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'Who knows what's going to happen' with NFC West quarterbacks?

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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Associated Press
With Alex Smith (left), Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Leinart set to start, the NFC West quarterback situation is uncertain.


It's only fitting that most of the talk concerning the St. Louis Rams' top overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft is about whether the team will use it on a quarterback.

St. Louis resides in the NFC West, which is the one division in the NFL with more quarterback questions than answers.

»Will Oklahoma's Sam Bradford fill the Rams' desperate need for a franchise passer and help reverse their shrinking attendance?

»Is Matt Leinart ready to show the Arizona Cardinals he's ready to fill those giant shoes that Kurt Warner vacated with his retirement?

»Does Charlie Whitehurst, who the Seattle Seahawks acquired to be their eventual long-term starter, push Matt Hasselbeck out of the No. 1 spot this summer?

»Can Alex Smith tighten his grip on the San Francisco 49ers' starting job now that the stronger-armed David Carr is behind him?

"There's a lot of change (or potential change at quarterback) in our division," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That's good because I'd hate to be the only team that was having some change at that position, although the guy in Seattle (Hasselbeck) is pretty good. I mean, I know they brought Whitehurst in, but Hasselbeck's a good player, and I don't think you can underestimate that.

"Who knows what's going to happen?"

That seems to be the theme for the state of quarterbacking throughout the NFC West. Let's take a closer look:

Arizona

With only 11 career starts in four seasons, Leinart has plenty to prove. So far, he hasn't lived up to his status as a first-round pick, nor has he given any indication that he can replicate what Warner achieved in Arizona.

Whisenhunt didn't draft Leinart, so he feels no particular attachment to him. However, he sees him as his best option to maintain the Cardinals' prolific passing ways. Although the Cards signed Derek Anderson after his release from Cleveland, they likely intend to sink or swim with Leinart.

"It's obviously a change for us, but we're excited about it on a level because we feel like Matt's worked hard to get this opportunity," Whisenhunt said. "But we also brought in Derek Anderson because he's a veteran quarterback that's had success in the league, and competition at positions is important to us. Hopefully, we're a good enough team that we can handle (the change)."

St. Louis

Is the selection of Bradford a done deal? It seems so, especially with the team that seemed to have had the greatest chance of trading for St. Louis' pick, the Washington Redskins, seemingly taking themselves out of the market by trading for Donovan McNabb.

Earlier this week, general manager Billy Devaney told the Associated Press that the Rams "haven't come close to deciding" what they'll do with the No. 1 choice. But he's having a hard time convincing most league observers that's the case.

Could they legitimately have reservations? Of course. This is a financial investment of staggering proportions for a team in the process of being sold. Even after speaking with Bradford multiple times and their thorough study of his background and character, Rams officials understandably have cause to wonder if selecting him is the right thing.

"To me what's hard is how are (No. 1 overall quarterbacks) going to react, what are they going to be like when all the expectations are there, all the pressure's there, they've made a lot of money, and all the temptations," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "How do you know that? You try to sit there and say, 'He's been through four years of college, he's handled all these things pretty well, but the setting's different. You're going to school every day. Now you're playing the game of football, but that's all you're doing.' You don't know."

San Francisco

Niners coach Mike Singletary said that, in his first conversation with Carr after the team signed him as a free agent, he explained that Smith was the starter and that there would be no open competition in training camp.

Nevertheless, Singletary did note Carr's ability to "stretch the field" with his strong passing arm. The coach also wasn't ruling out the possibility that Carr could make Smith feel his presence.

"The thing that I did tell David is that I always want competition," Singletary said. "I think great players compete within their own (team). Iron sharpens iron. The thing that I'm excited about is Alex really doesn't need David to push him, but every player at some point in time has to understand that, 'I'm going to go out here, and I'm going to do my absolute best.'

"But there are times when you have a tendency to maybe lose focus as a player. And you just realize that you don't have a whole lot of time to think about things like that. You've just got to keep going, keep pushing because you do have somebody behind you that can play."

What does Smith need to do to improve?

"Probably just continue to really understand and get a full grasp of the offense and all the things he can do and be able to utilize all the tools he has within this offense," Singletary said. "I think that's the next level."

Seattle

New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says Hasselbeck is "our guy." But you get the sense there is some wiggle room.

For one thing, the Seahawks wanted Whitehurst badly enough that they pulled him away from San Diego -- where he had been a third stringer -- for a swap of second-round picks this year and a third-round choice in 2011. Secondly, Hasselbeck is older, has had problems staying healthy, and is someone who Carroll and his coaching staff have inherited; Whitehurst is someone they picked.

"We're counting on Matt to take the leadership spot in this position, for sure," Carroll said. "Ideally, I would like to see Charlie compete and push him and make statements that he has a chance to excite us about the fact that he can get in and play when we need him, and then just see what happens in the competition. Competition's been the central theme in our programs forever. We're going to see how far it goes and see what happens, but Matt's our guy. Everybody in our program is (clear about that). But our coaches are excited about developing Charlie."

The question is, what do Carroll and the rest of the coaches see in Whitehurst that seems so exciting? The guy has been in the NFL for four years, yet has not thrown a single pass in the regular season.

Carroll insists that a thorough assessment could be made from watching him play in the preseason.

"He's thrown a lot of balls in preseason games, so we were able to break it down so we could see the different kinds of throws, see his consistency, see kind of his way of playing the game," Carroll said. "We saw him run with the football, we saw him move a little bit with the ball to make some throws, a lot of downfield stuff that (Chargers coach) Norv (Turner) features, and saw the athleticism, too, that we really are excited about.

"He's a really quick athlete. For being 6-5, he moves beautifully. You put all that together -- natural release, strong arm, capable of making all the throws -- we thought this is a guy, with four years under his belt of being around the league with good coaching and good people around him, it would give us a really good shot at a guy that might be able to be a guy that we can look towards the future and be a guy that can be developed into our top quarterback."

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