There might not be one position in more in doubt than Vanderbilt's quarterback situation. A lot of young quarterbacks have potential on our roster, but playing a true freshman in any case is a good recipe for disaster. Even Jameis Winston was forced to sit a year, as was Andrew Luck. The reality is learning college offenses takes time, and a lot of high school offensive coaches lack that (trust me). So how badly did Coach Dorrell mess things up?
Pretty bad actually.
One of the few times I will be pessimistic is about the quarterback play. If I were to label one thing done exceptionally horribly last year, it was the quarterback coaching. Like I said there was too much talent for that position to be a dud. But there was one kid who has stood out to me, at least for a long time. One thing I never question is production...
Enter Shawn Stankavage.
A young man who had just been productive in high school joined the first recruiting class of Derek Mason, Stankavage accounted for 3,564 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. If that wasn't enough he ran for nearly 1,100 more yards and 13 touchdowns. If that wasn't enough, his dad played QB for the Tar Heels AND was a former NFL backup. So the bloodlines were there, and Vanderbilt did in fact make the right choice by using a redshirt on the young man. At the spring game, Stankavage was unquestionably the best quarterback on the field and added an element of running when things just weren't there in the passing game. He finished the day 7 for 11 for 55 yards, but what really sold me was the poise he had in the pocket.
Now for the downside.
I've talked to some and the report is he might not be able to move in the pocket as well as normal. He did formerly have ACL surgery his junior year in high school, but I haven't heard a direct word on what the deal is. That was part of his potential - knowing when to run. Maybe he can use this next year to develop into a potential starter, or at least I hope that is the case. He can play this year he just won't be as mobile, which is why I believe that you let him develop his arm in case he isn't able to run much anymore then address the issue later on.
Since Stankavage is out, Robinette decided to go be a doctor, and Rivers transferred to a school most of us have never heard of, one of two passers has to step up.
Johnny McCrary- I am the first to admit that I've rode McCrary pretty hard in terms of what he can do. That's because I believe the former 4 star is capable of so much more. We've seen flashes of the potential and the hope is he is getting more comfortable out of the pocket. If not we could have a potential transfer on our hands, and while it would suck if you're McCrary you have to know when you're likely to be replaced. I would like to believe he lives up to his hype, but his spring game didn't give me much hope at all, and now he needs to pick it up.
2014 Stats: 985 Passing Yards, 9 Touchdowns, 8 Interceptions, 51.2% completion percentage.
Season Potential: Remember last year vs Old Dominion? That is what McCrary can be. Now I'm about to pick his game apart, and he may absolutely hate me for it. But I feel it's what is best. The first downside is, he has to know his concepts better. There are times he is only reading half the football field and it absolutely drives me insane to watch. He gets lazy with his feet and doesn't get his hips turned to the target. His follow through is awful and results in way too many balls going over heads or floating where they don't belong. These are all little things I have worked with on a day to day basis and I'm trying to figure out if Karl Dorrell even knows what is wrong. The answer was a resounding no. Now, to build him back up, his first spring game he was the best player on the field. He just needs to play with that confidence some more to make him into the quarterback we all felt we would be getting when we recruited him. I have faith in you Johnny, but seriously work on what I just said.
Wade Freebeck: Freebeck looked terrible last season. Now I will say this, he's got a cannon for an arm and came from one of the top teams in Florida. Now the downside is I feel like they didn't work his fundamentals enough. First off, he wasn't around last spring, at least if memory serves me correctly. Secondly while size was on his side, muscle mass was not. On his recruiting page he was listed as 6 ft 4 and 180 lbs. Now he's 6 ft 5 and 226 lbs, with the frame of a NFL quarterback and a strong arm, the only thing left is the mental game. I could see why Vanderbilt would be excited about Freebeck, as he was a four star player ranked by ESPN (3 stars by 247) and we beat out Florida to get him. But is it his time?
2014 Stats: 376 Passing Yards, 1 Touchdown, 5 Interceptions, 47% Completion Percentage.
Season Potential: We haven't seen it yet. He is such a mystery to me because he looks the part on film but hejust hasn't put it together yet. I don't have a game I can go back and say "yeah, that was pretty good" because, if we're being honest, there hasn't been a moment like that. Even in the spring game Freebeck looked average at best, throwing two picks of his own and recording a less than desirable completion percentage on the day. Now I will say this, these kids are young and learning a lot of pro style concepts at once. Even at St. Thomas Aquinas Freebeck wasn't a world beater because they had athletes all over the place and he didn't have to be. I guess what I am trying to say is, he is still growing. He is learning concepts and fundamentals now over "throw the deep ball on play action." I'm not knocking what he was doing in high school, just saying what the film showed me. I'm glad we had our spring game early, because now he has had a chance to fill out his frame and will be coming in at around 230 lbs. If he can keep improving fundamentals he could potentially be the guy out of fall camp. But he MUST get better at reading defenses.
