Last night, as I watched the Dolphins lose a game on special teams, I noted with a bit of confusion that the Dolphins pulled Chad Henne and inserted Tyler Thigpen to end the game. Henne is the Dolphins starter, they are committed to him, yet they pulled him when the game got away from them to put in another young QB.
That’s not unlike what the Bucs did at the end of the Pittsburgh game when they took Josh Freeman out in favor of Josh Johnson. Now I understand the circumstances, in both cases you are down by big margins and you’re trying to prevent an injury to your starter. But there are other extenuating circumstances which need to be considered too.
You have a young quarterback whose confidence is going to fluctuate week to week. In both cases it’s a guy in just his second year as a starter, clearly having had a rough day (in light of the score being so uncompetitive). In Josh Freeman’s case he’s just 22 years old. As much as it’s important to protect his health, you have to be careful to safeguard his confidence too.
The NFL is a knee-jerk league, quarterback controversies spring up very quickly. When you have a young quarterback starting for you it’s never good to mess around with his confidence by potentially dividing the fan base. Josh Johnson played well in garbage time, going 6-of-6 and leading a touchdown drive. Sometimes that’s all it takes for the whispers to start, and if you troll across forums or listen to sports talk radio you can usually see the “put-in-the-back-up” talk after just one bad game. It’s not to that point yet, but last Sunday could have been the spark that controversy needs to start gradually brewing.
I’m not saying the Bucs aren’t committed to Josh Freeman, they are and with good reason. But even in a game like last week’s, with a developing player, sometimes wouldn’t it just be better to leave him in? If anything it gives him the confidence that, ‘hey, even when they going’s tough you’re still the guy.’ I understand the logic that because you’re committed to him as a starter, you don’t want to let him get hurt in what has become a lost cause. But that’s a hypothetical, and on the other hand you risk potentially fanning the flames of a quarterback controversy, risk damaging his confidence, and for what? Players get hurt all the time, Carlos Boozer is out two months because he tripped over an empty gym bag and broke his hand. Before he ever even reported to Bulls training camp. Sergio Kindle fell and fractured his skull before he even signed his rookie deal. Injuries can happen anywhere. You could pull Josh Freeman to keep him from getting hurt and he breaks his foot getting out of the ice tub after the game.
My point is, yes, injuries are always a concern. But is caution worth potentially damaging the psyche of a young quarterback? Not only do you deny a developing player one last shot to end the game on a positive note and take some momentum in the next week, you potentially plant the seeds of QB controversy. I just wonder if that’s always the best coaching move.