Countdown to Camp: Quarterback

You can feel it in the air now, football season is just around the corner. And with the first practice quickly approaching, much of the focus for this year is on Willie Simmons. What can we expect this year from the junior from Tallahassee? What about Charlie Whitehurst? Details on the Tigers' signal callers and more are inside.

What must it feel like to be in the shoes of Willie Simmons right now?

Three years into the program, almost perfectly trained for this moment. The signal caller for one of the most explosive offenses to ever take the field at Death Valley.

"All he needs is just to go do it," Tommy Bowden said. "He's had all the pop quizzes. He just needs the final exam, but that won't come until Athens, but he's had all the preliminary work."

"I've gone through any emotion you can think of," said Simmons. "I'll probably continue to go through it until the first game is over because of the importance of it. The fact of who we're playing is kind of indescribable."

Calming down those emotions will likely be the key for the junior from Tallahassee, at least through the course of the first few games. Simmons is a fiery competitor, but history has shown that those emotions can sometimes get the best of him.

As a true freshman, Simmons entered the Citadel game and was quoted as saying that he was so nervous that he felt like he could throw the football out of the stadium. All he did that was complete 0 passes in 8 attempts and show a strong case of nerves for everyone in attendance that day at Death Valley.

We've seen similar performances out of Simmons as recently as last season, but in all fairness, once he settles down, he has clearly proven that he has the potential to become one of the top quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

For starters, Simmons has a strong arm and a quick release. He can distribute the football to all parts of the field with ease, whether it's a 15-yard out pattern or a beautiful bomb to a streaking receiver- Simmons can get the ball there with authority and accuracy.

He also is active back there in the pocket- he can sense backside pressure or escape the blitz with his quickness. Simply put, he has all the tools to be a successful quarterback in this offense.

For his career, Simmons has completed 62 of 147 passes for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns. Four of those came against North Carolina two years ago in Chapel Hill. That game saw the redshirt freshman rally the Tigers from a 17-0 deficit on the road in front of a national television audience.

This spring, he looked poised and confident on the practice fields, and he also started demonstrating his leadership abilities as well. He culminated his efforts by completing 13-of-25 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown in the Orange and White game.

"Willie was heavily recruited out of high school, and he's prepared three years for this. I just don't want him to go in there and think he's got to do too much. He's surrounded by some good skill. Let's just get the ball to this guy and to that guy and let them go," said Tommy Bowden.

Make no mistake, this is Willie Simmons' team this season. The junior quarterback will be given every opportunity to set many of the single season passing records held by former QB Woodrow Dantzler. The talent he'll have to throw to will be unmatched by almost any team in the land, all he has to do is put the ball in their hands, and let them make plays.

However, if for some reason Simmons should falter, it will be redshirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst who steps into the spotlight. Whitehurst is the son of one of Furman's legendary football players, David Whitehurst, and he certainly has used those athletic bloodlines to his advantage.

To say that the redshirt freshman had an incredible spring would be an understatement. Whitehurst dazzled the coaching staff in one scrimmage by throwing only 1 incompletion and 4 touchdown passes in 15 attempts, and he ended the spring by connecting on 20-26 passes for 174 yards in the Orange and White game.

"You can see that Charlie has some talent." said offensive coordinator Brad Scott. "He stands big and tall in the pocket." Calm and collected might be another accurate description of the redshirt freshman's game. Whitehurst stands in the pocket with confidence, and he often is able to find his secondary receivers with regularity.

"It's good if Charlie can push Willie, without Charlie having to step in as a freshman." said Scott. "Both are going to play. Willie's definitely our quarterback, but Charlie's going to be ready to go each week and he'll get some valuable reps this season."

The coaching staff is very high on Whitehurst, and if Willie Simmons is unable to get the job done in any game, he will get his opportunity. "Sometimes if you bring a guy out of the game, he'll settle down. I'd do it the first game. I don't know if I'd wait two or three games," said Bowden.

Clearly Tommy Bowden will do whatever is necessary to spark the offense this season, even if means pulling out the starting quarterback in the opening game of the year. And Tommy Bowden has hinted time after time that he would not hesitate to put in Charlie Whitehurst, that scenario would only occur if Simmons became too careless with the football.

The key for Simmons will be patience. Patience in the pocket, and patience with his receivers. If a play isn't there, he must learn to either throw the ball away, or make something happen with his legs. Without question, if he's able to cut down on those errant passes across the middle of the field and improve upon his decision making, he'll never see the bench this season.

The Tigers also added two more quarterbacks in the 2002 recruiting class, but both should be facing redshirt seasons.

Will Proctor, a true drop back passer out of Winter Park, FL with surprising quickness out of the pocket, figures to be a prime redshirt candidate, as does Warner Robbins, GA native Chansi Stuckey. Stuckey could command playing time at other several other positions, including cornerback or wide receiver, should he desire to make the switch. Top Stories