If John Chiles is no threat to overtake Colt McCoy at quarterback, his athleticism hasn't stopped Texas partisans from speculating about his role in the offense since he stepped on campus last August -- after all, if Chiles isn't polished enough to root out an entrenched veteran as the starter, maybe he can be, like, the next Tim Tebow off the bench? No pressure or anything. Look at it this way, John: at least they didn't say Vince Young this time.
Actually, Chiles already did the Tebow-in-the-wings thing to an extent as a true freshman, when rushed for 200 yards in spot duty, scampered for a touchdown in the Holiday Bowl (below) and, depending on who you ask, opened up the offense for its fourth quarter explosion against Nebraska by merely stepping onto the field for one play. Texas fielded one of the most prolific attacks in the history of the game in 2005 by putting its best athlete in the shotgun and letting him operate the zone read and run around in space, and if Chiles isn't quite Vince Young, the thinking goes, the Horns could still be more productive with an "extra" running threat on every play.
Last year, watching Chiles on the bench as McCoy tossed 18 interceptions -- more than half of them in the losses to Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M and the wild near-disasters against heavy underdogs Nebraska and Oklahoma State -- was just frustrating, for Texas coaches as wall as fans, if the the first week of practice is any indication:
He's not a threat to take over for McCoy. It's just that Brown says Chiles is just too good of an athlete not to get on the field. And McCoy says he loves the idea of adding a new weapon to the Longhorns' offensive arsenal.
"John and Colt are two of our best players," Brown said this week as Texas opened training camp for its Aug. 30 home opener against Florida Atlantic. "We are committed to trying to get Colt and John on the field at the same time."
That means a busy training camp for Chiles, who will also continue to work as the No. 2 quarterback. Brown stressed that Chiles will not be giving up his backup QB duties."I told John when he reported Sunday, 'We're going to see if you're in shape or not,' " offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He's getting a bunch of reps at several different places."
Davis has a history of finding ways to get multiple uses out of multitalented players, going all the way back to his days as a Georgia assistant where he helped develop Hines Ward as the do-it-all quarterback for the Bulldogs.
Brown and Davis say they're still developing a package of offensive plays to use Chiles in multiple ways. They didn't work on it in the spring to allow Chiles more time developing into a solid backup QB.
It's anybody's guess what that actually means, other than occasional doses of Chiles running the read option, aka the "Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw" that should surprise no one as long as he remains an obvious liability as a passer: Chiles was a dreadful 1-for-9 on actual passing attempts last year, a small enough sample size to warrant plenty of "yeah, but he was only a freshman" and "still better than freshman Juice Williams" rejoinders, which are true. But as Limas Sweed's injury-induced absence proved last year, McCoy is desperate for a deep threat, especially if he has to assume the role of focal point with Jamaal Charles now in the NFL and no threat of Sweed's caliber downfield. Quan Cosby is a solid enough go-to/possession guy, but he's only averaged around 11 yards per catch each of the last two years, and despite the glut of young talent, no one else in the receiver corps has proven himself worthy of more than a reception or two per game of any distance.
So it's good news for Chiles fetishists that, as much as he's working on his part of the quarterback packages, coaches are open this time around to taking advantage of his potential as a receiver:
“I get a little bit of time with John Chiles every day. Quite a bit. He’s doing a nice job. I think you can definitely see spurts where he’s very comfortable there,” receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “Working on the little things is always a challenge for any wide receiver. John taking a bunch of snaps at quarterback and then coming out in certain packages and playing wideout, it’s just going to be a learning process for him.”
It's easy to overlook that McCoy, despite his reputation as a "gritty" player rather than a great athlete, had almost 700 yards rushing last year before sacks, and has almost 1,000 before sacks in two years. Either that's a sign that somebody like Chiles could do some real damage with his legs back there, or that McCoy needs more, better options to get the ball out of his hands. If it's the latter, Chiles could be the explosive missing link the Horns badly need on the perimeter.