The Argument for Colter at WR

Publisher Nick Medline explains his reasoning behind a suggestion earlier this week that Kain Colter should see an enhanced role at wide receiver. It's the never-ending debate.

Earlier this week, Jay Sharman of Lake the Posts asked me if I'd be willing to complete an e-mail exchange interview for his website. I said of course. He sent along nine detailed questions, and only one of my answers garnered significant attention—for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of one question about wide receiver depth, I made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about wishing that Kain Colter would move out wide "permanently." It was one sentence out of approximately 1300 words, and given the deluge of comments, I feel obligated to explain its meaning and present an alternative way for Northwestern to use its "star" quarterback. I mean that without irony.

Some interpreted my comment as this: "Kain Colter cannot play quarterback." That is dizzyingly out of context. Some of the same people took it to mean: "The two quarterback system does not work."

I'm not an offensive coordinator. Every day, message boards keep my confidence in check and remind me that I'm not an expert at judging route running. (Fair.) But this response is for those who respectfully asked me to elaborate.

Most will actively disagree with these comments because there are three camps: Colter, Siemian and status quo. I fall somewhere in between.

Here's what I think. Play Colter at wide receiver for 80 percent of snaps. Never, or very rarely, have him on the sidelines. Make Trevor Siemian the primary passer and technical "starting quarterback" with Colter at pivot for read option looks and creative plays. Bring Tony Jones in motion. Move Colter under center in the middle of each drive to baffle opponents. The option and the options go on.

Kain Colter can throw the football, yes. I'm not debating that and never will. Even in the opening week of last season, he made his statement. The guy was slinging passes down the middle of the field. He tossed one memorable strike right between Christian Jones' numbers, which made me acknowledge that this was not the inconsistent 2011 edition of Colter. That said, I still think he could be used in an even more efficient way.

Trevor Siemian is a stronger pocket passer. Watch practices or games, and you leave with the impression that he can throw with anyone. The SB Nation site Sippin' On Purple (an incredibly thorough blog) recently wrote a solid analytical piece judging the two quarterbacks and their success rates. I'm not going to deny the numbers: aside from short throws, Colter matched or out-did Siemian in many throwing categories. (Just get the screen down, Siemian.)

Sippin' on Purple included the necessary caveats, which I appreciated because they are major ones. Siemian was placed into games during obvious throwing situations. He was cold, yes, but any QB struggles when the defense can so easily anticipate the play. I don't think it's fair to judge Siemian's numbers based on last season. He made some of the team's most clutch plays in 2012, and his arm strength and ability are apparent. One SoP commenter said that his weaker outings against Penn State and Nebraska can be partially attributed to strange "vertical" play calling. I'd agree. Play to your strengths.

The win against Minnesota marked one of the offensive coaching staff's finest jobs last year. Maybe the finest. They braved the elements, avoided mistakes and gradually killed football fans en route to an ugly but impressive road win. They got the job done, somehow.

But my dad texted me during that game: "Did they get rid of the forward pass?"All jokes aside, it pretty much formed the miniature of some problems that existed within the two-quarterback system. It worked, but it wasn't perfect. Last season, the passing attack all too often disappeared.

Siemian marched into the game facing impossible situations and struggled. If you watched that game, you knew what was coming, as did Jerry Kill and the majority of half-drunk Minnesota fans at TCF Bank Stadium. There were few intricacies to that approach and Siemian didn't really stand a chance. Inclement weather and predictability forced him into bad throws.

Overall, am I comfortable with Siemian embracing the No. 1 role? Yes, and he would benefit from adding a dynamite receiver. Worst case: If it doesn't work early in the season, revert to the old formula. The skillsets aren't disappearing.

There's a beneficial flipside to last year's throwing predictability. If Kain Colter entered the game, and everyone knew to expect the read option, they still could not stop it. He might surprise you with his arm, pitch the ball to Mark, hand off to Tony Jones or any alternative. Perhaps SoP can back me up with more research–frankly, not my expertise–to judge the validity of this comment. But I think it generally holds true.

(I also find it strange how obsessive we are regarding Venric Mark's numbers. If this plan sacrificed 200 rushing yards for a consistently better passing attack, would you be whining? It's not as though Mark can't run between the tackles with some success. He'll be fine in whatever role they give him. If the read option takes a slight hit, I wouldn't be alarmed.)

I saw the balanced passing attack against Indiana. Colter played wide receiver and dominated. Siemian threw 32 times for 308 yards and the team set a school record for single-game offensive output. They looked like the best players on the field at their respective positions.

I don't have any access to a taping right now but Colter played slightly more under center (running the read option) than my ideal quota would suggest. The blueprint still worked. Granted, this came against an unimpressive Hoosiers defense, though the numbers are gaudy. They used Kain Colter's versatility to perfection. It was his day.

The reasoning behind my original comment dovetailed off of this: I think Colter would make this wide receiver depth chart so much better. I also think he'd be their best or second best receiver. He looked the part.

It would be insulting to say that Colter benefited from the defense's confusion; he can play wide receiver well and we know it. He hauled in 43 catches for 466 yards in 2011–only behind Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore in both categories–despite spending some time at quarterback.

Not only that, his nine catches against Indiana last year spoke to the rapport that naturally exists between he and Siemian. Bring it to the 2013 slate, and defenses will sift through tape to no effect. It could be, in my opinion, the easiest way to increase offensive production—making it even better.

80/20 splits under center. Give Siemian the reins and let him throw the football. Truly maximize Colter's versatility (by playing him all of the time). Never flinch.

At the end of the day, this is the question NU analysts deal with: How good can the team really be? With elite weapons and targets strewn across the field, the options seem unlimited.

There will be two quarterbacks playing this season. The offense is good. I'm suggesting another approach. That could be better.

It's the right problem to have. It's the right argument to have. And you can be thankful that this discussion only includes the positives. No matter how the season shapes up, you and I will probably stop the suggestions and stop the complaints. Now's just not the time: it's the never-ending debate.

Follow Nick Medline on Twitter


Purple Wildcats Top Stories