Quarterback instability is nothing new at Texas A&M, but this round feels a little bit worse.
Even though Trevor Knight spent only a year as a grad transfer with the program, he brought a calming presence under center that it hadn’t seen since Johnny Manziel.
Knight’s departure doesn’t just change the leadership structure in the locker room. It could change significant pieces of the offense.
“Offense always takes on a little bit different personality each year, and a lot of that depends on the cat taking the snaps,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said on National Signing Day. “Spring will help determine who we are.”
Mazzone was acclimating to Texas A&M last season, but he excelled at catering to Knight’s skill set. Knight proved at Oklahoma that he is an inconsistent passer at best. He never completed more than 60 percent of his passes. It got even worse at Texas A&M, where Knight connected on just 53.3 percent of his passes.
To compensate, the Aggies ran him early and often. In fact, Knight had double-digit carries in 5 of his first 7 games. Texas A&M went 6-1 and rose to No. 6 in the country during that stretch. Really, things only fell apart when Knight was injured and Texas A&M was forced to scrap its game plan.
This upcoming quarterback group makes Mazzone’s job much more difficult. There’s a 4-man race for the starter among senior Jake Hubenak (the only one who has thrown a collegiate pass), redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshmen Kellen Mond (rated a 5-star prospect by Rivals) and Connor Blumrick. All of these players give the offense different looks.
Hubenak and Starkel are pure pocket passers. If either wins the job, the offense will be more traditional and lean on high-percentage passes. It might open the door for tight end action, especially with a relatively depleted wide receiver rotation.
But while both players must quickly learn the offense after arriving on campus as early enrollees, Mond and Blumrick can extend plays with their feet. Mond is more in the Knight camp, with a big, inconsistent arm and real athleticism. Funnily enough, Mond played at San Antonio Reagan, Knight’s alma mater, before transferring to IMG Academy. In 10 games in Florida, Mond ran for 757 yards and 17 touchdowns. He would give the Aggies by far the most legitimate zone-read threat.
“We’ve known Kellen for a while,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We’ve known what he can do for a while. He can run, he can throw, he’s smart and he’s longer than you think he is. There’s something about Reagan with guys who can just take off.”
Blumrick is athletic but is seen as more of a developmental prospect after missing his senior year with an injury.
With top-flight wide receiver additions in the signing class and improved running backs, Texas A&M has the positional versatility to run either style effectively. However, sifting through the position will be difficult.
Choosing the guy
Talent wins out, but there are many factors at stake. Hubenak is the most experienced, but his on-field play was mediocre. Starkel has experience in the system as a redshirt. Mond is probably the long-term answer for Texas A&M’s offense, but will almost certainly have short-term growing pains.
Additionally, the Aggies are just better when their quarterback has dual-threat ability. Texas A&M averaged 491.6 yards per game and 232.5 rushing yards per game on 6.1 yards per carry with Knight under center. Strike the Alabama game from the record, and it goes up to 515 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. In Hubenak’s 2 starts, the Aggies mustered just 386.5 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry.
Texas A&M at least had the advantage of naming Knight the starter after spring camp in 2016. It allowed Mazzone time to reshape the offense around Knight’s skill set. The Aggies need a player to rise and take control of the offense during spring ball. With both freshmen already on campus, the opportunities are there.
The last time there was a major quarterback battle in College Station, it was between 5-star prospectss Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Mismanaging personalities led both to leave the program in embarrassing fashion. Sumlin can’t afford that again.
“We’ve got a room that’s going to be very competitive with some really talented kids,” Mazzone said. “I like where their heads are at. It’s now just going to be a question of how quickly they can digest the offense.
“I see spring as a time when you compete. I’m excited to see these guys out there.”