Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Adam Weber Should Not Be the Starting Quarterback by Default

I love The Daily Gopher blog. Love it. Read it everyday, and link to it often. The guys on there are very intelligent, write well, are as passionate about the Gophers as any fans you will ever meet, and they have probably forgotten more about Gopher sports than I'll ever know. This is especially true about one of their founders, and head writer, Gopher Nation. GN is a quality human being, loves the Gophers, and only wants to see the football program succeed. But a post he wrote today over on TDG about Adam Weber makes me so incredibly frustrated, I can hardly stand it. In fact, I'm going to write a point/counterpoint style post about it because I just cannot believe someone as smart and passionate as him believes what he wrote about Adam Weber. I just can't.

Considering that I've been banging the "Let's give MarQueis Gray a REAL chance" drum since the Purdue game (and have been pointing out Weber's inaccuracies since the Syracuse game), I'm not an impartial judge in all of this. I have a man crush on MarQueis Gray. I believe MarQueis should be given a real opportunity to win the starting job. Like now. Yet apparently I'm somehow in the minority in this thinking, as after yet another stinker from Weber and the offense, after nine freaking games this season, it is absolutely maddening that we still have Gopher fans, and someone as intelligent as GN, who believes we should stick with Weber and that he's the best option.

First, if you haven't already, go read his post. You should read it. No really, you should. I'll wait here. Check it out, it's a good read. When you're done come back, and I'll tell you why he's wrong.
Please keep in mind this is NOT a personal attack on GN. Not at all. This IS an attack against the argument from him and anyone else who makes it that after nine weeks of craptitude, Adam Weber should continue to be our starting quarterback this year. And next. Again, to be clear- NOT a personal attack on GN. But I do strongly disagree with his blog post. Both of us love the Gophers and want nothing more than to see this team play in a Rose Bowl someday- and hopefully someday soon. But we disagree who should be the quarterback of this team this year and next. Here are his arguments according to his post, and why I disagree with all of them (well almost all of them):

Adam Weber is Not the Only Problem

This is the one point we can absolutely, positively agree upon. I've said it before and will continue to say Adam Weber is NOT the only problem with the offense. Obviously. Far from it. Our offensive line has been an issue all season, and by "an issue" I mean they've been a freaking train wreck. They've played a major part in the Gophers having the worst rushing offense in the conference, being the most penalized team in the Big Ten, and giving up a league high 30 sacks for 189 yards. Our running backs are an ok group that are only as good as the line in front of them, and thus far have shown a complete inability to make something out of nothing. Our receivers sans Eric Decker have at times had trouble catching the ball (ok, ok that's probably a wee bit of an understatement). There were drops in the Ohio State game, the Michigan State game, and yes, definitely in the Illinois loss. Finally play-calling has been, well... baffling is about the best I can describe it. There's no consistency in what the offense tries to do and what it tries to be, not only game to game, but quarter to quarter and series to series! Last game, for instance, we were actually moving the ball on the ground, as our three running backs combined were averaging 4.5 yards per carry, yet they only got the ball 21 times, compared to 31 passes and another seven sacks of Weber (so 38 drop-backs). There's been puzzling calls all season long, which also has to fall on Brewster because it was his decision to bring in Wonderboy Jed Fisch, who had never called plays and never even been a co-ordinator. He could be a great offensive mind someday, but he's got a ways to go to just be adequate.

Adam Weber Has Played Very Well At Times

Correct. He's had some very solid stretches. He play well in parts against Illinois, Cal, Air Force, and Northwestern, and put together his only complete game in the win over Michigan State. But that's the problem- he cannot seem to put a full game together. Did the drops hurt him in the games against Ohio State and Illinois? Yes, but he still struggled by missing open receivers in both of those halves (and in the entire Ohio State game), as well as in every game I've watched. When he's on, he's on, and he has had stretches where he plays well, but it's troubling that other than the Michigan State game, it takes him at least a quarter (or sometimes two, or three, or not at all) to get going. That he cannot seem to put together a complete, consistently played game as a third year starter is troubling to say the least.

