Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Starting QB (For Now)

Naming a starting quarterback in July is a bit like being engaged--you've agreed to make a commitment at a later date. That's why we call it a proposal. It's an offer to make a commitment down the road, nothing more. Usually, there is a great deal of time between the proposal and the big day. That means there is a whole bunch of time for something to go horribly wrong. Or go just wrong enough that the commitment doesn't seem like such a good idea after all.

When Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli tabbed Jon Kitna as his starter this week, it meant that if everything goes the way it's going now, Kitna will be behind center on the Lions first drive on 2006. However, there is a full slate of pre-season tilts on the board. There is also the entire training camp ahead. I know Greg Eno wants Marinelli to stand firm and fend off the potential quarterback controversy, but Marinelli really hasn't committed to anything other than saying he really, really likes Kitna and hopes to stick with him forever. Unless, of course, he finds Kitna's performance incompatible with his long-term future.

The announcement was also done as a way to help placate Kitna's emotions. He's already gone on record saying he really doesn't like being in a battle for the top spot. Ok, Jon. If you prefer some sign of commitment, Coach Marinelli has offered up the ring, I mean, starter's job. If you don't let him down between now and September, you get the gig.

If, however, you start to play a bit irrationally, if your on-field performance becomes erratic or worse and you start to make Josh McNown look good, the commitment Coach Marinelli made to you in the summer will go bye-bye before autumn.

Greg brings up several legitimate points about sticking with Kitna. However, I just can't see what Kitna has done that guarantees him of anything more than exactly what Marinelli has really offered--the opportunity to lose the job. Sure, Kitna's done slightly more than McNown historically, so he gets the number one seed in the quarterback tournament. However, if he fails, there is simply no reason to stand by him.

We aren't talking Untias, Marino or Elway here. We're talking about a decent NFL signal caller with a history of getting beat out by the new kid on the block. That's not to say Kitna's pro career couldn't explode at Ford Field and he emerges as a Pro Bowl QB under the supervision of Marinelli and Mike Martz. Maybe he can, let's hope so, but history doesn't lead us to that conclusion.

Marinelli has handed him the ball first during the pre-season, but Kitna's got to keep the job on his own. (Well, I guess McNown could be so awful that Kitna could maintain the spot by default, but let's be optimistic. It's July, after all.) If Kitna had a pedigree of sustained success, I'd spot him a crummy pre-season. Unfortunately, I don't think Kitna's career warrants that kind of blank check. It's quite the contrary.

Kitna's got to be at least as good as his counter-parts between now and the first regular season game. If he's better, no problem. If he's a tad worse, well, it's a problem, but not necessarily a big one. If he's clearly the worst QB in the exhibition schedule, I suspect the courtship will end abruptly. After all, Marnelli only proposed the stater's job to Kitna, he isn't married to the idea.

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