"To tell you the truth, I think the people around Jay Cutler that we had last year were much improved over 2004 and they gave Jay Cutler a chance to shine," Johnson stated. "We had better wide receivers. We had better offensive linemen. He really didn't get sacked. Nearly as much as he did in 2003 and 2004. We had some tight ends and wide receivers make some fantastic catches in certain situations that kept drives alive and allowed us to win"
Addressing the obvious need at quarterback, Johnson told the group that when practice opens the first week of August there will be a quarterback who has had time to observe Cutler during the Commodores ups and downs.
"Chris (Nickson) was on the sideline the last two years listening to every call that went in every situation," Johnson said. "Watching (Jay) how he handled himself, how he worked through some problems."
Johnson alluded to the media that Cutler's leadership on the field served as a lesson that the remaining Commodores could develop within themselves as they prepared to win football games. In fact, Stamper and Goff barely had time to sit down and look up before a question regarding Cutler was fired at them.
"Jay (Cutler) was a great quarterback," Stamper acknowledged. "We are excited to see all the young talent that we have and to see the young quarterback step it up. Anyone can be in that spot if the offensive line makes them feel comfortable."
Those feelings are apparently echoed by the Vanderbilt defensive players.
"He was a great quarterback," Goff said. "I just can't say enough about him. He did a great things for the program. We have two new guys in Chris (Nickson) and Mackenzi (Adams) who don't have a lot experience, but who are up to the challenge."
It's doubtful if anybody among the gathered media actually believes the Commodores will be able to achieve a similar measure of success, especially in light of a brutal early season schedule. Johnson, Stamper, and Goff were well prepared to answer the critics as best they could though.
"Every guy on the offensive line has experience and has a lot of playing time," Stamper said. "I know what it is like to play in the SEC, and I want all of the guys to have that same feeling.
Cutler brought a plethora of much needed positive publicity to the Vanderbilt program. Johnson acknowledged that one area in which the program made significant strides because of the former signal callers success was in recruiting.
"The exposure Jay gave us, we couldn't buy that kind of exposure," Johnson stated. "It was great. It helped recruiting. It helped ticket sales, which are better right now. You know my wife liked me better. It helped everything."
"I saw Jay‘s picture everywhere," he continued. "I'd see it in the New York Times. I'd see it in USA Today. That was big news.. When I see it, recruits see it, high schools coaches see it. That just helps you out, no doubt about it. We couldn't buy that publicity if we had to. We wouldn't have enough money."
In a year that finds many Southeastern Conference teams in both divisions looking to replace quarterbacks, Jay Cutler was the name most often mentioned. Maybe it's because he was the best quarterback in the conference. Maybe it was because the writers lack confidence in the ability of Chris Nickson, Richard Kovalcheck, or Mackenzi Adams to move the Vanderbilt offense.
Probably a little of both.
Regardless, the Commodores will have to earn respect the way they did last season- with Cutler under center. He proved to be better than every quarterback in the conference and the program gained much needed respect due to his mass appeal. When asked how the returning players will pass along Cutler's valuable lessons in leadership, Goff didn't exactly know. He only knew that the effort would be made.
"We can't run around and talk about, you know, that we don't have Jay Cutler anymore," Johnson said. "Woe is me woe is me. We can't do it."
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