Spring Camp Guide - Quarterbacks

Quarterback play is imperative to the success of any football team and that was clearly illustrated at Texas A&M last season when Ryan Tannehill took over the reigns of the Aggie offense and engineered a dramatic turnaround in 2010. Aggie Websider contributor Jeffrey Jennings takes a look at what to expect from the quarterback position this spring.

Clearly A&M's 2010 season saw it's most unexpected development and salvation at quarterback. Injury ruined what could have been a special senior year for Jerrod Johnson, but it wasn't meant to be and the reigns were placed in the hands of former quarterback-turned-receiver-turned quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the midway point of the season.

In all honesty, the timing couldn't have been better for Tannehill and the Aggie offense. After a first half of the season marked by inconsistent quarterback play and a young, developing offensive line, Texas A&M put it together in Lawrence, Kansas. Tannehill's patience was finally rewarded, and it not only gave the Aggies a high quality signal caller, but kick-started an undefeated six game run closing out the season with wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas in what could signal a turning point with the program.

Lets take a look what senior Ryan Tannehill brings to the table, and highlight the battle between the young men who aim to position themselves as the next in line.

Locked in at Starter

Against Kansas, Ryan Tannehill took the field as A&M's new quarterback. A natural leader, he swiftly made his mark on the offense and the spark his presence behind center made on the team and fan base was tangible. It also set up a great run through a brutal schedule, to close out the second half of the season. He showcased his athleticism, ability, poise, and leadership in doing nothing less than slaying perennial Big XII giant OU in his second start and when Nebraska rolled into town with by far the most talented defense A&M had seen to date, Tannehill again answered the bell, managing a tough fought, close to the vest game, and led the Aggie's to two late scores, cementing a historic turning point win for the program. Though they fell hard to LSU, he actually played a pretty good game, hitting Jeff Fuller eight times against Patrick Peterson (the best corner in the nation), and threw two touchdowns against an ultra-talented and fast defense (he threw 3 interceptions, but only the one to Ryan Swope late was on him).

Throughout his short tenure as starting signal caller, one constant in Tannehill's success is his consistent arm. He has plenty of heat to make all the throws, hit receivers in stride, and place the ball between multiple defenders. It's not a secret, but what's more is that he can get it done with his legs (as was evident the last few seasons while Ryan doubled a go to targets at wide receiver, who was flat out dangerous in the open field after the catch). He's a pocket passer first, but he's very athletic, does a great job of creating more time to throw, and pull it down and run as a great scrambler when things break down. He is also very adept at running the zone read, with a knack for reading defenders in regards to timing the pitch or tucking it away and heading up field, making his overall game very dangerous for opposing defenses. Coach Sherman has been a long-time proponent, publicly stating on several occasions that Tannehill has the tools to be an NFL quarterback, and he's apparently delivering that message to NFL scouts as well.

Aiding him in hitting the ground running, beyond his physical attributes, is the fact that he is a very smart ball player which should come as no surprise as a guy with a career goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He appeared comfortable running Coach Sherman's West Coast system (and hurry up offense) immediately in Kansas. Ryan also sees the whole field, makes his progressions quickly, is adroit at exploiting defensive weaknesses, and seamlessly spreads the ball around to all of his targets. As mentioned earlier, he also solidified the mistake-prone offense with ball security and in that regard he increased production of the unit by reducing mistakes and turnovers.

Finally, what's most impressive in looking back on Tannehill's breakout performance during the second half of the season was the fact that he was essentially doing it on the fly. Yes he'd been preparing at quarterback for the previous three years, but not as if it was his team. The fact of the matter is this is the first time Ryan will have a full off-season preparing as the team's leader and will make following him this spring that much more compelling.

Battle for the Backup Spot

Last spring, the least of A&M's worries was the status at backup quarterback. In addition to having Ryan Tannehill in the wings, they were sitting in a comfortable and advantageous position for the future, having two true freshmen enroll early and take part in spring drills. The pair went through their expected growing pains, but showed the promise and upside one would expect in a Mike Sherman evaluated quarterback. Fast forward to now. Jameill Showeres and Matt Joeckel have been on campus for about 15 months, and the current situation demands a lot more urgency this go round as they prepare to enter their second spring camp, both for themselves and for the team. In the next few weeks the two young signal callers will not only seek to raise their standing in their coaches eyes, and set themselves apart from each other, but will aim to prove that they will be ready if called on to step up behind center and lead what promises to be the best team Texas A&M has fielded in a long time.

Taking a look at the tools each has to work with, Matt Joeckel is an accurate pocket passer with a strong enough arm, who plays smart and takes care of the ball (his high school TD:INT ratio was ridiculous). He can make all of the throws but last time we checked in on him he needed to work on his deep ball. Tim DeRuyter's new 3-4 gave all the signal callers fits last season and no doubt provided some baptism by fire, still Joeckel showed natural ability on timing routes and in steadily moving his unit down the field. Towards the end of the 2010 season, word from the practice fields was that Matt really started coming into his own, regarding the system and in making his reads efficiently and picking up defenders. He's not the speedy elusive type but he's sturdy in the pocket and can use his legs to an extent. All that said nothing will be more telling than the next few weeks.

What Joeckel may lack in raw athleticism, Jameill Showers is more than willing to demonstrate, and proved early last spring that he has a little more glimmer in his game and will be a future playmaker. His arm strength is better than Joeckel's, he is very accurate, and employs an extremely compact and quick release. Jameill is a studious quarterback and though highly athletic and fast, has a very disciplined pocket presence, preferring to use his legs to find an open receiver and using superb footwork to reset himself, rather than just tucking it away and running (which he can and will do if need be). Both have reportedly made big strides over the past year, and we'll see just how far, and who's positioned themselves with stronger footing as the heir apparent in what will be one of the marque positional battles this spring. No matter how well he does at quarterback, with Tannehill firmly entrenched as starter, and given Sherman's philosophy of not letting talented athletes waste their time holding clipboards, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Showers get some reps at receiver.

Nipping at their heals and no doubt pushing them will be an extremely athletic, playmaking early enrollee Johnny Manziel who has no interest in "cutting his teeth", "getting his feet wet" or any other patronizing clichés. Manziel is here to compete plain and simple. No doubt he's got a lot to digest and process but from all early indications the past few months, he is wasting no time in his development. The young man is simply a playmaker and a winner, and has impressed early since his arrival on campus, as one of the most dynamic athletes in the roster. Coach Sherman stated in the signing day press conference that he will be on the "Ryan Tannehill plan", meaning until he catches up to the quarterback position at this level, his talents will not be wasted on sideline, he will be getting a lot of reps at receiver next season and gives A&M another Ryan Swope type of option in a guy that is deadly with the ball in his hands in space. That said he will be getting plenty of snaps behind center in the coming weeks, and it will be very interesting so to see just how the confident young man performs at this early stage of his career.

Quarterback Overall

Though it clearly wasn't the way they would have drawn it up in 2010, Ryan Tannehill proved his worth, running the table against a rough schedule, and helped set up himself and his team for what could be a very special season in 2011. While clearly not quite as strong as they were depth wise heading into 2010, A&M coaches have a very promising and diverse crop of young men fighting to backup Tannehill. Their battle over the next few weeks, will be crucial for a team currently without a proven backup, and one that will be reloading it's starter in 2012.

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