Quarterback competition a focus as IU opens camp

The prologue to this month’s most anticipated competition of fall camp played out before Nick Westbrook’s eyes on summer weekends, when the Indiana receiver got an up-close look at the budding battle between Hoosier quarterbacks.

Brandon Dawkins, Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix, each of them striving to claim IU’s starting quarterback assignment, regularly gathered with their receivers for offseason throwing sessions, laying the foundation for this month’s three-way race at the game’s most critical position.

“They’re just a good group of guys that are all just trying to get better together,” Westbrook said. “Whoever gets the spot will get the spot, but I don’t think there’s any bad blood between them.”

That this will be a friendly competition was the extent of the valuable insight Indiana players and coaches offered into the upcoming quarterback battle. All three competitors bring their own unique, yet similar skill sets to the field, and IU coach Tom Allen insists all three will start on a level plane when IU’s fall camp opens Friday morning.

“The priority is for us to be able to create practice opportunities where those three guys will be given equal opportunity to prove what they can do,” Allen said. “When you go through and do a two-minute type drill at the end of practice or wherever you choose to do it within the practice, I could see us setting up three of those instead of just doing two like we’ve usually done in the past. We’re going to do three, just to have a chance for all three guys to be able to take their shot and move the football.”

There is no greater question Indiana must convincingly answer in the coming weeks than the one at quarterback, where the Hoosiers struggled to find consistency last season. Opening night starter Richard Lagow didn’t live up to the preseason hype showered upon him, while Ramsey’s effort to replace him was hampered by an injury suffered in late October.

Ramsey returns as the only one of the bunch with Big Ten playing experience and an operational knowledge of offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s playbook. But the fact that Ramsey, a cerebral coach’s son, appeared in nine games for the Hoosiers last season, starting four and completing 65 percent of his passes, does nothing to assure that the job is his.

Dawkins, a graduate transfer from Arizona, boasts the most overall experience. A true dual-threat, at least in the sense that his legs may be his best weapon, Dawkins passed for 2,414 yards and rushed for 1,582 more during his two-plus seasons on the field for the Wildcats.

Penix, a true freshman left-hander who joined the program as an early enrollee in January, is another mobile quarterback who may have the best arm of the group. He certainly did during the spring, demonstrating the ability to fire passes deep downfield.

“They’re all special in their own way,” sophomore receiver Whop Philyor said. “They’re all different.”

And yet, at the same time, they all fit the mobile profile Allen, DeBord and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan are prioritizing at the position. After IU’s program fielded pure pocket passers in Lagow and Nate Sudfeld during recent seasons, the shift to more athletic quarterbacks is in full swing.

From a logistical standpoint, that should be a positive for Indiana’s offense as a whole.

Last season, in switching between Lagow and Ramsey, IU utilized different offensive principles to enhance both quarterbacks. Now, Indiana has a standardized approach of attack, albeit one that can and will be tailored to whomever wins the competition.

“Having those guys who can do similar things is very important to the entire offense,” DeBord said. “So we’re not just taking part of it and working a percentage of that, then working another part with another guy.

“… I felt like, last year, we had a little bit of two packages. We had things for Rich and then things for Peyton when he was quarterback. So now, with all three guys having the ability to make plays with their feet or to get them on the move, now we’ll be running under one offense – and I think that’s better for everybody.”

Ideally, Allen would like to whittle down the competition sooner than later. But on the eve of camp, the second-year coach said he’ll be in no rush to assign a due date and constrain himself to an arbitrary deadline.

With such an important decision, Allen is willing to give all three quarterbacks the opportunity to make their case.

“They all want to play, so it’s a sensitive balance, I think,” Allen said. “But at the same time you have some maturity there, and Coach Sheridan will do a great job managing that, and I’ll do the same as a head coach.”


  1. Having three capable QBs entering fall camp is both a blessing and a problem. The depth of talent is a blessing that IU has rarely ever had in the past. But giving each guy equal reps in practice, at least for a couple weeks, limits the # of reps that the starter is going to get, and that could affect the timing and “chemistry” between the guy who becomes the starter and his offensive teammates, especially the receivers.

    If DeBord and Allen want to emphasize the running game, and if they intend their QB to run the ball on a significant number of designed running plays, Dawkins has the clear advantage over Ramsey, both in speed and experience as a runner. If DeBord and Allen simply want a QB who can, when necessary, scramble for positive yards, then Ramsey might have the edge due to his knowledge of the offense and passing accuracy. I just don’t see Penix being named the starter this season, but he could clearly get some valuable game experience (in up to four games) while maintaining his redshirt status.

    Three talented and capable quarterbacks sharing reps and competing for the starting roll. I guess that’s the kind of problem Allen likes to have.

