Commentary

Here's the backup plan when starting QB sits

What do you do if you decide to or you're forced to change quarterbacks? Here's Floyd Reese's plan.

Updated: October 6, 2007, 10:29 PM ET
By Floyd Reese | ESPN.com

I've long been a believer in the old adage that if you think you have two starting quarterbacks, you probably don't have even one. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, probably close to a third of the teams lack a quarterback skilled enough to win a division, let alone a Super Bowl.

Historically, benching a starting quarterback who is injury-free (see Rex Grossman in Chicago) and starting his backup rarely leads to success. Given the time and effort put into selecting and molding a starter, sticking with him often is the correct path, even if he struggles. Teams generally arrange their quarterback situation in two ways:

• A young and inexperienced quarterback backed up by a grizzled vet. The old quarterback does not need reps and can rely on experience when he does get playing time. The rookie gets much-needed meeting and practice time.

• A veteran quarterback backed up by his future replacement. The young quarterback can sit, watch and learn without much of the duress suffered by learning on the job.

There is a third possibility. This exists when you have two quarterbacks of similar ability. If this is the case, refer back to the first sentence of this article. So what do you do if you decide to make a change?

1. Decrease the game plan and model it on the strengths of the new quarterback. The coaching staff might like to run certain plays, but the new quarterback must be capable of executing those plays.

2. Fortify the pass protection. The new quarterback will face new blitz and rush schemes, either because of inexperience or lack of mobility.

3. Stress the running game. This is absolutely the best tool to take pressure off the quarterback. Pass the ball when you want to, not when you have to.

4. Increase the role of your tight ends and running backs in the passing game. Short passes will move the ball and give the new guy confidence. In addition, they will protect him from the pressure because the ball will come out quicker.

5. Be conservative to a fault. If the other team has a quality quarterback, you are not going to win a shootout. No one has a backup as good as a championship-caliber quarterback.

6. Get defensive help. If your talent or scheme allows you to be more aggressive, do it. Turnovers caused by the defense that give the quarterback good field position will be monumental. If you can't be aggressive, you can't give up big plays. Quick strikes that quickly put your team behind will be sure killers. Be solid, make the opposing offense march the length of the field and slow down the game.

7. Put added pressure on your big-play players. It now is time for them to step up.

8. Look for big plays on special teams. If you don't have a big-time returner, look for punt or field goal blocks. Include a fake punt or fake field goal in the game plan, and have everyone involved understand the impact it could have on the game. Again, you must be more aggressive with these calls. Field position and the ability to score seven instead of three could change a game.

9. Discuss in detail with the team as a whole how you are going to win this game. If the leader is gone, many players will feel lost, bewildered and unsure. It is the coach's job to make them believe and understand exactly how they are going to win.

10. Finally, pray nothing happens to the new quarterback. If you must play the third quarterback or return to the original starter, all might be lost.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese frequently contributes to ESPN.com.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.