Training Camp Battles
No, it’s not the beginning of 60 Minutes, it’s the Training Camp Clock and it is ticking away. With some camps opening up in less than a week, it’s time to start reviewing what to look for in the upcoming training camps. We all know who is the starting QB in Atlanta and who is carrying the pill for the Dolphins. What you NEED to know is who is catching the ball from Vick and who is running the offense in Miami on those non-running plays. This will get you started with what to look for in the upcoming weeks. It’s hard to predict the future (believe me, if I could I’d be a rich man right now), but hopefully, we can shed some light on some of the training camp battles and who you should keep an eye on.
We’ll start by taking a look at the QB situations around the league…
J.Fiedler/B.Griese – Miami
All the talk you hear is, “Griese was brought here to be the backup” and “Fiedler is without question the starter”. I’ll give you a couple of reasons as to why you should only believe that about as much as the tooth fairy. First, Griese didn’t come to Miami to carry a clipboard. Yes, he’ll say all the right things and he’ll still have to learn an offense that Fiedler has played in for some time now, but Griese came to Miami for a reason and the Dolphins wanted Griese for a reason. Second, anyone who saw Ray Lucas playing for an injured Fiedler last year turn the ball over ten times in six games (including a ridiculous six turnovers in one game against Buffalo) knows that Miami would have been better off with Brian’s dad and former Dolphin QB Bob Griese this year than Ray Lucas.
Verdict: Fiedler will start the year as the big fish in Miami, but if Griese gets his shot Fiedler may find himself being the one who carries the clipboard. Not bad for a Dartmouth grad, huh?
C.Redman/K.Boller – Baltimore
Redman will enter camp as the number one guy despite having back surgery in mid-January. To make things interesting, the Ravens used their 1st round pick in the draft to select Kyle Boller out of the University of California. When Brian Billick drafts a QB in the 1st round, I think that’s a clear signal to Redman what Billick’s intentions are. First, it’s a motivator. Everyone knows that if a player is challenged in camp, he’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. Second, Billick likes Boller. Billick has said that Boller reminds him of a Warren Moon type QB with his strong arm and quick reads. Uh-oh. If I was you Mr. Redman, I’d bring my ‘A’ game and bring it early.
Verdict: Don’t look to either one of these guys for a top-notch producer this year. Boller could win out by mid-season, but Redman will get the nod early as he’s had a chance to work in Billick’s complex offensive schemes for three years.
T.Couch/K.Holcomb – Cleveland
Huh? Is this the same Tim Couch that was the first overall pick just four short years ago? Anyone who saw what Holcomb did last season in week one and in the playoff game against the Steelers (326 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs & 429 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT respectively) left Clevelanders wondering, “Why is Couch still starting?”. Browns head coach Butch Davis has stated that it’s Couch’s job to lose, but you can bet this will be one battle worth watching as Couch will be challenged for his starting job for the first time in his NFL career.
Verdict: Look for Couch to prove his worthiness early on and relegate Holcomb to the backup role once again.
C.Hutchinson/Q.Carter – Dallas
It wouldn’t be a Parcells’ training camp without a controversy or two. These two won’t remind the Tuna of Phil Simms/Jeff Hostetler, but it’ll keep the big man busy. Parcells did not enter the free agent bidding for a QB choosing to work with Hutchinson and Carter. Hutchinson played the second half of the season and only posted two games of 200+ yards passing and two games with two passing TDs. In the first seven games of the season, Carter posted six 200-yard passing games and two games with two passing TDs. No matter who wins, neither one of these guys should be your fantasy starter. Having them as your backup is even a stretch.
Verdict: You would think a competition between a Chad and Quincy would involve either chess pieces or a yacht race, but instead the winner gets to man the ‘Boys ship. I’d lean towards Chad, but you never know what the Tuna has up his sleeve.
P.Ramsey/R.Johnson – Washington
The QB situation last year in Washington, was a disaster for fantasy players. You never knew whether Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, or Patrick Ramsey would be starting on a week-to-week basis. I think this was the first official case of QBBC as opposed to the well-known RBBC (running back by committee for you newbees). This year, only Ramsey is left standing from last year’s trio, but Rob Johnson was signed from the Bucs in the off-season and the Skins drafted a QB, Gibran Harndan out of Indiana in the seventh round. Will the ’03 Redskins season unveil QBBC Part Deux? Excluding injury, don’t count on it.
Verdict: Expect Ramsey to be the man for Spurrier this year. He’s got plenty of new weapons with Laveranues Coles, Patrick Johnson and Trung Canidate coming out of the backfield so expect Ramsey to be a solid producer this season.
K.Stewart/C.Chandler/R.Grossman – Chicago
Somewhere in Pittsburgh, fans are still giggling over the signing of Kordell Stewart by the Bears this off-season. The Bears were so confident in the abilities of “Slash” that they traded down in the draft and took U. of. Florida QB Rex Grossman. How’s that feel Kordell? To make things worse, the running game in Chi-town was last in the NFL in ’02 putting more pressure on the QB position to make plays.
Verdict: Stewart has shown nothing that would persuade one to think he’s about to return to his dominating form of ’97. Grossman doesn’t have the weapons or the experience to step in and be a top fantasy choice. Chandler may be the best option here, but one you should avoid in your leagues.
J.Delhomme/R.Peete/C.Weinke/R.Fasani – Carolina
Rodney Peete was the lead story early on last season as he lead the Panthers to a 3-0 start. Outside of a 52-31 pounding of Cincy in week 14 when Peete threw for 319 yards and 3 TDs, the rest of the season was very forgettable for Peete and the rest of the Panthers. The crafty veteran will have stiffer competition in training camp this season with the addition of former Saints backup Jake Delhomme. It’s unlikely that Carolina will carry four QBs, so look for either Weinke or Fasani to be cut loose at some point during training camp.
Verdict: How much football can Rodney Peete have left in him? With the addition of Stephen Davis, the number one priority in Carolina will be ball control which bodes well for both Peete & Delhomme. If I had to choose, I’d go with Delhomme, but neither QB should be a consideration in most fantasy leagues.
K.Warner/M.Bulger – St Louis
Those of you that were burned by drafting Kurt Warner in the first round of your draft last year don’t need me to remind you of how awful he performed. The Rams went 1-6 in games that Warner played and the 3-11 TD to INT ratio makes you think Warner would be better off stacking shelves at the local supermarket again. Marc Bulger took advantage of the Warner injury by posting 14-6 TD to INT ratio including two 300+ passing yard games, a 453-yard passing game, and more importantly, a 6-1 record.
Verdict: The Rams gave Warner a $6 million roster bonus back in February after restructuring his contract. That alone should ensure that Warner gets the nod. If you’re one of the brave soles that drafts Warner, be sure to stash Bulger on your roster in the later rounds, just in case.
M.Brunell/B.Leftwich – Jacksonville
The career of veteran Mark Brunell is winding down and his time in Jacksonville may be up this year. His huge contract ($6.75 million) almost guarantees that he opens the year as the starter. Leftwich is waiting in the wings, but he’ll have to learn the offense and the pro game before he is ready to take the reigns. Of course, a Brunell injury (which is not out of the question) could speed up the learning curve significantly. The Jags also have David Gerrard to serve as a stop-gap between Brunell and Leftwich is necessary.
Verdict: Look for Brunell to post so-so numbers giving Leftwich a chance to play at some point in the season. With a sub-par receiving corps outside of Jimmy Smith, neither QB comes highly recommended for this year. That may change for Leftwich as soon as the ’04 season.