Friday, February 11, 2011

Top 25 Players: #7-#6

Frank Helps You Think It All Out can see by the utter lack of comments that defensive players from the Mack Brown era are not the readers' cup of tea.

Fine! Back to C-USA offensive stars:

7. J.P. Losman, QB (2000-2003)

In the first and only national recruiting coup based on the '98 run, the number 3 prep quarterback transferred to Tulane from UCLA. Parade All-American J.P. Losman had come to Tulane.

Yet, while he delivered at a crazy good level, the Tulane fan never really warmed to J.P. Losman. The fan base perceived him as arrogant, stories of cockiness emanated from both the locker room and UCLA. His California cool never played just right in the Big Easy.

The funny thing about Losman is that he is more of a C-USA figure of importance than just a Tulane player. In the immediate years after the 1998 Tulane undefeated season, C-USA struggled to figure just how to adapt to Bowden's era of distribution passing. Given that the pro-body, big arm quarterback recruit was still never coming to C-USA, what did this distribution quarterback look like? How valuable was mobility? Or outright running? Did the C-USA version of the quarterback position have any correlation with the SEC or NFL version?

Teams tried a lot of solutions- one was our own Patrick Ramsey: immobile, yet big armed, shoehorned into a checkdown passing attack. But the ultimate answer turned out to be J.P. Losman- particularly when he proved he could win surrounded by nothing but skill position talent (a frequent issue faced by C-USA teams). You can draw straight line from Losman to Kevin Kolb to Chase Clement to CJ Kinne. None have giant NFL arms- but all have the same mix of pocket mobility, 60-ish completion percentage, routine accuracy and an ability to mentally manage the four and five receiver pass distribution concept. The C-USA prototype quarterback to this day is not Shaun King, but J.P. Losman.

Losman had some skill people- and flourished in the cartoon number era. He was the official starting Tulane quarterback only for two years- but threw for a huge 6754 yards, fourth all-time at Tulane. His two official starting years featured 2468 and 3077 yards respectively- only two other Tulane quarterbacks have had 3000 yard passing seasons. Plus, Losman was a very Shaun King like in game risk manager: 60 touchdown passes versus 27 interceptions (King was 70 and 34 respectively), and sports the lowest interception per attempt rate in Tulane history.

Sixty career touchdown passes- 33 and 19 his two official starting years respectively, eight as Scelfo’s odd toy behind Ramsey. That is a whole lot. Losman was a true, frightening creature of C-USA.

While Losman was a distribution quarterback at Tulane, he had some NFL skills: really good arm, athleticism, not bad size. He was a first round draft pick of the Bills and moved into a simply horrible situation there. But despite adversity, seven years later, he is still in the NFL- as the high-IQ, a guy you can survive a month with, the true professional quarterback. He lacks the size and strength combination to be a top-fifteen franchise quarterback option, but if you put the expectation of being the 22nd overall pick aside, he’s done all right- a solid pro quarterback.

6. Bernard Robertson, OT (1997-2000)

During Tulane’s miraculous undefeated run in 1998, at the Army game at West Point, I was asked who I thought was the best NFL prospect on the team? I rolled the question around in my head, and honestly, I was not trying to shock anyone when I said Bernard Robertson.

Robertson is probably the best example of a theme I have hit here several times- that Tulane’s 1998 run was fueled by applying “major regional independent talent” to a C-USA schedule. Robertson was part of that last gasp of non-C-USA recruiting: an All-district, All-West Bank and all-metro selection that would not have been out of place at Ole Miss.

Accordingly, he dominated right away- starting all but one game during his four years at Tulane, progressing smartly from right to left tackle, twice first team all-CUSA and rounding out his brilliant career as a third team all-American (ed. note: Tulane’s first position player on a national all-American team since Terrence Jones & Mitchell Price in 1988).

Unlike the other excellent offensive tackles on this list- he really belonged out there at any level, including eventually the NFL. Kropog was an excellent guard forced outside by need. Corey Geason an athletic guy who survived his size issues by the virtue of smallish C-USA fronts. But Robertson arrived a “true” tackle- the big 6’4” frame, long arms, endless leverage and quick to the edge rusher.

One of the marvels on 1998 team is that only three players made all C-USA: Robertson, King and Michael Jordan (see #23)- which gives an indication of just how important to the 1997-98 restoration Robertson was. Bowden merely showed up, and his anchor tackle just appeared.

But it was 2000, with his move to the elite LT side, when Robertson was a truly dominant player. Protecting the wholly immobile Ramsey and immature Losman over 506 season pass attempts, not only did he not allow a sack all season, but also was not credited with giving up a “hurry”. Think about that- squaring off against the other team’s best pass rusher again and again, with an offense frequently telegraphing its intention to throw, and he did not mess up even once!

So he left Tulane in 2000 as one of the best OTs in college football. Drafted by Chicago, he commenced one of the weirder pro-football odysseys. First stuck behind the wonderful pro RT James “Big Cat” Williams, the Bears then also drafted another OT (Marc Columbo), and playing time at tackle got real competitive. He got some time at tackle (five starts in 2002) and did fine for a young player being groomed- particularly in pass protection. But he jumped off-side so much it became a serious problem. He literally had the yips. The Bills then tried him as a utility guy- but he never was a road grader run blocker, which made any pro career inside problematic. He played 16 NFL games over three years. But don't worry, things seem to have turned out pretty okay for Bernard.