Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Aug 2005

Pared Down to Pair

The Miami Dolphins are now considering playing both A.J. Feeley and Gus Frerotte in a quarterback rotation. What on earth is the point of this? Are teams really going to be freaked out trying to prepare for both Feeley and Frerotte? When is the last time a team even tried a quarterback rotation like this? And when's the last time it worked? Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield? (Free registration required.)

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 29 Aug 2005

23 comments, Last at 30 Aug 2005, 6:48pm by Oswlek


by Russell (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:00am

Saban used a QB rotation at LSU last year, with limited success. College teams have had some success doing it, but I bet he picks one or the other as starter by Week 1.

by Mike (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:23am

Actually, there are some teams that I WISH would try a QB rotation, because it would be fun. Imagine if Atlanta was to pick up a pocket passer, or another scrambler. Now imagine, with their quality recievers, of trying to gameplan when you don't necessarily have Vick's weaknesses to fall on. Or imagine seeing a TWO QB backfield, and you never know which one will get the snap...

I don't think it necessarily would work that well in the salary cap era, but it would still be fun to watch!

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:36am

Don't you people remember Morton/Staubach alternating every play for the first 7 games in 1971?

It didn't work then, either, so Landry went to Staubach full time

(and they won the SB)

(I don't think that last part applies to the Miamis this year)

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:52am

I thought about this concept back in 1999 when the Titans had a Steve McNair/Neil O'Donnell controversy.
McNair was a running QB who targetted his RBs and TEs most frequently when throwing, while O'Donnell was a pocket passer who threw to the WRs more.
I thought why not just play them both. Surely that would be a real bitch for defensive co-ordinators to prepare for? (although the Titans did go 13-3 and end up in the Superbowl when Jeff Fisher stuck with McNair after he returned from injury, so I'm not saying it was wrong to pick a single QB)

by Wicked (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:58am

This may be significant if the Dolphins were rotating QBs like Payton and Favre...but this is Frerotte and Feeley we're talking about. What "game" do they posses that requires any team to gameplan against?

by Theo (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:01pm

All I can think of is the Bears of last year.

by Goldbach (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:23pm

I think Buddy Ryan tried a rotation with Jaworski and Cunningham when Cunningham was a rookie. IIRC, Cunningham would come in on 3rd and long witht he hope that his athleticism could make something happen.

This was a bit before I followed the NFL, though, so I'm not sure how it worked out.

by Glenn (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:30pm

Wait! Why stop at 2? How about a 3-man rotation?

Pats cut loose Rohan Davey this morning, and Saban has second dibs on the waiver wire to scoop up his former LSU QB. Word in Miami papers this morning was that Coach B was shopping Davey around, with no takers....good lord, not even the Bears.

by sippican (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:39pm

The role of a manager, of anything, is to make assessments of the abilities of his personnel, and make the best use of them he can. If the personnel can't do the job, they should be replaced as soon as possible.

Saban can't make up his mind. His job is to make up his mind. He's just hoping someone will be demonstrably better than the other and take the decision off his hands. A good manager doesn't do that.

Contrast that with his mentor, Belichick. He chose Brady over Bledsoe, when it was a very tough choice. Even if he got it wrong (he didn't) he got it right by deciding and sticking with it.

Green couldn't make up his mind in Arizona last year, and cost his team a likely playoff berth.

And so it goes.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:41pm

This may be a bit off-topic, but I followed that link and then I went to the stats for that year (1951) for Elroy Hirsch:

Rec 66 - Yards 1495 - YPC 22.7 - TD 17

Is there plans for the best reciever years of all time? I'm sure this dude would qualify.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:42pm

Didn't Reeves try this in Denver for a short time with Tommy Maddox and another QB while Elway was injured? May be the Dolphins will line up Morris/ Brown and Williams in the back field in the wishbone and run, run, run.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:58pm

Re Cunningham and Jaworski: It worked out to a tune of a league record 104 sacks allowed. In other words, yikes. (it was Cunningham's 2nd year, BTW)

Eagles fans, let's all do our Merril Reese impersonations at once: "The Eagles now face 3rd-and-27. Poor Randall Cunningham enters the game..."

by NF (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 1:58pm

I think people are missing the point here. Saban can't decide which QB to start, so he'll start both of them. This isn't a decision to have a rotation, but a non-decision to have a rotation.

by Mahatma Kane Jeeves (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 6:21pm


Not only did Dan Reeves use Tommy Maddox and Shawn Moore in Elway's absence in '92, the two of them alternated plays in a game against Dallas. Surprisingly, it didn't work. But they did manage 27 points against the Cowboys.

And I believe Reeves did the same thing a few years later with Vick and Doug Johnson in place of Chris Chandler.

Link goes to a piece on Moore.

by Dman (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 6:49pm

RE: #9 Didn't tom brady fill in for an injured bledsoe and just kept on winning? Hardly a risky decision to keep the quarterback who has been winning for you.

by sippican (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 7:48pm

Hi D-Man
I'm from NE and I can assure you that the decision to stick with Brady, along with several other personnel decisions like cutting Lawyer Milloy, were enormously controversial when BB made them. It's hindsight that makes them seem obvious.

