At the onset, the beginning of year #2 is nothing but excitement. Following a freshmen campaign of uneasiness, unavoidable pitfall and the crushing hit of blindsided reality, the sophomore calendar, at its core, should feel easier.
After all, surroundings are now familiar and schedule has become mundane. Sure the expectations are understandably raised, but hey, at least the growing pains are over.
While I’m sure there are millions of sophomores around the country that hold this thought process nearly a month into their sequel campaigns (or at the onset, hello quarter system!), there are four cities that undoubtedly held these same inklings about their beloved starting quarterbacks prior to the 2013 NFL Season.
After all, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Indianapolis were all playoff teams a season ago. With the keys to their offenses being tossed to rookie quarterbacks at the beginning of the year, save for the 49ers, the kids were successful enough to drive their respective teams to the NFL’s second season.
While Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck accomplished the feat of leading their teams to the post-season in 2012, their careers will forever be intertwined as the “new” era of quarterback in the NFL. Sure there have been running quarterbacks before them, and in all likelihood their will be more, mobile signal callers to follow, but these four were the inaugural class to bring innovations they learned while playing at school to the professional level.
Each quarterback has a different story in their rise to fame, but the Heisman trophy winner, Minor League Baseball dropout, small school sensation and celebrated successor all have had success incorporating their versions of the read-option offense to the pro game.
What made their sparkling rookie seasons so polarizing is that their coaches finally chucked the NFL “ego” that has withstood for decades. Instead of applying the timeless notion that “quarterbacks must adjust to the NFL system”, these teams instead adjusted the system to the quarterback.
Two weeks gone in this season, and it seems that each quarterback has their share of struggles.
Robert Griffin III, fresh off another superhuman recovery from major knee surgery (See: Peterson, Adrian), has led his team to a fruitless 0-2 start. While Coach Shanahan is snickering at the idea of replacing Griffin with backup Kirk Cousins, his current starter has already thrown more interceptions (2) with a lower completion percentage than last season’s first two games. In 2012, Griffin also had over a hundred yards rushing to go with two scores on the ground.
While Seattle finds themselves 2-0, Russell Wilson has thrown for more yards and has a higher completion percentage from last season’s first two games. But, in a 12-point performance in week 1, followed by a three-touchdown game for Marshawn Lynch last Sunday, Wilson has just two passing touchdowns and an interception, along with 2.7 yards per rush and already two fumbles.
Colin Kaepernick has not fared much better. In his first two games for the 1-1 Niners, Number 7 played extremely well in a win in Green Bay, and extremely poorly in a loss against the aforementioned Seahawks. Kaepernick has thrown for the same number of interceptions as touchdowns (3), along with 100 yards rushing on 16 carries, while last season he was interception-less and was completing around 68% of his passes as Alex Smith’s newly christened replacement.
At the helm of the 1-1 Colts, Andrew Luck also played well in week 1, before a mediocre performance in a week 2 loss to the Dolphins. In comparison to last season’s first two contests, Luck is throwing for a higher completion percentage, has thrown two fewer interceptions, and has more yards per attempt on the ground.
Now, what is missing from these small samples is the understanding that these four signal-callers all hit their respective strides towards the middle of last season’s campaign. Yet, what is glaring is that these four quarterbacks are being consumed by the very essence of a sophomore season: adjusting to the adjustment.
The difference between a flash-in-the-pan success and the eventual Hall of Famer is that the latter continues to fine-tune their skills in an escalating arms race against the opponents that try to crush them (Unfortunately for Clay Matthews, I don’t mean physically).
What these guys are quickly learning is that they must adapt to the league that has drafted, signed free agents and game planned for six months against the very attributes that made their rookie seasons such smashing successes.
Consistently winning games in the NFL is no easy task. It becomes even more difficult when teams have both a grasp and experience in learning how to stop them. Griffin, Wilson, Kaepernick and Luck will forever be intertwined due to their unprecedented rookie triumphs, especially with their profound performances in innovative schemes.
Going into year two, I bet that– like most sophomores– these guys were breathing easy about finally being past their freshmen NFL seasons. Little did they know that their growing pains were far from over.
(Statistics analyzed from Pro-Football-Reference.com)