By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Rookie quarterbacks have been on notice for years.
You are no longer on scholarship. It’s not about sitting, watching and learning. It’s about jumping in with both feet and giving your team a lift.
College quarterbacks are operating much more sophisticated offenses than they did a generation or two ago and offseason training gives them a chance to learn the specifics of what their teams are going to do on offense.
The shock value of operating a pro-style offense has lessened.
Let’s not make any mistakes. Rookie quarterbacks are competing against much better athletes than they saw at the college level. They are facing defensive ends and linebackers who are capable of causing great bodily harm.
However, full preparation gives rookies like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill to make a contribution in their first seasons.
Here’s an early look at how it’s going for four rookie quarterbacks who may be their teams’ starters this season.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
It was a near perfect start for Luck in the Colts’ preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams. First, a look at the numbers. Luck completed 10-of-16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Three of the incomplete passes were dropped by his receivers and two other passes were thrown away.
More than the numbers was his command and poise. Instead of getting rid of the ball quickly because nerves had taken over, Luck read through his possessions and often got to his third or fourth read before letting go of the football.
That’s more than savvy and football intelligence. Luck is confident in his own athletic ability. He knows he has the speed and quickness to get away from the rush when it closes in on him so he will hold on to the ball a half-second longer to let his receivers get open.
This has been a consistent part of his game since the start of training camp. He has looked solid in practices and his first-game performance will give Colts fans reason to have confidence.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
RGIII seemed to be operating at a disadvantage compared to Luck in the first days of training camp because he wasn’t quite as sharp at the start. He has made excellent progress and has gotten better almost every day.
Griffin was solid in his first game against the Buffalo Bills, completing 4-of-6 passes for 70 yards and he threw a touchdown pass. He did not make the razzle-dazzle plays he was famous for at Baylor, but Redskins insiders report that his athleticism has been on display and he has taken command of the team’s offense impressively.
He is still learning his way, but he each time he learns something new he appears to master it quickly.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Since David Garrard has undergone arthroscopic knee surgery, Tannehill has given himself a chance to be the Dolphins’ Week One quarterback. The former Texas A&M signal-caller is working under offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who was his head coach with the Aggies.
That gives him an advantage over Matt Moore, since he knows Sherman’s offense so well. Tannehill shook off the nervousness and came through with a 14-of-21 performance against the Tampa Bay Bucs in which he threw for 167 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins have a chance to be one of the worst offensive teams in football, so Tannehill may find himself on the wrong end of the shooting gallery when he is standing in the pocket and can’t find any open receivers.
Still, so far, so good for Tannehill.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Despite being in an “open competition” with Colt McCoy, it seems quite likely that Weeden is going to win the starting quarterback position with the Browns.
He had an ugly preseason stat line in the Browns 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions – 3-of-9, 62 yards, 0 TDs and 1 interception — but Weeden has impressed the coaching staff with his arm strength and his poise.
When Weeden has thrown the ball in practice, it has had serious velocity. He clearly has much more arm strength than McCoy and he is the Browns’ future at the position.
He appears to be a quick learner in practice. He is starting to understand that arm strength alone won’t get the job done. If he has an open receiver downfield, he knows he can’t underestimate the speed of the free safety coming over to break up the play or intercept the pass.
Avoiding mistakes will be the big key for Weeden the rest of the preseason if he is going to be the Browns’ starter.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.