Maximum competition for QBs at MSU

EAST LANSING — Less than 3 minutes to play. Michigan State had the ball at its 8.

The score? Michigan State 10, Michigan 9. If the Spartans could string together a couple of first downs, they would win.

On second down, MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell dropped to pass but couldn’t find an open receiver. “It didn’t develop how we hoped,” Maxwell said, “or how we planned.”

Maxwell threw it away, erring on the side of caution. The Spartans went three-and-out and had to punt. The Wolverines got the ball back, kicked a field goal and won the game.

And Maxwell is still kicking himself over that second-down pass play. “Maybe, I could have gotten it in there late,” Maxwell said. “Maybe, I could have scrambled and made something happen.”

That one play did not lose the game. But Maxwell knows he might have won the game by getting a first down. And that illustrates what the coaches want in their starting quarterback this season. They want somebody who can make a difference.

They want to find somebody who makes good decisions. But just as important, they want somebody who can create something out of nothing in a moment of chaos.

Will that quarterback be Maxwell, who struggled at times last year?

Or will it be Connor Cook, who replaced Maxwell in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and led the Spartans to victory?

Right now, Maxwell is listed as the starter.

But Cook is competing for the starting job.

“I think it’s a good thing for us because you feel like you have more than one,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “We just need to figure out who is … the best one.”

Cook learns new tricks

What is a creative quarterback? It is the ability to keep a play alive.

“Even if it’s as minimal as sliding in the pocket to have another half-second to get rid of the football,” Salem said. “It’s not running around for 5 seconds.”

This summer, Cook attended a camp with QB guru George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego. Other quarterbacks who have worked with Whitfield include Andrew Luck, Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel.

Whitfield teaches creativity and reacting to chaos by practicing in strange places. “We worked in the ocean,” Cook said. “You have water resistance when you are dropping back. Then all of a sudden, a wave crashes in behind you, which simulates a defensive lineman falling onto your leg.”

Cook dropped to pass, and Whitfield would throw bean bags at him. Or giant yoga balls. Or Whitfield would swipe at Cook with a broomstick to simulate, well, being attacked by witches.

“Not every single play is perfect,” Cook said.

Sometimes, during spring practices, Cook tried to create too much, but he has improved his footwork. He has changed how he holds the ball and has a quicker release. He is more comfortable and more confident.

“The job is open right now,” Cook said. “Every quarterback is clawing, fighting, scratching, trying to win the day.”

Competition is close

Maxwell has one significant advantage over Cook. He has started 13 games. “Having those (experiences) under my belt, I certainly feel more confident,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said he has improved his accuracy and has been throwing more consistently.

Wide receiver Bennie Fowler spent the summer catching balls from both quarterbacks because he doesn’t know who will be the eventual starter.

“Both guys are great, smart, understand the offense,” Fowler said. “There is not really that much difference between them. They are both throwing the ball really well right now.”

But practice is different than games.

Who can make the play against Michigan with the game on the line? That’s what the MSU coaches are trying to figure out.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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