After a few days of speculation, we learned officially today that Rob Bolden has transferred from Penn State and landed at LSU. He's on campus; he's at practice. Ladies and gentleman, here is your new QB (not new as in "starter," new as in "never been here before"). By virtue of Jeremy Liggins failing to qualify and enrolling in Junior College, Bolden slides right into the 25 from last season. He has three years to play two, so a redshirt isn't even out of the question (though I do think unlikely, but more on that later).
So who is Rob Bolden, should we be excited and what does he bring to the table? After the jump, I Ali Highsmith arm-tackle the issues. Jump.
First, let's re-visit Rob Bolden the recruit. He was highly sought after. His offer list spread across the country, from Oregon to Missouri to West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Rivals did a video regarding the strongest armed QBs from the 2010 class, and Bolden made the cut. In fact, supposedly a former NFL quarterback, after watching Bolden throw said that if he had an arm like Bolden's he'd still be in the league. Though, I'm not sure anybody cares what Joey Harrington thinks. He has good size (6'4", 200 pounds). He's a good athlete (listed as a dual-threat QB). So, let's take it to the tape:
Rob Bolden Highlights (via yarberry32)
What I like:
-Nice, high, easy delivery
-Adequate release speed
-Nice touch on deep balls
-Throws well on the run
-Mobile and can run, but looks to pass first
What I dislike:
-A bit of a chucker
-Played in an offense not predicated on reading defenses
-Doesn't throw with a great deal of anticipation
-Gets sloppy with his footwork at times
-Can be too much of an "arm thrower"
<soapbox> Comparisons are a scapegoat for lazy sports writers. They do help us conceptualize and understand players we may not be as exposed to. Realistically though, every comparison is failing. Message boards are already afire calling Bolden the new "Jordan Jefferson." Let's talk about this for a second. Bolden is more athletic than Jefferson. He's a more explosive runner, though they probably have similar top-end speed... Bolden just gets there faster. Bolden doesn't have the looping, elongated release that really held Jefferson back as a passer. They are both black. They both can run. They both play QB. Therein lies the end of their similarities. Rob Bolden is not Jordan Jefferson just like he is not Matt Mauck just like he is not Rick Clausen. He's his own player with his own skill set. </soapbox>
Bolden arrived at Penn State with much hype and proceeded to take the starting job (though competition was scarce). It was a job he never fully took hold of. Let's look at some tape from Penn State against Alabama from last season, his sophomore season:
Alabama D vs Penn State O 2011 (via JoshMTD)
A lot to like here. First of all, Bolden played in a spread/shotgun offense in HS and looks really natural and comfortable operating under center in these clips. His wide receivers didn't do him any favors, starting with the dropped bomb on the first play of the game. Bolden finished 11 for 29 for 144 yards and 1 INT, against one of the best defenses in the country. He played better than the numbers say. McGloin was abjectly terrible against the same competition. The offense is noticeably worse when he takes the field. I consider that a plus for Bolden, who did seem in control, even if the offense struggled. He makes some really nice throws. He didn't read the blitz and get rid of the ball quick enough. The only chance Penn State had for big plays was when he was in the game. Drops, Drops, Drops. His interception was a bad decision and an even worse throw. He likes to throw the ball down the field, sometimes to his own demise. He's got a real live arm. Lacks feel and anticipation. He's competing... late in the game... when a comeback is out of sight. Takes a big shot, hops back up. Beautiful pass he drops in near the end zone late. Competes again scrambling on the 2-point conversion.
When I watch that tape, I say, "Hey, this guy is young. He's raw. But boy, we got something here." It's like watching Blood Simple. You can clearly see the early talent the Coen's had, though they hadn't rounded that into the maestro's they are today. Remember, he's just a sophomore here with a season of splitting time under his belt.
So... what happened? Well, that's what we don't know. His play really trailed off in 2011. He never overcame McGloin, who is pretty dreadful. Heading into this season, he was listed as 3rd on the depth chart. Considering he's vastly more talented than the other options AND experienced, we have to ask why?
We do know Bolden requested to transfer after his freshman season. I don't know if that is entitlement. I don't know if that is frustration with the coaching staff. I don't know if he was just unhappy. Paterno thought enough of him that he denied him the request. That's telling, yet it's still odd he never turned over the reigns of the offense to him completely. Coaches are people and therefore biased, even the best of them. We know Paterno would do anything to win, though. So why not stick with Bolden? It's not as if McGloin is really giving you something special on the field. That's a question we just don't have an answer for. I would imagine, it's a combination of a lot of things.
That being said: LSU is what Rob Bolden needs. A fresh start. Athletic development comes in all different forms. Not everyone can be LeBron or Kobe or Cam Newton or Mike Trout. In fact, so few are, that's what makes them legends and legends in the making. Most require time, patience, failure and struggle to rise to the peak of their abilities. Bolden is wonderfully gifted, but that doesn't mean he's ready to maximize that talent. It's different for everyone. It also does not mean he's a failure or a waste of talent. So he didn't light the world on fire his freshman and sophomore seasons and couldn't wrestle away the starting job from players of much lesser talent. I'm seem to remember a guy named Jamarcus Russell, whose story played out very similarly. Regardless of what happened post college, Russell's junior season was marvelous and a chance for us to see, finally, his wonderful gifts on full display.
Bolden needs new and he needs fresh. That wasn't gonna come at Penn State, even with the coaching and regime change. He needs LSU. And guess what? LSU needs him.
From day one, Bolden is your back-up QB. In all odds, he's better than Rivers and Randall. Will he be behind in terms of the playbook? Yes. But I betting Les will feel more comfortable going to him if, god forbid, Mettenberger were hurt, than two guys who have never played a down of college football in their life, much less a meaningful one. Bolden has been in big games. He's taken shots from the biggest and baddest and popped right up and kept on playing hard. Make no mistake, Bolden as the back-up QB means LSU's national championship dreams stay alive, even if Mettenberger goes down. That is not something I'm sure would be true without Bolden.
Could he redshirt? Sure. If he's that far behind the learning curve, it may be necessary. But I wouldn't bank on it. In fact, I expect him to play this year. Maybe, just maybe, as a spot QB, running the option. There's no guarantee Mettenberger sticks around for his senior season. Don't waste an opportunity to develop Bolden by shelving him for a year... unless you absolutely have to.
This is a big, strong, wonderfully talented kid. He's got some moxie. He's got some toughness. Things didn't work out for him at Penn State. That doesn't mean he's a bust or terrible. All it means is that it didn't work out for him at Penn State. But he's not at Penn State anymore. He's at LSU. And he's got his fresh start. Now let's hope he makes the most of it.