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Column - Jonathan Rand

RAND: Huard performing a tough act to follow

Oct 26, 2006, 1:16:20 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ

The Chiefs are surviving without quarterback Trent Green better than most of us could have imagined. But Herm Edwards doesn’t want to try that any longer than is necessary.

Will Damon Huard’s 3-2 record as the starting quarterback give Edwards second thoughts about replacing him even when Green gets healthy? The head coach’s quick answer made it clear the question isn’t open for discussion.

“Trent Green is the starting quarterback,” Edwards said. “When he’s ready to play, he’s going to play.”

You don’t leave a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback and leader of the league’s top offense for the past two years on the bench. Green resumes practice this week and guesses he’ll return November 12 at Miami or November 19 when the Raiders visit Arrowhead Stadium.

That the issue even came up is testimony to Huard’s standout performance since Green suffered a severe concussion in the opening game. Though most us expected running back Larry Johnson to do the heavy lifting while Huard threw a third-down pass now and then, Huard’s been much more than just a caretaker quarterback. Defenses have challenged him to beat them with his arm and, more often than not, Huard has succeeded.

He’s thrown seven touchdown passes with just one interception and has made big throws in each of his wins. His passer rating is 96.7, fifth in the NFL, behind Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger and David Carr.

Could Huard keep this up for an entire season? You don’t want to stereotype him and assume that Huard at 33 isn’t capable of sustaining his game at a new level. On the other hand, he’s been excelling for five games while Green’s been excelling for the past four years.

No other NFL backup quarterback is performing as well as Huard. But remember, that’s his role, and the experience he’s getting will make him a more effective backup than Todd Collins could have been after sitting for eight years without a start.

The only reason to keep playing a backup quarterback when an injured starter gets healthy is when the backup shows you something the starter did not. That was the case for New England in 2001 when Tom Brady, a second-year player, took over for Drew Bledsoe and led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win. Though Bledsoe had taken his team to one Super Bowl and been one of the NFL’s most prolific passers, Brady was more effective and had a bigger upside, too.

When Len Dawson was injured during the Chiefs’ championship season of 1969, second-year quarterback Mike Livingston won all six of his starts. Dawson came back to lead the Super Bowl run. Livingston, surrounded by a much weaker cast when he got another chance to start, never enjoyed much success again.

The best-case scenario for the Chiefs is to have Huard keep shining and have fans actually questioning Edwards for going back to Green. That would be like a manager getting booed for removing a starting pitcher who’s taken a lead into the late innings after pitching better than anybody expected. The pitcher leaves with peak confidence and in a better frame of mind to succeed the next time than if he’d stayed in the game and gotten knocked around some.

It’s a tribute to Huard that the most popular question about the Chiefs has gone from what would happen if Green ever got hurt to, what will happen when he’s ready to come back?

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

A former sportswriter and columnist in Kansas City and Miami, Rand has covered the NFL for three decades and seen 23 Super Bowl games. His column appears twice weekly in-season.