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August 3, 2009
Countdown 2009: Johnson holds top spot
With August camp less than a week away, it's time to break down Texas A&M position by position so you know what to look for in the upcoming week. Last season the big story before training camp was the battle at quarterback, but with Stephen McGee in camp in San Antonio as a rookie for the Dallas Cowboys the job in Aggieland falls to junior Jerrod Johnson…and there is no competition for the job anymore.
With McGee gone, all eyes will be on Johnson. In the spring, Johnson was head and shoulders above anyone else on the field. Granted that sophomore Ryan Tannehill was held out of contact drills after offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, but it's nearly impossible to think that Tannehill will be able to knock off Johnson as the starting quarterback.
Tannehill, however, was basically named the backup in the spring despite not throwing a pass in live drills. Head coach Mike Sherman basically took Tannehill out of the running as an every down receiver, where he broke freshman school records in receptions and receiving yards last season, because no one seemed to step up into that role.
The hope was that redshirt freshman Tommy Dorman would be that quarterbacks, but after a disappointing spring Dorman has a lot of ground to make up on Tannehill to put his name in the mix. It can definitely be done, however, especially with Tannehill's abilities as a receiver making it tempting to move him back for every down. But Sherman has made it clear he won't risk injury if he feels Tannehill is the best backup to Johnson.
The Aggies have two other quarterbacks in redshirt freshman Kevin Westerman and senior Jeff Wood, both walk-ons. Wood moved back to quarterback after playing tight end last season, and decided to return to the team after graduating when he was approached by the coaching staff to come back as a punter as well.
THE VETERAN: Jerrod Johnson
Johnson might not have been the starter coming out of August camp last season as he began the year behind McGee, but Johnson started 10 games after McGee injured his throwing shoulder in the second game of the season against New Mexico and again against Army in the fourth game. Johnson went on to throw for 2,435 yards (fifth-most in school history), 21 touchdowns (most in school history) and only 10 interceptions with a 59.5-percent completion rate (sixth-best in school history).
This season, Johnson won't be looking over his shoulder to see if McGee was healthy enough to jump back into the lineup and he'll have a complete season of being a starter under his belt. He'll also have an arsenal at his disposal at the skill positions and a deeper and possibly improved offensive line blocking for him. All in all, Johnson could be poised for a huge and possibly record-breaking season.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON: Tommy Dorman
Although it's apparent that Johnson will be the starter, right now there is a sizeable gap between Tannehill and Dorman for the backup spot. And that's without Tannehill taking a single live snap in spring drills.
If the Aggies are to move Tannehill back to receiver where he shattered freshman records in 2008 as an every down player, then the most important person at quarterback may very well be Dorman. If he can prove that he can handle being the team's backup, then it's much more likely that Tannehill becomes one of Johnson's favorite targets on the field instead of the man signaling him the plays from the sideline.
Throughout his A&M career, Johnson has been the quarterback with the most buzz because of his arm strength, size and ability to move in and out of the pocket. But footwork and throwing motions have always been a setback for him.
Quarterbacks coach Tom Rossley, however, has worked a lot with Johnson over the past season and in the spring he looked like a different player. With experience and poise now on his side as well as the physical tools, Johnson could break through and become one of the top signal callers in a conference loaded with big name quarterbacks.
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