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Minicamp quarterback battles are brewing

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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While the will-he or won't-he discussions revolve daily around Brett Favre and his fragile right arm and battered ego, there remain some other truly interesting quarterback debates throughout the NFL. In a recent check of spring minicamps and also OTA workouts, there are already four teams with simmering quarterback controversies — Cleveland, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Oakland — and several others where there's a new starter under the microscope, plus more with questionable returning starters. A quarterback's psyche can be easily bruised in the NFL. And that's what makes all this talk all the more interesting. I mean, does anyone think that Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels really believe Vikings coach Brad Childress when he says not to worry about all these Favre rumors? It's got to be tough to go to work under those conditions. But enough about Favre (silly me, it's an easy trap).

BROWNS: Derek Anderson vs. Brady Quinn

There is no question that the new Browns' hierarchy seems to prefer Derek Anderson over fan-favorite Brady Quinn, despite the front office unwillingness to trade the Notre Dame kid prior to last month's draft. And what kind of a mixed signal is that for Quinn? They want him, but they don't want him! This competition figures to intensify once training-camp practices are open to the public. Coaches will be charting every throw in practices and in preseason games. But coach Eric Mangini has plenty of experience at running a quarterback circus from his three New York summers, therefore this Anderson-Quinn battle should be a piece of cake for him. Just imagine, going from Brett Favre to this? Czar's QB prediction: In the end, Quinn should end up the starter if this will be decided in training camp workouts, because Anderson has never been a great practice player.

49ERS: Shaun Hill vs. Alex Smith

The 49ers situation is intriguing because San Francisco's management believes it may have a roster ready to win. The question mark seems to be Shaun Hill, who many around the league don't believe is a playoff quarterback despite his 7-2 record as a starter. Alex Smith, who was verbally run over by former coach Mike Nolan, apparently has a healthy throwing shoulder for the first time since 2006. What remains pivotal for Smith, though, is can he get his head right? Basically, become mentally tougher while grabbing some of Hill's positive aura. Interestingly, the 49ers haven't had a stable quarterback situation since Jeff Garcia was their man in 2002. Czar's QB prediction: My bet is that Hill opens as the starter, with Smith ultimately getting a chance off the bench.

BUCCANEERS: Luke McCown vs. Byron Leftwich vs. Josh Freeman

The Bucs blamed the departed Garcia for their four December losses last season after leaving November at 9-3. Now, the Bucs have a complex red-shirt battle with Luke McCown, who attempted one pass last season, former Jaguars starter Byron Leftwich and No. 1 pick Josh Freeman of Kansas State, the first quarterback the team has taken since 1994 when Trent Dilfer was a first-rounder. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, Freeman is bigger than every linebacker on the roster. Like the Jets, who seem determined to get USC's Mark Sanchez ready for opening day, the Bucs could be leaning that way with Freeman. Besides, everything is new in Tampa with Raheem Morris being the game's youngest head coach and GM Mark Domenik taking over for Bruce Allen. The Bucs also have an interesting correlation with their division rival Atlanta. Jeff Jagodzinski, the team's new offensive coordinator, was the head coach at Boston College when Matt Ryan, the Falcons' rookie of the year last season, was his star quarterback. Ryan has spoken glowingly of Jagodzinski's positive preparation for the NFL. Czar's QB prediction: If the Bucs front office figures it won't win many games this season, then Freeman will start.

RAIDERS: JaMarcus Russell vs. Jeff Garcia

Across the Bay, Oakland coach Tom Cable actually allowed Jeff Garcia, who was dumped by the Bucs, to receive equal snaps with JaMarcus Russell in last weekend's minicamp. Now, how much sense does that make when Garcia couldn't get the ball deep last season with the Bucs and with Al Davis drafting the very fast Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 overall pick? Granted, the rookie receiver had a tight hamstring for two of those practices, so there were few opportunities to wildly miss this new target. We all know that Cable wants to push Russell into becoming a great quarterback, but Garcia's run-around style is the complete opposite of Russell's huge pocket presence. Not surprisingly, most reports had Russell looking pretty average at times last weekend. I mean, shouldn't this kid be getting as many practice snaps as he wants and needs? Czar's QB prediction: Cable needs to be tough with Russell, but ultimately Davis will demand that his former No. 1 pick starts.

Divisions of note

NFC NORTH: Many believe that Jay Cutler, who treated Broncos owner Pat Bowlen like a team janitor, will make the Bears a playoff team — forgetting that the defense was dreadful last season and that the wide receiver stable is barren except for kick returner Devin Hester and tight end Greg Olsen. That's why GM Jerry Angelo spent three draft picks on potential receiving targets. There is no doubt that Cutler could be the best Bears quarterback since Jim McMahon, although Mac didn't mind handing off. The entire NFC North is all about quarterbacks, considering the Vikings and their Favre watch, the Lions taking Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall and the Packers believing that Aaron Rodgers will improve off his 6-10 record as Favre's replacement. One interesting tidbit is that Packers coach Mike McCarthy picked Alex Smith over Rodgers when he was San Francisco's offensive coordinator in the 2005 draft, then last season chose Louisville's Brian Brohm in the second round along with seventh-rounder Matt Flynn of LSU, who showed a lot of promise. AFC WEST: Out in Denver, ex-Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton inherits Cutler's talented group of receivers and his gutsy style gives him a chance to succeed. In the same division, the Chiefs are hoping that franchise man, Matt Cassell, can live up to his $14.6 million paycheck. Like the NFC North, the AFC West is a fascinating division for quarterback stories. San Diego's Philip Rivers is the top dog while the whole world waits for Russell to emerge in Oakland. In the 50th anniversary season of the old American Football League, the West — which used to be known for many a shootout — could prove to be a boon to quarterbacks or an all-out bust again with Rivers being the lone possible exception.
Tagged: Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia, JaMarcus Russell, Falcons, Bears, Browns, Shaun Hill, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Matthew Stafford, Chiefs, Raiders, Vikings, Patriots, Mark Sanchez, Jets, Derek Anderson, 49ers, Buccaneers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Aaron Rodgers, Jaguars, Byron Leftwich, Tarvaris Jackson, Chargers, Luke McCown, Philip Rivers, Kyle Orton, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Sage Rosenfels, Brady Quinn, Brian Brohm, Josh Freeman, Devin Hester, Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn, Greg Olsen, Matt Ryan

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