Where Have All the Quarterbacks Gone?

Greg CouchNational ColumnistOctober 1, 2015

Can Oregon's spread offense turn any QB into a star? It once appeared so, but Vernon Adams is proving otherwise.
Can Oregon's spread offense turn any QB into a star? It once appeared so, but Vernon Adams is proving otherwise.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Everything is an evolution. People get bigger and stronger. But unused muscles wither, shrivel and fade. And I think I just described the decaying state of Modern Quarterback Man.      

Their brains are going unused and losing their ability to function at a high level. So the NFL has had a shortage of top QBs for a few years, and now college football does, too.

Where did all the good quarterbacks go? It's simple: The old-time quarterback got a feel for the game and led the team from that knowledge. The modern-time quarterback is a Neanderthal in that regard.

The great modern offense at Oregon had no one in the pipeline when Marcus Mariota left, and it had to rely on a college graduate to transfer in for one year. He hasn't been any good. Same thing happened at Michigan, where Jim Harbaugh has so simplified the position for his QB that it's as if he is talking…real…slow to him so he can understand.

Auburn doesn't have a quarterback. Alabama doesn't seem to, either. South Carolina, where quarterbacks could go learn from Steve Spurrier, doesn't. There's a shortage of QBs in the SEC overall. These are spots where you'd expect two or three quarterbacks waiting their chance.

But no. How can that be? We know college coaches' dumbed-down spread offenses aren't preparing quarterbacks for the pros, but why are we now seeing fewer and fewer prepared to handle even the simplified college level?

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There are a lot of reasons and theories as to what's happening, really. Coaches are taking too much of the game out of the QBs' hands, leaving many of them unable and unprepared to adapt when it actually is necessary. Meanwhile, college defensive coaches have had a few years to work on stopping the spread. They're starting to figure it out.

And it's all happening at the same point in the quarterback-evolution timeline as the emergence of the QB coaching guru, private coaches who are supposed to be fine-tuning and perfecting players.

"There are so many people out there who are tutoring quarterbacks and having private lessons and having this and that," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, a former star QB himself, said. "But ultimately, you've got to have a young man that has some skill, he's willing to become a student of the game and he's got to be tough.

"Playing quarterback at this level is difficult. You take a lot of hits. I just don't know if there's that many tough kids out there willing to take the hits to play the game."

I think the problem has to do with the way the game has evolved, mixed with the way youth sports are now coached. Kids are being over-coached and overspecialized to death.

In fact, DeShone Kizer, the quarterback who has stepped in at Notre Dame slightly short on fundamentals but strong on poise and leadership, never went to a quarterback camp. He didn't play football in the offseason, but instead played baseball and basketball. He never went to a guru.

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

"And therein lies another reason I liked him," said Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio) head coach and former offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Martin worked Kizer out twice during recruiting. "These quarterback gurus out there do way more harm than good, I would say."

Martin also coached Everett Golson, who went to quarterback guru George Whitfield when he had been kicked out of school over an academic cheating scandal. Golson came back and played his best ever, becoming an immediate Heisman Trophy candidate.

For half a season. Then he fell apart.

"It's not because they don't know what they're doing," Martin said, talking about QB gurus in general. He did not name Whitfield specifically. "It's not because they don't know things we know.

"It's because quarterbacks are getting mixed messages. I'm coaching you, but you have your own quarterback coach—and he's telling you to do one thing and I'm telling you to do something else? You think that's helpful? That's crazy."

Let's start with the hurry-up spread offense. It spread across college football the past few years, took control out of the hands of the quarterback and moved it to the coach. Someone holds up a card calling the play on the sideline, and the quarterback takes the snap from a shotgun, takes a step or two back and fires to the sideline.

What's wrong with that? Nothing, if you don't mind your quarterback not learning how to lead a huddle, change cadence, take a snap from center, learn a five- or seven-step drop and read a defense over the entire field.

The brainwork is being done for them. And in the NFL, where most coaches know that you win from the pocket, there are just so few quarterbacks arriving out of college ready to do it. High school kids are moving on to college unprepared to lead, too. But the coaches have had success getting freshmen, such as Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel, to do it.

Now, even some of the great spread offenses in college—Oregon and Auburn—are finding out their quarterbacks aren't ready for that level.

Slow down. That's roughly what Steve Clarkson—maybe the top, best-respected QB guru—told me. He said quarterback play runs in cycles, and college football is, at worst, in a down cycle. Several top quarterbacks have graduated, and their replacements just aren't quite ready yet, he said. Besides, he added, the SEC has always been based more on linemen than quarterbacks anyway, and the traditional quarterback conference, the Pac-12, is doing just fine.

"I wouldn't push the panic button," he said. "College football is going to have turnover, and you're going to have ebbs and flows. I think the quarterback position is in great hands."

Oregon is doing fine after losing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and having no one it could trust in the pipeline? It went to transfer Vernon Adams, and the Ducks are now unranked.

"I think they just made a mistake when they couldn't bring him in for spring football [while he graduated from Eastern Washington]. He basically got the job within five days or so. That's tough from a chemistry standpoint.

"That might have been a calculated situation that might have backfired. But they have kids on the roster who are capable of being the next Mariota."

That said, Clarkson agreed with Martin that many of these private QB coaches are leading to confusion, sending mixed messages. Without naming anyone, he said that plenty of people in his field are taking on players who were already making it, claiming credit for them and trying to put their stamp on them.

Clarkson said he typically works with quarterbacks from the time they're "teenie boppers," and he won't work with a college quarterback unless he already has a strong relationship with the player's coach.

At the same time, he said, college football created the QB guru business by limiting the number of hours players can work with their school coaches. He asked: If players want more coaching the rest of the year, then how else are they supposed to get it?

Akron coach Terry Bowden, the former coach at Auburn, said the over-specialization of coaching is a trend, but that it isn't helping. Kids play one sport now instead of multiple sports, and get 12-month training, "and I don't know if it makes a big difference. But I don't really like anybody fooling with my guy except my quarterback coach."

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19:  Jared Goff #16 of the California Golden Bears drops back to pass against the Texas Longhorns on September 19, 2015 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This isn't to say there aren't any top-flight college quarterbacks. UCLA has Josh Rosen, Cal has Jared Goff, TCU has Trevone Boykin and USC has Cody Kessler.

Part of it is just circumstance and how good the team is around a quarterback. Last year, Ohio State had three QBs who seemed Heisman quality. Now, Braxton Miller moved to receiver, Cardale Jones hasn't been as effective as he was last year, and J.T. Barrett isn't making a mark.

So even Ohio State, the defending national champ, is fighting off a quarterback issue.

"Quarterback's a unique position," Bowden said. "You have to have a special guy at that position. Everybody's searching for that guy."

Keep searching. But the way things are going, it's only going to keep getting harder to find the Neanderthal everyone wants.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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