PROVO — BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and quarterback coach Aaron Roderick have told head coach Kalani Sitake they want the starting quarterback derby to bake a little longer.
Will it work for BYU’s situation? With a new offense, a room full of new coaches, spring practice in the rearview mirror, don’t the Cougars need a singular voice as a leader in the offseason to organize player-driven practices? Someone to take charge?
On the other hand, the move to keep the position up for grabs serves several purposes. It is a sign of respect to senior-to-be Tanner Mangum as he recovers from Achilles surgery. It keeps a promise to a player like freshman Zach Wilson that he’ll get every chance. It allows a leader like Beau Hoge to step up and keep his claim. Joe Critchlow, coming off a 9-for-12 performance in the spring game, can get teammates and coaches to visualize how he can keep the starting job. It keeps a guy coming off a mission in May, Jaren Hall, anxious to jump in.
None of it works unless they are good friends. It appears they are.
“If they had an obvious guy, they’d name him, but they don’t have one so why name him?” said 1984 QB-turned-TV-analyst Blaine Fowler.
“I never had to go through that, so I don’t know how it feels,” said Max Hall. “It was me and Cade Cooper and they named me during spring when we were on our way into summer. I think they probably know who the top two or three are right now.”
“By keeping the job open, all QBs involved will feel an urgency to prepare themselves over the summer,” said former BYU and NFL QB John Beck, now a throwing coach in Southern California. “I think that promotes a lot of positive growth for the players involved.
"Their teammates will also see their commitment to wanting to win the competition and respect will be gained,” Beck continued, warning, however, that this competition should not linger through fall camp. “You want somebody to emerge so the coaches can give the starter all the reps necessary to create chemistry and build a comfort level with the first team heading into the first game.”
Hall said the decision not to name a starter will force everyone to work their butts off.
“A leader may emerge," he said. "The coaches aren’t around and a guy might step up. The conditioning coach can be around and he’ll see what’s going on and who leads.”
This could lead to some unpleasantness, said Hall.
“If you have a quarterback making calls to backs and receivers to meet and throw and that guy doesn’t call the other quarterbacks, there could be some ill feelings.”
Riley Nelson, who ultimately won the starting job at BYU over Elite 11 QB Jake Heaps, said not naming a QB out of spring practice can leave a leadership void.
“No matter how good of leaders you have at other positions and among your upperclassmen, everyone looks to the QB from a leadership standpoint to some degree,” said Nelson.
“The plus is you are giving every one of those seven (or however many) a chance to rise to the occasion and earn the respect of teammates and the right to lead the team.”
Nelson said too often in college football, leaders are anointed rather than proven.
"Leaving the position open all summer will lead to some tension, some awkward situations, and all the QBs should be a little unhappy and if they aren’t, they may not be the right guy. I think stress promotes growth and I think every college quarterback, including every one on BYU’s roster, should welcome the opportunity to grow and get better.”
Said Fowler, “Unless there is a clear-cut guy, I like the idea of leaving it open. The only reason to name someone is to have a leader in the offseason, but if there isn’t a clear-cut guy, by not naming somebody you keep everyone engaged and, as a coaching staff, you have a chance to see who steps up as the unofficial leader. Who is it that makes phone calls, gathers guys together, takes charge? A big part of being a quarterback is to generate followership.
“If they don’t name a guy, who steps up? Coaches will be able to observe this summer and get a read on it,” said Fowler.
How important is this position to BYU?
It is everything. It is the difference between being very good or average, excellent or just bad. It is critical, a success code.
One rule of BYU football the past 40 years is that when you have a playmaker at QB and he is good, you get double-digit-win seasons, go bowling and end up ranked most of the time.
Some say those days are over, history, and that with beefed-up P5 schedules, it is ultimately tougher to accomplish. It’s a good debate.
Great QBs would beg to differ; they think they can win them all.
Maybe it’s good to take the time to find the right guy, let it play out through the June media day, Fourth of July, Pioneer Day and the first week of training camp and just say, “QBs R Us.”