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April 8, 2013

Monz takes Abbott, Jones under his wing

A quick perusal of Robert Morris' passing records leads to just one name dominating the top of every list. Tim Levcik's four seasons at Robert Morris featured at least a share of three straight Northeast Conference titles.

But his lasting impact is as the most prolific passer in RMU history. Twelve years after Levcik last took the field, he is still the program record holder in completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, and yards per game. Out of regular starters, Levcik still has the highest completion percentage, as well.

The man who recruited Levcik and tutored him for three seasons is back on the Robert Morris coaching staff. Now, Mauro Monz is tasked with trying to develop the next Levcik. To do so, he'll be working with two very different quarterbacks. On the one hand is undersized rising sophomore Derik Abbott, a 5-foot-11 pinpoint passer who molds himself after Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. On the other is the physically gifted Paul Jones, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound specimen who transferred from Penn State after being moved to tight end.

They could not be any more different physically. But whatever those physical gifts may offer, Monz's primary task is getting Abbott and Jones to be masters of Joe Walton's complex pro-style offense.

"What makes someone successful is you have to own this system. This is a pro-style offense because of Coach Walton," Monz said. "You have to have rhythm. It's not the big strong arm all the time, even though Tim had one. But Tim had great footwork and Tim knew this offense like the back of his hand."

That knowledge is at the core of Monz's daily lessons. Miscommunication or the wrong read can end in disaster, something that Abbott, as the most experienced quarterback in the system, has already seen firsthand.

"The little tiniest thing can throw you off in this offense and give you the wrong read and it ends up going for six the other way," he said.

Abbott's in just his second semester of college ball, but he's already impressed Monz. The Orlando native ran the scout team as a true freshman and spent the offseason immersing himself in the playbook.

"He has great knowledge of the offense already," Monz said. "He's very polished and smooth in his drops and his footwork. We're just going to clean up some of his timing and things like that."

Jones, meanwhile, is catching up with the playbook. He committed in November after leaving State College in September, and he arrived on campus in January. He picked up the route tree and various other aspects of the passing game quickly, and is now working on refining the rest of his knowledge. But his physical gifts have already caught Monz's eye.

"Paul's a big, strong guy with a big arm and a ton of upside," Monz said. "With Paul now, we're working on his footwork and drops, learning the offense. But I think he's picked it up well in just a couple days."

Neither Abbott nor Jones would be considered a true dual-threat quarterback like four-year starter Jeff Sinclair was. But the outgoing quarterback had his best year (2010) under Monz, who has also coached at Akron and Youngstown State, and Monz pointed to mobility as a crucial aspect of having success in Walton's offense. It keeps the defense honest, something that Jones has already seen in just a few days of working with the offense.

"If for some reason I'm not having a good day with my arm, I'm going to run around and buy time and try to make easier throws," Jones said. "If I'm having a good day with my arm, I'm going to sit back and relax and let my line and receivers do their jobs and we'll get the job done."

There isn't a push to name a starter by the end of spring camp on April 20. Robert Morris will bring in two freshmen, Joe Carroll and Luke Brumbaugh, for fall camp and allow them to compete as well. But the odds of either Abbott or Jones being the starting quarterback on August 29 at Eastern Kentucky are astronomically high.

It's why Monz is focusing all of his time on refining their games, tailoring his efforts to each quarterback.

"Derik might not have the arm that Paul has, so he has to be better with his footwork. Paul has such a big arm that he's gotten away without having great footwork because he can make up for it with his arm," Monz said. "So what we have to work on is maybe Derik in the weight room and things like that to strengthen his arm, not that he has a weak arm by any means. And with Paul, we have to work on the lower body to improve footwork and get in shape."

Every day brings a new focus for Monz and the quarterbacks. From arm positioning to drop steps, every possible tweak is being examined. The finest adjustment can resolve an outlying issue, from Abbott's dropbacks occasionally resulting in throws sailing on him to Jones opening up and throwing at a receiver's feet.

"We try to pick an aspect every day and try to work on it," Monz said. "You can't work on everything every day."

In the meantime, Monz, Jones, Abbott, and spring quarterback Dalton Raab are constantly talking. They're sharing notes and knowledge, constantly evolving, constantly trying to improve. It's a competition, but it's also a shared endeavor.

"I think that we're all good friends and we all get along, which is good. But we're all competitive, no matter where we are," Abbott said. "But it's great for the team in general, because whoever comes out on top is best for the team and whoever is behind center against Eastern Kentucky will be the guy who deserves it."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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