Mar 222012
Authors: Kevin Lytle

The message from coaches is that there are no returning starters and that every position is open to competition. No one has a leg up.

While that may be true to a point, some positions are more set than others, with clear leaders for the No. 1 spot.

For instance, the linebacker corps returns three starters, so while they haven’t been named to the first unit officially, they will likely retain those positions.

Quarterback is another position that is up for grabs, but there is a clear leader, and that is the same man who finished last season behind center: Garrett Grayson.

He finished 2011 as the starter after Pete Thomas went down injured late in the season. After former coach Steve Fairchild was fired and Jim McElwain was hired, Thomas decided to transfer to North Carolina State.

“I was happy, I’m not going to lie about it,” Grayson said after the first practice of spring on Wednesday. “Anybody would be happy when they find out that the starter from the year before is now transferred. It’s my spot to lose, I guess.”

While Grayson said he was happy to become the frontrunner, he was full of praise for Thomas.

“I wish him the best of luck. I appreciate everything he did for me,” Grayson said. “He really did help me out a lot.”

His competition includes four others: senior M.J. McPeek, redshirt freshman Conner Smith, freshman Craig Leonard and sophomore Drew Sandlin, who is a mid-year transfer from Fort Lewis College in Durango.

None of those four have every played in a Division I college football game, making Grayson, although only a sophomore, the veteran of the group.

While he took the first team reps on Wednesday, Grayson is operating under the idea that the job is far from secure.

“I can lose the spot at any moment if somebody outperforms me,” he said.

McElwain said the quarterbacks will get equal reps and that a depth chart won’t form for a long time. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said he hopes that one player will take control or that they will have two leaders going into fall camp. The coaches aren’t looking for a prototype, but rather someone who will operate as a coach on the field.

“He doesn’t have to be the most talented athletically; he doesn’t have to have the strongest arm, be the best thrower,” Baldwin said. “He’s got to do what we ask. He’s got to change the play to make it fair for us. He’s got to run the system that we’re asking.”

The offense, while it will probably look similar to last seasons, carries some significant differences. The most important, as far as quarterbacks are concerned, is the play-calling.

Grayson said that plays last year were so long that early in camp he struggled to remember them. Under McElwain, plays will be no longer than eight words, making it easier to remember and call in the huddle.

It’s all part of the coaches wanting to help the quarterback to be someone who is never a hindrance to the team.

“Sometimes, its the throws you don’t make versus the throws you did make,” Baldwin said.

Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at

Quarterback candidates
Garrett Grayson: 3 career starts, 542 yards, 2 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
M.J. McPeek: Has not played a down in three years at CSU. Former walk-on after transferring from Kansas State.
Conner Smith: Redshirted last season, probably the strongest arm of the unit.
Craig Leonard: Spent a year at prep school in North Carolina after graduating from Fossil Ridge in 2010.
Drew Sandlin: Played high school football at Rock Canyon in Highlands Ranch.

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