FOR THE FIRST time in recent years there's not even the hint of a quarterback controversy at Washington State. Jeff Tuel holds the reins, looking to build on performances like the gritty one he turned in last season as a true freshman against USC. Today, in CF.C's continuing series breaking down the 2010 Cougars by position heading into fall camp, we look at the pros and cons at quarterback.
Tuel glimpsed a brighter future in his time under center last season. The advantage of burning his redshirt means he will hit the proverbial ground running this year. That means greater maturity right out of the gate. Last season, just months removed from the senior prom, Tuel sounded thrilled merely to be on the field. This season he figures to be thrilled with one thing: winning.
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Tuel has a multi-faceted skills set – accuracy, mobility, the ability to read defenses and beyond. And he has really, really great feet. For 2010, Tuel is also a year older, a year wiser and battle tested.
Tuel has long been completely recovered from the knee injury that prematurely ended his freshman campaign. His performance over the 15-practice spring session was a big reason why Todd Sturdy told CF.C, “I think we're in a position to legitimately compete.”
Tuel, as well as Marshall Lobbestael, did an appreciably better job of executing the offense and taking care of the ball this spring. The defense was the star of the show, but the QBs made better decisions in the face of it, an important sign of maturity.
Lobbestael was loathe to use his knee as any sort of an excuse last year but the truth was he didn’t trust it -- it just wasn’t fully healed. It is this year. And Lobbestael is one of the hardest working players you’ll ever find and that’s again been in evidence this offseason.
David Gilbertson has the tools -- the WSU coaches thought highly enough if him to mention the possibility of him earning a scholarship. He didn’t earn it this spring, but he’s capable of doing so down the road.
The defense won the spring, no question about it, but there was more rhythm back in the WSU offense. As the QB play improved, the offense, in its other facets, was rising right alongside.
Tuel had his best scrimmage performance on the spring’s final day -- 11 of 16 passes for 129 yards, one TD and no interceptions. His decision making and accuracy were dead-on and exactly what fans hoped to see to cap the spring session.
Tuel gave up on the o-line protection too early as the season went on. It’s hard to blame him, the ‘09 line at times resembled a greased-up turnstile. Nevertheless, the bottom line remains, his eye level shifted down too early, too often -- and when a QB is looking at the oncoming pressure instead of downfield, the only thing that likely ensures is he’ll get rocked. Lobbestael has skills and smarts, but he lost his confidence last year, could not get it back and things went from bad to wicked bad. If there’s a run on injury even halfway similar to the horrific purge of last year, things get iffy fast -- Dan Wagner is a hardworking backup but hasn’t shown to this point he’s ready to lead a Pac-10 team to victory. Gilbertson had a decent spring but he fell shy of what Sturdy wanted to see – clear cut evidence of a guy who in an emergency can come off the bench and lead a game winning drive.
Will Tuel continue his upward climb, will he show more of the decision making, passing, running and more that so raised the hopes of Cougar fans?
Will Tuel stay healthy? And if Tuel starts feeling the heat, will he keep his eye line above the oncoming pass rush in order to make plays/throw it away – and escape uninjured?
How will Tuel, as well as Lobbestael, handle adversity? Will it increase their drive and determination even more, or will they begin to press?
Will Lobbestael bounce back mentally from last year, will all those countless hours of hard work pay (much deserved) dividends?
Connor Halliday, who has great potential, is a definite redshirt. But if disastrous injury again rears its ugly head, will the same situation arise as last year? Just how far is it down the list before Halliday becomes the best QB available, despite being a true freshman?
Will Gilbertson earn a scholie, and thereby become a guy who proves he can come off the bench and get it done?
The Cougs need the running game to be productive and a significantly better job of protection by the o-line if Tuel and the WSU quarterbacks are to have a significant, positive impact in 2010. There’s been improvement in both those areas, but it's also in the early developmental stages. And so, the WSU quarterbacks are going to have to make some plays of their own -- and nothing less should be expected of them, either. At quarterback, fall camp, in that respect, should be fascinating to watch.