Fall Season Guide 2010 - Quarterbacks

With fall camp completed and game week finally here, it's time to take a post-camp look at each position going into the 2010 season. Jeffrey Jennings takes an in-depth look at the quarterback position and discusses Jerrod Johnson's fall camp performance following off-season surgery

Aggie fans, players, and coaches have to feel really good about the situation at quarterback. In 2009 Jerrod Johnson led the fifth ranked offensive unit in the nation and this off-season he has worked hard to build on that success. With two years in Mike Sherman's system under his belt, very low significant attrition, what should be a much stronger offensive line, more seasoned and talented weapons all around him, (not to mention some of the best quarterback coaching you'll find), there is no doubt Johnson will lead one of the strongest offensive attacks in the nation. He will have to work through some issues in September, which I'll address shortly, but given his talents and the cast around him, he should be fine. Backing him is Ryan Tannehill, who while perhaps not as dynamic, is just as athletic and established a team leader as Johnson. He is equally versed in this system and is completely capable of running the offense at a high level.

Waiting in the wings and looking to further progress, following their early enrolment and spring head start, are two young and extremely talented quarterbacks Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel. They have a long way to go in the learning curve but both have what it takes and will be crucial in the continuation of A&M's return to prominence in the coming years.

In this piece all four signal callers will be put under the microscope in regards to what they will bring to the table this season and in the near future. First we'll look at the two primary quarterbacks and then we'll see where our freshmen are as they've completed their first nine months on campus.

Veteran Quarterbacks

In 2010, Jerrod Johnson will lead an Aggie team poised to breakout of a decade-long funk. Thanks in large part to Johnson, the 2009 A&M unit was one of the most potent offenses in the nation. His strong arm and decision making placed him 8th in the nation in total passing yards at 3,579, 11th in yards per game 275.3, with a 30:8 touchdown to interception ratio and an efficiency rating of 136.75. He was dangerous with his feet as well, grossing about 760 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Though significantly limited in the spring, Johnson has done anything but coast off of an impressive junior year. He is well aware that his skill set still needs some slight tweaking and he has worked hard to improve his delivery and short-game which needs to get better. He was at about 60% in his completion percentage last season, a mark Coach Sherman would like to see closer to the 70% range. That said, while everyone expected Johnson would take his next steps in fall camp, it was soon apparent that he wasn't quite over his off-season shoulder injury. Initial speculation was about the mechanics and new throwing motion, but Coach Rossley confirmed later in camp it was more an issue of him getting back to full strength, which makes sense because the bad throws were happening on long balls too, and while Johnson has always had issues with the short passes, the deep ones have never been a problem.

As Rossley said, "He's had some good days and some days where the ball hasn't come off very good. Part of it is the heat and part of it is he's still not quite 100% there with his shoulder," Rossley said. "But he's close. He did well today. He had some great deep balls, but every so often one comes off poorly and it lands short." Accuracy has not been the problem but rather the velocity and flight of the ball at times. Before everyone runs to the nearest cliff, it's not that he is playing horrid, it's just that his strength isn't 100%, and it shows every now and then. Look at it this way, at worst he's a better version of Major Applewhite (great on field smarts but his arm is still stronger than him). He reads defenses like no other, puts the ball where it needs to be, and minimizes mistakes but his arm (currently) may leave some yards on the field (a route that could go for six if hit in stride may have to simply settle for a good 15-20 yard gainer instead).

There are three things worth noting on this subject. On the deep balls, this defense has been very effective on pressuring the quarterbacks and it's had an obvious effect on all of them. Secondly, and just as noteworthy if not more-so, is the simple fact that Johnson is a gamer. Jerrod has never been a great practice quarterback. Not that he sluffs off, but he's always produced when it counts, and when you are dealing with an arm thing, some of the balls that sailed on him in practice are going to have a lot more oomph on them when the lights are on. Finally, for the most part he progressed throughout camp and he's still been making plays in, but it's been more of an issue that for every eight to nine balls that come out good, there is a short wobbler or a deep duck. Jerrod got better throughout August and he has got a month of cupcakes to tune up with. For all the speculation, this month will likely tell the tale. While I'm not thrilled about this development, I'm honestly not too worried about it, he's got time, he's got protection, he's got a ground game, he's got a talented array of targets, and again, he gets it done when it counts.

