Quarterback competitions took center stage around the Big Ten this spring and will continue to do so when preseason camps kick off in August. As camp approaches, we're examining each of the unsettled signal-caller races in the league, where they stand and what needs to be done in the all important summer months.
Up next, Indiana.
Statistics: Roberson was Indiana's opening-day starter in 2012 and completed 33 of 50 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, to go along with 133 rush yards and three touchdowns, before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 2. He started for the Hoosiers as a freshman in 2011 and had 937 pass yards, 426 rush yards and five touchdowns (3 pass, 2 rush). Coffman completed 247 of 407 attempts for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in relief of Roberson in 2012. Sudfeld completed 51 of 82 passes for 632 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception last season.
Where things stand: It's a true dead heat after the spring, as all three quarterbacks worked with the first-team offense. Coffman and Sudfeld both stood out during the spring game, as Coffman completed 17 of 23 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while Sudfeld completed 14 of 16 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
Summer buzz: Hoosiers offensive coordinator Seth Littrell knows decision day is coming. Indiana eventually will have to reduce its candidate pool from three to two and, eventually, to a starter for the Aug. 29 season opener against Indiana State.
But there's not a huge rush, and Littrell doesn't sound anxious at all about the group.
"All three of those guys have repped so much with our core group," Littrell recently told ESPN.com. "Some offenses have to replace a bunch of guys, and it’s a little bit more important to build that continuity earlier than maybe with our group. It's a little bit more important [to make a decision] when you have a bunch of different guys coming back and you don’t have that continuity."
The coaches charted every competitive drill the quarterbacks went through in spring practice, and according to Littrell, "it's not hard to tell who's winning the day." Each quarterback got a taste of victory this spring.
"All three of those guys competed at a high level," Littrell said. "Someone's obviously going to set themselves apart. Someone's going to win the job. But we don't have a date set. We're just feeling it out, seeing how it goes. Our offense believes in all three of those guys. They've all helped us."
The intrigue at Indiana surrounds Roberson, who won the quarterback competition last summer and looked good, albeit against weak competition, in the first two games of the season before breaking his leg against Massachusetts. Roberson made a speedy recovery but admittedly was a bit rusty with his passing rhythm this spring, a sentiment Littrell echoed.
The coaches know what Roberson can do as a runner, but they've encouraged him to fight the natural instinct to take off and stand tall in the pocket and make throws. Indiana led the Big Ten in passing last season and returns arguably the league's best group of receivers and tight ends. Although the quarterback run will be a bigger part of the offense if Roberson again wins the job, Indiana also wants to protect the sophomore.
"When he's on point, he's good," Littrell said. "He throws the ball as well as any of them, but he's been out of it a little bit [longer]. Growing up, he was a spread-quarterback-run-game guy, so he didn’t throw it as much. So especially early on, he hasn't been as comfortable. Some of those habits revert back. Early last fall when we went with him as the starting quarterback for Game 1, he really got pretty comfortable with that role. He just needs to relax in the pocket and again, get the timing back down.
"I think he's ahead of where he was last fall right now."
The difference is that both Coffman and Sudfeld also are much better after logging significant field time, especially Coffman, against Big Ten defenses in 2012. Both Coffman and Sudfeld are pass-first quarterbacks who can effectively run Indiana's up-tempo, high-percentage-pass driven offense, but each has his unique style.
"Nate's a bigger, taller, rangier guy," Littrell said. "It's not hard for him to see over the line because he's a big 6-5 kid. He can stand back in the pocket. He's pretty good at throwing on a rhythm, and he's not going to flee as fast. And Cam's one of those baller guys. The thing about Cam is he just goes out and makes plays. He can do a little bit of both. He slings it around pretty good, but at the same time, he can hurt you with some quarterback run."
All three quarterback are familiar with the scheme, the other personnel on offense and the challenges the Big Ten poses. Although each has areas to improve, leadership is the unifying focus for the summer. Head coach Kevin Wilson is looking for a winner at quarterback, and Littrell has encouraged the signal-callers to experiment with plays and formations during summer workouts and then report back to the coaches what worked.
"After the spring, it doesn't stop," Littrell said. "It's all year round. We can't be with 'em, we can't coach 'em, we can't tell 'em what to do. But that's where leadership comes in."
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