Battling for the starting quarterback job in the NFL is a grind. There might not be a tougher challenge, both mentally and physically, in the NFL than battling for that coveted spot under center.
Learning the Playbook
I fought for the starting job as a rookie, and I’ve fought for the job as a vet. I’ve even fought for the job against rookies as a vet. Each scenario with each team presents a new battle and new expectations that come with being the starting quarterback. We all know it’s the most mentally-demanding position in football, and only part of that is mastering the playbook. The starting quarterback has to manage the pressure placed on his shoulders-a pressure that only amplifies if the team has a young rookie quarterback waiting in the wings.
A starting quarterback has to prove their mastery of the system they are in. You HAVE to know your protection schemes, hot routes and outlets-your ways to get out of trouble-otherwise, defenses are going to test you and come after you over and over again. It’s so much more than just picking the ball up and throwing it.
Rookies often struggle with this, which is why so many of them get blitzed heavily by opposing defenses. Opponents are going to make you prove you know your system and can exploit what they are doing, otherwise, they will exploit you, and they will not hesitate.
Dealing with competition
When I was in Minnesota with Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, not only did I have to learn Turner’s offense, a demanding task in and of itself, but that year the team drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. While I knew the playbook and was comfortable with the scheme, a young quarterback right behind me added more pressure to get everything right.
The coaches would come to me and say “Hey, Teddy’s going to get reps with the ones today,” and I had to just bite my tongue and keep at it. It’s a daily grind-one that you mentally have to rise up for every time you step onto the field. If you didn’t perform well that day, there’s that young guy right behind you hungry for an opportunity to play.
You don’t take days off in a competition. You can’t afford bad days. Every day you have to go out there completely focused, compete and earn your job. Your talent and effort get picked up on by teammates. The quarterback is oftentimes a leader in the locker room as well. Teammates feed off of energy and the confidence you have in yourself.
As a quarterback, you have to juggle your teammates, pressure from coaches and front office members and fan expectations before even throwing a pass in a game. Proving you can handle all of these different variables and respond positively in the offseason is critical in a quarterback battle and just might earn you the starting job.