Friday, August 24, 2012
Take 2: Quarterback surprises
By Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller
Overall, there weren't many surprises across the Pac-12 during fall camp. Though a couple of the quarterback competitions did catch our eye. Here's our take on a pair of surprising outcomes.
Ted Miller: Four of five Pac-12 quarterback competitions have been decided, and Oregon is expected to announce its decision between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota on Friday. You could make a case that three have been surprises. But the one that surprised me most was Taylor Kelly at Arizona State.
Taylor Kelly's ability to take care of the football won over Arizona State coach Todd Graham.
I can't recall reading or hearing anyone say that Kelly was going to win the job after spring practices. Further, I can't recall reading or hearing anyone say that Kelly was any better than third after spring practices. In fact, coach Todd Graham said as much, essentially telling reporters that Mike Bercovici would likely start and Michael Eubank would play if the season started in May.
Ah, but the season didn't start in May. And lookie here. Kelly is the last man standing. No, I didn't see it coming. But there is a lot to like about Kelly winning the job.
Why? First, you've got to love an underdog who did some offseason self-analysis and then busted his rear over the summer, set on improving. How can you not respect hard work paying off? Consider Kelly's comment to Kevin Gemmell:
"I worked really hard throughout the summer," he said. "The main thing I needed to work on was my vertical shots and my arm strength and getting comfortable with me taking those shots. That was the key for me this summer. I studied a bunch of film and really got comfortable with the offense and my feet and reading the defenses.
"In camp, I felt a lot more comfortable with the guys and the offense and reads. I just came out and cut it loose."
Kelly seems to have finished first by finishing second in two key areas and first in a third. He was second to Bercovici in terms of polish as a passer and second to Eubank in terms of running the option. But he was first in terms of protecting the football. By Graham's calculus, that equals No. 1.
Another reason to like this decision: It shows, without a shadow of a doubt, that Graham and his staff conduct true competitions. If you've been around college football for a while, you know that some staffs have reputations for playing players with better recruiting pedigrees or who look better in their uniforms. That means close competitions go to a guy with more recruiting stars and better 40 times rather than pure production in practice.
At the beginning of preseason camp, it looked like Graham and his staff were poised to pick either Bercovici or Eubank, who could look prettier than Kelly during practices. But this competition turned out not to be a beauty contest. That's a good thing, something that should be encouraging to Sun Devils fans.
Kevin Gemmell: While the fact that Jordan Webb won the starting job at Colorado doesn't come as much of a surprise, it was the timing -- and timeliness -- that was somewhat surprising. To understand Webb's surprisingly swift ascension from Kansas castaway to Colorado starter, it's important to understand how it all came together.
When it became clear Webb wasn't going to get the looks with the Jayhawks, he busted his backside to graduate early so he could transfer somewhere with a graduate degree program not offered by Kansas. Once granted permission to talk to other schools, he reached out to Colorado quarterbacks' coach Rip Scherer, who relayed the information to Jon Embree. The head coach then talked with his son, Connor, who serendipitously had transferred from UNLV to Kansas, and was able to give his dad the scoop. After some initial vetting, the courtship began and voilà, Colorado had a quarterback.
Cast off by Kansas, Jordan Webb has dazzled his way into Colorado's starting QB job.
I don't think anyone is blown away by the fact that he was named the starter. After all, he started 19 games in the Big 12. Connor Wood, a Texas transfer and the presumptive favorite before Webb arrived, has zero career starts. Experience trumps inexperience almost every time.
But I think the most surprising aspect was that Webb was named the starter so quickly after arriving on campus. Wood had taken all of the snaps with the first-team offense in the spring, since his immediate competition, Nick Hirschman, missed time with a broken foot. With no one to really push Wood, the consensus among those in the know was that he was just too Jekyll-and-Hyde. He'd have good days and bad days. The consistency wasn't there.
So in comes Webb, a spread quarterback who has never worked under center before, and three weeks later he's the starter. Not exactly the traditional path. By even courting Webb, it was pretty clear that Embree wanted another option at quarterback -- either to turn the heat up on Wood or win the job outright. We don't know what happened behind the closed gates of Colorado's practice field, but those must have been three dazzling weeks.
I'm also surprised that Wood didn't make more of an impact. He played well in the spring game and was such a highly touted recruit that it seems peculiar that he fell out of favor so quickly. I will say this for Wood, though -- he's handled the situation with poise, grace and maturity. Not an easy spot, but he stood up to the media and talked about being a team player and that he supports Webb and Embree's decision. Big, big ups to him for that.
Secondly, the fact that Webb won the job prior to Colorado even having a scrimmage is also a bit surprising. I would have thought that Embree would have wanted to see him in a scrimmage setting before making the call. But the coach has raved about Webb's consistency and ability to pick up the offense quickly.
In Webb, Embree trusts. In Embree, Colorado trusts.