With just 18 days remaining before Kansas University’s first football game of the 2011 season, the battles for starting spots in preseason camp are starting to heat up. But few seem as hot as the competition at the team’s most visible position — quarterback.
As was the case a year ago, KU coach Turner Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long continue to evaluate their options at QB as camp moves into its third week.
Little has changed from a week ago, when Gill said sophomore Jordan Webb and senior Quinn Mecham were at the top of the depth chart at QB, but, with the days leading up to game week dwindling, the time is nearing for the coaches to name a starter.
As has been the case since the end of spring ball, Webb has the slight lead in the race. But Gill said Mecham remained close and that the competition would continue for a little longer.
“We want to go through three or four more days and then maybe sit down with Chuck and see where we’re at,” said Gill, when asked if he was ready to name a starter. “I feel very good about Mecham and Jordan Webb being the catalysts to run our football team. We’ll make a decision here sometime soon.”
For Long, the ideal timing for an announcement would come sometime early next week.
“Within 10 days of the first game, that’s what you like to do,” Long said. “That way you give him a chance to talk about it with the media and do some other things. But coach Gill may extend that. He may go to the week before. He may do it tomorrow. But 10 days is always optimal, just because he can settle in a little and then focus on the opponent that next week.”
While some of the battle has played out in practice with performance in drills, leadership and overall demeanor all being closely scrutinized, the other part of the evaluation has taken place during a pair of scrimmages, the most recent of which came last Saturday night.
“Both guys have really done well in the scrimmages,” Gill said. “And it’s kind of good for me because we continue to have competition. That always puts a smile on my face.”
Another QB who has emerged recently is true freshman Michael Cummings, of Killeen, Texas. While Gill seemed to indicate that Cummings remained behind Webb and Mecham in the race to become the starter, he also said he had been impressed with how good Cummings had looked in limited time.
“He’s done some good things, and I think every day he’s gotten better,” Gill said. “That’s all you can ask for from a freshman. I think every single day (we’ve been) impressed with what he’s able to do. He has some running skills. He’s shown some good throwing ability. And I’m very pleased with what he’s shown. He’s got tremendous upside and we’ll see how it all fits as we continue to evaluate our guys.”
Gill wasn’t the only one lauding Cummings, a 6-foot, 196-pound dual-threat QB who missed the second half of his senior season of high school because of a knee injury.
“Great,” said Long, when asked how Cummings had progressed. “He had a nice 50-yard run in the scrimmage, and he was live. We wanted to see him live and in some Wildcat stuff, and he’s impressed so far. We’ll see how that all shakes out by the end of camp.”
Added junior wide receiver and former QB Kale Pick: “The big thing that’s really impressed me with Michael is his arm strength. He can wing it all over the field, and he can make every throw.”
The thing that seems to separate Webb and Mecham from Cummings is the fact that the two older guys have actual game experience.
“Having both of them with starting experience really helps,” Long said. “That has really shown up this fall at training camp. But it’s been a very competitive battle. Jordan’s really done well and probably has an edge at this point in time, but we feel very solid about our two guys.”
As for Cummings’ injury, for which he had surgery last December, that’s a non-issue.
“I wouldn’t say anything is wrong with him,” Gill said. “He’s not injured, he’s not favoring the leg at all. That’s really not even a discussion anymore. He’s 100 percent healthy and ready to go.”
Pick thought back to his experience in last year’s quarterback battle and said he imagined Webb and Mecham were ready to find out who had won the job.
“I definitely remember the feeling,” Pick said. “I remember I wanted to know right away. I’m sure Jordan and Quinn do, too.”
As for any longing for his old position or the infamous red jersey that QBs don during practice, Pick said he hadn’t thought about it in a while.
“I don’t look over there as much anymore,” he said. “I’m pretty much focused on what I’m doing at receiver. But every now and then I’ll see Jordan or Quinn walk by me and I’ll tell ’em, ‘Keep it going, keep the hard work up,’ and I’ll try to keep them motivated.”