Rossow: QB problem widespread in Big Ten
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – He's a few years too old and a few steps too slow.
But given the chance, Jason Verduzco said he'd love to give quarterbacking a Big Ten team another try. So much so he teases Illini coach Ron Turner whenever he can.
"Coach Turner said he'd love the chance to coach against me," said Verduzco, a two-time Illini MVP now working for Turner as a graduate assistant. "He says he can get into my head."
Verduzco is kidding about taking more snaps. That he could make it in today's Big Ten is no joke, however.
Despite age (he's 27 now) and rust (he graduated in '93), Verduzco still might be able to contribute. That's how unstable the position has become in the Big Ten.
Think Illinois has problems at quarterback? Mark Hoekstra is a regular Unitas compared to some others of his ilk.
At Indiana, Jay Rodgers threw for all of 53 yards and an interception against North Carolina. Tim Hughes was 14 of 31 with an interception in Northwestern's loss to Wake Forest. Michigan State's Todd Schultz, a preseason All-Big Ten option, was 8 of 18 with a pick against lowly Western Michigan.
Purdue's Billy Dicken and Wisconsin's Mike Samuel combined for four interceptions and 48 incompletions. And Minnesota's Cory Sauter still is shaking off his dismal debut in Hawaii.
What in the name of Bob Griese (not Brian, a surprise starter at Michigan) is going on here?
"Some say it's the cold weather, that it's tough on quarterbacks," Verduzco said. "But look at the Packers."
It gets a tad nippy in Green Bay, yet Brett Favre doesn't let frostbite stain his quarterback rating.
New coaches should help
So why the mess in the Big Ten, where the efficiency leader is a scrub from Iowa? Where an untested fifth-year senior is the star at Penn State? Where Ohio State shuffles quarterbacks in and out like defensive backs on third and long?
Verduzco played in better times, when Michigan had Elvis Grbac and Ohio State had Kent Graham, two quarterbacks last seen directing stirring comebacks in the National Football League. He is not surprised the league has 12 quarterbacks on current NFL rosters.
Today's dearth of talent does surprise him. The glamour position has become a glaring error.
"I think you're going to see that change in the next couple years," Verduzco said. "So much of it comes down to coaching. You need a good teacher to make it work. And the new coaches in the league are good teachers."
Talent's on the way
In some cases, the athlete can get by with minimal help. Watch Louisville's Chris Redman today. Watch Washington State's Ryan Leaf next week. Both have arms and instincts most of the Big Ten oddly enough is lacking.
But even a cannon such as Redman needs someone to light the fuse. In his case, Ron Cooper has called for 64 passes in two games. Expect another 30 attempts today.
That's why Verduzco is predicting a revival behind center. Most of the fresh faces in the Big Ten like to wear out a quarterback's arm, which recruits like to hear.
Turner made the Bears click on offense before coming to the UI. Cam Cameron, who coached quarterbacks with the Redskins, showed how zany he can get on offense in Indiana's opener. And they're calling Joe Tiller's game plan at Purdue "basketball on grass."
Perhaps the glamour can be restored. Even at Illinois, where all-conference quarterbacks roamed not so long ago.
That's Turner's plan. That's the Big Ten's plan.
Both, at this point, appear long-range.
Jim Rossow is sports editor at The News-Gazette.