What are your thoughts on the looming competition and the guys who will be trying to earn the starting job this spring?
Rip Scherer: "We've got a lot of bodies, no experience. But I think we've got a lot of guys who have ability and that's what spring practice is all about, seeing them compete and seeing who comes out of that ahead.
"I think whenever one surfaces who separates himself from the rest, we'll name a starter. That's ultimately coach Embree's call, but I think that's something that will take awhile because we've got a lot of guys to evaluate."
Last year you had an experienced senior returning in Tyler Hansen and you went ahead and named him the starter at the end of spring ball. Is that pretty unlikely to happen this year?
RS: "I can't say one way or the other quite honestly. It depends on if somebody separates themselves clearly, then that's a possibility, but I don't think you can force that issue. I think it's just got to be something that you can't put a deadline on it. It can't be something that you can definitively when it will happen because it may not happen. Nobody wants to have two quarterbacks, but as long as there is close competition until one guy is clearly the guy, you can't arbitrarily force that decision. Now eventually, you have to make that decision, but hopefully sooner rather than later somebody will separate themselves."
Just given the nature of this situation that you have no one with any real experience and the fact that you're going to be adding another guy to the mix in the fall, would you prefer to have the competition go into August with the job still completely up for grabs?
RS: "I'm not trying to be evasive. I can tell you I honestly don't have a preference in terms of how it unfolds. Regardless of how we come out of spring, there is still the possibility that a freshman could come in here – because we think we have a highly talented freshman – who could alter that. We may come out of spring saying, 'So and so is the starter at this point.' But until we see how Shane does we won't know because he is part of that equation and part of that process.
"I've made it clear to the quarterbacks that first of all this is an ongoing process. We don't start evaluating these guys from scratch. Everybody has a body of work, the five guys that are here. So that goes into the evaluation process. Some of them aren't going to get as many reps in the spring as others. Not everyone is going to get equal reps because some guys have proven over a period of time that they are deserving of more reps. Some guys have proven that they are not yet ready. I tell that they are evaluated every day and that could change every day. But going into spring practice, they are not all going to get equal reps just because of their body of work to this point in time."
Since you mention it, going into spring and the first practice or two, who are the guys who have earned more reps?
RS: "Right now, Nick Hirschman and Connor (Wood), with Connor it's based on what he has done as a scout team quarterback and what he has done thus far in workouts. And then John Schrock just simply because he ended the season as our third quarterback. Then obviously Brent (Burnette) and Stevie Joe (Dorman). There are obviously different plateaus based on where different guys are right now. Nick and Connor are on the top plateau. So they will get more work with the top group. Now, again, as I tell those quarterbacks all the time, what they do one day, that impacts the next. If one of the guys who is maybe a little further down the ladder demonstrates some things in a particular practice, he warrants more opportunities in the next practice. You earn those opportunities by what you do day to day."
Are you guys making any significant changes to the offense. I know you tweak things and add and subtract every year, but will we see major schematic changes that these guys will have to learn and absorb this spring?
RS: "If we were, I wouldn't tell you anyways. But, no, the core of our offense isn't going to change. We are from a core standpoint and a base standpoint what we are. Now we will adapt to our personnel, in particular, I think you always have to adapt to the capabilities of your quarterbacks. Even though Tyler was not a returning starter in this offense, but when you've started games, there is a sense of confidence and belief and trust and especially if you've performed well in games, which he did in the past. Right now, we've got to start at Square One because we've got five quarterbacks, one of which has played minimally in a game. So the core won't change, but you make adjustments and changes and adaptations every year. That's what we're in the process of doing right now, but the central core of who were are as an offense is not going to change."
What are you expecting Nick to be able to do right off the bat in spring ball? We've been told he could miss as much as half of spring practices following foot surgery?
RS: "And that's a distinct possibility. Now knowing Nick, the competitive nature of the situation and his competitiveness, you know Nick...the thing we have to guard against with Nick is that he hurries back too quickly because he wants to be competitive and wants to fight to be the starter. As I've told him, I'd rather ere on the side of caution. The thing I don't want is for him to hurry himself back and not be at his best or set himself back and then we're back to Square One again. Now his rehab and recovery process appears to be ahead of schedule, but that can be misleading.
He's doing everything we've asked of him from a rehab standpoint. He's been in here watching tape on his own and doing those kinds of things. He's doing everything to put himself in as good of a position as he possibly can to be competitive."
You said it's a little ahead of schedule. If that continues, are you thinking you will have Nick for a little more of spring than you initially thought?
RS: "Could be. Originally what we were told is it would probably be more like the second week of spring practice. Then I said to him that if indeed it's the second week, we may hold him until the following week, which comes after spring break. That's give him two more weeks. If he is clearly healed and he's cleared, then at whatever point that is, you can't hurry mother nature, then he'll be involved."
Nick is the only guy you have coming back who played last year. How would you assess the season he had in limited playing time?
RS: "In preseason, he was doing very well. He ended the spring real positive in the spring game and in preseason he was doing real well. He was never the same after he injured that foot during the season, the preseason. So he was never quite the same. He never got back to where he was.
