Five rookie quarterbacks are preparing to make their NFL debuts this Sunday. For three of them, their first pro outings promise to be particularly tough.
One quarterback, whom many believe was a reach as a top-10 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, must prepare for 2011's second-ranked defense. Another is set to face last season's toughest pass rush.
Here are the three rookie quarterbacks who face the toughest tests in Week 1.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Entering the league as 28-year-old rookie and taking over an offense that has ranked among the NFL's worst for quite some time are big enough challenges. Starting his pro career against the Philadelphia Eagles' prolific pass rush only compounds the problems that Brandon Weeden is likely to face as a first-year starter with the Cleveland Browns.
The Eagles notched 50 sacks in 2011 and added even more weapons to their defensive front when they selected cat-quick defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and rush end Vinny Curry in the draft. But before they can even think about containing that rookie duo, the Browns will have to find a way to stop veterans Trent Cole and Jason Babin getting to Weeden.
As if the pressure isn't enough, if Weeden does get the time to air it out, he will have to contend with press coverage from Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. That will make it even more difficult for a young Browns receiving corps to get separation and present Weeden with targets.
Moving the ball is one thing, but Weeden's biggest challenge may be trying to keep pace with a Philly offense that features the dynamic talents of Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. It promises to be a rough first game for the former Oklahoma State star.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans
Like Weeden, Miami Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill is preparing to face a fierce pass rush without proven, quality weapons in the passing game. Against the Houston Texans' blitz-happy 3-4, Tannehill could find himself in trouble early.
The Texans' scheme regularly sends five rushers after quarterbacks. And even if Tannehill beats the pressure, he will be throwing into an opportunistic secondary. Ball hawks Jonathan Jospeh and Danieal Manning are both superior athletes, ready to pounce on any errant throws.
Relying on the Reggie Bush-led running game may provide sanctity for Tannehill, but not many teams find consistent yards on the ground against Houston's swarming five-man front. Tannehill's best bet might be to try and fashion a big play early via the deep ball. That may encourage the Texans to temper the rush slightly.
However, Miami doesn't possess much game-changing speed at the skill positions, making it the kind of offense a Wade Phillips-coached defense loves to feast on.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears
A trip to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears' skilled and veteran defense promises to be a sobering debut for first overall draft pick Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts rookie has looked poised and accomplished in preseason, but he simply doesn't have the supporting cast to get the better of the Bears.
Luck can't rely on any credible wide receivers other than the ageing Reggie Wayne. He also does not have the luxury of a powerful offensive line or a productive running game.
Just like any quarterback facing the Bears' Tampa-2 scheme, Luck will have to stay patient and work the underneath. His best outlets may be rookie tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
If Wayne, Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton can occupy the Chicago secondary on vertical routes, Allen and Fleener may be able to exploit the middle. It will mean long drives and will be a good test of how Luck can protect the football and manage a pro game.
With Julius Peppers and Henry Melton leading a rampaging Bears front four, Luck's ability to stand up to a collapsing pocket and still make smart, quick decisions will also be tested.
Expect early bumps in the road for these three rookie quarterbacks. The trio will all face intense pressure and be challenged to defeat tight coverage schemes. And they are each united by the sub-standard supporting casts around them.
However, a positive showing and decent numbers, even in defeat, would give the Browns, Dolphins and Colts real hope regarding the new faces of their franchises.
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