Texas A&M spring game proves long QB battle ahead
The story coming into spring practice at Texas A&M was under center for the fourth consecutive season. Since Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel left campus, the Aggies struggled to find a replacement.
Since 2013, the Aggies have yet to make it through a season with one starting quarterback. Granted, that was because of injuries in 2016, but the Aggies hope to buck the trend in 2017 with a full-time quarterback.
But after the annual Aggies spring game, question marks continued to grow. Saturday proved that the quarterbacks competing to be starter — Jake Hubenak, Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel — each bring a different direction.
Hubenak showed what fans expected. He was steady and didn’t make mistakes, but he was decidedly unspectacular. A rising senior, Hubernak was 8-of-13 passing with a touchdown, but he threw for just 47 yards and 3.6 yards per attempt.
Most of his completions were screen or short passes, which fall in line with his career trends. And they made his completion numbers look more impressive than they were. Aggies offensive coaches did not seem particularly interested in allowing Hubenak to throw downfield. Perhaps it’s just because the team knows what to expect, but most of his drives were inconsequential.
Hubenak knows the offense, but it’s hard to say he has advantages over other Aggies contenders. The playbook will be severely limited by his throwing limitations.
Mond is the one true dual-threat QB of the bunch. While his arm is developing, he has major ability to attack teams as a runner. In many ways, he compares favorably with Trevor Knight and what Knight was able to do last season.
Mond wasn’t able to show his running skills consistently while wearing a quarterback practice jersey. However, he showed flashes of incredible arm talent. On one drive, Mond completed a 33-yard pass to Christian Kirk and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hansford on consecutive plays. It was easily the best stretch of the game.
There will be growing pains with Mond as he is learning the offense. However, Mond also provides the most natural talent of all the quarterback prospects. The question is whether Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin wants to take chances in what could be a critical season.
The competition appeared to be between Hubernak and Mond, but Starkel proved he deserves just as much attention. While his stat line — 10-for-27 for 184 yards and a touchdown — wasn’t especially impressive, his performance was.
Starkel was comfortable throwing downfield. His stats were a bit misleading, as receivers dropped several of his passes. Even on missed throws, he stood tall in the pocket and delivered impressive passes.
Starkel is the forgotten man after a redshirt year, but he was also an Elite 11 quarterback and blue-chip prospect coming out of high school. He provides the most dynamic pocket presence of the three contenders.
Sumlin doesn’t seem to have a singular vision at quarterback. In previous years, he relied on both pocket passers (Kyle Allen) and dual-threat (Trevor Knight) players. The 2017 season will help decide the direction of the offense.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone focused on Knight’s strengths in 2016 and introduced run-pass option (RPO) concepts to the offense. Mond would best be able to continue this diversification. However, Starkel and Hubenak provide instant relief.
After another 8-5 season, Sumlin needs to see immediate returns. At this point, though, it’s unclear which player can provide those. There will be growing pains with any quarterback, but it could come down to whether Starkel becomes more poised in the pocket or Mond improves his deep-pass accuracy first.
Texas A&M needs a quarterback to emerge. Based on what each quarterback showed in the spring game, that position battle will continue into fall camp.