  2. The video of the three QBs being interviewed together showed some things to me. Dawkins has the personality and feels comfortable being the starter. Peyton has mature physically but he looked pained to be in front of the reporters despite doing a good job answering their questions. Penix acted like it didn’t faze him and he handled the interview without the relaxation Dawkins did.

    Who wins the job will be determined on the field but Dawkins looks like the starter with the way he handled the conference and included the other two when a question was asked. Dawkins looks like a big upgrade at QB this year. I know the other two could pass him up by their play on the field and in all likelyhood Peyton will get on the field at times. The new red-shirt rule should really help get Penix experience for 2019.

  3. I believe the key is not having to have multiple sets of offenses due to the widely differing QB skills and abilities as in last year. Coaches are saying it and it is quite obvious. All three are basically interchangeable and keeps the entire offense, “standardized.” Huge difference for entire rest of the offense.

    Everything from blocking assignments to pass patterns to the running attack, it will all be similar regardless which QB is in the game. Each one has certain strengths over the others, but all are cut out of the same prototype. If the game planning was restrained last year due to to types of offenses to be ran, ought not be that excuse this year. Put up or shut up time for DeBord. If it doesn’t work, TA will have to make a change.

  4. Two out of the three QB’s have had injurys issues that is a problem if your planning to run with the QB more hopefully they can stay in one piece

    1. Which is why you hope to have at least 3 or more fairly close to equal QB’s without too much of a drop off between any of them. The hope is to make it to the end of season with reasonably respectable QB play. Main reason why I don’t particularly like the running QB model, injury probabilities. Guess it is why OSU tries to keep a stable of QB’s.

  5. They try to make a big deal out of Lagow not bein mobile and having to adjust give me a break man all it was is adding like 4 or 5 read option and qb draws Sudfeld was not mobile but they led the league offense 2 or 3 times ?mobile qb’s are cool but way overrated

    1. BB,
      Won’t find any disagreement from me on mobile QB’s being overrated, the injury problem is a big risk. If there was a problem last year, then it would have likely been in having to run 2 different systems based on the wide variation in skills between Lagow and Ramsey. Lagow was a pro style pocket passer and Ramsey a young and inexperienced, but mobile dual threat QB. Big problem for Lagow and somewhat for Ramsey was the OL, not to mention health issues in the receiving corp.

      A mobile QB is a threat at least in the college ranks, if they have a pass first mentality and are an effective passer. The QB running ability gets minimized in the nfl because of the speed at all positions. Don’t have that elite level of speed in college ball across the board, so a mobile QB with elite speed can be more effective. Get them in the pros and we all know what happens, it’s the pro style QB’s who can read the defenses at that speed who excel. Brady & the Manning brothers are/were have very little mobility, but they sure can read a defense and make the pass.

      It is all about the difference between college ball and pro ball. For IUFB, dual threat mobile QB’s may be the way to go. Not because they’re going to put a lot of QB’s into the NFL, but out of necessity due to difficulty in recruiting elite talent at all positions to IU.

  6. Regardless, pro style or duel threat a solid college program at level of big ten needs a stable of 3 or 4 committed qbs to do what is in best interest of team almost equal to themselves to be successful. One is simply not enough and two is very borderline.

  7. I don’t agree that dual-threat quarterbacks are overrated in college football. Several have been Heisman Trophy winners in recent years and lead their teams to great success. They can transform an otherwise average offense into something potent.

  8. As T. A. has said, a good dual-threat QB makes an offense difficult to defend. If he can pass with accuracy and run the ball, why would any coach not want such a QB? The key questions are, how many designed running plays do you call for your quarterback and how smart is he in avoiding the big hits? Or do you just let him decide to run based on his ability to read the defense? The more designed running plays you ask your quarterback to run, the more likely he is to get injured. But unless you allow a certain number of QB running plays, the threat is diminished, so you must have a reasonable number of those plays. Last season, both Dawkins and Khalil Tate of Arizona got injured while running the ball. Dawkins got hit late out of bounds, so it’s impossible to protect yourself from a cheap/illegal hit. But in seven games in which he was the starter or played the majority of the minutes, Tate ran for 1,411 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also passed for 10 touchdowns. That production is hard to replace.

    As Tate’s new coach at Arizona recently said, “last year Tate was a runner who could pass. This year, we want him to be passer who can run.” If Dawkins, Ramsey and Penix are passers who can run, IU’s offense is going to be very difficult to defend and IU will score a lot of points.

