Even though the Texas Tech football camp is locked down tighter than Bill Clinton with Hillary in his hip pocket at an intern's convention in Vegas, word of bizarre happenings at the quarterback position has leaked out. Presumptive starter Michael Brewer is suffering from an unknown back injury which has limited—at the very least—his practice time.
A quarterback, who by divine edict, cannot be hit in practice, experiencing a significant back injury is nutso enough. But that's only the tip o' the nutberg.
Freshman signal caller Davis Webb, already anointed a quarterback of Harrellian stature in some precincts despite modest performances in spring scrimmages, would now seem to be the slam-dunk starter. Heck, there were many observers—and praise from Kliff Kingsbury did nothing to dissuade them—who believed Webb would start over Brewer.
But not so fast! Speculation now swirls that an obscure walk-on by the name of Baker Mayfield is giving Webb a serious run for the starting money. It is far from out of the question that Mayfield, who was on absolutely nobody's radar a week ago, could be under center when Tech takes the grid against SMU in a couple of weeks.
Then there's the strange disappearance of Clayton Nicholas. Nicholas, who arguably looked like the best quarterback on the team in the Red-Black Scrimmage, and who arrived at Tech with excellent three-to-four-star credentials, now seems to be nowhere in the mix. He remains on the roster, but that is the only place he still registers. Nicholas is not on the depth chart, and if Kingsbury has ever mentioned him, it has escaped everybody's notice.
What are we to make of it all?
To begin with, it should be noted that some of the above is speculation and rumor. There is very little we know for certain, so any conclusions drawn at this point must also perforce be speculative.
That significant caveat duly noted, do not be shocked if Baker Mayfield starts against the Mustangs. And what's more, do not be dismayed.
In looking at Mayfield's high school stats with perennial power Lake Travis, and watching his highlights, it is apparent that Mayfield is a major talent. There seems to be no logical explanation whatsoever why Mayfield didn't field offers from multiple D1, BCS conference schools. He seems to have it all.
To begin with, he's got very good size for a college quarterback. At six-feet-two, he's taller than Michael Brewer, and at 220 pounds he's brawnier than Davis Webb. NFL scouts will not sneer at a six-foot-two 220-pound quarterback.
Second, Mayfield has a marvelous touch on his ball. He throws the intermediate routes beautifully and already seems to be a master of the fade, which of course is a staple of the spread offense in its Texas Tech incarnations. Mayfield's arm strength is still somewhat of an unknown, but from available evidence, he seems to be able to make a wide variety of throws, and many of them downfield.
But as good a passer as Mayfield may be, that actually may be the least of his assets. What may ultimately boost him to the top of the quarterback pile is his extraordinary mobility. And here is what Kingsbury had to say when asked about what he most values in a quarterback.
"Accuracy is number one as far as a pure passer, with decision making. Can they extend the play? I think the game has gotten to the point with the spread offense that if you have a guy who can extend the play, you're gonna have five wideouts in every set, somebody's gonna come uncovered. So that's become critical in what we do."
Now bear in mind that the question to Kingsbury was prefaced by the statement that Mike Leach values accuracy and decision-making above all else. Thus, Kingsbury's first sentence may have been a fairly trivial recapitulation of Leach's views. The real take-away from Kingsbury's remarks is the bit about quarterback mobility. Again and again we've heard that Kingsbury wants a quarterback who can extend plays, and that ability is what most stood Johnny Manziel in good stead with him at Texas A&M last season.
And it may do the same for Baker Mayfield. He is, in short, not only an incredible runner but a terrific mover. Mayfield, who reminds this observer of a bigger Rodney Allison, is all kinds of dangerous with the ball in his hands. He supposedly runs a 4.65 forty but looks much faster than that. Mayfield accelerates very quickly, has serious shakes in the open field, terrific vision to spot creases, and is a rugged ball-carrier who breaks tackles and finishes runs like a running back.
But Mayfield is about far more than broken-field running. He also has uncanny pocket presence, which allows him to avoid sacks just when it looks like he is about to be clobbered. And he has the play-extending ability that Kingsbury loves. Mayfield is adept at buying time, and his vision, combined with the fact that he is always looking downfield, means that if a receiver uncovers, Mayfield will find him. His accuracy, moreover, means he will get the ball to him.
Throw in the likelihood that Mayfield is a brainiac (Rice was one of the few D1 schools to offer him a scholarship), and you've got yourself a formidable quarterback, even if he is only a true freshman walk-on.
Many SMU Mustangs are probably chuckling about now over Tech's quarterback tribulations. They may be laughing out the other side of their sleeves when the final whistle sounds on August 30.