You probably have a picture in mind of the perfect quarterback--a
6'5", 225-pound rock who stands tall in the pocket, shrugs off
linebackers and can throw a football through a brick wall. Right?
Great. Now drag that image into the trash bin. That quarterback
is so over. In the mold of Michael Vick, the 6'1", 214-pound
sophomore who gave such a thrilling performance in Virginia
Tech's 46-29 Sugar Bowl loss to Florida State last January, the
dream quarterback is now highly mobile, as dangerous running the
ball as passing it. Unlike the option quarterbacks of old, these
guys have strong arms and direct offenses in which they are just
as likely to throw as to run. At the head of this class is Vick,
the most exciting player in the nation (page 92), but he is
joined by juniors Quincy Carter of Georgia, Woody Dantzler of
Clemson, Antwaan Randle El of Indiana and senior Marques
Tuiasosopo of Washington, each of whom is a threat to become the
first Division I-A quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards and rush
for 1,000 yards in the same season.
Dantzler, who took only 22 snaps in the Tigers' first three games
last fall, stepped in for injured starter Brandon Streeter and
threw for 1,506 yards and rushed for 588. Randle El passed for
2,277 yards and ran for 788. Tuiasosopo threw for 2,221 yards and
rushed for 541. Carter, limited by an inexperienced offensive
unit, passed for 2,713 yards and ran for 255 yards. "We lost four
guys from our offense in the  draft, and we still led the
league in total offense," Georgia coach Jim Donnan says. "That's
because of Quincy's athleticism. He basically carried us."
What has brought mobile quarterbacks to the fore is their
effectiveness as an antidote to the faster, bigger defenders now
crowding the line of scrimmage. "There was a day when the
linebacker who ran 4.5 was a freak," says George DeLeone,
offensive coordinator at Syracuse, which has been using
multiskilled quarterbacks for more than a decade to make its
freeze-option attack click. "Now he's commonplace. Defensive
linemen are also much faster."
Washington offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson recalls timing
the quarterback's release a decade ago. "You'd count off,
thousand and one, thousand and two, thousand and three, buzzzz.
Now it's thousandandone, thousandandtwo, throw it! It has to be
gone." That, or your quarterback has to be mobile enough to
escape the rush.
"The classic drop-back guy who's immobile is so vulnerable now to
the speed of a defense that can really rush the passer," says
DeLeone. "He does nothing in terms of being extemporaneous. If
the play breaks down, the play breaks down. If you have someone
like [former Syracuse and now Philadelphia Eagles passer] Donovan
McNabb at quarterback and the play breaks down around him, that
play might still go for 45 yards. That's the difference, two or
three plays a game that keep the chains moving and the opponent's
offense off the field, or that put your offense in the other
team's end of the field. Those are unbelievable opportunities."
Coaching wisdom often favors experience over raw talent,
especially at quarterback, where the mental burden is so great.
But by relying on a quarterback's athleticism to offset defensive
pressure, coaches have allowed some inexperienced players to
flourish. Maybe you remember what it was like chasing the
quickest guy in your neighborhood around the backyard. At
Clemson, Dantzler, who wrote off several schools that coveted him
as a wideout or cornerback, started six games last season after
Streeter broke his right collarbone. "Woody wasn't prepared
mentally to do what we wanted, so we gave him a chance to run in
the open field," Tigers coach Tommy Bowden says. "When you give a
guy's athleticism more opportunities, you can get him ready
faster. You get more [defensive schemes] with a guy who can't
move; you eliminate schemes with a guy who can run."
Randle El is mobile enough to have played basketball for Bob
Knight, as a freshman two seasons ago. "He has the hands of a
6'5" guy," Indiana coach Cam Cameron says of the 5'10",
194-pounder. "When you have big hands, you can be more mobile.
That sounds funny, but you don't have to keep two hands on the
ball. Antwaan also is extremely tough, one characteristic that
separates the really good quarterback from the good ones. Nobody
wants an athletic quarterback who's soft. The team sees him react
when he gets hit."
