The Martin Chronicles: Quarterback Whisperers

Posted at 12:53 pm on 08/21/2015
At least half the teams in the ACC and SEC are without a clearcut starting quarterback here in mid-August.

Just as the personality of a coach permeates his football team, so the personality of the quarterback marinates through the flavors of his offense. And some head coaches make better chefs than others.

What’s cooking this year and what’s for dinner is a bit in question for many college football teams these days, even for some of the best offensive minds in the game.

Maybe they know and they’re not telling us, but the quarterback derbies are being prolonged by the coaches.

I don’t ever recall this many SEC/ACC coaches scrambling through their depth charts for a leader in the clubhouse this late in fall practice. By my estimate at least half the teams in both leagues are without a clearcut starting quarterback here in mid-August.

Sometimes this can be a good thing, because it means there’s depth and ample competition. It just doesn’t feel that way at Florida State, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia right now — although granted, three of the four added graduate transfer seniors to the mix.

Right up to kickoff, it seems Jimbo Fisher, Steve Spurrier, Jim McElwain and Mark Richt will be looking for somebody to run their offense on Saturdays. From the sound of things, however, after their first scrimmages, there may be a Scavenger Hunt going on for a couple more weeks for all four coaches.

These are coaches who have been hugely successful at finding the likes of such talent as Danny Wuerffel, Greg McElroy, Jameis Winston and Matthew Stafford.

The closest thing to a semi-obvious choice would be McElwain’s tapping of redshirt freshman Will Grier, but that’s not a done deal, either.

Richt didn’t exactly sound bowled over by the performances of Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert. And he didn’t even want to narrow his choices.

Four quarterbacks were auditioning in Columbia — Connor Mitch, Michael Scarnecchia, Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez. All Spurrier could say after Saturday’s scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium was that he might be able to narrow the field from four to two or three candidates.

Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson,  who once led his team to the BCS Championship game, won’t be a slam dunk to beat out Sean Maguire in Tallahassee.

Fisher wasn’t terribly complimentary when I spoke with him at Bobby Bowden Field on Friday. He grudgingly said Maguire and Golson looked “okay.”

"We’re right where we want to be. They’ve both done some good things. But we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said the Seminoles coach.

Translated: They are splitting snaps equally. Golson hasn’t played well enough to beat Maguire out yet, but he’s playing well enough to be a serious challenger. My guess is that Maguire will start and they will split time vs. Mighty Texas State until a case has been built to the team that Golson will have won the job fair and square.

I asked Fisher why so many teams were having difficulty finding starting quarterbacks.

“It seems to be a year when there are a lot of quarterbacks out there,” he said, referring to the fact that so many coaches have yet to pick their starter.

"It goes in cycles. We just happened to have had a lot of really good senior quarterbacks last year and there are still quite a few coming back. Maybe there are more teams (on) the top of the rankings. Because that’s usually the ones you pay attention to.”

So what makes a winning quarterback successful?

Fisher said no one thing will determine the winner between Maguire and Golson. “It’s no one thing,” he said. “It’s a combination of things that allow him to have a certain personality that transfers to the team. You’ve got to feature what those things can be. There could be four traits. Any four. There could be five. Three. Whatever it is. Quarterback is too complex to only have one of two things you do well. I don’t believe there is any one. There is a combination. You as a coach have to to recognize what those things are. Physical gifts. Mental gifts. And psychological gifts.”

“His leadership ability?” Fisher was asked.

“That’s a part of the psychological,” said the Seminoles coach.

Spurrier was looking to chose from one of four potential starters in South Carolina’s scrimmage, choosing from among Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia and even raw freshman Lorenzo Nunez. But the Head Ball Coach sounds like a man who is already planning on playing at least two of them, maybe even three. But after Saturday’s scrimmage, he admitted he and QB coach G.A. Mangus had to start paring down.

“We’ve got to stop training four quarterbacks,” he told the media.

“We'll try to train two and a half, probably. Maybe three and a half, I don't know."

Spurrier called the offense’s part in the scrimmage “a struggle.” He said Connor Mitch looked “okay” but that for the most part the quarterbacks footwork was poor and they were “too slow.” But he didn’t include the scrambling Nunez in that group.

Who was best among the QBs?

There was “no best.”

My guess is that he’ll start Mitch in the opener against North Carolina, play Scarnecchia some and also use Nunez along with gifted receiver Pharaoh Cooper at Wildcat.

Spurrier plans to play two of them — or more. The other day he told the media:

"If you've got two who can help you win, and there's not much difference between them, why not play both of them? It’s no different than any other position. At least, it never has been for me. There's nothing in the rulebook that says you have to play just one.”

Some coaches cite leadership as the most important quality. McElwain is looking to see whether it will be Grier or Harris who can stand in the huddle, look his teammates in the eye and lead them down the field on a mission to move the ball. And he’s even giving meaningful reps to Vanderbilt transfer Josh Grady .

"I'll be quite honest with you, I kind of didn't sleep last night thinking this could be a disaster," McElwain said prior to his first scrimmage. "And it actually turned out pretty darn good. I guess that's comforting, I don't know.”

Mac says the two leading contenders, Grier and Harris, had “mixed reviews” and he seemed more ticked off about some of the receivers dropping passes.

"Very first play of the scrimmage what happens?" McElwain said. “He (Grier) hits a guy in the hands, guy drops it. It's a never-ending issue.”

When I asked McElwain about the trait he felt was most important for his quarterback, he said it was leadership.

I feel like it is Grier’s job to lose but I doubt that will happen in the opener against New Mexico State.

In Athens, Richt seemed stuck when reporters asked him who was leading among his trio. Reporters felt he hedged his bet with the comment, “Well, let me think.” He did. And then he had no answer.

It looks like Brice Ramsey may have the edge, with Faton Bauta being spotted in on running plays. Graduate transfer Greyson Lambert, who couldn’t win the job as an ACC quarterback, has some proving to do.

I make Ramsey the favorite here.

And I may be wrong on all four counts. But at least I gave you an answer, which is more than Fisher, McElwain, Spurrier and Richt could do.


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