Wednesday, March 31, 2010
QB competition takes center stage for ASU
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- So how did quarterback Steven Threet end up at Arizona State?
"You want the long story or the short story?" Threet replies.
The short story: Threet signed with Georgia Tech out of Adrian (Mich.) High School but opted to transfer to Michigan when the Yellow Jackets changed offensive coordinators. Then the Wolverines changed head coaches and offenses from a pro-style scheme to a spread-option under Rich Rodriguez, which didn't fit the 6-foot-5, 237-pounder's style in the least.
Steven Threet hopes to win the Sun Devils' starting quarterback job.
The Sun Devils also have changed offensive coordinators since Threet arrived, but no matter. He's hopeful that three times -- and programs -- is the charm.
"I'm comfortable with this offense," he said.
Threet, now a junior, and true sophomore Brock Osweiler will be competing this spring to take the reins of an offense that can only get better in large part because it was mostly lousy in 2009, averaging just 18 points per game against BCS conference foes.
Osweiler (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) played in six games and started one -- an ill-fated, blowout loss at Oregon -- completing 43.6 percent of his passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Threet started eight games at Michigan in 2008, completing 51 percent of his throws for 1,105 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 201 yards and two scores, so he's not a complete stiff in the pocket.
Both guys have some experience, but neither was anything close to lights out. Both have talent. Both have leadership skills. Both are tall.
And it's a straight-up competition with no leader at this point, at least officially. Coach Dennis Erickson said he flipped a coin to decide who would get the first snaps with the No. 1 offense when spring practices started Tuesday. Threet won the toss, by the way.
"Steven has experience playing in games, and Brock has a lot of physical talent," Erickson said. "So we're going to give them both a fair shot and see what transpires."
Erickson said he's looking for accuracy and good decision making in the Sun Devils' "new" spread offense, which will be run by new coordinator Noel Mazzone.
"New" in quotes mostly means that the scheme looks a lot like what Erickson did in the past when his offenses were humming -- spread the field with four receivers and control the game's tempo.
"The guy who wins the job is the guy who manages what we do offensively," Mazzone said. "You can't be just a flash player and be a good quarterback. The, 'Oh, man, he's got a strong arm -- did you see him throw that one deep?' So what? Can a guy move the football, keep us out of bad situations with down and distance and protect the football?"
While the competition starts even, that's probably not the way many fans see it. Just as Osweiler was the favored new guy last year in his competition with Danny Sullivan, so is Threet presently the one generating the most buzz.
He certainly seems to have impressed his teammates, particularly defenders who faced him when he ran the scout team last year.
"There's no limit to how good he can be," linebacker Brandon Magee said. "I'm anxious to see how he'll do. On and off the field, I see him as a leader, someone everybody can look up to."
What about Osweiler? "Same thing with Brock," Magee said. "We're going to surprise a lot of people with how good our offense is going to be."
Said safety Clint Floyd: "When [Threet] was running the scout offense, it was like playing another team. He was giving us good looks."
Still, no Sun Devil seemed ready to announce a favorite.
"It's hard to tell right now," receiver Aaron Pflugrad said. "They're both big, tall guys who can wing it pretty good. I think we'll find out in the spring. Someone is going to rise to the occasion and take the job."
Threet is not lacking in confidence. He said his best attribute is his "intelligence," and he said he started to earn his teammates' trust as soon as he arrived from Ann Arbor.
"They see how I work. I think that really helps," he said. "While they were playing, I was in the weight room every day. I was watching film every day. I didn't need to be because I wasn't preparing for that Saturday, but I was trying to get ready for tomorrow. I never want to get outworked by anyone. That's the attitude I brought with me. That's just who I am."
It wasn't easy to be on the sideline either, watching the team finish 4-8 largely due to an anemic offense.
"It's tough for me to watch any time," he said. "I'm a very competitive person and want to be out there no matter what the circumstances are. They could have been 12-0 and I still would have wanted to be playing."
There are reasons for cautious optimism that whoever wins the starting job will have a better supporting cast than last year, despite the loss of seven starters, including the top three receivers and leading rusher.
Pflugrad, an Oregon transfer, and impressive JC transfer George Bell, will bolster the receiving corps. Speedy Jamal Miles will see action as a runner and receiver. Touted JC transfer Brice Schwab, a 6-foot-7, 345-pound one-time USC commitment who had offers from Florida, Oklahoma, UCLA, among other big-name schools, should offer immediate help for an offensive line that already appears deeper than the previous two seasons. Sophomore running backs Cameron Marshall and James Morrison should be more seasoned.
And the defense, as talented as any in the conference, shouldn't need a whole bunch of points to make a lead stick.
Still, that's a lot of unproven variables. That's why most will project another finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10, which could turn the heat up on Erickson, who's now suffered consecutive losing seasons for the first time in his career.
Improvement -- and a return to winning -- likely depends on better play at quarterback.
Whoever ends up winning the job.
"It's going to be tight," Erickson said. "I don't know if we'll be able to do anything at the end of spring football, unless one of them jumps out and takes it over."