Ricky Stanzi has been in this position before – and thrived.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie quarterback was taken in the fifth round out of the University of Iowa with the second highest career win total in school history (26-9), 7,377 passing yards (3rd), 56 TDs (3rd) and a reputation for being a clutch, big-game performer.
Already one of the fan-favorites, Stanzi finds himself in a familiar position; the backup quarterback the fans are looking to be the future of the franchise.
After two seasons, the Chiefs’ fans are not convinced current starting quarterback Matt Cassel is the captain that will guide their ship to a championship. However, Chiefs coaches and management seem to have a vastly different opinion.
The situation mirrors Stanzi’s previous quarterback competition as an Iowa Hawkeye in 2008.
Stanzi started the 2008 college football campaign as a red-shirt sophomore, second on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Jake Christensen. By the time the first regular season game rolled around, Stanzi had worked his way to co-starter with Christensen and the fan-favorite at quarterback, despite only throwing four career passes at the college level. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said at the time, both players would rotate and get playing time.
But it only took one week for Stanzi to set himself apart as the frontrunner for the starting job.
Stanzi entered the game in the second quarter of the first game of the season, against Maine, after Christensen threw an early interception in the end zone – much to the displeasure of the 70,000+ on hand in Iowa City. Stanzi only went 9 of 14 passing with 90 yards as the Hawkeyes dominated Maine 46-3.
He started the next game against Florida International, going 8 of 10 passing for 162 yards and three touchdowns in his first start while also splitting time with Christensen. Iowa rolled FIU 42-0 earning Stanzi his first career victory.
Iowa then played in-state rival Iowa State, and Stanzi earned his second career victory as Iowa won 17-5.
Coach Ferentz went with experience on the road as Iowa traveled to Pittsburgh. Christensen started the game and split time with Stanzi, but Iowa lost 21-20.
Stanzi’s third start followed against Northwestern. Stanzi threw for 238 yards and a touchdown as Iowa lost 22-17. But the performance, despite the loss, was the first time he played the full game without splitting time with Christensen — and would essentially be the last.
Stanzi earned his first road win against Indiana, 45-9, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Christensen came in late for mop-up duty, signaling his official demotion to second-string quarterback.
Stanzi finished the 2008 season 8-3, including a win against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, with a 4-game winning streak, and Christensen transferred to Eastern Illinois University following the season. Stanzi went on to lead the Hawkeyes for two more seasons finishing near the top in all of the Iowa passing categories. He even set the mark for 21 consecutive games with a touchdown pass (longest in school history) and is the only player in NCAA history to start three games against Joe Paterno (Penn St) and win all three games.
But if the fans want Stanzi to repeat his previous success dethroning the incumbent quarterback, they should allow him to follow the script he used while at Iowa. It is a similar script Cassel parlayed into his current position.
In 2007, Stanzi spent his entire freshmen (red-shirt) year holding the clipboard, more like sending in the hand signals at Iowa, on the sidelines. He made one appearance at the end of the game in Syracuse, attempting four passes and only completing one to a Syracuse defender, in Iowa’s 35-0 shutout of the Orange.
In 2007, Cassel was also on the sidelines holding the clipboard behind Tom Brady, only making six relief appearances (4/7, 38 yards, 1 Int). Then in 2008, he burst onto the season after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season. The Patriots went 11-5 (10-5 with Cassel as the starter) and missed the playoffs in 2008. In 2009, Cassel signed a lucrative deal to be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.
Ironically, it is that contract which may be the biggest obstacle to Stanzi taking over the starting role. Organizations may preach they want the best 53 guys on the team and the best guys will be the ones who start. But we all know finances play a role in roster spots and positioning.
The best opportunities for Stanzi to start in the NFL, is for Stanzi to follow in the steps of Kurt Warner and Cassel (ironically) and impress the fans and coaches so much while the starter is out with injuries that they can’t justify taking him out, or being traded to another team in order to be the starter (just like Matt Schaub and Kevin Kolb).
Regardless of how it happens, the best scenario for Stanzi and Chiefs’ fans, is to wait until 2012 before expecting Stanzi to start in the NFL. Anything sooner and you could end up with another Rex Grossman, Jimmy Clausen or Alex Smith. And no one wants that.