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Pressure leads to more QB changes; Polamalu back in big way

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Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images
After a slow start to the season, QB Tarvaris Jackson has lost the starting job in Minnesota.


Minnesota coach Brad Childress not only benched quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, he gave the reins to 15-year veteran Gus Frerotte for the foreseeable future. Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher has done the same with Kerry Collins after starter Vince Young was injured. Arizona’s Ken Wisenhunt is sticking with Kurt Warner over Matt Leinart, and Jon Gruden seems to be rolling with Brian Griese, not Jeff Garcia.

The decisions to not only promote backup quarterbacks to starters, but to pledge their retention as No. 1s at such an early stage of the season is a trend that further highlights the pressure to win –- even at the cost of possibly stunting the development of a young quarterback.

Other than in Tampa Bay, where Griese, 33, is five years younger than Garcia, first-rounders Young and Leinart and second-rounder Jackson could be holding a clipboard for the rest of the season.

Schefter's blog
Gus Frerotte is now the starting QB for the Minnesota Vikings and Tarvaris Jackson is on the bench. What does this mean for the future of this franchise? More ...

The moves to the veteran backups, so far, look wise in Tampa Bay, Arizona and Tennessee. Childress’s decision comes somewhat as a surprise, despite his team’s 0-2 start. Childress has been incredibly loyal and supportive of Jackson and seemed set to let him develop as the rest of the relatively stacked roster tried to keep things competitive.

Jackson had completed 30 of 59 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown, not awful stats, but not great either, especially with the unsuccessful start of a team that has lofty expectation. However, Childress said he sensed the momentum Jackson had gained late last season had slipped over the summer, which is never a good thing.

"Tarvaris did a great job of stepping up last year," Childress said. "I saw his growth in the offseason, the first two preseason games before he got hurt (knee). I just didn’t get the same feeling the last two games. I want to make sure we capitalize on the opportunities and I don’t want to be complacent in evaluating the process and getting behind the 8-ball."

As important as winning may be, so too could be the way the young quarterbacks handle the demotions, especially if the team has success without them.

Smith defers to teammates again

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has watched Carolina win two games without him while he served a two-game suspension for attacking and punching teammate Ken Lucas in training camp. Upon his return, he let them speak for him too, as he declined to speak to the media.

Lucas, as he did shortly after the attack that left him with a broken nose, didn’t shy away.

"I’m going to re-iterate that I truly believe everything I said, whenever the day was, I truly forgave my teammate, my brother," Lucas said. "I have totally forgotten about it. The only time I talk about it is when sombody brings it up to me and I try to shoot it down as much as possible. That was in the past and I don’t want to dwell on it any more. I told him after [Sunday’s victory over Chicago], I’ll see you on Monday, let’s go get this ring together."

Polamalu is back

It was one of the details that could have set the table for what arguably turned out to be the biggest play in Pittsburgh’s 10-6 victory over Cleveland last Sunday. Browns tight end Kellen Winslow tried to bait hyper-aggressive Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu with a quick outside move before he broke up field: The classic double-move. Polamalu didn’t bite, and the pass went incomplete as Winslow had little room to maneuver and catch a not-so-perfect throw from Derek Anderson.

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Troy Polamalu is healthy and back to making plays all over the field for the Steelers.

» Polamalu's training methods

Polamalu thought the Browns were going to attempt the double-move again and he positioned himself for the second cut, a disciplined tack for a player seemingly always eager to deliver the big hit. The receiver never made the second move and "the ball came right to me," Polamalu said. Had he jumped the first move, the Steelers might not be among the handful of unbeaten teams in the NFL.

It was Polamalu’s second interception of the season, giving him twice as many picks as he had during an injury-marred 2007. Though he won’t say he’s back to his Pro Bowl form, he could be on his way. His re-emergence (seven tackles, three pass breakups) is allowing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to vary his already multi-faceted defense even more because teams have to again account for Polamalu. Once again he’s lining up at every level of the defense, feigning man coverage and dropping into zone and running step for step with receivers in one-on-one coverages.

"We’re fresh," Polamalu said. "Coach LeBeau is changing things up a little bit this season and we’re keeping the offense on their toes."

While the modest Polamalu referenced the plural about the Steelers being fresh, it’s actually him who is finally physically vibrant. Polamalu reluctantly missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury suffered after months of alternative training methods in California. He wouldn’t admit the down time benefitted him, but said "We’re 2-0. Thank God I’m healthy right now. I guess I wouldn’t want to change a thing."

Dorsey: Take II

Kansas City rookie defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, the fifth overall pick, will get his second chance in as many weeks to make a team that passed on him in the April draft either regret or feel better about their decision.

He didn’t do much (three tackles) to make the Raiders bemoan using the No. 4 overall pick on running back Darren McFadden, who gashed the Chiefs for 160 rushing yards in a 23-8 victory over Kansas City. The Falcons hope Dorsey doesn’t make good Sunday against No. 3 pick, quarterback Matt Ryan.

Atlanta wasthisclose to drafting Dorsey instead of Ryan but decided that acquiring a franchise quarterback would serve them better than drafting a franchise defensive tackle. The choice didn’t sit well with a large portion of the emotionally ransacked fan base, who perceived Ryan’s selection as more a move to step away from the Michael Vick era than actually choosing the best player available.

The fact Dorsey played in the SEC and was familiar to the fan base prompted sour feelings when Atlanta opted for the guy from up North. The force feeding of Ryan to the media and his celebrated $72 million contract signing at team owner Arthur Blank’s office were perceived somewhat as being over the top. They added to the hurdles Ryan already had to overcome with the public.

While Ryan has steadily won favor in the locker room and with the fan base, it’s not as if the Falcons couldn’t use Dorsey. While starting 3-technique tackle, Jonathan Babineaux, has six tackles and a sack, nose tackle Grady Jackson’s knee recently flared up, making him unable to play last Sunday at Tampa Bay. Backup Kindal Moorhead has not been as productive as expected, and only has one tackle.

South gone south?

The AFC South shaped up to be the most competitive division entering the season outside of the NFC East. Now, it appears Tennessee (2-0) is in prime position to make major gains to secure the radically weakened division.

Jacksonville (0-2) could have a hard time overcoming the rash of injuries to the offensive line. Houston (0-1) has to deal with the uncertainty of where it will play its upcoming home games and how a community ravaged and displaced by Hurricane Ike will rally around it. The Colts (1-1) figured to be unsteady with quarterback Peyton Manning missing all preseason after knee surgery, but the news that standout safety Bob Sanders could be out at least a month with an ankle injury could prolong the Colts manifestation.

The Titans could create more distance this weekend when they play host to Houston. The Colts face visiting Jacksonville in a game the Jags almost have to win.

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