Nickson Takes Over Helm For The Commodores

FAYETTEVILLE — Chris Nickson admires the way former Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler carries himself off the field.

He also remembers watching Cutler keep his composure as he led the Commodores to a game-winning touchdown in last season's 28-24 upset over Arkansas in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Not surprisingly, those traits helped Cutler become Vanderbilt's all-time leading passer, as well as the 2005 Southeastern Conference's Offensive Player of the Year and a first-round NFL Draft pick.

Nickson is the man who's replaced the four-year starter, and the sophomore admits he's no Jay Cutler. Nor does he expect to be him.

"Pretty much everyone in this organization knows my strengths and they know what I'm going to bring. They know what I can do and what I can't do," Nickson said. "They're not looking for another Jay Cutler. They're just trying to look for a guy to come in and help Vanderbilt win."

So far, the 20-year-old sophomore has not accomplished that. Vanderbilt (0-2) hung with No. 11 Michigan and Alabama on the road, but a win has eluded the Commodores heading into Saturday's home opener against Arkansas (1-1).

Nickson, meanwhile, has tried to adjust to his new role as his team's leader. He has completed 26-of-48 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown through two games, but he threw three interceptions against Alabama — including one that set up the game-winning field goal.

At the same time, though, Nickson is Vanderbilt's leading rusher with 62 yards on 27 carries.

"I think he's going to be a star in this league in the future. He possesses that kind of potential," Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring said. "He's thrown a couple of interceptions; we hope we get some this week. We do every week, and we're going to do our best to defend him. But our hands are full."

Being a starting quarterback in the SEC is stressful enough, but it could be even tougher for someone asked to replace a legend who holds nearly all of his school's passing record.

But Nickson said he doesn't feel any added pressure with taking over for Cutler. He admits he benefited from sitting on the sidelines for two years, watching Cutler as he waited for his turn to start.

"It was extremely helpful for me, just being able to see everything he went through, how he carrried himself and how he led this team," Nickson said. "It was a great experience for me. It just enabled me to go out and feel comfortable about the things that I do on the field because I've seen someone already do most of those things."

Comparing Nickson to Cutler is unfair.

Nickson is two inches shorter than Cutler, and his arm is not considered to be as strong as the current Denver Broncos backup quarterback.

But like Cutler, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Nickson isn't afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit if it buys him more time to find an open receiver.

Nickson, however, is regarded as a better runner than Cutler. The former Mr. Football in Alabama played wide receiver in two games last season, and he doesn't mind a little contact.

As Arkansas defensive line coach Tracy Rocker put it, "He ain't dodging folks. He's actually trying to run over people."

That could pose problems for the Razorbacks.

"Naturally, he doesn't have the arm that Jay Cutler has, but he still is very strong-armed. I think he's very, very talented," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of Nickson. "What makes him a little bit more dangerous than Jay is his athleticism. He can run, he can run better than Jay."

Now, he hopes to match Cutler's success.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories