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The Great Unknowns: Texans Backup QB Edition

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Dan Orlovsky has his helmet now.
Dan Orlovsky has his helmet now.

I'm pretty sure I got the title backwards in my last post, Texans Secondary: The Great Unknowns. Why limit the logic of a mind as beautiful as Donald Rumsfeld's to the Texans' secondary? The rest of the team is no less deserving of Rummy's and my collective wisdom. Why not poke and prod the rest of the roster with unwarranted assumptions and presumptive hubris to find the next "Allen vs. Jackson vs. Harris" debate? What positional battle will fuel the pettifog-machine that allows us to forget the aches of our lockout-starved football bellies? Moar NT? Until I can secure an appropriate voice-over from Christopher Walken, I'm putting that one on hold. Besides, Earl Mitchell easily beat out McClain in our last NT poll. I still say Pancakes could eat up that space better...

Aren't you guys sick of talking about the defense? And running backs? And receivers? We could discuss tight ends or the offensive line, but then too many of you bums would skip the rest of my deep purple prose just to cast an uninformed vote in my obligatory poll. So steal a tight end's helmet and strap it on before you take the jump because The Great Unkowns: Backup QB Edition is about to hit you like Will Witherspoon snapping somebody's collarbone!

Let's dig into those known knowns. The Texans are currently carrying three QBs on the roster not named Matt Schaub. Typically, most NFL teams carry a total of three QBs on their active roster. Don't tell that to the Jets, Titans or Panthers, who all currently list six QBs on their team rosters. Since Rex Ryan never knows when an Abercrombie and Fitch might swallow up his current starter, it's hard to blame him for carrying a platoon of QBs. I hate to jump into the unknown unknowns already, but who knows what sort of strange QB things are going on in the deep south? Maybe Cam Newton meant he is only an icon and entertainer and plans to lead the Topcats at halftime instead of suiting up. Maybe Vince Young is just going to groom Jake Locker so he can follow in his illustrious footsteps.

Let's back up to the known unknowns before we lose ourselves pondering the Topcats' new halftime show and Vince Young as player/coach. Although Kubiak has a reputation for carrying only two QBs on the active roster, lately he's been hedging his bets with three. Maybe Kubiak has been watching too much Fox Sports, who recently listed Mr. Schaub as the most injury-prone player in the NFL. However, if Kubiak heeds the advice of Alan Burge of the Examiner or our very own Rivers McCown, he might consider going back to just two QBs on the roster. Alan points out that Fox Sports made a few glaring factual omissions that contradicted their findings; namely that Schaub is currently on a string of 36 straight starts dating back to the 2008 season and he was first in pass attempts in 2009 and fifth in 2010. Both Alan and Rivers point out that the Fox Sports report failed to include any data from last season. That seems like a huge omission.

While Burge says Schaub took every snap last season, I recall at least one snap last December in Philly where Dandy Dan Orlovsky had to borrow Garrett Graham's helmet and do his best bobblehead QB impersonation...but who's counting? Burge notes that Schaub took all but 18 snaps in his Pro Bowl year in 2009. Additionally, as the esteemed Mr. McCown points out, Schaub has been taking a licking while he's been ticking off those passing yards the last few seasons without missing many starts or snaps, including the dislocated shoulder in 2009. What's a guy gotta do to get any respect around here?

Being the logical Vulcan coach he undoubtedly is, it's just a matter of time before Kubiak realizes he can carry one less QB this season and stash another tight end on the roster. Before any horses are sacrificed for that line, please consider TEs are now also FBs, and this would be the most logical of outcomes. Now, let the carcasses fall where they may!

So who are these three guys not named Matt "No Respect" Schaub? Let's begin our introductions with the QB who took the aforementioned snap for Schaub last season after pilfering his teammate's helmet: Dan Orlovsky. Maybe I'm harping on the helmet incident too much, but it was pretty funny...and telling. First off, why wouldn't a backup QB be ready to come in at a moment's notice? And "B", why would he choose a teammate who has a head twice the size of his own? Third, why would he take a tight end's helmet? Was he just trying to piss Kubiak off or what?

Dan is a nice guy from Shelton, Connecticut who was drafted in the 5th round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He was a four-year starter at University of Connecticut and guided them to victory in their first bowl appearance. He toiled as a backup from 2005-2008 in Detroit with limited playing time. In his first career start, Dan inadvertently ran out of his own end zone, causing a safety against the Vikings. Detroit lost the game 10-12. Dan started the final game of the season, which the Lions lost finishing the season 0-16. Dan's contract was up and he decided to shop his talents around. I think he wanted a change of scenery...well, of course he did. It was Detroit.

