Edwards will not play Sunday against the Houston Texans in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills have gone 2-0 with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick running the offense. They haven't transformed into the 1984 Miami Dolphins, but the offense has gotten better with Edwards off the field.
Jauron said "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" in response to a question about who the starter will be when Edwards has been cleared to return.
In other words, Jauron -- ahem -- might be willing to check down.
The Bills hoped their quarterback quandary days were over when they rid themselves of J.P. Losman and signed Fitzpatrick to be the unquestioned No. 2. Edwards was the no-doubt starter.
An injury, which given Edwards' history was inevitable, wasn't expected to make a difference. Fitzpatrick simply didn't have the pedigree to warrant cries of a switch.
But, in a big way, Edwards has fallen out of favor with Bills fans. They call him Captain Checkdown, and based on the mailbag submissions I receive, they generally would prefer he check out of town.
Bills faithful have been debating the merits of the two quarterbacks on the same roster almost since Jim Kelly retired 13 years ago. Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Van Pelt again, Kelly Holcomb, Losman, Edwards ...
The Bills are almost there again. Once Edwards is healthy, the Bills will have another QB dilemma to deal with.
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor is ready to contribute again in Miami.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Jason Taylor was wary about the constant change and weary of prolonged rebuilding.
The Miami Dolphins defensive end hadn't been to the postseason since 2001 and hadn't won a playoff game since a year before that. The club was working with yet another new head coach, its sixth in 10 years, after a desolate 1-15 season.
Taylor's brother-in-law, Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, was given his sweet release.
A soap opera involving Taylor and Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells materialized. Parcells was said to be aggravated by Taylor's decision to participate on "Dancing With the Stars" rather than attend the offseason conditioning program.
The tension between a franchise player and an overshadowing figure intent on making the franchise his own led to the inevitable: Parcells traded Taylor to the Washington Redskins for a couple of draft picks.
The move didn't work out for Taylor.
"I was away for a year," Taylor said. "It felt about five years, to be honest. It was an interesting learning experience."
Now he's back with Miami, obviously willing to stand for change. Taylor, who turned 35 three weeks ago, signed a modest contract to return in a different role than he was accustomed to. He will make his homecoming when the Dolphins open their Land Shark Stadium schedule against the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football."
Taylor compiled Hall of Fame-caliber credentials as a right defensive end, his hand on the ground and rushing the quarterback.
In head coach Tony Sparano's 3-4 defense, and with reigning AFC sack king Joey Porter handling the weak side, Taylor crouches into a two-point stance and has coverage responsibilities as the strongside outside linebacker.
"I think I'm still more comfortable in the three- or four-point," said Taylor, the NFL's active sacks leader with 121.5. "I've done it for so long. I feel more explosive. I feel a little better coming out of it.
"I need to learn how to create that same explosion and quickness out of the two-point. It’s a work in progress. At times I catch myself wanting to inch down and get back into a three-point, but I'm working on it."
Taylor's season with the Redskins certainly contributed to his willingness to adapt.
He gained a newfound appreciation for the Dolphins during his brief separation. He couldn't avoid playing for a rookie head coach, was miscast in the Redskins' defense (17 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks), didn't make the playoffs while his old team won the AFC East title, saw snow and suffered a freak calf injury that could have led to amputation.
|Scott Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Jason Taylor had just 17 solo tackles and two sacks during his one season in Washington.|
Other than that, Taylor had a blast.
He already has half as many sacks as he did last year. In a season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, he dropped Matt Ryan, the 64th quarterback on Taylor's career victims list. The sack also tied him with Clyde Simmons for 13th all-time.
Taylor, for the record, has sacked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning five times, tied for fourth on his list with Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington and behind Tom Brady (9.5), Drew Bledsoe (6.5) and Rob Johnson (six).
"Jason's always been a guy that plays with a something-to-prove attitude," former Dolphins linebacker and defensive end Kim Bokamper said. "Jason's last year, obviously, was disappointing. I think he'll be coming after people.
"He's out to prove he's not a part-time guy, that last year was an aberration. There's really good motivation for him to show people he's still Jason Taylor."
The belief is that Taylor was brought back to rush on obvious passing downs, with burly incumbent Matt Roth there to stop the run. But a groin injury kept Roth off the field throughout training camp and all four preseason games. He opened the season on the non-football injury list, rendering him unavailable for the first six weeks.
Not having Roth hurts Miami's run defense, but there's a benefit to not switching out personnel that would telegraph a defense's intentions.
"The thing I saw with Matt last year that I thought he did extremely well was just punish the tight end," said Bokamper, who is around the Dolphins on a regular basis as a sports anchor for Miami's CBS affiliate. "He completely took them out of the game and then collapsed the corner. He was such a strong run defender.
"Having said that, I've always been a big believer of when you have a guy that can do both, you don't have to change personnel. It's advantageous. It may sound like a little thing, but sometimes little things make a difference."
Bokamper's familiar with the type of change Taylor is making, though Bokamper did it in reverse. He started out as a strongside outside linebacker, making the Pro Bowl in his third season. He finished his nine-year career as a right defensive end.
Bokamper likened the transformation to a NASCAR driver making right-hand turns or a natural righty throwing left-handed. It's mentally tricky, but not unworkable.
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson pointed out that the switch will match Taylor more often against right tackles, who generally are better run blockers compared to left tackles and whose main responsibility is blind-side pass protection.
The change also should be beneficial for career longevity.
"It's a lot less physically demanding to play that standup outside linebacker than it was to be a down defensive end," Bokamper said. "Going against a tight end, you're facing a guy who's usually not as strong as a blocker. For Jason, being toward the latter part of his career, it probably works out better for him."
The situation in Miami, despite the positional adjustment, already is working out better for Taylor than in Washington.
"One of the neat things for Jason right now with this position," Sparano said, "is it’s not something that he can get bored with. He was playing kind of the same position for a long time in this league. As close as a guy can come to perfecting that position, you’d have to say he did.
"With what we’re asking him to do at his stage in his career right now, I think that every day he comes to work he’s pretty curious. He's curious to find out what today brings, what new things we have in store, how this position correlates to some of these new things that we have.
"It’s kind of keeping him on the edge of his seat a little bit, and ... he's starting to get the entire package."
|Who's not in the Hall of Fame who should be? ESPN.com's panel makes the case for Dermontti Dawson, Cris Carter, Doug Flutie and Rickey Jackson in future classes.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
But future classes should.
At least that's the argument our four-man panel (Jeremy Green, Matt Williamson -- each from Scouts Inc. -- Football Today producer Jay Soderberg and myself) makes in this edition of Double Coverage. In this series, we usually debate matters. But we're not going to debate this time. We each make our cases and we're going to make them passionately.
That's because each of us reacted strongly when we were asked to nominate a player who is not in the Hall of Fame but deserves to be. As the NFC South blogger, I instantly threw out Jackson's name because Saints fans have been hitting me with pleas for his case since I've taken this job. I know Green spent a large chunk of his life in Minnesota around Carter and he took all of about three seconds to nominate him.
Williamson was so eager to make his case for Dawson that he sent me his argument the day we were assigned this project two weeks ago. Soderberg owns up to the fact he's a Patriots fan, but claims that's not the only reason he thinks Flutie has been shorted.
Enough with the introduction. Listen to the discussion by clicking here , and read the presentations below.
RICKEY JACKSON (by Pat Yasinskas)
I started off this project knowing Jackson was a darn good player. I got hit with statistics and passion when I asked Saints' fans for input. But I didn't want to rely just on my own recollections of Jackson's playing career, the numbers or folks who might be biased.
|Rickey Jackson piled up some impressive numbers: six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks.|
I wanted to hear from someone up close why Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame. That's why I turned to the trusted veteran eyes of Carolina Panthers assistant head coach Jim Skipper. He was a New Orleans assistant coach during Jackson's time with the Saints. He saw him in games, in practice and in the locker room.
"The City Champ belongs in the Hall of Fame, no doubt," Skipper said. "He was as good as anyone who's in there. ... He's the guy who made the Dome Patrol (which also featured linebackers Sam Mills,Pat Swilling and Vaughn Johnson) go and some people say they were the best group of linebackers ever. It all started with him. You want to talk about tough? Rickey was so tough, he once got into a car accident and broke his jaw. He still went out and played in that game."
How do you top that?
You don't. You just throw in the numbers -- six Pro Bowl selections and 136 sacks. You can point to the fact that New Orleans is a small market. But Jackson moved onto San Francisco near the end of his career and got a Super Bowl ring. The only thing he's missing is a spot in the Hall of Fame. It's long overdue.
DERMONTTI DAWSON (by Matt Williamson)
I fully understand that the position of center, and the offensive line in general, is
not a glamour position. Arguing for or against such players as potential Hall of Famers is a very difficult chore. But Dawson deserves enshrinement.
A 10-year starter, Dawson followed Mike Webster, one of only six centers in the Hall of Fame, to establish a legacy at the position like none other in the history of the game. During that stretch, Dawson started 171 straight games, went to seven Pro Bowls, was All Pro six times and was selected to the 1990s All-Decade Team. He started 13 playoff games, three AFC Championships and Super Bowl XXX. In comparison, Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson played in just 114 games with five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections.
Dawson's statistics are surely impressive, but his scouting report is even more extraordinary. In protection, bull rushing him was nearly an impossible chore, as he pass-blocked with tremendous leverage and technique. The ultra-quick upfield defensive tackles rarely beat Dawson. He routinely snapped the ball, pulled with his great athleticism and led an outside run with precision and grace. He also was able to quickly get into a defensive tackle who was lined up over the guard and neutralize that defender's charge while his teammate acted as a pulling guard. You just don't find centers who do that.
Dawson did it all as well as anyone who has ever played the position and he did it with consistency, longevity and class. It is a crime that he has yet to be inducted into the hallowed Hall of Fame.
CRIS CARTER (by Jeremy Green)
One of the biggest oversights in Hall of Fame voting history is former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter.
|Cris Carter is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101 catches.|
If there is ever a player who should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it's Carter [who became eligible in 2008). He is arguably the second-best wide receiver to ever play the game behind only one man: Jerry Rice, who has yet to become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot.
Despite not having blazing speed, Carter adapted into a big-time playmaker in Minnesota. He could play the X and Y positions. He was unbelievable in the slot in the Vikings' 3-deep wide receiver concept during the Dennis Green era [Editor's note: Dennis Green is Jeremy Green's father]. Carter is the second- best route-runner I've ever seen, ranking behind only Rice. I had the pleasure to watch both in numerous practice sessions and live games from both field and coaching box levels.
The numbers do not lie when it comes to Carter. He is third on the all-time receptions list with 1,101, trailing only Rice (1,549) and Marvin Harrison (1,102). Despite playing the majority of his career opposite another receiver who will be in the Hall of Fame in Randy Moss (13,201 career receiving yards), Carter currently ranks seventh on that all-time list with 13,899 yards. Carter is fourth on the all-time touchdown reception list, trailing only Rice (208), Terrell Owens (141) and Moss (136), with 131 receiving touchdowns.
The statistics were there for Carter to be a first-ballot HOF candidate. What I think is almost as important: Carter is a man who changed his life. After battling both alcohol and drug use in his early years with the Philadelphia Eagles and being released, the Vikings were one of the few teams willing to take a chance on him. They picked him up for a $100 waiver claim and Carter rewarded them by changing his life and blossoming. In my mind, he's second-best receiver to play the game.
DOUG FLUTIE (by Jay Soderberg)
We probably should start by saying that my bias for New England Patriots players is well documented, but that is not what has led me to the belief that Doug Flutie belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What has led me to this conclusion is the name of the shrine in Canton itself: PRO FOOTBALL Hall of Fame, and Doug Flutie was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in the Canadian Football League.
Flutie, who retired from the NFL in 2006, does not become eligible for Hall Of Fame consideration until 2011. But he's got plenty of ammunition, in my opinion.
His career stats in Canada alone are worth noting: 61.4 completion percentage, 41,355 total passing yards, 270 passing touchdowns and only 155 picks in a pass-oriented league. He was the first quarterback to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a season; he did it twice and came close a third time. He won three Grey Cup championships, and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player a record six times.
Flutie was never given a real chance to be a starter in the NFL, whether battling the issue of his height (he's listed as standing 5 feet, 10 inches), battling for a job as a backup (with Rob Johnson in Buffalo, Drew Brees in San Diego), or being labeled a "scab" for crossing the picket lines early in his NFL career with the Patriots. Combine the stats from all three professional leagues he played in (he played one year in the USFL for Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals) and his numbers -- 58,179 total passing yards, 369 passing touchdowns, 6,759 rushing yards and another 82 rushing touchdowns -- are definitely worthy of consideration. Don't forget his numerous, memorable fourth-quarter comebacks.
Just for kicks, let's add that he was the last player to drop-kick an extra point during an NFL game.
Listen to the podcast for more on our nominees and join the discussion below.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Trent Edwards is tiring of the questions.
He acknowledges the thrill of playing quarterback in the NFL is worth whatever hassles come with it, but the make-or-break theme that has enveloped him isn't enjoyable.
|Paul Jasienski/Getty Images|
|Trent Edwards is 12-11 as Buffalo's starting quarterback.|
Another question about pressure, a crossroads, put up or shut up ...
"You guys are kind of forcing me to try to think that way," Edwards said Tuesday afternoon after the Buffalo Bills' first minicamp practice. "I get that question a lot. I feel like every offseason I get that question. It's kind of a go-to question to ask a quarterback."
Edwards is entering his third season with Buffalo. That's seems to be about the amount of time a quarterback gets around these parts.
Doug Flutie was here for three years. Rob Johnson was here for four years, the starter of choice for two. Drew Bledsoe was here for three years. J.P. Losman spent three years as the starter before Buffalo gave the job to Edwards.
The town's patience -- and perhaps the owner's -- haven't lasted much beyond three years after Marv Levy and Jim Kelly ran the show.
Since Levy retired as head coach, his next three successors were given similar terms. Wade Phillips and Gregg Williams lasted three years apiece. Mike Mularkey was given a third year but resigned.
That cleared the way for Dick Jauron, who was given a fourth year much to the fan base's mortification.
So the trends certainly point to this being a make-or-break season on several counts.
Chad Pennington enjoyed his reprieve.
"I didn't have to worry about him hitting me in the blindside like I have for the previous eight years," Pennington said with a laugh Monday.
Taylor harassed Pennington for years in the AFC East. But the relentless pass-rusher was traded to the Washington Redskins last summer.
Taylor, a free agent, might be headed back to the division. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft twice has declared Taylor is welcome on the roster. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has expressed his fondness for Taylor many times over the years and needs an outside linebacker for his 3-4 defense.
"You just know, 'All right, we've got another game-changer to worry about.' Every team has a game-changer," Pennington said, "and a lot of times it's that defensive end on your left side if you're a right-handed quarterback.
"He's a guy that you always have to take into consideration when you're game planning. He makes you change protections. He makes you use more than one guy to block him. He's one of those guys that affects the outcome of a game with one play."
Pennington has spent his entire career in the AFC East. He joined the Dolphins last year after being released by the New York Jets, the team that drafted him in 2000. Taylor played for the Dolphins from 1997 through 2007.
"He's obviously made his mark on this league with how he plays this game," Pennington said. "He had a great career while he was down here in Miami.
"I don't know exactly what's going to happen, but I at least had one year where he wasn't on my back. That was kind of nice."
- Marshawn Lynch's mother says she's prepared to yank his leash, writes Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Buffalo News reporter Allen Wilson reminds us the Bills once owned the draft pick that was used on running back Fred Taylor, but traded it for quarterback Rob Johnson.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero explores the growing trend of teams restricting access to the media.
- Lost in the combine coverage was this Palm Beach Post spring-training story from over the weekend about Bill Parcells and his love for baseball.
New England Patriots
- Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian previews Fred Taylor's meeting Wednesday with the Patriots.
- Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Vikings assistant Chad O'Shea is joining the Patriots as receivers coach.
New York Jets
- New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini writes the Jets might have made a big mistake by cutting right guard Brandon Moore.
- Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger reports kicker Mike Nugent has rejected a contract offer and will go to market.
- Bergen Record reporter J.P. Pelzman takes a gander at the attractive free agents Rex Ryan might woo from Baltimore.
Final Philadelphia 24 Washington 27 Final/OT San Diego 38 San Francisco 35
Final Minnesota 35 Miami 37 Final Baltimore 13 Houston 25 Final Detroit 20 Chicago 14 Final Cleveland 13 Carolina 17 Final Atlanta 30 New Orleans 14 Final Green Bay 20 Tampa Bay 3 Final Kansas City 12 Pittsburgh 20 Final New England 17 New York 16 Final New York 37 St. Louis 27 Final Buffalo 24 Oakland 26 Final Indianapolis 7 Dallas 42 Final Seattle 35 Arizona 6