Platooning QBs - Recipe for Disaster?

Not sure how many of you read the UCLA Magazine. There is an interesting article in this year's July issue which includes an interview of the new UCLA offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda by UCLA alum Paul Fienberg. The interview, which is basically an update on the foobtall team as well, addresses the situation at UCLA QB. Of course, we are all excited about Southpaw Jesus, and even according to Brian Dohn's cautious projections we can assume Ben Olson, despite being out of action for four year, could come up with a very productive first season (as a full time starter). But Svoboda made these interesting comments to Feinberg:

"We have two [quarterbacks] we feel good about," he said. "Pat [Cowan] has a little more experience and is probably farther along knowledge-wise when it comes to our offense, Ben [Olson] has been out of action for a while."

Svoboda will let the two quarterback hopefuls duke it out until the fall, when he hopes to name a starter, although he notes "I've never platooned at quarterback, but I leave open the possibility. I feel good because the competition will make both of them better."
Sorry no link, the article is available only in the print edition. Svoboda's comments are interesting. No offense to Pat Cowan. The kid sounds like he has the tools to be a decent D-1 QB. But it is Ben Olson, who will be Karl Dorrell's meal ticket this upcoming season. I sure hope Svoboda's comment at this point of the off season is nothing except for a signal to Ben Olson to work hard (not spend too much time putting around), stay focused, and grab the unquestionable no. 1 spot before the Utah game. Because it's South Paw Jesus, who is supposed to be KD's ultimate meal ticket in Westwood. Otherwise, if we go down the path of platooning QBs in our first few games, that may not bode well for the 2006 football season - a watershed season for Karl Dorrell to prove he is the long term answer at UCLA.

Platooning QBs early in the season could be a sure fire recipe for disaster. A Tennessee blogger had some prolific observations on the implementation of two QB platooning arrangement that had disastrous consequences for the Volunteers last season. Here is View from the Rocky Top on two-quarterback system (via BON):
Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems

1. The Rule Against 2QB Systems. With only two exceptions, 2QB systems should be avoided like the bird flu.

2. The Evaluation Period Exception. A 2QB system may be temporarily necessary to evaluate the available talent in game situations to determine which QB should be the long term starter. The evaluation period should be as short as possible and should under no circumstances last longer than four or five games.

3. The Epinephrine Exception. Use of two QBs may be desirable on rare occasions when a starter is having a bad game and the team needs a change of pace and a kick in the britches.

4. The Waffle Exception to the Epinephrine Exception. You only get one shot of epi, and it should only be used with well-established starters whose confidence will not be shattered by the substitution. Beware of the temptation to use it with recent winners of a quarterback duel. If you absolutely must change your mind once a "final" decision has been made on a duel, YOU CANNOT DO IT AGAIN. If you yank your first "final answer" QB because he's melted down, he'll no longer be a viable option, so stick with his replacement as long as he's anywhere in the vicinity of competent.

Early Warning Signs

If your team exhibits any of the following symptoms, do like Chicken Little and sound the alarm:

*The Sideline Captain. Beware of captains on sidelines. In other words, do not underestimate the power of leadership and experience, and do not overestimate the promise of potential.

*The Early Success. Beware of early success using multiple QBs. It only delays the inevitable.

*The Rotation Scheme. Beware of pre-planned rotation schemes. Getting a backup reps in a game is all well and good, see e.g., D.J. Shockley, but pre-game plans to rotate QBs must be subject to change. Do not commit to any systematic rotation of QBs, whether every other play, every other series, or every X number of series. Never break game rhythm by pulling a QB when he's hot. A team employing a rotation scheme is not only splitting game reps between two players, but is also surely splitting practice reps, which, instead of preparing both players for games, merely stunts the growth of both.
As VFRT goes on to explain in rest of his post, the 2QB system didn't workout so well for TN last year because their coaching staff seemed to be oblivious of all the warning signs. Well, a football program can avoid a TN like implosion if it has the right leadership. Kyle from Dawg Sports has more on this, chiming on VFRT's post on the 2QB system:
While having more than one gifted quarterback at your disposal is a blessing, it quickly can become a curse due to the necessary tension between competing forces involved in such circumstances. Talented signal-callers insist upon getting playing time, so it is difficult to keep a prospective starter out of the game, even if he has failed to beat out the fellow ahead of him on the depth chart. However, the need to give every Q.B. some P.T. is counterbalanced by the need to maintain continuity, both for the offensive unit on the field and for the players in the locker room.

The first step, of course, is to keep everyone in the program. There is no quicker or worse way to end a quarterback controversy than to leave the second-string signal-caller feeling like he has no future where he is and thereby cause him to transfer somewhere else. Heading into the 1998 season, Georgia's quarterback depth chart included Daniel Cobb, Jon England, Nate Hybl, and Michael Usry . . . but, once Jim Donnan made it clear that Quincy Carter was to receive special treatment, all of the Bulldogs' backups hightailed it out of the Classic City like rats departing a sinking ship.

