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September 1, 2008Coming out of spring practice, Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher insisted there were three quarterbacks who had a shot at the starting job.
While his pronounced that Drew Weatherford, Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson were all equal and that the winner would be decided during August practices, nobody gave Richardson a legitimate shot.
That is no longer the case.
Shortly after preseason practices began, it became apparent that neither Weatherford nor Ponder were jumping out to any sort of a lead. Meanwhile, Richardson has continued to improve by leaps and bounds and has been drawing most of the raves from the coaching staff. In fact, based on the recent scrimmages and comments from coaches and players, an argument can be made that the sophomore signal-caller may have pulled ahead of the competition.
"He impressed me very much," Fisher said. "I keep saying that kid impresses me more and more every day. There are certain guys when they play they do things right, and that's what he's learned to do. He understands how to play quarterback, not just the physical skills, but now he's beating you with his mind and really understanding.
"There are things involved that we can't coach. Something is going to happen, and somebody is going to get beat; and then there's a physical gift that takes over that few of them have and he has it. Now he's doing it, instead of all the time, he's doing it when he has to and not wearing himself out. He's continuing to make plays and plays and plays. He's been real impressive."
The latest feather in Richardson's cap took place during Friday's half scrimmage. While the controlled scrimmage against the scout teams was completely closed to the media and even FSU's sports information office, it sounded like the Leesburg, Georgia native stood out above the pack.
"I thought Drew executed pretty good and so did Christian, but the guy that had the big night was D'Vontrey," head coach Bobby Bowden said. "He made some big plays that you can't coach. He goes back to pass and he gets trapped, spins over here and spins back over there and throws a 30-yard touchdown pass. There is place for him."
In addition to the coaching staff, Richardson's teammates were equally impressed by how well he played in the scrimmage.
"He looked good (Friday). He made some incredible throws," defensive end Everette Brown said. "He has always been mobile in the pocket but he was making some throws where only his receiver could catch it. I was impressed. It just shows a sign of him maturing and learning the offense better."
While Richardson has been receiving most of the accolades as of late, that doesn't necessarily mean he will be named the starter for Saturday's opener against Western Carolina. He saw action on only two plays last season and is going up against a fifth-year senior with 33 career starts in Weatherford.
While Weatherford wins hands down when it comes to experience and has established himself as a team leader and an exemplary player off the field, Fisher made it clear that those may not be overriding factors when it comes time to name a starter.
"I've told Drew before, if my kids grow up to have the qualities you have as a person I'll be tickled to death. Whether he wins that job or not, and I'm not saying one way or another, unfortunately as a coach you can't look at it that way," Fisher said. "There are (over) a hundred other guys and I have to do what's best for them and what I think is best for our team. When you are making the decision, it's not personal between D'Vontrey, Christian and Drew. iI's a decision based on the other 120 guys on the team."
Aside from Weatherford, Ponder had all the momentum following spring practice. But neither can touch Richardson when it comes to athleticism. The 6-foot-1, 214-pounder runs a 4.5 in the 40 and possesses elusiveness that would make most running backs jealous. It's that athleticism and the ability to make big plays that may give Richardson the edge when it comes to the "20 percent gray area" Fisher frequently refers to when evaluating his quarterbacks.
"Coaches can coach 80 percent of what goes on, but there's 20 percent we can only talk about as they happen and coach you through them," Fisher said. "But when they happen, that's instincts, your natural abilities and physical gifts to allow you to get in and out of things."
During his time at Auburn and LSU, Fisher had two starting quarterbacks that he says were similar to Richardson. However, he makes it clear that Richardson is in a class by himself when it comes to the complete package.
"Dameyune Craig (Auburn) was a 4.5 guy that could really run, he could throw, was a great leader and about took us to an SEC championship by himself one year," he said. "Marcus Randall (LSU) was a very good athlete that could run. But D'Vo probably throws a little better than Marcus. That's the thing about D'Vo, he's a great passer. He's not a good passer; he's a big-time thrower."
The X-factor in deciding a starting quarterback could be FSU's inexperienced offensive line.
While run blocking has been better than expected so far, with two rookies manning the tackle spots, FSU's ability to slow down the pass rush could be a liability this season. As such, it may be in the best interest of the offense to have a starter under center that can best elude the rush and buy a few extra seconds with his legs. Again, Richardson is the clear winner in that category.
If Fisher does ultimately decide to have his most elusive quarterback under center, it may be because he is picking a player that is the best fit for an offense trying to break in a new line. A decision is expected to be made early this week.
"What style of player does your team need to lead it," asked Fisher. "Here is where it becomes unfair to certain guys at times, what does your team need. Certain teams can have a quarterback fit for each team."