- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's great having a veteran quarterback, particularly a veteran quarterback who is proven.
But a veteran quarterback can have his own concerns. Here's what the returning starters at the position in the Pac-12 will be fretting about -- though they'd never own up to fretting -- during preseason camp.
Nick Foles, Arizona: Foles has a talented and deep crew of receivers but he also has five new starting offensive linemen in front of him, which not only will be an issue in pass protection but also for creating a running game that will slow down a pass rush.
Tyler Hansen, Colorado: The good news for Hansen is the job is his and he no longer has to worry about the coach's son, as he did under Dan Hawkins with Cody Hawkins. The bad news also is it's all on him, though Hansen seems like the sort who would see that as good news. A more tangible worry for Hansen is a lack of depth at receiver. Paul Richardson can ball and Toney Clemons is solid. After that, things are thin.
Darron Thomas, Oregon: Talk about a debut. Most folks thought Nate Costa was going to win the starting job over Thomas last preseason, but Thomas not only prevailed, he thrived, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and, oh by the way, playing in the national championship game. But now Thomas is playing behind a less-experienced offensive line and without his top-two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis. Further, he's the man now, the first guy his teammates will look at in the huddle, though running back LaMichael James also figures to play a significant leadership role. Thomas seems up to increasing his responsibilities, but he can't do it alone. He will need some young receivers to step up, just as he did last year.
Ryan Katz, Oregon State: Katz might have the biggest arm in the conference and he certainly had some impressive moments, most notably a tour-de-force performance at Arizona. But he sure could use the return of a healthy James Rodgers, who was a big help against the Wildcats before he suffered a terrible knee injury. But receivers are not among Katz's chief worries. His offensive line welcomes back four starters, but it underperformed in 2010, both as run- and pass-blockers. And Katz no longer has certainty at tailback, with Jacquizz Rodgers off to the NFL.
Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck is the best quarterback in the country, but that means many will expect him to be perfect, which he can't be. For one, his dominant 2010 offensive line is replacing three starters. We don't know if the Cardinal running game will match what it did the previous two seasons. That line also protected Luck as well as any line protected its quarterback in the nation. But more pressing for Luck is a questionable crew of receivers. If speedy Chris Owusu is healthy all season, things should work out. But without him, Luck doesn't have any options who can scare a defense. No one stepped up during the spring, which makes receiver perhaps the Cardinal's most worrisome position.
Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley looks poised for a breakthrough in his third year as a starter. While Luck is super special, watching Barkley throw the ball at practice is pretty darn special, too. He's certainly an NFL talent, and he's got plenty of young talent around him at the skill positions to help him put up big numbers this season. But his offensive line was awful during spring practices. Injuries were the chief explanation, but he needs his starting five to stay healthy because there is a decided lack of depth. Offensive line is probably, in fact, USC's biggest question mark.
Jordan Wynn, Utah: First, Wynn needs to worry about himself. He's coming back from shoulder surgery, so he needs to pace himself this preseason, both in terms of not overthrowing and in terms of not seeking out any unnecessary contact. After taking care of himself, Wynn will need to develop chemistry with a receiving corps that is replacing two of its three top guys. Beyond that, Wynn will be paying attention to running back, where the Utes' top two rushers from last season need to be replaced. Utah wants to be a downhill running team, and a hard-nosed running game certainly makes things easier for a quarterback when he steps back into the pocket.
Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Tuel and his receivers are going to be fine -- more than fine if they get some help from an offensive line that struggled horribly in 2010, failing to protect Tuel or to create running lanes for an anemic running game. Tuel did an admirable job handling 51 sacks last fall. But if he gets sacked that many times again in 2011, it's hard to imagine him starting all 12 games.
4dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller