RIVER FALLS, Wis. — When it comes to developing front-line starting quarterbacks, the Kansas City Chiefs are 0-forever.
Remember the Great Quarterback Draft of 1983? Six were taken in the first round. Four played in the Super Bowl. Three made it to the Hall of Fame. Yet the Chiefs, specifically looking for a quarterback that day, managed to find the only bust in the bunch.
It’s not as though they’ve never suited up a great one. Joe Montana, in the autumn of his brilliant career, engineered Kansas City’s last playoff win. Len Dawson, another hall-of-famer noted for grace under pressure, led the Chiefs to their only Super Bowl triumph.
But they’ve never brought an outstanding quarterback into the league on their own.
Until now — maybe. Will Brodie Croyle be the first?
They sure hope so.
A mop-haired Alabaman with a Southern drawl, a shy grin and a rifle arm, Croyle is the centerpiece of the most important competition in camp, a battle with Damon Huard for the starting job.
A much-traveled backup, Huard played well last year when Trent Green got hurt, going 5-3 in the first extended starting opportunity in his 10-year career. Now that Green is finally out of the way, off to Miami in the messiest and most protracted trade of the offseason, Kansas City coach Herm Edwards insists the competition between Huard and Croyle will be fair.
Huard, 34, is steady and experienced. He commands the respect of his teammates.
“He has more experience, no doubt,” Edwards said. “We’ve been evaluating them since the spring and it will come to fruition when we start playing preseason games.”
But the Chiefs are clearly counting on Croyle, 24, to be the Edwards era quarterback.
“Last year Brodie knew he was coming in to be the third. This year he has an opportunity to start,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot of pressure on him, but that’s good. You want to find that out.”
A third-round pick in 2006, is he ready to start in only his second season?
“Oh, yeah. I definitely feel like I’m ready to go,” said the son of a man who played on one of Bear Bryant’s national championship teams at Alabama. “That’s what training camp is for, to get better and to improve on things that I need to improve on.”
Despite the big contract Huard signed in the offseason, just about everybody but Croyle figures the job is Croyle’s to lose.
“I’ve never been told that,” Croyle said. “I’ve never been told that by my position coach and I’ve never been told that by my head coach. It’s just an open competition.”
No one doubts his arm strength. Day after day since camp opened last week, he has been zipping the ball impressively, often threading completions dangerously between hands and arms.
He looks improved. The difference between being a freshman and a sophomore in the NFL is startling, he has discovered.
“There is a huge difference. I’m actually getting to practice this year,” Croyle said. “As far as knowing the offense, it’s night and day. Last year we had some struggles, but this year it’s a lot different.
“Last year I knew that I was coming in and basically I was going to be the No. 3. I was going to get a couple of reps here and there, but basically I was there to learn from watching. Obviously it’s different this year and this is a position I’m glad to be in.”
Huard also has looked sharp. Neither man appears to be putting distance between himself and the other.
“They both have different strengths,” Edwards said. “Damon’s main strength is he’s been in the league a long time. He’s played in this league and been successful. He’s been like a bullpen guy. He hasn’t been in the forefront of being a starter for 16 games. That’s something new for him, too.”
Meanwhile, an exceptionally rough and spirited morning practice left a lot of players gasping for air Tuesday. Safety Bernard Pollard sustained a hand injury. He emerged from the first aid tent with what looked like a split on one finger.
Edwards said it was similar to the injury that kept defensive tackle Alfonso Boone out of practice Tuesday.
“We’ll see where they’re at. The doctors are going to look at both. We’ll see what the diagnosis is,” he said.