As a follow up to our first part discussion about the biggest spring position battles, part two will talk about the spring/fall/season battle that will lead most conversations when talking about the 2009 Buffs: QB. Nothing will be more talked about this offseason than the competition between Hawkins, Hansen and Ballenger for the starting spot.
1) Starting Quarterback - Tyler Hansen, Cody Hawkins, Matt Ballenger
Get ready for the first of many debates about the quarterback position. Boy, has it been a while since we could come into the season confident about our signal caller. Right now, the topic is unsettling. None of the three above make you feel really good about the position in '09. Each has displayed traits to get fans optimistic but each has shown more than their fair share of inadequacies. The good news for Buff fans is that Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen's playing time consisted of lining up behind a banged up offensive line with inexperienced running backs and less than explosive wide outs. Hawkins along with the other two QB's will benefit greatly from another offseason of learning, an offensive scheme that plays towards the team's strengths (unlike last year's spread offense disaster), a healthy and more experienced group of linemen and a couple new playmakers at wideout.
One thing is for sure, I believe more than ever, this year's competition is as wide open as possible. I wrote a breakdown of each player after the jump but it sounds so similar to what we have been saying for a year that if you want to read it, go ahead. Before that, though, I thought I would put things we should watch for this spring regarding the progression of each quarterback.
Cody Hawkins - it is not the spring practice results we want to see, it is the game day success. The reason Hawkins has been the starter for two years is his ability to show leadership and knowledge of the playbook in practice over the other options. Unfortunately, I think we know what we get in Cody Hawkins and I think it is fair to say, his growth is much more dependent on the maturation of others around him, not necessarily things he can work on day in and day out. If this team is healthy around him, he may be the most knowledgeable and stable option the Buffs have at quarterback to run the ship. If their is anything we need to see from Hawkins is his ability to finish plays and make plays out of nothing. This offense lacked any real playmaking ability out of their quarterbacks last year.
Tyler Hansen - Hansen is probably the quarterback with the most to gain this spring. He will be like a freshman all over again, learning the playbook, gaining the trust of the coaching staff and teammates, etc. Luckily, he does have some experience from last year in all of those categories. What Hansen needs to build upon is the cerebral part of the game. If we see Hansen making audibles at the line, making all the throws, going through progression-based bootlegs, then we can say his camp was successful. Like all quarterbacks, Hansen will be learning a new offense that will challenge his comfort level. When I go to the practices and scrimmages, the main thing I will be watching for is Hansen's poise and confidence in the pocket. If he stands in their, delivers the ball promptly to receivers, doesn't vacate the pocket quickly (happy feet), then we are looking at the emergence of a confident, well-studied quarterback.
Matt Ballenger - like Hansen, Ballenger has a ton to gain this offseason. Hansen and Ballenger will be the flavor of choice for the fans and maybe even the coaching staff. This offense needs a jump start in the all important fourth year for Dan Hawkins and he may look to the sophomores for the spark. Ballenger has a more unknown task to fans. We really don't know much about him other than he is a bigger quarterback (6'4" 225 pounds), has decent mobility and a good arm. Much has been made of Ballenger's assertiveness and "too nice of a guy" approach so far. It will be important for Ballenger to start to display more leadership this spring and start to command the offense, not just go through the motions. Other than that, Ballenger's confidence and pocket presence will also be worth watching this spring. Like Hansen, he is still young and has a lot to learn about the college game.
For more thoughts, read after the jump...
Here is something we talked about a month ago (I made a few adjustments):
Now on to the meat. I believe Cody's development was stunted by the injuries and the youth of this team but I also think/know that Cody is limited. Nothing new by that statement.
Defining the qualities of each guy, Hansen and Ballenger both have measurables that Cody doesn't necessarily have and Hawkins has leadership qualities and is a gamer that we have yet to see from the other two.
Hansen - has the ability to run, adds a dimension, has a good arm that was shown in practice but wasn't confident enough to let it rip because he was young and had his hands tied when it came to having a full playbook at his disposal. he wasn't ready last year and didn't have enough practice to understand the progressions, the reads and the defense he was going against. The good thing is now Hansen will get his reps with the first team and will now be fully emerged in the playbook. That makes me very optimistic because the one thing holding him back was confidence in his domain at quarterback. Their is nothing more intimidating than playing quarterback with a limited set of plays, a lack of knowledge regarding defensive schemes, not having a feel for the college game. He does have good spin on the ball. He needs to continue to physically mature to go with his mental maturation. Bottom line with both Ballenger and Hansen is both are light year's behind Hawkins in knowledge, leadership and experience. The good thing is both are probably light years ahead of Hawkins in terms of physical characteristics. Bottom line, he has talent but he was a freshman last year. The learning curve will need to be big this offseason. Their is still a ton for us to find out about him.
Hawkins - undoubtedly, the leader of this team. I still think he has decent arm strength but his size gets balls batted down at the line and most importantly, he struggles to find throwing lanes. Again, I think it is unfair to totally place the blame on Hawkins last year considering all the injuries but we have yet to see a ton of playmaking ability from him. We need the potential touchdowns completed against FSU even though he is getting pressured. We need Hawkins to be able to make something happen when the protection breaks down, we need playmaking at the quarterback position...period. The Buffs offense needs the tight end and part of their decline in production is due to Cody not being able to see the entire field. His ability to throw sideline to sideline is a question mark. He had good games against only Iowa State and CSU this year with turnovers and short drives too often plaguing this team. Cody will always leave more to be desired as he isn't flashy but I still want to give him a shot behind a healthy line and some more playmakers this spring and fall. He has other intangibles that aren't necessarily measured by stats but at some point in time, the intangibles need to convert to not having a bottom tiered offense in the Big 12 and wins.
Ballenger - kind of the unknown in this whole process even though a recent article in the Boulder Daily Camera game us some insight into what he needs to improve on to become the Buffs quarterback. Basically, Ballenger needs a fire, a drive from within, a spark. What both Hansen and to a greater degree, Ballenger, has not shown the coaching staff is their ability to lead this team. He has great measurables with good size and height. I would say his arm strength is on par with Hansen. He does have some mobility, certainly more than Hawkins. Like Hansen, he just needs to bring it all together.
The Ralphie Report Prediction: I think I speak for most Buff fans in that we would like Tyler Hansen or Matt Ballenger totake control of the position to see what he brings to the table. Either way, though, we want someone to take the position, not just assume it. We have seen Cody and we like Cody a lot as a person and he will be a great coach one day but we have seen that show. If Cody wins the battle, so be it... we just have to hope experience, playmakers and health provide better results.