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2011 Walkthrough: Quarterbacks

All photos via Bill Carter.
All photos via Bill Carter.

It is that time of year again.  Football season is over, and spring football is but a couple of months away.  As we put the wraps on the 2010, let us look forward to the position-by-position storylines we will be discussing in the spring and summer.

For the second time in three years, Missouri’s spring practices will be used to determine their starting quarterback for the next fall.  Also for the second time in three years: 1) there is a clear favorite, and 2) the upside is enormous.  And it’s a good thing, because here is the standard that has been set:

248-for-421 (59%) passing, 3,151 yards, 22 TD, 8 INT; 148 rushes, 537 yards, 5 TD

That is the average of Brad Smith’s, Chase Daniel’s and Blaine Gabbert’s statistics from their first seasons as Missouri starting quarterback, and it puts the bar pretty high.  And let’s be honest: from what we’ve seen of the aforementioned favorite's skillset, an even split between Smith, Daniel and Gabbert is not a bad place to start.

Time to look at the candidates.

James Franklin (6’2, 220, So., Corinth, TX)

2010: 11-for-14 (78.6%), 106 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 23 carries, 116 yards, 2 TD

RPT: Sometimes the "most popular man in town is the backup quarterback" cliché gets taken too far. In the case of James Franklin, it doesn’t seem to go far enough. Franklin may be the nicest, most sincere and polite athlete to ever come through the Missouri football program, and in the incredibly brief glimpses of brilliance in limited playing time, some fans seem ready to hand him the reins immediately.

Franklin combines the zone read rushing threat Missouri has largely lacked since at least 2006 (and, let’s be real, 2005) with a deft touch in throwing extremely catchable passes. With Franklin, the Mizzou offense takes on a completely different rhythm -- not to say it’s either better or worse, simply different. Franklin’s passing reads may be the next big step in his development, but should his mental game meet his physical talents, Franklin stands to be the next entrant in Mizzou’s lineage of solid quarterbacks.

Bill C.: "Nicest, most sincere and polite athlete to ever come through the Missouri football program" … since Brad Smith, of course, ahem.

RPT: Great, now Bill broke out the Brad Smith comparison I worked SO hard to avoid.

Bill C.: Depending on which information you choose to process, it isn’t difficult to see Missouri’s offense, as it is currently constituted, running just as smoothly under James Franklin as under Blaine Gabbert.  The zone reads and options that are a staple of the offense will likely be more effective with Franklin -- with limited sample size in 2010, they already were.  The underneath and sideline passes will likely still be there.  For an offense much more reliant on efficiency than explosiveness, the fact that Franklin does not have the same caliber of hand cannon that Gabbert possesses should not be a significant hindrance.

(Fun stat: Mizzou faced four third-and-long -- i.e. seven yards or more -- situations with Franklin behind center … and converted all four.)

Of course, we really only saw James Franklin in two non-garbage time drives, both against Colorado.  One ended in a touchdown, the other in an interception.  Everything else happened when the result of the game had already been decided.  (Whereas Mizzou threw about 50 percent of the time on standard downs for the season, they did so 73 percent of the time with Franklin.)  So obviously any optimism should be tempered.  We don’t know about his ability to throw downfield, since he wasn’t really asked to.  We don’t know how defenses will scout and react to him.  Hell, no matter how well-adjusted he seems, we don’t actually know how he might do under the spotlight until he is actually put there.

And, technically, we don’t know if he will be the starter yet.

Tyler Gabbert (6’0, 190, RSFr., Ballwin, MO)

RPT: At this point, I’m relatively convinced that if you changed the facial features and the last name, I wouldn’t have a clue Tyler and Blaine were related. Genetics clearly gave the two quarterbacks completely separate gifts, and as they’ve developed at each level, they seem to have molded their games independent of one another to best suit their individual talents.

Despite lacking Blaine’s stature or laser, in what limited bits we’ve seen of Tyler, he seems driven by the competitive fire of being often overlooked, rather than the drive of meeting expectations. What’s interesting is how that has translated to his game. His motion is far less effortless and every throw seems to make a statement. The task for Tyler may be to harness his personality correctly -- he’s gotten to where he is today by trying to prove people wrong. He can’t overdo it. It’ll be vital that he play within himself and within the confines of the offense and be smart, not ballsy, in distributing the football.