The sportswriters and the talk shows in Boston went wild with Bledsoe backers until the Super Bowl win ended it. The term "duplicitous pond scum," was used by a Boston scribe about BB. It's still in common usage on the talk shows, but now used to mock the writer, not Belichick.

Many people are smart. But insight is hard to come by. Belichick has it. Brady is the exemplar of it.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 8:17pm

Yeah, I would love to see a two man qb backfield... as a defensive coordinator. Basically, I would get to play against 10 players as one qb stands there and watches the other throw a ball or hand off every play.

by masocc (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:08pm

Ah, but what if that second QB is Hines Ward, Randle-El, or Matt Jones? Back in the day, I dreamed of a 3 QB rotation of Ward, El, and Slash, with any two or three in the backfield at any given time. Plus Burress to throw at (and if memory serves me correctly, even HE played a touch of QB in his early days of football).

You could play ALL kinds of goofy games with a formation like this. Waggles, rollouts, naked bootlegs...

For example: Steelers, ca. 2001:
The wily Bill Cowher is on the right sidelines. Offense lines up heavy left (Burress, El, and TE-Z). Slash is in the shotgun, with Ward to his right. WR-X is lined up on the right. Slash PA's to Ward, then Waggles to the right, a screen is setup to the left, with the TE and Burress and WR-X sent on routes upfield... Ward must either block a lineman that gets through to save Slash's blindside, or set up to receive the screen pass (possibly even a LATERAL screen). Slash has the following options:
1) Run.
2) Pass to WR-X.
3) Look to Cowher, who will signal (based on recommendations from the eyes in the sky) if the screen back to Ward is safe.

So if the defense all chases Slash to the right, he can throw over to Ward (WITHOUT having to check to see if he's open. Stop and pop.) Ward then has several blockers to run upfield with. OR, if the play's designed to be a lateral screen, Ward then has the options of:
1) Run.
2) Pass to an open man on the left side of the field.
3) Pass BACK to Slash (who then runs like hell, because a THIRD option would just be silly now, wouldn't it?), who's hopefully been forgotten about again.

It could work. Maybe. Once in awhile. All I can say is, if I had $100 billion spare dollars, I'd be buying an NFL team, drafting or trading for EVERY single Ron Mexico, Matt Jones, Randle-El, Ward, Slash, *gulp* Crouch type that I could get my hands on, and having some FUN damnit. Anybody know of some RBs that can pass? :D Bettis had a 147ish QB rating last year, right? LOL.

by pcs (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 11:26pm

I seem to remember another big-name college coach playing musical quarterbacks in the NFL.

by Fourth (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 3:26am

As someone who follows the Dolphins closely, I would like to explain the reasoning behind this decision. Saban has had an open competition thus far for the starting job, with both AJ and Gus getting some game time with the first-string. The problem has been that in each of the four games played, the guy who did NOT start has had the better game. I think Saban just wants one last look at these two with the first-string, under the same conditions and against the same opponent, to help make his final decision for who the opening day starter will be. Unfortunately, as someone who follows the Dolphins closely, it seems neither option will lift Miami from last in the East. For the record, from what I've seen, the poison I would choose is AJ.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 5:16am

I don't necessarily think this is a bad decision. If they're truly rebuilding and don't believe they can make the playoffs or compete this year, they should figure out now which quarterback (if either) is worth keeping and relying on to any extent in the future.

"Contrast that with his mentor, Belichick. He chose Brady over Bledsoe, when it was a very tough choice. Even if he got it wrong (he didn’t) he got it right by deciding and sticking with it."

I'm all for lauding Belichick, but it wasn't much of a choice. Brady was healthy, Bledsoe was out most of the season. If you're talking about after that season, well Brady had won a Super Bowl and garnered a Super Bowl MVP trophy and Bledsoe cost a gazillion dollars, was getting old, and was worth a first round draft choice in trade.

by deadteddy8 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 6:25pm

I've thought about the possiblities for using athletic QBs and converted QBs, too. For example, I wondered why the Falcons didn't try to get Kordell to be one of their backups. His experience at wideout would give them something interesting to play with, and a triple shotgun with him on the right, Vick on the left, and Dunn/Duckett in the middle would be a fascinating ploy.

As for this talk about QB rotations, the way it seems to work best in college, as Tennessee did with their pair of freshmen, is to use guys with different skill sets and plug them in according to situation. So, Matt Jones would take a few snaps in short yardage situations instead of Leftwich. However, I believe QB substitution rules in the NFL make this a little harder to do. Isn't there a rule about keeping a guy out for at least a quarter? When Slash was a rookie, O'Donnell would stay in and line up as a wideout, as I recall.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 6:48pm

"I’m all for lauding Belichick, but it wasn’t much of a choice. Brady was healthy, Bledsoe was out most of the season."

Not to make this another Pats love-fest, but this is not accurate. Bledsoe was cleared to play either just before or after the Rams game, which put the Pats at 5-5. It was certainly a controversial decision which still plays out in the bitter articles written about BB to this day. And I mean that literaly. (see link)