Chang takes aim in Europe
By Michael Preston
Special to The Advertiser
By Michael Preston
TAMPA, Fla. — Ask Kurt Warner or Jake Delhomme about NFL Europe and they will endorse it as a proving ground that launches NFL careers.
Talk to Tee Martin or Gio Carmazzi and they will recall Dusseldorf, a city in Northwestern Germany that is home to the Rhein Fire, as a quarterback's graveyard.
Tim Chang follows one-time Tennessee star signal caller Martin and third-round San Francisco 49ers draft pick flop Carmazzi to the picturesque Altstadt, where their careers floundered.
The former Saint Louis School and University of Hawai'i star hopes to break the most recent trend and lead the Fire to World Bowl XIV, NFL Europe's championship game.
Beyond that Chang aims for an NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that allocated him to the overseas spring league.
"My main focus is just getting better every day and whatever happens does so for a reason," said Chang, from NFL Europe training camp in Tampa Bay that ended Saturday. "I'm just going to take care of what I do.
"All I can do is control my game and not worry about anything else. To me what matters is what happens on the field and what I do with the ball as I get it."
Chang will most likely get the ball for half of every game during a 10-week season that kicks off March 18 against the arch-rival Frankfurt Galaxy and ends on May 20.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Drew Henson provides competition for the Fire starting job in camp and appears to be the favorite. That would leave Chang to play the second and fourth quarters under the "two-headed monster" system favored by many NFL Europe coaches.
"I really don't know what the situation will be and I have no preconceptions," Chang said. "I know that Drew is a great quarterback and I have nothing but good things to say about him. He's my roommate and we spend a lot of time together, especially because we don't have our families and our loved ones with us.
"When you're living with someone for three weeks you begin to develop a special bond and that's what is there between us. I'm enjoying his company."
In three training camp scrimmages, Chang has been overshadowed by Henson, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 184 yards.
New Fire head coach Jim Tomsula remains tight-lipped over his likely strategy under center. His philosophy and understanding of how to mold a 42-man roster into shape during a camp lasting only four weeks has impressed Chang.
"Coach T treats us like men and he respects us," Chang said of Tomsula, who has risen through the coaching ranks since 1998. "He's very open with us and we are with him. He's very serious about what we're doing out here and I'm very fortunate to be a member of this organization under him and his staff.
"He brings a defensive mentality. I've experienced a defensive coach (Cal Lee) in high school and an offensive coach (June Jones) in college and now here I am back with a defensive coach."
Chang's NFL career has taken him to Philadelphia, where he is in competition with another former Rhein Fire quarterback, Andy Hall, for a job behind Donovan McNabb and Mike McMahon.
While trekking the country and now the globe in search of success, Hawai'i is rarely far from his thoughts.
"I really miss it," he said. "Primarily my family, friends, the food, and the culture. But I need to do what I have to do and that's over here. When I do get back I plan on doing what we do best in Hawai'i, just relax and have fun.
"It's a good culture and I'm very proud to be from Hawai'i and to be representing my home over in Germany."
Chang, the NCAA's career passing yardage record-holder, said he calls Jones and quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison "every chance I get.
"I talked to them when I was in Arizona training and I let them know I'd call them from Germany when I get some time off."
Chang's European adventure began when the Eagles called in late December and suggested his chance to prove himself in a pro offense was some 7,000 miles from his home comfort zone. The NFC East team has not specified areas of his game that require fine-tuning and Chang has not set himself any clear goals or targets.
"They offered to allocate me and I gladly accepted," he explained. "I did a physical with the team about a week before I came out here. I've enjoyed every moment I've been here.
"I'm just trying to get better overall as a player and that's why I'm here. I have a good quarterbacks coach in Steve Logan and he's helping us with our mechanics and the little things we need to do to get better every day.
"Whether it's the technique in throwing, dropping back, doing hand offs, checking off coverages, what to look for and what to throw into and all the little things a quarterback should learn, he's helping us with that."
Spending three months in Germany, exposed to foreign foods and an even more unfamiliar language, doesn't concern Chang.
"In Hawai'i we're really isolated and I've only been to some other states and to Mexico, so I don't know what to expect," he said. "I'm being really open about trying to learn a new culture. If you're not going to do it with family there's nothing better than experiencing that with a bunch of teammates. I'm really looking forward to it."
Michael Preston is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer covering NFL Europe.