The league's northern divisions pose a number of meaty questions, such as: "Is the Bears' offense due for a repeat performance?" "Why do the Lions have such pronounced splits?" and "Has Johnny Manziel made the Cleveland brass even crazier?"
03 Jun 2011
by Mike Tanier
At a practice facility in San Francisco's South Bay region ...
Alex Smith: Good morning, gentlemen! I want to thank everyone for coming. As you know, I rented this training facility and made all of the arrangements to make sure we could use it. I want you to meet Ronald Johnson, our sixth-round pick. I made sure he had the money to fly out here for a few days from Michigan so he could work out with us. You guys stretch and get to know each other while I make sure security is adequate and arrange some catering.
Ronald Johnson: Thanks a lot for getting me here, sir! Say, who is that guy anyway?
Colin Kaepernick: I don't know. I think he's an intern or something.
David Carr: He's at all of our quarterback meetings. I think he is a quality control assistant, or maybe a videographer.
Smith: Hey, Ronald, I thought I would stop back for a minute and toss you a few passes while David and Colin stretch. Here, run a slant. That was good, but try to make your break at more of a 30-degree angle. There you go. We will go through the whole route tree later. Right now, I have to shovel some dirt into those divots on the far side of the field.
Johnson: You know, he has a pretty good arm. And he cannot work for the team, otherwise he would not be here. Are you guys sure he is not a quarterback?
Carr: I don't think so. Troy Smith and I were the quarterbacks last year. Troy is gone, and Colin just got drafted, so I assume we are competing for the job.
Johnson: Are you sure you were the only quarterbacks?
Kaepernick: I think Mr. Carr is right. I looked at the stat sheet from last year, and the only quarterbacks were "Smith" and "Carr." I asked coaches during the two hours after the draft when we could talk to them, and they said they could only talk about quarterbacks who are under contract, and Mr. Carr was the only one. This media guide is no help. It's just a bunch of pictures of Vernon Davis in his boxers.
Carr: Er, that's not Vernon. And that's not a media guide.
Kaepernick: Oops. Anyway, you are right. That guy throws pretty well, though not as well as an NFL quarterback. And he knows a lot about offense, though not as much as an NFL quarterback.
Johnson: He's incredibly organized, though, like a coach or an executive. Maybe he is a Harbaugh. Is there an Alex Harbaugh?
Carr: He may be. Why don't you ask him? Here he comes.
Smith: Hey guys! I laid out some cones, lined up an EMT unit in case something goes wrong, and set up a beverage table. These workouts aren't ideal, but they will help us stay in shape and stay united, and ... What's wrong, Ronald?
Johnson: I am just wondering: Who exactly are you?
Smith: What, David didn't tell you? He is probably just hazing you because you are a rookie.
Carr: No, seriously, I have no idea who you are, except that you are always hanging around team facilities, and you seem to be important for some reason. I know you aren't Jed York. Are you his cousin or something? Or are you a television producer? Are we doing Hard Knocks?
Smith: No one is doing Hard Knocks! David, I'm Alex Smith. I was the team's No. 1 pick six years ago. I was the starting quarterback for half the year last year. I have started 50 NFL games! Colin, Ronald, you never heard of me?
Johnson: Your name doesn't ring a bell. You're not the guy with the cough syrup are you?
Kaepernick: No, that's a different guy. Alex Smith ... I thought you were playing in the UFL, or running for a state congress seat somewhere, or selling real estate.
Smith: No, no, no! I am a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers! And even though I am a free agent right now, I want to return to the team, and I am willing to invest a lot of my energy and my own money into building team camaraderie and demonstrating my commitment to this franchise and this community.
Kaepernick: Gee, I am sorry. From everything I have heard about Alex Smith, I would have expected someone less ... functional.
Smith: What, you assume that just because a quarterback cannot hold onto his starting job he is some kind of stumblebum who cannot do anything right? Just because my arm isn't top notch and I go into slumps, I must be some kind of all-around weakling uninterested or incapable of organizing activities, leading teammates, or contributing anything of value to humanity?
Kaepernick: Yeah, that's pretty much what I assumed.
Smith: Well, take it from me, Colin. You'll have some early career setbacks, too. Talk-radio guys will bash you, bloggers will make fun of you, and everyone will act like a six-year career as an off-and-on starter at the highest level of competition in the world is a reason to feel ashamed. Well, it's not. Faded quarterback prospects can do a lot of things well, and we have a lot to be proud of. Right, David?
Carr: I guess so. I was playing with my smart phone while you were talking. What did you say your name was?
Walkthrough will run weekly for the foreseeable future.
