The case for mobile QBs

Visit InsideTennessee often for insights on Vol sports you won't get anywhere else. Check out this in-depth article on the potential impact of Tennessee's latest football commitment, based on the dramatic success previous dual-threat quarterbacks enjoyed during their time on The Hill:

Peyton Manning passed for a billion yards during his four years at Tennessee, yet it was the guy who succeeded him — dual-threat quarterback Tee Martin — who led the Vols to a national title in 1998.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Manning broke virtually every program passing record during his time on The Hill, yet it was the guy who preceded him – dual-threat quarterback Heath Shuler – who led the Vols to a school-record 40.3 points per game in 1993.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I’ll admit it: When it comes to college quarterbacks, I think dual-threat guys are the way to go. Obviously, you’re thrilled to get a Peyton Manning; I consider him to be the greatest quarterback to play the game. If I’m coaching a major-college program, however, most times I’m looking for a guy who can challenge a defense with his arm and his feet.

Tennessee landed just such a quarterback today, when Jarrett Guarantano committed publicly to the Big Orange. Of course, there’s no Guarantano guarantee that the Vols will break the single-season scoring record (as they did Shuler’s junior year) or win the national title (as they did Martin’s junior year). Still, good things seem to happen to college teams who have mobile quarterbacks. Florida won two national titles while Tim Tebow was there. Texas claimed one with Vince Young. Auburn won one with Cam Newton.

I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for a defensive coordinator to call the perfect defense on a third-and-long, then have all 11 defenders carry out their assignments … only to see the opposing quarterback ad-lib with a 15-yard scramble to pick up a crucial first down.

Mobile QBs are the primary reason option offenses were so dominant in the 1970s and spread offenses are so productive today. When a drop-back passer hands off, he’s no longer involved in the play, leaving the offense to go 10 against 11. When the quarterback is a legitimate running threat, however, the defense must account for him on every play, squaring the odds at 11 on 11.

With college football battling movies, TV and concerts for the entertainment dollar, the financial benefits of a mobile quarterback cannot be overlooked. The most electrifying QB I’ve been blessed to watch was former Vol Condredge Holloway. He was too short to play quarterback in the NFL and too dark-skinned to play quarterback for his home-state Alabama Crimson Tide. For pure entertainment, however, “The Artful Dodger” was worth the price of admission … even playing for mediocre Tennessee teams near the end of the Bill Battle era.

Jimmy Streater, the so-called “Sylva Streak,” came along three seasons later and also perplexed defensive coordinators with his running skills. Though nowhere near as dynamic as Holloway, Streater’s agility helped head coach Johnny Majors stabilize the Vol program in the late 1970s.

Alan Cockrell was a mobile quarterback when Tennessee signed him. He lost a step following a traumatic ACL tear his freshman year but still wound up starting in 1982 and ’83.

Cockrell was followed by Tony Robinson. Folks who recall him as a dual-threat quarterback are stereotyping. Like Holloway and Streater, Tony is African-American. But Tony’s gift was the liveliest arm I’ve ever seen. He did defenders a tremendous favor whenever he tucked the ball and ran. Check the stats: His career totals show 134 carries for 195 yards, an average of just 1.5 yards per carry.

Shuler also shattered a stereotype – the white pocket passer with no mobility. As a sophomore in 1992 he rushed 105 times for 286 yards (2.7 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. If you throw out the sack yardage, he probably averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Shuler was discouraged from running as a junior in ’93 for fear of injury. Still, he left after three seasons with career totals of 158 carries, 383 yards (2.4 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. In the zone-read attack Tennessee currently plays Shuler probably would run for 1,000 yards and pass for 3,000 more.

(Getty Images)

Following four years of Manning, Tee Martin took the QB job in 1998 and, literally, ran with it. His 55-yard burst set up a touchdown in a 34-33 Game 1 win at Syracuse and his third-down scramble set up Jeff Hall’s decisive overtime field goal in a 20-17 Game 2 defeat of Florida. Without Tee’s talented feet, that 13-0 season might have started 0-2. All told, Martin rushed 103 times for 287 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns that season in guiding the Vols to the ’98 national title.

Tee was even more effective as a runner for an under-achieving 1999 team — rushing 81 times for 317 yards (3.9 per carry) and nine touchdowns. For his career he averaged 3.0 yards per carry and scored 16 rushing TDs. Martin’s passing was merely average, as a 55.3 career completion percentage attests, but his running enabled him to go 22-3 as a starting quarterback.

The next 14 years saw a procession of pocket passers come through Tennessee — Casey Clausen, Erik Ainge, Rick Clausen, Jonathan Crompton, Tyler Bray and Justin Worley.

The only mobile quarterbacks during this stretch were James Banks and Brent Schaeffer. Defensive line coach Dan Brooks once told me that outfitting Schaeffer in a green (limited contact) practice jersey was a waste of time because "we ain't got nobody that can tackle him anyway." Alas, neither Banks nor Schaeffer passed the ball well enough to keep the No. 1 QB job and both wound up leaving the program prematurely.

When Worley was injured last October the Vols were forced to hand the reins to Joshua Dobbs, a bona-fide dual-threat quarterback. All he did was go 4-1 as the starter, hanging 45 points on South Carolina, 50 on Kentucky and 45 on Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Despite starting just five of 13 games, he led the Vols in rushing touchdowns (8) and ranked second in rushing yards (469). Even with sack yardage figured in, he averaged an impressive 4.5 yards per carry.

Like Shuler and Martin before him, Dobbs illustrates that a dual-threat quarterback can almost single-handedly turn a bland offense into a productive offense.

Obviously, quarterbacks with the running skills of Shuler, Martin and Dobbs are rare. That’s why Tennessee happily accepted a commitment from four-star pocket passer Austin Kendall last August. Five weeks ago, however, Kendall decommitted … just about the time the Vols’ pursuit of Jarrett Guarantano began picking up steam.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories