Projected 2nd String: Willie Simmons
Before we go one step farther, lets make one point crystal clear right here and now. Willie Simmons has his work cut out for him.
Entering his fifth year in the program, Simmons should be emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the country. With wide receivers that could play anywhere at his disposal, and most of the offense returning in 2003, Simmons should be getting ready to direct the Tigers to a possible conference championship and a home win over Florida State.
Simply put, this was supposed to be the year where Simmons led the Tigers to the next level. Note the key words there- supposed to be.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's going to happen. Plagued by fumbles and poorly timed throws last year, Simmons gave way to Charlie Whitehurst, a younger, taller, and perhaps more versatile version of himself.
|Simmons completed 137-of-236 passes for 1503 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions last season.|
He remained calm against archrival Georgia in the season opener and had the Tigers in position to actually pull off the upset in Athens. In fact, Derrick Hamilton and Airese Currie dropped two potential long touchdown passes, and Simmons still directed the Tigers to 28 points in a very hostile environment.
He also excelled in spotlight against FSU. In front of a ESPN audience Simmons directed the Tigers to 21-first half points against the nationally ranked Seminoles. in fact, using precision timing and outstanding touch on the long ball, he appeared to be on the brink of greatness.
And then the bottom fell out the following week in Charlottesville. With two crucial 4th quarter turnovers, the Tallahassee native gave way to Charlie Whitehurst, and the rest as they say, is history.
The Cavs called off their pass rush, dropped as many as 8 defenders into pass coverage, and the Tigers' offense came to a complete standstill.
Simmons would never really recover from being benched in the fourth quarter that afternoon, and Whitehurst would resume control of the team as the first string quarterback.
Following the end of the season, Simmons announced that he would at least go through spring practice to see if he could reclaim his starting spot.
"I've been told that I'll have a chance to compete for the starting quarterback position, and that's exactly what I intend to do," said Simmons.
For Willie Simmons, he'll have to be spectacular this spring if he's going to overtake Charlie Whitehurst. That means he has complete the deep ball with regularity, he also has to hit his receivers in stride on crossing patterns, and just as important, he'll have to become a vocal leader of the offense.
And then there are the turnovers. If Simmons is going to have any chance to reclaim his starting position, he has to learn to protect the football in the pocket and complete his passes with pinpoint accuracy.
Can it happen? Yes. Simmons has the talent to pull it off and he has always performed well as the underdog.
Will it happen? Probably not.
He'll have to execute the offense to perfection and hope that Charlie Whitehurst essentially sleepwalks through the early part of March if he's going to have a realistic shot at pulling it off.
While you shouldn't count him out just yet, it's important to remember that Whitehurst has the edge in height, arm strength, and delivery, and I won't be the first to tell you that those are things that are athletes are born with- you can't teach it.