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Camp Unit Preview: Quarterbacks

The most hotly contested position on the team checks in as the lowest ranked offensive unit. That's... not good.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Part I: Defensive Line

Part II: Secondary

Part III: Linebackers

It's August 13th and Iowa State still doesn't have a starting quarterback for this season.  Grant Rohach started fall camp at the top of the depth chart after running with the first string most of the spring, and he looked firmly entrenched in the starter's role until this past week.  As we all know around these parts, "firmly entrenched" can mean nothing of the sort.

Sam Richardson ran with the first string for most of the scrimmage on Saturday, but that was chalked up to his turn in the rotation.  Fair enough, but word is Sam performed very well while Grant struggled with the second string.  So what once seemed like a clear cut race is going to come down to the wire.  Rhoads' self-imposed deadline of the second scrimmage, which is this weekend, is approaching quickly.  There's only one thing that's certain at this point and it's that redshirt freshman Joel Lanning is not going to win the job.  Although Grant and Sam can't separate from each other, their improvement has left Lanning a clear 3rd.

Depth Chart

String Player Year HT WT
1st Grant Rohach RSo 6'2" 217
2nd Sam B. Richardson RJr 6'2" 221
3rd Joel Lanning RFr 6'2" 233
The Rest: Brandon Horbach (RJr), Darius Lee-Campbell (Fr), Kyle Starcevich (Fr)

The Leader

Naturally it makes more sense to approach this breakdown different than the other units given the nature of the position, so I will take the time to articulate which quarterback exhibits the qualities required in each heading.

By and large the biggest reason neither Grant or Sam has separated quite yet is because of the leadership angle.  Neither guy has risen up and gained control of the offense and become the man that the team listens to and goes to war with.  Heading into 2013 everyone thought that man was Sam and we were told he held the offensive personnel more accountable than previous quarterbacks had.

We'll never know what last season might have turned out like had he and the offensive line remained healthy, but one thing always stuck out to me about how Sam was treated by his teammates.  On nearly each and every one of the nasty hits he took there was someone to pick him up, brush him off, and set him along his way.  If that isn't a sign of respect I'm not sure what is.  The photo chosen for this article is another example of that.  On Sam's touchdown runs against TCU and Oklahoma he was taken out as he entered the end zone.  On both occasions his linemen were the first ones to grab him and pick him up to celebrate.  Only a man who has earned the respect of his peers gets that kind of attention.

That's not to say Grant can't be the leader here.  You can tell by his approach with the media this year that he's loosened up and is fitting in with the guys.  There's still time for him to grab the bull by the horns and take charge.  It's just to me it seems that Sam has exhibited the more natural traits of a leader, which is what an offense needs.

The X Factor

Decision making.  There is no greater x factor that will separate these two than decision making.  As we saw last year, Sam is a safer decision maker but sometimes does it to the detriment of his health and the flow of the offense.  Grant is a little more willing to gun sling, but at the same time can't bail himself out with his feet when in trouble.  Here's what needs to change for each man to win this part of the battle.

Sam needs to work on releasing the ball faster.  See a guy with a step on a corner?  Sling it.  See Bibbs settling into a soft part of the zone?  Anticipate it and sling it.  See Cover 4 and no hope of going deep?  Check it down.  Last year Sam became the master of the pump fake when he'd pull the ball down and look for something else.  More often than not that resulted in a scramble situation, and if this offense is to have success it starts with a healthy, consistent quarterback.

Grant needs to work on knowing when to play for another down.  He's mostly fearless when throwing the ball, but got himself into situations last year where no open men presented him with either the option of running or forcing a bad pass.  In the best situations he took a sack, in the worst he turned the ball over.  Turnovers will hurt doubly so this year with a young defense on the sidelines.

Who has the upper hand right now?  Tough to say.  I'm a believer that it's easier to teach decision making and the "right thing to do" than break a mental block about trusting your eyes and arm when you see someone open.  If that's truly the case then you have to give the inside track to Grant.

The New Guys

Joel Lanning isn't going to win the starting job, but Rhoads is all too familiar with going to his 3rd string quarterback during the season.  Lanning brings a much larger frame to the equation and would hold up in the run game fairly well.  There's been no chatter from camp about this, but is it high time Iowa State finally sees some real situational play calling with a specialized quarterback?  Only time will tell.

Darius Lee-Campbell checks in as the quarterback in this year's recruiting class, but given the relative youth of the three in front of him I would not be surprised to see a position change in his future.

The Key to Success

Finding a leader is going to make this offense so much more dangerous than it would be with a rotation, or an unsettled situation.  It's easy to assume Rhoads wanted a starter named by the end of this weekend to give that player a chance to lead the offense in the final week of camp and the first week of fall practice.  In a system based on quick reads, timing, and accuracy the chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers is second to none.

Grant and Sam throw the ball differently with different spirals and velocities that guys need to learn to catch play after play.  At this point they should have caught enough balls from each in practice and summer work outs, but once the pads are on and the intensity picks up things will change.  Having one man to call the shots and deliver the balls will only make an offense with the most talent it's seen in years reach another level.

The Prediction

You won't find many supporters who are bigger fans of Sam Richardson than myself and Norman Underwood.  Personally I'm rooting for Sam to win the battle as I've enjoyed his moxie, leadership, accuracy, consistency, and excitement with the ball in his hands.

Personal bias aside though, I think this job is ultimately going to fall into the lap of Grant for the first week of the season.  He gets rid of the ball quicker and improved his accuracy as the season progressed last year.  Right now, I think he's the man for the job, but  things are always fluid under Rhoads.