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Denver Broncos Quarterbacks: What about Brady?

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Sayre Bedinger recently shared an article that looked at Brady Quinn's assertion that he wants to compete for the starting quarterback position for the Broncos. Sayre's article can be found here.

Sayre gave a balanced look at Quinn's brief history with the Broncos and posited the idea that maybe with the lockout, it would not be too great a reach to see Quinn make a legitimate run at the position.

This raised a scenario that I have not seen discussed much -- perhaps we, as fans are too fearful it might happen. It is widely believed in many circles that Kyle Orton will be dealt prior to the start of the 2011 season. The rationale is along the lines of "he had his shot and didn't deliver so the Broncos will deal him before he becomes a free agent." This would leave Denver with Tebow and Quinn -- it is believed that Tebow will get the starting nod ahead of Quinn who did not play in a single regular season game in 2010. But if Orton is dealt as expected, and if Fox does prefer to go with experience as many have suggested, what happens if Fox's preference wins out and he chooses to go with 5th year Brady Quinn over 2nd year Tim Tebow?

This made me want to take a slightly closer look at the player behind the number 9.

A Little History

On Sunday, November 15, 2009, Chris Simms replaced injured starter Kyle Orton in a game against the Washington Redskins. Simms inherited a 17-14 halftime lead. After a Washington punt to open the third quarter, Simms led a 10-play drive in which he went 1 for 5 for 5 yards. Denver punted and Washington responded by turning the ball over on downs. Simms seized the moment by going 1 for 1 for 1 yard and suffering a 7-yard sack. Washington took the ensuing punt and marched for the tying field goal. After Moreno ran for a first down on Denver's next drive, Simms threw an interception. Washington followed this up by scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Simms threw four straight incomplete passes on the next drive. Washington scored another field goal. Denver's final drive of the game saw Simms go 1 for 2 for 7 yards with 2 sacks for a loss of 14 yards.

With Orton still ailing, Simms was named the starter the following week's game against division rival San Diego. In Denver's first drive, after 7 straight runs moved the ball from the Denver 26 to the San Diego 17, Simms dropped back to pass, was sacked and fumbled the ball away. San Diego turned the turnover into 7 points. Denver's second drive saw Simms gain 10 yards on 2 completions, but give 7 yards on a sack. San Diego followed this up by scoring a field goal. Simms threw 3 incompletions on the next drive. San Diego responded with another field goal. An obviously still hobbled Kyle Orton came into the game to replace Simms.

So, it is helpful to keep in mind that -- with Orton returning in 2010 -- Quinn was brought in to be an upgrade at the backup quarterback position more than he was brought in to compete for the starting role. With McDaniels so obviously enamored of the potential represented by Tim Tebow, Quinn was pushed further down the depth chart.

This raises the question of what do we really have in Brady Quinn? Is he the bust so many people want to label him? Is he the victim of circumstances or bad luck? Or is the reality of Brady Quinn something of a mixture of all of Or is the reality of Brady Quinn something of a mixture of all of those?

College and the NFL Draft

As a college player, Quinn shattered thirty-six Notre Dame records during his four years there. He set twelve single-season records, four single-game records and broke ten other school records. He held the school records for career pass attempts, completions, yards per game, touchdown passes and lowest interception percentage. He was described as having blossomed as a starting quarterback under the guidance of head coach Charlie Weis.

Coming into the 2007 NFL Draft, Quinn was expected to be one of the top picked players. Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown labeled Quinn as a "franchise quarterback in the mold of Carson Palmer." He was predicted to be picked in the top ten, some even saw him as going as the #1 overall pick. However, he fell to #22 where he was selected by Cleveland Browns' head coach Romeo Crennel.

On Board the Browns' Train

Quinn did not get off to an auspicious start with Cleveland, holding himself out of eleven days of the Browns' training camp while his agent haggled with the team over incentive clauses in his contract. This hold-out took Quinn out of the running for the starter's position during his rookie year. He ended up third on the depth chart behind Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. He moved up to second when Frye was traded, but did not see any action until the Browns' season finale against the San Francisco 49ers. In that debut, Quinn went 3 for 8 for 45 yards. He led Cleveland into the red zone but the Browns came away empty -- though this was partially blamed on Kellen Winslow who dropped an easy pass. Following the season, there was widespread speculation that the Browns would trade starter Anderson in a bid to get back into the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Browns General Manager Phil Savage dispelled these rumors by stating the team's intent to have both Anderson and Quinn in camp.

