MANHATTAN – Dana Dimel has felt more like a talent evaluator than an offensive coordinator during Kansas State’s first three preseason practices.
With four quarterbacks competing for the starting spot, that is unlikely to change soon.
“Right now there is not anyone that we would come out and say, ‘He is the guy and the other guys are trailing,’” Dimel said Saturday at K-State’s media day. “Right now, we are still in a huge evaluation phase.”
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The candidates are junior-college transfer Jonathan Banks, freshman Alex Delton, sophomore Jesse Ertz and junior Joe Hubener. All four have strengths, all four have weaknesses and all four have been showing both to their coaches now that the season is less than a month away.
Coach Bill Snyder says all four have legitimate hopes of taking the job, so he is splitting repetitions between them. But he also says he wants the candidate pool to be speedily slashed to three and then two before a starter is chosen a week or so before the South Dakota game on Sept. 5.
“I want it done yesterday,” Snyder quipped.
Snyder, Dimel and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Del Miller are doing their best. Sometimes, that means they evaluate more than they coach.
“We will make a decision that is best for our program,” Snyder said. “But we have to be very accurate in our assessment. We have to be very diligent with our evaluations.”
Not the simplest of tasks with four quarterbacks. In most years, college football teams choose between two or three passers. But the Wildcats are making due.
“It is really hard to split reps four ways, but if there is any place that can do it, it is probably Kansas State because we get so many reps in practice,” Dimel said. “One thing we do that some programs don’t do is when our ones and twos are going on one side of the field, our threes and fours are going on the other side of the field. Guys are always working.”
So far the quarterbacks are not complaining.
They describe the position battle as a friendly competition in which they push each other. Sure, they each want to win, but if a fellow quarterback has a question, the other three will help to provide an answer. The goal is to raise their collective level of play, making every snap in practice competitive and important.
“It is tough, but it brings out the competitive nature in all of us,” Hubener said. “With four guys, obviously, that is a lot of guys getting reps, so you have to make the most of the reps you get. But it definitely forces you to be focused and bring your best day in and day out, because someone is trying to beat you.”
Coaches and quarterbacks said all four players remain mostly on level ground in the competition. Dimel went so far to say he hopes to use all of them in some capacity during the opener. Still, they dropped a few hints.
Banks, who arrived in early July, said his athleticism is a perfect match for Snyder’s offense, but that he is struggling with the playbook.
“That is my biggest downfall right now,” Banks said.
Delton said he feels comfortable running the ball, and is executing zone read plays well, but he is still adjusting to the college game as a passer.
Ertz, who appeared to take a lead on the position in the spring, said he impressed coaches during practices with his consistency. That is good, he said, because he thinks the most consistent quarterback will win the job.
“Everything just kind of fell in place for me in terms of understanding the offense,” Ertz said. “I had a pretty good grasp before it but I wasn’t putting it on the field until. Then it all started making sense. I proved myself and feel really good about it.”
Hubener was the primary backup for Jake Waters a year ago, but said he lost ground in spring practices by taking risks and trying to do too much. For some reason, he said, he changed his mechanics for the worst.
He has since made a switch back.
“I spent all summer trying to focus on that,” Hubener said, “making sure I got my mechanics right. That has fixed my accuracy.”
Dimel suggested Ertz and Hubener, the two most experienced players in the group, may have an advantage because of their playbook knowledge. Banks and Delton, he said, have been using a limited playbook.
Whatever happens, the evaluation process should produce some fascinating results.
“I will say it is nice to have depth at the position,” Dimel said. “We really haven’t had depth there before.... This year we are going to have a lot of depth, and that is the encouraging thing even if it is hard to get reps for four guys.”