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A whole lot of shakin' ...
A topsy-turvy NFL opens its 80th season this weekend
Posted: Friday September 10, 1999 11:18 AM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
It's all about quarterbacks in the NFL. Always has been, always will be. In the draft, on the payrolls, on the field and in fans' hearts, the league goes as its glamour position goes.
So what does it say, as the NFL prepares to launch its 80th season this weekend, when even the two-time defending Super Bowl champions can't figure out who their quarterback should be?
Well, it says that the NFL, newly expanded to 31 teams with the resurrection of the Cleveland Browns, begins this season as unsettled on the field as it has been in years.
Three of its marquee players -- quarterback John Elway, running back Barry Sanders and all-time sack leader Reggie White -- have retired. Several others have put their teams in a bind with extended holdouts. A series of injuries in a too-long exhibition season has sidelined many other key players.
And then there are the quarterbacks. From Cleveland to Denver, and a lot of places in between and beyond, quarterback quandaries rule the local roost.
It wouldn't be out of the question to see, by the midpoint of this season, four of the five first-round quarterbacks in this quarterback-rich draft -- Couch, McNabb, Smith and McNown -- starting. And that's not always good, as San Diego's Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 pick in '98, showed last season.
And it's certainly not easy, as the No. 1 pick of last year's draft admits.
"If the pace of the game seemed 100 mph to me, I know guys like Steve Young, Dan Marino and John Elway probably saw it at about 25 mph," said Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning, who took every snap last season for the 3-13 Colts. "It got better for me as the season progressed. I still made mistakes as I went, but the best way to learn was to get the experience on the field. There would have been nothing to gain by watching from the sidelines."
There will be all sorts of adjustments to be made as the '99 season begins. There are nine quarterbacks scheduled to start opening day who didn't have a start with the team last season. In fact, of the scheduled starters, almost half of them (15) started 10 or fewer games with their current team last season (see chart). And seven of them have less than a season's worth of starts anywhere.
The quarterback position is not the only one in flux.
There are new coaches in nine towns, and six of them are first-time NFL head coaches. There are receivers coming in after big holdouts (Carl Pickens of the Bengals and Rob Moore of the Cardinals) and at least one more (Joey Galloway of the Seahawks) still holding out. One first-round draft pick -- offensive lineman L.J. Shelton of the Cardinals -- still is unsigned, too.
There is a new team in the Browns, and new stadiums in Cleveland and Nashville (where the Oilers have a new name, the Tennessee Titans).
All of it makes for a Week 1 that could be more than a little unsettling.
"I have got butterflies already and it is hard to keep the food down. Other than that," Palmer said Wednesday, "it's a normal week."
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