Youth is definitely being served in the National Football League in 2010. Nearly 30 percent of the teams in the league, nine of the 32 NFL franchises, are set to open the season in two weeks with quarterbacks in either their first or second year in the league.
A 10th fresh face, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, is scheduled to start Seattle’s preseason game Friday night at Kansas City and the rookie still very much in the mix to beat out free-agent signee Matt Flynn for the starting job with the Seahawks.
Four teams are heading into the season with a starter entering their second year under center and a fifth has elevated their 2011 first-round draft pick to the No. 1 job this year.
Andy Dalton led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs as a rookie last year and Cam Newton also started every game for the Carolina Panthers and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors by posting record numbers for a first-year signal-caller.
Blaine Gabbert took over early in the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and struggled mightily but has looked vastly improved this preseason. Christian Ponder also experienced a lot of growing pains with the Minnesota Vikings a year ago and coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman are counting on Ponder to make significant strides forward this season.
In Tennessee, Jake Locker has officially beaten out veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the Titans’ starting nod after backing up Hasselbeck a year ago.
Four rookies, all of them first-round draft choices, are also slated to start their teams’ season openers. No. 1 overall selection Andrew Luck has looked remarkably well-prepared for the Indianapolis Colts so far this preseason. He made some mistakes Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers but appeared to make the adjustments necessary in game.
Robert Griffin III, the No. 2 overall pick, will be the new man under center for the Washington Redskins this season and created a bit of a stir when he said the game was “the easy part” following his first preseason action in a 7-6 win over the Buffalo Bills. Trust me, Robert, things will get much tougher as teams begin to, you know, actually game plan specifically against you.
Ryan Tannehill continues to make his remarkable journey from wide receiver at Texas A&M to NFL rookie starting quarterback in less than two years. Selected eighth overall by the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill received two significant breaks in his quest to become the first Dolphin rookie to start at quarterback in Week 1. Chief among those was when new head coach Joe Philbin hired Mike Sherman to be his offensive coordinator. Sherman just happened to be Tannehill’s head coach with the Aggies. Veteran David Garrard appeared to have the inside track for the starting nod but was derailed by knee surgery that will keep him out the entire preseason.
Then there’s Brandon Weeden, the former minor-league baseball player who at age 28 was taken No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns after two standout seasons at Oklahoma State. Weeden was named the starter before the Browns even opened training camp last month, news that came as a bit of a shock to incumbent Colt McCoy, who despite being three years Weeden’s junior, is entering his third NFL season in 2012.
So will this year’s four rookies turn out to be of the same caliber as the vaunted quarterback class from the first round of the 1983 draft, which included Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino and a Pro Bowl performer in Ken O’Brien? Or will it more closely resemble the quarterbacks taken in the first round in 1999, which featured Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper (at least before injuries derailed his career) but also featured such complete busts as Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown?
That is a question only time can answer.