Rookie QBs show promise in first preseason action


Week 1 of the preseason is almost in the books, with one game (Jets at Texans) remaining Monday night. So what have we learned so far? A great deal. Not enough to draw firm conclusions about players or teams, but enough to shed some light on both. Let's start with the new players at the game's most important position: quarterback.

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Newton: Short-term sacrifice, long-term gains
If we learned anything from watching Carolina's 20-10 win over the Giants Saturday night, it was that Cam Newton obviously possesses the raw talent to be a franchise quarterback deserving of the first overall pick. This was not a stellar performance, but rather a peek into the true potential, the real talent that Newton possesses. Newton needs all the reps he can get -- to help him both mentally and physically, as he adapts to the speed of the game. The best move the Panthers can make for the future is to play Newton as much as possible now, in the preseason, and prepare him to start the regular season. They will take some lumps in the short term, but it will help make the Panthers a legitimate playoff team in a few years.

Locker: Work in progress
The Titans signed veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to play right now while they work on first-round pick Jake Locker's mechanics, trying to improve his overall accuracy and fundamentals. And based on one game, their work has paid dividends. Locker was more accurate and more precise with his throws in a 14-3 win over the Vikings. It's not perfect yet, and when the games get faster, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to use his new fundamentals under pressure. When the Titans took Locker, they knew he was a work in progress. So far they are making strides.

Gabbert: Not ready to unseat Garrard
Blaine Gabbert was forced into the starting role in Jacksonville's Thursday night loss to New England, as David Garrard was nursing a back injury. Gabbert was not overwhelmed by being pressed into the starting role but he was not overwhelming in his performance, which was hampered by drops and a subpar receiving group. Gabbert will need much more time and a better supporting cast around him as he grows. However, his early performance did not show the command or the skill set to displace Garrard as the starter just yet. It's early, but based on one game, Gabbert won't beat out Garrard -- especially because Jack Del Rio needs to win this year.

Ponder: Some hesitation, some promise
Christian Ponder took over for Donovan McNabb, who looked rusty Saturday in his Vikings debut. Ponder looked hesitant with the ball at times; when the play was not as scripted, he did what most young quarterbacks do -- he ran. Watching Ponder play, you could see his mind was moving faster than his body, which resulted in some hesitation. However, when the play was clean and in rhythm, he delivered the ball on time and accurately. Right now, Ponder clearly would not be a good option for the Vikings on opening day. That said, I am not sure McNabb will be one either.

Dalton: Not a good start
Bengals rookie Andy Dalton struggled Friday night in Detroit -- and that is being kind. He did not look decisive with the football, nor did he have a great command. He was under pressure from the Lions' front, but he was not impressive with his arm or location of the football. From his first pass of the game -- which was intercepted -- to his last, Dalton never looked like a pure thrower. He did not look like someone who could drive the ball when the pocket closed on him. I am confident Dalton will be better next week with more work, but whether he can make all the throws the NFL game requires is yet to be determined.

Kaepernick: Not ready for prime time
Colin Kaepernick entered San Francisco's game on Friday facing all the heat Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could muster. Predictably for a rookie, Kaepernick was not prepared to handle all the blitzes -- nor were his offensive teammates. In fairness to Williams, he was just running his defensive scheme in order to get his unit ready for the Packers on Sept. 8. Kaepernick was too careless with the ball (if he doesn't keep the ball closer to his body, he will set a record for fumbles in one season), too low with his delivery (he had several passes batted down on three-step drops), and he looked to run too often. Kaepernick played slow. With former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith stumbling, the 49ers left the bayou wondering if they had a quarterback on their roster for 2011.

Mallett: Looking good
In New England's Thursday night win over Jacksonville, Ryan Mallett played like the first overall pick in the draft, not a third-rounder. He was quick-minded with the football and accurate on every level. He put the ball in the end zone and looked like a 10-year veteran running the two-minute drill. Mallett clearly showed to everyone he was not a third-round talent. According to my sources, he has been a great person and teammate in New England. Mallett was by far the best rookie quarterback and will get a huge amount of work this week in Tampa. Mallett is involved in a steep competition for the backup job in New England as current No. 2 Brian Hoyer also played really well. The third-year pro has the look of a bona fide NFL starter.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.



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