SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's easy to look at Ryan Nassib and pick him apart for what he is not.
The Syracuse quarterback is not a Donovan McNabb-level athlete. His right arm is not classified as long-range artillery. There's very little about him that's flashy.
That can be tough to take for fans who want their quarterbacks to be superstars. So it's no surprise that a substantial portion of Orange backers questioned whether or not Nassib was the right guy for the future, who wondered if he might be overtaken this spring by one of three other quarterbacks vying for the job.
Nassib, though, shut down that talk very early in spring camp. And he reminded everyone why there is much to like about what he is.
The fourth-year junior is a smart, steady leader who understands the offense very well. He's a calming presence. He doesn't make many big mistakes.
"He has an excellent knowledge of what we're trying to do," head coach Doug Marrone said.
Marrone, however, cautions that Nassib "hasn't arrived yet." So let's talk about what Nassib can be.
He is, after all, just entering his first year of starting, as his debut season was spent caddying for Greg Paulus. He threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Kansas State, proving that he could indeed put up big stats and stretch the field.
"That gave me confidence in myself and the team," he said. "It showed what we can do when we're playing at peak level. It was a great launching point to the winter."
Nassib set the Syracuse single-season record for completions with 202 in 2010 and had a very respectable 19-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Why can't he continue to improve on those numbers?
"I really see him growing into his own," running back Antwon Bailey said. "He has had an unbelievable sense of confidence this spring, making checks and looking like he's in midseason form. I'm excited to see how he'll do this year."
There were fair criticisms of Nassib's play last year. Too often, he and the offense stalled after the defense put them in good positions, and his completion percentage (56.4) was too low. Those are things he is working on now.
"I definitely wished I'd played a little better in certain situations," he said. "I definitely needed to improve my completion percentages, and I'm focusing on getting more easy completions and taking what the defense gives you. I made some rookie mistakes."
Nassib and the passing game were also hamstrung by injuries at receiver, especially late in the year. He had little to work with once Van Chew and Alec Lemon got banged up until Marcus Sales emerged in the bowl game. Syracuse should have more depth and weapons at wideout this year, with Sales continuing his growth, Chew and Lemon back and emerging playmakers like Dorian Graham and Jarrod West. That's giving Nassib more confidence to let loose.
"Some of the passes he's made this year, he didn't make last year," Sales said. "He's trying to squeeze the ball into little holes."
Ultimately, Nassib doesn't have to be an All-American for Syracuse to succeed. He just needs to make the right decisions, put the ball in the right spots and avoid turnovers for a team still based on defense and running the ball. The more he does well, the less people will think about what he is not.