Young, old leadership at quarterback will define 2009 season

Bart Starr recognizes that some NFL teams have it and some do not. Quarterback leadership, he says, is a delicate art. And Starr is certain that those quarterbacks who are lacking miss two critical insights of the word.

"First, you start with the first part of that word leadership -- lead," the Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame quarterback said. "Some of the NFL's quarterbacks today just don't get that. Next, it's about attitude. Your disposition is your attitude. And next to love in life, I don't think there is a more important trait in anything you do other than attitude. It's one of the most powerful words in the vocabulary. If a quarterback leads and has an effective attitude, then come determination, emotion and confidence. He gives these things, and it becomes contagious."

What style do you prefer?

San Diego's Philip Rivers and Chicago's Jay Cutler are rousing. But the New York Giants' Eli Manning and Washington's Jason Campbell are calm. Miami's Chad Pennington and Baltimore's Joe Flacco are highly analytical. But Minnesota's Brett Favre and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb are pranksters.

"I don't think leadership is something you can teach in your quarterback, they just have to have that trait," RedskinsHall of Fame wide receiver Art Monk said. "You can't have a winning football team without a leading, confident quarterback. You don't have one, and it's like a canoe without a paddle. And defining exactly what it is, what works, is really difficult."

It is not that tough to define, according to Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning.

"The description comes from the result," Henning said. "Win, and you're a leader. Also, I look at how the players react to him, the way players play for him and make plays for him. That tells you a lot. A quarterback who is a great leader gets players to rise to their highest level. And really, I don't care and any coach doesn't care how he does it, just do it."

A quarterback who excels in leadership transfers what coaches desire to players. And a great leader at the position can improvise, knowing precisely when to make his own calls, his own moves.

James Lofton spent half of his 16-year Hall of Fame career as a Packers wide receiver (1978 through 1986). Quarterback leadership was much clearer then, he said.

"It's kind of evolved now into coaches dictating so much on the field, but back then, quarterbacks called a lot of their plays and they were able to take more natural command," Lofton said. "A lot of quarterback leadership then was defined by your in-game touch. Now that leadership is tangible yet intangible. It's more about personality."

McNabb has plenty to say about that. Plenty has been said about him on this subject.

McNabb enters his 11th season in Philadelphia with people around him still trying to get a handle on exactly what his leadership style brings.

McNabb is clear about it.

"A leader is like a businessman and not one necessarily appointed," McNabb said. "Some cannot handle the pressure that comes with it. Everybody certainly wants to be in front of the cameras and out front period, but they don't like the pressure that builds with the job. A leader at quarterback in the NFL has to make a great effort every year. And it's not about the whole vocal aspect. The action is more important than talking about it. The way I do it, I just try to be me."

And "being me," some Eagles say, means McNabb having fun, cracking jokes, keeping things loose with his team. Too loose, his critics insist.

"I do not buy that I can't be humorous or joke or have fun and not be an effective leader," McNabb said. "The so-called great leaders in this league -- Peyton (Manning) and (Tom) Brady -- joke around and have fun, too. Here in Philadelphia, as long as I'm a part of it, that's the way I will be. You have to blow that off. Sometimes people want to see your broken face and see you run your head into a wall. No. Those are things I try to keep away from the football field. You prepare in life just like you lead. You prepare, you're humble and you engage."

The Eagles' younger receivers, such as rookie Jeremy Maclin and second-year pro DeSean Jackson, grew up playing video games with McNabb as their quarterback. Jackson said this helps make McNabb a leader easier to follow. McNabb is, to some in the group, an idol. But Jackson stressed that is only a beginning window.

"You respect peers with experience," Jackson said. "But no quarterback can be a leader in the NFL without accomplishment. You have to make winning plays at quarterback. That's what gets players to respect you most as a leader."

That makes it a potential thorny road for this season's young NFL quarterbacks.

Four teams -- Buffalo, San Francisco, Oakland and the New York Jets -- feature prime examples of young quarterbacks who have little NFL triumph but are expected to provide winning leadership. For Trent Edwards, Shaun Hill, JaMarcus Russell and rookie Mark Sanchez, respectively, their teams are banking on each commanding their huddles. And oozing leadership.

Young and old quarterback leadership will help define the 2009 season.

"Everything goes through your quarterback," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "You've got to have leadership there you can trust."

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