With the season opener still four weeks away, the Baylor coaches aren’t panicking about who will start at quarterback against Liberty on Sept. 2.
They have so much faith in returning sophomore starter Zach Smith, graduate transfer Anu Solomon and freshman Charlie Brewer that they think they can win with any of them as the No. 1 guy.
Baylor quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas believes the competition has brought out the best in the trio during preseason drills.
“I think it’s extremely positive because it keeps people on their toes every day,” Thomas said. “You can’t have a day where you’re not your sharpest, you’re not studying, you’re not early preparing being ready to go. Every time you cross the line you’ve got to be ready to go.”
The determining factor will likely come down to who can provide the best leadership and make decisive plays.
“It’s just leading the offense and converting and recognizing what’s happening and taking what the defense is giving you,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, you have to make plays. Sometimes not making a play is a positive, not forcing things. They’re doing really well. They’re very supportive of each other, both on the field and off the field.”
During Saturday’s practice at McLane Stadium, all three quarterbacks saw time with the No. 1 offense. Since every quarterback is working with multiple offensive units, they’re learning their teammates strengths and weaknesses across the board.
“We’ve all been getting pretty even reps, so I think it helps,” Smith said. “Everyone is getting the same availability to the 1’s, the 2’s and the 3’s. No matter who we’re with, we’re just going through our reads and our keys and reading defenses and stuff like that. I think it’s been really good so far and we’re learning a lot.”
All three quarterbacks were at Baylor for spring drills after Solomon came as a graduate transfer from Arizona and Brewer graduated from Lake Travis High School in December.
They had the opportunity to learn new Baylor coach Matt Rhule’s system from the ground up and adjust to co-offensive coordinators Thomas and Jeff Nixon’s offensive style. Thomas said the knowledge the three quarterbacks learned during the spring has paid dividends this summer.
“It was quite the adjustment coming into the spring,” Smith said. “But now that I’ve got spring under my belt and coming into the fall, I’m rehashing some of those things I learned. So the fall has been a ton easier than the spring mental-wise. I think I’m learning it pretty well.”
Brewer was especially glad to graduate from high school early to get a jump on his college career. He enjoyed a phenomenal high school career at Lake Travis as he passed for 8,342 yards and 107 touchdowns.
Brewer was named the Associated Press Texas player of the year as a senior after passing for 3,908 yards and 54 touchdowns and setting a national high school completion record of 77.4 percent in Lake Travis run to the Class 6A Division I championship.
“It helped a lot just to get in here, learn the new playbook with the new staff, get in the weight room with the rest of the guys, all our running and conditioning, and just really getting in shape,” Brewer said. “And then you get to go through spring camp and really just build on what we learned in the offseason and carry it into the fall camp right now.”
All three quarterbacks bring different strengths to the table.
Smith has the strongest arm and has dropped his weight from 232 at the end of last season to 221 to improve his mobility.
After senior Seth Russell went down with a season-ending injury, Smith started the last four games and led the Bears to a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl by passing for 375 yards and three touchdowns.
“Obviously, Zach has an NFL arm,” Thomas said. “I was in the NFL for seven years and he’s got as good an arm as anyone I’ve seen in the NFL as far as spinning the ball and ball strength. That’s obviously a strength for him.”
Solomon has the most experience among the trio as he made 27 starts in three seasons at Arizona and passed for 6,922 yards and 49 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Knee and foot injuries limited Solomon to five games last season, and he became immediately eligible to play for Baylor after graduating from Arizona in December.
“It really tested my faith, just putting all my trust into Coach Rhule and the coaching staff and all the players,” Solomon said. “I came here blindly. I didn’t come here on a visit. I just said, ‘I believe in y’all and I just want to buy into what you’re trying to sell me.’ They got me with that.”
Solomon’s versatility should be an asset for the Bears since he has good mobility to complement his passing accuracy. Thomas also likes the experience Solomon brings to Baylor’s offense.
“Anu is in a different stage in his life than both of those kids as far as experience he’s had in college football,” Thomas said. “He’s got arm talent, he can spin the ball, he’s got some athleticism. Sometimes that experience pays dividends, and you learn not what to do. Just little coaching points, progressions, footwork, just those subtle differences are the biggest thing for him in the new system.”
Smith, Solomon and Brewer are accustomed to running spread offenses. While Rhule will continue to run a spread offense, Baylor will also mix pro style formations into the offensive scheme. Baylor’s playbook is thick and the quarterbacks must have a thorough knowledge of it.
Smith has enjoyed learning both offensive styles and is soaking in all the knowledge he can from the Baylor coaches. Thomas had seven years of NFL coaching experience with the Atlanta Falcons before spending the last two seasons at Temple. Nixon has 10 years of NFL coaching experience with the San Francisco 49ers, the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles.
“They’re great guys, they’re super intelligent, they know exactly what they’re talking about,” Smith said. “They’ve got tons of experience in the NFL and stuff like that. I’m really looking forward to going into the season with all this knowledge they have given to us.”
BEAR FACTS – Baylor quarterback Anu Solomon said former tight end Sam Tecklenburg is performing well following his move to center. “He’s doing great. I’m very shocked how he can pick up everything just like that. He’s doing a great job at snapping the ball.”… Baylor coach Matt Rhule planned to give Chris Platt a long look at cornerback, but he’s spent most of his time during camp at receiver where’s played since arriving at Baylor in 2014. “He’s bounced around a little bit but he’s been playing a lot of receiver,” said Baylor co-offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas. “Obviously, he’s got a lot of speed and the ability to make explosive scores. I’m a little biased on my end. I like to have him out there at receiver to utilize that speed.”