If you’ve been following Mason Rudolph this offseason, you’ve likely seen my enthusiasm for the blossoming quarterback. He stands a chance to be among the top quarterbacks in the nation soon enough.
But the Cowboys haven’t lasted an entire season with one quarterback since 2011.
Had Daxx Garman not have transferred, he would reverse the role and step in for Rudolph should he be injured. But with Rudolph on his tail last season, he decided to transfer to Maryland to compete for the starting job. Rather, it will be Garman’s former backup, redshirt senior J.W. Walsh.
Walsh was on the Davey O’Brien watch list last season before breaking his foot after week, and subsequently letting Garman take over under center. He’s been injury-prone the past couple of seasons, so having him as a backup behind Rudolph makes sense to keep some sort of consistency and use Walsh on an as-needed basis — he should be a good gadget player.
What I mean by a “gadget” player is we’ve seen players like D.J. Foster at Arizona State fill needs at multiple positions as a receiver and running back — Percy Harvin while at Florida is a great example as well. But I’d liken the situation to Ohio State trying to find room for their three quarterbacks, possibly moving Braxton Miller to wide receiver. Imagine the sets they could run with two potential pass-throwers on the field at a time.
That’s what could be done with Walsh, who came to Stillwater as a top-rated dual-threat quarterback. Don’t expect coach Mike Gundy to use a duo under center as was popular in the 1950s and ’60s, splitting time between Walsh and Rudolph evenly. With Rudolph, they get a pro-style quarterback similar to Ben Roethlisberger that can evade pressure with his big frame and athleticism.
But Walsh provides more mobility and versatility that could put him into unique situations in the red zone, and possibly line him at running back or H-back as he was tinkered with during the 2013 season. He could easily line up with running back Chris Carson to provide misdirection.
During the game against Florida State last season, he rushed for two touchdowns (including a 24-yard dash) and led the team with 51 yards on the ground. That shouldn’t be a surprise, as he averaged over 1,500 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns his last two seasons in high school as a four-star recruit.
Of course, using a player on a situational basis presents troubles of its own, as defenses can anticipate misdirection. However, with injury problems in Stillwater, it would be wise to sub in Walsh for a couple of drives a game (particularly early in the season as Baylor has done) as an insurance policy to make sure Rudolph isn’t a victim of the injury that hampered his predecessors. Walsh is better on the ground than passing, but his 62.2 percent completion percentage and 23 touchdowns to nine interceptions should be enough to instill confidence should Gundy decide he’s worth using in his final year of eligibility.
Seeing a senior take snaps behind a sophomore may be a little jarring, but Walsh has already experienced split action during his freshman season. A little variation could be what the Pokes need to gain an edge on defenses picking up on Rudolph’s habits now that he has more experience and game tape to prepare for him.