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Many QB situations around the NFL remain anything but settled

Wouldn't it be nice if, with the regular season less than three weeks away, every club in the NFL had the same quarterback situation as the one that exists with the Jacksonville Jaguars?

"I'm the quarterback of this team and everybody knows it," David Garrard said.

The Jaguars, who made Garrard their starter just before the beginning of the 2007 season, certainly do.

The Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers still don't.

Long-time observers of the NFL (including this one) can't recall another time when so many starting quarterback jobs have been unsettled, when there has been such a proliferation of quarterback controversies.

And these are just the teams that have yet to pick a starter. By the time the season opens, as many as 11 teams could have a different No. 1 quarterback than the one they had in '07. Among them are two that only acquired starters after they opened training camp -- the New York Jets, who picked up Brett Favre in a trade with the Green Bay Packers, and the Miami Dolphins, who signed Chad Pennington after he was released by the Jets.

And this does not take into account the very real possibility of the league's two best quarterbacks, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, starting the regular season on the sidelines because of injuries.

Multiple factors have contributed to the rampant instability at the game's most important position.

The first is impatience -- the same impatience that has also led to a great deal of coaching turnover in recent years.

Most franchises that have struggled can't afford to wait to become better. They have too much money invested in talent. They have too many fans and sponsors who have invested too much money in them.

Coaches and quarterbacks share the distinction (burden?) of being the most recognizable faces on their respective teams. They are the primary selling points … or the primary reasons not to buy.

Another factor is that the NFL does not have an abundance of star quarterbacks. After Brady and Manning, it's a struggle to put together a top five at the position that would be universally embraced. Do you put Favre in third place? Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, Dallas' Tony Romo, and Garrard are very good, but are they great?

Where does Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb belong in the rankings? What about Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck or Carolina's Jake Delhomme or New Orleans' Drew Brees or San Diego's Philip Rivers or Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia or St. Louis' Marc Bulger or Cleveland's Derek Anderson?

How about Eli Manning? He is the reigning Super Bowl MVP for the New York Giants and his game is still very much under the microscope of critics.

Can the Kansas City Chiefs truly feel comfortable with Brodie Croyle as their starter? The same question could be posed to the Minnesota Vikings (Tarvaris Jackson), the Washington Redskins (Jason Campbell), and the Denver Broncos (Jay Cutler).

There are enough flaws with each to be hotly debated, which is a sign of these unstable times at the quarterback position.

It's also too early to tell if the recent infusion of new quarterbacking talent is going to improve the landscape. Young guns have entered the league and received millions of dollars, yet the results are a long way from being in on the likes of Vince Young of Tennessee or Brady Quinn of Cleveland or JaMarcus Russell of Oakland. Trent Edwards replaced a young veteran, J.P. Losman, as a rookie last year and was showing considerable promise this summer until suffering a deep bruise in his right quadriceps during practice Tuesday night. His status for Sunday night's preseason game against the Colts is uncertain.

The Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, and 49ers each have a first-round draft pick involved in the competition for their starting spots.

Matt Leinart, whom the Cards selected in the first round in 2006, is battling with veteran Kurt Warner. Alex Smith, whom the 49ers made the top overall choice in 2005, is going against J.T. O'Sullivan, a veteran free agent from Detroit, and Shaun Hill.

Matt Ryan, whom Atlanta made the third overall pick of this year's draft, is in a four-way competition with Chris Redman, Joey Harrington, and D.J. Shockley. Joe Flacco, Baltimore's first-rounder, is part of a three-way battle with Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.

Thursday night's preseason game between Chicago and San Francisco will match one club that just picked its starter earlier this week (the Bears, who went with Kyle Orton over Rex Grossman) against one still looking to settle the position.

Here's a closer look at the remaining battles:

» Arizona: Leinart's first-round status and youth should give him the edge over Warner. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said that Leinart is the starter, but that Warner is pushing him. There's still a sense that Leinart isn't a perfect fit for Whisenhunt's scheme and that the only reason he is in the mix is because he came with the deal when the coach took over the Cardinals. It is widely assumed he has greater trust in Warner, who threw 21 touchdown passes in the final eight games of last season. Last year, when Leinart started, Whisenhunt would replace him with Warner in goal-line situations. This year, the coach plans to leave the starter on the field in all situations and has said that Leinart has made improvement in changing plays at the line.

» Atlanta: The job is Ryan's. It is just a matter of when he is ready to fill it. The start of the season might be too soon, although the Falcons drafted him with the idea of making his the new face of their organization and further burying the Michael Vick debacle. If new coach Mike Smith goes with Harrington or Redman to open the schedule, it will only be because he is worried about Ryan taking too much punishment because of his inability to pick up most of the blitzes he will face.

» Baltimore: Flacco isn't ready. He's big, strong, and smart. But he is struggling with the quantum competitive jump from the University of Delaware to the NFL, and needs much more time -- perhaps an entire season -- to develop. With 42 career starts, Boller has the overwhelming advantage in experience and he has been the best of the Ravens' quarterbacks this summer. Still, his awkward throwing motion is a problem. Smith is a better runner than thrower and whatever plays he makes are likely to happen outside the pocket. NFL defenses are simply too fast and talented for him to make a living that way.

» San Francisco: O'Sullivan seems to have a pretty firm grip on the starting job because he has greater familiarity with the scheme of new 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who coached O'Sullivan in Detroit last year. He also is seen as a strong leader. That is a trait that Smith has seemingly yet to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the 49ers' coaches.

"The leadership and qualities he has just makes you kind of want to latch onto it and follow a guy like that," Niners receiver Josh Morgan said of O'Sullivan. "J.T. knows the offense and he gets in there and takes command of the huddle. He goes out there and makes plays and gives us his all every time, and that's what you want in a quarterback."

It's also nice to have some stability at the position.

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