Direct Snap: Backup QB's job is to fit in, not audition to take over as starter

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

As Colin Kaepernick, Jason Campbell and Byron Leftwich step into the breach that each of their teams presumably has at quarterback, there is some important advice to consider. In particular, the up-and-coming Kaepernick should heed it most of all.

[Related: Cutler's status in air | Smith's too]

"It's not about you," said Trent Dilfer, the quarterback-turned-analyst, who helped guide the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title but spent most of the rest of his career as a backup with Seattle, Cleveland and San Francisco. "It's a completely unique situation that requires a disciplined approach."

And that's not an easy task, as Dilfer knows.

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Niners potential Week 11 starter Colin Kaepernick talks with head coach Jim Harbaugh last Sunday. (AP)

"First of all, it's not the job you want," Dilfer said. "Nobody wants to be a backup quarterback. We all feel like we should be starting and leading the team or we wouldn't be out there at all. But you can't approach it as if it's a chance to win the starting job. You are there to do whatever it takes to just win the game. Get your team through it. Don't try to show off your ability because that's not where the team is."

In other words, this role requires that a player adjust to his environment. Where Kaepernick (in particular, since he has never started and is in his second year), Campbell and Leftwich might be tempted to prove something, this is yet another test of putting the team goal ahead of the personal.

"It's really hard," Dilfer said. "I remember at one point later in my career, we were planning for the next game and the coaches started adding in all this stuff that was geared toward me. I said: 'No, let's do less, not more. Let me adapt to the other 10 guys and what they're used to doing. Don't make them adapt to me.' "

In that way, Dilfer's greatest achievement was a stunning success. In 2000, he stepped in as the starter for Baltimore when the offense was in the midst of five consecutive games without scoring a touchdown. Dilfer's first start was the final of those five games before he helped turn around the offense.

[More: Time for Jets to hand ball over to Tim Tebow]

Over the final seven contests of the regular season, Baltimore scored at least 24 points in six games. The Ravens won all seven and then dominated in the playoffs on the way to their title. While the Ravens were clearly led by their dominant defense, Dilfer's presence certainly stabilized the team after a 5-3 start.

Even if it wasn't enough to earn Dilfer the job the following season.

That's why Dilfer looks at these situations very carefully and thinks Campbell has the best chance to make it work.

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Jason Campbell looks to pass vs. the Texans in Week 10. (Getty Images)

"Jason has been a backup and he's in an offense that isn't a lot different than what they were doing in training camp. There aren't a lot of changes at the line of scrimmage for protections, not a lot of audibles – you have the play and you run it," Dilfer said. "That makes it a lot easier for a guy who hasn't had a lot of reps since the beginning of the season."

In contrast, San Francisco runs a very complicated system that can include up to three play calls in the huddle that require the quarterback to make decisions at the line. It's doubtful the 49ers will run that system to the full extent with the inexperienced Kaepernick.

Along those lines, Pittsburgh is in the middle of an offensive transition under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley, running a scheme that calls for more screens than the Steelers have run in the past. While Leftwich has been in Pittsburgh for four of the past five seasons, he doesn't have much experience with this attack.

Regardless, the temptation to look at this opportunity as an audition is difficult to ignore. Of the other four quarterbacks who took over and led a team to a title (Note: Kurt Warner opened the 1999 preseason as a backup with St. Louis, but took over before the regular season started), all of them used it as a stepping stone.

Tom Brady, who took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, has had the greatest success. Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, remained the starter the next season after leading Washington to a title in 1987. Jim Plunkett found redemption with the Raiders in 1980 and then led them to a second title. Jeff Hostetler stepped in for Phil Simms with the New York Giants and eventually signed to be a starter with the Raiders later.

[More: Legendary Raiders punter Ray Guy resigned over Hall of Fame snub]

Dilfer? He was replaced by Elvis Grbac in Baltimore, a move that many Ravens players later said was why they weren't able to repeat. Grbac didn't fit in the culture of the Ravens locker room because he didn't possess the thick skin and mental toughness necessary for the job.

The kind of toughness that comes from squashing your own ego for the betterment of the team.

TOP FIVE

1. Houston Texans (8-1): They vault to top spot after last week's top 3 (Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco) fail to win.
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1): You have to wonder if another loss to the Saints is going to get into the Falcons' heads?
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1): Not as dominant as last year, but that's because the rest of NFC West isn't so horrible.
4. Baltimore Ravens (7-2): D is still horrible, but the O stepped up in a big way, allowing DT Haloti Ngata to rest.
5. Chicago Bears (7-2): Sorry Steelers fans, I like Bears without Jay Culter more than Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger.

