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Best of backup QBs: Pennington, Vick most reliable, intriguing

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Sage Rosenfels is back in the news, with the Minnesota Vikings reportedly losing faith in their backup quarterback. Too bad. I like him, and I like what he does off the bench. In fact, when the Vikings traded for him, I liked him so much I thought he'd wind up as their starter.

Then that guy Favre showed up.

Anyway, the Rosenfels saga got me to thinking about backups again and how important it is to have a quarterback you can trust, which may be the problem with Rosenfels and the Viking right now. I think back to someone like Matt Cassel, who stepped in for the injured Tom Brady in 2008 and won 10 games, or the Titans' Kerry Collins, who relieved Vince Young the same year and led Tennessee to a division title.

Now backing up Chad Henne, Chad Pennington is still a huge plus for the Dolphins. (Getty Images)  
Now backing up Chad Henne, Chad Pennington is still a huge plus for the Dolphins. (Getty Images)  
I think you get the idea. Teams these days load up on running backs, but it's just as important to have depth at quarterback -- and I can think of plenty of clubs that do. That's why I'm here with a list of my top five backups, the people I'd turn to first if and when my quarterback gets hurt.

Cue the drum roll, please:

Chad Pennington, Miami: Two years ago he won a division championship, resurrecting a franchise that won just one game the previous season. Now he's coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, backing up Chad Henne and waiting on the next 911 call. There is no one I trust more off the bench. He is smart. He is accurate. He is reliable. He is resilient, twice winning the league's Comeback Player of the Year award. He is admired and respected. And he wins. In short, he's a leader.

So he doesn't have a strong arm. Big deal. Arm strength is overrated, and I offer JaMarcus Russell as Exhibit A. He couldn't complete 50 percent of his passes last year and had nearly four times as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (3). Pennington completes 66 percent of his passes, has 38 more TD passes (102) than interceptions (64) and knows how to win. Plus, he has the temperament and intelligence to serve as a mentor to young quarterbacks like Henne. I know, he may open the season on the physically unable to perform list. But when he's cleared to step into a huddle, he's the man I want on my sidelines. There's a reason coach Tony Sparano and offensive coordinator Dan Henning had him by their sides at the team's recent OTAs: They trust him and value his insight. So do I.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia: Granted, this might be a reach. I haven't seen a whole lot of Michael Vick in the past three years, either, with the former Pro Bowl quarterback on call as a stand-in last season. He didn't play much, and he didn't do much when he did play, so I'm not really sure what we have here, and the Eagles might not, either. Nevertheless, Vick is still young (he just turned 30), and when I watched one of the team's spring workouts, he seemed to have his speed and quickness back. All I know is that he's not someone I'd want to face off the bench.

He's not an accurate passer, and he's not all that smooth as a quarterback, but he is ... or was ... a playmaker, capable of disrupting games with his helter-skelter, anything-goes play. He will make things happen, and he might, just might, wear out your defense while doing it. I concede that Vick is more of a playmaker than a bona fide quarterback, but he's capable of breaking open a game and breaking down an opponent with a single run, play or pass. Yes, he's wildly unpredictable, and normally that's not good. But in Vick's case, it can make him difficult to defend.

Kerry Collins, Tennessee: Given the chance to start two years ago, he had one of the best seasons of his career, beating Indianapolis to the AFC South title with an NFL-best 13-3 finish. So he didn't throw many touchdown passes (12) or produce a glittering passer rating (80.2). Who cares? All he did was win, and he got there by not screwing up. There were few interceptions and only one lost fumble, and both had been bugaboos throughout his career. But Collins is older now (38 in December) and smarter with the football.

He still can throw the ball downfield with accuracy, but he's not prone to fatal mistakes or bonehead decisions. He's become more of an experienced leader, which is why he was the right guy at the right time two years ago. The Titans needed a quarterback who could avoid drive-killing mistakes -- essentially, a quarterback who was dependable -- and Collins was that man. Basically, he's the anti-Vince Young, someone who can't run but who can beat you with the pass and who can be trusted to avoid traps on and off the field, if you know what I mean. Plus, you know what you have in him. He's not going to surprise you, but he can beat you.

Jon Kitna's track record shows he could make an impact in Dallas if needed. (Getty Images)  
Jon Kitna's track record shows he could make an impact in Dallas if needed. (Getty Images)  
Jon Kitna, Dallas: I don't care that he didn't throw a pass last season. The Cowboys made the smart move by adding him, gaining an insurance policy against the next Tony Romo setback. Not having Romo crippled the Cowboys in 2008, so the Cowboys got wise and found the perfect safety net. Kitna is smart. He is tough. He's patient, willing to wait his turn. He knows why he's in Dallas, which means he won't cramp the starter.

He has been productive. And he has been successful, leading Cincinnati to an 8-8 finish in 2003 -- after the Bengals had strung together six consecutive losing seasons. More than that, he followed with back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons in Detroit and led the Lions to a 7-9 record in 2007, the closest they've been to .500 the past nine years. One season after Kitna exited, the Lions belly-flopped, losing all 16 games, and, yeah, I think that is more than a coincidence. Anyway, Kitna's never really had a chance to show what he can do if surrounded by playmakers, but take a look around him now. The Cowboys are loaded. Give Kitna a chance, and he won't disappoint.

Derek Anderson, Arizona: I don't know why Cleveland soured on Anderson, but I do know what I saw in him in 2007 -- and it was good. Very good. Granted, he's not the world's most accurate passer (his career completion percentage is 52.9). But he delivered when needed, and I keep recalling his performance three seasons ago in the closing seconds of an overtime defeat of Baltimore, a game where he didn't play all that well -- until, of course, it counted. Then Anderson hit two critical passes in the last 26 seconds to set up a game-tying field goal, and the Browns went on to win in OT.

People in Cleveland tell me he was popular with his teammates and what they saw in him was a tough, no-nonsense leader they trusted in the huddle. Well, that's a start. I know he struggled last season, but tell me someone on the Browns' offense who didn't. I'm not looking for a quarterback who produces gaudy numbers; I want someone who knows what it takes to win. Anderson did at one time, dialing up big plays when the Browns needed them. But then he seemed to drown in the franchise's tidal wave of turnover, and maybe he benefits from the change in scenery. He did once. All I know is that Cards coach Ken Wisenhunt can exhale with Anderson sitting behind Matt Leinart. He not only has a veteran who won as a starter, but won 10 games in one season in Cleveland -- and tell me the last guy to do that.

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