Bill C.: Dammit, I shouldn’t have let RPT go first.  The first paragraph was basically what I had to say.  We heard a lot of very good things about Lil’ Gabbert (and yes, I’m going to keep calling him that, especially if he’s driven by disrespect) during bowl practice, but while December is basically a no-consequence showcase for the freshmen who redshirted, in March the real competition begins.  Will he try too hard, make too many mistakes, and affirm his position as not only the No. 2, but potentially the No. 3?  Or will the opportunity this spring now presents bring out the best in him?

James Franklin is clearly the favorite, but Lil’ Gabbert will get every chance in the world to steal the top spot.  As will...

Ashton Glaser (6’0, 225, So., Springdale, AR)

RPT: One year ago, Glaser was in line to lay claim to the No. 2 spot ultimately seized by Franklin. Even despite losing the job, in one offseason, Glaser went from "smart kid who couldn’t quite put it all together" to "competent option" at quarterback. Reporters raved about the leap he made as he became more and more comfortable as Mizzou’s triggerman. But now Glaser faces a critical offseason -- with Franklin fairly entrenched and T. Gabbert charging strong, can Glaser carve out a role at the suddenly crowded QB spot?

Bill C.: Twitter is a funny thing.  Not only does it reveal the mindset of its users … but it reveals your own mindset regarding someone’s mindset.  Ashton Glaser’s account reveals a team player who loves this university.  He supports his teammates, has a Tiger for a background, calls Blaine Gabbert his "big brother."  Combined with an article written about him a while back, in which he said he volunteered for kickoff coverage just so he could see the field and help his team, you quickly imagine Glaser as a tough competitor and team-first guy.  But one tweet from December 19 revealed to me … that I think he’ll be transferring soon.  It said, simply, "I'd like to make myself believe."

Now, for all we know, he was simply being vague and odd as Twitter users often are.  But when you’re looking for a certain impression from someone, you’ll see it every chance you get.

As RPT said, Glaser faces the most critical spring of any of Mizzou’s scholarship quarterbacks.  At the very least, Tyler Gabbert has one more year of eligibility than James Franklin.  Even if Franklin wins the starting job, Gabbert can wait him out, fill in during injuries, and hope to start his senior year.  But Glaser is a sophomore just like Franklin.  If Franklin is the starter at the end of April, he could likely be the starter for the rest of Glaser’s time at Mizzou.

And here’s where I start to feel wrong for projecting my own assumptions on somebody I haven’t met.  The fact is, with the quarterbacks pipeline Mizzou is establishing right now, not everybody who comes here will finish their career here, not if they are as desperate to see the field as Glaser has revealed at times.  I fully expect to see the best possible version of Ashton Glaser this spring.  Will it be enough?

INCOMING: Corbin Berkstresser (6’3, 225, Fr., Lee’s Summit, MO, ***)

Bill C.: In mid-June 2009, while Missouri was seemingly attempting to put the pieces together for their vaunted 2010 recruiting class, they got a commitment … for the class of 2011.  Corbin Berkstresser attended Missouri’s one-day Kansas City camp at the beginning of June, received an offer, committed, and bang, Mizzou was done recruiting quarterbacks for that class.

If you want proof that Gary Pinkel, Dave Yost, and staff know what they’re looking for in a quarterback, just look at Berkstresser.  He threw for just 1,400 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore, and he got a Mizzou offer anyway.  Despite solid size, he received just a 3-star rating from Rivals ("just" 3 stars … like Chase Daniel, ahem).  A year and a half later, he went out and threw for 3,300 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions as a Lee’s Summit senior.  For all of Pinkel’s faults, and he certainly has plenty, he knows quarterbacks.

RPT: "Just... like Chase Daniel." You heard it from Bill first, everybody. /ducks

Bill C.: I see what you did there.

2011 vs 2010

Two things are certain regarding Missouri’s 2011 crop of quarterbacks:

1. There is so much to be excited about.  Franklin really did show us glimpses of each of Missouri’s last three star quarterbacks -- Smith, Daniel and Gabbert -- in his limited playing time.  He has toughness, running ability, nice touch, and perhaps some serious third-down cajones.  And maybe best of all, he’s not guaranteed the job.  He will get a push from two other ultra-competitive, talented youngsters.  Whoever wins the job will have significant upside, and with such a veteran supporting cast, optimistic Missouri fans will have plenty of reason for being, well, optimistic.

2. There is so much still unknown.  We almost take good quarterback play for granted at Mizzou, but it’s never guaranteed.  Blaine Gabbert had his flaws, but he was a known quantity.  Heading into 2011 with a veteran quarterback was a very appealing thought.  But now Mizzou has to roll the dice again.