Surprise Rise

Many wrote him off in the quarterback battle when he missed spring with a hand injury, but fifth-year senior James Cox today was named the Buffs' starting quarterback. Head coach Dan Hawkins, however, said Cox would have to produce to keep the job.

James Cox broke a bone in his hand early in spring ball and missed most of spring practices. But the senior used the past week of practice to pull ahead — ever so slightly, according to head coach Dan Hawkins — and was told he is the team's starting signal caller prior to this afternoon's practice.

"It's a great opportunity," said Cox, who backed up former Buff Joel Klatt the past two seasons. "It was really hard for me to not be able to practice in the spring. But I never doubted myself a minute. I knew I'd just have to work twice as hard as everybody else because I didn't get the reps on the field (in spring)."

Hawkins said Cox has been "a little more efficient in running the club," and is ahead "in terms of how he operates in understanding the offense." But Hawkins added that the margin between Cox and backup White is "razor thin."

That may present a coaching challenge for Hawkins and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich. Hawkins said he wants his starter to play without looking over his shoulder, wondering if he'll get the hook if he makes a mistake. But Hawkins also made it clear that whoever the starting quarterback is must produce on the field.

Hawkins said he told Cox, "Hey, I've got to produce and Coach Helfich has got to produce, and you've got to produce. That's the nature of our jobs. And so, is that a game, is that two games, is that a half, is that three games? I think you have to give him enough room where he can go up and operate. I want it to be his team and I want him to roll with it."

The decision would've been easier if there was more separation between Cox and White, Helfrich said.

"You always want a dramatic separation," Helfrich said. "You really like that because that gets a lot confidence from the team. I wouldn't say that's the case here — not necessarily the confidence part of it — but there hasn't been a drastic, ‘Wow, this guy's a lot better that this guy.' But we need to make a decision and roll."

Did the fact that Cox is a fifth-year senior play into the decision? Not according to Hawkins.

"You got to play the best players," he said. "If the guy's a true freshman or a fifth-year senior, you've got to play the best guy."

Now that the decision's been made, Cox will get all the reps with the first team, which will be roughly 60 percent of the plays in practice once they go into game week, Hawkins said. White said after practice he was disappointed, but that he would continue to prepare hard to play.

Hawkins said again Sunday he's not a fan of the two-quarterback system. He's done it twice in the past, and it hasn't worked well. He said a team works better when each player is clear about his role, including the starting quarterback and backup quarterback.

However, Hawkins said it doesn't leave out the possibility of bringing in Bernard Jackson — who's running ability gives the offense a different dimension than Cox or White — in certain situations with his own unique package of plays.

Practice Notes
• While nearly a dozen players were out of pads during the afternoon practice, Terrence Wheatley and Thaddaeus Washington were back in action. Terry Washington is wearing a cast on one of his hands that appears to be for a broken finger.

• The team released a new depth chart. Among the moves, Alvin Barnett and Stephone Robinson are 1/2 at z receiver, with Dusty Sprague — who hasn't practiced in several days with an ankle issue — third at the position. Jack Tipton is listed No. 1 ahead of Edwin Harrison (who's also been out) at right tackle. Hugh Charles and Mell Holliday are listed co-No. 1 at tailback. Alex Ligon has been moved back to defensive end. Ben Burney and (injured) Ryan Walters are co-No. 1 at free safety. And the punting situation remains murky, with Matt DiLallo, Mason Crosby and Isaac Garden all running at No. 1.

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