(Note: Fifth in a series previewing the Buffs position-by-position during training camp. Today: Quarterbacks.)
BOULDER - Turns out that Saturday's first full scrimmage of August camp will indeed shed light on Colorado's quarterback lineup: It should go a long way in determining a backup.
In only Jon Embree's second season as a head coach, this much we've learned as being indisputable: When he develops a gut feeling on personnel decisions, it doesn't stay in his mid-section too much longer.
As he did in last August's camp in quickly naming then-freshmen Will Oliver as his No. 1 kicker and Darragh O'Neill as his No. 1 punter, Embree on Wednesday again went up-tempo and named Kansas transfer Jordan Webb as the Buffs' starting quarterback.
"You know how I am," Embree said. "If I feel it's right, I'm going with it."
In this case, he went with it was because he believed it was the right call at the right time for all the right reasons. In a surprising story of arrive and conquer, Webb needed only eight days of training camp to separate himself from sophomores Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood.
"He's been very accurate," Embree said of Webb. "He's showed good discipline in taking care of the football. He makes plays."
"Obviously, the experience shows, the poise shows," added CU quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer. "He was able to transfer terminology. Concepts are concepts, but he was able to transfer the terminology relatively quickly. There's still a learning curve for him, but he really progressed quicker than I thought he would."
Webb, a graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining, said he was "definitely excited, but humbled, sure. I know this is just the beginning; I definitely haven't made it. I hope the guys rally around me. I think I've earned their confidence and their trust, but now's the time to really step it up a notch."
Scherer believes the offense has accepted Webb as its leader. "It seems like they have (but) we'll find out," he said. "I think they have rallied around him. He's made the most plays of anybody by far in training camp . . . you don't have to be brain surgeon to figure it out."
Of the three QBs who entered camp on the morning of Aug. 6 competing for the starting job, Webb - strictly from a physical standpoint - might have been the easiest to overlook. Hirschman is 6-4, 230; Wood is 6-3, 225. Webb is generously listed as being 6-1 and 205 - figures whose accuracy might depend on the benefit of cleats, helmet and full pads.
As much as the quarterback position is about numbers, it's also about intangibles - and it didn't take long in his new environment for Webb to demonstrate those. He might have made his move to the front last weekend. Embree told Media Day attendees on Saturday that he would begin testing the trio of QBs in situational work, and true to his word, it began in that afternoon's practice.
In a word, Webb excelled. In one situation - second-and-18 near mid-field with the offense needing a field goal with time running out - Webb threw a pair of incompletions and faced fourth-and-18. Then he threw for 22 yards and a first down to Nelson Spruce, positioning Will Oliver for a successful field goal.
"The most impressive thing about that," recalled Embree, "was on third-and-18 it was the same play call. He and Spruce almost connected . . . then he came back and hit Spruce on the back shoulder. Both times it was against (corner) Greg Henderson and it was tight coverage.
"But that was where you wanted to go with the ball. The fact that he had enough confidence to try and make that throw the first time, then to come back knowing this is to win the game . . . to come back again and make that throw against two man, which is difficult coverage to complete, for him to do that, it was the only place you could put it. For me, it was like, 'OK' . . ."
Asked if that sequence was a turning point in the camp QB competition, Embree answered, "It was one of them . . . each day I try to go in with an open mind and see how they responded. Sometimes when you're in a competition you get in a situation where maybe a guy in front of you does something so you try to come out and do what he did or do better. What you have to do is what's in front of you. If it's a situation where you have to check it down, check it down. Don't force it . . .
"It's not H-O-R-S-E. You don't have to match shot-for-shot. I think sometimes the guys got caught up in doing that a little bit. But as we move on for competing for No. 2, we've just to keep moving forward."
In his two seasons (20-plus games, 19 starts) directing KU, Webb passed for 3,079 yards, with 20 touchdown passes against the same number of interceptions. His final 12-game numbers at KU last season: 179-of-281; 1,884 yards, 13 TDs, 12 interceptions.
But one of his stats also demonstrates growth and a settling in at the position: His completion percentage rose from 56.5 in 2010 to 63.7 in 2011.
