Interview: Brohm ready to compete for No. 1 job

Posted on January 14, 2010 by Tyler Dunne

Like everyone, Brian Brohm is playing the waiting game. He hears the rumors. An offensive coordinator here, a defensive guru there. He’s waiting and wondering. Any day, the Buffalo Bills will have a new head coach.

“I’m just anxious to see who it’s going to be,” Brohm said, “so we can get to work.”

Because then, Brohm’s strengths take over. Diving into a playbook. Learning the nuances of a scheme. Memorizing audibles. Knowing which on-the-line checks to make and when. Brohm is a self-diagnosed “football junkie.” Laughing, he admits that he rarely escapes the game. Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy once said Brohm picked up his offspring of the West Coast offense faster than anyone he’s ever had.

High praise, indeed. But it didn’t matter.

All of the playbook cramming in the world couldn’t save Brohm in Green Bay. He’d let one bad throw infect his whole practice, whole preseason game, whole week. Soon, Brohm was sinking into quick sand, unable to regain the magic that made him Louisville’s best quarterback ever. In two years, Brohm eroded from second-round pick to third-string afterthought to the waiver wire.

Abandoned by the team that drafted him 56th overall.

Listen to him now and you can hardly tell. Brian Brohm is reborn and primed to compete for the No. 1 job next season in Buffalo.

“My goal is to be a starting quarterback in this league,” Brohm told me Tuesday. “Hopefully I can go out there, take the reins and compete for that job.”

Yet again, the Bills are on the verge of wholesale rebuilding — a clearance sale of veterans coupled with an inventory of youth seems likely. Brohm remains a mystery, a wild card at the most important position in sports. He could be the new face of the franchise, the new reason for fans care.

In Trent Edwards, the Bills get concussions and checkdowns. In Ryan Fitzpatrick, a veteran backup. In Brohm? Nobody knows.

The Packers didn’t wait to find out. In a league where teams are loyal to a fault with highly drafted quarterbacks, the Packers gave up on Brohm. He holds no grudge. There’s no I’ll-show-them echo in Brohm’s voice. The rocky experience was a “learning tool,” not ulterior motivation. From the get-go, he was outplayed by another rookie, seventh-rounder Matt Flynn.

The lack of a short memory doomed Brohm. He got frustrated too easily. Possibly wondering what could have been. With Aaron Rodgers around, Brohm’s ceiling in Green Bay wasn’t high. Some scouts projected Brohm as a possible top ten pick as a junior in college. And now this?

The result was a 19-of-42, 155-yard dud of a preseason.

The next year he took baby steps. Brohm’s release got quicker, his drops more crisp, his mind more clear. McCarthy’s “Quarterbacks School” in the spring helped and it showed. In his second preseason, Brohm completed 39-of-62 passes for 300 yards. No, he wasn’t the puppeteer he was at Louisville, driving defensive backs mad. But Brohm was clearly better. In the finale against Tennessee, he completed 71 percent of his passes.

Didn’t matter. Brohm was a victim of the number’s crunch. Green Bay kept Flynn as its top backup and released Brohm. Rather than keep three quarterbacks like most teams, the Packers wanted to beef up their offensive and defensive lines.

“I was a little surprised the second year they let me go just because I played so much better my second year than I did my first year,” Brohm said. “I felt like I earned a spot on the team.”

Such arrested development isn’t anything new. Look at Rodgers. Long before his Wild Card duel for the ages, Rodgers was a deer-in-the-headlights rookie drowned in a 2005 August monsoon at Lambeau Field. The speaker in his helmet malfunctioned. He completed two passes. Was sacked two times. And by next year, fans were calling for Rodgers to be traded for Randy Moss.

So why the rush? Brohm now realizes he doesn’t need to obsess over one throw in the dirt.

“I was a little too up and down as a rookie, emotionally,” Brohm said. “Now, I’m pretty steady. I have to go one play at a time and have a short memory. Physically, I feel like I’ve gotten better in every aspect of my game since I entered the NFL.”

Brohm kicked around on the Packers’ practice squad for nine weeks and when Dick Jauron was fired, the Bills came calling. Ravaged by injuries, Buffalo gave Brohm new life. Spreading at a swine-flu rate, injuries eventually slammed the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards both went down with ankle injuries.

Six weeks into the job, Brohm was starting.

Forget repetitions with the first-team offense. Brohm barely got reps at all. With Edwards as the team’s primary scout-team quarterback, Brohm only saw occasional snaps. Nibbles of scrimmages. But Buffalo had no other choice. Brohm was it. So coaches ripped chucks upon chucks of pages out of the playbook. Kept it elementary simple and told Brohm that “punting was a good thing.”

In the resulting 31-3 loss at Atlanta, Brohm went 17-of-29 for 146 yards and two picks. Not overwhelming numbers. But for Brohm, the game was an icebreaker more than anything.

The “football junkie” finally got his fix.

“Sitting on the sidelines for over a year and a half starts to wear on you a little bit,” Brohm said. “To get out there and see the speed of the game. For myself, it helped me realize I can play in this league…I feel like I have the talent and abilities to succeed in this league.”

Expectations have always stalked Brohm. In high school, he won three state titles, was dubbed Kentucky’s Mr. Football, named the 2003 Gatorade Player of the Year and, at as a junior, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. He had a free pass to any college, including Notre Dame.

Suddenly ramming into a dead end wasn’t easy. Frustration mounted in Green Bay. Now he’s refreshed. His confidence is back. He sees the big picture.

“There are so many stories in the league of guys that started off slow, were cut numerous times, were out of the league for a few years and have come back to have great careers. Especially at the quarterback position,” Brohm said. “One day it’s going to come together with all that hard work. You just have to believe in yourself and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

He couldn’t have picked a better landing spot. The Bills’ future — from the coach, to the quarterback, to the city — is as uncertain as which team Lane Kiffin will coach tomorrow. Nearly every position is up for grabs. For Brohm, the time is now. He loves the town, loves the fans and, yes, loves the cold weather.

Unlike so many quarterbacks, Brohm enjoys seeing the temperature dip toward zero. That means, the game becomes a battle of wits. That means, it’s all about who handles the elements better.

After hitting rock bottom in Green Bay, Brohm knows there’s nothing else he can’t handle.

“The one thing you need in this league is to be resilient,” Brohm said. “You have to keep pushing forward, no matter how many failures you’ve had. You have to go out there and make your second opportunity.

“This is a great opportunity. I definitely don’t want to let it slip through my fingers.”

(Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of an excellent website called Buffalo Football Report, part of the network.  You can read this article as well as numerous insightful Bills peices regularly by visiting Buffalo Football Report.)

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