Surely you’ve heard that quarterback Danny O’Brien is leaving Maryland, where he was recruited, coached and mentored by a certain James Franklin. And because O’Brien is graduating this spring, he won’t have to sit out a year when he transfers to another school.
Naturally, everybody assumes that O’Brien is headed to Vandy to reunite with Franklin. Except that Maryland coach Randy Edsall has prohibited O’Brien and Max Garcia, a talented offensive tackle we pursued heavily for our 2010 signing class, from transferring to Vanderbilt.
Lots of Internet chatter about this right now. The fellows over at Vanderbilt Sports Line are leading the charge with passionate pleas to “free Danny.” We’ll be interested to see what happens.
But we’re especially interested in comments from Vandy fans who say things like, “But I thought we were already set at quarterback.”
Already set at quarterback? Are you kidding me? James Franklin has said lots of memorable things since he arrived on campus, but the most important was at last year’s signing day when he said he wanted to create “one of the most competitive environments in the country.”
“If you don’t want to be a competitor, this isn’t the place for you,” he said. “If you’re afraid of competition, don’t come to Vanderbilt. I tell these guys, next year I’m gonna recruit somebody to beat them out.”
Vandy fans have always had trouble recognizing where we need talent upgrades. One scrappy, resourceful kid separates himself from the other kids on our team, and we act like he’d be a starter on every other team in the SEC.
Take Jordan Rodgers, for example. He grabbed a place in Vandy fans’ hearts when he replaced Larry Smith against Georgia, stared down a brutal Bulldog pass rush and picked up huge chunks of yardage on the ground. Meanwhile, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. He improved as the season went on, but he also committed crucial errors late in big games, and he committed others that were overlooked because we won the game.
I’m not dissing Jordan Rodgers. Last season, we desperately needed somebody better than Larry Smith, and what we found was reminiscent of Greg Zolman, who you may remember kept us in games with his quick feet and quick thinking in the pocket, but also had a chance to win some huge games on final drives and came up short.
Some fans tried to blame the Liberty Bowl loss on Franklin giving the nod to Larry Smith down the stretch. Even Rodgers went on Twitter and expressed displeasure with the decision. But Franklin was sending a message to Rodgers: He hasn’t yet arrived as an SEC quarterback. And Vanderbilt’s looking for a legitimate SEC quarterback, not somebody who tries hard and gets compliments from opposing fans after they beat us.
Here’s our current situation: Rodgers is the returning starter, but will need to hold off a challenge from Austyn Carta-Samuels, the Wyoming transfer who’s looked great on the scout team. Redshirt freshman Josh Grady, last year’s No. 3, is psychologically preparing himself for spot duty in the wildcat. And another redshirt frosh, Kris Kentera, is a major project. Meanwhile, freshman Patton Robinette has already enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice. He’ll almost certainly redshirt.
How would Danny O’Brien change things? He’d make our starting quarterback earn the job if he didn’t win it himself. Rodgers was better than Larry Smith. We’ll find out in the spring if Carta-Samuels is better than Rodgers. But how good is either one of them? Stick them in a competition with O’Brien, and we’ll have a much better idea.
Having O’Brien on board would buy us two years to recruit some more quarterbacks. Last season, Franklin grabbed three QBs, but Grady and Thourogood were more all-purpose athletes than quarterbacks and Kris Kentera was a raw project with no other major offers.
Thourogood’s now a running back, and Grady and Kentera were playing some receiver on the scout team.
By 2014, when Carta-Samuels and O’Brien were gone, Robinette would be a redshirt sophomore and hopefully ready to run the show. He’s a quarterback all the way, and for Franklin an important piece in the foundation he’s building for the future. Either Grady or Kentera would likely have already switched to another position. And Franklin would have recruited a couple more quarterbacks of the future.
Here’s our future quarterback situation if O’Brien somehow was able to transfer to Vandy:
• Jordan Rodgers, R-SR
• Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-JR
• Danny O’Brien, R-JR
• Josh Grady, R-FR
• Kris Kentera, R-FR
• Patton Robinette, FR
• Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-SR
• Danny O’Brien, R-SR
• Josh Grady, R-SO
• Kris Kentera, R-SO
• Patton Robinette, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 1, FR
• Josh Grady, R-JR
• Kris Kentera, R-JR
• Patton Robinette, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 1, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 2, FR
• Josh Grady, R-SR
• Kris Kentera, R-SR
• Patton Robinette, R-JR
• Recruit TBA 1, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 2, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 3, FR
• Patton Robinette, R-SR
• Recruit TBA 1, R-JR
• Recruit TBA 2, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 3, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 4, FR
In other words, O’Brien would step up the competition and ensure that none of our guys becomes a starting SEC quarterback by default. Not sure what Jordan Rodgers thinks about all this, but we know what Carta-Samuels does. Yesterday he posted this on Twitter:
“I will compete with absolutely ANYBODY that wants to play QB at Vanderbilt. Bring EM ON it will come down to WHO performs BETTER. # ready”
I love it. Glad we’ve got him. And if O’Brien never sets foot on campus, ACS will help accomplish what we’re talking about: He’ll either be more of an SEC quarterback than Jordan Rodgers, or he’ll make Rodgers a better one. Franklin hasn't built one of the most competitive environments in college football yet, but it's a step in the right direction.