Commentary

Young QBs make their marks

Mailbag: Flailing vets, fines, Fins' optimism and fixing the preseason

Originally Published: August 20, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The second full week of preseason games turned out in favor of youth.

Despite a 4-for-11 performance against Tampa Bay, Jake Locker ended up winning the Titans' starting quarterback job over Matt Hasselbeck.

Ryan Tannehill had four passes batted down in an 11-for-23 performance against Carolina, but the Dolphins kept the starting job open for another week. Tannehill might now have the edge over Matt Moore.

Andrew Luck bounced back from having an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter to move the ball well against the Steelers' blitzing defense in Heinz Field. Rookie Russell Wilson continues to cause excitement in his battle against Matt Flynn for the Seahawks' starting job.

It was not a good week, however, for veteran comeback hopefuls. Despite showing some promise in practice, 38-year-old Terrell Owens was 0-for-5 in his Seahawks debut. He had a drop in the end zone, and there was miscommunication on one route with Flynn. After some of his incompletions, Owens' negative body language might have caught the eye of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

The Bills finally ran out of time hoping that Shawne Merriman could return to his "Lights Out" status. Early in his career, he was a masterful pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme. Now, Bills general manager Buddy Nix gave him plenty of time and resources to build back his career with the Bills, but the switch back to a 4-3 defense put him on notice.

Merriman was a backup defensive end on a team that had the highest payroll for backup linemen. On Monday, the Bills released him.

From the inbox

Q: After the brutal hit on Byron Leftwich last week, I think everyone expected swift justice by Roger Goodell in levying a significant fine or suspension against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. However, it was more than a week before the league levied a $21,000 fine. Why, unlike a good parent who lays out the punishments well before an offense is committed, has the NFL continued to take each offense on a case by case basis? Goodell lays on the penalties taking into consideration first-time and multiple-time offenders. However, at best the punishments have been uneven and rarely fit the crime.

Adam in Washington, D.C.

A: As far as the delay in the penalty, that's not a big deal. The league normally never confirms fines or penalties until the Thursday or Friday of the following week. The Eagles played the Steelers on a Thursday, and the final game of the first full week of preseason was Monday. It fit the normal timetable, and was only longer because the Steelers and Eagles had an early game. The league does take fines on a case-by-case basis, which goes against the idea of having a standard fine level. Past penalties are incorporated into each fine. The players wish there were a manual and a standard, but the commissioner controls the on-the-field and off-the-field discipline.

[+] EnlargeJones-Snyder
AP Photo/James D SmithThe Cowboys and Redskins were fined when their organizations were found to overloading contracts in the uncapped 2010 season.

Q: I had a question about NFL owners voting rules. When they vote of topics such as the penalties the Cowboys and Redskins face is that vote done by secret ballot or is it public so all the owners know who voted which way? While it would go against the spirit of fairness teams, like the Eagles and Giants could vote to enforce heavy penalties because it might give them more of a slight edge over two division foes. The penalties may favor them more than the rest of the league just based on scheduling, and these types of motives could be hidden in a secret ballot. P.S.: I am a Giants fan and doubt that their ownership would do such a thing. It was just the first example I thought of.

Jared in Rockaway, N.J.

A: Great question. You are talking about the $36 million cap penalty against the Redskins and the $10 million penalty against the Cowboys. During the uncapped year, teams around the league knew the Redskins and Cowboys were trying to open up cap room for 2012. That's why Dan Snyder paid $36 million to DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth out of his profit base to free up $36 million of cap room. The Management Council approved those contracts, but many owners around the league wanted to get back at the Redskins and Cowboys. To do that, they had to get the NFL Players Association to agree to the penalties in a trade-off to get the salary cap over $120 million. Because it was collectively bargained, the Cowboys and Redskins paid the price in their 2012 and 2013 caps.

Q: Is there any reason for optimism in Miami? My position is that Ireland hasn't a clue about what he's doing. His next good decision will be his first. I believe [Joe Philbin] reminds me of Cam Cameron. I believe that the owner's priorities are everything but the football team and we still haven't got a QB because we should have traded up for RG3. I believe we are looking at fewer than five wins for five to 10 years. Am I crazy? Please tell me I'm wrong.

Michael in Madison, N.J.

