QB crush: Move over, running backs — signal callers are new rock stars of SEC

dcloninger@thestate.comJuly 23, 2013 

Johnny Manziel drew the biggest crowd of SEC Media Days with folks wanting to know about his plans to win another Heisman Trophy. They also wanted to hear details of the Texas A&M quarterback’s alleged late-night dalliances at the Manning Passing Academy.

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, meanwhile, strolled from room to room, not wearing any of his three national championship rings but clearly aching for a fourth.

They were two of the nine quarterbacks battling for time at the various podiums at SEC Media Days.

This was a media event for the SEC, right? Home of bone-crushing defenses and all-world running backs? The same conference that produced Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith?

The same. And while there still are quality tailbacks in the SEC who eventually will play in the NFL, this looks to be The Year of the Quarterback in the SEC. Only one true running back, Kentucky’s Raymond Sanders, attended the event.

“I felt like it was that last year,” said McCarron. “There’s a good group of QBs all the way around. Usually in the past, in the SEC, it’s always been talk about running backs. It’s cool to see a little change, but at the same time, the league’s not hurting in running backs, either.”

Maybe, but quarterbacks were drawing the most attention this past week. Of the 14 teams in the league, three don’t have a returning starting QB this season, or at least a quarterback who played significant minutes last year. The returnees could enter the NFL Draft as a group to rival the storied quarterback class of ’83.

McCarron leads the charge, although he may not be the best NFL prospect of the pack. That could be Texas A&M’s Manziel, part of the new breed of running quarterbacks. There also is Georgia’s Aaron Murray, a rocket-armed passer who is the only SEC quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

Throw in LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace and Florida’s Jeff Driskel as potential NFL draft picks.

Then there are Missouri’s James Franklin, Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, who also attended SEC Media Days. They may not be future NFL stars, but they head into their senior years knowing that their teams are depending on them to have strong seasons.

Will the SEC begin to change into a quarterback-dominated league? The rise of the spread offense may dictate it.

“I think the game’s evolving into a passing game,” said Wallace, who burned defenses for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. “I think you’ll see more and more quarterbacks like this every single year. Obviously, Johnny and A.J. are good ones. I think Aaron Murray’s a great quarterback. There’s a lot of good ones. You want to work every day to be that great quarterback in this league.”

Each said that the trio of Murray, McCarron and Manziel were probably the top QBs in the league, but each also said that they considered themselves one of the elite.

“I’d like to say I’m one of the top quarterbacks,” said Shaw, who will start for the Gamecocks but split time with Dylan Thompson. “I don’t hold myself under anybody else. I feel I can compete with anybody in this league.”

All of them will have a chance to prove it, very soon. And with such a high number of quality QBs in the league, every week has a chance to resemble a Western – the two gunslingers on either end of the street, or sideline, ready to draw.

“There’s a lot of great talent in this conference,” said Mettenberger, who paced LSU’s offense with 2,609 yards passing last season. “This conference has been known for defensive prowess and power running, but I think the quarterbacks this year will get their shot to show what they can do in the SEC.”

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