<strong>June 8, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/bucs/2005-07-07-buzz-qbs_x.htm">USAToday</a>
Last year's NFL conference championship games may have offered three of the league's more recognizable and marketable quarterbacks in Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, but none matched the buzz factor of the remaining counterpart -Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After all, the raw rookie who inexplicably morphed into the sensation that became "Big Ben" had stepped in early for injured Tommy Maddox and led the Steelers to a 15-1 mark before their season was ended by the eventual champion Patriots in the AFC title game.
So who might the buzz guy be this year?
Whoever he is, if he's even out there, he would have to match not only Roethlisberger but also the San Diego Chargers' Drew Brees, whose young career appeared to be sputtering before his breakout season of 2004 in which the Chargers finished 12-4 before falling in the playoffs.
One interesting bet is to go with the player who planted seeds of buzz-dom near the end of last season: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Brian Griese.
The eighth-year man, late of the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, began last season as a third-string newcomer but wound up usurping Brad Johnson and Chris Simms after the team's 0-4 beginning.
Griese started the final 10 games but didn't generate much notice largely because of the team's 5-11 finish. Yet he finished as the league's sixth-rated passer, third in the NFC.
Although competition lurks with third-year man Simms and rookie Luke McCown, Bucs coach Jon Gruden recently marveled about Griese and his 69.3% completion percentage.
"He's a very impressive guy now, (and) he's deadly accurate," Gruden says. "You don't throw for 70% in a pat-and-go unless you're decent, (and) to do that in the NFL is a great accomplishment."
Not only that, but Griese no longer is in uncharted waters.
"Certainly," Gruden says, "he's much more in tune with what we're doing. Last year he was taking 20 to 25% of the reps, where this year he's taking almost double that."
For that matter, the same thing applies to Roethlisberger.
Asked last month near the end of the Steelers' final minicamp what had stood out the most, coach Bill Cowher was quick with a response.
"I think you look at Ben," he said, "and the comfort level that he's at now going into his second year."
Going into his fifth year, Brees' newfound comfort has facilitated offseason team progress.
Says Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer: "There's no doubt that we're further ahead because we're established, I think, at the quarterback position."
Among other quarterbacks who might benefit from the same situation are second-year man Eli Manning of the New York Giants and fourth-year player Patrick Ramsey of the Washington Redskins. Both began last season as backups but supplanted established stars.
One player who possibly could be in a position for a Roethlisberger-style rookie breakout is top draft pick Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. Few observers expect him to spend the season behind Ken Dorsey, Tim Rattay or Cody Pickett.