"Consistency is the issue here, not lack of any ability"

Wrong. We've established his inconsistency is an issue, but while he's not devoid of ability, he's certainly not full of talent and ability either. This is not a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees who is struggling here. Heck, he's not even a Daryll Clark, Ricky Stanzi or Terrelle Pryor who's struggling here. His track record of success is checkered at best. He's never been very accurate (last season was the only one of his three where he had a completion percentage above 60, and as I laid out back in week 2, he piled up numbers in the first half of the season against crappy teams- with the exception being Ohio State. His last six games of 2008 when the Gophers finished 1-5, including the bowl loss to Kansas, Weber was awful. Just awful), and he still struggles to throw timing routes. Always has, and if he can't throw them in his third year starting, it's pretty safe to say he never will. All season we've watched him throw behind, below or over receivers on slants, outs, comebacks and the rest that involve timing. He seems to read the field pretty well when he has time, and has been good (when he has time) at finding guys in the seam (this has been Nick Tow-Arnett's bread and butter this year). He also throws a pretty good deep ball, as evidenced by all the big plays in the Illinois game. Which leads to this point...

Throwing A Good Deep Ball Consistently is Not Easy

Correct again. It is NOT easy to throw a ball 25 yards or further down field on the money every time. In fact, as GN points out, it's impossible, as everybody, from the best in the NFL to any QB in college, miss open throws down field from time to time. It definitely happens. But why that doesn't hurt other QB's as much as Weber is because competent QB's can complete the short stuff. They can complete timing routes for easier completions more consistently, which means they're not as dependent on the deep ball.

For Weber, who struggles throwing the short stuff on time and in stride it IS a problem simply because no matter how well you throw a deep ball (and Weber throws it pretty well), it's a much lower probability play. The Gopher's problem with Weber at quarterback is that they are forced to live and die by the big play, so when it's working, like it was against Michigan State, it's an awesome and really fun thing to watch. When it's not, like against Illinois, well not so much. GN uses the example of Tom Brady (the third best QB on planet earth right now) missing a wide open Randy Moss (where would you rank Moss right now? 1st? 3rd? 5th? Personally, at this stage of their careers, the only three guys I'd rather have than Moss are Larry Fitzgerald and the Johnsons- Calvin and Andre) on a deep flag route, and how even the best miss. Too true. But the best are the best because they can not only throw to guys like Moss, but also because they can make all the other throws and aren't so reliant on the big play like Weber is. Decker masked a lot of Weber's problems simply because he could catch just about anything within 15 yards of him. But when he throws to anyone not named Decker, his issues surface.

But it's this point that drives me absolutely crazy...and I quote...

"Adam Weber is just plain not going to get benched and it doesn't matter who the coach is, he just wouldn't."

Wow. I'm going to try and do my best to argue this without going ALL CAPS because really, this is the main point of my argument and why I'm so frustrated with Brewster and the whole quarterback situation. Why? Why is Adam Weber immune to being benched? Is it because he's led us to so many Big Ten titles? Eight win seasons? Bowl wins? No? So why then?

I'm not asking for Weber to be booted from the team, I simply want MarQueis Gray to get a chance. A real, honest to goodness opportunity to see what the kid can do. And do not for one second respond that "he's had plenty of plays all season and what has he done with it?" Gray gets thrown in sporadicly with no opportunity to run a real offense and get a feel and rhythm for the game. Wonderboy Jed is asking him to go in for one play, hand the ball off or keep it, and come right back out. He might then sit out for a play, maybe for a series, or maybe for the game. Gray never knows and Fisch never seems to know either. The quarterback position, as GN points out numerous times, is very difficult to play. It's the hardest on the field. Because of this, you cannot drop a kid in there ever once in a blue moon so he can run one play and then he's yanked. Quarterbacks need to get consistent playing time for at least a series to get comfortable with the game, and get a feel and rhythm. You can drop in running backs or receivers in for a special play and get a decent gauge of whether they're ready to play or not. But you cannot do that for quarterbacks, and to judge Gray on such a disjointed and convaluted resume of sporadic plays is wholly unfair.