Compare that to Mark Richt's management of the budding controversy between David Greene and D.J. Shockley. After Georgia's 2002 season-opener against Clemson, there was a real division within Bulldog Nation over whether to bench the 2001 S.E.C. Freshman of the Year in favor of his understudy. Navigating that potential mine field required a coach like Mark Richt, whose demeanor is so calm and collected that, during tense moments late in key games, he continues to maintain the resting heart rate of a marathon runner or a jewel thief.
Well, in UCLA's case, Karl Dorrell already has experienced one QB controversy and look what happened? Two mediocre football seasons and Matt Moore ended up transferring to another Pac-10 school, while he could have been providing some depth at the position. I am sure people can point to the fact that DO had an exceptional season (stats. speaking) last year, and judging from the Oregon State-UCLA game last year, it was clear who was the better QB on the field. But still it would have been nice if Dorrell had found a way to keep Moore happy. Not to mention last year Dorrell got really lucky. During the fall practice leading up to the season opener against SDSU, the competition between Drew and Ben was neck and neck. If not for a freaky injury to Ben (when he banged his fingers against another player's helmet), who knows what would have happened? Luckily for Dorrell, BO got injured and DO got off to a great start. Kyle also brings up another point that should not give the BruinsNation some discomfort if UCLA goes with a 2 QB system:
A coach's sideline behavior offers some hint of his ability to manage a two-quarterback system effectively. Phillip Fulmer is dour and grumpy, so it came as no surprise when Brent Schaeffer opted to become a Mississippi Rebel. Steve Spurrier mercilessly berates his players, so it was to be expected when Brock Berlin decided he had put up with enough and moved on to the Miami Hurricanes. To the extent that Mack Brown is patient and encouraging with both of his quarterbacks, Texas fans may be confident in the Longhorns' offensive fortunes in the post-Vince Young era.

The need for the head coach to handle the situation deftly and delicately extends beyond the practice field and the playing field, as well. Football players read newspapers (or, more likely, the internet), so coaches must choose their words with care when speaking to the media. Coach Richt almost always got Shockley some playing time, but, following a rare instance of Greene getting a complete game under his belt, Coach Richt publicly expressed his regret at not having gotten his backup and future starter some snaps. He had already been seen apologizing to Shockley on the sidelines afterwards, but he communicated that sentiment to the rest of Bulldog Nation, too.

When a coach says the same things about his players publicly that he says to his players privately, he develops a reputation for honesty and lets the athletes in his charge know that he respects them. This is critical to the coach's ability to "go with the hot hand" in crucial game situations without shattering the confidence of the quarterback who was benched.
Well, I am sure Dorrell is a honest guy, and his players probably respect him (hey they love coming into his office and have his M&Ms!), but he still is a statute on the sidelines. Except for brief flashes here and there, he has failed to shown any emotions, enthusiasm, or excitement for the game during his three years in Westwood. In fact, given how he failed to show any courage in the USC game, who knows how much respect his players really have for his coaching authority. Matt Moore was annoyed with him back in 2003, as was Drew Olson more than a year ago. So who knows what will happen this year?

And UCLA's recent history of implementing a 2 QB platoon system is not that great. Following Aikman, Donahue tried to go with a combination of Brett Johnson and Jim Bonds in 1989 which ended up with a mediocre 3-7-1 season. Following Maddox's early departure in 1992, Donahue anointed Wayne Cook as his starter, who promptly got injured in his first game against Cal State Fullerton (yes they used to have a football team). The rest of the year the Bruins hobbled through a 6-5 season using Fien, Cook, and ultimately John Barnes, before Cook established order in the following season. After McNown, Toledo tried the 2 QB combination (lot of it again had to do with injuries) using Bennett (probably the most misused natural talent in the history of UCLA football), McCann and Paus, which led to a 4-7 season. What am I getting at? I think it is the in best interest for Svoboda and company to make sure Ben Olson is motivated and he has everything he needs to make sure he can thrive in the upcoming practice camp. Because if there are lingering questions after this upcoming practice camp is over and the UCLA coaches entertain the notion of a platoon system, it could spell trouble for this upcoming season.

What we do know is that Ben Olson is a once in a lifetime talent who every other team drooled over when he was looking to transfer from BYU. He has been in this system for almost two years. Sure, Svoboda is a new OC and he will throw new wrinkles into the offense (like using the shotgun), yet unfamiliarity with this offense will not be a viable excuse in case Olson is not clicking with the WCO this year. And, from the early reports, it looks like he is doing quiet well in the summer 7 on 7 drills. So timing should be fine. Let's hope right now all these comments from Svoboda are really just to encourage competition during the fall camp, and hopefully Olson will earn the unquestioned starting job before the 2006 kickoff. Otherwise, if these UCLA coaches implement a 2QB platoon system, given their recent track record and some of the factors outlined above, we could all be in for a long season.

GO BRUINS.
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