During today's coaches conference call, Western's Greg Marshall and Queen's Pat Sheahan opined on why the OUA has three prolific passers all at once, between the Mustangs' Michael Faulds, Queen's Dan Brannagan, Guelph's Justin Dunk each on the verge of 10,000 career yards (plus 2008 Ottawa grad Josh Sacobie finished with 9,885):
Marshall noted it's about reps: "Everyone is going to a spread offence and throwing the ball more; shoot, I'm not even using a tight end at Western. One reason is guys are getting to start all five seasons. We've had great, great quarterbacks in the CIS who never got close to 10,000 yards, because they didn't start until their third year. You look at Danny, Justin and Michael, they all started as freshmen, by the time they got to their fifth year or fourth year, they were very proficient.
"One thing with Ontario is that there's a ton of summer football (Ontario Varsity Football League), they all played summer football with different teams, although Justin and Michael are from the same town, Guelph. You need that extra time on the field to develop the passing game. In high school you might have a six-, seven-game season and it might be four downs. You can develop passing in four-down football, which is what a lot of them play You have to be playing and throwing all the time."
Sheahan noted the nature of the player pool has led teams to adjust: " It's a little bit of a philosophical shift. There's been a little more of a CFL influence on the CIS. If you back a couple of decades now, the idea of using a tight end as an integral part of a team's MO has gone by the wayside.
"For whatever reason, there's a shortage of the great tight-end players, not just in this country but south of the border as well. It's harder to find that big, athletic body type, the guy who can block and run. There seems to be more of the 185-pound, 190-pound guys who are tremendous all-around athletes. It's easier to use those guys and there are ways to make up for that in the blocking. If you have a great tight end, you need a second one because if the first guy gets nicked, you need the other one."
A personal theory is football coaches have adjusted well to having more competition for young athletes, due to the growth of travel teams, especially in basketball and soccer, which have summer seasons. (Summer hockey is also factor.) Simply put, there's more of a get-'em-young feeling, so athletes are starting earlier in football. Coaches also have to keep it fun and teaching the passing game is more challenging and fun than simply handing the ball off nine out of every 10 plays to the most physically advanced kid. It's like one U.S. college coach who ran the Run & Shoot said many years ago, "Our kids are out there practicing throwing and catching when it's 105 degrees out. You think guys in the wishbone (option) want to do that?"
A big one is the restrictions placed on how much defensive backs can bump receivers put less of a premium on having "big fast guys who can take a beating," to borrow a phrase from North Dallas Forty author Peter Gent. That has played out in both college and pro football on each side of the border since the 1970s. Brannagan, Faulds and Dunk are taking advantage this season. You'd figure maybe in the next 10 years, the mark will get challenged again.
(After all, you know the joke ... "Ontario University Athletics ... no D.")