I don't think anyone outside of Danny Hope was happy with the quarterback situation this year. The rotating quarterback situation seemed to work for a few games, specifically the Ohio State game where Caleb TerBush orchestrated a nice opening touchdown drive, but Robert Marve finished the job. More often than not it was a confusing battle where at times Marve looked superior, then TerBush would avoid the dumb interception that seemed to plague Marve. The offense never seemed to be truly in sync and the passing game was a series of screens and short routes. The big play never seemed to be a threat.
TerBush started all 12 games, but only took every snap in two of them. Sean Robinson came on for a single series against Middle Tennessee State, took three snaps, and was never seen again as he was able to hold on to his redshirt. Against Rice and Illinois TerBush played the entire game. By the end of the year we technically had three quarterbacks playing with Justin Siller in for the Wild Siller plays, but he never threw (even though we knew he could).
The old saying is that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. Well, next year could be even worse. We could see three quarterbacks battling for playing time with multiple starts under their belts. The return of Rob Henry complicates matters, and with Marve possibly returning for a sixth year there will be a true battle for the position. Part of me wishes that Marve does not get granted the sixth year so it makes it an easier decision, but part of me wishes the kid does get a sixth year so he can earn the job and get one last shot to do something with his vast potential.
It's not an easy call, either. Each player has his strengths that makes the decision even tougher. Let's break down the candidates one by one.
Rob Henry - Jr. - The coaching staff has been very quiet on where Henry is at in his rehab, but he can't be too far along yet considering he is only about three months after his surgery. With Henry, we have a natural leader and an excellent runner, but how much will his running ability be affected by the knee injury? He's probably 50/50 at best for spring ball, meaning he could be out a full year before he can even practice again. Let's face it, I think we also have zero confidence that his knee won't snap again given what we've gone through with Robbie Hummel, Marve, and Ralph Bolden. That's why it is good we have a ton of experience behind him if he does win the starting job. still, his leadership is something that has been missing from the offense.
Henry's throwing ability has also been a question mark. We didn't have a chance to see what improvements he made before this season, and half of last season he could barely throw a football at all after nearly having his finger ripped off.
I could see Henry making a move to wide receiver if he ended up third in the quarterback derby. We need his athleticism on the field. He is one of our few weapons that can do a lot with the football in his hands. It might be nice to turn him into a tight end or an outside receiver with his size and speed. His throwing is a concern, so if we eliminate that part of the equation and Siller-ize him, I think it could work out.
Caleb TerBush - Sr. - People have ripped on him a lot, but I have been pleased with what Caleb has done. In the first two starts of his career he led game-winning drives in the final minutes (at least he would have had we blocked better on the field goal attempt at Rice). He was pretty solid at the start of games in terms of taking us down the field for a score. His numbers tell a pretty good tale: He threw for over 1,800 yards with a 61% completion percentage and a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. That was done while only playing about half or less of many games.
I hate the term, but Game Manager is apt when describing TerBush. He has a keen sense of when to tuck the ball and run and he doesn't make a ton of mistakes. He's not going to bomb away for 450 yards and five scores like the Brees-Orton-Painter (MAC only) teams, but he'll at least keep you in the game. I don't think he was awful for a guy that had barely played in the past three years. The down side is that the offense feels severely limited with him. His longest pass was 50 yards on a route at Penn State that Justin Siller broke for about 42 after the catch.
With Caleb at the helm next year we have a poor man's version of Joey Elliott.
Robert Marve - Sr. (6) - Marve is pretty much a wild card at this point. He came to Purdue with high hopes, but in the end we may only get less than 10 games out of him by the time you figure in his limited playing time this year. In fact, for such a highly touted quarterback, Marve could possibly finish his career having only played three complete games. Those came last year against Notre Dame, Ball State, and Western Illinois. Even then, we still saw Henry for a few snaps.
Poor Marve has never had the chance to be THE guy in his career. At Miami, he had to split time with Jacory Harris. At Purdue he split time with Henry until hurting his knee again, then with TerBush all year. This year in limited action he gave us 557 yards passing and three TD's against five interceptions. I can't imagine his frustration, as it seemed like he could do the most with the offense, but it was often scaled back for him to limited handoffs.
If Marve is granted a sixth year I think he needs to really dedicate himself to winning the job above TerBush and Henry and leaving no doubt he is THE MAN. He has the arm and all the physical tools, but he has yet to put it together. One could argue that he has never really been given the chance to prove himself. If he earns it, I'd love to see him get a shot.
Sean Robinson - So. (RS) - Robinson seems to be the forgotten man in this derby, but he does have one start and extensive playing time from last season. He was able to get a much-needed redshirt this year after playing three plays in the opener against MTSU. When he was forced to play last season it was obvious that he needed that redshirt.
Entering his third year in the program and with multiple quarterbacks coming in behind him, the time is now for Robinson to make his mark. He's probably fourth right now, but if Marve does not get a 6th year and Henry makes a position switch it could come down to TerBush and Robinson. Sean ran the ball very well in high school and had a few good runs in 2010. He still only has 301 yards passing and a 1:3 touchdown to interception ratio.
Austin Appleby - Fr. - Ideally, Appleby redshirts next year to ease the transition from high school to college. It is always difficult to make that leap and be immediately effective. We have the players in place to allow it, too. Everyone seems to think Appleby be is the real deal. It would be nice for him to have some time to cultivate that talent so he is more ready to take over in 2013 or 2014.
Bilal Marshall - Fr. - Purdue's most recent recruit is an intriguing dual-threat quarterback that makes me think the two-quarterback system could be here as long as Hope is here. In this recruiting class alone you have a dual-threat guy and a more traditional pocket passer in Appleby. Marshall is still pretty raw. He had 675 yards rushing and 8 TDs this past season and 1,296 passing yards with 17 TDs and five picks. He's a possible position switch guy, but he wants to play quarterback. Honestly, we're probably looking at another disaster injury scenario if we see him play quarterback next season.
What we have is three guys for the immediate future and three guys for 2013 and beyond. We have the luxury of playing a guy with experience and having an experienced backup while we take the time to develop players like Marshall and Appleby. Much depends on what the NCAA decides in Marve's case, however. I don't think Henry makes a position switch is Marve is unable to return, but another year for Marve gives us the luxury of putting Henry on the field at receiver, playing TerBush or Marve, having a solid No. 3 in Robinson, and stashing both Marshall and Appleby away for the future.
If Marve does not return, I think Henry wins the starting job with TerBush as the solid backup. With a mobile quarterback like Henry a solid backup is always needed since injury is a major risk. We also could still have Robinson at the No. 3 with Appleby and Marshall redshirting. If it was my choice (and it isn't), I'd rank them as follows:
1. Marve (if he returns)
4. Robinson (based on experience in the system)