With the dust having settled from spring training, what was a wide-open quarterback battle, looks a lot clearer. The battle was quickly whittled down to a two-man race. Going one step further, the clear leader heading into fall appears to be Jameill Showers. The race is not over, and I would never discount a player with the ability, skill-set, and competitiveness of Johnny Manziel. However, on the eve August drills, this is where the QB competition stands at the moment.
That is by no means said to disparage the field. The Aggies have excellent contenders at the QB position, but each face a tall order to replace top ten draft-pick Ryan Tannehill. This transition is extremely significant and crucial, as the starter will lead Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kinsgbury's new air-raid offense into A&M's inaugural SEC season. There is a lot on the table, but the challenge is no doubt relished, and embraced, by a stable of highly-touted quarterbacks. Each will look to negotiate the obstacles of a brand new system with little to no game time experience. Let's take a closer look at the candidates who will compete one last chance this fall to grab the prized starting quarterback role in a system that demands a quality passer.
A&M's New Starting Quarterback?
Heading into spring, the slight edge favored Jameill Showers. He won the QB backup spot last August, but never took more than a few trash time snaps with Tannehill remaining healthy throughout the 2011 season. Known as a young signal caller with a cannon arm, Showers did take advantage of his role in practice with reps both in the fall and the previous spring session. As it turns out, Showers has emerged atop the fray for now. However, what surprised me in spring was just how quickly he picked up the new "Air-Raid" system. Several offensive players commented on the difficulty in learning Sherman's offense compared to Sumlin's streamlined schemes. Showers has definitely benefited from the new system. He's taken to the current, simpler system, like Ken Starr to hypocrisy. When Showers can play free without thinking his reads are quicker and his tempo faster. That was observed in spring camp.
While his decision-making improved, he'll need to continue getting faster given the tempo this system is predicated on and the faster defenses he'll face in the SEC. It no doubt will improve, as he's had more time to fully digest and hone it, along with his dance partners at wide-out. The other obvious knock is experience, but other than hard work and being studious (which he brings both of in spades) there is no other way to slay that dragon than to get out there and do it when the time comes. Until then, he'll be aided by his athleticism and that golden arm, which had many in the stands, sidelines, and in the coach's box, salivating over his potential. Finally, in searching for chinks in the armor, Shower's height can be an issue, as there were times when it was an apparent hindrance in making reads, and not seeing potential defenders, but officially at 6'2" (more like 6-foot-1 in reality), he's not exactly Doug Flutie.
To further put Jameill's athleticism under a microscope, his feet are tremendous. He is excellent in sliding the rush, and very quickly resetting in the pocket to get into the throw. I often use the example of Dan Marino, who couldn't run out of a fire, but whose feet were as good as any who played the position. Showers has the latter down, and as a bonus, he can pull it down and run for green, when needed. He's not an elite scrambler, like Johnny Manziel, but he is highly productive when he must run. In regard to his arm, I'll omit comparing him to actual individuals, but insert an "all-time, big-armed, quarterbacks name here" and it's no exaggeration. Jameill's throws are for real. They aren't nice little touch passes, short or deep, but great accuracy from absolute strikes, no matter where he puts them.
Johnny Manziel has clearly improved a great deal since last year, as an early enrollee trying to find his legs. However, Manziel's ability is often a double-edged sword, as he tends to force things in trying to create the big play. In some cases, he relies on his legs too often in a system that simply works much better when quarterbacks stick to the script. That's not to say Coach Sumlin's system handcuffs his quarterbacks from running, quite the opposite (as evidenced by Case Keenum's 900 yards on the ground in his career).
There is no doubt his abilities definitely could make him a tremendous option, but he must reign in the riverboat approach. As Websider's David Sandhop observed following spring camp, "This offense needs a consistent leader, making sound decisions. A great play means nothing if the next play is a turnover." Those risks are especially undermined when, "Showers appears to have the steady hand, and he also has big play ability." Don't read that as us writing him off. Johnny is easy to pull for. He works hard, and has made great strides. But like his counterparts, it will be interesting just how far he's come in this offense during August. It must be noted that his delivery and arm strength looked greatly improved in spring, but some of those deep balls still tend to lack zip. Arms strength can be overrated a bit at the college level, but some of those throws are asking for trouble with SEC safeties that are salivating to pounce on "floaters".
Setting aside all of the technical analysis, Manziel's potential is through the roof. With college quarterbacks, the "IT" factor often negates most of the downside, and he's simply got "IT". He is explosively quick, has superb acceleration, excellent speed, is a gritty competitor, and a natural football player who steps it up when the lights are on. In a nutshell, Johnny is a guy with "WINNER" stamped on his forehead. If he can overcome the aforementioned shortcomings and off-field issues that arose this summer, his skill set could cause SEC defensive coordinators some problems. However, how far he has come this summer remains to be seen. If he continues to make strides in the new system, and can take care of the ball, he will push Shower's to the brink, and will at the very least, be an excellent option at back-up. Who knows, a great fall camp will force Sumlin and Kingsbury to have a very difficult decision.
Down But Not Out
Back in April I really thought that the new system would play to the advantage of Matt Joeckel. After all, he picked up Mike Sherman's complex West Coast system quicker than Showers. But things don't always play out the way they look on paper, and Joeckel struggled with the tempo of the new system. Most observers were surprised he didn't make more of a run in the competition, but given the time between April and August, his studious approach, and what he brings to the table, I could easily see him make more of a dent in the competition this August. Just because a quality player is slower in wrapping their head around a new concept in three months, doesn't mean they can't figure it out eight months down the line.
He simply has too much going for him to be written off from the entire party just yet. Given the nature of SEC defenses, you can't have enough quality options at quarterback (just ask Will Muschamp and Florida, about last year's game against Alabama). Joeckel is consistent, accurate, and highly efficient in the short game. Bottom line, he consistently moves his unit down the field and is safe with the ball. He is not the most dynamic option, but just as capable as any on the roster, of leading this team, if called on.
Dual-threat freshman quarterback Matt Davis, oozes on and off field leadership skills, something A&M fans got a glimpse of while seeing him as the leader of the "aggswag" movement. In fact, his efforts went a long way toward holding the 2012 recruiting class together following the dismissal of Mike Sherman. He did some good things in spring camp, and the "IT" factor and leadership were obvious even in his limited reps. However, he's obviously got a ways to go in learning curve, and he'll likely red-shirt unless he has a breakout fall amp. That said it will be interesting to see how far he's come this August.
Overall Quarterback Thoughts
New offense. New coaches. New conference. No experience. No excuses. Common grains shared by a highly talented stable of young men, chomping at the bit to take the starting quarterback job for themselves, and lead the Aggies into a new era. Can Johnny Manziel, or even prematurely forgotten Matt Joeckel make enough of a run on front-runner Jameill Showers to assume the starting spot? We'll see. It's a tall order, but not a foregone conclusion as each young man brings tremendous upside to the position. In fact, if Manziel addresses his ball control issues, or Joeckel picks up the tempo of system adequately, it could be a tighter race than most expect. It may not be enough to knock off the presumed starter, but at worst, the battle will move them forward, and solidify the unit as a whole.
While inexperience will still have fans anxious, their concern should be assuaged by the talent of this group. Whoever earns the job should provide the A&M offense with sufficient capability to guide the unit successfully. It doesn't hurt either that they won't be alone in running this explosive offense with a superb and experienced offensive-line, as well as explosive, top rate skills players like Ryan Swope and Christine Michael that will make this engine go.
Fall Camp Guide 2012: Quarterbacks
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