HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur was not among the Commodores football players in attendance at SEC Media Days on Monday, but he somehow managed to bring a calming presence anyhow.
That’s because for the first time in Derek Mason’s tenure with the Commodores, the quarterback position is settled prior to preseason camp, allowing players the certainty of knowing who will be taking snaps once it is time to prepare for the season-opener against South Carolina on Sept. 1.
Mason announced his decision to go with Shurmur as the starting quarterback prior to making the trip down to Alabama, but he made sure to reiterate it during his opening comments to the media.
“Towards the end of the season, when you saw the young occasion for — or the youthful occasion for a young quarterback by the name of Kyle Shurmur to step on the field and play meaningful football the last few games, that’s important,” Mason said. “I named Kyle Shurmur the starter. That’s where we are. He showed great character and leadership in the offseason. He has been pushed by guys behind them.”
It’s a change in philosophy for a coach who spent the better part of his first two fall camps as a head coach, each with a new offensive coordinator, trying to figure out which quarterback would play for his team.
In 2014, it had a disastrous outcome, with Patton Robinette winning the competition just days before the regular season only to be removed from the game in the first half of a 37-7 loss to Temple. Mason shuffled through four different quarterbacks that season, giving starts to Stephen Rivers, Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck.
After Robinette and Rivers left the program, the results of the 2015 preseason quarterback battle placed McCrary into the team’s starting role. That lasted roughly half a season before the Commodores started working Shurmur into the equation as a true freshman.
McCrary left the team during the off-season, leaving just Freebeck and Shurmur as the only Commodores quarterbacks with game experience at the college level. Rather than toy with the idea of another preseason battle, Mason is hoping to eliminate the uncertainty.
Commodores running back Ralph Webb, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2014 and 2015 in spite of the turmoil under center, expressed relief in the fact that he should have a clear No. 1 quarterback with which to work this fall.
“It definitely eliminates those distractions of not knowing who is going to be the quarterback,” Webb told SEC Country. “Just not having to (develop) a feel for every quarterback and not having the consistency. Right now, consistency is key, especially with timing with wide receivers, offensive linemen and running backs. Just having that consistent piece in our offense and knowing who is going to be our guy is going to help us through fall camp.”
Don’t mistake that as Webb making excuses for the team’s 7-17 record during the last two years, or the opening-game losses that followed the extended quarterback competitions.
“It didn’t play on whether we should have won those games or not,” he said. “But it’s definitely better for us to have a consistent piece. We didn’t need five quarterbacks, and Coach Mason found that guy and he fixed the problem.”
Oren Burks, who will play the Star hybrid role on the Commodores defense this fall, indicated that Shurmur has earned the respect of the players on his side of the ball.
“Kyle has done a great job of being a leader in the locker room and on the field,” Burks said. “He’s getting guys in the film room and doing the extra work that is needed. His dad is an NFL coach, so he has a taste of things off the field and in the film room that need to be done.”
Shurmur, who is the son of NFL coach Pat Shurmur, had mixed results during his true freshman season in 2015. He led the Commodores to two SEC victories, completing a combined 23 of 46 passes during conference wins against Missouri and Kentucky.