Since the antics of Rosencopter were too tempting for the Vikings not to give up a fourth round pick, the Texans were in the market for a new backup QB. I think the eerily-familiar history of losing and the knack for comic performance art made it seem like a match made in heaven. In spite of sacrificing his teammate's gear for the cause, Orlovsky has compiled no meaningful stats for the Texans since joining the team prior to the 2009 season. However, he recently stuck up for a love-struck teenager from his former high school whose public display of affection nearly kept him from attending the prom. I told you, Dan is a nice guy.

In 2010, that team in Washington signed away the Texans' second string QB, Rex Grossman, and opened the door for Orlovsky to become the number two. Kubiak decided to deviate from his two QB roster limit again and signed Matt Leinart early in the 2010 season. Yea, the Matt Leinart who quarterbacked the USC Trojans to the 2004 BCS national championship and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior. Yea, the Matt Leinart who led USC to an 11-1 record and was the Rose Bowl MVP during his senior year. Yea, the Matt Leinart who was selected 10th in the 2006 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals as their next franchise QB. Yea, the Matt Leinart you heard is an underachieving, condescending douchebag.

After being the last drafted player to sign a contract, Matt spent most of his first season battling for the starting job with 35 year old Kurt Warner and battling with the media and fans about his reputation. In 11 starts, he threw for 2,547 yards with 11 TDs, 12 INTs, had an average QB rating of 74 and a win-loss record of 4-7. In the fifth game of 2007, Matt's season was ended when the Rams' Will Witherspoon sacked him and broke his collarbone. Witherspoon was later fined for the hit, but many felt the fine was unwarranted. I'm guessing that included Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had to watch Matt throw twice as many INTs (4) as TDs (2) as he went .500 in his first four games. Warner finished the season with 3,417 yards, 27 TDs, 17 INTs and a QB rating of 89.8.

Even though Leinart suffered season-ending injuries and failed to impress in his first two seasons, Whisenhunt looked ready to give the reins back to Matt in 2008...until he threw three interceptions against the Raiders in the third preseason game. Leinart was relegated to backing up Warner for the next two seasons. When Warner retired in 2010, many expected Leinart to compete for the starting job again. His failure to impress, coupled with his huge contract, apparently diminished his value to the team. The Cardinals cut Leinart before the regular season began, paving his way to Houston.

It struck me as odd when I heard the Texans had picked up Leinart last September. I thought they shied away from "character-issue" guys. Leinart's partying during and after his days at USC is legendary, and his work ethic has never made him the coach's favorite. Imagine my surprise when they tendered him an offer worthy of first round compensation in March. Apparently that has more to do with where Arizona drafted him and less to do with the pay increase the Texans offered him. That's a relief, because in addition to his reputation as a party animal that is allergic to hard work, he supposedly has wet noodles for arms. Sure, scouts say otherwise, and our offense doesn't rely on a strong-armed QB, but I don't like Leinart and I don't think he fits the Texans character standards, so I'm not going to dig in for his defense.

After introducing the first two QBs, I'm starting to wonder why I picked this position to write about. The clean-cut goofball who can't find his helmet (or the right end of the end zone) or the USC prima donna who seems to have peaked in 2004? What kind of poll would that be? Thank goodness Kubiak's first offensive player selected in this year's draft was another QB! Sure, he has less NFL experience than either Orlovsky or Leinart, or any other QB who has played a single down in the league. Sure, his numbers declined his senior year after more than a dozen of his teammates were suspended for NCAA violations. Sure, he was only a 5th round pick (the Texans second 5th round pick at that). Sure, scouts question his arm strength. Sure, he goes by his initials rather than his first name. But, it's not that annoying.

Actually, it has a nice ring: T.J. Yates. The T.J. is for Taylor Jonathan (or Thomas Jefferson, if you truly love vintage 80's Shatner). Yates was a four-year starter (2007-2010) at University of North Carolina, although he missed five games during his sophomore season with a fractured ankle. He currently holds the UNC school records for total career passing yards, single-season passing yards and single-season total offense. His coach says he ran an offense that copied Kubiak's and has watched tons of Texans film. Did I mention that he led UNC to a respectable 8-5 season after having over a dozen teammates suspended for NCAA violations? Trent Dilfer would have picked him as his franchise QB apparently, and he's not Orlovsky or Leinart. But this is a do-or-die year for Kubiak, so maybe he shouldn't put too many eggs into a rookie backup QB basket. Then again, would he really rather put his eggs in Leinart's or Orlovsky's baskets?

Now, we're getting into some good unknown unknowns. I predict Yates works harder and knows the system better than Leinart by the end of preseason. And I bet he has never lost his helmet nor the end zone. So I would go with Yates, but what do I know?