It's obvious that Paul Smith will be the quarterback of choice for 2007 at Tulsa. Smith has been remarkably durable in two previous years as Tulsa's starter. Other than the season opener against Minnesota in 2005, few passes have been thrown to Tulsa receivers that did not come out of Smith's right hand. A tough hit gave Smith a rest for the second half and allowed David Johnson his baptism of fire in college football.
What kind of a safety net does Tulsa have this year to either rest Smith or replace him if injured? What if the Hurricane just wants to play with the opponent's collective mind?
Meet the aforementioned David Johnson. Certainly well rested, but with a new lease on football under the new coaching staff.
First, the obvious. Johnson sees a difference in the offense this year versus last year. Johnson saw action in five games in 2006. He connected on 64-percent of his fourteen passes, the longest completion being 59 yards (which led all TU quarterbacks). Johnson had a 195.86 efficiency rating.
Johnson compared the new Tulsa offense with last year's.
"It's a little more up-tempo," he explained. "Obviously, we're going to be throwing the ball more than we did last year. We brought a lot of good players in to fit the system the coaches want to build. We just have to work through the bumps, and we'll be good."
Spring practice was kindergarten as far as the spread offense goes. Where is the team now as far as efficiency in the offense? Do the players react or think first?
"We've been working all summer to keep up with the learning process. I think for the most part, a lot of the guys, at least the ones and the twos, are getting comfortable with the base stuff."
Is this more of a gambling offense than last year?
"No. I think we just take our opportunities when they're there," Johnson added. "Take our shots like every offense does. You build in your big plays and the shots you want to take downfield."
To effectively run the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the pace of practice is very brisk. Johnson believes the speedy tempo helps the players maintain their concentration level.
"I think it does. It also helps out with the offense. It keeps everyone focused and on task, because it's more upbeat. That's the kind of tempo we want to create. But, we want the games to kind of seem slow [to us]."
Tulsa enters the 2007 season with a luxury it hasn't had in recent years. In 2003, there was James Killian and a skinny freshman named Paul Smith. Kilian's collarbone injury gave Smith a chance to record his first college win against San Jose State to end the regular season.
In 2004, Kilian held up physically while throwing every pass in the season, save one by Jake Hammond to close out Hammond's nomadic career. Smith got the redshirt year he missed in 2003 and was set to take over the team in 2005. Johnson ascended to number one back up in 2005, appearing in five games and hitting 68-percent of 41 passes.
Then enter Clark Harrell, younger brother of Graham Harrell at Texas Tech. The highly touted signal-caller threw for almost 4,000 yards as a senior at Ennis (TX) High School before taking a redshirt year at TU last season.
Harrell's goals for this season are simple.
"Really just to get better as the season progresses," he described. "To learn the offense better. Maybe get experience in a couple of games. To get better for next year when Paul's gone."
Tulsa enters the season with a luxury it has not had in years -- three playable quarterbacks. Smith and Johnson are obviously game tested and can be effective. Harrell comes off a redshirt with size and enthusiasm. He is a coach's son just like Smith and Johnson, meaning prepared between the ears.
As a high school senior, Smith completed 58-percent of his passes for 3,800 yards. Johnson completed 61-percent of his passes covering 1,640 yards during his senior year in a run-oriented offense, and Harrell hit on 70-percent of his passes covering 3,900 yards in his high school swan song,. While the issue, as well as the competition, is not high school anymore, Tulsa has more options at quarterback than any year in recent memory.
In 2003, the only players other than Paul Smith and James Kilian to throw passes for TU were Jermaine Landrum and Monroe Nichols -- wide receivers that threw one pass each. Fast forward to 2004, and the only non-Kilian passer was Jake Hammond, who threw one pass. In 2005, wideout Idris Moss threw one ball, while Smith and Johnson did the rest, with Smith throwing 364 times.
Last year, Paul Smith fired off 350 passes, Johnson 14 and Drew Westling one. Durability is needed at quarterback, because consistency is needed at quarterback. The point is not platooning, it is insurance, options, and potential.