Photo courtesy of Kyle Grantham
Stories like Thad Turner’s are why I love college football so very much. Players have the opportunity to blossom and grow under the development of their position coaches and coordinators.
A prime example of that is Thad Turner, a Marietta, Georgia native. He came into Ohio University’s football program in 2005 as a former first-team all-state wide receiver. After redshirting in 2005, he played sparingly in 2006, then was switched to cornerback during December of 2006. Head coach Frank Solich and defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow tried to convince him to make the switch, saying they needed more speed at the cornerback position.
At the time, Turner was skeptical of the switch, but decided to give it a try anyway. During the 2007 season, Turner struggled mightily at his new position. He was routinely beat in practices by opposing players in drills and struggled to make tackles in the open field. You wouldn’t have been blamed if you thought Turner should have stayed on offense after all.
Then, in the 2008 season the light came on. The Marietta native made his coaches look brilliant, posting a season that made him the most improved player on the entire Ohio football roster. Statisically, it might not have been the greatest year, but he did lead the team in one of the most important categories for a defensive back—pass breakups—with six. Better yet, he had his best performance of the season against the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio. Turner played like a man-possessed, making plays all over the football field for the Bobcats. He notched seven tackles and three pass breakups(unofficial) in that game, making life miserable for Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie and company.
The Bobcats nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history, but eventually fell to the third-ranked Buckeyes 26-14.
His spectacular performance against Ohio State was just the tip of the iceberg. He also had a huge game against the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston, Illinois. The redshirt junior posted five tackles, recovered a fumble, and had two pass breakups! It was yet another impressive performance by Turner and yet another indication that coaches made the right move after all.
If you watch his highlight video of one on one drills on YouTube—you’ll see that Turner is no longer getting pushed around by opposing players. He’s much more physical at the line of scrimmage and he’s excellent at re-routing receivers and not allowing them to have the inside release. Check the video out below!
Standing at 5’11, 179 lbs. Turner refuses to get outmuscled and plays much bigger than his size. His physicality combined with his speed(4.43 40 yard dash) will likely make him an attractive prospect for NFL scouts for the 2010 NFL Draft. If he keeps improving at the rate he has, the possibilities are endless for Turner.
Spring ball begins on Monday, March 30th for the Bobcats. Luckily, I had the chance to interview him in a Q and A session through e-mail about a variety of topics—ranging from his improvement on the gridiron to his philosophy on women. Below is the interview and I hope you enjoy it!
Q: You had a spectacular season last year and were one of Ohio's most improved players on the gridiron. What made the difference?
A: I think it was just a matter of time. I never doubted that I was a good player and I knew that I would have a good year whether I was playing wide receiver or cornerback. It has been a rough road because one of the big reasons I committed to OU was a promise I would play early. Unfortunately, my performance was delayed due to early injuries and a position change. But I never lost my faith in my skills. It was only a matter of time for it to all come together.
Q: Your position coach is cornerbacks Coach David Brown. Would you like to tell us about your relationship with him?
A: Coach Brown is a great coach. I thought that we were gonna lose him to the N.F.L. but luckily we were able to keep him at least through my last year. But what makes Coach Brown so good is he always looks for ways to make our cornerback group better in ways where we can be game changers. He is cool and very relaxed which is a good change in coaching.
Q: Who is your favorite football player of all-time and why?
The electrifying running back that needs no introduction, Mr. Barry Sanders.
A: Barry Sanders. In Pop Warner football I played running back and looking at him on Sundays was an absolute thrill. I thought he was untouchable. I hated to see him retire early.
Q: Are there any players out there that you try and model your game after? How so?
Baltimore Ravens' ball-hawking safety Ed Reed is one of the players that Turner tries to model his game after. The hall-of-famer is an excellent role model for any DB in the game today.
A: Of course Deion Sanders, he was a playmaker and was truly feared. Also Ed Reed, he is a ball hog and always seems to score. I love exciting players and how they entertain the crowd by making plays with a loud personality that backs it up. That is totally up my alley. Lastly Ray Lewis, I love hearing him on TV while he plays. If I played with him I know my intensity would be elevated so much more.
Q: You were a receiver in high school. What was the toughest part of the transition from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side of the ball?
A: Not getting the ball as much. I like the feeling with the ball in my hands and having the opportunity to score. I guess I need to create more turnovers.
