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The role of the back-up quarterback is one of the least envied positions in all of sports. Performing well enough in practice to displace the current incumbent is extremely rare (unless of course your name is Tim Tebow) and the back-up usually spends much of the season sitting on the bench, preparing for an event that is unlikely to ever come calling.
That being said, there are cases every season when the unlikely does come calling and an untested rookie gets a shot at making himself a star, or an over the hill veteran gets one last chance at glory. The relative heroics of Matt Moore, T. J. Yates and Tebow last season have cast some light on a previously unheralded position and as such we have compiled a list of the back-up quarterbacks most likely to make an impact this season.
1. Jason Campbell – Chicago Bears
Campbell signing with the Bears was one of the more surprising off season moves this year, effectively co-signing himself to second string behind Jay Cutler. When you look at the multitude of teams in the NFL struggling at the quarterback position, a move to Jacksonville or Miami (Ryan Tannehill could definitely do with a season learning the game before being thrust into the limelight) would have made far more sense given that Campbell has the quality to start in this league).
That being said, Cutler’s absence due to a broken thumb last season cost the Bears their place in the playoffs, with deputy Caleb Hanie leading Chicago to five straight defeats. If a similar situation were to occur this year, Campbell would arguably provide a much more efficient option, and with the Bears looking stronger on offense, it could make a significant contribution if called upon.
2. Tavaris Jackson – Seattle Seahawks
There is no guarantee Jackson will actually be the back-up, with Pete Carroll currently splitting snaps equally between Jackson, Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson. Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but it is unlikely that the Seahawks will pay Flynn $26 million over three years for him to be a back-up, and whilst Wilson is a great prospect, he is not yet ready to start in the NFL. Wilson could well be the long term solution for the Seahawks at the position, but a role as a back-up will give him a great chance to flourish by learning from two quarterbacks as contrasting as Flynn and Jackson.
Jackson is a good quarterback, certainly not elite, but still good. Given that Flynn has started just two professional games, both of which he was surrounded by the supercharged Green Bay Packers’ offense, his credentials have yet to be confirmed at this level. Should things turn sour for him in Seattle, you could see Carroll reinstating Jackson to the starting spot by the middle of the season as they look to return to play-off contention in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL.
3. Kyle Orton – Dallas Cowboys
In my opinion, Tony Romo is an underrated quarterback. If you could cut out his high-profile errors then he would arguably be rubbing shoulders with the league’s elite quarterbacks. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans however, it doesn’t seem too likely that that is going to happen. Given that Romo is now 32, and supposedly at his peak, it is hard to imagine him improving his game dramatically enough to push himself into the upper echelons.
Orton certainly didn’t have the best time in Denver last season, but being in pole position ahead of Tebow is definitely not an enviable position (take note Mark Sanchez). Should Romo continue to hurt his teams’ chances with self-inflicted errors, how long is it before the Dallas faithful start calling for Orton to start? A refreshing role-reversal for Orton certainly.
4. Tim Tebow – New York Jets
It would be impossible to leave Tebow out of this list for numerous reasons, but perhaps most fittingly because he inspired it. Similarly to Campbell, there were calls from the Tebow faithful to explore the chances of a move to the Jaguars or Dolphins in an attempt to start, but ultimately the Broncos and Tebow found the right deal in New York.
As if the media hype surrounding Tebow last season wasn’t enough, the media circus that is in New York City will do nothing but fan the flames of ‘Tebowmania.’ Throw into the mix an under-performing starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez and you have all the ingredients for another season of drama for Tebow.
Sanchez is rightfully the starting quarterback for the Jets, he is young and was showing signs of being a successful franchise quarterback for ‘Gang Green’ but a terrible 2011 season has raised a lot of questions about the long-term future of Sanchez. A new three-year contract seemed to answer the multitude of these, but the arrival of the iconic Tebow caused them to resurface more quickly than Sanchez had hoped for.
Jets’ fans will be hoping that the arrival of Tebow has two equally important effects for a team who consider themselves play-off contenders. First, they hope that the increased pressure on Sanchez will bring the best out of the young man (although many have already condemned him to crumbling under the pressure), and second, that the unifying presence of Tebow will help bring peace to a tumultuous locker room.
One thing is certain; all eyes will be on Sanchez this season. Just one bad game from the quarterback and, perhaps unfairly, Jets’ fans, the media, and possibly even Sanchez’s teammates will all be calling for Tebow to start. In the case of Sanchez, it is perhaps far less enviable to be the starting quarterback, the ‘Tebow Savior’ headlines are probably already being printed in New York.
Image Courtesy of Keith Allison