BOTTOM FIVE

28. Arizona Cardinals (4-5): Big talk around Cards is that return of Beanie Wells could turn things around. That's desperation.
29. Oakland Raiders (3-6): Given up 97 points the past two weeks … and now get to host New Orleans. Oy.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7): They are so dull that Dallas media has spent weeks talking about Dez Bryant's b-day party.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8): They are both putrid and undisciplined. Dancing when you're 1-7? Seriously?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8): WR Justin Blackmon, the No. 5 overall pick, is so out of shape it's an embarrassment.

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On the Road

Titans defense at Miami

The Tennessee Titans entered Week 10 having allowed a league-worst 34.2 points per game, but its beleaguered defense enjoyed its day in the South Florida sun, parlaying four takeaways into 20 points in a 37-3 road victory over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

The Titans intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times and held the Dolphins to 54 yards rushing in handing Miami its worst home loss since 1968. The Tennessee defense set the tone early, forcing a Reggie Bush fumble deep in Dolphins territory in the first quarter. Four plays later, Jake Locker found Kendall Wright with a nine-yard scoring strike to make it 7-0.

In the opening minute of the second quarter, linebacker Colin McCarthy picked off Tannehill and took the ball 49 yards for a touchdown and 21-0 lead. Miami didn't get on the scoreboard until Dan Carpenter kicked a 40-yard field goal with 9:03 left in the second quarter.

The Titans have a bye in Week 11 before returning to the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the National Football League's worst offense. However, as Tennessee showed in Miami, you can't always trust the numbers.

– Adam Martini

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THIS AND THAT

Trent Dilfer had an interesting take on Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who continues to make impressive strides this season. "I have never seen an athlete fix problems faster than Russell Wilson. He's really amazing. I said before the season, he was going to have to be exceptional at every layer of quarterbacking to make up for his lack of size. Well, he has been exceptional at every layer of quarterbacking." One example Dilfer cited of noticeable improvement was Wilson's ability to keep his vision downfield after being chased out of the pocket.

For those who believe that St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson is on his way out after this season, don't be so sure. One source close to Jackson believes the Rams agreed to let Jackson's contract void after the 2012 is because they actually want him to come back, but at a lower salary. Without question, the Rams were going to have to cut Jackson and his $7 million salary for 2013. Now, instead of Jackson being offered a potentially insulting pay cut, he gets to test the market. "In the end, I think Steven is going to want to finish his career with the Rams and this makes it work a little easier. He can come back on his terms," the source said.

For those of you who wonder why players feel compelled to talk off the record or anonymously about their true feelings, the Shonn Greene situation with the New York Jets quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez is a perfect example. The same day that one player was quoted anonymously about how Tebow is "terrible," Greene took heat for his rather mundane and logical remarks to Yahoo's Michael Silver about how the team might need a change at quarterback. Instead of people telling Greene that his remarks were fair, honest and measured, he felt he had clarify them the next day. It's ridiculous. Look, Tebow isn't a very good player and is a horrendous practice player. Still, it's not like Sanchez has played great. Greene's remarks aren't illogical and everybody knows it. Yet he takes enough heat that he has to backtrack on the remarks? That's exactly why players refuse to speak their minds.

[More: Jets signed up for contrived controversies when they acquired Tim Tebow]

Sadly, former longtime Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb remains out of football as guys like Josh McCown continue to get jobs. McNabb is currently working out and is even planning to help tutor some young quarterbacks at Fischer Sports in Phoenix this offseason as they get ready for the NFL scouting combine, a source close to the quarterback said. However, McNabb is getting no interest even for a backup role. Friends close to McNabb think the problem is simply that there always seems to be so much drama around McNabb wherever he goes. It's all part of the remarkable fall of a guy who once seemed on a path to the Hall of Fame.

As Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck sets to face the Patriots, Comcast New England's Tom Curran posted a great look at how inexperienced quarterbacks do in their first matchup against Bill Belichick since the coach joined the team. Overall, the Patriots are 18-7 in those games. However, there have been some great performances by young standout quarterbacks in that run, such as Drew Brees in 2002, Chad Pennington in 2002, Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 and Wilson this year. Given that and the general state of the New England secondary, Luck's performance Sunday will be interesting to watch.

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