For NFL quarterbacks, it's been quite a change

Talk about a quarterback scramble.

Through the first seven weeks of the NFL season, nine teams have started at least two quarterbacks — Minnesota has started three — and this weekend you'll be able to add Chicago and St. Louis to that list.

Come Monday, 45 different players will have started at quarterback for the 32 teams, among them a promoted practice-squad player, Buffalo's Thad Lewis, and one who has made starts for two different teams this season, the Vikings' Josh Freeman, formerly of Tampa Bay.

Through seven games last year, just three teams had started multiple quarterbacks — Arizona, Kansas City and Tennessee — and all of them went on to have losing seasons. Not surprisingly, there are no winning teams among this year's nine quarterback shufflers, and they have a combined record of 17-43.

Teams have turned over every stone to find someone to throw the rock. Blast-from-the-past names such as Brett Favre, Jeff Garcia and Tim Tebow surfaced this week, if only in reports, as teams around the league dusted off their little black books for solutions.

The Bills have had 10 different quarterbacks on the roster since Coach Doug Marrone took over in January: Lewis, EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Matt Flynn, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Dennis Dixon, Aaron Corp and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Buffalo started the season with rookie Manuel backed up by undrafted rookie Tuel. It had all the makings of two wide-eyed 14-year-olds grabbing the car keys for a road trip across the country. But somehow, the Bills are now a respectable 3-4 and have discovered an intriguing option in Lewis.

"I give Buffalo some credit," said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, now a CBS analyst. "How do you go into a regular-season in that division, really in any division, with two rookies in a quarterback room together? Who's going to mentor the other guy?"

But that's the NFL these days. You fake it 'til you make it … even though you often don't make it at all.

Minnesota's quest for a quarterback has come up empty so far, with the Vikings cycling through Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Freeman and now back to Ponder.

Cleveland went from Brandon Weeden to third-stringer Brian Hoyer, leapfrogging backup Jason Campbell. Hoyer gave the Browns an impressive boost before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The team went back to Weeden, confirmed he isn't what they want, and now have circled back to Campbell.

The good news for Campbell is he's starting Sunday. The bad news is he's starting on the road against Kansas City, against a defense that's No. 1 in sacks, points allowed and third-down-conversion rate, and tied for first in takeaways.

"Arrowhead is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL," Campbell said. "That means even more we need to be on the same page with our play calls and making sure everyone is hearing it and getting lined up correctly."

Garcia knows the value in that. He played for eight teams in an NFL career that stretched from 1999 to 2011, making four Pro Bowls but also coming into some situations as a fireman, where he was entrusted to put out an inferno. That required a lot of playbook speed-reading and forgetting everything you learned at your old place and learning it again at your new one.

"You have to mentally empower yourself to work through certain kinks or lack of confidence in your knowledge, because you can't let anybody else see that," said Garcia, now an NFL Network analyst. "You can't let your teammates or the coaches know that you're unsure.

"There were times in trying to learn Jon Gruden's offense when we would call a play — and I'm going back to the off-season work — and we would call different shifts and motions, and I wasn't sure where everybody was supposed to line up, and I was just hoping they knew where they were supposed to line up. I knew where they were going to finish, but I didn't know where they were going to start at."

Those situations were rare, Garcia said. But for a quarterback, moving from team to team can lead to information overload, and especially for a player such as Freeman, who in a few weeks went from the Buccaneers bench to starting for the Vikings.

Garcia's name came up this week after he revealed in a radio interview that earlier this season he called the Browns, for whom he played in 2004, and told them he'd be happy to come in for a workout. They didn't take him up on the offer.

"It's funny," said Garcia, 43, who last threw a pass in 2008. "Because now you've got those people out there who say, 'Hey, yeah, wish you the best.' Then you've got people who say, 'You bum! Go back to the couch!'"

Favre — who is 44, a grandfather and hasn't played since 2010 — said in an interview with SportsTalk 570 in Washington that he has heard from "a couple of teams" but isn't interested in coming out of retirement yet again.

"It's flattering, but there's no way I'm gonna do that," Favre said.

Most of the quarterback changes this season have been because of injuries, and Gannon said in many of those cases those players are increasingly at risk because of the emphasis on pulling down the ball and running.

"The only way you really learn to play the position is to go out and do it," Gannon said. "I think what these rookie quarterbacks and some of the young quarterbacks are learning is that, 'You want to run around? That's fine. But there are going to be consequences.'

"These young guys are getting whacked, because they don't realize that these guys on the other side are trained assassins when it comes to a quarterback running the football. These guys, when they see a quarterback get outside the pocket, their eyes become like saucers. It's a free shot. It's a knockout shot, and they all try and take them."

And the revolving door of quarterbacks continues to spin.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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