Webb was recruited by former Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino as the heir apparent to Todd Reesing, who guided the Jayhawks to a 3-1 record against CU and a 12-1 season in 2007 that culminated with an Orange Bowl victory against Virginia Tech. Webb recalled that his time at KU with Reesing, who was very close to Webb's size, wasn't so beneficial in terms of "X's and O's or playbook stuff, but how to carry yourself, how to be a leader. He's the type of guy when it comes to crunch time you can really count on him making a play. That's a quarterback, really the definition of a quarterback."
Webb graduated from Union (Mo.) High School early, then enrolled early at KU, allowing him to graduate in 31/2 years. When KU changed coaches (Mangino to Turner Gill to Charlie Weis) Webb was shelved in the shuffle.
Weis wanted his own QB; Webb said he understood and began shopping for a new school/team. CU's interest was sparked by Webb sending emails "to some schools that I knew had graduated quarterbacks, places I knew I'd like to go," he told CUBuffs.com shortly after his arrival in Boulder. "Coach Scherer was able to get back in touch with me and we kind of kicked it off. I had a really good time talking to him and we kind of hit it off from the beginning. I'm lucky it all worked out."
On Media Day, Embree characterized Hirschman and Wood as "having big arms" that allowed them to make "all the throws." On Wednesday, Scherer said this of Webb: "What he lacks in arm strength he makes up in anticipation, accuracy. It's not a punt-pass-and-kick contest all the time, not who throws the farthest, the hardest. It's who gets the ball there on time and puts it where it's supposed to be."
By making the announcement three days before the Buffs' first major scrimmage of camp, Webb gets even more reps with the No. 1 offense leading up to the Sept. 1 opener against Colorado State (2 p.m., Denver). Embree said that was a consideration as well as relieving the rest of the team of having to field the on-going question of "Who's your starter?" Said Embree: "That's not a question they'll have to answer from momma and daddy or whoever . . . it just allows to continue to move forward."
In situational scrimmages, Embree said Webb's decisions were right more often than not, as was his down-and-distance awareness: "He's just got a great feel (for the game) and has a great presence in the pocket. He just continues each day to get better and better."
Although Webb entered the fray late, Embree noted that Wednesday's decision said more about Webb's experience and maturity than it did about his competition. The Buffs' QB roster includes redshirt freshmen John Schrock and Stevie Joe Dorman, and true freshman Shane Dillon, who is scheduled to redshirt.
But Wood and Hirschman will compete for the backup spot, and Embree said he wasn't down on either: "First off, I think Nick and Connor are still young. Second, they're still competing for the backup spot. It's football, right? It could happen quickly where it's yours; you have to keep preparing and working in that manner. Those two guys need to keep battling it out."
The decision to elevate Webb, said Embree, was his but it came via staff input: "As a staff - offense and defense - it's something we talk about it. When we're looking at tape, we're seeing the same thing, whether it's a passing situation . . . (the defensive staff) doesn't know some of the details, but when they see No. 4 (Webb) doing the things he's done, it's impressive. He's just got a good grasp and real good feel for things."
Before Wednesday's announcement, Embree said he wasn't sure if his players had a growing sense that Webb was emerging: "I had told them all before camp to focus on their jobs, on them getting better. I think as time goes on, sometimes as a receiver or a tight end you're aware of who the quarterback is. Usually the fat guys up front have no idea of who's behind them . . .
"But having said that, when you're in the huddle with a guy, you kind of have an idea of who takes command. I'm not saying those other guys didn't, but (Webb) has a presence. He's just natural."
THE INSIDE LOOK AT . . .
Coach: Rip Scherer, second season on CU staff.
Returning starters: None.
Stat line: Hansen accounted for 2,883 yards and 20 TDs passing last season, with another 200 yards (115 after sacks) and three TDs on the ground. Hirschman is the only QB from CU's 2011 roster with college game stats (192 passing yards, no TDs).
Bottom line: Best-case camp scenario for the Buffs would have one of the three main competitors - Hirschman, Wood, Webb - assuming control early. And that happened Wednesday when Embree announced he was going with Webb, the KU transfer. Although he's got 19 games under his belt as a Big 12 Conference starter, it's still vital for the Buffs to open with a running game that will take some of the pressure off of the new guy in control of the offense.
Next: Running backs