February 11, 2009

K-State has questions at quarterback

Perhaps nothing generates more intrigue - and sometimes stress - within a program than an opening at quarterback. That's exactly what Kansas State has heading into spring football. The pressure will eventually mount, but Bill Snyder and his staff still have plenty of time to make a decision concerning a position battle that lacks a clear leader while offering plenty of options.

The quarterback battle figures to boil down to four contenders. Junior Carson Coffman, redshirt freshmen Collin Klein and Joseph Kassanavoid and junior college transfer Daniel Thomas all look to have a shot at eventually winning the starting role.

Thomas, who originally signed with K-State in 2008 as a four-star rated athlete by Rivals.com, is the only newcomer expected to compete for immediate playing time at quarterback. The other three signal callers were brought in to run then-coach Ron Prince's offense. Snyder and his staff have already started to evaluate how Coffman, Klein and Kassanavoid could fit in K-State's new offensive scheme.

"We've had the opportunity to look at a lot of video tape. I've had the opportunity to sit down and spend time with each one of them, just to know them as people," Snyder said. "I like their work habits. I like the kind of people they are. I like their character. I like their ability to work. I like their desire to want to learn and make a transfer into a new system."

New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who comes to K-State from Utah and brings with him a history of developing highly successful quarterbacks, also wasted no time in starting the evaluating process upon arriving in Manhattan.

"I like the guys we have on campus right now, but we're in a developmental stage," Ludwig said. "There are some improvements to be made with the men on campus and with the guys coming in. I guarantee you one thing, the guy playing quarterback will put us in a position to have great success and lead the Wildcat offense."

What exactly the Wildcat offense will look like still remains to be seen. Even Ludwig admitted earlier this month he couldn't say whether K-State would run a spread offense similar to the one that was so successful at Utah or one built more around a quarterback's ability to attack defenses both as a runner and passer.

It seems clear that Thomas falls into the dual-threat category of quarterback. Coffman, K-State's only quarterback with any experience at the Big 12 level, Klein and Kassanavoid were all recruited to fit into a more pro-style offense. Even those three do offer some degree of athleticism, however.

Coffman averaged four yards per carry last season on 15 rushing attempts. Klein, rated as a three-star quarterback prospect in the Class of 2008, proved to be a capable runner at the high school level.

Kassanavoid was actually rated as a three-star athlete, not quarterback, by Rivals and has the type of size (6-foot-4, 226 pounds) needed to take the pounding a Snyder-system quarterback may be exposed to.

None of the options at quarterback can be called small, with Coffman checking in at 6-foot-3 and 208 lbs., Klein at 6-foot-5 and 211 lbs. and Thomas listed at 6-foot-2, 227. Regardless of their size, each quarterback presents a decidedly different set of skills, and the Wildcats will look to cater their offense to what those players offer as opposed to forcing their quarterback to fit a specific system.

"We are going to build it around the best guy we have. There is still some evaluation that has to take place in the program to determine that," Ludwig said. "We have some guys here, and we have some young guys coming in that I'm real confident in. I also feel confident in our ability to develop a system around the quarterback's capabilities."

Snyder has had success with a variety of quarterbacks, from more traditional pocket passers such as Chad May to true dual threats in the Michael Bishop mold. Snyder's ability to build his offense around the strength of his quarterback likely helps give him confidence in his ability to find an answer at quarterback in 2009.

That doesn't mean, however, that Snyder believes the answer will be found easily.
"I watch the videotape and think we can do something here, we can make something happen," Snyder said. "Obviously, there's improvement to be made. They are a little different type of quarterback than what we've built our system on. They just come from a little different system, so there's work in that respect to be done."
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