Perception vs. reality

Dual-threat QBs fight to prove that they can pass just as well as they run

Originally Published: July 20, 2012
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN RecruitingNation

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- Johnny Stanton, a California state champion and Nebraska-committed quarterback, regularly fights the perception that because he runs well, he can't throw the football.

Scouts and coaches and fans, in offering praise, compare Stanton to Tim Tebow. He's heard Jake Locker comparisons, too.

Flattering assessments, but Stanton, who rushed for 1,528 yards and 25 touchdowns and threw for 2,439 and 13 scores as a junior at Santa Margarita Catholic, said he'd prefer none of it.

"I want to be more Johnny Stanton than anyone else," he said this week as competition progressed among the 25 quarterbacks at the five-day Elite 11 finals.

Stanton is not alone in his battle. Nine of the Elite 11 finalists wear the label of dual-threat QB, not to mention Texas commit Tyrone Swoopes (Whitewright, Texas/Whitewright), who took a 78-spot dive in the ESPN 150 rankings to No. 100 after The Opening and was reclassified as an athlete.

Dual-threat vs. pocket passer

So much of how a player is classified in those two categories is based on how they're utilized in their offensive scheme. For example, if you're a great athlete, if you can move and run and force a defense to have to play 11-on-11 because of your feet, then your offense is going to showcase those strengths and you're going to be classified as a dual threat. That doesn't generalize you as a poor passer. In some cases, with some players, it can, but by and large, it does not.

And then if you look at pocket passers who aren't the same caliber of athletes, you can see a guy who needs to win with arm. He needs to be protected. It's about getting the ball out on time, working through progressions. So he's not the same athlete, and those guys are generally going to be stronger with their arm talent than with their athleticism.

Cooper Bateman is a prime example of a guy who happens to be a good athlete, but is a passer first in a scheme that accentuates his strengths as a passer. While he runs a good, straight-line time, he's not an elusive, dynamic guy with elite initial burst or quickness, like maybe you're going to see out of Tyrone Swoopes or Malik Zaire.

I will say this, Asiantii Woulard, Troy Williams, Anthony Jennings and J.T. Barrett are among the finest passers that we've seen in the dual-threat category in the past five or six classes. I would also argue that Woulard and Williams have as good of throwing mechanics and deliveries as anybody in this class.

-- Tom Luginbill, ESPN national recruiting director

On the surface, dual threat sounds great, implying the ability to throw and run. Pocket passer, the other QB classification, appears to signify a more one-dimensional, albeit traditional, player.

"You can't be upset that you're fast," said Florida State QB E.J. Manuel, a former dual-threat prospect and counselor this week to the high school quarterbacks in Redondo Beach. "You're a defense's worst nightmare if you're somebody who can take off and run."

The problem, as Stanton, Swoopes and Manuel and so many others know, is this: The perception exists that most guys can do one or the other proficiently -- run or throw -- but not both. Too many observers believe dual-threat quarterbacks lack polish.

"That's when it gets annoying," Manuel said. "Look, all these guys out here wouldn't be on this level if they couldn't throw. If you go out there and dice and dab a defense, nobody worries how you're labeled."

Most of the dual-threat quarterbacks at this event entered with a bit of a chip on their shoulders, set to prove to the doubters and media -- ESPN included -- that no label defines them.

"I'm a quarterback. That's it," said DeVante Kincade of Dallas Skyline.

Chew on this: Cooper Bateman, an Alabama pledge out of Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah, clocked the top 40-yard dash time, 4.58 seconds, among the Elite 11 finalists Thursday.

How could it be that Bateman, the No. 6-rated pocket passer, outran Swoopes, who rushed for more than 2,200 yards last year, Kincade, Stanton and LSU-bound Anthony Jennings of Marietta, Ga.?

Bateman has an idea. The labels mean little, he said. Others agree.

"I can run the ball when I need to," Jennings said, "but if you're a quarterback, you have to throw it."

Same kind of sentiment from Swoopes, who has rebounded, according to the coaches in California, from his poor passing performance at The Opening.

"I know I'm a good quarterback and can throw the ball as well as anyone else," Swoopes said.

Dual-threat QB Malik Zaire (Kettering, Ohio/Archbishop Alter) said he recognizes that different quarterbacks possess different strengths. He committed to Notre Dame over Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin, all of which catered to his style.

Still, Zaire said he sees little difference between dual-threat quarterbacks and pocket passers.

"We're 25 quarterbacks," Zaire said. "Everybody as a quarterback, these days, is athletic. You're a quarterback for a reason. All of this is a stereotype more than anything."

Somewhere in this discussion, according to Manuel, a fifth-year senior at Florida State, there stands a "pink elephant in the room."

Each of the 15 pocket passers here are white. Eight of the 10 others -- including Swoopes -- are black.

"Let's not lie about it, some people make it seem like it's a black-white thing," Manuel said, unsolicited, on the subject of race. "You can't ignore it. The labels are there. It is what it is. I don't think it's something that's going to go away, but I hope it does."

Stanton made his stance clear to colleges in the recruiting process: Don't bother, he and his coaches said, if you're not set on him at quarterback. It likely cost Stanton a shot at offers from hometown USC and UCLA, he said, in addition to Arizona State, which took a pledge from dual-threat Elite 11 finalist Joshua Dobbs of Alpharetta, Ga.

Labels create limits, Stanton said, and not just for quarterbacks. People label the Nebraska offense as lacking in ingenuity and polish. It's a poor description, Stanton said. The matching misconceptions helped make him a good fit at the school, Stanton said.

Manuel watched intently Thursday as the young quarterbacks fired strike after strike through targets in several hours of work at Redondo Union High School. He worked alongside them, unable to identify the throw of a dual-threat QB from that of a pocket passer.

"What I think," Manuel said, "is if you win games, you're a good quarterback."