by Joe Fontanazza
SC Staff Writer
While watching the ascension of ESU’s young quarterback, Matt Soltes, it became apparent that young signal callers are now very adept to playing early and playing well. That sentiment is especially true on a professional level with budding field generals compiling impressive statistics.
Before this time, a coach starting a young quarterback was seen as committing career suicide. Maybe even players that deserved a chance to start were told to sit because their coach had a nightmare the night before that included sightings of Jamarcus Russell, Akili Smith, Matt Leinart and the dubious Ryan Leaf. There have been exceptions over the years where a rookie quarterback plays well like Ben Roethlisberger did in 2004, but the failure rate was usually high.
However, this has all seemed to change, because on the opening day of the 2012 NFL season, five rookie quarterbacks were under center (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill). So the question must be asked, “When did the general opinion of rookie quarterbacks change?”
It all seemed to change in 2008 when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both took their teams to the playoffs. They also became the first rookies to play a full sixteen games while leading their teams to the playoffs.
Matt Ryan took the Atlanta Falcons from a dismal 4 -12 record in 2007 to a surprising 11-5 record. That year, Ryan became the second rookie at that time to throw for 3,000 yards, win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and aid his coach, Mike Smith, in winning the Coach of the Year Award.
Flacco was not far behind, also leading his team to a 11-5 record after a 5-11 record during the previous season. The Ravens’ destructive defense was there, but the stabilizing force that Flacco provided was the factor that propelled them to the AFC Championship, where they would lose to the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The NFL is widely known as as a copycat for the wildcat formation craze and millions of variations of the west coast offense that started with legendary coach, Bill Walsh. This is also true in the upward trend of rookie quarterbacks who are named opening day starters since the outstanding years of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.
Since 2008, ten different rookies started their respective team’s first game of their rookie year. Ryan and Flacco started the trend but the jump from two in 2011 to five this year can be attributed to the play of Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Cam Newton had one of the most productive years of any quarterback, let alone rookies. During his first game in 2011, he became the first rookie ever to throw for more than 400 yards in his NFL debut, and he never looked back. He went on to set records in most passing yards by a rookie, most passing yards in a game by a rookie two times, most total touchdowns by a rookie and most rushing touchdowns by any quarterback.
Not to be outdone was Andy Dalton, who led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs. He also orchestrated four fourth-quarter comebacks, and along with Cam Newton, became one of five different rookie quarterbacks to throw for 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill all showing flashes of greatness, this year’s rookie class looks like they will continue the upward trend of rookie quarterbacks starting and also playing well.
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