You can probably guess why. The lockout leaves us a little short on content. It also leaves me with far too much time to play Civilization V. If Askia of the Songhai pillages one more village, there will be nothing left to pillage, which is fine by Askia, but may be bad for me. With my emphasis on history, strategy, and silliness, I can weather the lockout for a while, providing you with a football-like substance to kick around.
The statistical projects I started last week will return next week. For now, let us return to the quarterback Top Fives.
1. Jim Hart. Hart's best seasons came during the height of the 1970's Dead Ball Era, when wild Tatums roamed the secondary and throwing for 2,900 yards was a heck of a feat. He was Don Coryell's first trigger man, reached the Pro Bowl four times in an era when Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton played in the NFC, and led the Cardinals to a 31-11 record from 1974 to 1976. By the time I remember him, he was an old slowpoke trying to throw bombs to Mel Gray, who was also an old slowpoke by then. But he always played the Eagles tough, and he kept coming back for more no matter how bad the Cardinals got in the post-Coryell era.
2. Kurt Warner. It's tempting to put Warner ahead of Hart. He had two excellent seasons, and one strange year (2007) that looks much better on the stat line than it looked in the field. Warner had a fine Cardinals peak but very little else in Arizona. Hart had a darn good peak himself and played forever. Hart wins.
3. Neil Lomax. Quarterback was a hell of a position to play in the 1980s, particularly in the NFC East, where you faced Lawrence Taylor twice, Randy White and Ed Jones twice, Dexter Manley twice, then got to see Buddy Ryan's Eagles by 1986. Lomax took 61 sacks in 1985 and 52 sacks in 1986, and by 1988, his bad hip couldn't take the pounding anymore. He would have had a longer career if he played seven or eight years later, when West Coast Offenses made quicker passing plays more stylish. For a few years, though, Lomax was amazing.
4. Charley Johnson. He was a smart ball-distributor type who lost his best seasons to injuries and a mid-1960s stint in the military. Johnson, like Lomax, would have looked much better in another era. He had the skill set of a WCO quarterback, and he would not have spent his prime seasons in the army reserves if his career started in 1991 instead of 1961.
5. Jake Plummer. A frustrating, mistake-prone talent. In teaching, we have a saying that some teachers have 15 years of experience, while other experience their first year 15 times. Plummer belongs in the second category -- he kept having his rookie year over and over again. He saved his best games for the Eagles -- a 7-5 record and 17 touchdowns -- so I have a soft spot in my heart for him, the jerk.
Paul Christman led the Cardinals to their lone NFL championship. He was a 1940's T-Formation quarterback who couldn't run and fumbled a lot, but he connected with Mel Kutner for a lot of long bombs. He had a Mark Rypien-like character, though not as good. Hall of Famer Charlie Trippi moved from halfback to quarterback for a few seasons, but he is not in Canton for his passing. Trippi was a running back/receiver/return man/punter/quarterback/defensive back, and "quarterback" fits nicely as the fifth slash. Heck of a player, though.
1. Matt Hasselbeck. He is one of the most unassuming guys to top a team's quarterback list, and history may not be kind to him. Hasselbeck's "legacy" would look very different if the officiating in Super Bowl XL weren't quite so noteworthy. Give him a Super Bowl ring, and his 2003-07 peak has a lot more sizzle. Without it, he is easy to forget. There isn't much black ink in his stat lines, he probably won't be around much longer, and I don't expect to hear that pennywhistle voice of his doing play-by-play.
The 2010 postseason provided a fine endnote for his career. He looked gutty but a little sad injuring himself running for a touchdown during the regular season, and his December stretch drive was a string of miserable games with an awful supporting cast for a laughingstock of a team whose mere presence in the playoff chase was something of an embarrassment to the league. Beating the Saints brought a little redemption and a lot of dignity, and watching Hasselbeck hustle through a series of meaningless late drives against the Bears was downright inspiring. Hasselbeck wasn't a great quarterback, but he really cared about playing well, and it was great to see him go down swinging so hard.
2. Dave Krieg. Krieg is the statistical equivalent of a skinny tie. He was a 1980's quarterback who produced very 1980's stats. He produced lots of 3,000-yard, 20-touchdown seasons, leading the league in touchdown percentage three times, but his interception and sack totals are high by current standards. Krieg was notoriously fumble-prone, and when you mix sacks, fumbles, and interceptions you can see how he could throw for 3,600 yards and 27 touchdowns yet only lead the Seahawks to an 8-8 record.
Krieg led some good but forgotten teams in the mid-1980s. His supporting casts, beyond aging Steve Largent, weren't great, and Knox's system was out of date, but he led the Seahawks to some 12-4 and 10-6 seasons and a couple of opportunities to get beaten by the Dolphins and Bengals in the playoffs. He left Seattle and played forever. He's currently 13th on the all-time passing yardage list, but Drew Brees and Tom Brady are about to pass him, and Donovan McNabb will probably slide past him if he escapes Planet Shanahan.
