Mutual Respect in QBs' Friendship

McNeal (right) and Long push each other (AP).

Kansas City, MO -- In attending his first Big 12 football media days as head coach of Texas A&M, Dennis Franchione pulled a rare move by selecting top quarterbacks Dustin Long and Reggie McNeal to join him Wednesday in Kansas City. So much of the talk in the 40-minute session revolved around the impending quarterback battle this fall between the two.

Despite the fact neither has the upper hand heading into the preseason, both have intriguing resumes. Long set a conference record with seven touchdown passes against Texas Tech last fall. While starting a majority of A&M's games, Long connected on 177-of-333 passes for 2,509 yards and 19 scores. McNeal, meanwhile, led the Aggies to their most impressive victory of the season over Oklahoma by passing for 456 yards and six touchdowns.

Both will do all they can next month to earn the nod from first-year coach Franchione, who was hired in the off-season to replace the fired R.C. Slocum.

So why didn't Franchione pick other players from the team that have already locked up starting roles?

"I think it was going to be a question that each of you would want to ask and we felt like both young men would do a great job answering your questions.

"As a coaching staff we're very comfortable with both of these young men, and one of the critical factors is that all of our players are very comfortable with them and believe in them," Franchione said. "We have a very healthy situation there. As a coach I've played two quarterbacks before and won a conference championship and I've played one and had a lot of success. Throughout a 12-game season I believe we'll need two quarterbacks to go through the season."

What makes the situation such a healthy one is the relationship between Long and McNeal. From picking one another up for class to going out for dinner or just watching film together on the side, both quarterbacks have forged a bond usually not found between two competing players.

"Some quarterbacks might not get along, but that's not the case with us," said Long, who was recruited heavily by Iowa State as a high school senior. "(Reggie) can run a 4.4 and I can't. We've done a good job of pushing each other and I think that's going to work out well for this team."

Despite McNeal's better athleticism and Long's slightly better throwing skills both are able to fulfill much of the responsibilities Franchione asks from the quarterback position.

"I believe 90 percent of our offense both can do," said the A&M coach. "They're both passers and not throwers. Reggie is faster, but Dustin is not slow."

Team notes

Franchione talked about returning to the state of Texas and his roots after departing Texas Christian two seasons ago for a short stint at Alabama.

"I grew up in the Big Eight and have lived in Texas for a number of years," he said. "This conference presents some challenges and certainly our division presents a challenge. Coming back to Texas is exciting for me."

A new position for Aggies fans to keep an eye on is A-Back, a position Franchione invented at Alabama for former Texas Tech rusher Shaud Williams. The candidate to fill that role in College Station is Jason Colter, an athlete that is capable of rushing, receiving and even playing a few snaps at quarterback in situations.

(CN would like to thank The Nest Bar & Grill in Johnston for sponsoring our coverage from Kansas City. CN & The Nest would like to invite you to join us on Wednesday, August 27th for our 2003 preseason tailgate party. Stay tuned to CN and 1460-KXNO for more details)

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