Well, ‘spose it's getting to be about that time again, isn't it? Time sure does fly when you're staring into the howling, black abyss that is the offseason, not that I'm one to complain when it comes to football comin' back around.
(You're going to have to forgive the drawl, with Justified back I'm channeling my inner Raylan Givens for the moment.)
Spring football's set to begin, as such, we're back to breaking down the various parts of the football team.
We'll start off with the area that'll be receiving most of the attention these next few weeks - the quarterback position.
9 Senior Jordan Jefferson - 6'5, 225: completed 56% of passes at 6.8 yards per attempt with 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. 450 yards rushing, 7 touchdowns.
12 Senior Jarrett Lee - 6'2, 207: completed 61% of passes at 6.4 ypa, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.
8 Sophomore Zach Mettenberger - 6'5, 250: completed 59% of passes at 9 ypa with 32 TDs and 4 ints at Butler Community College.
*Note: Scholarship players only listed.*
New quarterback coach (/offensive coordinator), and new quarterback (possibly). The part where we find out just how big of a change that represents is where things get interesting. A portion of the fan base will be calling for Mettenberger early on, but don't expect this to be cut and dry. Junior college recruits are sort of like free agents in pro sports (/insertCamNewtonjoke) in that they come in to fill specific spots on a depth chart, and sometimes struggle to work their way in from a team perspective. For the sake of chemistry, the last thing you want to do is hand the job to the new kid on the block over a senior.
Expect Jordan Jefferson to make an account of himself this spring, and given his experience, both good and bad, don't be surprised if he still has an edge when it's over. The question will be which Jefferson shows up. In 18 of the past 26 games, Jefferson completed just about 62-percent of his passes for 2,954 yards with 22 touchdowns and 9 picks, with another 340 yards and three TDs on the ground. But then there are the first eight games of 2010, where the completion percentage drops to 52 with two touchdowns against eight picks. At his best these last two seasons, Jefferson is a solid game manager who can move the chains with his arm and feet and occasionally challenge defenses down the field. A quarterback who won't get you beat. At his worst, the offense sputters with three-and-out after three-and-out.
Can Steve Kragthorpe change that? My best guess is, not radically, but he's saying the right things, as we saw in the video of his first presser.
That first remark about a quarterback playing with his feet and his head strikes a chord because footwork is probably the first thing Jefferson needs work on. His long stride may make him an effective runner on the perimeter, but it's hell on Jefferson's drop backs and is a big part of why he's had so many issues with timing. But his slow release will be a slightly tougher nut to crack. That takes time and patience from a coach and dedication from a quarterback - some coaches don't even believe in trying. They just find a way to work around the release as is, and that may be the tactic Kragthorpe takes (one that frustratingly eluded Gary Crowton the last two seasons).
That being said, we'll all be watching the big (formerly) hairy Georgian. For the reasons I've detailed in the past about other passers, Mettenberger has the best chance at taking this attack to the next level, and it's hard to believe he won't have some sort of role. He'll almost surely play, if for no other reason than to continue to groom him for 2012. As much as some are hoping for him to have an impact sooner rather than later, Mettenberger's true importance will be after Jeffersoon and Jarrett Lee are gone.
Speaking of Lee, it may seem like I'm discounting him. It's easy to after his role diminished down the stretch. Nevermind that Mettenberger brings a stronger presence to the "passing specialist" prescription that Lee filled at times in 2010 (if there's need for such a role in '11). That being said, Lee has shown that he's willing to keep his head down and work hard, and given the uncertainty at this position, he shouldn't be totally forgotten.
Conclusions: The whole "Les Miles always favors upperclassmen" meme is, as most are when it comes to our bonneted leader, ridiculously overstated. Most coaches tend to favor the experienced hand, particularly under center. For better or worse, the staff can look at Jefferson and know how he'll react in game situations. That's just not there for Mettenberger yet. Does that mean he can't take the starting job? Of course he can, but the standard he'll have to meet will probably be high, on the field, in the film/weight rooms AND with his teammates. If I had to make a best guess, we won't have a true starter named by April. Jefferson will hold onto the nominal starting spot by August, with Mettenberger coming off the bench early (how often will depend on his and Jefferson's play in games), and Lee bringing up the rear as Stephen Rivers hits campus in June. Even if Mett blows the doors off the football operations complex, I still think there will be a role for Jefferson on this team in some option packages.