Published August 14, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Are you ready for some sort-of football?
Welcome to the NFL preseason, when star players are often limited to cameo appearances as coaches try to settle on the last five or six players on their 53-man opening day rosters and make sure their players get physically prepared to endure the rigors of a 16-game, regular-season schedule.
Each team still has three exhibition games left to play before the season kicks off for real. Nothing that could happen in those dress rehearsal games can match the excitement and drama of the regular season, but here are some things worth watching during the exhibition season.
THE PLAY OF ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS ANDREW LUCK AND ROBERT GRIFFIN III
When two high-profile quarterbacks are drafted No. 1 and No. 2, it's inevitable that they'll be forever compared to each other. The Colts' Luck and the Redskins' Griffin will undoubtedly experience growing pains as rookies, but it will be interesting to see how well they pick up their respective teams' offensive systems and how quickly they are able to succeed at the pro level.
Luck has been described by some scouts as the most NFL-ready quarterback to come into the league in the last 15 years or so. Griffin, on the other hand, would appear to be set up for more success in 2012, since the Redskins have a more complete roster than the Colts.
Both had successful debuts this past weekend. Luck was particularly impressive, leading Indianapolis to touchdowns on three of his four possessions against St. Louis. He completed 10 of 16 attempts for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Griffin played three possessions for Washington, going 4-for-6 for 70 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo.
HOW THE JETS' MARK SANCHEZ WILL RESPOND TO TIM TEBOW'S PRESENCE ON THE JETS
Tebow gets more attention than any player in the league, but the Jets' success or failure will most likely hinge on whether Sanchez can take a step forward in his fourth season.
The popular opinion seems to be that Tebow will battle for the No. 1 quarterback job and probably wind up starting a few games this season. Realistically, though, if the Jets want Tebow to compete for the starting nod, would they be utilizing him as a punt protector and kickoff coverage man during the first couple of weeks of practice?
If the presence of Tebow on the depth chart pushes Sanchez to greater heights, the Jets could return to the playoffs. If Sanchez doesn't handle the pressure well, however, a real quarterback controversy could develop and potentially tear this team apart.
Playing in the first quarter against Cincinnati last Friday, Sanchez went 4- for-6 for just 21 yards. The offensive line play was shaky, which is a concern. On the other hand, the Jets were missing three of their top four receivers because of injury, including Santonio Holmes, so Sanchez might deserve a bit of a pass here.
Tebow, for what it's worth, was 4-for-8 for 27 yards and an interception. He also rushed for a team-best 34 yards on four carries, which is probably indicative of the way he'll most be utilized.
MATT HASSELBECK AND JAKE LOCKER BATTLING FOR THE TITANS' STARTING QUARTERBACK JOB
This might be the most interesting of the remaining quarterback battles in the league, since the Titans have the talent to be a playoff team.
Hasselbeck was solid as the starter last season, but he's 36, somewhat brittle, and really not as good a fit for the downfield passing attack offensive coordinator Chris Palmer favors. Locker, entering his second season, needs to improve his accuracy, which is a phase of the game in which Hasselbeck is superior.
This has the potential to be a great battle that doesn't get decided until the third week of the preseason. The two players have split first-team snaps throughout training camp, indicating that head coach Mike Munchak has an open mind and wants both to get a fair shot.
If preseason production decides this battle, give Locker the early lead. Saturday against Seattle, he completed seven of 13 attempts for 70 yards. Hasselbeck went 5-for-9 for 45 yards, but threw two interceptions.
WHETHER BRANDON WEEDEN WILL REWARD THE BROWNS' FAITH IN HIM
It was expected that 28-year-old rookie Weeden would be under center for the Browns on opening day. What was not really expected was the Browns' coach staff's decision to end all potential controversy and hand the job to Weeden over incumbent Colt McCoy even before the first preseason game.
Cleveland was dealt a blow last week, when rookie running back Trent Richardson underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. It's possible he will make it back in time for Week 1, but he won't likely be able to take on the heavy workload predicted for him.
So, if the Browns are to take a major step forward, it will probably depend on how quickly Weeden can become a difference-maker at quarterback. In his preseason opener against the Lions on Friday, he was 3-for-9 for 62 yards with an interception and fumble.
