Says the Denver Broncos' 37-year-old backup quarterback, Steve Beuerlein, "The veteran pressure on a kid who has to step in and be a leader is huge. He comes into a locker room with guys a lot older than he is, and who are probably already giving him a hard time because he's making more money than they are. It's hard for him to get confidence in himself, and it's hard to generate confidence from those veterans. That's a relationship that evolves as everyone gets to know each other, but it's very hard for a guy to establish."
A sixth-round pick in 2000, Brady went from a player who was just happy to make the roster one year to a starter who was named Super Bowl MVP the next. That was hard enough in a locker room where the players so admired the veteran he replaced early in 2001, the injured Bledsoe. Then, in the off-season, Bledsoe was traded, and Brady, who had been making the NFL minimum, got a fat contract extension. When New England started to struggle this year, Brady's relationship with his teammates became rocky. He called out some unnamed Patriots after the fourth loss, a 24-16 defeat to the Broncos on Oct. 27 "It might need to be a little more important to them," he said at the time. "Maybe guys aren't playing like it's their livelihood." Several players took exception to Brady's comments.
"There's a fine line between being a leader and going overboard," Brady says. "As a young guy, you can't walk in and say, 'This is the way to do it.' Some veteran will say, 'Shut up. You've been here five minutes.' The thing about being a quarterback, no matter what age you are, is that you're not a custodian. You're the coach on the field. So even though it's tough sometimes, I don't give a crap that I'm 25. I'm a captain. I'm the quarterback. I'm going to say what I think."
In the balancing act that is life as a precocious NFL quarterback, you live and learn—mostly learn. Brady's performance on Sunday confirmed that he's settling into the full-time role. The other seven starting quarterbacks with three years or less of NFL experience are facing their own adjustments. SI asked scouts and personnel directors around the league for their mid-season evaluations of these young guns (statistics are for each player's career).
CHARGERS, 32nd pick in 2001
"He's a natural leader who has great moxie. That makes up for his biggest flaw, which is lack of arm strength. He gets himself out of a lot of jams with his feet, but I don't think he wants to run too much; he picks his spots. He's also so aware of what's happening that he'll be running toward the sideline, and at the last second he'll flip a pass to a guy for a 10-yard completion. He has great instincts, and he's very accurate. He also has a great running back [ LaDainian Tomlinson] to take the pressure off him, which is the kind of setup that Marty Schottenheimer wants."
TEXANS, First pick in 2002
"He's a tough son of a gun, has great arm strength and understands what's going on around him in the pocket. He can make all the throws, and when things break down, he doesn't hesitate to take off. He doesn't get much time to throw because their line is so beat up, but he has the size and the toughness to deal with that. He's not a movement guy like [Michael] Vick or [Donovan] McNabb, but he has enough athleticism that he can get out of trouble when he feels the pass rush. Like a lot of young guys, he'll make a bad throw into coverage, but that's part of the learning process."