TAMPA — Gone are the days when rookie quarterbacks had to sit and wait. These days in the NFL, they're often put under center right out of the gate.
Redskins rookie phenom Robert Griffin III, who brings his unique talents to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, is part of a growing youth movement, one of a record 10 starting quarterbacks in their first or second seasons. And three of them are among the six top-rated passers.
There had never been more than two rookie quarterbacks starting an opener since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. This year, there were five.
"I think there's a lot of different reasons, whether it's the amount of throwing the college quarterbacks are doing nowadays (or) just the complicated offense we're having to deal with in college," said Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.
"Going to the pros and dealing with the big playbooks and things of that nature, coaches are doing a good job of working guys in, putting them into situations to be successful rather than saying, 'Here's the playbook, learn it.' It's a little bit of everything. But it's good to see that guys can come in as a rookie and play well."
The proliferation of more complicated passing offenses in high school and college have helped prepare quarterbacks. NFL coaches and coordinators are better adapting their systems to fit their young QBs.
And in a pass-happy league, every team feels the pressure to find a franchise quarterback: Nine of the 10 starters in their first or second years are top-35 draft picks.
ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck, a former NFL quarterback, said the instant success of the Falcons' Matt Ryan and Ravens' Joe Flacco in 2008 sparked a new theory, supported by Andy Dalton's playoff appearance last year for the Bengals.
"It was like, 'Whoa, young guys don't have to sit,' " Hasselbeck said. "You can play them right away."
A spark for the rise of young quarterbacks can be traced back to high schools all over the country.
Teams travel to 7-on-7 passing tournaments, boast larger playbooks and are spreading defenses. College programs are running more pro-style offense. NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, a former general manager, said the "feeder system to the pros is stronger in developing quarterbacks than it's ever been."
"You're seeing the systems at a younger age that are basically built more like they are in the NFL," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Back 10-15 years ago, there was a lot less spread offense in the NFL, and there's a lot more I-formation. Every five to 10 years now it gets spread out more and more, and I think from high school to college they're having the same type of looks, they've having to go through reads and progressions. It just speeds up the process for everybody faster than it used to."
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said coaches and coordinators are better at adjusting schemes to fit their quarterback.
And that has helped the transition for Griffin, who said there are similarities in Washington to what he did at Baylor.
"I think that means a lot," Hasselbeck said. "I do think some coaches have been willing to explore a bunch of ways to (operate) as opposed to being, 'I'm a West Coast offense guy,' or 'Hey, I'm a vertical passing guy.' I think some coaches have been a little bit more willing, especially with some younger guys, to deviate."
But Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pointed out that teams are less patient with quarterbacks than they were a few years ago.
And there are cautionary tales of those who weren't given enough help. Rookies Brandon Weeden (60.4) of the Browns and Ryan Tannehill (58.2) of the Dolphins have two of the three worst quarterback ratings this season.
"If you look at history, you better not put all the pressure on the quarterback," Shanahan said. "You better have a great defense and great rushing offense. If not, you put too much on a young guy."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.