A Backup Plan

March 3, 2003
A Backup Plan
by Keith Weiland

Texan fans really love college quarterbacks. Seems plenty have been penciling one down in mock drafts they’ve prepared so far this year. While it is possible the team could select one during the 2003 draft, the Texans at least put one possibility to rest.

“The only position we won’t take in the first round is a quarterback,” General Manager Charley Casserly told the Houston Chronicle last week.

Ahh… silence the sounds of all the rampant hearsay tickling my earlobes!

Seriously, this should hardly be a shock to anyone. With David Carr leading the way, the Texans are secure in knowing, barring some unforeseen tragedy, they have their franchise quarterback.

It should be obvious then, that as an expansion team with so many other needs on draft day, fans will already be thinking of who will be carrying Mr. Carr’s clipboard for the next ten seasons, right?

Silly as it may sound, it’s true. Can’t blame fans for speculating. There’s a lot of idle downtime in the offseason, and there is a help wanted sign hanging at the position.

And okay, maybe there is some merit to the discussion. If the starting quarterback is the single-most important player on the roster, then as the adage goes, the team’s backup quarterback is the second-most important.

“The likelihood is that you’re not going to win big without one,” Colts president Bill Polian once said, “even if everything else is in place.”

Each year it seems more than half of the league’s teams call on Number Two to wear the daddy pants during the course of a season. More than a few Super Bowls have been won by backups, most recently Tom Brady and Trent Dilfer, that started the season wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet.

That’s all fine and good, but it still shouldn’t be a priority for the Texans heading into the 2003 season. But is that the word from Reliant Park?

“We would take a quarterback in the third round or lower,” Casserly told the Chronicle, “if we believe he can help the team by providing depth.”

Slo-o-o-w down there, partner. Let’s not get carried away.

Not yet, at least. Following Polian’s comment, the Texans are certainly not a team where everything else in place, so what’s the rush?

Another old saying when it comes to backup quarterbacks is that they’re the most popular guy in town when they’re on the sidelines. A backup can do no wrong because… well, because he hasn’t had the opportunity yet. In fact, the longer it takes for backup to actually take the field, the more bloated his legend becomes.

Fortunately for most teams, backups quickly acquit themselves of possessing any real NFL talent when they ultimately pull up those daddy pants one leg at a time. But woe be to the team that has one of these backups shine on gameday, because when that happens, the two dirtiest words to team harmony surface in a three-inch headline on Monday morning’s sportspage:


Eh, you might say, competition is healthy. Well, not always, at least not at this position. A cyclone like this can rip a team and its fans right down the middle. The funny thing about Casserly’s comments last week is that he’s already lived this mistake in Washington.

Against his better judgment, Casserly let new head coach Norv Turner select Heath Shuler over Casserly’s choice, Dilfer, with the third overall pick in the 1994 draft. Perhaps not by chance, Casserly later selected another quarterback, a little-known player named Gus Frerotte, in the seventh round of the same draft.

Maybe Casserly wasn’t purposefully undermining the selection of Shuler, but he might as well have been. Shuler’s tragic history with the Skins’ has been rehashed here before, but long story short, the fans and ultimately the team turned on their once-golden prodigy to attach their hopes to the underdog Frerotte.

What if Carr experiences another season with an anemic Texans offense? What if he suffers a season-ending injury? Either circumstance could allow a worthy challenger a chance to excel in his place. It may sound like a good thing for the Texans if one of these scenarios was to play out, but it wouldn’t for the best at this tender stage of the franchise’s development.

The young quarterback starter-backup combo is a formula most NFL teams shy away from today. In a world where what’s old is new again, well-traveled but talent-limited veterans like Neil O’Donnell and Steve Beuerlein are all the rage again. They should be our rage, too.

Think of it like the wise Merlin to the young King Arthur. Or, in slightly more recent terms, think of it like the butler, Hobson, to the drunk millionaire, coincidentally named Arthur as well.

A clear delineation between first- and second-string quarterback is a key component towards maintaining locker room chemistry. So it boggles the mind that Casserly might try this angle again.

The third round of this quarterback-rich draft will still have a pretty decent list of highly touted prospects on the board. Just to point out a few, players like Ken Dorsey, Brad Banks, Kliff Kingsbury, and Seneca Wallace are certain to be there for the taking.

And – gasp! – what if Chris Simms slipped to the top of the third round? In the spirit of selecting the (altogether now) Best Player Available, would Casserly dare select Simms?

Nothing intentionally personal against Simms or any of the other young men listed above, but drafting a quarterback this spring would be tempting, no taunting, the fates a little too strenuously for my tastes.

The Texans have already had experience with an unrestricted free agent quarterback that can continue to play second fiddle to Carr. The Superlumberjack Man, Mike Quinn, might sound a tad pricey at roughly $525,000 and change as a clipboard holder, but he’s ideal for the Texans at least one more season. He can catch those polaroid prints near the water jugs with the best of ’em.

Heck, oddly enough, even Frerotte himself fits the formula this time around for Casserly.

A real woman could stop Keith Weiland from churning out articles, but it’d have to be a real big woman.