NCAA FB

STANSBERRY: Sorting out QB issues

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Oh, what a luxury it is for a college football team to have a returning starter at quarterback. The offensive coordinator can spend his spring practice fine-tuning the offense, in lieu of explaining the basics to a green signal caller. The alumni are a little more eager to snap up season tickets with the knowledge that the team's glamour position is manned by someone who might actually know what he's doing. And, of course, the school's sports information department can get busy printing up those glossy brochures proclaiming their returning quarterback as the Heisman winner in waiting. Check out your preseason magazines this summer and see if having a returning starter at quarterback won't make a difference for countless schools. The presence of Eli Manning will boost Ole Miss' stock. Texas will hug the top of the rankings thanks to Chris Simms. And analysts will once again proclaim Florida State a superpower because Chris Rix is back to toss a few around. It seems only natural to throw Georgia into the same category because of the return of David Greene, who was a pleasant surprise last season as a redshirt freshman. He threw for 2,789 yards and 17 scores, winning SEC Freshman of the Year honors in the process. His efforts were a big reason why the Bulldogs remained a factor in the SEC race despite having a new head coach in Mark Richt. And besides, any kid who can go into Neyland Stadium, throw for 303 yards, and lead Georgia to a win over Tennessee in the process has to be a mortal lock for the position, right? Well, not exactly. And it has nothing at all to do with Greene, either. You see, the crown jewel of Richt's first recruiting class was D.J. Shockley, who was a 2000 Parade All-American quarterback for North Clayton High in College Park, GA. Shockley is a pure athlete who redshirted last season while getting used to the speed of the college game. And "speed" is the operative word when it comes to Shockley, who is a player with an upside you can chisel president's faces into. So far through spring practice, Shockley has gotten a surprising amount of quality reps for a kid toiling behind an award-winning quarterback with three seasons of eligibility left. Shockley's talents are hard to ignore, though, so Richt has little choice but to give somebody with the redshirt freshman's skill set a long look. But there might be a little more to it then that. Back in 1998, Quincy Carter won the Georgia quarterback job as a true freshman. That prompted the losers in the Bulldog quarterback derby, Nate Hybl and Daniel Cobb, to transfer to other schools rather than carry clipboards on the sideline. The likes of that kind of mass exodus wasn't seen again until recently, when disgruntled moviegoers walked out early from Mariah Carey's first and hopefully last movie. Depth at the quarterback position was always a worry for then coach Jim Donnan after Hybl and Cobb took off, and the same concerns probably nag at Richt, as well. Therefore, Georgia's spring practice might also be a time to pacify Shockley a bit, in case he gets the urge to find another school where immediate playing time might be his for the taking. Quality quarterback depth is a nice luxury for any college coach, so you can't blame Richt for doing everything in his power to have a Ren for his Stimpy, a Jake for his Elwood, a Hall for his Oates. Down Interstate 85 from Athens, Georgia's SEC rival Auburn also has a bit of a quarterback controversy brewing this spring. It involves not one, but two quarterbacks who started at the position last season. And wouldn't you know it, one of the players in that drama is none other than Georgia exile Daniel Cobb. During his stay at Georgia, Cobb medically redshirted in 1997 because of surgery to remove a blood clot in his throwing shoulder. By the time the healing process was done for Cobb, Carter was firmly ensconced as the starter. So Cobb transferred to Butler County Community College in Kansas, then to Auburn. That blood clot back in 1997 is the reason why Cobb remains a factor in the Auburn quarterback race. Earlier this year, the NCAA approved him for a sixth year of eligibility. That was probably much to the chagrin of Jason Campbell, the quarterback who split time with Cobb a season ago. Campbell came to Auburn in 2000 as one of the most decorated performers in Mississippi high school football history. Both Campbell and Cobb are immensely talented, and each has his own strengths. Campbell is the superior athlete, while Cobb appears to be the more poised of the two. But both players had their negatives in 2001, though, with Campbell appearing tentative when checking off at the line, and Cobb throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Neither quarterback could stake a permanent claim to the position last season, which might help to explain why Auburn stumbled badly coming down the stretch. Auburn went from SEC West leader to Peach Bowl loser in the span of four games, and head coach Tommy Tuberville must have attributed that late season swoon to poor coaching, because both coordinators were released in January. Tuberville tabbed the Jacksonville Jaguars' Bob Petrino as the new offensive coordinator in hopes of making the Auburn offense more potent. The new offense being put in by Petrino, which so far through spring practice seems to emphasize the tight ends more, doesn't just provide a new twist in the quarterback race, it changes the rules completely. Auburn's deep passing game has deteriorated the past few seasons to the point of being a myth, you know, like Bigfoot, or a fuel efficient SUV. Despite a lack of outside speed at the wide receiver position, though, Tuberville and Petrino seem determined to fling it downfield more this season. That makes perfect sense, because Auburn can't hope to unseat defending SEC champ LSU with an offense based solely on handing it off to star tailback Carnell Williams. Both Campbell and Cobb have the arm strength to get it downfield, so what it comes down to is which of the two will be able to grasp the finer points of Petrino's offense. The quarterback who does so will take the opening snap against Southern Cal this September. Whether or not that person holds onto the starting position is a different story altogether.
Tagged: Auburn, Georgia

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