As he went through the names of the quarterbacks competing on the practice field this fall, Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell smiled.
“I’ve got more names to call than just a year ago,” he said. “It was Brendon and Drew. But now we have so many more and they’re all really competing hard.”
On Tuesday, the Buffaloes opened preseason camp and thus recharged the competition to determine who will start at quarterback when they open the season Sept. 2 against TCU.
Incumbent starter Brendon Lewis leads the way, but JT Shrout is healthy again after missing the entire 2021 season with a knee injury. Those two will compete for the starting job, while Drew Carter, Maddox Kopp and Owen McCown battle for spots on the depth chart, as well.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to really kind of set the depth chart because there’s a lot of guys that are competing from the top spot all the way down to who’s the third-stringer,” Dorrell said.
A year ago, Lewis and Shrout went into camp competing for the starting job, but Shrout suffered a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 14. Lewis, now a third-year sophomore, started all 12 games in 2021 but had plenty of growing pains. He completed 58% of his passes for 1,540 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while being sacked 31 times.
Dorrell said Lewis has improved and showed good presence and command of the offense Tuesday.
“I’m gonna go into it like it’s my job,” Lewis said. “I’m going to play like I’m the starter every play. I think that’s what we all need to do. That’s kind of my mindset going into camp and going through camp.”
Lewis spent a lot of his offseason watching film, learning the offense installed by new coordinator Mike Sanford and tweaking his mechanics.
Asked what he would tell himself if he could go back to last year, Lewis said, “I would just say relax; don’t go out there all jittery. Just relax and play ball. Just have fun.”
Shrout is doing that now that he’s back.
In January of 2021, he transferred to CU from Tennessee with the hope of starting last year. Tuesday was his first full practice since the injury. Dorrell said after Shrout made a nice play on Tuesday, “He got all excited about, ‘Oh, man, I love football!’ Because he missed it.”
Shrout said he’s feeling good physically and happy to be on the field again. He’s also got a new outlook of not taking anything for granted after losing the game for a year.
“I definitely do hold myself to a high standard for sure,” he said. “I think at times, I just need to let loose and just go play and not think too much. … Obviously, (Dorrell) has told me I’ve just gotta get back into the rhythm of playing in the pocket again, and getting used to having guys around you. So that’ll help with more reps and time as camp goes on. But I felt good out there for the first day.”
Consistency with positive results will help Lewis or Shrout separate from the other.
“Whoever takes care of the ball the best, whoever makes the proper reads and gets us to the right place,” Dorrell said. “The management of the offense, the decision making of the offense, the accuracy in your throwing game. Those are those are kind of the telltale signs, and we’ll stat every one of those. You throw an interception or touchdown, they all count. Every throw will be scrutinized.”
Dorrell, Sanford and the offensive coaches will evaluate the group every day and the quarterbacks will see the results of each practice.
“We want them to be very coherent about where they stand every day,” he said.
While it is a two-man race for the starting job, Dorrell said there will be plenty of competition between Carter, Kopp and McCown.
Carter, the top backup last year, had a “hell of a summer and it shows,” Dorrell said. He added that Kopp, a transfer from Houston, had a good spring and is picking up where he left off. McCown, a true freshman who arrived this summer, made some good plays Tuesday.
“We are looking for who’s the right quality two or three,” Dorrell said. “That’s kind of where we’re trying to stack our depth. We think there’s three good, legitimate players that will give us really not much drop off from where B-Lew and JT are.”
How the quarterbacks stack up will be sorted out over the next month, but for now, Dorrell is just pleased to have options. Including walk-ons, there are eight quarterbacks in camp.
“Our offense knows that this is a challenging decision that this is going to be for us,” Dorrell said. “But it’s a good thing. It’s a good problem to have, instead of where we’ve been in the past.”