Having gone through three starting quarterbacks last season, the Chiefs should know the routine by now. Something profound happens to a team every time it has to make a change at football’s most important position.
That something can be most difficult to quantify, but rest assured that nothing short of the firing of a head coach attracts attention in an NFL locker room quite like a change at quarterback. Even if it’s done for injury reasons, as will be the case for the Chiefs today when Brady Quinn replaces the concussed Matt Cassel against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the move is felt by everyone on the roster.
Sometimes such change is for the better, and other times it’s not — and often that outcome is determined by factors other than how the new quarterback plays.
“The dynamics of a team can change significantly when there’s a change at quarterback,” said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, who should know. He was the on-again, off-again starter during his four seasons with the Chiefs in the 1990s.
“Usually, how it goes depends on the player. Brady Quinn has to feel this is his football team now, and that he has to do everything he can to win. He can’t go in there timid or be worried about walking on egg shells around Matt Cassel. He has to go in there and take over like it’s his team now. That’s how he has to approach it. The practice reps are his now. He has to take control of that huddle.”
Not just the huddle, but the locker room. Because of the nature of the position, the quarterback is always the guy others look to — in good times and bad.
That may hold even more true for the Chiefs this year. They don’t have a lot of older veterans — no one on their roster is over 30 — and they have no obvious leaders in their locker room, though tackle Eric Winston filled the void last weekend when he defended Cassel while criticizing those Chiefs fans who cheered after their fallen quarterback’s head injury.
“The team, they’ve been working with Cassel for a little bit and they know his mannerisms and what he’s about,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “Now they have to find out what Brady is about as far as it relates to that.
“Brady’s always been a good leader. You can’t be a quarterback without being a good leader. If you look back to his days in college, he was a good leader. The days he’s been in the pros, he’s been a good leader. He carries himself very well. He has a certain aura about him in the way he conducts himself.”
Winston went through a quarterback change twice last season when he played for Houston. The Texans lost starter Matt Schaub, and soon afterward his backup, Matt Leinart.
The left them with only a rookie, T.J. Yates, for whom the Texans felt obligated to play well. And play well they did, reaching the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
“You know when your starter goes down, you’re on your backup and there’s not much else,” Winston said. “Fortunately, I think (backup Ricky) Stanzi is a capable guy, but we do realize we can’t get too much deeper on the depth chart. That’s a dangerous place to be. So the heat kind of comes up, especially (for) the offensive line. We know that.”
The Chiefs, who last year cycled through Cassel, then Tyler Palko, and then Kyle Orton at quarterback, tried late last week to make the change as seamless as possible. Teams are devoted to their routines anyway during the season, so the Chiefs went through a work schedule that was nearly identical to the one they followed the previous week.
They just did it with a different player running their offense.
“(Quinn is) always in the meetings, and always learning, so I don’t think much changes,” said wide receiver Steve Breaston, shrugging off the change as a minimal one. “I know he knows what to do when he gets out there.”
Perhaps, but it’s not that simple. The Chiefs, for instance, moved rookie offensive lineman Jeff Allen into their starting lineup earlier in the season because of an injury. Allen has played well enough to hold up his end of the bargain. Because he has, it’s entirely possible that some of his teammates are unaware he’s in their lineup now.
Not so for Quinn. Quarterback is too conspicuous of a position. Instead, all eyes in the Chiefs’ locker room will be on him today to see how he handles himself. One mistake by a guy like Allen can lead to a sack. One mistake by Quinn, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game since December 2009, could cost the Chiefs a game.
“I had to do that a couple of times,” said Gannon, who will help call today’s game on TV as an analyst for CBS. “It’s difficult because you haven’t played in a long time. There’s a throw here that’s off or a throw there that’s off. You’re a little late with your footwork. Things happen a lot quicker than in practice. Brady hasn’t played in a long time. It’s been three years.
“So the Chiefs have to make sure he’s real comfortable. They’ve got to let him know he doesn’t have to make every play, that throwing the ball away once in awhile is OK.”
One advantage Quinn might have is that his promotion into the lineup wasn’t by Crennel’s choice, but because he was forced to make the change. Cassel was ruled medically unable to play, and Quinn was simply the next in line.
“It’s a lot better situation when there’s an injury involved,” Gannon said. “If there’s a change because of poor performance, then you’ve got a legitimate quarterback controversy. It’s a lot different if a guy gets hurt. Then the team is much more willing to rally around the other guy and not take sides and support the new guy.”
The fifth-year pro said in a statement released by the team that he took an Adderall pill without a prescription “around the beginning of training camp.” He will not appeal the ban, which begins Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Talib also will miss games against New Orleans, Minnesota and Oakland. He will be eligible to return to the active roster on Nov. 5, the day after Tampa Bay faces the Raiders.
The Bucs announced Saturday that Talib was being placed on the reserve/suspended list. Defensive end Markus White was promoted from the practice squad.to fill the roster opening.