Heading into the 2011 football season, CSU head coach Steve Fairchild possesses something heâ€™s never had in his three previous years as head coach:
A returning quarterback.
In 2008, it was Billy Farris at the helm, then Grant Stucker in 2009, followed by Pete Thomas last year as a true freshman.
And the Rams expect to see lots of improvement in year two of the Thomas era.
â€œItâ€™s completely different than last year. Last year I think he had to think about snap count, and where to line up in the huddle,â€ Fairchild said. â€œHeâ€™s a lot more familiar with what weâ€™re doing, a lot more familiar with what the defense is trying to do to him, a lot more honed in on his technique. Everythingâ€™s better.â€
One of the areas the offense will look to improve on is third down conversions.
Last season, the Rams converted on only 37 percent of their third down attempts. Top teams in the country annually convert around 50 percent of the time.
The combination of Thomasâ€™ experience, as well as an already established rhythm with the receivers around him, should allow the offense to be more efficient.
â€œI feel a lot more comfortable personally, I think the whole offense has a lot more experience. We all feel a lot more comfortable out there,â€ Thomas said. â€œI think weâ€™ll be a pretty good offense this year.â€
As a freshman, Thomas completed 64 percent of his passes, the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in CSU history, regardless of class. He also set a Mountain West Conference record for passing yards as a freshman, with 2,662.
Despite those numbers, fans were often frustrated by the conservative offensive choices, as the Rams rarely stretched the field vertically.
Speedsters Lou Greenwood and Tony Drake are looking more comfortable as part of the receiving core, and receivers Marquise Law and Byron Steele have a year of experience under their belt.
And with those improvements, the offense has proven to be more dangerous with deep throws in spring ball than they were at any point a season ago.
The offensive line, which was full of inexperience last year, also has another year of experience, and Fairchild said he thinks this group has a chance to be one of the better units in the country.
The offense will continue growing as the players become more familiar with their roles.
â€œWeâ€™re adding a few more things (Thomas) can handle that we wouldnâ€™t have dared do last year because he was just out of high school,â€ Fairchild said. â€œIt really helps having him back.â€
Football Beat Reporter Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.