During his time as an NFL assistant, John McNulty saw Mark Brunell of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Matt Leinert of the Arizona Cardinals spin the football.
It’s why the Rutgers offensive coordinator understands coaching a left-handed passer is a bit unique.
“It is a little bit different on some of the stuff that we do (between) lefty-righty (quarterbacks) and the (receivers) need to get used to it,’’ McNulty said. “It’s different how the ball comes down. When I was in Jacksonville with Brunell, there were times when he’d get knocked out of the game and the other guy came in and the (receivers) were (confused). As bizarre as it sounds, (the football) spins different (and) the deep balls tail in a different way. It’s kind of interesting.’’
As the Scarlet Knights enter their final days of training camp this week, a left-handed thrower is in the running for the starting quarterback job. McLane Carter, a Texas Tech transfer, is splitting reps with incumbent Art Sitkowski in a QB competition that’s expected to be decided at some point this week.
McNulty, who will have input in a decision that will ultimately be made by head coach Chris Ash, admitted earlier this summer that he may have to tailor the playbook to suit Carter’s southpaw tendencies.
“There are some things, especially early on (in training camp), where we’re trying not to make him go to his right and make some hard throws,’’ McNulty said. “Let him do things where he’s comfortable setting up and kind of script it that way, knowing what his plays are going to be. And then as we go we’ll kind of expand (the playbook) from there.’’
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Rutgers has had a few left-handed quarterbacks on the roster in backup roles, but it’s been more than two decades since a left-handed signal caller started a game for the Scarlet Knights.
The last time it happened?
That would be Nov. 9, 1996, when Ralph Sacca got the call for his first collegiate start, subbing in for an injured Mike Stephans in a 55-14 thumping at the hands of West Virginia at Rutgers Stadium.
Sacca, whose brothers Tony and John both started at QB for Penn State in the late 1980s and early 1990s, completed 10 of 28 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the West Virginia defeat. The 6-foot-4 lefty saw action in 11 games overall, completing 45 percent of his 80 pass attempts for 356 yards and throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Another left-hander, Corey Valentine, started the season for Rutgers in 1996. He went 5-for-14 for 98 yards before getting pulled after five series in favor of Sacca, who then gave way to Stephens in the 10-6 loss to Navy (Stephens, a righty who walked on to the football team from the baseball program, started nine of the 11 games in Terry Shea’s first season).
If Carter earns the starting nod for Rutgers’ Aug. 30 opener against UMass, he’d be the first left-handed quarterback to start a season since Valentine was tapped 23 years ago and the first southpaw to start a game since Sacca in the Nov. 9, 1996, loss to West Virginia (a span of 256 games).
“He’s learned the offense,’’ Ash said, referring to Carter, last week. “I don’t think we’ve necessarily had to restrict any of the play-calling with him up to this point. I think Coach McNulty and the offensive staff did a really good job with installation, giving him a chance to learn it instead of just throwing it all at him and having him struggle mentally. What we didn’t want to have was the scheme to get in the way of letting a guy compete and show his real ability.
“But to his credit he’s done a great job of learning it. He’s invested his time, he’s made the sacrifices to get in and learn what he’s needed to learn. He’s put himself in position to showcase his talent with all the extra time he’s invested.’’
Ironically, the last left-hander to throw a touchdown pass wasn’t a quarterback at all.
Janarion Grant, the Scarlet Knights’ standout wide receiver and return specialist, threw a 21-yard scoring pass to Andre Patton off a trick play in the 37-28 triumph over New Mexico in 2016. It was one of two touchdown passes for Grant in his career (he also threw one to QB Chris Laviano in a loss to Nebraska in 2015).
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