Chas Dodd seemed an unlikely option to start most of Rutgers' games last year at quarterback. But after Tom Savage got hurt, Dodd came in as a true freshman and never let go of the job. He started the final eight games and Savage transferred.
Now Dodd is the only real option to start for the Scarlet Knights at quarterback. Yet he's not looking at it that way as he goes through his first spring practice as a collegian.
"It is a different mindset when you're the assumed starter," Dodd said. "But the way I'm taking it is, I'm still coming in and practicing if that spot can be anybody else's. I'm continually trying to prove to the coaches that I want the position."
Dodd, who threw for 1,637 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year, can't just coast through spring practice, anyway. There's a new offense to learn, led by former Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. It's a pro-style attack that is different than what Dodd is used to, as he ran a spread system in high school and whatever it was that Rutgers called an offense in 2010.
He will be under center a little more and says that he will be throwing from different angles. He's embracing the new approach.
"I talked to Coach Cignetti when he first got here, and he told me I'd be able to watch an NFL game and know the things they're doing," he said. "I'm definitely excited by seeing the success he's had with other quarterbacks."
One of the reasons Dodd took over the job last year was because he managed to keep his eyes downfield and find ways to avoid the rush as opposing defenses poured through the Rutgers offensive line. He took the brunt of the Scarlet Knights' FBS-worst 61 sacks allowed. That kind of beating could rattle the confidence of many young quarterbacks and surely had an effect on Savage. But Dodd maintained his poise through the onslaught.
"One thing about being leader and being a quarterback is that you have to keep your confidence," Dodd said. "I had to show the offense that I would not get down and keep everybody upbeat."
That might be the main difference between Dodd and Savage, the latter of whom head coach Greg Schiano praised for his leadership skills this time a year ago. Dodd is more emotional and fiery, or as Schiano told me last month, "He's a pistol."
Can he come out guns blazing in 2011? Much will depend, of course, on the offensive line's improvement. But Dodd has excellent targets at receiver in players like Mark Harrison, Mohamed Sanu, Tim Wright and Brandon Coleman.
"I think the new schemes will really help us with protection," Dodd said. "Once we get this system down, I feel like we'll be a pretty good offense."