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SI: NFL Europe provides invaluable experience for young quarterbacks


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NFL Europe provides invaluable experience for young quarterbacks


Quarterback Rohan Davey has thrown 19 TDs and just six interceptions for the Berlin Thunder this season.


NFL Europe QBs Who've Started in NFL

Player NFL Europe team Year NFL team

Stan Gelbaugh London 1991 Seattle

Jason Garrett San Antonio 1991 Dallas

Scott Mitchell Orlando 1992 Detroit

Doug Pederson Rhein 1995 Philadelphia

Paul Justin Frankfurt 1995 Indianapolis

Jim Miller Frankfurt 1995 Chicago

Brad Johnson London 1995 Tampa Bay

Doug Nussmeier Rhein 1995 New Orleans

Jamie Martin Amsterdam 1995 Jacksonville

Will Furrer Amsterdam 1995 Houston

Kelly Holcomb Barcelona 1996 Cleveland

Steve Matthews Scotland 1996 Jacksonville

Stoney Case Barcelona 1997 Arizona

Jon Kitna Barcelona 1997 Cincinnati

Jay Fiedler Amsterdam 1997 Miami

Kurt Warner Amsterdam 1998 St. Louis

Damon Huard Frankfurt 1998 Miami

Jake Delhomme Amsterdam 1998 New Orleans

Cliff Stoerner Scotland 2001 Dallas

Matt Lytle Rhein 2000 Carolina

Jonathan Quinn Berlin 2001 Jacksonville

Todd Bouman Barcelona 1999 Minnesota

Spergon Wynn Amsterdam 2001 Minnesota

Danny Wuerffel Rhein 2000 Washington

Tim Hasselbeck Berlin 2002 Washington

Jarious Jackson Barcelona 2001 Denver

If recent history repeats itself, you're much more likely to see a future Super Bowl quarterback in Saturday's NFL Europe World Bowl between the Berlin Thunder and Frankfurt Galaxy than you are at the NFL Draft in April.

Four of the last five Super Bowls have featured starting QBs with NFL Europe experience -- Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson, Kurt Warner (twice) -- while only two first-round picks have reached the big game in that span -- Kerry Collins and Steve McNair.

Although five seasons is hardly a big enough sample to declare that the days of drafting QBs in the first round are over, in the copycat NFL strategies change in a hurry. Teams have no choice but to take notice of the success of the NFL Europe alumni and other less celebrated QBs.

If the trend continues, does that mean we have just as good a chance of seeing the quarterbacks in Saturday's World Bowl, Berlin's Rohan Davey (Patriots) and Frankfurt's J.T. O'Sullivan (Saints) in a Super Bowl as we do Eli Manning and Philip Rivers? Probably better, considering where the Patriots and Saints are compared to the Giants and Chargers.

But the success of NFL Europe quarterbacks isn't just a result of circumstance, although the ones who have made it to the Super Bowl were on great teams. Eight of 32 teams started a QB who had played in Europe during the 2003 season and 26 QBs with NFL Europe experience have started games in the NFL. For a sport that hadn't had a developed minor league system, NFL Europe can be a very effective tool for teams to evaluate and develop talent. Especially at quarterback, a position where young players rarely have the chance to learn on the job because of the pressure coaches face to win immediately.

"Quarterback is the only position in football where the backup doesn't ever get on the field," said FOX NFL and NFL Europe broadcaster Brian Baldinger. "It's one position that really needs to get on the field to learn. You can't re-create game situations and speed in practice. That's why NFL Europe is so big for these young guys. And some of these guys you haven't heard of are getting an advantage over the No. 1 picks."

The caliber of competition in NFL Europe obviously isn't the same as what you see in the NFL on Sundays. But watch the World Bowl closely, and you'll notice it's a step up from even the highest level of college football. Scottish Claymores coach Jack Bicknell has coached pretty good quarterbacks on both sides of the pond. The long-time Boston College head coach was on the sidelines for the Doug Flutie's "Miracle in Miami" in 1984, and started coaching in the first iteration of the World League in 1991. If there's a QB who has played in NFL Europe, Bicknell has either coached him (Kelly Holcomb and Jon Kitna), or coached against him.

"NFL Europe is a whole new world for college quarterbacks," Bicknell said. "This is a step down from the NFL, but it's a big step up from college. When you get to the pros, it's hard to get used to how well everyone at every position can run. Quarterbacks make throws into the seam that used to get there in college and now they're getting picked. You get an education over here you can't get holding a clipboard."

The difference between the pro and college games goes a long way in explaining why so many high-profile college QBs have failed to make the transition to the next level. An inevitibility teams try to account for on draft day, but so often fail at.

