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  1. TBT

starter in a snap

NFL teams are completing their depth charts, but for the most part they know who will be the starting quarterback, the most important slot.

The starter appears in the television ads and dates the supermodel or pop star. Meanwhile, the second- and third-stringers hold clipboards in relative obscurity.

But once the season begins, real life will start to intrude. Starting quarterbacks will be injured or perform poorly. The big name often has to be replaced by someone a trifle less famous. Last season, only half of the 32 NFL teams used the same starting quarterback in all 16 regular-season games. The others had to scramble.

Matt McGloin, Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw started NFL games in the past two years. So did Scott Tolzien and Jeff Tuel — for the same team, the 2013 Buffalo Bills.

And the teams with quarterback problems often seem to have them year after year.

Though injuries might seem a matter of random chance, there are certain quarterbacks who have almost always managed to elude them.

Of the 16 quarterbacks who started every game last year, 14 did the same in 2013. Twelve of them have done so three years in a row, and eight for four straight years. Six teams have had the luxury of the same starting quarterback every game for at least five years: the New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees), the Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan), the New England Patriots (Tom Brady, six years), the Baltimore Ravens (Joe Flacco, seven years), the San Diego Chargers (Philip Rivers, nine years) and the New York Giants (Eli Manning, 10 years).

A freak injury could always change the pattern, but for some teams, the quarterback slot feels safe and strong.

Other teams, however, whether because of repeated injury or ineffectiveness, have failed to lock in a consistent quarterback and found themselves with someone significantly less famous lining up behind center.

Sam Bradford tore an ACL in 2013, leading the St. Louis Rams to hand nine starts to Kellen Clemens. Bradford tore the same ACL last season, so Shaun Hill and Austin Davis got eight starts each.

In the past 10 years, the Tennessee Titans have rolled out Billy Volek, Matt Mauck and Rusty Smith as starters. "I wanted him to be a dentist," Smith's father told Jacksonville.com. "I told him nobody ever makes it in football." Smith got his chance after a conflict between coach Jeff Fisher and starter Vince Young in 2010. He was 17 for 31 for 138 yards and Tennessee was shut out 20-0. Kerry Collins started the next week. Smith threw five more passes in his career.

Another team with a checkered recent quarterback history is the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2012, Michael Vick started 10 games but missed time with an injury and was replaced by Nick Foles. In 2013, the team again seesawed between those quarterbacks, with Foles starting 10 games and Vick six. Foles was the clear starter the next year, only to get hurt halfway through the season, making way for Mark Sanchez. The Eagles were 24-24 over the three years, with one playoff appearance, a loss.

This year, coach Chip Kelly gave up on Foles, trading him for Sam Bradford, the same Sam Bradford who was only healthy enough to start seven games over the past two seasons. Sanchez is still around, and Tim Tebow has been brought in, leading to another possible year of QB chaos.

In this century, 14 players have lined up for only one NFL start. Besides Rusty Smith, they include Brian St. Pierre (2010 Carolina Panthers), Brock Berlin (2007 Rams) and Drew Henson (2004 Dallas Cowboys).

Some of these one-game wonders even earned a victory. The most recent was Stephen McGee. Drafted by the Cowboys out of Texas A&M in 2009, McGee was a third-stringer behind Tony Romo. In his second season, with Romo injured and Dallas 5-10, he was given a shot in the regular-season finale. The Cowboys beat a 10-5 Eagles team that was resting all of its starters, 14-13, on a McGee touchdown pass with under a minute left. McGee finished 12 of 27 for 127 yards.

He never got another starting shot, eventually being cut and spending time in the Canadian Football League. But his NFL record reads 1-0.

The defending NFC champion Rams managed to roll out four starting quarterbacks in 2002: a declining Kurt Warner, Jamie Martin, Marc Bulger and Scott Covington, who started a single game, the season finale. He was 2 for 5 for 7 yards, before being replaced by Martin, surely one of the shortest starting careers in history.

"He just got a little excited," coach Mike Martz told the AP after the game. "He had a couple of plays called backward that hurt us early in the game. Instead of making a bad situation worse and ruining it, I got Jamie in there." Covington never took another NFL snap.

The dream of every backup is that when he gets his chance he will show that he has been overlooked all along and become a star.

It does not happen often, but it happens. Ask Warner, Brady and Brett Favre, all of whom stepped in after an injury and never looked back.

So relax, Giants fans. If Manning does go down, maybe Ryan Nassib is the next Jeff Hostetler.

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