Call this the Unsettled Quarterbacks Division. McMahon and Kramer are each undergoing their own particular brand of rehab. Randy Wright is unsettled in Green Bay. Steve DeBerg and Vinny Testaverde are fighting for the job in Tampa. And the Detroit Lions' Chuck Long, whose entire NFL record totals two undistinguished starts, was yanked in the second half of last season's finale against Atlanta. This year, Long became the official starter again on Aug. 3—but only because Eric Hippie broke his thumb in practice. Coach Darryl Rogers could have played it safe and stuck with veteran Joe Ferguson while Long languished learning the intricacies of headphone communications. But Rogers had drafted the kid No. 1 in '86, and he figured it was time to find out what Long could do.
Clearly, Rogers is not afraid to gamble. He's got two years left on his contract, and to those who whisper that he might be in trouble, may we point out that the Lions are still paying Monte Clark, whom they fired after the '84 season. They don't want to eat two salaries.
Rogers also took a chance by drafting defensive end Reggie Rogers in the first round this year. The scouts said he was a bad actor. Sure enough, in May he got a summons from a Seattle court that had to do with a gross misdemeanor assault charge involving his girlfriend. Rogers worked out a deal whereby the charge would be dropped if he stayed away from the woman and attended an anger-management class. Rogers is also mired in a million-dollar lawsuit filed by the famous firm of Walters and Bloom. Rogers is countersuing for $2.7 million. But Reggie impressed the Lions by coming to town a month early to work out—before he was signed.
Despite his willingness to throw dice to make things happen, coach Rogers's options are limited. The offensive line has two guards who are former tackles. That means it can drive-block, but it's not mobile. The best performer is 6'4" left tackle Lomas Brown, who has hardly missed a down in his two seasons as a pro. The defense has some topflight performers—including outside linebackers Mike Cofer and Jimmy Williams and rookie noseguard Jerry Ball, an athletic 6-foot, 288-pounder who can dunk a basketball—but it doesn't have enough of them. Detroit is still in the blahs of the post-Billy Sims era.
There's a curious side to last year's demise of the Green Bay Packers. Even though they racked up their worst record in 28 years, the Packers rose to their best performances against the best teams. They beat Cleveland. In their two games against the Bears, they led in the fourth quarter. They gave the Giants all they could handle. But Green Bay also suffered humiliating losses.
What's this a sign of? Emotional immaturity? Psychological instability? Can't run fast enough? It's tough to tell.
In April the Pack traded to the Raiders its only blue-ribbon All-Pro of the last decade, wide receiver James Lofton. The Green Bay faithful moaned. Yeah, we know, the guy had a trial for second-degree sexual assault hanging over him—he was acquitted of the charges in May—and coach Forrest Gregg had had it with distractions. But still....
All the Packers's bad vibes could evaporate if Brent Fullwood can do what Sims did for the Lions. Or Curt Warner for the Seahawks. Or Eric Dickerson for the Rams. The highest-rated running back in the draft, Fullwood averaged 8.3 yards a carry last season at Auburn. He has the potential to be the most exciting Packer runner in history. The great ones of the past—Hinkle, Canadeo, Hornung, Taylor, Brockington—were all either slip-and-sliders or head-on power guys. Fullwood could be the Packers' first great breakaway back. It's a lot to ask of a rookie, but Green Bay is betting the mortgage on Fullwood.
Believe it or not, the defense actually improved last year, thanks largely to the addition of linebacker Tim Harris, a fourth-round pick who led the club in sacks with seven. Running back Kenneth Davis (4.6-yard average) added some zip to the offense, but nobody had a 100-yard game all season. Well, at least with Fullwood the Packers might not put people to sleep.
History lesson: Some quarterbacks have come into the league and performed magic feats right out of the box—Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, for example. Others have become basket cases. Just ask Jim Plunkett. He took a decade to recover from the beating he got in New England. Give Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Ray Perkins credit for knowing quarterbacks. The Giants' Phil Simms still talks with wonder about the head sessions he used to have with Perk. So Testaverde is in the hands of a master. He will be brought along carefully—maybe too carefully, the fans will say if the record looks like last year's, which it probably will.