McCoy, by the way, was 6-for-8 for 88 yards and no turnovers. He will be a trade target for any team that suffers a quarterback injury during the preseason. Green Bay and Philadelphia could use upgrades at No. 2 quarterback, and both play the kind of West Coast-type offenses that best suit McCoy's skill set.
IF RYAN TANNEHILL CAN SHOW ENOUGH PROGRESS TO GIVE THE DOLPHINS HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Drafted at the No. 8 spot in the first round, Tannehill is definitely viewed as Miami's quarterback of the future. The question is: How soon will that future begin?
David Garrard was listed No. 1 on the depth chart ahead of incumbent Matt Moore last week, but he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery over the weekend. Garrard could return in time for the regular season, but it's not yet clear whether he will. The thought was that either Garrard or Moore would open the season as the starter, and that Tannehill would be the third-stringer.
Recent developments, however, could change things. In a Friday loss to Tampa Bay, Moore was a mediocre 7-for-12 for 79 yards and an interception. Tannehill, playing against second-stringers, was an impressive 14-for-21 for 167 yards and a touchdown.
Tannehill has a steeper learning curve than, say, the Colts' Andrew Luck, because he broke in as a wide receiver at Texas A&M before eventually making 19 career starts at quarterback. Still, the Dolphins could easily decide that the future is now and just turn the offensive over to the kid right away.
WHETHER THE BRONCOS' PEYTON MANNING IS BACK IN TOP FORM
Manning missed all of last season. He is now in Denver, trying to revive his eventual Hall of Fame career by bouncing back from four neck surgeries.
The main questions are whether he will continue to hold up physically, and whether he will exhibit the same skills he did when he last played for the Colts in 2010.
The reviews from practices have been glowing, but it will be interesting to see whether Manning will be equally impressive under the pressure of a pass rush and with a whole new cast of characters around him. Not much could be determined from last Thursday's 4-for-7, 44-yard, one-interception performance against Chicago.
TO FIND OUT WHAT RANDY MOSS AND TERRELL OWENS HAVE LEFT IN THE TANK
The 35-year-old Moss is with San Francisco after sitting out last season. He was limited to just 28 catches in 2010, when he bounced around between New England, Minnesota and Tennessee. The 38-year-old Owens has landed in Seattle - his first NFL opportunity since he caught 72 passes in 2010 for Cincinnati.
It appears both veterans have a chance to play significant roles for their respective teams. It wasn't all that long ago that they were among the best in the league. It will be interesting to see how much they have left to offer.
In his preseason opener, Moss played sparingly and was held without a catch against the Vikings. Owens did not play against the Titans.
The next two weeks will be interesting. Moss is pretty much a lock to make the 49ers' roster. Owens, however, received no guarantees in his contract. If all the receivers are healthy in Seattle, though, there's a chance that the final roster spot will be a battle between Owens and Braylon Edwards. Since they don't technically play the same position, however, there's a chance both could end up on the team.
TO SEE WHO WINS THE CARDINALS' AND SEAHAWKS' STARTING QUARTERBACK JOBS
The Cardinals sent a second-round draft pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie to Philadelphia for Kevin Kolb last offseason, then signed him for six years and $65 million. He struggled to master the playbook because of a shortened training camp and played inconsistently before missing seven games because of injury.
Skelton, a former fifth-round draft pick from Fordham who outperformed Kolb when he replaced him last season, is slated to make just $540,000 this year.
You'd have to think the front office would prefer that Kolb justify the investment and grab hold of the job. The early returns through two preseason games, however, favor Skelton, albeit only slightly. Kolb is 2-for-9 for 25 yards and an interception. Skelton is 7-for-12 for 67 yards and an interception.
Seattle, meanwhile, supposedly entered training camp with a three-way battle for the starting job between free-agent signee Matt Flynn, incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and third-round draft choice Russell Wilson. Only Flynn and Wilson three saw action in Saturday's preseason opener against Tennessee.
Flynn started and went 11-for-13 for 71 yards and an interception. Wilson really seemed to catapult himself into the picture by going 12-for-16 for 124 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown on three attempts.
The job would appear to be Flynn's to lose, although Wilson has been impressive. It's hard to completely discount Jackson, who was respectable last season. Had coach Pete Carroll been pleased with Jackson's performance last year, though, why would Seattle have guaranteed $10 million to Flynn?
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sports writer since 1985.