Nelson Further Along Than Expected

Nick Nelson goes into Saturday's spring scrimmage slightly behind Cody Hawkins in the competition for the 2007 starting quarterback. But Nelson, who transferred just prior to this semester from Saddleback Community College, is further along than his coach, Mark Helfrich, expected him to be.

Both Cody Hawkins and Nick Nelson are battling through some "camp arm" after taking the majority of reps at quarterback during the past 14 spring practices. (The third quarterback coming in to spring, Bernard Jackson, has shifted into a "slash" role, where he's moving back and forth between skill positions on the offense). Add to that the fact that both Hawkins and Nelson are the type of guys who like to stay after practice and throw and you've got a couple of guys fighting through a little bit of fatigue.

Not to worry, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich said it's to be expected this time of year.

What was less expected is how far Nelson has come this spring.

"Nick's probably a little bit better than we expected," Helfrich said following Thursday's practice. "Nick's done a good job. He's hit a couple speed bumps, which is completely normal for any new guy – especially a junior college guy that's coming off a different system. But I'm really pleased with what he's done."

Hawkins had the advantage coming in of an entire fall in the CU offensive system. Nelson has been playing catch up the past month. If the season were to start Saturday, Hawkins would likely be named the starter. But Helfrich is still a ways from handing the reins over to one or the other.

What's clear is that the duo have been much more effective at quarterback than what the position produced last spring and last August. Dan Hawkins pointed to the quarterback play when asked Thursday about the team's overall spring performance.

"I think their efficacy has helped the rest of the club," Hawkins said of the two quarterbacks. "It helps the receivers – just guys anticipating the ball being there. I think both of those guys have done a decent job."

Nelson doesn't point to one particular aspect of his first 14 practices in a CU uniform being the biggest challenge. It's all been a challenge.

"Just the combination of a lot of things – terminology, getting a feel for how fast all the receivers are, how deep the routes are, stuff like that," he said when asked what the biggest hurdle has been.

In the team's previous three scrimmages this spring, the CU offense hasn't been allowed to attempt any sustained drives in order to save the offensive linemen — there have been only six healthy at the most — from injury due to fatigue. Saturday, though, the offense will have more of an opportunity to put strings of plays together against the defense.

The team will still intersperse series of plays with special teams and 7-on-7 play, in order to give the o-linemen a breather. But it'll be more of a scrimmage in which the quarterbacks can showcase what they've learned.

"I'm just looking for efficiency as an offense," Nelson said, "moving the ball down the field and improving on what we did last (scrimmage). We've just got to improve on that."

Helfrich said he's looking for the two quarterbacks to "take another step forward. We have made a lot of progress in a lot of ways. I want them to continue to make plays and keep their confidence rolling."

As for deciding on a starter, don't look for Saturday's work to play heavily into that formula. There's still plenty of time for that decision.

"I think we're going to have a nice little battle come fall," Helfrich said.

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