NFL Camps Open With Quarterbacks in the Spotlight
Sunday, July 26, 2009; 12:54 AM
As NFL training camps open, there is no shortage of tumult within the ranks of those who play the sport's highest-profile position.
A quarterback almost always is the center of attention on any team and in any NFL city. But as clubs begin preparations for this season, quarterbacks are engulfed by unusually large amounts -- even by their standards -- of controversy, intrigue and scrutiny.
Michael Vick is seeking reinstatement from an indefinite suspension after missing two seasons while serving his federal sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation in Virginia. Two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger is facing an allegation in a civil lawsuit, which he denies, that he sexually assaulted a woman last year at a Nevada hotel. Brett Favre could be about to come out of retirement for a second straight year.
All of that has been enough to push a three-time Super Bowl winner coming back from a major knee injury, Tom Brady, to the back burner. And who even gives much of a thought these days to either Manning brother, reflects on what the accomplishments of last season's prized quarterbacking rookies mean to this year's draft class, wonders whether Kurt Warner can do it again or recalls that the offseason's top melodrama at one point revolved around Jay Cutler?
The legal situations of Vick and Roethlisberger occupied the headlines in recent days. Vick was released from federal custody Monday after being imprisoned in Leavenworth, Kan., then on home confinement in Hampton, Va. He met Wednesday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a security firm in New Jersey, and now awaits a decision by Goodell on his playing status. Sources said that Goodell is considering allowing Vick to sign with a team and participate in training camp but possibly could suspend Vick at the outset of the regular season, perhaps for as long as six games.
While the public debate about what Vick deserves and what Goodell should do rages on, those in and around the league are left to wonder whether any team would sign the 29-year-old quarterback if he is reinstated by Goodell. Vick is a free agent after being released by the Atlanta Falcons. He once was among the game's most dynamic players. But his electrifying running skills were accompanied by inconsistent passing results, and much of the speculation about where he might sign has focused on teams committed to the Wildcat offensive formation, popularized last season by the Miami Dolphins.
There also have been reports that Vick could end up in the United Football League, the upstart league that hired former NFL coaches Dennis Green, Jim Fassel, Jim Haslett and Ted Cottrell to coach its four franchises. But Vick's former coach in Atlanta, Dan Reeves, said last week that he is hopeful that Vick will be given another chance in the NFL.
"I'd like to see it happen," Reeves said. "He made a terrible, terrible mistake. But I know what type of person he is. I know what type of player he is and what type of competitor he is. I hope he's given a chance and makes the most of it. I hope the commissioner lets him back and some team signs him and gets him into a training camp."
Roethlisberger was at the pinnacle of his profession when he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to last season's Super Bowl title with a narrow triumph over Warner and the Arizona Cardinals, putting Roethlisberger one championship ahead of draft classmate Eli Manning and only one behind Brady. He was the centerpiece player on one of the league's most popular teams, with one of its most adoring fan bases.
But when the Steelers go to training camp this week, Roethlisberger will be back on public display under far more unsettling circumstances. The accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman became public after she filed a civil lawsuit against Roethlisberger and other defendants in Nevada.
Authorities indicated they had no plans to launch a criminal investigation without a criminal complaint by the woman. Roethlisberger and his attorney vehemently denied the woman's allegation. Roethlisberger also didn't answer questions from reporters when he made a statement Thursday in Pittsburgh. He vowed to remain focused on football but now, with the civil case unlikely to be resolved any time soon, that will be tested.
Favre continues to contemplate another return, this time to the Minnesota Vikings, after undergoing surgery for the partially torn biceps tendon that plagued him while with the New York Jets last season, his first post-retirement stint following a storied stay with the Green Bay Packers. Brady, too, is making a return, in his case from the knee injury that he suffered in last season's opening game. An infection that developed after his original reconstructive surgery prompted reports that Brady might not be ready for this season. But he was on the field for offseason practices and now he and the Patriots will see if they can recapture the dominance that put them one victory away from an undefeated season in 2007.
"Talk is cheap," Brady said during the offseason. "I could sit here and tell you guys that I'm going to play until I'm 80, but that doesn't matter. I'm going to do the best that I can do and I'm going to try to be the best leader and the best teammate and supporter of the guys on my team -- it's something I've always enjoyed doing. Like I said, I'm grateful to have that chance and to be out here. . . . I can't wait to get out and start playing games."
Even the lesser quarterback dramas are compelling. Cutler will try to fit in with the Chicago Bears after his offseason clash with the Denver Broncos and their new coach, Josh McDaniels, led to him being traded. Tony Romo attempts to succeed in Dallas after an offseason of goodbyes to both his high-profile wide receiver, Terrell Owens, and his high-profile girlfriend, Jessica Simpson.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants try to prove they can remain a Super Bowl contender without departed wideout Plaxico Burress. In Indianapolis, Manning's older brother, Peyton, must move on without his longtime coach, Tony Dungy, and record-breaking wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco must come up with encores for their rookie-year exploits. Helping their teams to the playoffs raised expectations for this year's two most celebrated NFL quarterbacking newcomers, top overall pick Matthew Stafford in Detroit and Jets would-be savior Mark Sanchez.
Donovan McNabb gets another chance to prove that his coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid, was wrong to bench him during a game last season, and Jason Campbell gets an opportunity to solidify his status in Washington after so much offseason chatter about the Redskins trying to trade for Cutler or move up in the draft to select Sanchez.
So much has happened to so many quarterbacks since they last played a meaningful football game. Many undoubtedly will be relieved to be back on a field somewhere, attempting to recapture a feeling of professional normalcy.
"Yeah, the football field . . . you are one of the guys here and I enjoy that," Brady said after participating in an offseason practice. "In other parts of my life, it's just that once I had a little bit more privacy back in the past. But that's okay and I learn to manage it, and I still find ways to enjoy myself -- certainly here. I always have fun here. Personally, I really enjoy the things I'm doing. This is a great place for me."