After the Ohio State debacle Brewster promised us Weber and Gray would rotate series. It never happened. I was fine with leaving Weber in the Michigan State game as he gained confidence, but last week? With Weber struggling so incredibly much we couldn't have put Gray in and let him run the offense for a full series? Why is Brewster so hesitant to play the kid? The Penn State game was over in the third quarter, yet Gray never saw the field. The Ohio State game was over to start the fourth, yet it wasn't until Weber threw not one, but two picks, that Brewster finally yanked him for Gray.

I'm not ready to say MarQueis is the answer because nobody, not me, not you, not Brewter, not Fisch, NOBODY knows for certain because HE HASN'T BEEN GIVEN THE CHANCE TO PROVE IT. Give the kid a few series against SDSU and see what happens. If he stinks I promise you won't hear another peep out of me about Weber the rest of the season. I promise.
Which lead us, finally, to this...

"Regardless of what the most knowledgeable fan in Gopher Nation believes or wants to believe he will start the two or three remaining games. And brace yourself for this...barring injury, he'll likely start every game next year."

Again, why? Even if Gray ever gets an actual opportunity to prove himself against SDSU or Iowa and he sucks, why should Weber automatically be named the starter next year too? Because he's started three years and he DESERVES a fourth? As Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven (or as Snoop said to Michael in the best TV show ever The Wire) "Deserve ain't got nothing to do with it."

If GN truly believes what he wrote, that "Brewster is going to play the QB that best gives him a chance to win" then Gray deserves every opportunity to win the starting job in the spring and summer. If Gray proves he's not up to the task, then fine, but he should get a freaking chance!! Weber's been a stop-gap at the position for the last two seasons because he proved the most competent of an incompetent group of quarterbacks to help Tim Brewster turn this program around. But he does not DESERVE to start for that because we haven't really won anything with him, and he's been as much to blame, or more, than anyone else who's been a part of this program for the past three seasons.

Who cares if he's about to break all of the all-time passing records at Minnesota? He's started for THREE FREAKING SEASONS!!! How can he NOT break records if he gets that many years to start, especially when you consider that since 2003 there's an extra regular season game per year AND bowl stats now count as regular season stats (they did not before then) so he has an extra two games a season compared to anyone else who've played before him. And the guys who have played in this decade, Brian Cupito and Asad Abdul-Khaliq, both quarterbacked run-first offenses under Glen Mason.

And not to offend anyone who is a Gopher fan, but being the all-time leading passer at Minnesota isn't really saying much. The program stunk for much of the 70's, 80's and 90's, and when Mason got it turned around, he did it with the running game (that and really, really REALLY weak scheduling). Darrell Thompson has something to brag about as the all-time leading rusher, as the guys on that rushing list were great college players, most of whom went on to get drafted in the pros. But the all-time leading passer? The last Gopher QB to get drafted was Corey Sauter in 1995, and before that I have no idea (I do know Rickey Foggie played in the CFL). What I do know is that the one thing Weber will have in common with all three of the guys he will pass on the Gopher history list this season- Cupito, Sauter, and Abdul-Khaliq- is they all had more career INT's than TD's.

This is not meant as a cheap shot at Gopher football history, it's just that I don't think saying he's statistically the best passer in Gopher history should be used as an argument for why he should continue playing.

Gopher Nation's biggest frustration seems to be this :

"I can see that Weber has struggled this year and he is an obvious part of the offensive struggles. But I get irritated that people are not seeing or recognizing that he isn't the ONLY problem and when he does well or when he is the catalyst for the offense turning things around he gets very little credit."

I agree with him and I'm one of the culprits who probably don't give him enough credit when does well (although I DID eat some tasty Adam Weber Crow last week), and I appreciate all that Weber has done, but being a starting quaterback is not a lifetime achievement award. It should be based on who gives you the best chance to win, and thus far MarQueis Gray hasn't been given the chance. Weber is definitely not the only problem with the offense, but when Brewster blindly throws him out there again and again without giving a capable and talented backup a chance, it only magnifies the problems Weber does have.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Well thought out post, like Gopher Nations... but I still think there is a happy medium here, as I responded to GN's post as well.
I agree with you that Weber should not be the starter by default... however, I do, right now, think he SHOULD be the starter, but that Gray should get, like you pointed out, MANY more plays, and several full series of work.