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Football notes

QB keepers tougher to find

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / November 9, 2008
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Greg Lotysz will start with this: He's not comparing himself to Tom Brady. He was a journeyman offensive lineman who had "a cup of coffee" in the NFL with the New York Jets in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Brady is a star quarterback destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They have never met or talked, but Lotysz almost immediately began to feel a connection when he read about what Brady was enduring following surgery on his left knee in early October.

"I know the magnitude and the impact that infection can have on a surgery site," Lotysz said last week from his home in Grand Forks, N.D. "When it was learned he had an infection, it brought back a lot of harsh memories for me. The emotions resurfaced because I can genuinely feel the sense of helplessness that he was feeling because he does not control what happens in his leg."

Lotysz was a Bill Parcells project in 1999, having joined the Jets following a no-frills college career at Division 2 University of North Dakota. He spent that year on the practice squad as Parcells saw enough potential in the hard-working 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound tackle to keep him around.

The next year, Lotysz appeared to have a chance to crack the Jets' active roster until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee early in training camp. Lotysz underwent surgery, performed by the Jets' team doctors, but what unfolded next was unexpected and rocked his world. He had two infections and would need another surgery to save his leg. His football career was over.

Lotysz, now 34 and walking with a cane, and Brady had injured the same ligaments. Both contracted an infection that required a six-week course of intravenous antibiotics.

While there are similarities to their situations, Lotysz, who attends rehab every day and takes pain medication to sleep, hopes it ends there. Lotysz had to undergo a second surgery to take out the infected graft from the initial surgery, and he hopes doctors caught Brady's infection faster so the QB can avoid that procedure.

"There were a lot of dark days for me," said Lotysz, who is married with three children. "As an athlete, you do everything to prepare for competition, whether it be mentally or physically. You can watch film, you can lift, you can run, you can practice well.

"But when that happens, you don't have any control. That sense of control is something that athletes want, they need, they relish it.

"That was my first thought with Tom; I had genuine concern. When I was talking to my wife, I said to her, 'I know what he's going through.' I know he's questioning a lot of things, the what-if's. I went through that whole mess. It's very difficult, to say the least."

Brady, writing on his website Oct. 18, described his infection as "very treatable" and noted that doctors were proactive in treatments.

Lotysz said he periodically receives calls from other football players who contract an infection after surgery. While he still has hard feelings over how his career ended - and that a lawsuit against his doctors was thrown out - he hopes to help others who might be in a similar situation.

"I know for me, I just felt humiliated, because you go from being a guy who is super strong playing in the NFL to having little control over your situation," he said. "That can be very tough as an athlete, and for Tom, I'm hoping he has no structural damage from the infection. I wish him nothing but the best."

Quarterback keepers getting tough to find
With the NFL in the 10th week of the regular season, how volatile is the quarterback spot? Consider that 46 quarterbacks have started at least one game. That number will grow tomorrow night when Shaun Hill makes his first start of the season for San Francisco. Meanwhile, Byron Leftwich (Steelers), Daunte Culpepper (Lions), Rex Grossman (Bears), and Andrew Walter (Raiders) could be in line for their first starts of the year today.

Last year, 64 quarterbacks started at least one game, a league record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The quarterback carousel can be broken down into two categories: teams that are forced to make the switch because of injury (such as the Patriots with Tom Brady), and teams that make the change on their own (such as the Browns, with Brady Quinn replacing Derek Anderson).

Twelve teams have had backups start at least one game, and not surprisingly, eight have losing records. The Chiefs and Seahawks have had two backups start; they're a combined 2-8 in those contests.

"When you look at all the changes, one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind is that there really aren't enough starting quarterbacks to fill 32 teams," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, who currently has Harvard's Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm because of Carson Palmer's elbow injury. "I don't think there have ever been enough, but as the league kept expanding, the percentage of quality NFL starters just kept shrinking."

So it's no surprise that teams are 22-27 when starting a backup.

That mark doesn't include a team like the Bills, who called on backup J.P. Losman in the first quarter of a scoreless game against the Cardinals Oct. 5 when starter Trent Edwards sustained a concussion - and lost, 41-17. On the flip side, it also doesn't include the Patriots' season opener when Cassel entered a scoreless game in the first quarter and helped direct the team to victory.

The exceptions are the Titans with Kerry Collins (7-0), the Vikings with Gus Frerotte (4-2), the Buccaneers with Brian Griese (3-1), and the Patriots with Cassel (4-3).

Perhaps the bottom line is that when a team has a viable backup, it should hold on to him.

Then again, it's not that easy.

