Theismann: Why teams must give QBs "opportunity to grow"

Joe Theismann took the long road to the NFL, and while he doesn't recommend that other quarterbacks follow his path he tells the Talk of Fame Network why patience with quarterbacks is good for the player and for the club.


(Joe Theismann photos courtesy of Washington Redskins)

Talk of Fame Network

It took a long time for Joe Theismann to quarterback the Washington Redskins.

First, he went to the CFL for three years. Then Washington had to acquire his rights from Miami, the team that drafted him in 1971, before he could return to the NFL. When that happened, he sat behind Billy Kilmer, seeing more time as the Redskins’ punt returner than as their quarterback.

Wait a minute. Punt returner?

“I believe there’s been one other quarterback that’s done it,” Theismann said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “and that was Doug Flutie. But he only did it for a game as an experiment up in New England. I think that was about it.”

Not so Theismann. He did it for two years, 1974-75, and didn’t become the Redskins’ full-time starter at quarterback until 1978 – or five seasons after joining the club. It was a circuitous route to the top, and one he doesn’t recommend for today’s quarterbacks … except for one thing.

The wait. Sitting and learning made an enormous impact on his career.

“I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking that many years to get ready to play,” he said, “although Kirk Cousins – our guy in Washington, D.C. – has had four … actually, three and then had a chance to be able to play last year, And now I think he’s fully vested as far as beng able to play the position and understanding what’s going on.

“We force young guys into the game before they’re really ready. Colleges don’t necessarily prepare them for the professional game because there are so many elements to it. There’s the preparation of the mental part of it, as well as taking care of your body, adjusting to time schedules, being on your own time schedule.

“So much more is required of you. I mean, you’re talking literally anywhere between 200 and 300 plays per week that you’re responsible for, whether it be through communication or signaling. There are a lot of adjustments going on. The speed of the game is so different.

“To really give yourself a chance as a team to benefit from a young player you almost have to give them an opportunity to be able to grow into it for at least a year, maybe two. Then I think you’ll get a better product.

“We see a lot of young guys – Joey Harrington up in Detroit -- just got eaten up by this game. We see a lot of guys because of the demands of the position at quarterback – which, by the way, is the toughest position to play in professional sports – they’re just not ready for it mentally and physically. It’s a demanding game. And so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that it go that way. I just wanted to play football.”