We think we know that Jeff Tuel will be the starter. We also think the QB position will be in good hands if he gets hurt. But are the injury problems in the past? Our QB position preview.
If you'd like to know more about the genesis of these previews, you can read about it here.
Let's kick off these positional preview with the quarterback position because, hey, obvious answer is obvious, right? The quarterback is the most important position on any football team -- heck, it's probably the most important position in any team sport -- but it becomes even more paramount when that player is expected to chuck the ball 50 or 60 times a game, as WSU's quarterbacks will do under Mike Leach in his famed Air Raid system.
Here we go! (With a little assist from you guys, as I incorporated some of your responses throughout.)
What We Think We Know
The depth chart. At this point, it seems pretty clear that Jeff Tuel will start, Connor Halliday will be his backup and David Gilbertson will man the No. 3 spot. Heading into spring, it appeared Tuel and Halliday would begin a battle for the starting job, what with Tuel missing virtually all of 2011 and Halliday lighting up Arizona State for the second best passing day in the history of the school. But it never really got off the ground, as Halliday struggled with the lingering effects of the lacerated liver he suffered against Utah back in November.
Leach has said that the competition will carry over into fall, but that's hard to believe as anything more than coach rhetoric. Tuel took virtually all the reps with the first team in the spring, and looked as good as ever in the spring game. Granted, that was against a WSU defense that has struggled to stop any prolific passing teams over the past four years, but for a guy who was just getting his feet wet in the system, he looked composed and in command, as a senior should.
There's been some minor debate about who will be the No. 3 QB come BYU time, but I think it shakes out to be Gilbertson. He obviously doesn't have the major league arm, but he looked more than competent running the offense in the spring game. And if it comes down to it and god forbid both Tuel and Halliday have gone down, Leach has shown in the past with his QB choices at Texas Tech that he values understanding where the ball is supposed to go and delivering it there accurately above being able to rocket the ball 50 yards downfield. The guess here is that Gilbertson will fit that description should it come down to it.
These guys should be able to produce big numbers from day one. It took Mike Leach a couple of years at Tech to really get the Air Raid humming the way he wants. But that was after taking over for a coach that had ran the ball about 60 percent of the time the year before Leach arrived. Leach is now commanding a program that was the exact opposite a year ago -- the Cougars already were an extreme passing team, throwing the ball on over 60 percent of plays a year ago. Beyond that, WSU already had incorporated a number of Air Raid concepts into its offense. While Leach certainly has his way of wanting things done, this probably is part of the reason why Tuel looked pretty darn good leading the attack last April.
Tuel can be a pretty good quarterback with defenders constantly in his face. We learned that in 2010, when he was able to complete 59.8 percent of his passes for 7.6 yards per attempt despite being sacked about 50 times and running for his life about 50 more. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to be prolific, even if the offensive line isn't dramatically improved.
The position should be in good hands if Tuel gets hurt again. Fans are obsessed with potential and the next big thing, and nowhere is that more evident than in how WSU fans feel about Halliday -- throwing for 494 yards and leading the team to its first relatively comfortable win over a Pac-10/12 opponent in about four years will do that. It's unclear if he's ready to sustain that kind of play over the long haul, but if the starting quarterback does go down at some point, it's reasonable to assume that WSU will be better off than a lot of other schools.
What We Don't Know And Need To Find Out
Are the injury problems in the past? We think the offensive line still will struggle, as it has in the past (teaser!), which means whoever lines up in that shotgun is going to get hit. Now, Tuel demonstrated an uncanny ability as a sophomore to get hit and get up. But his freshman year finished with an injury that prevented him from playing the final three games, and we all know what happened last season. The injuries of 2009 seemed to be the direct result of getting buried by the defense just about every time he dropped back, while the injuries of 2011 seemed like just bad luck. Were they?
And how about Halliday? You almost have to sort of laugh about a quarterback going out with a lacerated liver. Not because it's not serious -- it very obviously was -- but because WSU QBs were hurt in more creative ways than perhaps any other QB unit in the country. I obviously don't have any empirical evidence to back this up, but I wonder if anyone else can boast a broken back, broken neck, knee injury, broken collarbone, compartment syndrome and lacerated liver. I'm probably forgetting something, but whatever.
Back to Halliday. While player weights have yet to be updated from last season, here's to betting he won't be significantly heavier than the 179 he was listed at last season. Will he be able to take a hit if he's pressed into duty?
Just how much command of the Air Raid will Tuel have against BYU? We mentioned earlier that the transition shouldn't be all that huge for WSU, but it doesn't mean there won't be a transition. One thing Leach counts on his quarterback to do is to change plays at the line when necessary -- there's a tremendous amount of trust. Former offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy also gave the QBs great freedom at the line, but the key here is whether Tuel will understand the Air Raid well enough to get WSU into the right Air Raid play at the right time. Whether he can do that might have a huge impact on whether WSU has a shot to win that game.
What do you guys think? Did I miss anything?