Colorado State Rams' Quarterback Competition A Three-Headed Monster

By Rich Kurtzman
Image Courtesy – Rich Kurtzman

Two’s company, three’s a crowd.

For the Colorado State Rams, their 15 spring practice sessions are vital for growth, preparation and chemistry building as the summer quickly approaches, with the fall and football soon after.

These practice sessions are also important when it comes to position battles, none more crucial to the offense’s functioning than quarterback.

Last season, CSU started three different QBs due to multiple injuries, and the offense lacked rhythm due to diverse gunslingers throwing the ball in different ways.

Garrett Grayson was the starter at the beginning of the season, a dual-threat quarterback that can tuck and run with the ball well, but sometimes does so without progressing through his reads.

Senior M.J. McPeek played when Grayson broke his collarbone, and he’s obviously moved onto the real world.

Then there’s Conner Smith, who’s redshirt was pulled when McPeek was also injured. Smith undoubtedly has the strongest arm of any Rams QB, and while the sophomore has much learning to do, he led the team to three victories to finish the season.

So, who will be the starter when the season kicks off in five months from now?

The odds are Grayson will get the nod, but Smith is pushing hard to take that coveted spot. And then there’s C.J. Leonard, who redshirted last season and played on the scout team.

If head coach Jim McElwain has a favorite at the moment, one would never know. He’s yet to name a starter and believes the competition will push each of them to new levels of performance.

“Competition at the positions is really what we’re all about right now,” McElwain said during his spring practice press conference. “Developing some leadership and seeing who’s willing to stand up and say ‘This is the way we do it at Colorado State.’

“I think two guys that got really valuable experience last year within the offense both Garrett Grayson, obviously before he was injured, and then ‘Smitty’ as well as being able to handle what we’re going to throw at them this spring, moving into the fall,” he continued. “That’ll be a battle where we’re going to go ahead and they’re going to split reps, it’ll be equal throughout. I think the wildcard here, guys, is C.J. Leonard, who I’m very high on, and I’m high on the way he attacks the position. And what I mean by that is not only his play but his leadership, his ability to take from the classroom to the field. He’s a guy that’ll get some valuable reps as well. So, we’re really looking forward to the battle at that position.”

Coach Mac has expressed his pleasure in the team’s work at Ram U, the offseason strength and conditioning program, though he said something was missing from his quarterbacks. Namely, leadership.

“I was hoping to get a little more out of him,” the coach explained of Grayson’s disappearing act following his injury last year. “I guess I’m calling him out. Get a little more out of him at Ram U from an assertive standpoint. But, I think it’ll come and he’s doing a good job. I’m glad to see everything’s good with that arm.”

“I saw today – again, we’re moving those guys between units right now – really what you look for is maybe not how they handle the ones, but how they take control of the huddle with the twos,” McElwain said after the team’s third spring practice. “I saw some good things today, especially out of Garrett. I thought he had a good day; the way he worked and kind of commanded the huddle, got some guys lined up right. All the things you kind of look for from a leadership standpoint.”

So, it seems Grayson has responded to Mac’s request for leading his teammates on the field, but the battle is far from over.

“Yeah, I’ll call it a three-man race,” McElwain declared Wednesday.

But, as they say, if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterback; Colorado State and McElwain have to decide which of the three is best fit for commanding the offense and improving on their terrible numbers from last season. Coach Mac was brought into Fort Collins as a an offensive man, and he understands they must promote production in order to ascend in the Mountain West Conference.


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