February 23, 2012

Spring peek: Quarterbacks

Spring football is less than a month away already, so GoldandGreenNews.com begins its look at each position group for CSU and does a player-by-player breakdown within each group. In this installment, an analysis of the quarterback position prepares Rams fans a sneak peek at what to expect headed into the spring period.

Garrett Grayson, So.

The likely leader heading into the spring period, Grayson will have a leg up on his counterparts because he is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience. He played in four games and started the final three in 2011. Grayson passed for 542 yards with two touchdowns and six picks over that stretch as a true freshman. He also rushed for 193 yards and a score on 47 carries. Grayson gave fans a ray of optimism when he placed an injured Pete Thomas last fall due to his athleticism and playmaking abilities in the pocket. But he also showed his lack of experience with his propensity to turn the ball over.

Grayson is fairly well-rounded at the position, but he often relied on his legs to get yards just because he didn't have the chemistry and timing down with the receivers last fall, which really hindered him. This spring will give him that opportunity finally, as he is expected to start out taking reps with the ones. This could be his job for the taking, but he will have to cut down on his interceptions and fumbles from last year. Don't be surprised to see a lot of movement within the first, second, and third teams this spring, especially at this position.

Craig Leonard, T-Fr.

While Leonard graduated in 2011 from Fossil Ridge after leading Colorado Class 5A in passing with over 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns, he will have five years to play four after spending last year at Jireh Prep in North Carolina. That extra year is almost like a redshirt, but he has the game experience to boot from playing some talented competition along the east coast. Plus, he has proven that he can learn multiple playing styles after running different spread, pro-style, and option looks throughout his playing career.

Leonard is big at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, and while he is more of a drop back passer, he can use his legs to give him more time in the pocket. He already looks to have a lot of the fundamentals and mechanics down that you like to see from a quarterback. This spring will be particularly important to him because it will allow him to get used to the speed of the college game, and it will help determine if he truly is in the mix for playing time, or if a redshirt year would be more beneficial.

M.J. McPeek, Sr.

McPeek had a fairly productive spring and fall last year, but quickly found himself in Steve Fairchild's doghouse for undisclosed reasons. He often looked as good, if not better, than Thomas in practices at throwing the football, but never got the opportunity to show that in a game. He returns for his senior season with extensive experience running the second and third teams for CSU the past few seasons.

It would seem that McPeek is the longest shot to make much of a splash this spring because he is already in his final year of eligibility, and coaches likely will want to see the younger guys get more reps. His practice experience will benefit him, however, and with a staff in place, anything is possible at this point.

Connor Smith, R-Fr.

Perhaps the most intriguing player to watch during spring ball, regardless of position, could be Conner Smith. The redshirt freshman drew a plethora of positive responses from onlookers last fall on the scout team due to the cannon of an arm he possesses. He's big at close to 6-foot-five and 220 pounds, and while he didn't produce impressive high school stats, it's easy to see why Fairchild and his staff recruited him out of Texas.

Smith is a natural at throwing the pigskin. His mechanics and footwork appear to be advanced for his age, and his rocket right arm allow for him to take more chances in tighter coverage. He did throw quite a few picks in practices, and a redshirt year served him well. Many fans have Smith as the dark horse to come out on top of the depth chart when it's all said and done, but his lack of game experience will certainly leave him playing catch up to Grayson. Keep an eye out especially for the Grayson-Smith competition over the fifteen allotted practices from March 21st-April 21st.

Analysis: The quarterback position will be one of the most closely observed position battles this spring due to the lack of experience returning and the importance of the position. Luckily for CSU, all four QBs that are on scholarship are currently on campus, so no one will be playing catch up with learning the offense in the fall. The obvious change will be the absence of two-year starter Pete Thomas, who left the team for NC State following Fairchild's dismissal. Many fans will be interested to see if the Rams can muster more production from the quarterback position this year with the change in players and coaches, though a lot with depend on the development at wideout, too.

While every position is up for grabs with the new staff in place, it would certainly make sense that Grayson is the early leader to start out practice with the ones because of the game experience he does possess. He is a solid runner and passer, and while Leonard and Smith aren't exactly statues in the pocket, they're more of your prototypical drop-back pocket passers. Dave Baldwin's offense will feature primarily a pro-style look, contrary to the spread he ran at Utah State. However, there are likely many different formations and packages he wants to install, so Grayson's athletic ability would allow for more play-calling options. The spring period won't determine the opening game starter Sep. 2 against CU in Denver, but it serves as a great time for the players to gain knowledge of the new offense and the necessary reps heading into the fall.

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