If preseason Week 4 were a dress rehearsal, at least three emperors would have no clothes.
Instead of wrapping up preparation for the regular season, three AFC franchises are facing more questions than solutions at the all-important quarterback position. The Jets went from a two-quarterback battle to disaster Saturday night. Kevin Kolb's fragile nature leaves the Buffalo Bills in a quarterback bind. Matt Flynn played so poorly that the Oakland Raiders now have a quarterback battle.
The New York Jets' situation is pure and simple mismanagement. The organization made a mistake letting Geno Smith rush back to the practice field too quickly from an ankle injury after the first preseason game. That cost him a critical week of development and forced him to sit out the second preseason game.
Putting Mark Sanchez in for the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game against the New York Giants was another bad call, even if it turns out his shoulder injury isn't serious. Smith's three interceptions all but gave the starting job to Sanchez. By risking their potential starter behind a backup offensive line that had three inexperienced blockers, the Jets ended up getting Sanchez hurt.
Smith's not ready to start at the moment. That was clear Saturday night. Like it or not, the choice was to give the job to Sanchez, but that is in question for the moment. The whole predicament is embarrassing.
The Bills' situation is purely bad luck, not mismanagement. EJ Manuel was winning the starting job before needing a knee procedure that shut him down for the final two preseason games. What the Bills didn't know was how fragile Kolb had become.
Kolb missed eight days of practice when he tripped on a slippery mat and injured a knee. On Saturday afternoon, Washington Redskins linebacker Brandon Jenkins accidentally brushed a knee against Kolb's helmet, leaving the veteran quarterback with concussion-like symptoms.
That left the Bills with only undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel available and no guarantee Manuel will be ready for the regular-season opener. (On Sunday, the Bills added more QB depth when they signed free-agent quarterback Matt Leinart and added Thad Lewis in a trade that sent linebacker Chris White to Detroit.)
Oakland's problem goes more to a bad offensive line than it does th)e quarterback. Flynn is a system quarterback with only two starts. System quarterbacks can't operate behind lines that can't block. The Raiders' line is woeful. Flynn took a pounding all through the preseason, and he looked awful in Friday's game against the Chicago Bears.
Dennis Allen opened the job to Terrelle Pryor, who can at least run around and avoid some of the blocking breakdowns.
Listen, I know I've been saying the AFC is in trouble compared to the more talented NFC. But if the Jets, Bills and Raiders cost themselves more losses by what happened this weekend at the quarterback position, the competitive difference between the two conferences has grown only wider.
From the inbox
Q: It's really great to see the excitement that Chip Kelly has brought to the Philadelphia Eagles. The new offense looks dynamic, and even Michael Vick looks rejuvenated. But here's what baffles me: In Week 2's preseason game, Vick looked sharp. But the two plays in the red zone where Vick scrambled (and almost scored) worried me. I've been asking for years why someone doesn't teach Vick how to slide. It's infuriating. Wouldn't you think that would be on top of Kelly's list of things to impart to Vick? It seems to me many of his injuries can be directly connected to diving headfirst instead of sliding (and allowing defenders to legally hit him).
C. Kissam in Santa Rosa, Calif.
A: At this stage of his career, it's hard to change a quarterback's style. Vick is a great competitor. He gives everything he can to finish a play and make yardage. That does lead to injuries, but it just has to be accepted. He can be applauded for his competitiveness and criticized for his lack of durability. As much as Kelly might teach him some sliding techniques, Vick is probably going to ignore them and go for the extra yards. But he's a good quarterback for this system. His numbers could be monstrous this season. As long as he can stay healthy, he should create a lot of excitement for Eagles fans.
Q: Being a Chicago Bears fan and seeing the recent fine to Jon Bostic made me think about how unfair the NFL fine system is. I really think instead of a hit being a set dollar amount, they should set parameters that are a percentage of salary instead. If Bostic and Patrick Willis are each fined $21K for a hit, the punishment is much more severe for Bostic.
Andy in Warren, Pa.
A: You couldn't be more correct. Bostic's base salary is around $23,000 a week. He's being fined $21,000. Even worse, as a rookie, he has had very few practices in which he could perfect tackling techniques. I would have to think that on appeal the NFL will reduce the fine to around $8,000 or so. This was a crown-of-the-helmet hit. Those hits are being fined. There should be a maximum fine to prevent causing a rookie to play a week without being paid. That is grossly unfair.
Q: With all the talk of reducing the preseason from four to two weeks, why not just reduce each quarter from 15 to 10 minutes? Cuts the risk of injury in a meaningless game a bit, and teams would still have a full four weeks to get into regular-season form.
Brad in Hollywood, Fla.