  9. If you Google the Greatest College Quarterbacks of all time, on a list created four years ago, 8 of the first 9 on the list were dual-threat quarterbacks. Tebow, Frazier, Young, Vick, Newton, Manziel are six of the top seven, with Marriotta, Watson, Luck, Griffin III, and Steve Young further down the list. Six out of the last seven Heisman Trophy winners were dual threat quarterbacks. For the college game, I don’t think dual threat quarterbacks are overrated.

    1. Po,
      Didn’t say they were overrated in college, just mixed bag at best when they get to the next level. There is not as much speed across the board at the college level, so a QB with great speed can excel. Get to the pros and every position is fast as is the game. Which is probably why the pro style QB’s from lower level schools excel, don’t win bcs championship, but do well in the pros.

    2. While I agree with your premise, seeing Manziel and Tebow among the ten greatest college quarterbacks of all time is one hell of a reach.

      Maybe the top ten most publicized.

  10. think, you wrote “Won’t find any disagreement from me on mobile QB’s being overrated.” Since we’re talking college quarterbacks in this string, I took that statement to mean what you wrote. Anyway, I think for the college game, dual-threat quarterbacks provide the opportunity to elevate and enhance the performance of an otherwise average offense. I completely agree with T.A.’s philosophy on this subject.

    1. Po,
      Exactly what I meant. Dual threat QB’s work quite well in college, just like almost run only QB’s can be successful in HS. It depends on the level of competition you are at and the nature of that what that game gives. The pro game requires a QB to be able to process vast amounts of information in a split second. Have to be able to read a defense at a glance and be disciplined enough to go through a series of progressions at hyper speed. Why? Because the speed of the pro game by all accounts is that kind of jump from the college level. The difference between a Manning and a Leaf.

      1. Explosive speed on defense is the difference between college and NFL….There is so much speed at multiple positions in the NFLI(best of the best at safeties, corners, linebackers) that it corrals and contains a good amount of dual threat capability. I believe we’re also forgetting about the wide differences in how guys handle pressure…and the ability to read defenses and survey the field.
        Manning….Brady….Staubach….Montana….Namath…Marino. These guys were masters in their profession. They were surgeons and the field was their patient. Precision. Consistency. Details. Calm under extreme pressure and duress. A ‘mindset’ for the position is the truly overlooked “dual” aspect to arm/athleticism of any sort.
        College certainly requires a mind for the game, but there’s still more room to influence a game via athletic gifts/running ability because the variances kn speed and reaction time of a defender are greater than with the ‘cream of every crop’ in the NFL. The manner in approaching the details, accuracy, preparation, assessment of situational events in every play gets elevated in the pro game.

        And no qb will ever run like this….

  11. Again i said they overrated becuz they are Jameis Winston won a title with FSU do you think he is moblile?AJ Mccarron Greg McElroy yes real burners at the QB position…they get the best Qb’s not the best dual threat guy cuz by doin that you box yourself in as a recruiter just go after the best guy regardless of whether he can run a zone read or not

  12. It takes two more letters to type ‘because’ rather than ‘becuz.’ I’d go with ‘cuz’ regularly(as you did later in the paragraph).

    You’re an interesting fella, brownbomber. You give a certain style to your writing for reasons which seem outside of laziness or clumsiness with language. It’s almost as if you are role playing and you toss in some awkward shortcuts and inconsistent slang for some sort of character sell job. Just an observation while smh perplexed. But there are always ‘tells’….I’ve been blogging a long time and I can tell.

  13. The disadvantages not mentioned with “Pro” QBs are you have to be very talented at WR and RBs along with the OL have to block all comers to move the ball effectively. Sudfeld didn’t run a pro style offense at IU so we can’t say he was a pro style QB at IU. Dual threat, at least for coach Allen, doesn’t mean a running QB but a passing QB that can run when things break down. A running QB is like one the plays in an offense that Rich Rodriguez runs. IU wants and accurate passer that can punish defenses when too many drop into coverage or the defense blitzes too many to block.

    1. V13,
      I contend it is the compression of talent into the NFL which forces the pro style QB. As others have said in college you can do exactly as you have indicated with a dual threat QB. The overall speed at every defensive position makes it much more difficult in the NFL. For IU and the steep uphill climb which TA must make to overcome the FB history, dual threat is nearly a necessity. At this stage of the game you are not going to get enough of the offensive pieces on a consistent basis to run anything else successfully, long term. If you are a historical blueblood program, yes, you can get those pieces.

      The approach using dual threat QB’s at IU makes all the sense in the world.

      1. I think you repeated exactly what I said (12:22 pm post) about speed and concentration of talent in the NFL…but nice review.
        Let’s also not forget how much longer an NFL season(regular and playoffs could push up to 18-20 games) and how those demands wear on a qb relying heavily on his own running ability. A top quality pocket qb with some athleticism/running ability will never have to evolve into a true dual threat…
        But a qb less accurate/methodical with the mind/arm and more secure by relying on his own running ability will need to eventually evolve into a ‘Pro style’ qb or likely face a very shortened career. I think that form of evolution is much more difficult in the NFL.

