When Nathan Stanley, Raymond Cotton and walk-on Richard Absher first walked into new Quarterbacks Coach, and co-Offensive Coordinator, David Rader's office, he knew a couple of things right off the bat.
One, they were going to be willing pupils of his. Two, because of their youth and inexperience, he was going to have to exhibit a lot of patience with their progress, starting with spring training.
How have the Rebel signal-callers reacted to Rader and his teachings this spring?
"They have been quite responsive," said Rader, a deep thinker who chooses his words carefully. "I don't know if I could have asked for any better reception than they have given me. It's an honor, to me, to coach quarterbacks and it's even more of an honor to be around these fine young QBs.
"I mean that sincerely. I have never once had any kind of negative reaction to anything I have asked them to do. They really want to learn and have been as much of a sponge as they can be in learning our system."
But Rader explains, if not cautions, they are very young, hence his need to have a great amount of patience during the process.
"I hope everyone realizes how young they are. Nathan has been here the longest, but he's taken limited game snaps and I think Jevan Snead got most of the practice reps during Nathan's first two years," Rader stated. "Raymond has been here one semester, for all intents and purposes. Richard is a converted tight end trying his hand at quarterback.
"I went into spring training with the attitude that we were not going to be able to go real fast with them this spring, which helped my patience with them. I had that mindset going in to look for smaller steps than maybe you would after they gain some experience."
That mindset carried Rader through the first half of spring training, roughly, but then he started requesting more and more as spring wound down.
"My time frame to becoming hot got shorter as spring progressed. They started showing on the board and in the film room that they understood, so I started expecting them to take what they said they understood to the field," he noted. "The whole process was good for me and them because the patience I had with them enabled them to gain some confidence before I started tightening the screws a little bit.
"Of course, Coach (Houston) Nutt talks to them a lot and is a very positive influence. He has a great way about him of getting players to delete the negatives and move forward with the positives. That has also been very good for all of them."
Stanley leaves spring training in the number one spot.
"Nathan really loves the game of football. He likes to practice and scrimmage and wants to be a better quarterback today than he was yesterday and a better quarterback tomorrow than he was today," added Rader, in his first year mentoring the Rebel QBs. "That type of attitude has really helped him progress.
"Nathan has worked on his accuracy and his release, which we have worked on a lot. He has improved almost dramatically with his vision and seeing the field. He has many positive attributes."
Rader said the continuing learning curve includes a couple of key ingredients for Stanley.
"This summer, he needs to keep working on getting the ball out quicker with his release. He understands in this league that a tenth of a second, even a hundredth of a second, can be the difference in an incompletion and a big gain due to the ability of the cover people in this conference," Rader continued.
"He also needs to keep working on getting the ball to the receiver in a smaller cylinder, meaning his accuracy. If he does those things, we'll have a pretty good QB because he's handling the mental aspects of the position well."
Cotton has had an up and down spring, but Rader has high hopes for the young gunslinger.
"Raymond has the ability to make plays. Just when I think he's not catching on, he shows me just how smart he is by doing the right thing and making a play," David evaluated. "He has an explosive arm and throws very well on the run, but he's a much better pocket passer than I thought he would be.
"His quarterback maturity level is not where we want it, but he's really just out of high school and had some frustration this spring when his arm he's counted on for so many years kind of let him down with some soreness. Despite that, I have been pleased with the way he has kept up mentally and is able to answer my questions on the field and in the film room.
"He likes to play the game and he loves to throw the ball, but he also likes to run it and when he runs it, he gets after it. He brings many positive traits to the table. One area we want him to keep working on is his ballhandling skills. In high school, he operated out of the shotgun so he never had to take a direct snap, go backwards and hand it off. Sounds simple, but it takes work."
Absher is someone who has provided some relief for the top two.
"Richard wanted to give QB a try and we are glad he did. He has helped in taking some rep load off the other two, especially when Ray's arm was sore, and he has learned a lot," David closed. "I have not been able to spend much one-on-one time with him, but he has caught on almost by osmosis. I wish I had had more individual time with him. His throwing has improved and I think he feels better about himself."
In the Red-Blue Game, Stanley was 11-16 for 166 yards, two TDs and two interceptions. Cotton was 5-7 for 178 yards, 2 TDs, no picks and a long of 80 yards.
What was interesting, and pleasing, about the spring game was that Cotton got to play at all and, apparently, was having a good day with his shoulder, which was diagnosed in spring to have a torn labrum that will have to be surgically repaired next offseason.
Analysis: What day is it? One day, the QBs looked real good. The next, inconsistent. Guess what? Rader expected that and is dealing with it. The bottom line is the quarterbacks are on the right road and they have progressed. That was the spring goal. The heat will be turned up in August and Rader expects good results at that time based on spring results.
A couple of positives that did emerge in spring were the grasp of the offense and the leadership both exhibited. Both contenders have a built-in presence on the field that demands the attention of the other offensive players. They command the huddle with authority and that's always a good sign with young QBs.