On Friday afternoon, in a small room circled shoulder-to-shoulder by some of the biggest names in college football, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason sat just to the right of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Eason rushed for minus-45 yards last year.
Hurts rushed for 954 yards last year.
“That’s the cool thing about football, that every guy has their own skill set,” Eason said during the media session of the annual Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State University. “I think that’s cool to see the wide range of different quarterbacks.”
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There are more and more Hurts and fewer and fewer Easons in college football, and one of the reasons is that Eason’s Bulldogs finished 8-5 last year while Hurts helped the Crimson Tide reach the national title game.
“I’m becoming more and more convinced that if you don’t have an athletic player at quarterback, you are only going to go so far,” ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill said. “The teams that are playing for conference championships or vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff are great on defense and have a dynamic player under center.”
Maybe nowhere is that changing of the guard more stark than at this annual gathering, which is presided over by former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and his sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli. While Archie Manning was known for his feet, Peyton and Eli decidedly were not. Each of Archie’s two professional-playing sons won two Super Bowl rings on the strength of their pocket passing and nothing else.
Now, for four days every summer, Peyton and Eli help coach nearly 1,000 high school age quarterbacks who more and more are in the mold of Hurts, athletes who play the position with their feet almost as much as with their arms.
“People will ask me, ‘Where do you think Peyton and Eli would go to college if they were coming out getting recruited right now?’ ” Archie Manning said. “And I don’t know the answer to that.”
Of course, if Peyton and Eli were playing high school football now, they would be running a much different system than they did at the time. Archie Manning learned that when his grandson Arch, now a quarterback at the Newman School in New Orleans just like his uncles, came to him for advice.
“I told him what I have always told young quarterbacks was that one thing that is really important is huddle presence, be in charge, call the play, control your huddle,” Archie Manning. “He goes, ‘We don’t ever huddle.’ I go, ‘Man, I’m old.’ ”
The future of the pro-style quarterback in college football is not simply a theoretical argument at South Carolina.
“I’m definitely more of a pocket passer than a runner,” Gamecocks sophomore starter Jake Bentley said. “Obviously, you can tell that when I play.”
Bentley started the last seven games of the 2016 season for South Carolina. He threw for 1,420 yards and rushed for minus-15.
“Everyone wants the guys who are really explosive running, and if that works for their scheme, it works. But I definitely think there is always going to be a place for guys that can do their damage in the pocket, but I also think those guys have to be able to make plays with their feet,” Bentley said.
Bentley is one of 43 college quarterbacks serving as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this year. He is joined by the fleet-footed likes of Hurts and Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning Lamar Jackson and statuesque slingers like Eason and Arkansas’ Austin Allen.
“In college, they are doing more read option and things, but you have to be able to throw the ball, you have to be able to complete the ball; and there are still quite a few quarterbacks who are pocket passers. You have to do both now,” Eli Manning said. “We are all for athletes and being able to extend plays and make plays when things break down and run the football. I’m jealous of the guys who can take off and run for 20 yards, I promise you, but you still have to be able to throw the ball.”