Spring Football: Quarterback Comparison

STILLWATER – It was a day very reminiscent of the final spring football scrimmage of a year ago - cold and wet with even a little ice. A day Cowboys quarterback sensation Bobby Reid would just as soon forget. Reid was battling, just as he is this year, Donovan Woods for the starting quarterback position.

Then head coach Les Miles was allowing quarterbacks to be hit and tackled like any other player and as he neared the sideline on an option, Reid lowered his shoulder to take on fellow freshman Roderick Johnson coming at full steam from his linebacker position. The play ended up being Reid's final of the day. His last competitive play until he returned to practice in mid-October.

Following shoulder surgery and a redshirt season, Reid is back battling the now incumbent starter Woods again. The standout talent from Galena Park North Shore, where he was 27-1 as a starting quarterback, has tried to forget that cold day in the Spring of 2004. Reid fared better Saturday simply because he didn't get hurt. Quarterbacks were off limits from contact. The question is how much did he and his competitors improve in the new Cowboy offense?

The cold and sometimes wet weather made it hard to throw the ball at times, but Reid is not looking for excuses. Like Woods, he is looking to understand the offense better and improve enough in practice to move up to the first unit. Right now Woods is first and Reid is second, and that didn't change Saturday.

Woods started strong in the 115-play scripted scrimmage. By the way, that number just includes offensive plays from scrimmage and not the 20 or so special teams plays included in the practice. On the second play Woods kept the ball on a zone read pulling it back out of the gut of Mike Hamilton and breaking off the left side for a 24-yard gain. The next play he dropped back and, with good protection, found tight end Paschal Smith. Smith caught the ball between two defenders and took it all the way to the 36-yard line before being dragged down by safety Jeremy Nethon. Until the end of practice, the final two drives, the ball was coming back to the same line of scrimmage each play. Quarterbacks were rotating every four plays during most of the scrimmage.

Woods continued to do the most with his plays as he had the advantage of playing with the first unit and the top receivers. He finished with 26 yards rushing on three carries and completed 11-of-17 passes for 153 yards. Some of his best plays included a 17-yard strike to Tevin Williams and a pair of connections with his older brother D'Juan. First it was Woods-to-Woods for 24 yards and then younger brother hit older brother in stride on an inside slant route for 18 yards.

Late in the scrimmage the offense was allowed to drive the ball and Woods again found Woods for 23 yards. However, two incompletions and a sack stalled the promising drive. Woods is feeling pretty good with how he is playing.

"Things are getting better, you know, just trying to pick up things and continue to move the ball and score points," said Woods. "It's been difficult, but you just try to learn as much as you can and not make mistakes. It's still kind of a cluster and you don't always know everything that is going on. I expect to do well, pick things up, and execute what the coaches expect of me."

Reid was with the second unit most of the scrimmage, going against the second defense. His first big play was a nine-yard option keeper that he turned up early on the left side of the offense behind guard David Koenig and tackle Charlie Johnson. Reid finished with 20 yards on seven carries. His passing numbers suffered because of at least three tosses that were dropped by receivers. One would have been an almost certain touchdown. His decision making was strong as he opted for several receivers in the flat for certain yards over risking longer throws that would have been tough to make. He finished with 5-of-12 passing for 44 yards. His biggest completion came on an 18-yard strike over the middle to Jeromie Tucker on the final drive. The pass was a missile that hit Tucker right on target. An illegal procedure penalty and a sack stalled the drive to end the scrimmage. Like Woods, Reid believes he is getting more comfortable with the no-huddle, spread offense and the communication required.

"I feel pretty confident, things were a lot slower today than it was on Wednesday when we last scrimmaged," said Reid of his play and the way he ran the offense when he was in there. "I'm starting to recognize things and know where the ball is supposed to go and who is supposed to go where."

The major question was how head coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora feel about the quarterbacks and the way they played.
,br> "I think they are doing good," said Gundy of the quarterbacks. "Donovan is a better mid-range thrower now than he was last year. He still needs to hit more throws. Bobby is coming along, but Bobby is still making throws that are off the mark. Part of the reason Bobby is struggling is that he hardly got to practice at all last year. Last time he really played was in high school, and he has to make that adjustment. Al (Pena) is making some plays, but because he is not as talented as those other two he has to make a lot of plays."

