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Falcon understudy has the look of a winner

The fun of exhibition football, if nothing else, is watching an unknown player starring for at least one blissful moment. Sometimes they become household names. Sometimes they fade into oblivion. Sometimes they are Michael Bishop. Sometimes they are Tom Brady. Sometimes we watch them and say, "Gee, he reminds me of . . ."

Which category will Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Schaub fall into? Who knows? But when a kid draws attention away from perhaps the best athlete in the league -- Michael Vick -- we tend to watch a little closer. In a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings Aug. 20, Schaub completed 16 of 19 passes for 205 yards, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

And last night, starting in place of the injured Vick, Schaub passed for three touchdowns, leading the Falcons past the Cincinnati Bengals, 37-10. Guiding the Falcons to a 27-7 halftime lead, Schaub completed 14 of 20 passes for 214 yards.

At 6 feet 5 inches, 237 pounds, you can almost guess whom this kid reminded people of with his precision passing, smart decisions, and feel for the moment. "To be compared to a guy who has won two Super Bowl MVPs, yeah, that's extremely flattering," said Schaub. "I've watched a lot of film on Tom over the past few years, and watched him closely when I was at Virginia. He's definitely a guy you watch to see how he handles situations, how he protects the ball, what makes him so good. To be that good would be anyone's dream come true."

At Virginia, Schaub played for Al Groh, the former Patriots defensive coordinator and Jets head coach. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes in four seasons, second best in NCAA Division 1-A history to Kentucky's Tim Couch (67.2).

Scouts projected him (accurately) as a third- or fourth-rounder. The rap was that he didn't have a particularly strong arm, but in the Minnesota game, he made a variety of throws with accuracy and precision. He's been doing it throughout camp.

Schaub was familiar with the kind of West Coast-style offense that coordinator Greg Knapp runs in Atlanta, because Bill Musgrave employed a similar system as Virginia's offensive coordinator (before he left to join the Jaguars). But it had to be daunting to be drafted by a team that already had a franchise quarterback.

Still, said Schaub, "I started to think, `Well, this is a good thing. I get to watch this phenomenal athlete play and learn from him.'

"He's a special player. There's no way I could possibly match his skills, and to even attempt it would be foolish. I just have to play my game, play to my strengths. I need to make good throws and good reads, not turn it over, and just try to improve every time I take the field."

Schaub is in a battle with veteran Ty Detmer for the No. 2 spot, another aspect of the story that sounds familiar. Brady beat out Damon Huard for the No. 2 job in Patriots camp in 2001, and when Drew Bledsoe went down in Game 2 of that season, Brady got his chance and never looked back.

Vick does a lot of running around and improvising, and with that he exposes his body to collisions with very big men. Schaub is very aware that he could be one hit away from being the starter.

"That's why I always have to be prepared and that's why I need to learn as quickly as I can," said Schaub, who was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in the Philadelphia area and idolized John Elway. "I know not every game I play will be like the one last week when it was a total team effort where the guys in front of me were blocking, and the receivers were running great routes, and everything just meshed so nicely. Every young quarterback is going to struggle. It's being able to learn from those struggles and those mistakes that will take you to the next level."

Many young players comment about the speed of the NFL game compared with college, and Schaub likewise is struck by the small window he has in which to make a play.

"The time you have to throw a pass successfully to your receiver is so much less than it is in college," Schaub said. "That window closes so rapidly."

His window of opportunity may not.

That hurts
Last week we brought you news of Guss Scott's unusual contract negotiations with the Patriots. His situation grew worse when he suffered a knee injury against the Bengals last Saturday and was placed on injured reserve. According to NFL Players Association documents, the Patriots and agent Drew Rosenhaus agreed to a five-year deal that included a $625,000 signing bonus, but the NFL Management Council voided the deal because of language issues. The sides tried to resolve the language, and the Patriots felt they had, but Rosenhaus didn't accept the deal as restructured and decided to take a one-year qualifying offer of $230,000 for Scott, a safety out of Florida taken in the third round of the draft. Scott's original deal contained a first-year split; if he were injured, his salary would be lowered to $135,000 but he would keep the $625,000 signing bonus. Instead, his injury protection will secure him his $230,000 base salary this year, but if/when he gets healthy, he would have to re-up with the Patriots at $230,000 (or whatever the minimum is next season) because he won't have a "credited" season. The Patriots also could cut him. If the Patriots do re-sign him, they have him under exclusive rights for three seasons . . . It'll be interesting to see how the Patriots handle Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who is under contract through 2006 but by league standards may be underpaid. Seymour's new agent, Eugene Parker, has had dialogue with the Patriots, but Seymour may have to wait another year. The approach by many teams is to renegotiate with young stars who have outplayed their rookie deals (e.g. LaDainian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis) with two years remaining on the contract. It benefits the player in that he gets a sizable amount of money sooner, and the team avoids a holdout and locks up the player for additional years at workable cap numbers. This will likely happen with Baltimore tight end Todd Heap and safety Ed Reed, as well as Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin (assuming he returns to form after his injury). Even veteran players who have outplayed their deals with years remaining have done the same, most notably Priest Holmes . . . We're not in the habit of promoting websites, but is very professional and free of annoying spin.