Q: You were simply dialed in during the Ohio State game last fall--a spectacular performance where it seemed like you could do no wrong. You only got beat on one play that I could recall, but the receiver dropped the ball. Was that one of those moments where you were "in the zone"?
Ohio's Thad Turner makes sure that Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie can't catch the pigskin. The Ohio State game was one of the best performances of Turner's career.
A: I was ready for that game years in advance so I was so pumped out. I was in a zone and my intensity level was at an all-time high. Actually I learned a lot about how I can perform at my greatest. I learned that I play better when I am almost obnoxiously intense, but it helps me stay focused and play hard.
Q: You're from Georgia. You've grown up around that southern home cookin'. What's your favorite food to eat?
A: My dad makes the best ribs and steak ever. I’m going to get a grill this summer and learn all the secrets.
Q: You have some rather hilarious takes on women on Facebook. Could you discuss your philosophies about women with me?
A: I have read somewhere that 90% of marriages in the N.F.L. fail in the first year. So I feel that since I’ve had a dream of going to the N.F.L. since I was a little boy why should I split my rewards in half within a year. So if I do find that special person they will be signing a prenuptial agreement. This is all being said, if god willing, I’m lucky enough to make it to the N.F.L.
Q: Imagine that you are the general manager of the Detroit Lions. Who do you take in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and why?
Thad really likes quarterback Matthew Stafford from the University of Georgia.
A: The quarterback position means so much to a team. I like the way Matthew Stafford(Georgia) plays. If he has a rookie year like Matt Ryan(Atlanta Falcons) that would be phenomenal. But I also have a problem putting so much pressure on a rookie QB. You can always pick up a quality quarterback through free agency every year. Last year it was Brett Farve, this year it could be Garcia or even the most exciting QB to date, Michael Vick.
Q: What qualities do you think make for the best offensive and defensive coordinators in college football?
Thad really likes University of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. He's one of the most passionate and intense coaches in college football today.
A: I think that attention to detail is very important. I really like University of Texas defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp. He is so intense and gets his players in a position to make a play.
Q: Have you heard about any NFL scouts or teams buzzing about your performance last season?
A: There is some buzz. I just want to have a great season this year and hopefully I will be blessed with the opportunity to make it to the NFL.
Q: Lastly, after football is done, what do you plan to do with your life? Give me a detailed description if you could.
A: I think it is important to do what I love. I love football so I want to be a college football coach. I’ve always had a dream to take a small historical black college and build it up to win a national championship.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
I’ve been away from the keyboard for quite some time, but trust me when I say it’s great to be back in the swing of things. My internship at Athens Community Center is finally winding down and I’m going to be free more often to write more football articles.
I’ve decided to kick it off by writing about some of the nation’s top college football recruits from the 2nd annual Under Armour All-America Game(January 4, 2009). The U.S. Army All-American Game is the more popular high school all-star game, but Under Armour has shown in recent years that there is plenty of talent to display in another game. I like it because it gives more prospects the opportunity to showcase their skills and talents before a nationally televised audience.
Let’s get down to business shall we! I like to go in-depth with my analysis of prospects so I’m going to start with my favorite position in football—the quarterbacks.
Here are a number of quarterback prospects from the 2nd Annual Under Armour All-America Game that caught my attention:
UCLA QB Richard Brehaut will be exciting to watch blossom in offensive coordinator Norm Chow's system.
Richard Brehaut-QB-Rancho Cucomonga, CA.(Los Osos High School)-When Brehaut committed to UCLA it was big news and why wouldn’t it be? He was named to the Elite 11 QB camp which honors the nation’s top quarterback prospects in the country each year. The golden-armed gunslinger also happens to be the next signal-caller in line waiting to be groomed by two of the finest quarterback coaches in the country (UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow). Brehaut was one of the more impressive quarterbacks in this contest.
One of the biggest things that sticks out about him is his excellent ability to place the ball on short and intermediate routes. The inside slant pass seems to be his bread and butter. He operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun in his highlights, so it will be interesting to see how often Norm Chow puts Brehaut under center.
He has excellent footwork in the pocket and while I wouldn’t call him a “true dual-threat” the guy makes excellent decisions on when to run with the football and can pick up decent yardage at times.