"A lot of times you don't know who is a good backup," said Bratkowski, "because overall, I think there are a lot of situations where you get guys who are backups on teams, they may not play a handful of snaps in a three-year period because the starter plays well, stayed healthy, and then all of a sudden, bang, he's in there.

"Kerry Collins might be in a little bit of a different class as he's further along in his career, but in those situations there is often the question: 'How much does he have left?'

"Other times, the backups do well and then they want to become starters on other teams. So a lot of times you don't find out what you really have until that backup has to play."

Etc.
More than a passing commentThere was some hard-to-miss back-and-forth vitriol between ESPN's Trent Dilfer and the Browns last week regarding Cleveland's decision to bench quarterback Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn. It started with Dilfer breaking the story, saying: "Public opinion has made this decision for the Browns. This is not Derek Anderson's fault." Later, Dilfer went on a Cleveland radio station and ripped the Browns, saying: "It is so sad that the organization, as dysfunctional as it is, would make this type of knee-jerk reaction and blame one guy for their faults. I say organizationally, from the top down, this is an absolute joke." Apparently left out of Dilfer's remarks were some hard feelings he retains from his time with the Browns in 2005. He had been benched late that season in place of Charlie Frye. Dilfer also probably could have been forthcoming and noted that he and Anderson have the same agent. Still, Dilfer's comments rippled through Cleveland, leading Browns owner Randy Lerner to issue the following comment through a team spokesman: "Trent Dilfer running his mouth about a past employer doesn't merit a serious response."

A model player (on the field)
The undefeated Tennessee Titans might finally be receiving the national recognition they deserve, and in a credit to their don't-take-ourselves-too-seriously approach, they're having some fun with it. Linebacker Keith Bulluck, for example, seemed pleased to learn that 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound teammate Albert Haynesworth appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. "It's great," he cracked. "As long as it's not the swimsuit issue."

Second-half excellence
Since 2000, the Patriots (3), Steelers (1), and Colts (1) account for five of the NFL's eight Super Bowl champions, and they have been three of the league's most consistent franchises. Those looking for a common thread might consider the following stat: Patriots 53-17, Eagles 49-22, Steelers 48-23-1, Packers 48-24, Colts 46-24. Those are the clubs' regular-season records, since 2000, in November, December, and January - the NFL's best records over that span. It's yet another reminder that the most crucial stretch of the season has just arrived.

Commitment to ridicule
How can anyone take the Raiders seriously at this point? After signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall to a megabucks contract after acquiring him in a trade that also cost a second-round draft choice, they made like fantasy football owners and waived him last week. Doing the math, Hall was paid $8 million for eight games.

Serious matter for Jaguars
It was quite a week in Jacksonville, where coach Jack Del Rio did his best to shake up his underperforming 3-5 Jaguars. Del Rio was fuming over defensive lineman John Henderson smiling as he walked off the field after being ejected Sunday in Cincinnati, as well as receivers laughing in the locker room after the loss. He took out part of his frustration on linebacker Mike Peterson, sending him home Wednesday for speaking out in a team meeting, before welcoming him back Friday. Del Rio also moved players into different lockers at the team's facility, hoping to improve team chemistry, and told players to tone down their loud music.

More than a single story
With a blah Cardinals-49ers game tomorrow night, story-line-driven ESPN is sure to spend plenty of time focusing on San Francisco interim coach Mike Singletary's headline-grabbing antics, but there is one intriguing on-the-field aspect to the matchup. The running back torch has officially been passed in Arizona, as rookie Tim Hightower, a fifth-round draft choice out of Richmond, is the new starter over Edgerrin James. James didn't play a snap last week and he didn't take it well, saying the situation had become personal.

Still in like a Lion...
It's early yet, and quarterback issues have played a part in it, but the Cowboys haven't received much bang for their buck after trading a first-round draft choice to the Lions for receiver Roy Williams. In three games, Williams has three catches for 38 yards and one touchdown. "It's frustrating for me, because I'm on the sidelines," Williams said. "You can't do nothing on the sidelines. That's frustrating for me. . . . I feel like I'm in high school."

Center's streak snapped
At 0-8, the Lions are in the midst of a forgettable season - not exactly the celebration of 75 years of football in Detroit they were hoping for - but center Dominic Raiola has been one of the team's few bright spots. Having joined the team in 2001 as a second-round draft choice, he has played in 120 straight games, with 104 starts. Such consistency is often overlooked until it ends, and that is the case today, as Raiola's ironman streak will be snapped because of a broken right thumb on his snapping hand.

Did you know?
The 1-7 Kansas City Chiefs, one of the worst teams in the league, have a plus-7 turnover differential, third in the NFL.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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