Sunday was the unofficial media-driven start of the ACC football season, as all the media "experts" from the various ACC markets gathered with coaches and player representatives from each team to discuss the outlook for 2007. Those "experts" picked Tech to finish 2nd in the Coastal, behind VaTech, which sounds fine to me. Of course I always say - who cares what the media thinks? Polls and predictions in the pre-season are just conversation starting, ego-tabloid driven, lazy reporting wastes of air. Do I really care who Tony Barnhardt thinks will finish 3rd in the conference? No, of course not.......... Enough of that. Let's talk Quarterbacks.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE QB'S GONE?
You know, the ACC has not had a "stable" of strong QB's in quite a long time. It looks like 2007 is no exception. Maybe it's a sign when there are 24 player reps at the ACC media day (2 per team), and only one of them is a QB (Matt Ryan - BC).
There are almost as many QB questions as there are teams in the ACC, and Georgia Tech is no exception. While some of you might take exception to that comment, I think we have to look at facts. Taylor Bennett has built some extremely high hopes in the ATL based on his play in the Gator Bowl. But let's remember a few things:
- Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Calvin Johnson. While Taylor had some very impressive throws in that game, there were a large number of his passing yards chalked up to Calvin's ability to take the ball out of the WV defender's hands on more than one occasion. That game alone was all ESPN needed on draft day for CJ's highlight reel.
- His only other significant game experience was the UConn start in 2005 when Reggie Ball had meningitis. The stat line, 11-30, 142 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks, 5 "rushes" for 1 yard. That does not exactly inspire confidence. Of course it was his first start ever and it was two years ago. It was also the game where Taylor became a trivia question answer as only the second guy to throw a TD pass on his first collegiate throw. The other - Matt Lienart.
- The West Virginia defense stunk. No other way to say it. They weren't good and we lit them up. It just was the ultimate irony that our defense fell apart at the same time that our offense looked like world beaters.
- Taylor could not beat out Reggie Ball as a starter. I know I'm opening this up to go downhill fast, but folks - the word I hear is that there's a reason he didn't overtake Ball - and it didn't have to do with player preference at all, or Gailey stubbornness. Bennett just wasn't ready - period. Maybe he wasn't mentally prepared that he was "the guy". None of us will ever really know, but you cannot discount the fact that Taylor never outplayed Reggie enough in practice to at least get a shot to run a series or two every game.
- It is different being "the man" versus "the back-up QB". Being the back-up QB is actually a pretty low-pressure situation. Taylor really didn't have big-game pressure on him. Nobody has looked at him as numero uno, and we do not know how that will impact his performance. Could be for the best, he's got the big-game pressure on him now.
- The Chan Gailey era has not produced any eye-opening QB play. Now, we know most of Gailey's tenure was dominated by one QB, but never-the-less, the staff's ability to develop QB's has not been impressive. Not bashing - just a fact.
Now, having said all that, there is some "meat on the bones" to have a higher than normal level of confidence in a new starting QB.
- Calvin or no Calvin, cruddy WV defense or not, the Gator Bowl performance was the best GT QB performance since prior to the Reggie Ball era. That's right - Taylor had a better passing game than Reggie ever had - and that is something to hang your hat on.
- The Spring practice and scrimmage results brought nothing but praise over Taylor's performance, leadership, and mastery of the offense. That includes some very high praise from his 'mates, who appear to have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. The 1st string offense was much more effective against the 1st string defense, which is usually not the case. That is either something positive for the offense or something negative about the defense. You should probably chose the former.
- 6'3" versus 5'10" + decision-making............. A few inches = the full field. Being able to see over the O-Line AND being able to make sound decisions opens up the field and opens up the playbook. The prospect of passing to more than 2 WR's, to RB's as let-off valves, backs in the slot, maybe a fullback and dare I say it - a tight end...... More options, a good decision-maker and a quick release all add up to something else to hang your hat on.
- The best O-Line under Chan Gailey. This unit is ranked as the best in the ACC by many of the pre-season mag's. It is not only the most talented group he's had - it is also the most experienced and the deepest. While their strength is clearly more in opening holes for the running game, they should provide adequate protection for Bennett in the pocket.
- Tashard Choice. Having a workhorse, ACC-leading back will take some serious pressure off Taylor to produce. As with much of Reggie's career, Taylor will not be asked so much to win games - just not to lose them. Choice is really the focal point of the offense this year, and really should be. That should help Bennett.
- John Bond. This one could go either way honestly, but I get the feeling that Bond is a ore hands-on guy with the QB's and that should help. He has completely re-tooled the passing game and about 20% of the running game (mostly eliminating QB draws). We don't know if a John Bond offense will be better than a Patrick Nix one, but my sense is that it will be - even without CJ.
- Bennett has been in the program 4 years, so he's not green. By this point he should be "getting it". Let's not forget that Philip Wheeler didn't see the field much until last season because he wasn't "getting it" mentally. Once his knowledge of the game and playbook caught up with his freakish athletic ability - he was an All-American candidate. While Taylor doesn't have athletic tools of Wheeler, the same theory holds true. Maybe he's putting together all the mental and physical things that are required to play the QB position......... and let's face it - it's the hardest position on the field to master. Here's what Chan Gailey said about playing Reggie Ball - "We felt he gave us the best chance to win games". Folks, it's that simple.
- Something new. If nothing else, there is always that anticipation of a new guy at a key position. That's something to get excited about.
So there you have. Reason to be concerned. Reason to optimistic. The bottom-line is that Taylor Bennett as a success is not a given. There are many things going for him and the team to make it a success, but as they say................ that's why you play the games.