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Friday, March 9, 2012
Colorado QB battle on temporary hiatus

By Kevin Gemmell

In Connor Wood's mind, nothing has changed. He's not Colorado's starting quarterback. Not even close. He's No. 1 on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean much. That and $2.50 will get him a cup of coffee.

Nothing has changed in coach Jon Embree's mind, either. There will be a quarterback competition to see who will lead the Buffaloes offense. It's just going to start a couple months later than originally planned.

With the news earlier this week that last season's backup quarterback, Nick Hirschman, had suffered another broken bone in his other foot, the highly anticipated Wood-Hirschman showdown has been postponed. But the position is still in play.

"It will have to get done in camp," said Embree. "But there will be a competition."

Embree couldn't have been more blunt if he'd hired a skywriter to stream the message over the Rockies. And Wood gets the message.

"I think the competition between Nick and I would have been great for us and great for the team," said Wood, who transferred from Texas in the fall. "This might change the dynamics of spring practice in terms of the number of reps I'm getting. But this doesn't change my outlook."

Embree spoke on Monday about this spring being all about finding a quarterback. That Hirschman and Wood would split equal time with the first-team offense. That they would split reps and throw to the No. 1 receivers and work behind the No. 1 offensive line.

Then on Wednesday, news broke that Hirschman would be out for spring ball. And Wednesday night Embree remained undeterred.

"It's still our top priority," he said. "Nothing changes."

Connor Wood
Connor Wood says he's prepared to step in as Colorado quarterback after running the scout team last season following his transfer from Texas.
So Colorado will open spring ball tomorrow with Wood at the helm, taking almost all of the snaps with the first team. It will accelerate his knowledge of Colorado's pro-style offense. But the pressure to perform is still there, even if Hirschman isn't.

"I expect a lot from myself," said Wood. "My expectations are high and it's been that way for a long time. Even with the competition at Texas, we had some great quarterbacks there and there was good competition. What I learned was just to focus on me and how could I make the team better and doing the best that I can. I have that same approach going into [tomorrow]."

There are other holes to fill. Questions at wide receiver beyond Paul Richardson. Questions at running back. A couple of holes to fill on the offensive line. But the quarterback hole is the biggest. And Embree said that when there are multiple holes to plug, you start with the biggest.

He's not sure what to expect from Wood in light of Hirschman's injury. Competition is good under any circumstance. And the lack of competition can either make a guy relax — or push him harder.

"It's both good and bad," he said. "There are times when it's good for some guys and bad for some others. It just depends on the guy. We're still learning about Connor. We don't know if it will be good or bad for him. The same for Nick. Now that he knows he has to do it in training camp instead of spring, does it put more pressure on him? How does all of this affect him? It's one of those things we won't know until it plays out."

And until it does, Wood is determined to make the most of his opportunity. After running the scout team last year, he's ready to sink his teeth into Colorado's playbook and then show what he knows on the field.

"I think if you don't know the playbook inside and out, you have already lost the battle going on the field," he said. "You have to see it in real time, the movement and the speed of the game. There is no movement on the playbook. But you've got to know it. There are two important parts that aren't mutually exclusive. They have to come together to be a successful quarterback."

Wood is no stranger to quarterback competitions. He went through one at Texas and that eventually led to his transfer -- a move he said he is completely at peace with. Now, he wants to make a big splash at his new school. And tomorrow he takes an important first step.

"I'm feeling great about what we're going to do in terms of the install and what we want to get done," he said. "The West Coast offense is a pretty big offense. There is a lot to learn and I still have a lot to learn this spring and summer and fall. I have a long way to go, but I feel like I've made strides over the last five-six weeks.

"One of my big goals is just to make the right decisions. It doesn't always mean taking the long, deep ball. It could be taking the check-down ball and being patient. That all comes with decision-making. That comes with poise. I want to keep that poise in spring. Obviously, I'll get more reps with Nick being gone. I just want to make good decisions and take the offense with a process-focused mentality, meaning that this isn't the end road. I've still got a long way to go. Let's take it step by step."