Step On Up

Posted Dec 9, 2010

Chiefs backup QBs ready for potential play-time

The cameras and microphones gathered around Brodie Croyle like it was 2008. The only thing missing was a podium.

Croyle’s locker room comments resembled more of an impromptu press conference. The starter was gone, so the backup became the story. This is the life of a reserve quarterback. Their world can flip at the drop of a dime.

“You have to prepare for that moment,” Croyle said. “You never know when it’s coming. You never know when it’s going to happen, so you always have to be mentally in it and mentally ready to go.”

Whether or not that moment is coming this Sunday is yet to be determined. News of Matt Cassel’s emergency appendectomy surgery spread quickly on Wednesday afternoon and, naturally, everyone has turned to the doctors.

Within the first half hour of yesterday’s news breaking, three different media outlets had three different medical experts weigh in with their opinions.

The results?

One doctor said that Cassel has a 50/50 shot of playing on Sunday. Another predicted that we’d see the Chiefs quarterback return next week in St. Louis. The final doctor said that the appendectomy could sideline Cassel for up to six weeks. So there you have it. Nobody really knows for sure.

The reality is that no two people are the same when it comes to recovering from an injury. The team, for the record, said that Cassel is expected to “return to work later this week.”

While all the Cassel projections were going on, Croyle settled into the film room and began preparing for his first NFL start in over a year. Croyle has yet to take a single snap in 2010 and hasn’t drawn a starting nod since the 2009 season opener in Baltimore.

For Croyle, the film study is no different than it is each week he serves as Cassel’s backup. The odds of actually playing just happen to be a whole lot higher this week.

“I just have to prepare the same way that I always do and if my number is called I have to be ready to go,” Croyle said. “It’s no different than any other week. You’ve got to be ready to go in on any play.”

This isn’t Croyle’s first go-around as potential spot-starter. He gave the Chiefs a chance to win last season when he completed 16-of-24 passes for 177 yards with two TDs in a 38-24 loss at Baltimore. His 116.1 QB rating was the Chiefs first 100 rating (minimum 20 attempts) since 2006.

Croyle’s also come off the bench for six starts in 2007 after starter Damon Huard was placed on injured reserve with a hand injury and entered 2008 as the Chiefs starting quarterback before suffering injury.

 “It’s obviously different physically taking a lot of the reps,” Croyle said. “Either way you have to be ready to go. Getting reps and getting mental reps as a backup, you have to be able to do both. Obviously seeing them is a totally different animal, but you have to be ready to go anyway.”

Mental reps are how backup quarterbacks must prepare on the weekly basis. Each practice, the Chiefs typically script 30-35 team reps for full 11 vs. 11 work against the scout team. That type of workload doesn’t leave many extra snaps for a backup quarterback.

“In a normal practice day Brodie would get two, maybe four reps with the first team offense and I’d get none,” third-string QB Tyler Palko said. “The number two and the number three quarterbacks would then split the rest of the scout team reps.”

Like Croyle, Palko’s Wednesday afternoon adjusted just as quickly as the news hit.

For 13 weeks Palko was on the Chiefs practice squad, unavailable gameday duty. Palko was promoted to the 53-man roster on Wednesday morning and it’s entirely possible that one injury is all that stands between him and quarterbacking the Chiefs biggest game to date.

 “When you’re the number three quarterback you don’t get many reps, and you shouldn’t,” Palko said. “You play your role and do the scout team thing. You do your stuff by working extra after practice. I’ve been working with our quarterbacks coach to try and simulate some sort of practice reps. It’s not equal to game speed, but it’s the work that you have to get done. You’ve got to stay ready.”

Palko’s last stint on an active roster came with Pittsburgh in 2009. Ironically, he was signed by the Steelers as an emergency reserve after Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch both suffered injuries in a 27-24 overtime loss at Arrowhead. Dennis Dixon started that game and Palko never played.

The number one job of a backup quarterback is to be ready. Both Croyle and Palko say that they are. There’s certainly a chance that they’ll be called upon.

 “Everything’s working fine, I’m mentally ready to go,” Croyle said. “When it comes to the end of the week and its decision time I’ll be ready either way.”


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