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Last 5 Entries: On Porpoise History  

The Quarterbacks

The last pre-season game has been played.

The final roster cuts have been made.

The practice squad has been formed and the starting lineup has been selected.

Which means that the pre-season is now officially over and there's only one thing left to do before the regular season starts....

... write an issue of "On Porpoise".

Hey! Quit laughing! It isn't that surprising, is it? Sure, it's been over a year since I put fingers to keyboard for "On Porpoise", but for some strange reason, people keep emailing me to ask me for another one.

So, here it is.

But what should this premier 2000 issue of "On Porpoise" be about, do you think? The retirement of Dan Marino? The new coaching regime of Dave Wannestedt? The (re-)naming of Joe Robbie Stadium? The signing of Thurman Thomas?

All of these are valid topics and all deserve some attention. But the topic that is most on the lips of Dolphins' fans worldwide is...

....the quarterback situation, of course!

And while I wouldn't want to be a band-wagoneer, I will let myself be swept along in the tide of public enthusiasm, just this once...

Now, far be it from me to gloat over being right, (*ahem*) but those of you who have been reading what I've written over the summer know that I predicted back in April that Jay Fiedler would eventually become the starting quarterback for the Dolphins.

I just didn't think it would happen quite this soon - especially after Fiedler had his hip surgery this summer.

But let's face it - the Dolphins didn't sign Fiedler to be a backup. They signed him to at least compete for - and hopefully win - the starting job.

Actually, that's not quite true. They signed him because they hoped he'd have the talent and smarts to come in and lead the team. They hoped he'd turn out to be a genuine leader with a legitimate NFL arm who could take charge and lead the offense to a level of success they haven't known in several years.

And because the coaches believe that Damon Huard - while a great competitor - does not have the arm to be an NFL starter in this age of the big strike offense.

Now, don't get me wrong - I like Damon Huard a lot. I am a believer in Damon Huard. I have been ever since the first game he played as quarterback last year against the Patriots.

There are only a handful of starting quarterbacks in the NFL who could do what Huard did in that game - who could throw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on their first pass and not suffer a meltdown. Who could take 9 sacks throughout the game and still lead their team to a victory in the final minute while overcoming a 2 touchdown deficit.

Now, if you multiply those difficulties by the fact that Huard had never played a full regular season NFL game in his life, his accomplishment is stunning.

I firmly believe that Damon Huard will be an effective quarterback in the NFL - in the Earl Morrall, Frank Reich and Don Strock mold.

In other words, as a permanent backup.

Having said that, let me say this - I want him on the team. He is a proven winner. His guts, intelligence, tenacity and cool head under pressure are invaluable. And since almost every team in the NFL will have their backup quarterback start at least one game for them this year, a good backup quarterback has become a necessity.

And Damon Huard is definitely a good backup quarterback.

Unfortunately, what Damon Huard doesn't have is a genuine starting quality arm. His delivery of the ball is too slow and a little too erratic to make him an effective starting passer in the NFL.

If you add to that his tentative decision making, the result is a quarterback who won't lose you any games, but who also can't give the team that extra spark they may need now and then to win.

Now, the coaches and experience can probably improve his decision making. But they can't give Damon the arm, the timing and the instincts to deliver the ball quickly and on target.

And because they can't give him these qualities, the coaches can't turn Damon Huard into a starting NFL quarterback. At least, not for a championship team.

Over the course of this year, the coaches have given Damon Huard every chance to demonstrate that he has those qualities somewhere in him. Unfortunately, all he's done this pre-season is to prove that he doesn't have the passing ability to be an NFL starter.

He's got everything else a starting quarterback needs. But if he can't throw the ball well, he won't ever be a starter and there is very little that anyone can do about it.

Which brings us back to Jay Fiedler.

Now, it is yet to be proven that Fiedler also has the qualities necessary to lead a team to the promised land, which just happens to be in Tampa, Florida this year. But from our brief look at him, he does seem to have most of the qualities necessary to be an NFL starter.