A: How fair would that be for the people paying full price for tickets in the preseason? They would be getting two-thirds of a bad product, and that would be the case for four preseason games. The NFL might consider reduced prices for future preseason games, but reduced prices for a two-hour game would be a waste of time. The players aren't going to go for an 18-game regular season. The owners don't want to diminish revenue by reducing the preseason too much. My suggestion would be reducing the prices for the first three preseason games and then seeing if there is a way to shorten the preseason to three games and using the fourth week as a bye week. To replace the revenue, the NFL might see if the networks would go for a 16-team postseason instead of 10.
Q: Another year has gone by and Jerry Kramer is still not in the Hall of Fame. Given that other players who were not the best are in, like Frank Gifford, Floyd Little and Doak Walker, why is Kramer not in? He was on a great dynastic team; he was an All-Pro several years; he was in the first two Super Bowls; he kicked three field goals and an extra point in the '62 championship game for the win; he participated in the key block to win the Ice Bowl; he wrote numerous books to increase the sport's popularity. His exclusion is really baffling to me. Is he being blackballed for some moral failure? Is he disliked by members of the HOF selection people? Either reason is beyond acceptable. You are on the HOF board, so what is the deal? The guy is getting older and deserves to be in the Hall.
Duncan in Poulsbo, Wash.
A: The Hall of Fame voting isn't personal. It's not allowed to be. Players are to be judged on their merits on the field. I'm not on the senior committee, so there is little I could do. I have not been in the room to discuss how Kramer stacked up against the other candidates who have been under discussion in the senior committee. If he were pushed forward by the senior committee, I would vote for him. His name is the most mentioned among those who should be in. The job of a voter is to compare those who are eligible. Kramer is a popular name on one of the greatest dynasties in sports. I do hope he makes it to a vote from the senior committee at some point. For years, the committee has taken criticism for not voting in Ray Guy. This year, he is on the ballot as a senior candidate.
Q: It seems to me that the rash of injuries to heads and legs are because defenders are launching themselves at their targets. Why don't they just tackle? Does the NFL teach tackling? Don't you think the fines and injuries would be significantly reduced if they just tackled instead of hit? There is a difference, right? I mean, the mindset seems to be a "SportsCenter" hit versus a wrap-up tackle. Outlaw the "hits" and almost everyone benefits.
Craig in Wilmington, N.C.
A: Players take time to change the way they do things. The NFL is doing all that it can to teach players not to launch, but so many have done it from high school to college to the pros. You would have to think the next generation of players won't do that, but more players will be fined and more will be hurt waiting for that to happen.
Q: I thought Von Miller was appealing a four-game suspension, but now I see that he is going to be suspended for six games. How did the number go up?
Steve in Rochester, N.Y.
A: According to sources, Miller is getting six games instead of four because of how he handled himself during that last test. He allegedly dropped his urine sample and had to do it again. By the time that happened, he allegedly drank a lot of liquids and the test was determined to be diluted. The league determined to count this as a positive test. Unlike steroids, the substance policy only gets to a four-game suspension through phases in which there has been a positive test in a player's past. A missed test is also counted as a positive. The NFL reviewed the entire case and felt as though Miller's behavior and results merited two additional games. His attempt to appeal didn't work, and now he's out six.
Q: If running backs are getting shorter careers and not getting the second contracts, how about a restructuring of the collective bargaining agreement for running backs to have only a two- or three-year contract, so their first free-agent contract comes at 25 when they are still a good value to teams and have had time in the pros to see if they are worth paying? Alternatively, they could have all the agents band together and insist on heavy incentive-based contracts for all running backs, including rookies; produce so much, you get paid this amount extra, and so on.
Martin in Peachtree City, Ga.
A: I can't see that happening. The NFL risked the 2011 season to get four-year contracts for all rookies. To change that just for running backs would counter what the NFL tried to win in bargaining. Because the labor deal is for 10 years, there is no motivation for the owners to do that. Sure, running backs are at a disadvantage. Maybe other positions aren't at as much of a disadvantage, but how would other positions feel if quarterbacks make $20 million and backs have a chance to gobble up more of what they could get in contracts? The cap isn't expected to increase much over the next few years. All positions are fighting for a tight amount of money.
Q: Why the vague notes given about the Manuel injury? He had pain and swelling, sufficient for an MRI exam -- recommending a procedure -- almost certainly a torn meniscus treated by arthroscopy and almost certainly requiring 4-6 weeks to heal. We'll see how it goes day-to-day? I don't think so.
Gary in Fresno, Calif.
A: Doug Marrone is a first-year coach coming from college. If you listen to his news conferences, you can see he wants to be vague on injuries. When he talks to team doctors, he only wants to know if the player is going to practice or if he's going to play. He's not going to be forthcoming after that. He says 2-4 weeks with Manuel possibly being day-to-day after two weeks. We'll just have to follow the recovery period and then judge his words after that. From the league's standpoint, he complied by saying it was a surgical procedure, indicating the area repaired and giving a time period for recovery.