About this series: This is the seventh in a series of previews of Kansas University’s football team by position. The series will run Wednesdays and Sundays in the Journal-World. Coming Sunday: tight ends.
Kansas University offensive coordinator Chuck Long has a simple theory on quarterbacks that might help explain why the KU coaching staff has yet to pick a starter for the 2010 season.
“Quarterbacks are like tea bags,” Long told the Journal-World during a summer breakdown of the position. “You never know what you’re gonna have until you put ’em in hot water. And you gotta find out when you put ’em in hot water what they’re really all about.”
To this point, there’s not a quarterback on the KU roster — if you don’t count the coaches — that has experienced the kind of pressure cooker that Long is talking about.
Sophomore Kale Pick and red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb took the majority of the snaps in the spring game in April and they emerged from spring drills as the co-leaders at the position.
Both Long and KU head coach Turner Gill have said since they arrived that they would like to keep the competition going into the fall. But the way the calendar laid out had as much as anything to do with the battle moving into preseason practice, which opens at 2:30 p.m. today.
With Pick and Webb being deadlocked atop the depth chart, there really was no way for either player to take the lead over the other this summer since NCAA rules prohibit coaches from working with players.
“Summer’s a great format for quarterbacks in regards to developing their leadership skills because they have to do it on their own,” Long said. “It’s a good time for them to lead on their own and organize and get all the guys together and do what they need to do.”
For the KU quarterbacks, that included mostly physical stuff such as working on conditioning and getting bigger, stronger and faster. Long said all of KU’s quarterbacks — junior college transfer Quinn Mecham currently is listed as the team’s third-stringer — participated in seven-on-seven drills this summer. However, because he could not watch, he could not comment on who looked good and who might not have.
“It’s hard to tell right now,” Long said. “Unless you’re there on a daily basis with them, you really can’t tell at this point in time.”
With that in mind, Long spent the summer dissecting practice film as well as watching and re-watching tape from the spring game. What he concluded was what put the Jayhawks here in the first place.
“Through the course of the spring, they both had good huddle command,” Long said of Pick and Webb. “I thought Kale really had great production in the spring game. Everybody saw that, he had good numbers, he hit some big plays and he did it for both teams. That’s what you like, a guy who will go in on any team and make plays and produce.”
Of Webb, Long said: “Jordan had his moments, he just needs to get better as far as getting rid of the ball quicker. But, overall, I thought his spring was solid. He’s only a freshman so he’s only going to get better. Jordan has that capacity of stretching the field with his arm. He’s got an excellent arm and can throw that deep ball very, very well.”
For the most part, Long knew what type of skills both players possessed before he ever stepped onto the field with them. What, then, was the most important thing he learned this spring?
“You get a good idea of what they can handle and what they can’t handle,” he said. “And scripting and game-planning become easier to do in the fall now that we have a better idea of what our quarterbacks are capable of doing.”
Gill said last week at Big 12 media days in Irving, Texas, that the battle to become the man to replace Todd Reesing could continue for several more weeks.
“As far who’s the starter, there’s no timeline,” he said. “It could be after the first week (of fall practice), it could be all the way up to the day before our first game.”
Long said that stance remains accurate and that he had no news about when a starter might be named.
“The separation will happen in training camp. And we’ve got a lot of training camp practices,” said Long said of the 25 practices that will lead up to gameday on Sept. 4. “It may still be neck-and-neck and coach Gill may shut it down and say, ‘Hey, I wanna go with this guy right now.’ It’s the head coach’s prerogative, and if he feels that’s in the best interest of the football team, and if he feels it’s best to develop more chemistry with the offense as a whole, he may decide quickly. You never know.”
What Long does know is that regardless of which player the staff picks to start the season under center, both QBs better stay ready.
“Everything’s all well and good when you name a starter out of training camp,” Long said. “But they still have to prove it in football games.
“It’s tough. I think one of the most challenging things there is in football is that back-up quarterback position and staying in the game mentally. I can give you stories from the years that I’ve been a coach where that position has changed for whatever reason during the course of the season. So that back-up has to stay hungry and be ready to go in there because time is limited when they get in. You’ve gotta prove yourself and show yourself quickly.”
Practice starts today: KU officially opens the 2010 season today with its first preseason practice of the year at 2:30 p.m.
Among the most interesting stories we’ll be following this fall are: the race to replace Todd Reesing at quarterback; how new head coach Turner Gill will run his program; what life will be like around Memorial Stadium without familiar faces like Reesing, Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and Darrell Stuckey; as well as how the battles for playing time unfold at other positions.
KU, which finished 5-7 in 2009, returns 38 letter winners and 17 starters from a year ago and will open the 2010 season against North Dakota State at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4 at home.
“Our staff is ready and excited to start this great journey,” Gill said.