It’s hard to imagine a quarterback being a better fit for Josh Heupel’s offense than Hendon Hooker was last season. Hooker mastered the deep ball, was incredibly efficient by not turning the ball over and was able to turn bad plays into positive gains with his running ability. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what other quarterbacks in the rich history of Tennessee football could have done in Heupel’s modern passing attack.
Looking back on recent history, i.e. the past 25 years, the Vols have had a handful of quarterbacks that would have also likely flourished under Heupel. The criteria for a Heupel-friendly quarterback would have to include the ability to convert a high-percentage of deep passes, the ability to process information quickly in the Vols’ up-tempo offense and, lastly, some running ability to keep defenses off balance via broken passing plays and the option.
Here are the top six quarterbacks of the last 25 years that would excelled under Heupel:
No. 6 – Tyler Bray
Unlike most of the other quarterbacks on this list, there’s a limit to what Bray could do on the ground. He wasn’t a great runner. However, his ability to get the ball out quickly would be a huge advantage. Bray had a quick release and a strong arm that could easily make all of the throws in Heupel’s offense.
Why pick Bray over former Vols Erik Ainge and Casey Clausen? Bray was slightly more athletic than those two, and his delivery was just a bit quicker. However, Ainge and Clausen would have both had success under Heupel.
No. 5 – Jonathan Crompton
Coaching changes and indecision amongst the staff undermined much of Crompton’s career with Tennessee football. However, he showed how good he could be towards the second half of his senior season in 2009 under a strong offensive coach. In his one season at Tennessee, Lane Kiffin got the best out of Crompton. I’m willing to bet that Heupel would have done the same thing.
Crompton would have benefitted from Heupel’s system that is predicated on reading safeties and not overly complicating things, as had been the case earlier in Crompton’s career. He could also run and had a quick release. Had he been under Heupel at the beginning of his college tenure, he would have had a different career as a Vol.
No. 4 – Peyton Manning
I’m well aware that Manning was never considered a great runner in college or the NFL. That’s why he’s not at the top of this list. However, when it comes to decision-making, overall accuracy and the ability to lead a team, there isn’t a quarterback on this list that is any better in those criteria. Still, Manning’s lack of a running threat would limit his effectiveness.
If Heupel had Manning, there would undoubtedly be some adjustments to capitalize on his strengths. However, if Heupel hand-picked the perfect quarterback to run his system, Manning doesn’t quite check off all the boxes.
No. 3 – Joshua Dobbs
Here is where the athleticism starts to creep in. Dobbs could run when he needed to and be a threat when the Vols ran the option, which is something Manning and Bray wouldn’t have been under Heupel. Dobbs had plenty of arm strength and good accuracy. He also had similar leadership skills, as Hooker did last season, which would benefit Tennessee football in high-tempo, clutch situations.
After seeing Dobbs hang around in the NFL and finally start for the Tennessee Titans last season, it’s hard not to wonder how much better he could have been with a better coach, like Heupel, during his formative years.
No. 2 – Heath Shuler
Shuler had all of the physical skills to lead Heupel’s offense. He had a cannon for an arm, could make quick reads and was an incredible runner. Shuler would have been an incredible quarterback in a number of modern-day offenses. Simply put, he was ahead of his time. College coaches in the early 1990’s just didn’t take enough advantage of quarterbacks’ ability to run.
Shuler’s overall legacy is somewhat underwhelming because he was ahead of his time and suffered a debilitating foot injury when he went to the NFL. However, don’t be fooled. Shuler had more than enough ability to be a top-flight NFL quarterback, especially in today’s offenses.
No. 1 – Tee Martin
Martin would have been absolutely ideal for Heupel’s offense. He threw one of the most beautiful deep balls in Tennessee football history, right along with Hooker. Martin could run and also was always mindful of not making big mistakes, much like Hooker.
Martin was underutilized at times at Tennessee because the Vols had such a good defense. That wouldn’t be the case under Heupel, who would have throughly utilized Martin’s skills. As far as a perfect fit for Tennessee’s current offense, it would be hard to find anyone better than Martin. He was practically built to run an offense like Heupel’s.