Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Danny O'Brien or not, Vanderbilt needs more competition at QB - and every other position

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.


Anonymous said...


jayden said...

Its unfortunate if the rumors are true about O'Brien not having permission to transfer to VU. No doubt about it, VU is where he would have ended up, as this has been in the works since last Nov. or Dec.

I agree that competition is nice, but im not sold on ACS making a real run at Rodgers QB1 spot. its hard to say he looked "great" when he was running the scout team last year. Its apple to oranges running plays from a sheet vs directing your own huddle. I may be wrong, but i havent seen anything to indicate his arm or decision-making can edge out Jordan.

Another point about his accuracy issues: our receivers were not good last year. Precise route running and mental toughness were severely lacking. A lot of that should be improved with the departure of Beatty.

Dimon K-H said...

Jayden, always enjoy your comments. I agree that scout team is a far cry from starting in the SEC. Fully expect Rodgers to win the job but think ACS will push him. Nice point about the receivers needing to improve; I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt because athletically they were so vastly superior to the Cole/Udom/Wimberly trio of 2010.

yadhav said...

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Agile Coaching

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great post Dimon. Not sure if I agree with Jayden. Maybe some Vandy fans are spoiled if the feeling from last season is that our WR's were not very good (with Beatty). I disagree in that it was a MAJOR upgrade from the last few seasons (Cole,Udum, Brown, and others). I agree that we do need depth at the WR position. I don't know much about Beatty, but I can't criticize him after the improvement to help the (WR's) position and get us to 6 wins. Frankly, the WR and RB positions were strong last season (Mathews & Boyd); while QB and O-line issue were not very good early in the season. While I for one got tired of LS being blamed for the problems on offense, Rogers had major meltdowns in critical games against Tenn & Cinci. The QB position clearly needs more competition and will only make Rogers better if he is pushed and wins the job.

jayden said...

The wr issue was not to excuse Rogers, but rather to show that his struggles were not completely on him. Certainly, our WR are a talented group, but Matthews didnt have a TD till the UGA game, and that came on a trick play, and was largely absent on the season until the ARK game. Matthews and Boyd had all but 2 of the team's receiving TD on the whole season. However strong Beatty was as a game-planner and X's and O's guy, his inattention to detail as a position coach was a drawback.

Anonymous said...

Good post Jayden. My point of reference (anony 11:25) was the previous coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. While Ted Cain and Charlie Fischer were very nice guys, they were not known for great "game-day" coaching or developing WR talent. My point also was that CJF and staff have won without even getting the benefit of their own skill players (recruiting) as most major contributors last season were guys that they did not recruit. That, in my view, is more a reflection of pretty good position coaching which I have to give former WR coach Beatty some credit. For these same reasons, I feel that our QB play (while not great) was much improved last season due to better position coaching and CJF's influence. I actually think that the offense and WR (and RB) play will get better next season because guys now fully know what to expect of CJF in year 2.

Vandygal78 said...

Thanks for this post. I needed this because I am one who thought we already had enough QBs and that CJF trying to get more would just create motivation problems for the QBs already onboard. I really do like ACS's comment and I'm sure that is exactly what CJF was looking for from his players. Thanks again for a great writeup.

Bill Caldwell said...

Actually, the former VU QB most similar to Jordan Rodgers last season was probably Chris Nickson as a Sophomore (before Nickson's series of shoulder injuries damaged his ability to throw). Nickson as a Sophomore was probably the SEC's most dangerous runner from the QB position and a decent passer although not a top-half-of-the-SEC passer. Rodgers' running ability gave him 3-5 opportunities a game to throw to wide-open receivers (enabling him to get completions on some off-center passes) that a traditional pocket passer wouldn't get.

Carta-Samuels is a slightly above 60% career passer as a 2-year starter at Wyoming, and like Rodgers, he's a running threat. This will be a hard-fought competition in the Spring, and the outcome will depend on Rodgers' continued development as a passer.

I'm excited about the new WR coach, who at Western Michigan coached one WR to a 141 catch season with 2 other WRs who caught between 60 and 70 balls. BTW, none of his WRs were more than 2-star recruits and one was a converted QB. I can see him improving the quartet of Matthews, Boyd, Tate, and Krause and the rising freshmen.

Stanimal said...

I love how you can evaluate the situation dispassionately. Hard to do as a fan at times! I couldn't agree more about O'Brien.