A: Let's see. For optimism, I can say ratings for the Dolphins' version of "Hard Knocks" should be high. For the football team, I don't see that good of a season this year. I'm looking at a five- or six-win season. Sure, the schedule isn't that tough, so maybe the Dolphins can get to seven or eight wins. I'm troubled by the wide receiver position. If indeed the Dolphins don't have legitimate outside threats -- which I don't think they do -- it is the wrong time to go to a rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. I fear they are going to rush Tannehill before he has enough weapons. He is their most talented quarterback, but weapons are useless if you don't have enough bullets.

Q: With so many low scoring preseason games, especially the Dallas-Oakland game (I wasn't sure if that 3-0 final was a baseball score), should the NFL consider changing the face of preseason games to mimic more of a scrimmage? It is evident that a lot of the players aren't putting out the effort and there are still crippling injuries occurring. I know there probably won't be any change until the next CBA but, there needs to be a change with NFL preseason. So, where do the NFL and the Players Association stand on the preseason?

Mike in Indianapolis

A: Roger Goodell wants to fix it by replacing two preseason games with two regular-season games. The players won't do it because of the fear of injuries. I don't know if you can fix preseason games. They're like all-star games -- you can only do so much. Ultimately, the 18-game regular-season schedule is going to be the answer. Owners won't go to a schedule of 16 regular-season games and two preseason games. They would lose too much revenue. I don't see much changing in the next three years, but down the line, I think the money gets big enough to entice the players to consider going to 18 games in the regular season.

Q: For years in Philly, I always wondered what teams saw in Kevin Kolb, and laughed non-stop when the Eagles swung him for a second rounder and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Kolb lacks mobility, awareness and arm strength. He is pretty accurate within 10-15 yards, but that seems to be about his only strength. With his struggles in Arizona being well documented, and with Skelton as his only competition, what is stopping 'Zona from searching for another option (e.g. Donovan McNabb) like they did when they picked up Kurt Warner? They are letting an offense that could be very solid with Fitzgerald and Wells go completely to waste with their current QBs.

Jay in Philadelphia

A: Too bad you didn't get in touch with Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals. The more you see of Kolb, the more right you are. What teams saw is a quarterback with a strong, accurate arm, but being a quarterback is more than that. You have to win the huddle to win the games. Kolb has yet to convince the Cardinals' offense he's a leader to follow. Plus, he makes too many mistakes. Because of that, you could see John Skelton as the Cardinals' quarterback going into this season.

Q: While the 49ers Alex Smith was all the talk with his "comeback" season if you look at a lot of his peripheral numbers -- yards per attempt (17th), completion percentage (11th), yards per game (27th), and TDs (17th) -- he appears to be an average to below-average QB. Many people are predicting big things for the 49ers and they do have a dominant defense but when was the last time a team with an average to below-average QB made consecutive deep runs into the playoffs? While their defense is great, a few injuries and/or a possible regression by Smith could spell trouble for the 49ers.

Matt in Clifton Park, N.Y.

A: Smith would answer your critique by saying those passing numbers mean little. I think they mean a lot. I do think you are seeing a better version of Alex Smith, a version that will be good enough to produce 10 or 11 wins against a tougher schedule this year. Smith has worked on his accuracy. The scheme will feature the play-action passes that should help to improve his yards per completion. I'm looking at Smith the way that I looked at Chad Pennington, a winning quarterback good enough to get you to the playoffs but not good enough to beat an elite quarterback to get to the Super Bowl.

Q: What should a Packers fan's level of concern be should a similar playoff scenario (first round bye, then play at home in cold weather) play out this year? I do not see them any better equipped to handle that situation. They were rusty off of a bye week, missed timing patterns, suffered drops because to cold hands, and they have a suspect defense and no running game. It does not seem to bode well. As a fan of an opposing team, I would not be as worried as I should be going to the frozen tundra.

Derek in Harrisburg, Pa.

A: Packers fans should have no fears. The schedule is an easy one. The biggest challenge is the games in the NFC North, as Chicago and Detroit are playoff-caliber teams. With the NFC's easiest schedule, the Packers should end up with the best record in the conference and the No. 1 seed. This buys them an entire regular season to incorporate their top six draft choices in the defense and get better in that department. The same goes for the running game. The Packers can experiment until the playoffs and then settle in once the postseason begins.

Q: I have a question about New England's offensive line. After the first couple of preseason games, the O-line has looked shaky, to say the least. Even assuming that Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins play in Week 1, how worried should the Patriots be about their offensive line?

Cal in Los Angeles

A: It's a concern, but it's been a concern for the past couple of seasons. Nate Solder is struggling. Vollmer isn't healthy. They signed Robert Gallery and then released him when he looked too old. Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly and the scheme buys time until the line gets in sync. They'll be all right.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer