Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bobby Johnson is not a quarterback-by-committee guy

Everybody previewing the Commodores seems to think that Bobby Johnson likes playing a bunch of quarterbacks, and that's the reason why he hasn't named a starter yet.

Not true.

Johnson likes competition, and believes it makes everybody better. So Johnson doesn't announce his starters until late in the preseason. He's said this before. He wants his quarterback to be sharp and hungry — and confident.

And once he makes up his mind, he sticks with it, until he's forced to change it.

In seven years, Johnson has had two starters going into the regular season. Let's look at it year by year:

2002: Before the start of the season, Johnson chooses redshirt freshman Jay Cutler over redshirt junior Benji Walker. Cutler gets pounded in early blowouts against Georgia Tech and Auburn and produces horrible numbers, but Johnson sticks with him. Walker starts the MTSU game, but only because Cutler is benched after a run-in with a campus cop. The next week, Cutler is back in the lineup and starts every game the rest of his career.

2003-2005: Cutler is clearly the starter and leader of the team, even after three consecutive two-win seasons. A promising recruit, Steven Bright, is moved to H-back. Cutler's senior season, he leads the Dores to a 4-0 start and then a big upset over Tennessee in Knoxville.

2006: Johnson chooses redshirt sophomore Chris Nickson over redshirt freshman Mackenzi Adams and transfer Richard Kovalchek. Nickson has a superb sophomore season. Adams' only meaningful playing time is against Ole Miss after Nickson is injured.

2007: Nickson is clearly the starter, and even makes third-team preseason All-SEC. But after injury and several failed attempts to return, Johnson turns to Adams, who leads the team to a stunning victory over Top 10 South Carolina in Columbia. Kovalchek gets most of the snaps in his last game, on senior day, against Wake Forest.

2008: After a tight preseason race, Johnson chooses Nickson, who starts all five games during the Dores amazing 5-0 run, then starts against Miss State even after Adams leads a comeback against Auburn. Both quarterbacks struggle with injury and consistency throughout the season. Adams starts in losses to Georgia, Duke and Florida, then Nickson starts in the victory against Kentucky. He also starts against Tennessee and Wake Forest. With both QBs injured against Wake, redshirt freshman Larry Smith enters the game and makes rookie mistakes mixed with flashes of brilliance. He gets the start in the Music City Bowl and is replaced by Nickson on running plays. He makes a huge third-down throw to George Smith late in the fourth quarter to set up the winning field goal.

2009: The pick here is that, like he did with Nickson his sophomore year, Johnson will name Smith the starter and, barring injury or meltdown, stick with him for the next three years.

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