Vanderbilt quarterback wants to play, willing to wait

Monday, August 23, 2010 at 10:00pm

Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers views himself as a starting quarterback and he’s willing exercise options to make that a reality with the Commodores.

The younger brother of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he came to Nashville with a buzz surrounding him and Rodgers enrolled this spring after two seasons at Butte College, a junior college in his home state, California.  He was expected to compete with fourth-year junior Larry Smith and fifth-year senior Jared Funk for the starting quarterback position.

But head coach Robbie Caldwell has been increasingly suggestive with his language recently that Smith, who started nine games last season, will begin the season under center. Smith’s experience within the program and in the Southeastern Conference made him a favorite all along. Saturday, Caldwell said Smith “continues to separate himself” from the others with improving throwing accuracy.

It appears as though Rodgers' shot at starting in 2010 is slipping away, with a number of factors contributing. His addition to the Vanderbilt practice field this spring left him with a serious workload getting familiar with the playbook and system. He said that he is happy with his comfort level in the system now, but felt pressure learning on the fly this spring.

“Anytime you feel like you’re behind mentally it’s going to put you behind the eight ball in the competition,” Rodgers noted.

Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Jimmy Kiser also noticed the adjustment period for Rodgers this spring.

“[It was a] little bit of a disadvantage for him in the spring,” Kiser said. “He was behind and just didn’t know the system. So he was learning in the spring and it was hard for him to compete while he was learning.”

At the start of fall practice, it appeared Rodgers was trying to win the position on every single repetition he took. He often forced balls into narrow seams or double-coverage and over-thought defensive schemes. He settled down and showed improvement after one week of practice when he was hit with another obstacle -- an injury.

Beginning on Aug 13, Rodgers sat out of passing drills due to soreness in his throwing shoulder and back spasms. He attributed the injuries to overusing his arm combined with a history of mid-back problems. His body’s refusal to perform did not match his desire to be on the field.

“Last week was really tough,” Rodgers Saturday. “I love situations when we go full speed in scrimmages. Especially during the grind of the week it’s fun to get out in some game-like situations so last week it was tough sitting on the sidelines watching my boys play.”

Rodgers returned to full participation in practice last Thursday.

Kiser noted that Rodgers is a similar athlete to Smith in terms of speed and agility. One thing he has excelled at in practice during 11-on-11 drills is quickly reading the defense and reacting to quarterback-draw opportunities.  At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Rodgers is the biggest of the Commodores' quarterback.

Rodgers has always said that he came to Vanderbilt to compete for a starting position.

If Smith is the starter this year, the VU coaching staff has some options to maximize Rodgers potential down the road.

As a juco transfer, Rodgers has three years at Vanderbilt to use two years of playing eligibility. With Smith starting and Funk adding experience in the system, albeit none on the field, the VU coaching staff could opt to save Rodgers’ eligible seasons for when he could have a greater impact. He is not opposed to the idea of redshirting this season to avoid “wasting a year.” But Rodgers is adamant about taking any opportunity to get playing time as soon as possible.

“If that’s [redshirting] the situation that presents itself then that is something I’ll take,” Rodgers said. “You can never hurt from a year sitting out watching and learning more. That’s something I’d like to do if I’m not going to be seeing playing time, but if there is a situation at any point where I can see the field we’ll have to see how it goes.”

Playing for Butte, Rodgers was a 2009 all conference selection after he set a school record with 2,512 yards of total offense. In 2008 he was an integral part of Butte’s 12-0 National Junior College Championship team.

The next bright chapter in his quarterbacking career might be delayed a year. That’s all right with Rodgers, just as long as he is still making strides towards getting on the field as soon as he can.