First, he's got brains and he knows how to use them. A degree from Dartmouth - while not as impressive as a degree from... oh let's say MIT... is nothing to sneer at.

Second, he seems to have good field presence and leadership. This is, of course, much harder to define than smarts, but if he didn't have those qualities, he wouldn't have veterans like Bert Emmanuel and Tony Martin gushing about him publicly in the papers - as they did this week.

And he wouldn't have Tom Coughlin of the Jacksonville Jaguars picking him to back up Mark Brunell last year. Coughlin would have found someone else if he didn't think Fiedler could lead the team.

But the deciding factor in Fiedler's selection as a starter is that he seems to have the instincts and passing ability that Damon Huard lacks. On Friday night against the Saints, he completed over 70% of his passes, most of which were well thrown and right on target. With only one day of practice to work on his reads and timing, I thought that part of his game was pretty good.

Which is not to say that I have forgotten that he threw 3 or 4 interceptions, depending on how you count them. In fact, if you look at his stats, he completed 13 of his 14 passes - it was just that 3 of his passes were to the Saints.

OK, ok - that's not trivial. But most of the passes he threw were crisp, well aimed and traveled well down the field. And it was only when he had to play with the second team that his decisions began to suffer badly.

In other words, when he's had a week to work with the first team and it's just the first team on the field with him, his performance should be better, especially in the interception department.

And once he gets comfortable, I think that Fiedler will be a very good NFL quarterback.

So, yes - I do think that Dave Wannestedt made the right choice by naming Fiedler as the starter and Huard as the backup. And the reason I think that is that Fiedler has a better arm and better passing instincts than Damon Huard, while being at least as smart.

Now that I've said that I think Wannestedt made the right decision, there is one area in which Damon Huard is better than Jay Fiedler as a quarterback - when forced to scramble. Huard does a better job of avoiding the pass rushers, getting clear and making a play when things get tough in the backfield.

In other words, when the pass protection breaks down, Huard is a better man to have in there.

But if your pass protection is breaking down enough that you need to have a scrambling quarterback to salvage your offense, you have more problems than just keeping your quarterback from getting sacked. And Huard is not enough of a scrambler to cause opposing defenses problems with his running ability, like a Steve Young or a Steve McNair.

On a related topic, I'm afraid that I don't hold with the modern theory that you need a supremely athletic, scrambling quarterback to win in the NFL. In fact, I believe that if your quarterback is running too much, that's a bad sign for your team. It means that protection in the pocket is breaking down or your receivers aren't getting open.

And that's bad.

I think that the most important quality a quarterback needs to possess these days is an accurate arm, coupled with good instincts as to where and when to throw the ball. And in that area, it looks to me as if Jay Fiedler is clearly better than Damon Huard.

And it also seems clear to me that Jay can be a quality NFL starter for the Dolphins - with a little bit of luck.

Of course, the last may be too much to hope for. But if the offense continues to be able to control the football and move down the field, Fiedler won't have to be Dan Marino to get the team into the endzone.

He'll just have to be capable of converting the occasional 2nd and 31 or third and 11 play. And I think he can do that.

Well, folks, that's about it for the first "On Porpoise" of the season. Every year, about this time, I vow to myself to get better at publishing my work to the fans who seem to appreciate it.

And not being one to break tradition, I am re-dedicating myself to producing one issue of "On Porpoise" per week this season, God willing and the creek don't rise....

... actually, to get the proper southern flavor for that particular saying, the correct pronunciation of the word "creek" is "crik", the "g" should be dropped off the word "willing" and the word "don't" should be pronounced without the "t" at the end.

In other words, it should sound more like this: "God willin' and the crik doun rise."

But since I don't have a crik near my house, that shouldn't be a problem.

So please - look forward to (or cringe at) more issues of my personal editorial writings, one per week - as long as you don't hold me rigorously to that schedule. Because, you see, if I have to miss a week or two, I won't be doing it....

... On Porpoise.

Post by curt on August 30, 2000 07:00AM


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