Nice Jet maneuver
Here's why signing Quincy Carter is a great move for the Jets: 1. It gives them protection in case Chad Pennington goes down, as he did last season with a preseason wrist injury. Carter was a starter for a playoff team last year. 2. Herman Edwards is the ultimate coach for getting players with baggage to work hard and perform well . . . Speaking of Pennington, there are indications that Tom Condon is moving closer to a deal that could pay the popular quarterback more than $20 million in signing and roster bonuses. "I spent four hours with them on Thursday and 2 1/2 hours with them today," Condon said Friday. "We're not there yet, but at least we're still talking." If the Jets can stay healthy, they could pose a legitimate threat to the Patriots in the AFC East. "We need Chad to win games, and without him, it's going to be tough on us," said running back Curtis Martin. "I don't think there's any way around that." The concern this preseason wasn't so much with Pennington but a couple of his receievers. Wayne Chrebet (quadriceps) and Santana Moss (hamstring) missed the first three exhibition games . . . We caught up with Tebucky Jones before he left with the Saints for Friday's game in Chicago. Two years into the Saints' 3-4 defense, Jones feels good about his play and the future of the team. "I'd say we're going to have a very good defensive team," he said. "I think we have the right people in the right places. We understand the defense pretty well now." Jones made his mark in New England as a top special teams player before finding a niche as a free safety, but he will be exempt from special teams duty in New Orleans -- barring injuries. "I wound up playing some special teams at the end of last year because we had injuries," he said, "but for the most part I'll be off them. It saves wear and tear on your legs, that's for sure." . . . One other funny line by Jones, on the difference between Bill Belichick and Jim Haslett: "Belichick is old school. Haslett is really, really old school."

Cowboying up
The Patriots must feel good about their run-stopping ability because they passed on veteran nose tackle Chad Eaton, who has more experience than anyone else out there in the 3-4 defense. Eaton wanted to return to New England after being released by the Seahawks following knee surgery, but one of his old mentors, Bill Parcells, brought him to Dallas to be part of the Cowboys' seven-man defensive line rotation. Parcells wasn't pleased with the Cowboys' run-stopping in the first two exhibition games. So in comes Eaton, who appears healthy after quite an ordeal with his knee that required three procedures last season, two of them more to clean it up after an infection. Eaton is reunited with former Patriots teammate Terry Glenn, whom he once called a name unfit for print after Glenn sat out the next-to-last game of the 1999 season with the flu . . . Isn't it ironic that when people talk about potential dynasties in college and pro football, Southern Cal and New England are often mentioned. It turns out the Krafts had the right instincts when they named Pete Carroll to replace Parcells. Carroll's record was a respectable 27-21, with two playoff appearances in three years, but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time in New England. Now he's in the right place at the right time. Carroll undoubtedly will be approached about an NFL job again, but he told us last season he would return only if he has complete control of the organization. If he wins another national championship, he'll probably get that opportunity . . . Don't know that I'd be so bold if I were Giants defensive back Terry Cousin. The former Panthers cornerback disagreed with coach Tom Coughlin's assessment that the New York secondary was "mesmerized" by the Panthers' Jake Delhomme last week. "I don't know what he is talking about," Cousin said. "The Panthers spread us out and made plays. Nobody was mesmerized." . . . A 2001 Ferrari once owned by Ricky Williams is being sold on eBay by a San Diego dealership. As of Friday, the high bid on the black Barchetta was more than $150,000 . . . Huard, now with the Chiefs, is finally throwing again after former WWE star Brock Lesnar, now auditioning for the Vikings, dislocated Huard's right elbow Aug. 6 during a scrimmage. "It hasn't been smooth sailing so far," Huard said. "But hopefully that's all behind me and I can start getting some playing time and take it from here." . . . It's been an honor for me to work alongside some of the greatest talents in sports journalism over the last 28 years, but no one came, saw, and conquered any faster than Michael Smith, who did an outstanding job in these pages and has quite a future at ESPN. Goodbye and good luck, Michael.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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