During his junior year, he had 90 attempts on the ground for 596 yards(6.6 average) and five touchdowns. He is excellent about setting his feet before he throws and is great about throwing off his front foot when given the proper amount of time. He puts excellent velocity on his passes and can really zip the ball into tight spaces. His junior season he completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,248 yards and 22 touchdowns, while throwing eight interceptions. He graduated from high school early and is already enrolled at UCLA so he can participate in spring ball for the Bruins, which begins on Thursday, April 2nd.
He’ll likely compete for the starting job right away, since the Bruins are in dire need of a quarterback. It will be exciting to watch him grow and develop in Norm Chow’s scheme. I also think Rick Neuheisel is one of the best developers of quarterbacks in college football—his prized pupil was Cody Pickett at Washington—who made a name as one of the best quarterbacks in college football history.
Bruins fans should be very excited to see this top-notch talent in powder blue this spring!
USC QB Matt Barkley is looking to continue the proud tradition of excellent quarterbacks for the Men of Troy.
Matt Barkley-QB-Santa Ana, CA.(Mater Dei High School)-This guy is without a doubt the most heralded recruit of the 2009 recruiting class. After watching him play in the Under Armour game it’s easy to see why he’s racked up all the attention, hopefully he doesn’t let it go to his head. Rivals.com rates him as a five-star prospect and the number one quarterback in the country. He was named the 2007 Gatorade Player of the Year after completing 62 percent of his passes for 3,560 yards, while tossing in 35 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His senior season he struggled mightily, only completing 54 percent of his passes for 2,877 yards while throwing 22 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He’ll definitely need to cut down on those interceptions if he wants to see the field sometime in the next few years for Coach Pete Carroll at USC. He’s been enrolled at USC since January of this year so he’ll be ready to compete in spring practice. He won’t be tossed into the fire early because it seems as if Aaron Corp will be the starter for the Trojans, if he can’t snag the job Mitch Mustain will likely be the man under center. Barkley will have plenty of time to learn the offense and get adjusted to the speed of the college game.
He had an excellent performance in the Under Armour game, completing 11 of his 22 pass attempts for 237 yards and two touchdowns, earning co-MVP honors. He connected with big-play receiver Marlon Brown on a slant pass the first play from scrimmage and Brown turned on the jets and coasted to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown. Barkley also threw a beautifully lofted fade pass into the hands of a streaking Jamal Reid for a 35-yard touchdown. From a scouting perspective, one of Barkley’s biggest assets is his ability to freeze the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes. When a quarterback his age is that good at using his eyes, you can tell he’s spent a lot of time in the film room. His play-action ball fakes are a thing of beauty as well. When it comes to studying in the film room, you can tell he’s done his homework.
He’s a pure pocket passer who has an excellent setup and extremely smooth release. He has excellent ball placement and is very accurate with the ball when he wants to be. The kid has the total package personality(excellent in his interviews), grades(3.77 GPA), and has won nearly every award imaginable—the biggest question mark for Barkley is will he not let all the attention and hype get to him. I think he probably had a case of that during his senior season after he was patted on the back with all the awards. If he stays focused and doesn’t get complacent I think Barkley could have a very bright future ahead of him at USC. He will definitely need to work hard to live up to all the hype and hoopla surrounding him—just ask Mitch Mustain and Jimmy Clausen.
Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert figures to be the next great QB for the Longhorns.
Garrett Gilbert-QB-Austin, TX(Lake Travis High School)-It’s not very often that a five-star recruit is overshadowed, especially at the quarterback position, but Garrett Gilbert has definitely flown under the radar due to all the attention given to Matt Barkley. Make no mistake about it folks, Gilbert is a special talent. The more I watch him on film, the more I fall in love with his game. He might not have received quite as many awards, but you could easily make the case for Garrett Gilbert being the top quarterback in the 2009 class. He’s excellent at improvising in the pocket and keeping the play alive. Another one of his strengths is his pocket presence—he can side-step pressure up the middle with ease and step up in the pocket and complete the pass. One of his biggest strengths is his uncanny accuracy—his ball placement is one of the best of any QB in the 2009 class. He simply places the ball where only the receiver can make a play on it.
He throws a beautiful looking ball with excellent rotation on the football when it’s released from his hand. One of the most beautiful passes I watched on his highlights on YouTube was when he settled his feet at the 45 yard line on the right hash, and sent a beautifully lofted ball to the left side of the field, where it landed over his receiver’s outside(left) shoulder and into his hands at the 8 yard line for a leaping reception. When it comes to passing stats, few quarterbacks will ever put up the numbers as outrageous as Gilbert’s junior campaign. In 2007, he completed 64.7 of his passes for a dazzling 4,826 yards, while firing 52 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. In terms of running, he’s definitely not a “true dual-threat” but he’s deceptively fast in the open field and can gain 10-15 yards when he needs to. For somebody who is listed at 6’4, 205 lbs. Gilbert is very nimble.
