No. 2 on the depth chart? No thanks.

'You're one play away' isn't good enough for backup quarterbacks anymore

Originally Published: August 19, 2014
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

During Florida State's 14-year streak of top-five finishes (1987-2000), the Seminoles developed an assembly line of quarterbacks. They signed, they learned, they waited, and after two or three seasons, they started.

Now that Florida State has returned to the top of the sport, let's check in on the assembly line behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Clint Trickett is starting at West Virginia. Jacob Coker is expected to start at Alabama. And Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher gave his blessing to both of them.

Whether it's out of self-regard or wanderlust, quarterbacks no longer are content to wait their turn. Coker went to Tuscaloosa to fill a void left in part by the three Crimson Tide quarterbacks who have transferred out in the past two years. And that's not even the record.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury, Davis Webb
John Weast/Getty ImagesThree Texas Tech quarterbacks transferred after this season once it was clear Kliff Kingsbury favored Davis Webb as his starter.

Three quarterbacks have left Texas Tech since the end of the past season. With sophomore Davis Webb entrenched as the starter, third-year sophomore Michael Brewer departed for Virginia Tech, sophomore Baker Mayfield went to Oklahoma and third-year sophomore Clayton Nicholas transferred to Bowling Green.

"I think more than anything it's that only one can play at a time," Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Almost any other position on the field, besides kicker and punter, you're sending out units. With the quarterback, it's one guy. If they see that, and it's stacked up, they want to go play. You can't blame them."

You can't blame them, except that Mayfield and Webb got the opportunity to share the job last year only after Brewer injured his back last summer. Once Webb overtook the field and won the starting job, the rest scattered. The age-old exhortation of a head coach to his backups -- "You're one play away" -- no longer applies. They want a fresh start elsewhere, even if that start is from the bottom of the depth chart.

"Where you're going, they've already recruited quarterbacks," Kingsbury said. "They have their relationships with them. Those quarterbacks know the offense."

Kingsbury made that point to Brewer, Mayfield and Nicholas.

"Yeah, it didn't work on any of them," he said with a laugh. "But I still the feel the same about it. It didn't change my opinion."

Year-round training, seven-on-seven camps and the use of the spread offense in high schools all have made quarterbacks more physically and mentally prepared to play when they arrive on campus. But often they lack the emotional maturity to see themselves as part of a whole. The past spring, Fisher dissected the issue as he described the unity on his national championship team.

"Everybody in our time now, it's all self-gratification, self-satisfaction," Fisher said, "and you have so many outside forces -- even moreso than you had back years ago on these kids -- telling them, 'It's about you and not about the team.' One of the reasons is social media. Because they are more accessible ... I mean, agent, runner, media, family, buddy. There are so many things in these kids' ears that I think generalizing the message and getting [them] to understand the one-team-one-heartbeat concept? I think it's extremely harder than it ever was."

[+] EnlargeThompson/Shaw
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson gets his chance as South Carolina's starter as a fifth-year senior after serving as Conor Shaw's backup.

That's why the old-school development of Hutson Mason at Georgia and Dylan Thompson at South Carolina stands out. Both players are fifth-year seniors who bided their time behind longtime starters.

"I never even once went to my family," Thompson said. "Transferring never crossed my mind. But I do think it helped that my redshirt sophomore year, I got some significant time, because I was like, 'OK, I'm going to be the guy here eventually.' Whenever that is, I'll be ready for it."

Mason agonized more than Thompson did. He had several discussions with Georgia head coach Mark Richt about leaving. But, Richt said, Mason liked the offense, liked the stability of the offensive coaching staff and could see for himself the talent that would be in the huddle with him this fall.

Richt has put veteran quarterbacks in that situation more than once. He coached the position during that incredible run at Florida State, when talented quarterbacks such as Casey Weldon, Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, Thad Busby and Chris Weinke all slowly, patiently ascended the depth chart. In 2005, Richt's fifth season in Athens, Georgia, fifth-year senior D.J. Shockley took over for David Greene and led the Bulldogs to an SEC championship.

"D.J. basically had what Hutson has: one shot," Richt said. "Hutson made a comment when somebody asked him what he wanted his legacy to be. He said, 'I can't break all these records that [Aaron] Murray has just broken in the SEC and all that, so my greatest legacy is to try to win a championship for Georgia.' So his mindset is to win games, not break records. All that doesn't matter. What's going to define him is how good his team is his senior year. That's a healthy way for your quarterback to think."

Transferring quarterbacks might be the future. But don't be surprised if waiting quarterbacks remain a successful way to win in the present.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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