Beyond the physical aspect, Johnson is a voracious film studier and perfectionist. He has also proved to be a signal caller capable of maximizing Coach Sherman's potent system. With concentrated effort from the staff following the brutal 2008 campaign, Jerrod has learned to play with great tempo and to "make it work" without great protection (something he'll finally have this season). He makes all of the reads and utilizes every weapon at his disposal in carving up opposing defenses. Jerrod is a remarkably sharp quarterback and tremendous leader, with a great control of the offense and respect in the huddle. It was really eye opening to see the contrast in how the offense ran when he was in there late this spring comparable to the other quarterbacks. Jerrod just has such a great rhythm and command as he runs the no huddle offense and is always aware of where his receivers are, as well as where and what the defenders are doing. As Coach Rossley said in the last week of camp, "We put a lot on Jerrod. He's our quarterback. He's our coach on the field. . . He controls as much of the game with pass protection and routes called at the line of scrimmage than any other quarterback I've coached. He accepts the responsibility and thrives on it. "

Provided Johnson comes along in September and finds his groove again, and if the defense can compliment their counterparts, to a reasonable extent (and it's reflected in the wins column), it is possible that Johnson will find himself in the Heisman race at seasons end.

Just behind him is Ryan Tannehill, who may be low in game experience under center but knows the system as well as Johnson and is more than capable, mentally and physically, of taking over as signal caller and team leader if need be. Sherman has bragged on Tannehill, for being so sharp, quick and adaptable in picking the mental things up. Some may recall last August, just before Johnson entered his breakout-season, Ryan gave him all he could handle in fall camp, actually appearing in the lead of the starting battle at several points (and that was after being behind in the competition as he was essentially out with injury that previous spring following a 2008 season where he spent most of his time in a record breaking freshmen year at receiver). Ryan continued those efforts this August, putting together a solid camp.

While his deep ball isn't as deadly, Ryan has plenty of heat to make all the throws, hit receivers in stride, and place the ball between multiple defenders. Like Hop says, "He is not a homerun hitter like Johnson but he'll get you a single everytime. . .and if Johnson is the #1 quarterback then Tannehill is #1b". Barring a ridiculously impressive surge by Matt Joeckel or Jameill Showers, Ryan Tannehill will be the man next year. The coaching staff recently said, his skill set fits the west coast offense perfectly and they expect him to win the job in 2011. They've stated he's a natural leader and feel he's one of the most instinctive, intelligent QB's they've seen. He plays with great rhythm as he makes his progressions and quickly gets the ball out. Like Johnson he sees the whole field, can exploit the weaknesses and has a great command of the offense.

Tannehill has doubled as one of Jerrod Johnson's go to targets at wide receiver, and has proved to be flat out dangerous when he gets the ball in the open field after the catch. He's a pocket passer first, but he's very athletic and does a great job of creating more time to throw and pull it down and run as a great scrambler when things break down. Even though Coach Sherman noted that Ryan has actually improved as a receiver, even in the limited work he's seen in spring and August, it's unlikely that he'll see much action at wide receiver other than specialty or third down situations in 2010. Of course I made that assertion last year, and the coaches just couldn't stand to let his talents waste away on the sideline. They've indicated more hesitancy this time around but we'll see.

The Freshmen

Though their impact on the 2010 season will be nil, it's always advantageous to have your future quarterback come in ahead of schedule, but to have two in one class is truly a blessing. Their early enrolment will be largely beneficial down the line, but for now both promising and capable candidates are going through expected and shared growing pains.

Newcomer Matt Joeckel is a very accurate pocket passer, who plays smart and minimizes mistakes (he had a gaudy TD:INT ratio out of high school). Joeckel has a strong accurate arm, and can make all the throws though he needs some work on his deep ball. He is struggling with making his reads efficiently and picking up defenders at times, but he has really shown a great knack on timing routes and carving his way down the field in digestible chunks.

Jameill Showers is going through the exact same developmental hiccups as Joeckel. He seems to have a little more glimmer in his game. Between his arm strength (which is stronger than Matt's currently), accuracy, extremely compact and quick release, studious approach to the game, awareness, decision making, pocket presence, very refined footwork in setting himself (while deadly and elusive with his feet he prefers to use them to find the open receiver and smoothly reset himself rather than tucking it and running) and one starts getting the picture of a future playmaker. That said, while he and Joeckel have made big strides since their arrival, they have a long ways to go and their head starts will begin paying off next off-season. As quarterbacks Coach Rossley said, "They are really starting to take steps forward from where they were in the spring. . .You can see them starting to grasp it and catch up to the speed of the game. They aren't there yet, but they're close and that's because they were here in the spring. I expect big things from this group in the future."

Quarterback Overall

A&M is in good shape at quarterback this season and in the near future. Jerrod Johnson will have to work through some issues in September, but given his talents, headiness, and the support around him, I'd be surprised if he doesn't start coming back into the form fans and coaches have come to expect from him. Behind him, Ryan Tannehill is totally capable of taking the reigns, if something goes wrong, and leading this team at a high level. When you figure in much improved support up front, as well as a great running game, and highly talented stable of receivers, fans, players and coaches will be treated with not only a flat out dangerous offensive unit but one that should be efficient and effective when it counts.

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