Minicamp quarterback battles are brewing

BY foxsports • May 14, 2009

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.

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