Dick Harmon: Pros and cons for BYU naming a starting QB now
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
For fun, let's get inside the brains of BYU's offensive coaches.
Here are five reasons why Bronco Mendenhall should name a starting quarterback this week — and five reasons why he should not elevate either Riley Nelson or Jake Heaps to starter status before next Saturday's scrimmage.
Name the guy:
1. Receivers, backs and tight ends are getting sloppy taking in balls from three quarterbacks. There was no continuity, little consistency in long stretches and an inability to find an identity as an offense after week one. With Nelson and Heaps, one is a lefty, the other a righty. It is different for their targets.
2. Three years ago, redshirt transfer Max Hall replaced John Beck with no clear BYU challenger at the time. It was a priority of the coaching staff to get Hall as many reps as possible in practice to prepare him for battle against Arizona in the 2007 opener at home. It worked with a 20-7 win.
3. TCU has 120-play scrimmages and senior starter Andy Dalton is getting a majority of the snaps to polish his game. BYU, which goes about 70 plays in scrimmages, is splitting up its reps three or four ways. Last Saturday, Heaps got 23 plays, Nelson 17, and Jason Munns and James Lark had 15 each. If you operate with 40 to 50 fewer scrimmage plays than TCU because of a streamlined system, BYU's starting QB has to be efficient and can only do so with more reps.
4. The sooner the decision is made, the sooner polishing begins, with enhanced quality No. 1 reps. The sooner it's made, the quicker those in the other guys' camp have to recover and unify with familiarity, chemistry and cohesiveness behind the No. 1 guy. It also waters down a media circus that is heightened the longer the job is open.
5. The longer it goes, you risk frustration due to poor execution and polarization by different QB camps inside the squad. Although there is little sign this is a major issue or concern with Mendenhall's team, it could happen in extended time.
Reasons to wait:
1. If it isn't clear, it should remain competitive. The push, the battle and the race will forge more pressure and enable the staff to see who handles it better and who gets flustered under the gun. Remove this and you risk complacency in the starter and backups. Another week won't hurt to keep a motivational whip in hand.
2. Call it fundamental fairness that you recruit to — that there is no entitlement or favoritism, that until a clear winner emerges, you keep it open on principle alone as promised. The longer you go, the more data you can observe to make the proper decision.
3. You aren't just preparing a No. 1 but a No. 2 as well. If No. 1 goes down in the first half of the Washington game, the next guy has to be capable, trained and timed with other starters to have a fair chance to compete as the starter when unexpectedly thrust into the fray. With Lark increasingly looking productive, if you wait, will he push for No. 2? Waiting also keeps Washington and Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian guessing on whom to prepare for; it's strategy.
4. Short term versus long term. This decision might get you through a game or two and feel good, but is it in the long-term interest of the program and season? It should take time to ripen. Riley is a gifted runner and Heaps is a pretty passer. With two leading QBs who are so different yet impressing almost equally, perhaps the staff needs to decide on a style. Or, simply put, Mendenhall's staff is trying to prepare both for roles as players who will produce meaningful action, and both need reps to pull this off.
5. If you name the starter too early in a close race, you cripple the chances of the non-starter to make up or stage a late emergence — and then you are stuck, because you opened your mouth and made a declaration. A coach has to see a team align itself behind a guy. If you cheat that process, you could split your team's allegiance when No. 1 messes up.
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