Hot bed in the Heartland

  • Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Friday, August 31, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Scott M. Johnson

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Much like the fictional deal the devil can be seen offering Seattle Seahawks players in a local advertising campaign, young quarterbacks have annually been tempted by a pact of their own:

Spend a winter or two riding the pine at the freezing confines of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, and you will one day become a starting quarterback.

As chilly an offer as it is, many a QB has taken the deal. Or something like that, because it seems like every young quarterback that bides his time behind Brett Favre eventually earns a starting job somewhere.

Ty Detmer. Kurt Warner. Mark Brunell. Doug Pederson.

All spent time honing their skills with the Packers before becoming starters elsewhere.

The latest two in line will be on the field today when the Seattle Seahawks host the New Orleans Saints in both teams’ preseason finale at Husky Stadium. The game begins at 1 p.m.

Aaron Brooks took over for Jeff Blake in Week 11 last season and eventually led the Saints to a 31-28 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in the first round of the playoffs. He had gone into training camp as Green Bay’s No. 3 quarterback before New Orleans dealt for him, hoping to find another pot of gold buried in America’s dairy land.

Now Hasselbeck is one week away from officially adding his name to that list.

“Every guy that comes there is the next such-and-such,” Hasselbeck said. “The guy everyone wanted to call me at first was Ty Detmer. We wore the same number (11). I was a little goofy, playing jokes, and Brett would be like, ‘You’re just like Ty.’

“Then later on, it was, ‘This guy’s the next Mark Brunell.’ A lot of it is the hype of the situation.”

For one reason or another, the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has served as quite a stepping stone for many NFL quarterbacks.

Detmer, Brunell, Warner, Pederson and Brooks had combined to throw 72 passes during their short tenures in Green Bay, without earning a single start among them. Since going elsewhere, they have 154 starts and 36,113 career passing yards.

Coaching Favre, it seems, isn’t the only reason current Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is widely renowned as a quarterback guru.

“Mike’s got a feel for quarterbacks,” said Seattle offensive coordinator Gil Haskell, who also served under Holmgren in Green Bay. “He was a quarterback, so he knows what it takes.

“When I was at USC, for five years we always had runners,” Haskell added. “If you wanted to run the ball, you went to USC. Certain places have certain types of players. And once you have them, you have to be able to coach them to do what you want them to do.”

The success of ex-Packer quarterbacks has continued after Holmgren came to Seattle. Brooks never played under Holmgren and Hasselbeck’s only season with the current Seahawks coach came as a practice squader in 1999.

Holmgren’s assistants also played a role in developing the young players. The list of quarterback coaches under Holmgren includes three who went on to become NFL head coaches: Steve Mariucci (San Francisco), Marty Mornhinweg (Detroit) and Andy Reid (Philadelphia).

Of course, Favre has something to do with his backups’ development, too. He might not have gone out of his way to teach the younger quarterbacks, but it must have helped to learn by example.

“He certainly made the atmosphere comfortable for those guys,” Holmgren said. “Watching him play, or watching any good quarterback play, is a good learning tool for those guys. And I think they took advantage of it while they were there.”

If Hasselbeck was expecting some veteran words of wisdom from Favre when he arrived in Green Bay, he was sorely mistaken. One of the first things Favre told him was: “You’re the first quarterback I’ve ever played with who is younger than me.”

The success of ex-Green Bay quarterbacks also has had something to do with the fact that they run a similar system to the one that made stars out of Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco.

“The main thing is the type of offense they run,” said Pederson, who returned as Favre’s backup again this season after spending the past two years in Philadelphia and Cleveland. “It’s very quarterback-friendly, and it allows you to spread the ball around more and use a lot of personnel.”

Finding the right quarterbacks to run the system also has been a key. The Packers’ philosophy has always been to develop their own talent, even though the recent trend league-wide is to bring in experienced quarterbacks from the outside.

Even after the Packers acquired Favre from the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for a first-round pick in 1992, they continued to stockpile signal-callers behind him. Green Bay spent at least one pick on a signal-caller in 14 of the 16 drafts between 1984 and 1999.

“They’ve picked up quarterbacks with talent,” Brooks said. ” … I think that’s a better

explanation for all of the quarterbacks that have been through Green Bay.”

Through careful scouting, the Packers were able to find diamonds in the rough – year after year after year. Green Bay has not selected a quarterback higher than the third round since the 1981 draft. Brunell was a fifth-round pick. Hasselbeck went in the sixth round. Detmer, a Heisman Trophy winner in 1991, lasted all the way until the ninth round.

“We always had the philosophy of getting a good college quarterback and giving him a chance, knowing that you might not have him after the fourth year because of free agency,” Holmgren said. “As long as Brett was playing, you might lose (the young backup). We still wanted to see if he could be a good backup, or if he could be the next Brett Favre.”

The Packers did not draft a quarterback this year, nor did they in 2000. But there is hope for the future. Their third-string quarterback is a 26-year-old rookie named Henry Burris who has spent the past four years playing in the Canadian Football League. His NFL experience before last night’s game at Oakland consisted of nine handoffs in a 17-12 win over the Miami Dolphins one week ago.

“If he’s patient and does the right things,” Pederson said, “maybe he’ll be next in line.”

The next in line … anywhere but Green Bay.

NOTES: Running back Rodnick Phillips (hamstring), tackle Chris McIntosh (neck stinger) and cornerbacks Willie Williams (broken forearm) and Shawn Springs (hamstring) will not play in today’s game. New receiver Bobby Engram is also not expected to play. … Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson are slated to start at wide receiver today, and appear to be the leading candidates to start in next Sunday’s regular-season opener at Cleveland.

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