Buffs Position Preview: All Eyes Are On QB Battle
BOULDER — Every snap, every play, every throw.
That's how closely Colorado Buffaloes coaches are watching, documenting and grading the quarterback position in fall training camp this year as they go through the process of selecting a starter.
No doubt, quarterbacks are always under the microscope. But that microscope is exponentially intense this year in what is the most closely watched battle of camp, with freshman Brendon Lewis and sophomore J.T. Shrout engaged in a neck-and-neck competition for the starting spot.
In terms of experience in Boulder, Lewis has the edge. The Melissa (Texas) standout is in his second season with CU. He practiced all last fall with the Buffs and made his first appearance in a college game in the Alamo Bowl, where he debuted with a 95-yard passing, 73-yard rushing effort (including a touchdown) in a relief role.
But Shrout, who is playing catchup as far as Colorado's offensive system goes (he arrived as a transfer from Tennessee last January), has a little more college experience under his belt. He played in eight games with the Vols — four last season — and also has a collegiate start to his credit.
The past, however, doesn't count for much. What is important is the next few weeks as they compete to earn the starting nod when the Buffs open the season Sept. 3 against Northern Colorado at Folsom Field.
CU head coach Karl Dorrell has said he wants to name a starter before the Buffs head into game week preparation for the opener.
"I've been really pleased with both," said CU quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Sunday, following the Buffs' fourth practice of camp. "The preparation through the summer is obvious. I think they're both taking turns and even reps. They've been accurate with the ball, know where to go with the ball, managing the run game, and getting us in the right plays and protections. I've been pleased so far to this point."
For both, this year's camp is the first true opportunity they have had to compete for a starting job in college. Lewis sat behind Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle a year ago (both are now gone) while Shrout spent three seasons at Tennessee competing for what he knew was mainly a backup role.
Now, they are getting equal opportunities when it comes to repetitions in practice. Langsdorf has done his best to make sure each player gets a chance in similar situations, and an equal opportunity with the No. 1 offense.
"We make sure both of them are getting equal opportunity on a lot of different styles and different system of plays," Langsdorf said. "We don't just put one in and throw deep balls all day and then the other one hands it off. It's got to be equal reps. So far, through day four, they've had a lot of different things they've had to do that we've been able to grade them on."
And that grading system covers virtually every facet of practice, from 7-on-7 to full 11-on-11 team work.
"They get graded on every play," Langsdorf said. "We have statistics on the throws and grades on the run plays, too. It takes some time because we really want to look at it fairly."
While both are talented, Lewis and Shrout do have different styles. Lewis has earned a reputation as a dual-threat quarterback while Shrout has been seen as more of a pro-style passer.
But, Langsdorf said, those descriptions aren't entirely true — or fair.
"Brendon, they say, 'Oh, he's a dual threat guy, that means he can't throw,'" Langsdorf said. "Well, he throws great. J.T. is a pro-style guy, he can't run. That's not true, either. They are a little different style but they both have strengths and weaknesses and they can manage all of what we're doing."
Along with the two candidates for the starting job, the Buffs have two true freshmen in camp, Drew Carter and Jordan Woolverton. Both were in Boulder for spring ball.
"They're both trying to figure out the speed of the game and how much it's different from high school," Langsdorf said. "Having them for the spring has really helped them. They're much further along than in the olden days when you just came in in August. I've been pleased. They study and they're working at it."
POSITION COACH — Now in his second year with the Buffs, Langsdorf is the offensive passing game coordinator along with quarterbacks coach. He had an excellent debut season with CU, helping turn seldom-used Sam Noyer — who had played safety the prior year — into a second-team all-Pac-12 selection.
Now, Langsdorf will be tasked with taking another quarterback with minimal experience (no matter who earns the job) and making them a Pac-12 quality QB.
Langsdorf has 24 years of experience at the collegiate and pro levels, including stops at Oregon State, Nebraska and the New York Giants.
KEY RETURNEES — Only one quarterback on CU's roster, Brendon Lewis, played in a Buffs uniform last fall.
KEY NEWCOMERS — The three new faces include transfer J.T. Shrout (Tennessee) and true freshmen Drew Carter and Jordan Woolverton.
IF ALL GOES WELL … The Buffs will have a quality starter and a quality backup. As Langsdorf said, Lewis and Shrout have different strengths and weaknesses, and it will be interesting to see how CU coaches reach their decision.
But no matter who wins the starting job, it's quite possible Buffs fans will see both quarterbacks in action at various times through the season. Both could add a spark in different situations.
The good news is it won't be an easy decision. Both are talented quarterbacks with plenty of upside, and the gut feeling here is that it will be a competition that goes on throughout the season.