Not since the days of Bucky Richardson have the Aggie faithful been so enamored of their quarterback as they are of the most recent field general to wear number 7, QB Stephen McGee.
Almost immediately after coming off the bench against OU late in his freshman season, McGee has earned an almost folk-hero status among the Aggies. Demonstrating a willingness, and often a determination, to hit and be hit as violently as any position player on the field, McGee made it obvious from the beginning that he was no ordinary quarterback.
"That's just my personality and spirit," McGee said. "I want to do things full speed and not look back. It's hard for me to ask my offensive line, my tailbacks or my receivers to go all out and then me slide when I could have gotten an extra foot or an extra yard. That's not the person I want to be. I could get hurt, but I could get hurt driving my truck to the store."
Toughness and unwavering leadership, however, are not the only attributes McGee brings to the table. The young man is also talented. Very talented.
During the 2006 season McGee was one of the nation's most effective "dual threat" QB's, passing for 2,295 yards and twelve touchdowns, while rushing for another 666 yards and four TD's. We was one of a handful of quarterbacks last season to throw for over 2,100 yards and rush for over 600 yards.
But that's not all.
McGee also broke the A&M single season completion percentage, connecting on 194 of 313 attempts for a completion rate of 62 percent. He posted six 200+ yard passing performances during his sophomore year, and he ranked first in the nation in interception percentage, throwing an unfathomably low two interceptions in 313 attempts. He also led the team in rushing against Army, Oklahoma State, and Texas.
Perhaps most notably, McGee will be forever remembered as the architect of "The Drive," an 88-yard, almost nine-minute-long march during the 4th quarter against the Longhorn. The Aggies converted five third-downs on that drive alone, with McGee keeping on the option on several crucial plays to keep the drive alive.
Coming into his junior season, however, the biggest question mark surrounding McGee's game is whether he will make much needed progress in the down field passing game.
If any part of McGee's game was lacking in 2006, it was the ability to make his second and third reads before bolting from the pocket and trying to make something happen with his legs.
Part of the problem was a quite normal byproduct of his being in his first year as a full-time starter, but another part likely related to a torn muscle suffered at the beginning of 2006 August workouts, preventing him from being able to throw a pass again until the week before the Aggies' season opener against the Citadel.
"Last year at this point he wasn't throwing the ball at all," said A&M head coach Dennis Franchione. "After the second day he didn't throw again until the week of the first game. He's much more confident and comfortable [this August] and he knows what he's doing."
McGee refuses to use the injury to his tricep as an excuse, but both he and Coach Fran are fully aware of the need to make sure all of McGee's passing options are exhausted before vacating the pocket. "You can't put a value on being the pocket and stepping up around pressure," Franchione said. "Coach Koenning did a good job of convincing him that his clock was about three alligators, and then get on the move. He didn't find his second and third progressions as many times as we would have liked him to [last season]."
McGee has shown remarkable improvement in making all of his reads before attempting to carry the ball himself during fall practice, a fact that should cause some distress among A&M's Big 12 brethren.
Even with the lack of a consistent down field threat, in 2006 the Aggie offense finished 18th in the nation, and led the conference in rushing and third-down conversion percentage. If the Aggies can stretch the field often enough this fall to keep defenses honest throughout the entire game, then this offense, which finished 8th in the country in rushing last season, could become virtually unstoppable.
Coming into August workouts, it was unclear who would be tabbed as McGee's backup, but it didn't take long for Franchione to announce that redshirt freshman Jerrod Johnson had secured the #2 spot.
At 6-foot-6 and 232 lbs, Johnson has drawn the inevitable comparisons to former Texas QB Vince Young. With impressive speed and a very strong arm, Jerrod has impressed coaches this fall, but has also shown his age at times.
"Jerrod has had some plays that were ‘wow' plays, and he had some ‘oh my God' plays, too," says Coach Franchione. "What we've got to do is diminish those to as low of an amount as we can, but he has to understand that the QB can lose the game faster than anyone on the team."
The fans won't have to wait for the games to be in-hand this fall before getting a look at Johnson, as Koenning and Franchione have indicated there will be some plays drawn up specifically for Johnson to make use of his talents in certain situations, much like backup Tim Tebow was used by Florida in 2006.
The consensus seems to be that Johnson's potential is too valuable not to be utilized in some fashion. And given the amount of hits he takes in a given ballgame, it's also wise to get Johnson as many snaps as possible in case of injury to Stephen McGee.
True freshman Ryan Tannehill will understudy McGee and Johnson this fall. Yet another Aggie QB capable of hurting the defense with his arm and his legs, Tannehill was the 21st-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation this past recruiting year. Tannehill enrolled early at A&M, enabling him to participate in spring drills.
Last year's Aggie offense was extremely effective at maintaining long, time consuming drives, grinding it out on the ground as the opposing offenses stood frustrated on the sidelines. The strategy paid off, limiting the scoring opportunities of some of the Big 12's air-assault offenses, and helping to keep some pressure off an Aggie defense in its first year of a new scheme.
This year's squad should be no less effective at ball control and time-of-possession, but if the Aggies are able pose the down field passing threat that was absent in some of last season's critical losses, then defensive coordinators are going to be hard pressed to find any sort of weakness on the Aggie offense to exploit.
Given Stephen McGee's progress thus far in spring and fall workouts, the vertical threat the Aggies are looking for may already be in place.
Countdown 2007: Quarterbacks
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