"He demonstrated some good things in practice. For the most part in games, the opportunities we gave him, with the exception of Arizona State, were more late in the game. He did a good job at Washington I thought when we continued to throw the ball some. He struggled a little bit early in the Arizona State game and just the fact that Tyler was a senior and had been cleared that Thursday, we made a change. I don't know that it's really fair to assess his entire season, because I don't know that he was ever fully right. It was nobody's fault, but he accelerated his return because of being competitive and not wanting to fall behind. That's why I want to be more cautious this time."
Where are his biggest areas of emphasis in terms of trying to improve going into the spring?
RS: "I think all five of those guys have got to take complete ownership of the offense. Tyler was the only guy who really did last year in the quarterback room. Now he took the most reps. So that is to be expected, but in terms of completely understanding, knowing the offense, knowing the nuances of the offense, knowing how we expect him to react in certain situations, he really took ownership of the offense. That's the challenge. Every quarterback in our system, some of these guys have been through it a spring, a preseason and a fall and some have been through it a preseason and a fall, and in Connor's case just the fall, but by the end of this spring all the quarterbacks should have a better grasp of what's going on and what we expect of them."
One guy who is a little bit of an enigma Brent Burnette. He's the only senior you have in the group and for whatever reason, he didn't get into the mix much last year. What are your impressions of him and what he needs to do?
RS: "He was up and down. He's just got to be more consistent. Every guy in the room has had their moments and had flashes and he was one of them, but, again, it's a matter of completely understanding and taking ownership of the offense. Quite honestly, that's the thing that John Schrock did coming in here as a true freshman better than some of those guys that he vaulted over in training camp. He demonstrated, from a mental standpoint, a better understanding of the offense and how to handle certain situations and where to go with the ball. In order to go from wherever you are on the depth chart to first, you've got to move up one step at a time, and part of doing that is demonstrating that we can trust you with the operation of the offense by what you do in practice."
A great deal of the perception out there seems to be that this is a two-man competition with Nick and Connor, but where does John Schrock fall in the mix and can he steal the job away from those two?
RS:"Yeah, as I've told every one of them, we don't have a starter, so anyone in that room has an opportunity. Again, some guys have got to come further than others. John is kind of in the middle of the pack right now because of his exposure and his reps with the offense, albeit a lot of that was more mental reps than physical, but he had more opportunities than some of the other guys just because he was on the travel squad. John is really sharp mentally, but he was a true freshman last year coming off of a senior year in high school that he didn't play his whole senior year because of injuries. So his is partially just getting physically stronger, which will allow him to get the ball out quicker with more velocity and have more range with his throws. But John is really sharp mentally. He's a bright guy and really works at it. Where he has to kind of make his greatest strides is to get physically stronger."
Where does Stevie Joe Dorman stand after taking a redshirt year?
RS: "Again, Stevie Joe had flashes. There were times where you saw ability, you saw why he was successful. He didn't come in here physically or mentally prepared for what was ahead of him. I think now he is getting acclimated to the pace of college football and what's expected of you and the mental part of what's expected of you. He has a good quarterbacks feel for the position, but it moves at a much more faster pace. I don't think when he came in here in June he was ready either from an endurance or s strength standpoint. It's a process. Not everybody is ready when they walk in the door as a freshman. It's not like the NFL. It's not just add water and you've got an instant quarterback. Some guys have got to develop a little bit more. Some guys have got to sit on the vine a little bit and ripen. Stevie Joe is making progress in that regard. How quickly he gets into the mix will depend on how much he has grown in those areas that he needs to grow in."
What kind of impression was Connor able to make considering he was practicing throughout the fall on scout team and not really ever working with the first team in your offense?
RS: "He showed great skill in terms of passing the ball. Now, it's easy when you're doing it off of cards. We don't run off of cards on Saturday afternoon. He's dropping back there and not having to read anything. There is a circle there where they want you to throw the ball and the defense is where they think the ball is going to go, and that's what he did. He demonstrated great ball skills, great passing skills. But there are a lot of guys who are scout team All-Americans and when they have to take stuff and process it and make a decision in 31/2 seconds from the time the ball is snapped to when the pressure gets to them and perform under those situations.
"It becomes a totally different game. He demonstrated a lot of positive skills. How that translates and transfers to now when he's running our offense and has to call our offense and has to process our offense and then process what the defense is doing and react to that accordingly within the framework of what we expect of him, that's the great unknown."
How has he been as a student of the game?
RS: "He's been great. He has a real affinity for wanting to learn. He's up here all the time watching tape. He's up here all the time asking questions. He's demonstrated great leadership skills. He's really taken the skill guys and kind of organized them because we're not allowed to be there in this offseason in terms of throwing and catching. Everything that he has done to this point has been really positive, but the real crux of being quarterback is how you play 11-on-11 when the pressure is on on Saturday or how you play in a scrimmage when you've got to think and react with your eyes and with your arm. That's what part of this evaluation process will be about in spring."
Will quarterbacks be live in live tackling portions of spring or how will you approach that?
"My gut feeling is that they probably won't be live. That's something we have not talked completely about, but I don't know that we would make them live cause you hate to lose a guy or have a guy miss four or five weeks because he's in there playing an offensive line position he's never played or a guy playing fullback and has never played and he busts the protection and all of a sudden a guy comes screaming off the edge and KOs him. Now it sets back your evaluation process not because of anything he has done or didn't do. That's the challenge when you put them in a different colored jersey, and I have mixed feelings about that, you have to put the pressure on them to still think. They have to play the game like they're live, and that's what the good ones do."