    2. Who fits that billing? Who will be the most accurate passer while still possessing some ability to run(a.k.a. limited “dual threat”) ? Is that Dawkins?

      I do like Dawkins’ speed(at least what appears to be explosive acceleration capabilities found on some of his highlights). How much accuracy are we willing to sacrifice to keep a dynamic threat on the field?

  14. Yes NFL players change the demand for the type of QBs they need. The game in the NFL is so fast and big that it requires accurate passers. Top college QBs that don’t make it in the league, most don’t, is because of accuracy issues and not understanding what is open in the NFL. When I see college QBs constantly hitting wide open receivers I don’t know if they can play in the NFL. When I see QBs throwing in tight windows then I see them as possible NFL QBs.

    College football is a different game and DT QBs can thrive and make teams better. It is also the reason option QBs can make teams successful but couldn’t in the NFL. Because no college can have the best players at every position DT QBs can out run some of the defensive players so they create issues for defenses. Winning consistenly in college favors DT QBs because they level the playing field for offenses.

  15. Agree…Sort of why I find it odd that any major college football program would be satisfied with a rather immobile qb(unless he’s truly exceptional with the arm and possess top receivers and backfield). Seems like such a vital position to have speed and wheels….Speed/quickness/explosiveness can be real equalizers if lacking in depth and breadth of talent.

    1. H4H,
      You brought up 2 very good issues in 2 previous posts. First, was who would best fit the billing as the DT QB? Early on, Dawkins may well do so with his running and experience advantages. How well he progresses will depend upon his passing abilities. Ramsey’s hope is in increasing his accuracy and decision making. He has good speed and a decent but not great arm. The decision making will his most important ally, especially if his accuracy continues to grow stronger.

      Penix is the real question both now and in the future. He seems to possess everything you need in a DT QB. Is he ready now or how soon, if ever, in the future? Only time will tell, but if he does develop we may be seeing the prototypical TA QB.

      The second issue you brought up was why would any college program be satisfied with anything other than a DT QB. The answer is they are increasing not and are moving as much as possible to the more mobile QB. This creates a rather well documented problem for the NFL, the lack of capable NFL QB’s coming out of college. As for the reasons mentioned several times earlier, DT QB’s don’t thrive very well in the NFL, but that is all that college seems to be producing.

      This may explain why we see NFL QB’s coming seemingly from out of nowhere to prominence in the NFL. The major powers want to win championships and that requires DT QB’s in college. Doesn’t mean a great QB can’t come from a major school, just not coming necessarily from the most prominent FB schools.

      1. Thanks for actually saying I made some good points, thinkaboutit.

        But I do love the weeds more than the wildflowers calling to the bumblebees….

        Your sanity is now in question. lol.

  16. Bottom Line: Success in college is often overrated. Apples and oranges…but can’t help from thinking of Zeller.
    If you come from a major program and get on the hype train, it really doesn’t matter what sort of pro career you’ll ultimately have. The opening dollars after draft night are enough to sustain any person with a minimal investment strategy for a comfortable lifetime.
    Maybe certain guys come out of “nowhere” because they are fighting for a lot more…?

    Lastly, I think that top programs(OSU, Penn State, and all those superior southern teams you love) have multiple threat athletes at every position. Not only are their qb’s far from one dimensional, but most on their rosters are probably skilled enough to be interchangeable parts. Linebackers could be running backs…Safeties could be qb’s..etc, etc. Great defenders could just as capably be great offensive players. In other words, nobody is one-dimensional on great college teams. Not only are they the best within a sport, but they are also guys who played multiple sports in high school. Their athletic skills have enormous breadth which translates into teams with more speed, quickness, strength, agility, roster balance, and interchangeability.

    We talk a lot about quarterbacks, but the talent needs to be “multiple threat” at all positions. Of course, you’re never going to turn a 300 lb. offensive tackle into wide out….but the overlap(increased athleticism/skill sets at all positions) and speed of the game is a present and ever-increasing common thread that brings advantages to the best college programs and the pro game. Conditioning and athleticism begins to trump even some of the tops at specialization.
    Even extreme “accuracy” gets a bit diminished because defenders are simply getting to receivers a lot faster than 20 years ago. The bell curve is flattening with regard to major differences in speed and athleticism.

    And we haven’t even touched on the influences of PED’s on the game(which, again, flattens the bell curve …and levels the playing field by watering down natural speed/athletic variations).

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