His junior year he rushed 96 times for 400 yards, scoring six touchdowns on the ground. He has the genes of an elite athlete, his dad Gale Gilbert was a former NFL quarterback. Not surprisingly he was named to the prestigious Elite 11 QB camp as well as a junior. He also led his team to a state title during his junior season, despite suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery in the off-season. Gilbert is easily one of my favorite quarterbacks in the 2009 class and I realize that Colt McCoy is one of the best quarterbacks in Texas Longhorn football history, but Gilbert will likely be the next great one in line. Texas fans have every reason to be excited, Vince Young, Colt McCoy, and the future—Garrett Gilbert. The kid is a truly special talent who has a chance to do great things at Texas and beyond.
photo of LSU QB Russell Shepard courtesy of rivals.com
Russell Shepard-QB-Austin, TX(Cypress Ridge High School)- If Matt Barkley is the most hyped recruit of the 2009 class, then Russell Shepard might just be right beside him. In terms of pure athleticism, there probably isn’t a better overall athlete than Shepard in the 2009 class. He ran a 10.7-100 meter dash time, 21.5-200 meter dash, posted a 23 feet 7 inch long jump, and also ran a blistering 4.44-40 yard dash. I think Shepard is the best athlete in this class, but as a quarterback, he’s extremely overrated at this point and needs a ton of work. In the Under Armour game, he would drop back and look for a reason to run.
He’s definitely a run first type of quarterback and I don’t like that one bit in a quarterback. After watching his highlights on YouTube—it’s easy to see why he loves to run so much. He’s excellent at improvising in the pocket and utilizing his legs to escape pressure. As an ESPN scouting report so adeptly put it, he plays with a lot of “wiggle” to him, meaning he’s extremely good at juking defenders in the open field. His running style is extremely smooth and he glides along the field with ease. He is excellent at finding cutback lanes and can maintain top speed while cutting. He’s really fast and is blessed with excellent acceleration, which makes him impossible to catch once he beats a few defenders. His uncanny field vision combined with his blend of speed make him a threat to take the rock the distance every time he gets his hands on it.
During his senior season he ran for more yards(1,946 yards) than he passed for(1,843 yards). He piled up 28 rushing touchdowns and passed for 20 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. The biggest issue with Shepard as a quarterback are his accuracy issues, he only completed 55 percent of his passes in his senior season. He looks to run too quickly when pressured and doesn’t have the patience to wait in the pocket and make a throw. He reminds me of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in so many ways. He’s clearly a better runner than a passer and I can’t see him making enough improvements to make it as a quarterback in the NFL over the next few years. USC wanted to use him as a Reggie Bush type of player and not at quarterback. Texas told him that if he didn’t win quarterback job they could use him at a variety of positions. Throughout his high school career, he posted gaudy numbers on the ground, rushing for 66 touchdowns while only passing for 32 touchdowns.
His future is at receiver in my opinion—line him up at several different areas of the field and utilize his running ability on jet sweep plays and occasional quarterback draws. Coaches at LSU should be creative in finding a variety of ways to get the pigskin in his hands. He’s currently enrolled at LSU and has been participating in spring practice. The Tigers began their spring ball on Thursday March 12th. Apparently he’s been taking reps at quarterback, but I don’t think he’ll progress enough to beat out Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee. He enrolled at LSU because he felt he had the best chance to compete for the starting quarterback position there. I think if he had a change of heart to play receiver, it would be in his best interest and LSU football’s best interest as well. I doubt that’s likely to change. I think LSU coaches will likely use him in special packages as a true freshman—getting him out on the field to utilize his playmaking ability. I would say it’s likely that they use him on a number of quarterback draws and other running plays, but we’ll see what happens this fall.
Shepard is a world-class athlete who can make plays with his legs at any given moment on the gridiron. If he moves to receiver I think he could recognize his full potential on the Division 1 level and beyond, but if he stays at quarterback I think he’ll just be another over hyped quarterback who depends on his legs entirely too much. In the end, only time will tell.