Crennel named Anderson the starter for the 2008 season, based largely on Anderson's having led the Browns to a 10-6 record, and earning himself a spot in the 2007 Pro Bowl. Anderson, however, faltered in the first half of the season and the team fell to a 3-5 record. Crennel benched Anderson in favor of Quinn. Quinn's first start came against the Broncos. After leading the Browns to a 23-13 lead at the end of the third quarter, Quinn had a first down pass nullified by an offensive pass interference call against Kellen Winslow. The Browns pinned Denver at their own three with a good punt. Cutler responded to by throwing a 93-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Royal to cut the lead to 23-20. Cleveland's next possession was cut short when Winslow fumbled after catching an 8-yard pass for a first down. Denver again scored a touchdown to take a 27-23 lead. Quinn led a 78-yard drive for a touchdown to put the Browns ahead 30-27. Denver responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive to go ahead 34-30. After throwing a 9-yard pass on first down on Cleveland's next drive, Quinn threw three straight incompletions to end Cleveland's chances.

Quinn responded to that initial loss by leading the Browns to a 29-27 win over the Buffalo Bills. It was learned however that he had broken a finger during that victory and tried to play through the injury the following week, but went 8 for 18 for 94 yards with 2 interceptions. On November 25th, he went on injured reserve, ending his 2008 season. Derek Anderson finished out the season with six straight losses.

In 2009, Cleveland fired head coach Romeo Crennel and brought in Eric Mangini. Mangini did not take a position on who would be the Browns starting quarterback, instead declaring that there would be a competition between Quinn and Anderson. Quinn was considered the underdog in that competition given the fact that he had only three NFL starts under his belt at the time. Mangini did not name a starting quarterback until four days before the 2009 season opener against Minnesota. Quinn was given the nod. He played against Minnesota, Denver and half of a game against Baltimore. All three games were losses. In those games, Quinn went 45 of 74 (60.8%) for 400 yards with 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, 10 sacks and 2 fumbles lost. Mangini gave the starting position to Anderson who led the team to a 1-4 record in the next five games. Quinn played in the last three minutes of a loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 8.

Though Mangini held off announcing a change in the starting quarterback, he did switch back to Quinn just before a Monday night game against the Ravens. Baltimore's defense shut Quinn down, holding him for 99 yards on 13 of 31 passing with 2 interceptions. The following week against the Lions, Quinn went 21 of 33 for 304 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. He led the Browns to a 24-3 lead in the first quarter before the Lions started moving the ball and scored 21 points on three straight possessions. In between those drives, the Browns had 2 drives which were composed of 7 runs and 1 of 3 passing by Quinn. With the score tied at 24, Quinn led the Browns on a 14 play, 69-yard drive that finished with a field goal and ended the 1st half. The third quarter saw each team have two drives, in which there was a touchdown drive by Detroit to take a 31-27 lead and a safety by the Browns to close the gap to 31-29. The Browns had three drives in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown to take a 37-31 lead. The Lions also had three drives in that quarter, the last of which was a 10-play, 88-yard drive with 1:46 left to score the winning touchdown as time expired.

The next two games were also losses (16-7 to Cincinnati and 30-23 to San Diego) in which Quinn went 40 of 79 for 371 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Against the Bengals, the Browns fell behind 13-0 before managing to score. Against the Chargers, Quinn spotted the Browns a 7-point lead on an 11 yard pass, before the Browns gave up 27 unanswered points.

Quinn responded to these losses by leading the Browns to victories over the Steelers and the Chiefs (13-6 and 41-34 respectively). In these two games, Quinn went 16 of 36 for 156 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His season ended two days after the win against Kansas City when the Browns placed him on injured reserve with a foot injury.

A Change of Venue

On March 14, 2010, Quinn came to the Broncos in a trade. He competed with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow for the starting position in the preseason, but fell to third on the depth chart. In four preseason games, Quinn went 32 of 56 for 334 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and 7 sacks. He rushed 4 times for 10 yards. He fumbled twice and lost one of the fumbles. By way of comparison, Orton went 38 of 57 for 397 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 2 sacks in those same games. Orton did not have any rushing attmempts nor any fumbles. Tebow only played in three of the preseason games where he went 25 of 39 for 344 yards with 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 2 sacks. Tebow rushed 6 times for 31 yards and 1 touchdown. He also lost one fumble.

