There are a handful of second-chance quarterbacks, who have washed out in one setting for one reason or another and then later resurfaced to find success in a new location and a new system.
Steve Young, Jim Plunkett and Tommy Maddox are among those who went on to find success after being first-round disappointments in their initial go-around.
But for a quarterback to get a second chance to prove himself while still with his original team, those success stories are rather few and far between.
Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw is one of the few to be benched by his original team and live to tell about it while still with the organization. Bradshaw was benched in favor of Nashville’s Joe Gilliam in 1974, but after being put back in as a starter, helped guide the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles.
There may be others, but the needless to say, the list of highly touted QBs being benched and then returning to find success as the starter again is not a long one.
On Sunday, a pair of high first-round picks hope to buck that trend at Candlestick Park.
Alex Smith was inserted back into the San Francisco lineup at halftime of the 49ers game against Houston two weeks ago, and responded with three touchdown passes – good enough to help the first overall pick from 2005 reclaim the starting role he lost to Shaun Hill after injuries and inconsistency forced him to the sideline.
Vince Young’s fall from grace is now well known, after things came unraveled for him in the aftermath of last year’s season opener.
But when owner Bud Adams urged the Titans to give Young another chance after an 0-6 start and a 59-0 pounding at New England, the third overall pick in ’06 made the most of his chance, completing 15 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a score. More importantly, he guided the Titans to their first win of the season.
Both Young and Smith say their time on the sideline, watching others play has been a tremendous help to them as they take charge of their respective teams once again.
“I feel like I benefited a lot from watching the game and becoming a quarterback, just taking what the defense gives you,” Young said. “If it’s not there, check the ball down or use my God-given talent with my legs to extend the play a little bit longer.
“Right now, I’m just ready to play football, and I feel like he’s doing the same. Once you get the opportunity to play again, you want to take care of your responsibilities and do what you have to do to win a ballgame.”
Smith feels similarly, even though his situation of being a backup was compounded as much by injuries as anything regarding his play. He had a shoulder injury that cost him most of 2007 and all of 2008.
“I’ve learned a lot over the last couple years, just with the injuries and being out the last couple of seasons and all of the changes and stuff that’s gone on here,” Smith said. “I think it just puts things in perspective when you’re out of football—not that I was out of football—but when you’re injured like that and you miss a lot of games, it kind of puts things in perspective of what you miss from the game, why you play the game, those types of things.”
Coach Mike Singletary has seen the difference in Smith, whom he indicated is more mature now than in his first try as the starter.
“He is a lot better. He is a lot calmer. The game has slowed down for him. His reads are better. He has more of a command of the offense. I’m very excited about Alex going forward,” Singletary said.
Smith admits he was frustrated in watching the first five games of this season after losing a training camp battle with Hill, but said the important part was to be ready when his opportunity came.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time, it’s just kind of the reality in the NFL: very few backup quarterbacks don’t get an opportunity,” Smith said. “That’s just the case in the NFL. It’s so physical, it’s such a long season, you’re going to get a chance. The question is when does it come and if you’re ready or not. I kind of knew that in the back of my head, that I would probably get a shot for whatever reason.”
Young also knew he had to be ready once his chance arrived last week. Teammates say they noticed an improvement in Young on Sunday from his first tenure as the starter.
“He definitely seems more comfortable and more on top of things. Just being able to sit out a year and watch the game, and just to see it and get a year older, all that’s taken a toll,” receiver Justin Gage said. “He’s definitely been able to sit back and see the game and now he can come out and attack it. I think it’s worked to his benefit.”
Looking in retrospect, even Young says now that the move was probably the right one for him.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, it definitely helped me out a whole lot,” Young said. “Coach [Jeff Fisher] and the guys, the decision they made, I really feel like it helped me develop a whole lot. I can’t speak for anyone else. They’ve all got to go through their own adversity and situations and things like that. But for myself, I feel like it helped me out a whole lot.”