All eyes were fixed on Tuiasosopo when, as a freshman at
Washington in 1997, he was thrust into a game against Nebraska
after starter Brock Huard sprained an ankle in the first quarter
with the Huskies trailing 14-0. "That game was all instinct,"
says Tuiasosopo, who played quarterback and safety at Woodinville
(Wash.) High and refused to consider any college that wanted him
to play defense. "I barely had a grasp of the offense. I was
concentrating on remembering the plays." Tuiasosopo ran for only
12 yards on 11 carries but darted around in the backfield well
enough to throw for 270 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-14
Last year, in a game against Stanford, Tuiasosopo was hit while
passing on the first series and landed with all of his weight on
his left buttock. His tailbone was bruised severely enough to
hinder his mobility for the next three weeks, but in the 35-30
victory over the Cardinal that day, Tuiasosopo ignored the pain
and became the first NCAA player to throw for more than 300 yards
(302) and rush for more than 200 yards (207) in the same game.
Kent Baer, the Stanford defensive coordinator, says Tuiasosopo's
performance reminded him of a day nearly two decades earlier when
he was coaching at Utah State and had his hands full trying to
stop a particular quarterback at BYU. "I remember going out on
the field before the game, and Steve Young had his shirt off,"
Baer says, "and I couldn't believe how well put together he was.
He would have been a tremendous running back. Tuiasosopo would
be, too, with his ability to run the ball and take hits. But I
was just as amazed at how effective he was as a passer. He made
some outs to the sideline that I didn't think he was good enough
Tuiasosopo, a son of former Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco
49ers defensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo, says that when he rolls
out, he doesn't know what he's going to do until he sees how the
defense reacts. That's fine with Washington coach Rick Neuheisel,
who says, "Marques will impact the game one way or the other, and
I'll let the [opponent's] defense decide which way."
Adds Tuiasosopo, "Whether you're a mobile quarterback or not, you
have to play on instincts. When you go out there in a game, you
have to do things that aren't in the playbook. You'll see great
plays by guys like Michael Vick or [North Carolina's] Ronald
Curry. They're about to get sacked, but they back away from a
tackler, roll around the other end and throw into the end zone.
You don't write that stuff up."
A quarterback without the ability to escape a rush is an injury
timeout waiting to happen. "The guy that loves [mobile
quarterbacks] to death is the offensive line coach," Florida
State coach Bobby Bowden says. "The toughest thing to teach an
offense is protecting the passer. If you have one who can escape,
he gets to help himself."
"I'm tough and I'm going to take my hits, but I can't take too
many hits," says Carter, who played two seasons of minor league
baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization. "I can't keep going
down and letting three guys hit me in the head. I live for the
Time was, many of the schools that recruited Carter would have
moved him to another position. Not any longer. "A Marcus Allen
coming out of San Diego now might play quarterback, which Marcus
was in high school," says UNLV coach John Robinson, referring to
the 1981 Heisman Trophy-winning tailback who played for him at
USC. "Back in the '70s and '80s, if [an athletic] quarterback
wasn't an accurate passer coming out of high school, a coach
would move him. Now coaches are hanging in there and working with
a good athlete, improving his passing skills as they go along."
Bobby Bowden, who has been in the business for nearly
50 years, believes the sudden popularity of the mobile
quarterback is the last brick to be removed as the stereotypes of
black quarterbacks have been dismantled. "We've allowed these
young men to compete, and they've shown they can do it," he says.
"The high school coaches accepted it, and they developed these
kids to where they know what to do with the football."
That worked in Tommy Bowden's favor in 1998, when, in his first
year as a head coach, he gave Shaun King the green light at
Tulane and finished the season undefeated. As his second season
at Clemson approaches, Tommy is convinced that Dantzler can put
up the kind of numbers that King, now the starting quarterback
with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had--3,232 yards passing, 532
rushing--in that 12-0 season. "Dantzler could be the first two and
one," Tommy says of breaking the 2,000 yards passing and 1,000
yards rushing barriers in one season. "Someone's going to do it.
I bet we can get it this year."
When he says that, Tommy is sitting with his father and his
brother Steve in a makeshift cafeteria at Troy State, where the
family holds a summer camp for quarterbacks and receivers. "Your
number 4 could get it," Tommy says to his father, referring to
Florida State sophomore Anquan Boldin, a 1998 high school
All-America quarterback who asked to be switched to wide receiver
a year ago so he could play right away.
"No," Bobby says, shaking his head at the notion that Boldin
could replace the immobile Chris Weinke as the Seminoles'
quarterback this year.
Mindful that his Tigers will play his father's Seminoles in
Tallahassee on Nov. 4, Tommy wisely chooses not to press the
issue. "I hope you don't," he says, smiling.
For more on elusive quarterbacks, including a historical photo
essay, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.