At all levels of football, the quarterback position is one of the most highly scrutinized and criticized because of its importance. The quarterback is the only person on a team who will touch the football on every (or nearly every) offensive play. In 2004, that person for the University of Virginia was Marques Hagans.
Unfortunately for Marques Hagans, he weighs 211 pounds but stands only 5 feet 10 inches tall. At a position where a height of 6'2" or better is highly valued, those four inches can make all the difference. That's not to say that a shorter quarterback cannot have success, especially at the collegiate level, but being able to see over and around offensive linemen and defenders that can be up to 6'8" tall is not easy at Hagans' height.
Hagans has other gifts that largely make up for his smaller stature, including speed, elusiveness, and a strong arm, but he will have to continue to get better and better at compensating for his size to have success in 2005. Areas for improvement include accuracy and recognition, two of the most important aspects of a quarterback's performance.
Some are waiting for backups Christian Olsen, Kevin McCabe, and Scott Deke – or even incoming freshman Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell – to make a run at the starting job, but Hagans, due to experience and maturity, will probably remain the starter in 2005.
In defense of Hagans, while much of the burden lies on his shoulders, he cannot change everything by himself. Both recognition and accuracy will require strong performances by the offensive line, which is almost a given, and the wide receivers, which does not appear overly likely.
As far as recognition, Hagans already has a good "spider-sense" – the ability to feel danger coming from his blindside in the form of blitzing defenders. Elusiveness in the face of that danger has given Hagans a fair amount of success in improvisation when a play breaks down, but he needs to improve his performance in the time before the play gets to that point.
When everything is going as it should go in the first few seconds of a play, Hagans needs to do a better job of finding the best open receiver. Fans watched several times in 2004 as the ball was thrown towards a man with a defender on him when there was another farther downfield who was wide open. That's not to say that all quarterbacks don't miss potential throws every once in a while, but Hagans definitely needs to improve on recognizing the open man.
Nevertheless, the biggest part of recognition is reading the defense – going into the play with an idea of what the defenders are going to do, and solidifying that idea within the first couple seconds as the defenders begin to move. Obviously, if a quarterback can predict – and recognize – the responsibilities of various defenders on any given play, he can have a lot more success in choosing his throws. Part of reading the defense deals with experience – has the quarterback seen this type of defense before? Has he played against this particular formation? Hagans will naturally get better the longer he plays – and he did show progress last year. However, he will need to spend a lot of time studying film to accelerate his development and make significant strides towards improvement in 2005.
Accuracy is the simpler attribute in terms of what it involves, as it follows on the heels of recognition. In essence, accuracy means finding better places to put the ball within a smaller space once the decisions have been made and the target chosen. Hagans has a good arm, but he needs to practice putting the ball in the exact place where the intended receiver – and only the intended receiver – has the best chance to get it. And because he sometimes seems to get jittery and throw off-target passes in big games, Hagans needs to work on his focus to improve his accuracy in those situations as well.
In essence, Hagans needs to significantly improve the mental aspects of his game in 2005. If he can, then the passing game, depending on the development of Virginia's young wide receivers and tight ends, can finally open up and become the weapon UVA needs to make a stronger run at the ACC title.
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