The differences between college and the pros go well beyond the speed of the defense. Just like the NFL, defensive coaches in NFL Europe use complex schemes to disrupt the offensive gameplan.

"There are so many differences between the college and pro defenses," Baldinger said. "[College quarterbacks don't face] press coverage. There's less disguised coverages -- unless you're playing Nick Saban's LSU Tigers. Sometimes in college there are breakdowns and the wide receivers aren't even covered. I was watching USC, and on so many plays there was no one on Mike Williams. That's not going to happen in the pros."

Davey, who earned league Offensive MVP honors while leading Berlin to the World Bowl this season, saw plenty of Saban's defense in practice when he was at LSU, but he still says the adjustment to more advanced defensive schemes has been difficult.

"That took a while to get used to" Davey said via conference call from Berlin. "In the NFL and over here, especially when they know you're a passing team, they try to disguise everything. They start out with two safeties and roll one down in coverage, drop off cornerbacks, drop defensive lineman into the zone they think you're trying to throw the ball to.

"In college they line up where they're going to play. From the huddle to the snap it's usually the same thing. Over here, by the time I snap the ball, I'm seeing something completely different."

Thanks to Davey's gaudy 105.6 passer rating in Europe, the media consensus in New England is that the 26-year-old will be the front-runner to replace the departed Damon Huard as Tom Brady's backup. Ironically, Davey doesn't exactly fit the profile of quarterbacks who've come from NFL Europe and succeeded in the pros. Davey has always been known for his cannon arm and athletic ability, while many of the other NFL Europe QBs fit the journeyman mold -- Johnson, Kitna, Jay Fiedler, Jim Miller, etc. Quarterbacks who might not have great arm strength, but make good decisions and have strong leadership qualities.

"I really think the success of NFL Europe quarterbacks has a lot to do with attitude," Baldinger said. "These so-called journeymen, they're hungrier, more mature. A guy who bounces around a little learns how to get along with teammates --- when he steps into that huddle, he has a different attitude and guys respect that.

"Guys like Kitna, Delhomme, they've been around. [bengals quarterback] Carson Palmer -- not that he won't some day be great -- but what do his teammates know about him besides that he was a No. 1 overall pick and he got a big signing bonus? Why would you believe in the guy?"

Delhomme is a classic example of an overlooked college player who benefited tremendously from NFL Europe experience. An undrafted free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Delhomme fought his way on to the roster and was able to stick there in part because of his success in Europe. Delhomme backed up Warner with the Amsterdam Admirals in 1998, and won a World Bowl with the Frankfurt Galaxy in 1999. While Delhomme has physical talent, he's hardly looks like your classic quarterback. But there are few QBs in the league who are as competitive, a fact that was evident as the Panthers rallied around him last year during the Carolina's Super Bowl run.

"I remember coaching against Jake Delhomme, he was one of these tough guys," Bicknell said. "He reminded me of Jon Kitna. The second Kitna got in the huddle, you knew he was in charge. I think for these guys that kind of leadership started in Europe and later translated into the NFL."

The Galaxy's starter in the World Bowl, O'Sullivan, is another quarterback who fits the NFL Europe-journeyman mold. A small-school star at UC-Davis, O'Sullivan was drafted by the Saints in the sixth round of the 2002 draft and has yet to take a snap in the NFL. O'Sullivan has completed 61 percent of his passes, tossed 10 TDs and has just five interceptions in NFL Europe.

"O'Sullivan's another one who is mentally tough," Baldinger said. "It's no mistake teams like the Bears called the Saints about O'Sullivan this offseason. He has the makings of real NFL quarterback."

So even if you don't check out the World Bowl on Saturday afternoon, you can bet lots of folks around the NFL will. And if they don't, they'll be sure to dissect the tapes later. Even if a quarterback like Davey or O'Sullivan doesn't get to start with their current teams -- a strong possibility with Brady and Aaron Brooks in place as the starters -- they could be hot commodities on the free-agent market down the road.

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The Pats released Huard because of Davey's play. He's been progressing every year and he may be able to start in the NFL if he gets any experience. I look for the Pats to give Davey a lot of playing thim this ehib. season. They have NO intentions of having him play in fromt of Brady, but as a backup, he comes real cheap and has a very large upside. They may try to trade him this offseason dependig on what his trade value is ala. Hassleback.

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Four of the last five Super Bowls have featured starting QBs with NFL Europe experience -- Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson, Kurt Warner (twice) -- while only two first-round picks have reached the big game in that span -- Kerry Collins and Steve McNair.

Not that this significantly changes the article, but wasn't Dilfer a 1st round pick?

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