Five quarterback competitions that are heating up NFL
Troy Smith vs. Joe Flacco vs. Kyle Boller
" LeBron James was dominating the NBA at 18," Ravens offensive
coordinator Cam Cameron told his QBs in camp. " Michelle Wie was a pro
golfer at, what, 13? Let's not go making it so impossible to play quarterback
in the NFL as a rookie." While second-year man Smith is the most logical
candidate to start in Week 1 because he's polished and confident (and not as
inconsistent as former starter Boller), Baltimore's goal is to get Flacco
(left, 5), the 2008 first-round pick from Delaware, ready to play sometime this
season. He has looked confident but scatter-armed so far in camp. "I need
to get faster," Flacco says. "I need to make decisions quicker."
Spoken like a rookie.
New York Jets
Kellen Clemens vs. Chad Pennington
Do the Jets go with Pennington (left, 10), the safer, more accurate veteran? Or
do they give the job to Clemens (11), the man they drafted in '06 to be their
quarterback of the future but who has had only eight starts to prove himself? A
scrimmage last Saturday played up each passer's strengths. Pennington was more
accurate (8 of 14 to Clemens's 8 of 22) and lofted a perfect timing pass to
Jerricho Cotchery for a 27-yard score. Clemens threw the kind of bullet
Pennington can't—a 55-yarder to rookie tight end Dustin Keller for a TD.
Clemens also had four straight practices without a pick in team competition, so
he might be moving ahead.
Kyle Orton vs. Rex Grossman
The problem with judging these QBs is that Grossman is world-class—in practice.
In all likelihood he'll play better than Orton this month, but coach Lovie
Smith must determine whether that's the same mirage he has seen the last two
seasons: Once the real games started, Grossman (left, 8) completed a middling
54.5% of his passes, with 27 touchdowns and 27 picks. Both players have been
sharp early and say they're not feeling the heat. "It's self-[imposed]
pressure between Rex and me," says Orton (18), who started three games last
year (43 of 80, three TDs, two INTs). While Smith could go either way, he knows
that many of his veteran players prefer Orton.
San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith vs. Shaun Hill vs. J.T. O'Sullivan
The Niners made Smith (left, 11) the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft and
guaranteed him $24 million. They aren't happy with what they've gotten in
return: 19 TD passes, 31 interceptions and an 11--19 record as a starter. Hence
the strong looks at career backups Hill (13) and O'Sullivan (14). "You
wonder how much they're behind you," says Smith, "but I also look at
how I haven't produced consistently." This is the fourth straight year San
Francisco has had a new offensive coordinator, a new No. 1 wideout and a
revamped line. Still, the focus is on the QBs. "There's nothing to not like
about Alex, but his confidence is down a little bit," coordinator Mike
Martz says. "He's not as decisive as he has to be."
Josh McCown vs. Chad Henne vs. John Beck
This one's wide open. The Miami brass grew fond of Beck (left, passing) in the
off-season, but he hasn't had a very good early camp and might be pressing.
Journeyman McCown (4) has the best feel for the offense, but there's still a
month to go, which gives the rookie Henne (7), a four-year starter at Michigan,
a chance to learn the system and play very early in the season. First-year
coach Tony Sparano will likely open with the man who shines brightest in the
four preseason games. The tea leaves say that will be McCown, given his
experience (31 NFL starts) and veteran offensive coordinator Dan Henning's