There's an old breed of quarterback causing havoc in college football this season, a run-and-throwback to the days when the option wasn't an option and there was no tradition in the traditional drop-back passer.
"It's almost going back to the old-fashioned tailback in the single-wing who could run, pass and kick," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "The thing people forget is Charlie Ward was our punter as a freshman. I guess he's a real triple threat."
Ward no longer punts for the top-ranked Seminoles, but the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior has become almost the prototype for the college quarterback of the 1990s. He's able to fade into the pocket and fire downfield, roll out and throw on the run or turn on the speed, tuck the ball under his arm and take off.
"I don't really think about it as being a running quarterback or a passing quarterback," says Ward. "I've always been taught that you had to take what the defense gives you. A lot of it is instinct. You can feel the pressure and make a quick decision."
There are still pro-style quarterbacks on some of the nation's best teams -- Miami's Frank Costa comes immediately to mind -- but there seem to more of this new (or is it old?) breed coming up, guys such as Ward at Florida State, Marvin Graves at Syracuse, Heath Shuler at Tennessee and Kordell Stewart at Colorado.
And take a look at the top 10 yardage leaders in Division I-A this week: After Scott Milanovich of Maryland, Chris Vargas of Nevada and Anthony Calvillo of Utah State, six of the next seven are run-and-pass types. Ward ranks eighth only because Bowden has pulled his star in the third quarter in three of four games.
The emergence of this type of quarterback has raised a question: Is the classic, stay-in-the-pocket player with a rocket arm and stone feet becoming obsolete in the college game? And, if that's the case, will the NFL be replacing the Marinos with the Wards?
"Changing the throwing spot is something that everyone's talking about in college football," says Tennessee offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Cutcliffe.
Says Florida defensive coordinator Ron Zook: "It's made us rethink what we tell our kids. It used to be that we rushed all-out, but now we have to think about who we're going after."
The change has been gradual and still depends greatly on an individual coach's philosophy. Many adjust yearly to their personnel, as Notre Dame's Lou Holtz has done in going from Rick Mirer to Kevin McDougal, who is starting to remind the fans in South Bend of former Irish quarterback Tony Rice.
But even the traditional run-oriented programs, such as Clemson and Penn State, are more apt to pass these days, while passing teams are having their quarterbacks take shorter drops and leave the pocket more quickly to avoid getting sacked.
It has come about for a few reasons. Among them:
* Overall defensive speed: The trend that started a few years back at programs such as Miami and Washington has become almost commonplace these days.
"The biggest factor [for using an all-purpose quarterback] is the athleticism of defensive players," says Tennessee's Cutcliffe. "All of a sudden, down linemen have times in the 40-yard -- that linebackers and defensive backs used to have. If you have a pretty non-mobile guy at quarterback, you're not going to have him long."
* Rule changes geared to more offense: With a premium on putting a lot of points on the scoreboard and a lot of fans in the stadium, moving the hash marks in a few yards and allowing offensive linemen to use their hands less discreetly has helped open up the game.
"People want to see the ball more in the air," says Clemson coach Ken Hatfield, who begrudgingly has complied.
In addition, the position -- whether it calls for a running or drop-back quarterback -- has opened up to blacks.
"These young men are finally being given a chance," says Bowden, who took heat for starting a black quarterback, Ben Williams, at West Virginia in 1973. And taking a tweak at himself, and others, Bowden said: "We finally realized they can throw."
In high school, many teams throughout the country are developing more sophisticated passing games. Quarterbacks who did most of their throwing in summer camps and high school all-star games are getting a chance to test their arms before they go off to college.
"You are seeing better athletes at quarterback," said San Jose State's Jeff Garcia, who was a drop-back passer in high school in Gilroy, Calif., until becoming more of an all-purpose quarterback while playing at Gavilan Junior College.
Ward is probably the best example, as the starting point guard on the Seminoles' ranked basketball team and a member of the baseball team for a few years as well. Shuler leaped 6 feet, 9 inches as a high jumper in high school. Graves had a chance to play basketball at Syracuse, but opted to stick with football.
Not that Ward, an early-season favorite for the Heisman Trophy, is a sure-fire NFL quarterback prospect. Though he is starting to put up some hard-to-ignore numbers, and already has demonstrated the ability to take big hits, Ward's height might be hard to overlook. Overall, as noted in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, the past four drafts have produced just six NFL starting quarterbacks.
"Guys like Ward are the type of quarterbacks who flourish in Canadian football, but I don't think they're necessarily NFL prospects," says John Ralston, who has coached in both leagues and is now head coach at San Jose State. "It's different in college. You're talking about a four-year career at most. In the NFL, you're paying these guys millions of dollars to stay healthy. There's a much bigger investment."
Says Ward: "You're seeing that style in the pros more and more. Every team wants a guy who can put pressure on the defense."