Brian Johnson breaks down MSU’s QB competition midway through preseason

Finding the replacement for Dak Prescott, it turns out, has surprisingly little to do with emulating the former star quarterback for Mississippi State. In fact, calling the next starting QB for the Bulldogs a “replacement” for Dak would be misleading at best, and more than likely, just plain inaccurate.

Brian Johnson at MSU's spring game with Dak Prescott and Fred Ross

Brian Johnson at MSU’s spring game with Dak Prescott and Fred Ross

Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson spoke with local reporters halfway through preseason camp about the three-way battle to be the team’s signal caller in 2016, a race he says remains quite even. He didn’t talk about who can run the best, like Prescott did throughout his career. He didn’t speculate who had the best deep ball, who was the best leader, who was the most personable in interviews, who could make the quickest reads or who could scramble best if the pocket breaks down.

Johnson – and head coach Dan Mullen, by extension – wants one quality in his starting quarterback: consistency.

Who cares if you can throw the prettiest touchdown, if you’re just as likely to throw an interception the very next play (even if it is somehow a prettily-thrown pick). Sure, you can scramble, but so what, if you can’t remember the hot route?

High ceilings are good. High ceilings are why guys are recruited, why the three young men battling for this position were signed, but a high floor is the key to making a coach comfortable letting them on the field every play.

“Consistency is what this whole thing boils down to,” Johnson replied when asked what he’s looking for.

The candidates are known, generally, and now down to three after the transfer of Elijah Staley. Junior Damian Williams is the veteran of the group, having both started and won games in the SEC, though he redshirted all of last season. Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald was the primary backup to Prescott last year, the only of three to take a snap in 2015. And freshman Nick Tiano is the greenest of the bunch, having never taken a snap of college football in his life, though his talent and charisma have given him an equal chance in this race.

As it stands today, none have separated themselves, their coach told reporters after practice.

“Consistency,” Johnson continued to explain. “Be the same guy every play. No roller coaster. Have that baseline up here, and you can wiggle on the baseline, but I don’t want to see the huge ebbs and flows. Consistency in performance … You want to be closer to your ceiling than your floor at all times. The whole deal is bringing that baseline up and shrinking that gap.”

It’s like playing the stock market. The idea makes sense. The quarterback is the only player on the field guaranteed to touch the ball every snap, except for the center, of course. MSU also believes it’s going to have a strong defense in 2016. A reliable quarterback pairs well there, too. Add in a veteran group of running backs and receivers, including the leading returning receiver in the SEC in Fred Ross, and MSU has even more of a need to find someone who can support them on a play-by-play basis.

The question for Johnson then becomes: you can work on fundamentals and technique, you can develop talent and you can review playbooks, but how do you coach consistency? How does Johnson, the man so in need of consistency, teach his pupils to have it?

“It’s a constant, every day reminder,” he answered. “Like you said, how do you coach it? You just have to beat it in every single day that this is the standard. What do you want your standard to be as a player? What do you want your standard to be as position group? You have to live up to or exceed that standard every single day. Understand the consequences at hand, what’s at stake, understand what you’re competing for. You have to be self-motivated to achieve that. 99 percent of the world can’t do that. They have to understand that and meet that baseline of effort, intensity and focus every single practice, every single work out, every single walk through, every single meal – everything they do in every aspect of their life, they have to meet or exceed their baseline.”

Find your floor. Never sink below it. Always seek to raise it. The one who does, has the job of a lifetime waiting on him.

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