Monday, April 13, 2009

Bengal QB Duel Offers Clear Choices

As I watched the Bengals' first scrimmage of spring on Saturday, it occurred to me that the quarterback duel between Russel Hill (right) and Kyle Blum offers the ISU coaching staff some pretty distinct choices. The differences in styles between the two QBs was very apparent, and once the coaching staff makes its decision on who will start in the Bengal opener against Montana-Western on Aug. 29, they will also be making a clear statement about the team's offensive approach.

In a nutshell, here's how I see the two contenders: Hill is obviously the more accurate of the two. He completed 9 of 10 passes in Saturday's scrimmage, while Blum was just 2 of 7, and those numbers are consistent with each QB's performance last season. Hill completed almost 62 percent of his passes last year, compared to Blum's 45 percent.

Hill is also the more cautious -- he dumps off the football a lot, and while that boosts the completion percentage, it also has led some critics to complain that he can't throw the deep ball. Indeed, the numbers show that last season, Hill's completions were good for an average of 10.4 yards per catch, while Blum averaged over 15 yards a completion.

Blum also seems more mobile, even though Montana dropped him for six sacks in his first start last year. Blum made a couple of big plays while scrambling away from the Griz defense in that contest and he put his big-play penchant on display in the season finale, ISU's only win of the year, over Sacramento State.

So accuracy goes to Hill, big play capability to Blum. And then there are those "intangibles" that all quarterbacks are judged on -- can they make big plays at important moments in games; do they provide leadership, on and off the field; can they read defenses? Those are factors the coaching staff will judge as they come to their final decision, probably sometime late next August.

Whatever that decision is will certainly impact the style that new offensive coordinator Brian Jensen chooses to employ. In going with Hill, you'll be looking at more of a "West Coast" offensive approach--short drops, quick passes, emphasis on accuracy and receivers making plays after the catch. Blum, meanwhile, offers the opportunity for deeper drops and longer patterns, more downfield passing and more long down-and-distance situations. It will be interesting to watch as the competition develops, with the next chance to rate the two coming in Saturday's annual Spring Game.

Truth in Advertising (And Weights and Heights)

Anyone who has taken the time to compare the listed heights and weights for the Bengal players shown in the ISU Spring Prospectus with those listed in the roster handed out at Saturday's scrimmage will notice some significant discrepancies between the two. Bengal SID Frank Mercogliano said the measurements in the latest roster reflect those taken at the recent ISU Pro Day, when NFL scouts come to campus to check out potential NFL prospects. Just looking at the offense, here are some of the more noteworthy differences:

Blum lost two inches, from 6-4 to 6-2, but gained two pounds over his previous "official" weight. Hill dropped from 6 feet even to 5-11, and fell from 200 to 193. Little running back Ben LaPorta didn't grow or shrink any in height (he's still 5-7), but lost 7 pounds, to 198. Wide receiver Keith Goins dropped 10 pounds, from 205 to 195.

The Bengal tight ends seemed to benefit the most from the arrival of NFL personnel bearing tape measures and scales: Bryant Ward went up from 215 to 225 pounds; Jon Van Vliet, although losing an inch to 6-1, grew from 220 to 239 pounds; and Tyler Hjelseth, while losing an inch to 6-4, put on 16 pounds to 231.

Frank said he's accepted heights and weights from the players in the past, and program heights and weights have always been highly suspect, not only at ISU but in all programs. The NFL Draft Combine typically "exposes" prospects who are shorter or smaller than advertised by their schools' programs.

I remember when I first started covering ISU football in the mid-1990s, I would drop by the training room every Thursday before my meetings with the coaching staff and check out the playing weights of the Bengals on a chart they had on the wall there. I remember watching the weight of Bengal All-American defensive end Josh Hays fall each week, until he was under 200 pounds by the end of the season. He started the season at about 220 (I think he was officially listed at 235), and lost weight just about every week of the year. He was still a heckuva football player, though.

Insightful Story on Three New Bengals

I really enjoyed Kelvin Ang's recent story in the Journal about three new Bengals, Roderick Rumble, Rustin Phillips and Kenny Viser. The article talked about the different ways each wound up being a Bengal, and none got here through the traditional way we all think about recruiting. Viser, for example, got into legal difficulties at Nevada and was booted off the team. Both Rumble and Phillips sustained injuries in their last seasons in high school and saw scholarship offers to bigger programs dry up.

More than anything, what the story illustrated to me is the nature of recruiting at the FCS (nee 1-AA) level. Most high school and junior college football players dream about playing at the FBS (Division 1) level. Those that wind up at a place like Idaho State do so for a reason. Sometimes the reason is as simple as no Division I program thought they were good enough. But frequently it is a case like those of Rumble, Phillips and Viser. The key to being successful at the FCS level is finding enough players who are good enough to compete at the FBS level, but, for whatever reason, did not get the opportunity.

More Off-Season Basketball Notes

  • A tip of the cap to Pocatello's Scott Thornley, who officiated the North Carolina-Villanova game in the NCAA Final Four this year. All the officials who work the NCAA tournament are rated each week, and their numbers whittled down based on performance throughout the tournament. To reach the Final Four is a huge compliment to any official, and Thornley has made it several times now.

  • Portland State is going to introduce Tyler Geving, who has served as a Viking assistant coach since 2005, as its new head coach today. Geving succeeds his former boss, Ken Bone, who is moving on to Washington State. Geving, 35, has been an assistant at a number of smaller programs, all in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Just a reminder that the beginning of the late recruiting period for both men's and women's basketball is April 15 (Wednesday). Unlike the football signing period when most recruits put their name on the dotted line the first day, basketball recruiting typically takes a while to shake out. Don't panic if the Bengals don't announce any signings for a week or two. The last I heard, the ISU women are hoping to fill two scholarships this spring, the Bengal men one.
  • (Update: Idaho State announced Tuesday that Sheila Adams and Verity Peets have been given releases and are leaving the program. Adams is a freshman guard who moved into the starting lineup following Chelsea Pickering's mid-season knee injury. Peets, a forward, didn't play much, even with the Bengals' thin bench. It is uncertain if ISU will try to fill their slots this late in the recruiting season, or hold their scholarships for the next recruiting class).

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy but it's always fun.

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