No wonder Dylan Thompson fit into the San Francisco landscape last week as seamlessly as fog and cable cars. The former South Carolina quarterback looked right at home throwing touchdown passes to ex-Gamecock teammates Bruce Ellington and Busta Anderson in the 49ers’ final preseason game. Mike Davis, Thompson’s backfield pal at South Carolina last year, ran for 33 yards on seven carries in a 14-12 home victory over San Diego.
San Francisco head coach Jim Tomsula, the former Charleston Southern assistant coach and Post and Courier delivery man, thought the complete-game performance worthy enough to seal a spot for Thompson on the 49ers’ practice squad.
That’s two in a row for the Gamecocks, back-to-back undrafted free agent quarterbacks making NFL rosters. Connor Shaw overachieved his way into the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns’ 2014 regular-season finale and remains with the team on the Injured Reserve list.
No one has projected Pro Bowl status for Shaw and Thompson, but two quarterbacks from the same offensive system making it in the NFL over the last 13 months is something South Carolina recruiters should start leveraging.
They can do so while pointing out that quarterbacks from faster-paced spread offenses aren’t fairing so well with their NFL opportunities.
“I haven’t really thought about that or paid much attention to that,” South Carolina head coach/quarterback guru Steve Spurrier said. “Dylan is built for drop-back passing; he’s about 6-3 or so and has good footwork and so forth. I thought he certainly had a chance to make a team and eventually may play in the NFL. Connor is just a tremendous athlete who can run and throw.”
Johnny “Football” Manziel looks lost in Cleveland without proper pocket passing presence.
Similarly, Robert Griffin III, another former Heisman Trophy winner, cannot counter his run-first, run-wild approach to the adjustments of NFL defensive coordinators.
Like Manziel and RG III, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd wasn’t asked to do much reading of defenses before firing passes to the likes of Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Jaron Brown, Adam Humphires, Dwayne Allen and Andre Ellington — all in the NFL.
Boyd, a New York Jets’ sixth-round draft pick, didn’t make the team in 2014 and was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers last month.
Maybe 2015 second-overall NFL draft pick Marcus Mariotta of Oregon will buck the trend and make Tennessee Titans fans forget the Jake Locker years. He will benefit from the tutelage of 10-year NFL veteran Charlie Whitehurst, a product of a more conventional Clemson offense.
Meanwhile, South Carolina coaches should send a tape of Thompson going the distance in the 49ers-Chargers game to every quarterback target.
Dear QB Prospect,
Want a chance to play in the NFL?
Check this out.
Cocky The Gamecock
If it seems like Spurrier isn’t jumping up and down in the middle of George Rogers Boulevard over this Thompson/Shaw thing, well, he isn’t.
Maybe for a few reasons:
Spurrier, a former NFL quarterback, knows that making a practice squad and leading a team to victory in a regular-season game are two different things.
As murky as South Carolina’s quarterback situation looks this week after Connor Mitch’s lackluster performance against North Carolina, the Gamecocks might have already addressed their quarterback needs for the next five years with freshman Lorenzo Nunez and Newtown, Pa., high school senior Brandon McIlwain (if McIlwain’s considerable baseball prowess doesn’t keep him from playing college football).
Gamecock quarterbacks, like those spread formation guys struggling with those pesky NFL details, don’t huddle or take many direct snaps from center.
“There’s a fine line up there in the NFL,” Spurrier said. “Tim Tebow wins the Heisman and … Who knows? Some make it, some don’t.
“Sometimes quarterbacks if they get with the right team, they’re much better off than maybe a team that doesn’t have a real strong offensive line or a real strong running game. When quarterbacks have a lot of real good players around them, they tend to have a chance to succeed.”
When talking about Gamecock quarterbacks and the NFL, however, a little success is a load. Until Shaw started for Cleveland in a 20-10 loss to Baltimore last Dec. 28, the only former Gamecock quarterback to take snaps as an NFL quarterback since 1980 (Bill Troup) was Anthony Wright, who played for four teams from 2000-2007.
For a program not steeped in quarterback tradition, Shaw and Thompson are two big steps in the right direction.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff