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COLUMN

Indiana's great quarterback debate is back

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For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Three players vying for starting position

Monday, April 15, 2013 - 5:14 am

BLOOMINGTON -- Welcome to Indiana's Great Quarterback Debate, The Spring Edition.

Yes, it's way too early to stir things up given IU doesn't open its season until Aug. 29 against Indiana State, but then, when it comes to football and quarterbacks, is it ever really too early?

Quarterbacks are the sport's rock stars, which is why, in the NFL, they earn huge salaries, star in commercials and have supermodel wives/girlfriends.

College has its own QB glamour with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and his 2012 Heisman Trophy, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and his Miss Alabama girlfriend Katherine Webb (Brent Musburger! Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue appearance! ABC's "Splash" reality TV show!), and, well, people gotta know.

For the Hoosiers, there are no commercials or mega-million-dollar contracts or uncomfortable Musburger moments, but there is competition. Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld are vying for the top spot, and Saturday's spring-practice-ending Cream and Crimson game proved only that Roberson isn't yet ready after last fall's season-ending broken leg.

But then, Roberson, once the undisputed starter, doesn't have to be ready in April. It's the fall that matters.

“I don't think he's quite full tilt, whether it be physical or mental,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “We're four months and two weeks away from playing a game. He's got a lot of time to get it going. He's close.”

In the meantime, Wilson has thrown down the verbal gauntlet. If you want to win the job, you'd better work, the upcoming Little 500 party weekend be darned.

“It's how much do they want to do on their own,” he said. “A lot of guys will want to go to frat parties next week. But the guy who wants to be the starting quarterback will be here watching tape. That will be his little party.”

He added, “If we're going to be a good team, one of those quarterbacks has to be great. They have to play at a high level.”

Spring game levels had Coffman going 17 for 23 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Sudfeld was 14 for 16 for 187 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Roberson was 7 for 18 for 63 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

That might indicate a favorite to you, but not to Wilson.

“We haven't had any separation through the spring,” Wilson said. “It's a tough deal because they've all been pretty good. Our problem is how to keep developing them and get them to stay in rhythm (when they split the practice snaps).”

Roberson brings a running threat the others don't. In this dual-threat era (see Manziel and Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman winner), it's hard to win big by pass alone.

In two games last year Roberson rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Sudfeld and Coffman combined for 6 yards and one touchdown.

“When Tre got hurt,” Wilson said, “we lost a good running threat at quarterback. With two young quarterbacks, we didn't do any running with them to keep (defenses) honest against the run game. The quarterback has to be a little bit of a running factor.”

That's why coaches had Coffman and Sudfeld do more running (without getting tackled -- quarterbacks don't get hit in the spring) over the last month.

“I didn't run much in high school because I was always the tall, skinny kid who liked to sling it from the pocket,” Sudfeld said. “I was never fast. I've gotten faster here. I'm glad Coach has challenged us to run. The way the game is evolving, a quarterback has to run. He doesn't have to be (Philadelphia Eagles dual-threat quarterback) Michael Vick, but he has to run a little.

“Cam and I have improved in that aspect, but we have a long way to go.”

As for Roberson's spring game struggles, nobody expected an instant return to form.

“I felt a little overwhelmed,” he said about Saturday's game. “My first couple of series, I was a little anxious and was rushing things. I got into a little bit of a flow after that and started completing some passes.”

Roberson weighed 183 pounds last year, dropped to 167 after his surgery and has built himself up to 201.

“He's getting stronger, and that's helped him with his running and passing,” Wilson said, “but I don't think his speed is back. At the same time, maybe it's stamina speed. Does he fatigue? He was pushing three months of inactivity. Atrophy sets in with that. You wonder how strong is that deal. He'll be a lot better.”

The competition figures to be intense, although you won't hear that from the quarterbacks.

“It's friendly,” Coffman said. “We're all best friends. We do everything together. We watch film together. We lift together. We hang out.

“We're just worried about making ourselves better. I didn't go out there saying, I'll play better than Tre or Nate. I went out saying these are some of my weaknesses I need to work on. I'm not looking at them, just myself.”

Added Sudfeld: “We're all pushing each other hard. Cam opened (the spring game) with a touchdown. You're like, here we go. It keeps you sharp. You can never be complacent. You always have to earn what you did. That's makes it fun.

“You see what you're up against, but we're not competing against each other as much as we are trying to be the best we can be. At the end of the day, we'll see what the coaches think.”

Here's what offensive coordinator Seth Littrell thinks:

“All three have competed. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. They all have to develop. They have to make sure they stay in the film room and get better. They have great leadership skills.”

Here's what receiver Shane Wynn thinks:

“They have a different velocity on the ball,” he says. “Nate and Tre have got a touch. Cam has a laser.

“In the end, it doesn't matter. Everything stays the same. We run our routes, and if we get in our groove, we're hard to stop.”

Finally, here's what Wilson thinks:

“Tre will be fine, but he has good competition. (Sudfeld) has a lot of talent. Cam is very crafty. We have three quarterbacks we can win with, they just haven't proven they can win a lot. We'll see if they do that in the fall.”

And so the debate ends -- for now.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.