BOISE — One trait usually separates the starting quarterback from the others for the Boise State football team.
Senior Joe Southwick found it late last season with an outstanding four-game finish that cemented his starter status.
His backups are searching for it this fall.
Junior Grant Hedrick and redshirt freshman Nick Patti have shown progress through the first week and a half of practice and started to convince coaches they can succeed if needed.
"What we're looking for is that tremendous consistency, and that's where the issue is with Grant and Nick a little bit," coach Chris Petersen said. "If we can just get them more consistent. They're not going to make every play, but they're coming along."
Hedrick was the backup last season and likely will be again this season. Patti, who arrived in January 2012 to join the race for the starting job last year, spent the first four days of this camp in the newcomer practices and took nearly every snap - a boost to his development.
The difference between the two, quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith said, is experience. Hedrick is going through camp for the fourth time. He's also 14-of-20 for 135 yards in his career and has rushed for 102 yards and four touchdowns.
Hedrick's passing has looked terrific and ragged at different points during his career, but he's steadied his performance this fall.
"It just keeps getting better and better," he said. "I feel good with where I am, comfortable. It's been something I've been working on a lot. I realize when I get into the game, I've mostly been a runner, but I can throw it, believe it or not. I've worked hard on the fundamentals, and if I get in there in a passing situation, I'm feeling more confident than ever."
Said Smith: "We're feeling better about putting him in the game. I really feel like Grant has command on what we're trying to do offensively."
Hedrick, of Independence, Ore., has worked to eliminate "the stupid, young-guy mistakes" from his game, he said. He also wants to increase his presence in the huddle.
"I'm trying to be more of a commander of the offense, something Joe's so good at, getting guys in the right spots, recognizing defenses, barking stuff out," he said. "Being vocal's been a little tough for me. I've been more of a lead-by-example guy. I need to learn to get out of my comfort zone and talk a lot. I know I only have two years left, so I've just got to come out here and work hard, but have fun and savor it."
Patti is at the other end of the spectrum.
All the hype about his 8A Player of the Year award in Florida and Elite 11 quarterback camp appearance makes it easy to forget how young he is. Kellen Moore is the only true or redshirt freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Broncos.
Patti, who became the fan favorite to win the starting job last year, said he felt the expectations.
"You try to use it for good, use that to motivate you," he said. "Stay hungry and humble. Just continue to do what got you to being the player of the year. Just continue to do what you've done in the past and see where it takes you."
Hedrick, who said he and Patti are careful to protect their friendship despite their daily competition, was impressed with the way Patti handled his heavily anticipated arrival.
"It's got to be tough coming in, a big-time recruit, and he's handled all that so well," Hedrick said. "He's so mature, and when he gets out there, he's just a playmaker."
Patti took his lumps at times those first four days of camp, playing behind the third-team offensive line and with mostly new skill players around him. But he seized the opportunity to take so many snaps - probably more than any other player on the team and nearly twice as many as Southwick and Hedrick, who split time with the veterans.
"I was really happy about it," Patti said. "You get really tired. It's hot, late in the day, when you're with the second group, but I think it benefited me tremendously. It helped me a lot just getting in a rhythm. You can get kind of like a game-like situation."
The additional reps spurred the two biggest areas of improvement for Patti. The game is starting to slow down in his mind, and he's seeing the field more clearly. He led the third-teamers on a touchdown drive Wednesday afternoon.
"I just want to be able to operate a little bit better," Patti said. "I want to be able to operate, slow it down, be a little more consistent is my thing - consistency was a big thing coming into camp. I wanted to show that I could do it on a consistent basis."
After all, this might be his last chance to impress until next spring. By then, the starting job will be open, and Hedrick and Patti will be the leading contenders.
"It's in the back of your mind, sure," Hedrick said. " We know it's going to be up for grabs eventually. The main thing, Nick and I both agree, it won't interfere with our friendship."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat