Commentary

Texas-bred QBs dotting landscape

Talent-rich state has produced 25 percent of current starters and several backups

Originally Published: September 21, 2012
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Drew BreesAP Photo/Julie JacobsonSuper Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees is just one of current NFL QBs the state of Texas has produced.

In almost in equal supply, Texas produces cattle, cowboys and quarterbacks. If it seems as though most teams start a quarterback from Texas, it's because they do.

Twenty-five percent of NFL teams now start a quarterback who either played high school or college football in Texas -- sometimes both. Another 10 quarterbacks who played in Texas are NFL backups, one snap away from starting. And that doesn't include Carolina's Cam Newton, who spent one year of junior college in Texas.

Texas used to be the main exporter of running backs. But somewhere along the way it shifted its emphasis, and now it exports quarterbacks.

In Week 2, Houston Stratford High School's Andrew Luck squared off against Colleyville Heritage High School's Christian Ponder. This weekend, Copperas Cove High School and Baylor's Robert Griffin III squares off against Katy High School and TCU's Andy Dalton. Almost every weekend brings a meeting of Texas quarterbacks.

If it's not Luck versus Ponder or Griffin versus Dalton, then it can be Westlake High School's Drew Brees, Big Spring High School and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, Highland Park High School's Matthew Stafford, Burges High School's John Skelton or Stephenville High School and University of Houston's Kevin Kolb. On it goes.

The list of Texas-bred backups also is compelling: Texas (Texarkana, Texas) High School's Ryan Mallett, Jim Ned High School's and Texas' Colt McCoy, Forney High School's Caleb Hanie, Westlake High School's Nick Foles, Ennis High School and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Jacksonville High School's Luke McCown, Southlake Carroll High School's Chase Daniel, Robert E. Lee High School's Matt Flynn and Southlake Carroll's Greg McElroy.

Texas always has placed so much emphasis on football. But in recent years, it began emphasizing throwing the football even more. Not unlike young pitchers in California, Texas quarterbacks can and often do throw year round. They are tutored to throw more than ever. They leave high school more prepared than ever, play in college faster and enter the NFL more pro-ready than ever.

It's the reason we're seeing more and more young quarterbacks start -- and make their mark -- more quickly. Much of it can be traced back to the second most populous state in this country.

Texas doesn't just breed cattle. It now breeds quarterbacks.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Just walk away: When documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon captured Gregg Williams' profane comments seemingly urging his Saints players to injure the 49ers the night before their January divisional-round matchup, he also uttered words the Washington Redskins should have heeded last week.

"Remember the walk aways, and remember whatever it takes," Williams implored the Saints on Pamphilon's audiotape. "Whatever it takes to get on that bus, drive back to that airport and get ready for the next one."

What Williams meant was this: Do not get into an altercation with opposing players. Try not to retaliate or react. Walk away from any and all confrontations -- otherwise, it could lead to costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalties or even ejections.

For all the talk on some of the tactics he taught, Williams also coached his players on the "walk away" concept. He drilled them at or after practice on walking away when taunted or baited, planting the idea in the player's head that no matter what is said or done, he must not react. He wanted his players to get on that bus, to drive back to that airport, to get ready for the next playoff game.

Williams' son, Blake, the Rams' linebackers coach, happened to be on the opposing sideline Sunday when Redskins receiver Josh Morgan didn't walk away.

When Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan shoved and baited Morgan with the game hanging in the balance, the Redskins' receiver threw the football back at Finnegan, drawing a 15-yard penalty and forcing Washington to try an impossibly long field goal that kicker Billy Cundiff could not make. Along the St. Louis sideline, at the moment Finnegan succeeded and Morgan did not, Rams players could be spotted imploring the replacement officials to throw the flag and penalize the offense.

And at a time when replacement officials are making questionable calls, and tensions are heightened, it becomes more important than ever to listen to what Williams preached.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson wasn't great last season, and he's off to a brutal start in 2012.

2. What's wrong with CJ? One of the most disappointing starts of this season belongs to Titans running back Chris Johnson, who has been running on empty. After two games, Johnson has 21 rushing yards while Tim Tebow has 33, Jake Locker has 32, Brandon Weeden has 31, Mario Manningham has 29 and Randall Cobb has 28.

Johnson's numbers are startling on so many levels. His 1.1-yard average is the lowest in any player's first two games following a 1,000-yard season since Earnest Jackson gained 11 yards on 12 carries during the 1985 season. "The run game ain't working," Johnson told reporters. "We aren't executing the plays."

"Why?" is the confounding question. Johnson isn't hitting holes as hard as he once did, and the Titans are struggling to find an identity. They'll have to try to figure out one against another Johnson -- Calvin -- who leads the Lions into Tennessee on Sunday.

3. Brother, brother: It turns out that Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan aren't the head coach-defensive coordinator brother combination with the NFL's best record. So far this season, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano have a combined 3-1 record. In Week 2, Chuck earned his first win as an NFL head coach and John helped San Diego to a 2-0 start with a Chargers team that has played unusually stellar defense.

Chuck Pagano first won over Colts owner Jim Irsay during his interview and since has won over his team with the type of style that players love. John's San Diego defense has limited opponents this season to a 25 percent third-down conversion rate, a considerable improvement upon the 49.2 percent third-down conversion rate that Chargers opponents had last season.

Each Pagano is back at home Sunday, with the Colts hosting Jacksonville and the Chargers playing Atlanta. While the Ryans have gotten the attention, the Paganos have gotten the wins.

4. Heisman curse? Fortunately for the winless Saints, the Chiefs do not boast any Heisman Trophy winners like New Orleans' first two opponents. In Week 1, the Saints were done in by last year's Heisman winner, Griffin III. In Week 2, Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner, beat the Saints. And in two weeks, to two Heisman winners, the Saints have surrendered 75 points.

It's almost reminiscent of the start that Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had when he held the same job for the Giants in 2007. In the first two games that season against the Packers and Cowboys, Spagnuolo's Giants surrendered 80 points before calming down, settling in and going on to a Super Bowl victory.

It will be difficult for a Saints team battered by offseason controversy to turn around its season and go on a Giants-type run. But the Saints do have the right quarterback, they do have tremendous talent and they don't have to worry about facing another Heisman winner Sunday.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
AP Photo/Scott BoehmArizona's Kevin Kolb appears willing to prove that he puts family far ahead of football.

5. The Kolb effect: In 2011, Philadelphia traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick that the Eagles wound up trading for a later second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. The Eagles used those picks on Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry and Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin.

Now Kolb will square off against his former team and each of the three players whom Philadelphia acquired for his services in a matchup of football's two hottest teams. Dating to last season, the Eagles have won six straight games, the league's longest active winning streak, including two wins this season in which Philadelphia has turned over the football nine times. Dating back to Week 12 of last season, the Cardinals are 7-1 in their past eight games, tying New England for the best record over that span.

Much of the focus will be on Kolb and the quarterback he could not supplant, Michael Vick. But this season, Kolb has helped Arizona's offense and Philadelphia's defense.

6. What might have been: Peyton Manning is in Denver, and this week, so are the Texans. But it still is intriguing to think about what would have happened had the Texans decided to make a run at Manning rather than stay committed to Matt Schaub, whom Houston signed to a contract extension on the eve of the season.

People who know Manning remain convinced he would have been interested in the Texans had the interest been mutual. Some believe that if Houston wanted in, the Texans would have been the favorite to land Manning. They had a loaded roster, played in a division (AFC South) Manning already knew well, and had a strong organization. But Houston never wavered. Now the Texans will get an up-close look at the quarterback they passed on in a potential AFC Championship Game preview.

7. Flacco update: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens were thisclose to finalizing a long-term contract extension the first week of August before talks were tabled, according to league sources. But they were not just tabled; they essentially were shelved. There have been no contract discussions in the six or so weeks since the two sides nearly finalized their deal, according to sources.

Neither side is concerned. Part of Flacco's greatest leverage is his indifference about procuring a long-term deal; he is far more focused on playing to the level he did during Baltimore's season-opening win over Cincinnati. As for Baltimore, it knows it can franchise its quarterback after this season for about $15 million and then do it again after the 2013 season for another $18 or so million, keeping him locked in as a Raven. But if the sides were to resume contract discussions now, they would have to start over, according to sources, back at square one.

Last offseason, Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, said he believed his client was one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. Some scoffed, just as they did when Eli Manning said at this time last year he was "elite." We know how that one worked out.

8. NFC West resurgence: For a long time, the NFC West was regarded as the NFL's worst. No division in football offered more futile football, and yet this season, no division has been tougher. San Francisco has been the most balanced and toughest team in the NFL. Arizona is unbeaten. Seattle defeated Dallas one week after the Cowboys crushed the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. And the Rams are the favorites to have the single biggest jump in win totals this season.

Last weekend alone the NFC West took down the Patriots, Lions, Redskins and Cowboys, something any division would struggle to do. This week, San Francisco plays at Minnesota, St. Louis is at Chicago, the Cardinals host the Eagles and the Seahawks host the Packers on "Monday Night Football."

[+] EnlargeDanny Amendola
AP Photo/Seth Perlman Danny Amendola (league-leading 20 catches) appears to be in the midst of a breakout season.
9. Ascending Amendola: Once a star on "Hard Knocks" when he was trying to win a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys, Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola now is morphing into Wes Welker 2.0. Amendola and Welker both played at Texas Tech, both became undrafted free agents, and both struggled to make rosters before finally making their mark.

After registering 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown last Sunday, Amendola leads the NFL in receptions with 20 and is third in receiving yards with 230. And here's one more connection between Welker and Amendola: Each has a contract that expires after this season, and each will be an unrestricted free agent. 10. Opportunity knocks: At one time, then-Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict was regarded as one of the top defensive players in the country. But while the NFL was evaluating him, he gained weight, demonstrated a poor attitude, looked out of shape at the 2012 scouting combine and somehow tumbled from a potential first-round pick to an undrafted free agent.

Not only did Burfict wind up making the Bengals, but he started at weakside linebacker in Week 2 against the Browns. It wasn't planned that way. Burfict was working as the Bengals' backup middle linebacker. But weakside linebacker Thomas Howard tore his ACL during practice last Thursday, and Cincinnati felt its best option was to move Burfict from middle to weakside. The Bengals believe Burfict has great football instincts, in addition to disproving all his doubters. And now he has become Cincinnati's version of an unusual riches-to-rags-to-potential-riches story.

The Schef's specialties

•  Game of the week: New England at Baltimore -- If New England loses, it would fall to 1-2 and bring up the stat of the month: The Patriots haven't had a losing record since being 0-1 in 2003.

•  Player of the week: Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes -- In the place he sulked last season and became a symbol for everything that went wrong in New York's season, Holmes gets it right Sunday.

• Upset of the week: Oakland over Pittsburgh -- Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer finds a way to beat his former nemesis.