Although Brendon Lewis was present for last year’s starting quarterback battle between Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle, he was considered more of a third option as a freshman. His performance in the Alamo Bowl was special but Lewis will have to prove himself once more with Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout also vying for the starting role. Less than a month remains until the season opener and the winner of Colorado’s second quarterback battle in as many years has yet to emerge.
The competition appears to be pretty close through the first handful of preseason practices.
“I’ve been really pleased with both,” said quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Danny Langsdorf. “The preparation through the summer is obvious... We’ve been accurate with the ball, we know where to go with the ball (and have been) managing the run game, getting us in the right place and protections.”
What makes this competition more interesting than last year is that Shrout and Lewis each offer a different skill set. We know Lewis can make plays with his legs while Shrout arrived in Boulder with a pro-style background. Langsdorf, however, believes it would be remiss to pigeonhole either of them into one style of play.
“JT is probably labeled more as a pro-style guy (but) he can run too,” Langsdorf said. “I don’t want to pin those guys into those labels too much. Brandon, they say ‘oh he’s a dual-threat guy. He runs around, that means he can’t throw.’ Well, he throws great.”
Shrout added that he has experience running in a zone-read offense in high school and can still scramble for yards if he needs to.
Lewis’ throwing accuracy has been a bit of a question. He completed a respectable 6-of-10 passes in the Alamo Bowl and Langsdorf believes his command has gotten better. Langsdorf has still been honest with his young quarterback on the throws he needs to work on.
“We’ve seen improved accuracy to this point,” Langsdorf said on Sunday. “I think, and I tell him this too, I would say this right to his face, there’s some balls he’s got to make that are easier throws that we’ve missed at times.”
As for Shrout, he holds the advantage in experience after playing in eight games and starting one at Tennessee. He is also now working with his third quarterbacks coach and third offensive coordinator. This time around, though, Shrout has his first “legitimate” shot at a starting role.
Similar to Lewis, Shrout said that bolstering his throwing accuracy is a focus during camp. Learning the playbook, which Shrout said is more “moldable” than Tennessee’s run-focused attack, is a focus this August.
Another factor the Buffs will have to consider is what their offensive schemes will look like depending on who wins the battle. It’s probably safe to assume that Lewis would be given more freedom with his legs but Shrout could work better with CU’s talented group of receivers. Karl Dorrell said last year’s playbook was only “30-40%” of what the Buffs will run this year. So even with Lewis’s extra year of experience in the program, he shouldn’t be too far ahead of Shrout.
With both quarterbacks excelling in different areas, Langsdorf has given each of them equal reps in an attempt to make the competition as fair as possible. A game of rock-paper-scissors has even been deciding which QB will go first in a drill. Both gunslingers are evaluated based on their performance in seven-on-seven drills which are graded along with running plays and throwing numbers.
“When you ask one to do something that maybe the other ones a little bit better at, you also have to flip that and make sure both of them are getting equal opportunity on a lot of different styles and different systems of plays,” Langsdorf said.
One intangible that you can’t neglect when analyzing quarterbacks is their leadership skills. Langsdorf said Shrout has been the more vocal of the two while Lewis has excelled in the weight room and in meetings.
“I am not a big rah-rah guy, I like to lead by example,” Lewis said. “I will speak up when I need to but I like to lead by example and I let my play do the talking.”
Just as he did with the Noyer-Lytle battle, Dorrell expects to name this year’s starter about a week before the season opener on Sept. 3.