Spring Football Preview: Quarterbacks

Colorado begins spring football practices March 17. One of the most interesting position battles will be quarterback, where Cody Hawkins will try and keep his starting spot. Can redshirt-freshman Matt Ballenger or senior Nick Nelson push Hawkins?

As a policy, all jobs are open each spring under head coach Dan Hawkins. But if you've got John Elway as a returning veteran, he's the starter. The Buffs don't have John Elway on their roster.

That means the quarterback spot is open for competition, despite the fact third-year sophomore Cody Hawkins started all 13 games last season.

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich puts it this way: "When you have the right guy returning, and everybody knows it, that's a good thing. If you have the wrong guy returning, and everybody knows it, that's a really bad thing.

"What we have was a freshman (in Hawkins) who played, and played well at times, but by no means is he entrenched. That's where Nick (Nelson) and Matt (Ballenger) need to stake their claim early and often in spring ball. And they'll have their chances."

Then again, CU has had a first-time starter under center the past two seasons. Playing with a new quarterback on game day for the third consecutive season is a less than ideal scenario. Simply said, Hawkins will be very difficult to unseat.

Nelson, a senior, saw mop-up duty in three games in 2007. Ballenger ran the scout team last fall as a true freshman.

Heading into the opening of spring ball, Ballenger is the most intriguing player, if only because he's got great physical tools, and he hasn't had a real chance to run the CU offense yet. He's likely the player to push Hawkins the hardest. At 6-5, 225 pounds, Ballenger has the strongest arm, and may be the fastest of the trio of signal-callers. He's certainly faster than Hawkins.

But Ballenger spent most of last fall practicing the offenses of CU's opponents when he would direct the scout teams. This spring, Ballenger won't be running a scout team. It'll be his chance to prove he can direct CU's offense.

"I think Matt's going to have a great chance to compete and make a push to get on the field," Helfrich said. "That's what we need."

While Ballenger has the physical and mental tools. Coaches want to see Ballenger develop his leadership skills. He needs more of an edge, more of a command when it comes to directing his teammates. That's something that could come with more confidence, which comes with experience.

"He's big enough, he's fast enough, he's strong enough, he's tough enough. All that is there, he just has to (gain experience)," Helfrich said.

Hawkins, meanwhile, needs to work on his decision making, Helfrich said. Hawkins put up a lot of yards in his first year (more than any freshman in school history). But he threw 15 interceptions.

"We need to protect the football a lot more," Helfrich said. "We need to make better decisions, get into and out of the right plays. All those things of grow

"That's where Cody has a little bit less margin for error than Matt does, in terms of arm strength and height."

The Roster
Matt Ballenger, 6-4, 225, R-Fr.
Cody Hawkins, 5-11, 190, So.
2007 (non-bowl): 12 starts, 239 of 424 for 2,693 yards (56.4 percent), 19 TD, 15 INT
Nick Nelson, 6-1, 230, Sr.
2007: 3 games, 3 of 6 for 22 yards (50 percent)

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