"We're evaluating them right now and they are getting equal reps," said Fedora. "It's hard to tell right now (who will win the job). I couldn't make a decision. Woods is playing very good and I think that is a product of him having 12 games under his belt. He can certainly run the show. Reid is really coming on and he has all the talent. Pena is doing a good job."

That decision will come down the line and Fedora feels it will be easier to distinguish after all of the installation has taken place on the offensive side of the ball. Now the quarterbacks should start becoming more and more comfortable with what they are doing. Gundy added that they will start moving the ball and giving the quarterbacks complete possessions instead of four plays to find out who can lead and inspire the offense down the field. Who is the best field general should be able to be determined.

"We will try to give them more of a series," said Gundy of the quarterbacks rotation the rest of spring. "The middle of next week and the rest of the spring we will put the ball down and play it. We'll put it down and play and give each quarterback a possession or a series. That gives each quarterback a chance to be a leader and see what kind of field general they can be, to see if they can get the players to rally around them."

Former fullback Julius Crosslin was the last of the running backs competing for the top spot on the depth chart to get involved in the scrimmage. The 5-11, 250-pounder was also one of the most impressive as his first carry was a zone read the broke for 20 yards. Gundy and Fedora both cited Crosslin, but they also complimented Greg Gold. Gold was the leading rusher with 60 yards on 10 carries. The junior from Irving, Texas, had the most impressive run when he cut back to the left on an isolation to the right and picked up 20 yards. He also had a 10-yard run where he ran over corner Sonji Ketiku and then delivered a blow knocking back linebacker Roderick Johnson who made the stop.

"Greg Gold is showing the coaching staff that he wants to play in games," said Gundy. "I think as coaches we have to be careful at times when a player has been in the program for three years you think maybe he can't do it. Greg Gold is going to play in games somewhere. We may even split him out as a slot receiver because he has really good hands. It's important to him that he makes plays, and I'm impressed with his effort."

Tevin Williams cooled off some from his stellar showing in Wednesday's scrimmage, but he did have two receptions for 25 yards. It was the veteran D'Juan Woods, still hampered with a hamstring problem, that caught three passes, all from his younger brother. Paschal Smith was back at tight end after suffering from the flu this week and he had three catches for 54 yards, including the 34-yarder from Donovan Woods.

On the defensive side there were plenty of highlights. Quarterbacks simply had to be tagged for a sack, and there was a lot of tagging going on with 12 sacks. Defensive end Trumain Carroll, junior college defensive tackle Ryan McBean and linebacker Jamar Ransom had two sacks each.

The defense allowed fewer big plays than they did on Wednesday, and when the ball was being moved they kept the offense out of the end zone, even in the drives starting in the red zone area. There were also plenty of big hits with linebacker Pagitte McGee coming up and blasting Julius Crosslin for a short gain. The sound of the tackle reverberated throughout Boone Pickens Stadium. Receivers had to play with their head on a swivel as defensive backs made several big hits to prevent pass completions.

"We started off early and about midway through we looked a little tired like we were feeling sorry for ourselves, and then by the end of practice we picked it up and started playing well again," summarized defensive coordinator Vance Bedford of the day for the defenders.

"The last two series we were calling it all from the sidelines, offense versus defense, and we kept them out and had a couple of sacks, so I was excited about that. Then in the two-minute drill we gave them one first down, and I was excited about that. There were a lot of plusses. Again, the key is the guys are hustling and running to the ball. That is what we are trying to stress right now."

"I tell Vance, in staff meeting I said this, it's funny when you get to be a head coach I want the defense to stop everybody," said Gundy of the defensive effort. "I don't care how many points we score, I want stops. I take time in practice to go over to the defense and talk with guys, but I always find myself watching offense and I always will. I want those sacks and I want those new defensive linemen getting up the field. McBean's making some plays, (Josh) Pinaire is making some plays, and Ransom, he's a much better player as a linebacker in a 4-3 defense."

Gundy says he considered Saturday's scrimmage, the seventh practice, as the halfway point in the spring. He likes what he has seen so far, but expects -- maybe demands -- that the next two weeks look even better. Bobby Reid would agree, and he wouldn't mind if the weather would cooperate and be a little more spring like.

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