The instant success of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco in 2008 may have altered the traditional NFL approach of making rookie quarterbacks sit and watch for one or two seasons.
New Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris isn't ruling out the possibility of starting 21-year-old rookie Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay's regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
Freeman would have to beat out Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich in training camp and prove to the coaching staff that he gives the Bucs the best chance to win.
The issue of when to play young quarterbacks is a hot-button topic around the league.
A rookie QB "can pass all your tests,'' Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said recently, "but regardless of the criteria, what you don't know is what he's going to do under center in the game, how he's going to respond and react. The position is a difficult one, especially for a young player. The better off you are around him, the better chance you have for him to be successful.
"Specifically, you need to run the football. Look at Atlanta and Baltimore. They ran the football. Pittsburgh runs the football. Ask him to pick it up and throw it, put it on his shoulders ... it's not going to happen for several years."
For young quarterbacks, pressure is not limited to games.
"You don't know how they're going to respond day to day, week to week, how they're going to deal with the pressure," said Fisher, whose Titans drafted quarterback Vince Young third overall in 2006. "Not the Sunday pressure, but the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday pressure. That's where there is more pressure on the quarterback than Sunday, pressure to go out and execute properly on the practice field.
"If the quarterback throws four interceptions against the scout team defense on Wednesday, your team is affected. So there is pressure Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. His ability to deal with that early, and a staff's ability to create a situation where he's having fun, is gong to be directly related to the success he has.''
The Falcons decided Ryan was their man in August and the third pick in the 2008 draft led Atlanta to a surprising 11-5 mark.
"Our philosophy was that we were going to have an open competition at quarterback, at all of the positions,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We stated that to the team very early on in the process. It became evident early to us, as a coaching staff, after the second preseason game, that Matt was the best quarterback on our roster. I think it became evident to the players as well.
"Sometimes the players know before the coaches. When they see a guy, they'll know and say, 'This guy can play.' "
Like Ryan, Flacco's Ravens went 11-5 behind a punishing ground game. Baltimore upset the Titans in a playoff matchup at Nashville before succumbing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers in the AFC title game.
"Matt and Joe were very, very successful, and I really believe that both of those guys were helped by their college experience,'' Smith said. "Even though Joe was out of a smaller college [Delaware], I believe I-AA, he was a fifth-year senior. Sometimes at that position, you have to take that into consideration."
Like fellow rookies Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, Freeman bypassed his senior year and declared himself eligible for the draft. The Bucs traded up two spots to select Freeman at No. 17, making an unmistakable commitment to develop a quarterback.
"Certainly, you are going to be a leg up and in the right direction if you get consistent quarterback
play,'' Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "But you've still got to play defense. You've still got to have a good kicking game. All the lasers get pointed on the quarterback, and rightfully so.
"You can run the ball and play defense, that's great. And kick the ball well, that's two-thirds of it. But the guy that's going to touch it 70 times, and nobody touches it more, is going to have an effect on the game. I don't care if it's the center-quarterback exchange, a deep completion, an interception, a tipped pass. That guy is going to have something to do with it.''