3. Jim Zorn. An exciting, fun-to-watch mad bomber with legs whose best seasons occurred just as NFL coaches were trying to come to grips with the new offensive rules of 1978. Zorn's 3,000-yard seasons and bombs to Largent had a "What's this world coming to?" feel to them. One minute, you are watching Rocky Bleier gain three yards off tackle, the next there's this lefty in a silver helmet running around on a bright green carpet launching rockets. I loved watching Zorn highlights as a kid, because they looked so different from anything else. Zorn wore down quickly and was no longer a useful player by 1982.
4. Warren Moon.
5. Jon Kitna. Anyone who knows Seahawks history is aware that they only had three noteworthy quarterbacks. Krieg and Hasselbeck had long careers, and Zorn was the starter for the franchise's first seven seasons. Throw in one other quarterback, and there are only a few small windows of instability in the team's quarterback history. Moon and Kitna cover most of the largest window. Moon arrived at age 41 and provided a short-term solution to a crisis. Kitna replaced an injured Moon and started for two-and-a-half seasons. Moon had one great year at the end of a Hall of Fame career. Kitna had one darn good one at the beginning of a journeyman's journey. Their Seahawks were trapped in a very vanilla .500-rut, and neither Moon nor Kitna was in position to pull them out of it.
The "other quarterback" was Rick Mirer, who had a pretty good rookie season then went backward in slow motion for three more years in Seattle. His stat lines look like they're from 1954, and I remember him as one of the most mixed-up looking quarterbacks I've seen. The more he played, the less idea he had what to do with the ball. Seahawks game plans looked like the tactics a team employs when the third-stringer has to start ... and that was in Mirer's fourth season as a starter. He gets an honorable mention because it's hard to talk about Seahawks quarterbacks without mentioning him at all.
Greetings, infidels! I am Askia, the River Warlord and ruler of the mighty Songhai Empire! I am here to provide wisdom, counsel, and my own brand of assertive benevolence to those who seek relationship or career advice. Speak quickly, for I am a warlord of limited patience!
Askia, I am a 35-year-old woman engaged to a man who travels frequently for work. He told me last week that he must move to Montana for two years. I am torn: I love him dearly, but I cannot just pick up and move across the country, and I cannot bear to put off marriage plans for two full years. Do I risk suggesting a long-distance engagement, or do I break things off? And if I do, will I ever forgive myself?
Askia: You must burn down his village. First, encircle the village and destroy any nearby farms or mills. Then, send the Mandekalu Cavalry through the streets of his village with swords, spears, and match-light charcoal. Burn buildings, baskets, clothing, infidels, carts, and livestock. Leave one or two survivors to spread the word of your deeds, but scar them in some way -- remove an arm or eye for best results. Send these survivors to this "Montana" as a warning.
Askia, I am the defensive coordinator for a small college team. I run a base Cover-2 scheme because it works best with the smart, athletically limited players we recruit, but many of the offenses we face now run a spread-option, and we are getting gouged on basic zone-read plays. Moving my safeties into the box is out of the question, because we will get burned deep. Can you recommend some fronts or techniques I can use to make sure we have adequate gap containment and pursuit?
Askia: Whatever method of attack you use, you must ask one question: Is this attack akin to burning a village? If so, it will suffice. If not, enemies will not fear you, and word of your cowardice will spread along the Niger and its tributaries, or whatever your recruiting region is.
Askia, I am the ruler of an empire in a region where wood is scarce. I sometimes find it hard to burn down villages because my enemies have no kindling. Do you have any advice?
Askia: Your enemies have no kindling? Why, your enemies are kindling! I always apply a simple test to something to see if it is flammable: I light it. If it burns, it's flammable. Try that simple test on your enemy's possessions or extremities. The skies will darken with smoke in no time.
Askia, I am a scholar of African history, and I am shocked by the advice you are giving in this column! You were an enlightened ruler who fostered religious tolerance and introduced bureaucratic and economic reforms that made the Songhai Empire both powerful and forward thinking. You fought many battles, but you were no more brutal or irrational than any other conqueror in history. I fear this "burn everything down" routine is the result of some bored football writer basing your entire personality on a video game, and I think it cheapens your legacy as the ruler of a vibrant nation that endured for more than a century. You should consider showing your "other" side to readers.
Askia: Well said, and we can discuss your concerns as soon as I am done dousing your house in pitch and olive oil.
66 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2011, 11:57pm by Shattenjager