What 2007 Quarterback Controversy? Oh, That One…

(UHND.com) – With only one home game remaining on the 2006 schedule, the time for reflection, and, dare I say, soul-searching, begins anew in South Bend as we bid farewell to graduating seniors and begin to look ahead to the 2007 season with all of its associated hopes and questions.

With the long dreaded graduation of quarterback Brady Quinn, and the beginning of, what for him, will undoubtedly be a bright future playing on Sundays, the Fighting Irish undertake what for many schools is more often than not a most unpleasant undertaking: the choosing of “The Next One” after “The One” becomes just a cherished memory.

At the risk of preemptively launching a thousand posts on a potential “quarterback controversy” for next season, I feel it’s probably time for some perspective on the situation. I leave it to the legion of fans, and, yes, okay, Charlie Weis, to come up with a solution to what I can only describe as a great problem to have; namely, too many good quarterbacks for one coveted spot: Brady Quinn’s Shoes.

With the hype surrounding the commitment of Oaks Christian quarterback
Jimmy “The Real Deal” Clausen this year, even the most cynical of observers had to grudgingly concede that perhaps the stellar young signal caller would live up to the hype at the collegiate level. For Irish fans unfamiliar with the feeling of landing such a highly-touted recruit, let alone the recruit of the 2007 Freshman Class, the commitment was viewed with both elation, and not a little trepidation. For while it seems natural that the most coveted high school recruit in the country go to the most covered college football program in the country, this has not been the case for many, many, years.

By any statistical and intangible measurement, Clausen appears to have the makings of a truly outstanding quarterback. He has almost single-handedly led Oaks Christian to become the absolute best California prep football team not called De La Salle. On a weekly basis, the 6-foot-3, 200 pound (with a solid frame that will easily carry another fifteen-or-so pounds) Clausen dominates his opponents with a seeming ease that borders on nonchalance. If you somehow don’t believe the hype, consider that he threw for a truly astonishing 3,665 yards and 58 touchdowns as a sophomore, before easing up and throwing for 2,778 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior. Either that, or just check out some of the now cottage industry videos of his performances that have sprung up in cyberspace. This kid is the honest-to-goodness real thing.

So why is this a potential problem? Why can’t the overly cynical media hydra that follows the Irish program not be content? Well, mainly because we abhor unanswered questions.

Currently backing up Brady Quinn is the more than capable sophomore Evan Sharpley. Sharpley has not only managed to learn the admittedly so-simple-as-to-be-complex offensive scheme of coach Weis, but has managed to do it ensconced in perhaps the biggest shadow on the college football landscape. Sharpley, is a tremendous two-sport athlete at Notre Dame who decided to take focus away from the baseball diamond and focus exclusively on football this past spring. In the process this former Michigan high school standout (Sharpley is one of only ten quarterbacks in the state’s history to pass for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns) managed good numbers in the annual Blue and Gold game, earning the tacit trust of Weis and the coaching staff in the process. Sharpley is also the only quarterback at Notre Dame other than Quinn that has taken an actual snap in nearly four years.

The depth chart is yet deeper still, however.

Freshman Zach Frazer was the Clausen of Notre Dame recruiting before there was a Clausen. With helmets on and no jersey number (he wears #12), Frazer could easily be mistaken for Brady Quinn in a couple of ways. At 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, Frazer is a big, strong pocket passer who clearly doesn’t fear the dumbbells. He is quick on his feet and not easy to bring down. Frazer was also recruited heavily, and was on everyone’s national prep lists, mainly because of his outstanding junior year in which he passed for 3,674 yards and 27 touchdowns (do high schools even play defense?), a mark which stands as a Pennsylvania state record.

Recruited at the same time as Frazer, and committing shortly after him, is freshman Demetrius Jones. It is now a well-worn platitude that the 6-foot-4, 202 pound Jones is the “dual threat” quarterback on the Irish roster. In his junior year at Chicago’s Morgan Park High School, Jones managed to pass for 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns in addition to rushing for 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. No other quarterback even approaches these numbers. Jones is a naturally gifted athlete with good vision and excellent breakaway speed. It’s hard to fathom a situation whereby he won’t be utilized on a Charlie Weis-coached team.

Weis has said, regarding the impending quarterback situation next year, that “It’s going to be an interesting spring,” I couldn’t agree more. And while most Irish fans barely noted the transfers of quarterbacks Matt LoVecchio (2002 to Indiana) and most recently David Wolke, one has to assume that part or all of the reason for these transfers was displeasure with position on the depth chart. The Irish cannot afford either the negative stigma or the sheer disruption of more quarterback defections and must therefore come up a viable solution that factors in the program’s success primarily, but which also does it’s levelheaded best to look out for the kids that commit to play here, especially taking into consideration any promises that have been made by Weis and his staff.

But when did this become a problem? Indeed, it was once considered a pretty good gig to be the “second guy” at a major collegiate program, Notre Dame especially. The understanding was that you would bide your time, learn the system, fight for that spot, and when the Number One graduated you would have your coming out party in either your junior or senior year. This is no longer the case. And while it isn’t likely to be an issue with any of the fine quarterbacks currently on the roster, many college athletes in general fear that delayed exposure will hurt the prospects of a virtually self-assured professional career. We are a long way from looking like NCAA basketball, with its ludicrously high transfer rate, and depressingly low graduation rate, but college football could be heading in that direction.

Forthwith then, a few possible solutions:

1. The Florida Model
Urban Meyer has managed to successfully implement, out of necessity, the use of two quarterbacks in his “spread option” system at Florida. With Chris Leak playing the role of “passer” and Tim Tebow that of “rusher”, Meyer has been able to maximize the attributes of his two talented quarterbacks.

At Notre Dame, this system would see some combination of, to my mind, Frazer and Jones, with Sharpley as a backup and, yes, Clausen as a red shirted freshman.

Thankfully, I don’t see this as a very likely scenario given Weis’ NFL experience. No NFL coach would run this system over an entire season.

2. Demetrius Jones Switches Positions
Yes, yes, this has already been suggested umpteen times, and, for better or worse, will always be suggested in the case of a run-threat quarterback going up against a pocket passer. But let’s consider the possibility. First, it should be pointed out that in addition to his impressive high school quarterbacking resume, among Jones’ claims to fame in the annals of Chicago area high school football is the catch he made for touchdown to win the Chicago Prep Bowl 14-13 in overtime over Brother Rice. This catch earned him game MVP honors, along with perpetual suggestions to switch positions.

We should all remember the situation that faced Bob Davie coming into the 2001 season. It fell to Davie to select a starting quarterback from among Matt LoVecchio, Carlyle Holiday, and Jared Clark. Eventually, Holiday would move to receiver (along with another Notre Dame quarterback, Arnaz Battle) and Clark moved to tight end. Today, both Holiday and Battle play receiver positions in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers respectively.

Further, we should also take into consideration Weis’ already excellent decision to try Travis Thomas at linebacker and Thomas’ being able to trust Weis’ impulse to make the move.

Jones moving to receiver would also make sense given the departure of Samardzija and McKnight. These are holes that will need to be filled and Jones’ hands and feet make him a prime candidate, and freeing up the tandem of Frazer-Sharpley to battle it out and, again, I hate to say it, Clausen sitting out a season.

3. Clausen is the man
This seems to be the consensus number one possibility among Irish faithful. After all, didn’t young Jimmy Clausen arriving in a stretched Hummer limousine to announce his intention to play at Notre Dame naturally imply that he would be the starting quarterback next season? Is there any way that, after all this, he couldn’t be?

Charlie Weis has always stated that the best man for the job will start at every position irregardless of class year or past commitments. This is a noble and worthy aspiration and I hope against hope that the Irish coaching staff are so blown away by any of the above mentioned candidates this spring (and let’s point out here that Clausen will be an early admission on campus) that there is no more debate come next season’s opener against Georgia Tech. After all, after the glorious Quinn years, none of us will be in the mood for a prolonged quarterback controversy.

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