Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: QB Breakdown

The Commodores kick off their season on Thursday, August 28, at Miami of Ohio. In the meantime, The Sports VU will take a look at each position, starting with the most visible and perhaps most important -- quarterback.

STRENGTHS: Experience. Things should begin to slow down for redshirt senior Chris Nickson and redshirt junior Mackenzi Adams, who have 24 starts between them. They're familiar with the offense and know what it takes to succeed in the SEC. Both QBs are also mobile, which makes the Commodores harder to defend. Vanderbilt also has depth at the position with redshirt sophomore Jared Funk and redshirt freshman Larry Smith.

Consistency. Nickson had a terrific 2006, completing 160 of 292 passes for 2,085 yards and 15 TDs while rushing for 694 yards and nine TDs, only to regress in 2007. No one knows quite how bad Nickson was hurt, but the bottom line is that he had just 943 total yards and eight TDs in six starts and gave way to Adams in the second half of the season. Adams completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 1043 yards and nine TDs while rushing for 289 yards and 3 TDs, but fairly or unfairly, never seemed to gain the full confidence of the coaching staff.

TOP QUESTIONS: First, the obvious question -- who should/will start? Beyond that, which Chris Nickson will we see, the '06 or '07 version? Did Mackenzi Adams prove enough last season to win the job? Will both QBs receive snaps regardless? And what about the two talented youngsters, Funk and Smith? If the Dores struggle early on, will coach Bobby Johnson look to the future?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: With two experienced upperclassmen, the Commodores shouldn't have to worry about the QB position, but heading into fall camp, it remains one of the biggest question marks. Nickson at his best probably gives Vanderbilt its best chance to win, but it's unclear whether that Nickson even exists anymore. Meanwhile, Adams is a great leader who has the respect of his teammates. And if the Commodores had beaten Georgia and Tennessee in '07 and gone to a bowl game, I'd imagine that Adams would be the unquestioned starter. It'll be interesting to see how Funk and Smith factor into the question, as well. Funk looked the best of the four in the spring scrimmage and possesses a strong, accurate arm, while Smith was a big-time recruit viewed by many as the QB of the future, although I'd imagine he is still one year away. Either way, the bottom line is this -- whoever gets the nod is going to have to play well for Vanderbilt to have any shot at earning its first bowl berth since 1982.

Check back tomorrow as The Sports VU breaks down the running backs.


David Rutz said...

Maybe someone else can shed light on this, but you wrote something that I've wondered myself; why didn't Mackenzi Adams gain the full confidence of the coaching staff despite putting up very good numbers in several key SEC contests?

The coaching staff did not trust him to make plays late in the game against Georgia or Tennessee and it cost the Commodores dearly. For that matter, he didn't get to do much in the second half against South Carolina either but that didn't wind up mattering. That was incredibly frustrating to watch. What more did Adams need to do?

I think Adams should get the nod as starter, but I bet the first time he struggles, Nickson gets put in his place. Nickson has a higher talent ceiling than Adams that we all saw in 2006, but for all we knows those days are gone for good.

Jarred Amato said...

Rutz, I couldn't agree more. Even the players were baffled by the coaches' conservatism and lack of confidence in Adams. I'll never forget sitting in the press box at Tennessee as the Commodores gave that game away. Definitely the most frustrating game I've witnessed when you consider all that was at stake.

You also touch on another interesting point. I wonder how switching back and forth between QBs will affect not only Adams and Nickson, but the rest of the team. They handled it pretty well last season, but with a younger offense, I think it'll be important to have some stability at the QB position.

Tony Arnold said...

I hear that Adam's father is pretty vocal with the coaching staff. Do you think that impacted their decisions? Is there an attitude issue with Adam's that may cause the coaching staff to not give him his proper credit based on performance? Or was it a workout or practice work ethic issue that influenced them?

I ask because it sure seemed to me that Adam's couldn't have done more to get the starting job last year and to get the coaches to stay agressive with the play calling.