As the National Football League starts getting cranked up for what it hopes will be a season played, not a season delayed, former West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is adrift in a season of uncertainty with the Carolina Panthers.
And this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
WVU quarterbacks have had little success in the NFL.
None has ever been a first-round pick.
The only one who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, Major Harris, wasn’t drafted until the 11th round by Oakland and never played a down in the league.
Pat White, perhaps the second best quarterback and maybe the best to play at WVU, was a second-round draft selection by the Miami Dolphins, but as a run-first quarterback, Bill Parcells saw him being used in a wild card role. He never completed an NFL pass and gained only 81 rushing yards.
Geno Smith, the most prolific passer in the school’s history after rewriting the record book while here including a 656-yard passing performance with 8 touchdowns, was famously bypassed in the first round of the draft before the Jets took him in the second round.
He has managed to turn it into an six-year career, starting for two years, and currently is a backup at Seattle.
Only Jeff Hostetler and Marc Bulger saw real success of 11 players drafted into the league, Hostetler filling in for an injured Phil Simms in the post-season for the New York Giants and winning the “wide right” Super Bowl over Buffalo with many believing he should have earned the MVP award in the game and Bulger becoming a solid starting NFL quarterback and a Pro Bowler.
But mostly it’s been more like White or Rasheed Marshall, who played QB at WVU but was drafted as a wide receiver and used as a kick returner in his one year or like Fred Wyant, from the glory years in the mid-1970s when he played with Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Chuck Howley and Bob Moss.
Wyant played but one year with the Redskins, completing one of the two passes he threw for 17 yards.
He, at least, found a way to make a career out of the NFL, turning to officiating, where he served for 27 years, 19 of them as one of the best known referees and the subject of an entertaining book said to offer “a provocative look inside the NFL” entitle “Offsides!”
There were stories to be told among the NFL quarterbacks.
The first one drafted was Jim Walthall in 1948. He started his career before being called into World War II, suffered a serious knee injury upon returning that slowed him badly as he tried to play through it his sophomore year, then went on to play football, baseball and basketball on his way to the WVU Athletic Hall of Fame.
He also quarterbacked the 1948 Sun Bowl team, a that was a late substitute in the game for Lafayette, which had been invited to play Texas Mines (later to become UTEP) but declined the bid because the bowl would only allow them to play if they left behind their African-American star halfback David Showell.
There were student protests against segregation at Lafayette at the time — just a year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line — and the Lafayette-Texas Mines matchup came to be known as “The Greatest Game Never Played.”
Walthall was not bothered by all of this, throwing the go-ahead touchdown in a 21-12 victory while also catching a 36-yard pass during the game.
So it is that Grier is bucking history in his quest to prove himself an NFL quarterback. He was drafted with the thought of him becoming the eventual successor to Cam Newton, who was the best quarterback the Panthers ever had.
Newton, however, was injured during the season and was replaced by Kyle Allen, who started 12 games. When they gave the ball to Grier for the final two games of the season, he wasn’t ready, failing to throw a touchdown pass while being intercepted four times.
It wasn’t much of a first impression.
Newton exited for the New England Patriots during the off-season, which cracked the door a little, but the Panthers opted instead to bring in the veteran Teddy Bridgewater to replace him after serving two years as the Saints backup QB under Carolina’s new offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
The biggest thing Grier may have going for him is that Matt Ruhle is the new Panthers coach and he saw his Baylor team shredded twice by Grier.
In the first game, Grier completed 26 of 37 for 375 yards and five touchdowns in a hairy 38-36 win in which the Mountaineers nearly blew a 25-point fourth quarter lead.
And in 2018, Grier went 17 of 27 for 353 yards and three more touchdowns as WVU beat Baylor, 56-14, so Ruhle knows what Grier’s capabilities are.
The man who took over the job Grier might have had, Kyle Allen, who started 12 games last year was traded to the Redskins and Carolina instead opted for XFL QB P.J. Walker.
Walker signed a two-year contract and will battle it out with Grier for the backup job, but a compacted preseason of just two games and new system does little to help Grier’s chances to make a strong impression and move up the depth chart.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel