A Closer Look at Chris Leak

Chris Leak's recent announcement stating he wouldn't sign with Tennessee is almost as amusing as it is absurd. It's tantamount to refusing to get on a flight that has already left the runway and is circling its next destination.

In other words: That scholarship has done sailed.

No doubt, Leak, rated No. 2 at quarterback in the Class of 2003, has the talent to give Tennessee's air attack a lift, but he also comes with a lot of baggage. The biggest load he'd bring aboard is father Curtis who's something of a combination spokesman and agent for his sons.

This is the same man who bristles at the suggestion his older son, C.J., is a back-up quarterback for the Vols. In Curtis Leak's mind, if Clausen is No. 1, C.J. is No. 1A on the depth chart. However when UT's three-year starter went down this season, it turned out that C.J. wasn't even The backup but A backup — third on a depth chart that features three scholarship QBs.

Once true freshman James Banks ended up with the No. 2 job, the frustration that had been building up in the senior Leak's mind through the first half of the season bubbled to the surface. Chris used his very public forum — writing a recruiting diary on ESPN.com — to express that discontent and to question the integrity of UT Coach Phillip Fulmer.

It was during this time that Tennessee's staff decided the fallout of recruiting Leak wasn't worth the potential gain. It was a decision that came during a time when many outsiders were questioning whether Fulmer had a firm hand on the reins of his program in light of the Vols faltering start and controversial statements emanating from individuals on the team.

Maybe discontinuing the chase for Leak was a way of making a statement that no one individual was bigger than Tennessee football. Or maybe, the Leak situation had so many parallels to another four-letter name, that starts with a L and ends with a K, Fulmer was wary of the consequences.

It's certainly hard to ignore the similarities between Chris and Curtis Leak and Eric and "Juicy" Lock. Both sons were highly acclaimed albeit undersized quarterbacks with outspoken fathers that were too involved in their sons football careers. As it turned out, Lock wasn't worth the one scholarship Tennessee spent to secure his transfer from Alabama much less the two additional scholarships it cost UT later for a brief, impromptu conversation Fulmer had with Juicy prior to Lock's transfer.

Beyond the baggage Leak might have brought to Tennessee, there are serious questions as to how his talent would translate to a drop-back offensive system that is built around the tailback. No doubt, he has lit up the scoreboard at Charlotte Independence High School, piled up huge yardage figures and broke the national record for career touchdown passes, but a closer examination exposes how some of those numbers are skewed.

To begin with, Leak is operating out of a run-and-shoot offense which mostly relies on short, quick passes. He throws most of the time from the shotgun and more of the yardage he has passed for has been compiled after the catch. He's listed at 6-11/2, but is much closer to six-feet. He's a remarkably accurate passer, but doesn't display more than average Division-I arm strength. He feels pressure in the pocket very well and moves in the pocket with purpose, but he's not going to beat you with the run in the SEC.

That's not to suggest that he's strictly a system quarterback, but the touchdown record he broke was held by Rhett Lashlee of Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Ark., who wasn't even offered a scholarship by the Arkansas Razorbacks. The yardage record is held by J.R. House, who hasn't exactly become a household name since graduating from Nitro High School in West Virginia in 1998. So the gaudy numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

Although there are legitimate doubts as to whether Leak is a franchise quarterback, he should be successful in college given a good fit and surrounded with a lot talent. His understanding of the passing game and his vast experience throwing the ball makes him more ready to step into a starting role than any other prospect in the Class of 2003, but his upside is more limited due to his physical stature and advanced development. Does he has a lot of room to improve?

However the biggest problem with Leak and Tennessee is his statement that brother C.J. wasn't given the opportunity to become the starter he was promised when he transferred two years ago. Even an average fan with only rudimentary knowledge of football could see that C.J. isn't nearly ready for prime time. His performance in the Orange and White Game last spring was actually painful to watch and his mechanics just aren't sound. C.J. has good size, adequate mobility and outstanding arm strength, but he lacks accuracy and hasn't responded well to the pressure of game conditions.

How anyone could watch C.J. Leak practice and play and believe he deserves to start ahead of Clausen is almost beyond comprehension. The point is: Do you really want someone whose judgment is that far out of whack running your offense and providing leadership for your team? And do you want someone like Curtis Leak second guessing your every decision for the next four years? Besides, if C.J. Leak really believes he was lied to and hasn't been given a fair chance to start, why does he say he's happy at Tennessee?

It's significant that on the same day Leak announced he was no longer considering Tennessee, Nashville Hillsboro defensive back Chris Russell announced he would sign with the Vols. He described the opportunity to play for the Big Orange as "a dream come true" and he brings a lot of skills and potential to the table.

Russell is rated No. 50 among safety prospects while Leak is No. 2 among QBs nationwide this year. Signing a Russell instead of a Leak won't help Tennessee's national ranking any in recruiting this year, but it is a move that will pay dividends down the road.

The bottom line: A team's strength is determined by the sum of its parts — not by the strength of some of its parts.

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