Running quarterback? Need a good quarterback
Based on the team’s 2-6 start and the way Bray played in a 38-24 loss to South Carolina, the announcement was hardly surprising. But the change doesn’t resolve all the quarterback questions at UT.
Ever since Tee Martin led UT to a national championship in 1998, some fans have longed for another quarterback who could break down a defense with his legs as well as his arm.
And given what’s going on elsewhere in college football — Auburn’s Cam Newton comes to mind — the longing probably has increased.
Yet with several exceptions, UT’s offense has had a procession of stationary targets in the pocket for the last 20 years.
Martin’s running was a significant factor in the unbeaten 1998 season.
Heath Shuler could have provided a running threat at quarterback, but UT rarely expanded his role beyond that of a pocket passer. He rushed for only 73 yards his last season with the Vols in 1993.
Brent Schaeffer brought speed and elusiveness to the position as a freshman in 2004 but eventually was beaten out by another freshman, Erik Ainge.
Ainge fit the UT prototype. So do Bray and Simms.
Although coaches have changed, the prototype hasn’t.
In the transition from Phillip Fulmer to Lane Kiffin to Dooley, the Vols have continued to rely on drop-back passers. Justin Worley, UT’s lone quarterback commitment for the 2011 class, is in the same club.
Despite the depth chart and the commitment list, Dooley isn’t averse to running quarterbacks. And he would be willing to tweak his system to accommodate one.
“I think the mistake is that everybody says, ‘We need a running quarterback’ if you don’t have a running quarterback,” he said. “And if you have a running quarterback but he’s not any good, then you need a passing quarterback.
“Well, what you need is a good quarterback. ... If he’s a good quarterback and he’s a special runner and not a special passer, then you shape the offense around his special skills.
If he’s a good quarterback and he’s a special passer, you shape the offense around his special skills.”
Newton’s special skills have been on display one Saturday after another this fall. When Auburn signed him out of Blinn College, he transformed them from a good team to a national championship contender.
Although he has been a surprisingly effective passer, his combination of power and speed as an open-field runner has posed the greatest threat to opposing defenses. How do you account for a 6-foot-6, 250-pound sprinter at quarterback?
Newton was more interested in the Vols than former coach Kiffin was in Newton. But suppose the interest had been mutual, and Newton had signed with the Vols instead of the Tigers.
“I can assure you you’d be looking at a different offense,” Dooley said. “Now, our philosophy wouldn’t change. We’d still believe in the same things; the structure wouldn’t change too much.
“But how you get to it would be very different. Cam Newton would be good in any offense.”
Of the top 10 teams nationally in total offense, seven of them have quarterbacks who can beat you running or passing, mostly in some version of the spread option. But a more conventional offense also can benefit from a dual threat at quarterback, who can succeed even when the called play fails.
UT doesn’t have that option now. When the blocking breaks down or the receivers are covered, an incomplete pass becomes the best-case scenario.
You saw the worst-case scenario against South Carolina.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.