Even after four decades of covering the NFL, I have learned that I should never think I know everything.
A case in point is making rash judgments about teams and players during minicamps. A year ago, because of the increasing importance of minicamps, I hit practices of the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns on back-to-back days. I watched Bills quarterback J.P. Losman and marveled as he resembled Kurt Warner in his St. Louis Rams heydey. I also watched three Browns quarterbacks resemble members of the "Bad News Bears" baseball team.
Losman ended up losing his starting job, and
Derek Anderson emerged from the Bad News Browns' minicamp to throw 29 touchdown passes and have a Pro Bowl season. Lesson learned? Accept minicamps for what they are, test laboratories for new schemes and new techniques, particularly when viewing offenses.
Derek Anderson was 10-5 as a starter in 2007, throwing for 3,787 yard and 29 TDs.
I offer these thoughts in sizing up some of the young quarterbacks I've seen in minicamps this spring. Green Bay Packers rookie quarterback Brian Brohm is going through a tough learning curve. Young quarterbacks learning a new system think before they throw and temporarily lose their instincts. Bad days outnumber good days, so, other than there being no question strong-armed Aaron Rodgers won't be challenged for his starting job early, making longterm judgments would be foolish.
That brings us to the subject of Brady Quinn, the Notre Dame quarterback who fell into the Browns' lap. With no games on the line in June, it's impossible to say how ready he is to be an NFL starter. But if work ethic means anything, Quinn is closer to Tom Brady than he is Jonathan Quinn.
The self-proclaimed best prepared quarterback of the 2007 draft is an NFL workaholic, and his improvements on the field are noticeable. Quinn appears more authoritative running an offense, and steps into his throws with confidence and accuracy. More impressive is how he works after practice.
Quinn will spend hours after a workout refining routes and practicing different throws to perfect his craft. The only downside to him is that Anderson will join him for some of those overtime sessions. Romeo Crennel must love it. Quinn's persistence in perfecting his craft is making Anderson a better quarterback. It's a win-win situation for the Browns.
"I've stayed home since January," Quinn said. "Between working out, throwing and watching film, I'll spend five to six hours a day here and do the same every weekday. Every weekend I might go somewhere. Lots of guys head out after the season for time off, it being the offseason and all that. Guys want to get away and spend time with their families. I'm trying to get comfortable with the offense."
As I stood on the side of the practice field watching one of Quinn's post-practice sessions, I took note of how he adjusted his release point on different passes to a receiver in the corner of the end zone. On some throws, his release point was technically sound, high and tight. On others, he was throwing a little more three-quarters in his delivery. He wasn't doing this by accident.
"That's the thing you've got to do to find a window to throw," Quinn said. "Playing in the NFL, you are never going to be able to stand here and just throw the ball. A lot of times, you are going to be on the move and you are going to be off-balance. You'll be throwing the ball where you normally don't throw from your normal arm slot."
A year ago at minicamp, Quinn was getting off his throws any way possible and they were going to places no one could guess. A year later, he's perfecting throws from different arm angles in case a defender is leaping to take away his normal release point. It's that type of preparation that will make him a good NFL quarterback.
"I think Brady and Derek have taken big jumps from a year ago," Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "Compared statistically with their completion percentages from last year's OTAs [organized team activities], all three quarterbacks [Ken Dorsey included] are doing better. Both Brady and Derek are up in that high range of completions. They have a great grasp of the offense. They know what to expect. They know how they fit in.''
What's impressive about Quinn, though, is that he's now able to put into practice what he learned during his film study during those lonely, cold days in late January and February when he and cleaning people were the only ones left in the
"I watch a ton of film," Quinn said. "I'll watch whatever we're doing over and over again. I'll watch myself mechanically. I'll watch Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and see what they do mechanically. That's the thing. You don't want to try to mimic them, but you want to see if there are things that they do that you can incorporate into your game. You are your own quarterback, and you work on what you like doing. You do what you are good at doing and then you evolve your game from there."
Anderson and Quinn are contrasts in style that work well together. Quinn is the perfectionist who is always working on his game. Anderson is the natural, a former sixth-round pick with a big arm who loves to fire the ball deep downfield. Anderson knows he can't give Quinn too much of a window to play, or Quinn eventually could beat him out.
At some point, the organization must make a longterm decision on which quarterback is the franchise's future. The St. Louis Rams had to decide between Trent Green and Warner. The Kansas City Chiefs had to decide between Rich Gannon and Elvis Grbac. The Chargers had to decide between Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
Whenever Savage makes that call -- and it could be as late at 2010 -- the outgoing quarterback should bring big trade value.
In the meantime, Cleveland, enjoy. Quinn should have an impressive exhibition season and that will push Anderson to being a better quarterback in 2008.
A year ago, the Browns didn't know what they had behind center.
Now, the Browns are loaded.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.