Gilbert physically, intangibly strong

When evaluating any quarterback, players and coaches look for ideal qualities that they hope their signal caller will demonstrate.

It's no different with Texas's No. 1 quarterback Garrett Gilbert. What is different is the amount of attention, and the high number of kudos sent the way of the sophomore, who has yet to start a game in his Longhorn career.

"I would say that leadership is a big part of what makes a great quarterback," said senior receiver James Kirkendoll. "But I think the other part is poise. I think he's showed a lot of poise, especially in that last game we played in.

"He's really showed me, as one of his receivers, that he's really growing up and he's accepting the challenge," Kirkendoll said. "He'll be fine. He just needs to relax and play."

In the Big 12, leadership and poise have taken quarterbacks further than prototypical size or elite arm strength. The last two years have seen the final seasons for four of the Big 12's top - five passers in terms of both passing yards and touchdowns through the air -- Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas's Colt McCoy, Missouri's Chase Daniel and Kansas's Todd Reesing.

None of the four were regarded as elite packages of talent out of high school. Reesing was rated as a two-star player, Daniel a three-star. McCoy and Harrell were both four-stars according to Scout, with McCoy (rated as the No. 14 QB in his class) the highest-rated of the bunch.

That same sentiment holds true for Tech's Kliff Kingsbury, the other passer in the Big 12's top five, as well as Heisman winners Sam Bradford and Jason White. Even Vince Young, an ideal package of size and athleticism, earned more praise for his leadership and never-say-die attitude than he did for his 4.5-second 40-yard dash.

And those are the qualities that Gilbert, a 6-foot-4 pocket passer with the arm strength to throw ropes on deep comeback routes, must emulate to achieve the most success. He's already shown flashes of each. Gilbert's poise allowed him to shake off a rough start in less than ideal circumstances to lead Texas back from a 24-6 deficit.

But Gilbert didn't necessarily look at the game as a positive experience. When Coach Mack Brown apologized later for putting the true freshman in a pressure-cooker of a situation, Gilbert shrugged it off, telling Brown that he wasn't worried about it. Instead of taking the easy way out, Gilbert told Brown that if he would have cut down on the turnovers, the Longhorns would have had another championship trophy in the case.

His quest as a leader started immediately afterward, when Gilbert became QB1, and he's taken steps ever since. Cornerback Aaron Williams said that he believed Gilbert arrived as a leader when Gilbert began woofing back at Williams in 7-on-7 drills.

"He's just really growing up," said James Kirkendoll, senior receiver. "He's taking more of a leadership role on this team."

It will take more than woofing to lead these Longhorns back to the National Championship game. But ask the Texas coaches and players whether Gilbert has the right stuff, and they're unanimous in their opinions.

"I think he's a great quarterback," said Tyrell Higgins, junior defensive tackle.

He's certainly a hard worker. Like women who watch Major League Baseball, Gilbert digs the long ball. But he's put in the time to learn his check-downs, often taking the safer throw, rather than trying to power the ball into a small window. He's thrown just two interceptions in three scrimmages through the fall, with one coming on a tipped ball.

He spent all summer working not just on his timing with his receivers, but on his leadership and ability to relate with them.

The result is a quarterback who excites both his teammates and his coaches with his potential. He's a special blend of talent, but more importantly, it appears that he possesses a similar blend of intangibles.

There's an amount of pressure that comes with being the quarterback at Texas. But it's one that Gilbert readily welcomes.

"That's why you come to Texas," Gilbert said. "Expectations are always high."

They'll continue to be high for both Gilbert, and for the team. Because as one goes, the other follows. And as Gilbert has shown so far in fall camp, he's working to lead in the right direction.

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