Plummer makes good use of tools

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rick Minter's praise was lofty, but not particularly apt. In comparing his sophomore quarterback to Randall Cunningham, the University of Cincinnati football coach has missed his mark by a matter of miles.

Chad Plummer is sure-footed and strong-armed and all of that athletic stuff, but he much prefers the cocoon of the pocket to the chaos of football's wide-open spaces. He runs out of desperation, not design.

''I really hate running, I'm not going to lie,'' Plummer said after the Bearcats' 24-3 thrashing of the University of Kentucky. ''I don't like running at all. It's tiring. I want to be considered as a dropback quarterback.''

Plummer can be pretty stubborn on this point. He might have been a wide receiver at Florida State, or a safety at Kentucky, but he was determined to throw the ball, to run the show, to lead with his head and not his legs. This was, it turns out, a reasonable position.

The UC sophomore started his second college game Saturday, and fairly scorched the visitors from Lexington. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, this though he threw only one pass in the fourth quarter. Plummer still made mistakes, but he looked like a guy with a pretty good grip on his game plan. He looked like someone who had been calling signals since he came out of the cradle.

That would be another case of mistaken identity. Chad Plummer is a quarterback through recent cramming, not careful nurturing. He was a wide receiver for three years at Godby High School in Tallahassee, Fla., who did not get his big break behind the center until after the coach's son graduated.

It was an option-style offense, and Plummer prospered. He became so enamored of the position that he rejected scholarship offers from higher-profile schools closer to home for a chance to be the guy in charge in Cincinnati.

Loves being leader

''I fell in love with quarterback,'' he said. ''I liked having the leadership of the offense, and everybody depending on you. If you look, the quarterback gets a lot more attention than you do at any other position.''

Not all of the attention is flattering, of course, and Plummer came in for some criticism after his first start last week against Tulane. He completed 21 of 34 passes, but exercised erratic judgment and was twice intercepted in UC's 34-14 loss.

Saturday's showing suggests Plummer's shaky debut was more attributable to Opening Night jitters than inexperience. Either that or he is a lightning-quick learner.

''I felt a lot of pressure last week,'' he said. ''I was real nervous. The game was on national television and all. This game I was a lot more patient waiting for receivers to come open. My main concept was to stay in the pocket and look around.''

Patient? Chad Plummer was composure personified Saturday. Kentucky may not be much of a test - and the countdown on Bill Curry's regime must be down to single digits - but Plummer proved able to elude the rush without instinctively tucking the ball under his arm.

Persistence pays off

Under pressure, he persisted in looking for secondary receivers. If he resembled any professional quarterback, it was Troy Aikman rather than Randall Cunningham.

''Chad was pretty darn good other than the one turnover (a fumble),'' Minter said. ''He improvised. What you see out there many times is not necessarily great coaching and great schemes. It was a great player, potentially, ad-libbing and sticking with it to the very end.''

Even when fleeing UK's pass rush, Plummer kept his eyes on the horizon searching for receivers. He read a third-and-eight Kentucky blitz in the first quarter, and launched a soft lob to Daryl Royal for a 10-yard touchdown. He later added a 37-yard TD pass to Robert Tate, when the Wildcats blew a coverage in the second quarter.

''Last week, I learned a lot of things from my mistakes,'' Plummer said. ''I did a lot better this game.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Sept. 8, 1996.