Kyle Shurmur: Through the smoke comes a hero, the future of the Vanderbilt Program. His name is Kyle Shurmur and he is fantastic. Kyle Shurmur is to Vanderbilt what Andrew Luck was to Stanford. I'm not trying to get people's hopes too high, but he comes into Vanderbilt grown. He stands at 6 ft 4 and 224 lbs currently, up from his 208 lbs he played at his senior season. Vanderbilt legend Jordan Matthews has said that Shurmur used to throw to Eagles receivers at practice and that he could really spin it. That's because Kyle Shurmur's father, Pat Shurmur is a NFL mainstay and the current offensive coordinator for said Eagles. Pat's been all over the NFL, and his son Kyle has had the benefit of learning from his dad who just happens to coach quarterbacks at the highest level in football. But...
As great as Shumur looks on film and as much as he has grown, he is still just a true freshman. Which makes it pretty hard to play him right away, as so few freshman can come in and make a true impact. For every Jared Goff and Christian Hackenberg there is a...well Wade Freebeck or even a Josh Dobbs his true freshman year. The point I am making is you have to tamper expectations here, otherwise you run the risk of developing a prospect wrong. Now I will say this, if Kyle Shurmur comes into fall camp and is better than Freebeck now? You redshirt Freebeck and let Shurmur take some reps. That's not saying that one won't get his shot to play, that's just saying that if he is further along in his progressions and his reads than Wade Freebeck then it is smarter to redshirt Freebeck and get him up to speed. Tons of people have been clamoring for us to redshirt Shurmur, but the thing is his NFL background is so different than the traditional NFL background. His father gets paid a lot of money to coach quarterbacks in the NFL. If anybody is going to be able to read a SEC defense as a true freshman, then it is Shurmur. If anybody is going to have great fundamentals straight out of the gate? It's Shurmur. I hate to sound in love with the kid, but his film has shown me how smart he is with the ball.
Final thoughts and Stats Predictions: The spring game left a lot to be desired with this group, as Coach Mason said it himself "we are where we are." He's right, and these guys have had 6 months to add meat to their frame and learn the playbook. It's not on Ludwig as much as it is on them. NCAA Coaches have restrictions on when and how often they can meet with their players, but I'm sure Ludwig handed out playbooks to all four guys and is going to see who learned the most. We're going to see exactly how far their fundamentals have came, because all of these guys with exception Stankavage all operated from exclusively shotgun offenses. I don't think that matters much with Shurmur because he's been able to work drop back stuff since signing day with his dad. That's why I like those two moreso than Freebeck and McCrary. I think Freebeck needs to redshirt now if he isn't better than Shurmur, he needs a shot to grow and learn the offense. If Stankavage is able to be mobile this is a no brainer decision for me, he would be the guy. But like I said earlier Stank isn't going to be able to move as well during the season, which is a great time for him to get his concepts down. I'm not taking away anything from his arm, but his most desirable trait is that he can get gone when stuff breaks down around him. So now I'm going to make my bold prediction...
Kyle Shurmur and Johnny McCrary go into camp as the top two, if Johnny shows ability like he did vs Old Dominion he will win the job, however if he doesn't show the accuracy Shurmur will start as a true freshman while McCrary backs him up and Freebeck redshirts.
This leaves a somewhat undesirable situation with three quarterbacks being in the same class next year, it also makes you wonder what happens to McCrary in the spring as he is probably fairly close to graduating and could transfer out. But for now you've got to go with the guy who is the most accurate, even if he is a true freshman. That being said, I expect the winner of this quarterback competition to mostly be a guy who only throws 20-25 times a game, I don't expect us to light it up passing yards wise but we have to be smart with the ball in our hands.
Stat Prediction: 61% Completion Rate, 2300 Passing Yards, 20 Passing Touchdowns, >8 Interceptions.
This might be a little hopeful, but I'm thinking we might get a spurt of 5 passing touchdowns against an Austin Peay, or even Western Kentucky...both of whom don't have the defenses to keep up with Vanderbilt at the moment. Once we hit SEC play we will see the real test, which is why I'm hoping to build some chemistry within the first five weeks of the season (I know we play Georgia Week 2). This group is young but all of them have great potential, the thing you have to take into consideration is while Johnny is the oldest and the most experienced, he's not came into his own just yet. The thing to remember is while Johnny is the oldest, he's still only 20 years old (21 in September), that means a lot of growing pains no matter who you go with, at this point it's about who makes the fewest mistakes.
After sitting down and writing this out, it makes a little more sense to me why the staff felt that Austin Apodaca would be a good fit. He would have been a junior who had a similar skill set as Robinette AND as Stankavage. At the time we didn't know Robinette would be leaving, and had he known that then he might have come to the SEC. Alas barring a major transfer these are who we have, no matter who our quarterback is we need to embrace them and let them grow into who they're suppose to be.