A Muddled Picture

What do we make of Brady Quinn? A top college prospect coming into the 2007 NFL Draft -- taken #22 overall (or for what it's worth, 3 spots ahead of Tim Tebow and 84 spots/3 rounds ahead of Kyle Orton.

The choice to hold out of the start of training camp spoiled his chances of becoming a starter as a rookie and as a result he didn't get to play until the final game of the season as Derek Anderson had a Pro Bowl year. Did Quinn buy into the speculation that Anderson was going to be traded before the start of the 2008 season and think that the starting slot was his only to be disappointed when he found out he was going to have to compete with Anderson for the starter's job?

In 2008, Quinn inherited a 3-5 team, led the Browns to an early lead, saw that lead disappear -- due in part to mistakes by Kellen Winslow -- regained the lead only to watch as the Browns defense could not stop the Broncos' Cutler-led offense. Quinn bounced back by guiding Cleveland to a victory over Buffalo, but broke a finger in that game and was placed on the injured reserve list a week and a half later. So in his first real effort, he went 1-2 before an injury ended his season.

The Browns changed head coaches in 2009 and new head coach Mangini did not name a starter until just four days before the season opener -- Quinn got the nod. Quinn played in two and one-half games (all three of which ended up being losses) before being benched in favor of Anderson. When Anderson failed to deliver, Quinn again got the nod and lost 4 close games before winning a pair. His season ended with an injury for the second year in a row.

Quinn-apologists will undoubtedly wish to explain his inconsistent play upon mistakes by his team, a defense which was unable to keep opponents from scoring -- remember that on more than one occasion, Quinn guided the Browns to a lead only to watch as the Cleveland defense allowed the opposing team to respond with scores -- and changing head coaches. While there is an element of truth to this position, I'm not convinced that it gives the entire explanation for Quinn's struggles. I believe that there are at least two other things that played a role.

First -- and in my opinion this is the greatest influence -- in looking at Quinn's career, I'm left with the impression that he came into the league as a player who expected to be handed the keys to his franchise. When this didn't happen, it got inside his head and undermined his efforts.

We should keep in mind that Brady Quinn entered the NFL as a school record breaking, award winning, Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback who was considered by many to be a "franchise quality" player who might possibly go with the first overall pick in the draft. It was then speculated that he might go to Cleveland with their pick at #3. He then watched as the Browns took an offensive tackle while he fell to #22. Then after holding out, he found himself in the #3 spot on the depth chart. Suddenly, Quinn found himself being not the franchise rookie who was going to be handed the keys to the Cleveland car, but a rookie who was going to have to fight for a spot on the team.

After seeing Charlie Frye get traded and hearing talk of the possible trade of Derek Anderson, Quinn may have come to believe that he was going to finally get his shot. Only, once again, he found himself in the backup role under Crennel. Although he earned the starting spot under Mangini, he found it taken away after just two and one-half games. Once again he was the backup, until Anderson self-destructed.

When he came to the Broncos, he expected to be the #2 player who -- due to having worked in a Cleveland offense that was very similar to the McDaniels' offense -- had a legitimate shot at unseating Kyle Orton for the starter's position, only to see McDaniels go all-in for rookie Tim Tebow. Once again, Quinn found himself having to truly earn his spot.

Second, and this is the one that concerns me as he continues as a Bronco. Quinn has yet to play a complete season. He only saw action in a single game in his rookie campaign. His 2008 and 2009 seasons both ended early with him being placed on injured reserve. Are these injuries the result of a player who was giving everything he had to win a game, or the result of a player who had not played enough to be in his top form? Or is it simply a case, at the end of the day, that Quinn is injury-prone?

These two points would be of far greater concern to me -- should the scenario I mentioned above the jump (the departure of Orton, leaving Quinn and Tebow as the starter candidates with Quinn edging out Tebow) come to pass -- than Quinn's inconsistent play in his first four years.

If that scenario were to come to pass, then I desperately hope that the Quinn quote shared by Sayre represents a true maturing of a player who knows he has to seize his opportunities because they won't be handed to him rather than a player making the politically correct statement. I would also desperately hope that Quinn would be able to play an entire season.