Top three quarterbacks hit the field on same night
Posted: Sunday August 20, 2006 1:08AM; Updated: Sunday August 20, 2006 2:59PM
Jay Cutler has had two solid outings in his first two preseason games.
By Bill Trocchi, SI.com
In April, Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Jay Cutler were the Three Kings of the quarterback class of 2006. The two Rose Bowl studs and the feisty kid from Vanderbilt were debated, dissected, ranked, re-ranked and finally all selected in the first 11 picks on Draft Day.
On Saturday night, all three were on display, with Leinart getting thrown into the fire against the Patriots just four days after ending his holdout and Cutler and Young squaring off against each other in Denver.
The best player of the night? Cutler.
For the second week in a row, Cutler was very impressive. He was at the controls for four possessions and led Denver to two touchdowns, a missed field goal attempt and a failed fourth down deep in Tennessee territory. His final numbers were 6 of 12 for 99 yards and a touchdown, and they accurately reflected how seamlessly Cutler has adjusted to the NFL to date. He moved around in the pocket when necessary, but did not tuck it at the first sign of trouble. When he had to throw it away, he did, and he displayed his rocket right arm with a 21-yard laser to Todd Devoe on his first possession.
Cutler's five-yard touchdown pass was right on the money to Tony Scheffler, and then he hit Scheffler with a pretty touch pass down the middle for 25 yards to start the second drive. Jake Plummer played well, too, completing 6 of 8 for 97 yards and a TD, leading Denver to three TDs in three possessions. There is no controversy brewing in Denver, but Cutler is certainly not disappointing anyone in Bronco-land.
Cutler has been having an exceptional camp by all accounts. ESPN recently reported that after a Champ Bailey interception in practice, the Denver coaches were actually relieved that something did not go exactly as planned for Cutler. They are eager for the youngster to experience some adversity in camp. Cutler had no adversity against the Lions in his debut, completing 16 of 22 passes (with a drop) for 192 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled one snap (and recovered it), but other than that, it appeared that little bothered the rookie, whose offense at Vanderbilt was ranked No. 2 in the SEC with him at the controls.
Interestingly, Cutler was facing Young and the Titans, who had a chance to keep the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in Nashville with the No. 3 pick. But the Titans selected Young and Cutler fell to the Broncos after Titans coach Jeff Fisher told Mike Shanahan how much he thought of Cutler.
Young got plenty of playing time against Denver, and he looked pretty much like a talented rookie. He missed badly with some passes, had a tendency to tuck it quickly, but also showed his strength with a flick of the wrist pass that traveled 55 yards and fell incomplete. Young ran for a touchdown, though he had to recover his own fumble at the end of the play to score. Young had an interception nullified by a defensive penalty, and finished 11-for-19 for 125 yards. He ran 4 times for 19 yards.
Leinhart saw his first NFL action in the second quarter against New England and immediately had to run Arizona's two-minute drill. Taking over with 1:09 in the half at his own 15, Leinart drove the Cardinals 55 yards in 65 seconds, running for 29 yards and passing for 20.
He looked sharp and poised, calmly calling timeouts at the appropriate times and sliding for first downs on two scrambles. Leinart did force one ball into traffic that was nearly picked off by Asante Samuel and suffered a drop by Carlyle Holiday, but for the most part, the Cardinals offense was more productive with Leinart than Kurt Warner against most of the Patriots' first-string defense. Warner was scoreless in his three drives, with one ending in an interception by Samuel.
Leinart was less effective in the second half, picking up just one first down in three possessions. He hit tight end Eric Edwards with a 25-yard bullet over the middle in the third quarter, but other than that, the second half was forgettable. Considering Leinart had just four days in camp, it is not surprising he was better during his free-lance, two-minute drill than the more settled situations. His final numbers were a pedestrian 4 for 11 for 45 yards with 29 yards rushing. More importantly, he appeared unfazed as he played in the first NFL game he's ever been to.
Cutler is ahead of his two more-hyped compatriots, but one thing is clear -- all three will be entertaining NFL observers for years to come.