Todd Hartley: Slashing into the spotlight | AspenTimes.com

Todd Hartley: Slashing into the spotlight

Incredibly astute and dare I say fanatical readers of this column just might have noted that my occupation is listed in the masthead on page A2 of this paper as proofreader/production. I am also writing this, for what it’s worth, so I must therefore also be a /columnist. And on occasion, I help out around the front office, making me also a /receptionist.

As you may imagine, with so many titles to my credit I’ve always been a big fan of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell “Slash” Stewart, the NFL’s original quarterback/running back/wide receiver. What we don’t share in athleticism, fame, wealth, good looks and intellect, we more than make up for in our ability to multitask, and we both went to college in Colorado, so I’ve always considered us sort of kindred spirits.

Stewart was among the first of a very special breed to successfully make the transition from college to the NFL. He’s what was once known as a “good college quarterback,” which is a difficult label to attach to a kid. What it implies is that the player in question is a great athlete and can run the wishbone to perfection, but he lacks something, be it height, arm strength or football smarts, that he needs to make it as a pro.

Typically, good college QBs are drafted in about the sixth round, play a year or two on special teams and then go get a nominal coaching job at their alma mater. But Stewart, with the help of others like Jeff Blake and Charlie Batch, has helped to carve a niche out for these athletes in the NFL ranks.

Since Steelers coach Bill Cowher first began utilizing Stewart as a triple threat and then ultimately installed him as the starting QB, a number of good college QBs have appeared on the NFL landscape.

Daunte Culpepper and Steve McNair were obvious choices to make it in the pros, since both are among the biggest people on the field whether they can throw the ball or not. Less obvious, however, have been players like Quincy Carter of the Dallas Cowboys and Akili Smith of the Bengals, both of whom have been asked to run teams at a very young age, something which would have been unheard of before Stewart.

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The ascension of the good college QB on the pro level peaked last year when the Atlanta Falcons made Michael Vick of Virginia Tech the first pick in the draft. And now, apparently, drafting good college QBs is all the rage. The St. Louis Rams picked up Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska and hope to employ him as a wideout in their bid to get back to the Super Bowl, and most interestingly of all, the Steelers took Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El in the second round of the 2002 draft.

In drafting Randle El, Pittsburgh has brought the whole multitasking idea full circle, and whenever they do get him into the offense, they’ll be able to team him with not just Stewart but also wideout Hines Ward, who played QB in college as well. With a little bit of creativity from Cowher and his coaching staff, this could be the most revolutionary offense to come along in a while.

But as happy as I am that the good college QB has found a place in the NFL, I can’t help but be a little saddened by the fact that Stewart and Co. broke the barrier a little too late.

As I mentioned before, I went to school in Colorado, though admittedly not in Boulder, and so I’m a little partial to college QBs from in state. And as much as I like Stewart, he is not my favorite Buffalo QB of all time. His predecessor, Darian Hagan, led CU to a national championship in 1990 and to this day is a favorite of many Buffalo fans.

Hagan was among the greatest college QBs I’ve ever seen. And don’t even get me started about Hagan’s counterpart at Air Force during the late ?80s, Dee Dowis, the most sensational white option quarterback you’ve never heard of.

Sadly, both Dowis and Hagan, playing in the pre-Stewart era, couldn’t find room in the NFL and went the way of other wishbone wizards like Tony Rice, Jamielle Holloway and Tommy Frazier, which is to say they more or less dropped off the face of the Earth. It’s a shame, because all of them, save maybe Dowis, who was about the size of the average NFL lineman’s leg, could have made a contribution in the pros and should have been given the chance.

[Todd Hartley, a former first-round draft pick of the Orioles, Panthers and Blues, writes this drivel every Friday in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com]

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