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Thursday, August 14, 2008
McGee comfortable, productive in Sherman's new offense

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Stephen McGee finally is back in a comfortable offense. So it's no surprise he reclaimed the Texas A&M starting quarterback job this summer.

McGee has been a handy target for A&M's offensive struggles in recent seasons. But playing a pro-style passing attack similar to the one that he employed as a record-setting high school passer has fit him like a glove.

"I've always considered myself a passing quarterback and had to take on the label of an option quarterback," McGee said. "But at the end of the day, I want to be a winning quarterback. If I have to run the ball, I'll do it. And if I have to throw the ball, I'll do that."

That familiarity in the pro-style pass offense enabled McGee to notch a decisive knockout over contenders Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill. Both were expected to challenge him for playing time this summer. Instead, McGee took the job from the opening day of practice and ran with it.

McGee was the Aggies' primary running threat last season, leading the team with 891 yards. He still probably has the bruises to prove it. That pounding helped lead to off-season surgery on McGee's left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Coach Mike Sherman's offense is more akin to the one that McGee ran at Burnet High School outside of Austin, where he set Texas Class 3A passing record and threw for 3,579 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior.

Sherman raved about McGee's consistency and lack of mistakes during practice. McGee was intercepted for the first time in training camp Thursday, and it came on a pass that glanced off a receiver's hands.

"It was day-to-day stuff going back to the spring," Sherman said. "I tried to be oblivious to last year. And I wanted to see what he could do."

McGee's comfort level was there from his first practice.

"This kind of gets some people off my back," said McGee, who has a record of 16-11 as a starter and has led the Aggies to back-to-back bowl trips. "A lot of people thought I was an option quarterback and couldn't throw. But I'm in a pro-style offense and I've proven that I've earned the job."

New A&M quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley said he wasn't sure that McGee had the arm to play in his offense after watching tapes of his passing struggles in losses against Texas Tech, Miami and Oklahoma last season.

Rossley saw some flashes in McGee's career-best 362-yard passing effort in an upset over Texas that showed him that there was something salvageable in his abilities.

"He has a lot of things going for him," Rossley said. "He's very confident, very athletic and is a really good passer. When I first got here, I thought he was an option quarterback. But he's a passer."

And after working with him at several practices this summer, Rossley compares McGee's "magic" to his most recent quarterback.

That would be the New York Jets' Brett Favre, whom Rossley last worked with while he played for the Green Bay Packers.

"I'm not going to compare myself to Brett Favre by any stretch of the imagination," McGee said. "But my number one job is to make people around me better. If I can do that, I can do my job better. That's what good quarterbacks do is make people around them better."

Teammates have raved about McGee's passing abilities in the new offense.

"He looks great in this offense," A&M tailback Mike Goodson said. "I think the knock on him last year was that he ran too much. But watching him throw at practice is amazing. I didn't know he could throw like that."

Insiders say the competition between McGee and Johnson and Tannehill never really developed. McGee started strongly and played well throughout the summer. Johnson would string a couple of good practices and then struggle through a bad one.

And while the comparisons between the 6-foot-5, 229-pound Johnson to Vince Young and Randall Cunningham may be apt because of his size and athleticism, Johnson often struggled with reads.

Tannehill, a fleet 6-foot-4, 204-pound redshirt freshman, showed enough athleticism throughout camp to catch the A&M coaching staff's attention. Tannehill was playing wide receiver in the Aggies' two-minute drill at the end of Thursday's practice and Sherman left the option open of playing him at the position in the future.

McGee will have the starting reins in A&M's Aug. 30 opener against Arkansas State, but he shouldn't feel the job is his by default. Johnson showed remarkable playmaking flashes last season, leading A&M to six touchdowns in eight possessions during mop-up duty.

And Sherman could have a quick hook - particularly if the Aggies struggle offensively early in the season.

"In explaining it to Stephen, I said you've got two guys behind you who want your job," Sherman said. "And if we struggle at times during the season, we may go in that direction. It's your job today and you've just got to keep holding onto it.

"Nothing is set in stone, other than the fact that he is the starter in the first ballgame."

Which was all that McGee could ask for from his new coaching staff.