BEAUMONT, Texas – Lamar University offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Dodd is in his first season with the Cardinals. Dodd was hired by head coach Mike Schultz just days after Schultz became the program’s second head coach since its rebirth.
When Dodd took over coaching the quarterbacks, I’m not sure if he completely understood the Cards recent history at the position. The previous two seasons have looked more like a mash unit than a stable of signal callers set to guide a football team. Last season, every quarterback on the roster had his number called and everyone eventually went down with an injury. The Cardinals lost their starting quarterbacks on the first drive of a game in consecutive weeks, and were forced to burn two redshirts in the same game all due to injuries.
In was a similar situation in 2015, as senior Joe Minden was injured in the game at Baylor allowing then junior Carson Earp to take over as the starter. Three weeks later, Earp was injured forcing Minden back in the lineup the day after he had been cleared by the doctors. The team’s No. 3 QB on the depth chart was lost for the year to an injury just days prior to the season-opener.
Although injuries will always be something left to the football gods, the coaching staff has taken steps to prevent a similar scenario from happening in 2017. In addition to returning veterans senior Andrew Allen, senior Blake McKenzie and sophomore Adam Morse, the coaching staff also signed West Orange standout Jack Dallas on National Signing Day, and added SMU transfer Darrell Colbert just before the start of preseason camp.
Each athlete brings a different skill set to the field, with varying levels of experience. While Allen and Colbert are pure definitions of a dual-threat quarterback, Allen and Morse have the benefit of experience with the Cardinals last season – although it was broken up amidst a plague of injuries. McKenzie has been around the program the longest, but has yet to show LU fans exactly what he can do because of the injury bug which has hit him harder than any other player at the position. Dallas might just be the odd man out this season, due to the fact he is just a true freshman. Despite his lack of experience, Dallas recorded just about every high school honor available while leading West Orange to consecutive state titles (and it doesn’t hurt that he has the perfect name for a quarterback in the Lone Star State).
Despite the wide range of experience at the quarterback position, the facts are all these players are young in regards to the new system that is being taught by the Cardinals coaching staff.
“That is the truth about every kid at every position on the field for us,” said Schultz. “When we refer to youth, we’re not just speaking in terms of freshmen and sophomores but the whole team. We’ve brought in some FBS and junior college transfers and they have experience but they’re young to our system. Teaching all these guys the new system is a very big deal.”
Through the first two weeks of camp the two former FBS transfers have moved their way to the front of the pack rotating work with the No. 1 offense. Similar in stature, it’s hard to tell Allen and Colbert apart once they get suited up. A transfer from New Mexico State, Allen is 6-0, 215 pounds, while Colbert stands 5-11, 207 pounds.
“Andrew has done a great job ever since the beginning of spring,” said Dodd. “He is a good athlete who throws the ball really well. We like the fact that he has shown some true leadership skills with this team. We’re working on his decision-making skills and making sure we’re taking care of the football.”
Allen played in seven games last season earning two starts. He was originally beat out for the starting job by former Cardinal Carson Earp, before winning the job back in the third week of the season. Allen returned to the starting lineup at Central Arkansas only to see his season come to an end during the first quarter of the game. Allen finished the season 42-of-81 (.519) for 373 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores.
“We went through a very tough summer workout program and I think you can see that paying off in the team as a whole,” said Allen. “I’ve really worked on my execution coming into this season. I want to be a guy this team can look up to on the field and life in general. The new staff has put a focus on accountability with this team. They want us to be accountable to each other, in addition being to being accountable to the coaches.”
Another dual-threat option, Colbert comes to the Golden Triangle from SMU. He was a three-star recruit coming out of Houston’s Lamar High School. Rated as the No. 32 quarterback in the nation as a senior, Colbert played in 12 games over the course of his two seasons in Dallas.
“Darrell brings a lot of skills to the football field,” said Allen. “He has big time speed, and is hard to tackle. You also can’t overlook the guy’s arm either. He has a very good deep ball.”
If there was a national hard luck award handed out every year, McKenzie might be entering his senior year as the nation’s only two-time recipient. McKenzie transferred to LU two years ago from Fullerton College. Standing in the shadows of an FCS transfer and another junior college transfer that same season, McKenzie began to make a name for himself in the team’s preseason scrimmages. Right as he was making a legitimate claim to playing time, his season came to an abrupt halt with an injury less than week prior to the opener.
It was a similar situation last year. With all of the injuries at quarterback, it appeared McKenzie would be next in line to stand behind center only to get hurt in practice the week he was needed. All of his misfortune on the field hasn’t derailed his attempt to return for one more year with the Cardinals.
“This is going to sound like a kiss of death comment, but Blake is one of the nicest young men you will ever be around,” said Dodd. “He is the most competitive guy we have on this team. At the end of the day, he is the best leader we have as well. He really does some great things on the field in practice, which is incredible considering he hasn’t really played a lot of football.”
Morse was never supposed to see the field last season. He was slated to be redshirted and enter 2017 with four years to play four, but fate had a different direction for Morse. The Port Neches-Groves product came on in relief against Houston Baptist after the starter went down in the first quarter, and his replacement (Case Robinson) was hurt in the second half.
Morse completed 7-of-14 passes for 54 yards and drove the team down the field for a late touchdown but the rally came up short. Despite the game’s outcome, Morse looked impressive considering he wasn’t being counted on to play that week. He finished the season completing better than 53 percent of his passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns.
“Morse is the best pure thrower we have on this team,” said Dodd. “He can really wing it. His arm is so strong that at times it can get him into trouble. Young guys who have a strong arm tend to think they can make every throw, so we’ve been working on his decision making. Keep in mind, he is a very young guy. He didn’t get to go through a lot of football last year because he was hurt too. He has a very bright future.”
Although Dallas comes in at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of experience, he is a proven winner – there is very little else he could’ve done to prove that during his high school career. A two-time Willie Ray Smith Award finalist (the Heisman Trophy for Southeast Texas), Dallas won the award following his junior campaign. He guided the Mustangs to three state championship games and consecutive titles. He recorded more than 8,000 yards of total offense in his career and 128 total touchdowns. The ‘lack of experience’ tag may not be an issue with Dallas, he was only a sophomore when he took over the starting role in high school.
It wouldn’t be hard to imagine with the amount of talent the Cardinals have compiled at quarterback, that these guys would become rivals. It would be understandable since they’re all competing for the same spot. LU’s quarterbacks have gelled together in a very short period of time.
“This is the best group of guys I’ve been around,” said Allen. “We’re all very close. I feel like we’re all on the same page. A perfect example, when I got here Blake (McKenzie) went out of his way to help me out. Here I was competing against this guy to beat him out of a spot and he’s helping me. I feel that’s how all of us are.”
Schultz has not yet named is his starter, and there is no rush. The Cardinals still have two more weeks of preseason camp before beginning game-week preparation. Big Red kicks off the season Saturday, Sept. 2 at North Texas. The game against the Mean Green will begin at 6 p.m. from Denton.