Here is the final installment in my series of position previews. The accompanying newspaper story will run Saturday.
9 Grant Hedrick, 6-0, 198, R-Sr.
3 Tommy Stuart, 5-11, 193, So.
15 Ryan Finley, 6-4, 190, R-Fr.
18 Alex Ogle, 6-3, 203, Fr.
16 Anthony Upshaw, 5-11, 187, Fr.
Grant Hedrick, 6-0, 198, R-Sr.: Contributed to 22 touchdowns last season, the most on the team despite spending just seven games as the top quarterback. He completed 69 percent of his passes with 16 TDs and rushed for six more TDs.
Ryan Finley, 6-4, 190, R-Fr.: Overcame shoulder surgery last season to become the backup this season. He was the 2012 Arizona Cardinals Player of the Year in Arizona with a state-high 3,442 passing yards and 35 touchdowns.
Overview: Hedrick enters the season as a starter for the first time. His experience last season and an offseason spent learning from his mistakes should create a more confident, more efficient player. “Grant’s been so efficient,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. “He’s been stingy with the football, which was a huge emphasis going into this year for our whole offense but particularly with him. I’ve been really impressed with his ability to go through his reads.”
Key to success: Hedrick was plagued by slow starts, turnovers and streaky play last season. He needs to turn around at least a couple of those trends this season.
Reason for concern: The Broncos don’t have another quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap at this level. Two of the backups graduated from high school in 2013. The other two graduated in 2014. The Broncos could use an early-season blowout to get the backups some experience.
Star player: Hedrick showed last year that even when he’s not playing the way he’d like he can put points on the scoreboard. In the Broncos’ three losses with him at the helm, he contributed a total of five touchdowns. “He’s going to be able to make at some point a really big-time throw in a game,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “He’s going to make a really big-time run in a game. When those opportunities present themselves, I hope that he’s done it enough in practice and understands it well enough to go out there and do it.”
Breakout performer: Hedrick could be a sleeper pick for Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. If he produces 40 touchdowns — he was on pace for it last year — and the Broncos win the Mountain West, he’ll be difficult to ignore.
Newcomer to watch: Finley’s development will be important far beyond this year. The Broncos will go into 2015 with an incredibly young group of quarterbacks. If Finley impresses this fall, he’ll be the front-runner when the competition beings in the spring. Sanford said Finley is ready if needed. “He’s absolutely ready,” Sanford said. “He’s been in a lot of situations. He’s been facing our first-string defense pretty consistently in all our scrimmages that the public has seen and he’s done a nice job. He’s a very intellectual young man.”
— Sanford: “I really like the combination of (Finley) and Grant and even Tommy in that room. Their personalities and preparation, they’ll complement each other really well. As a quarterback coach, you love when you have a full group you feel good about that you want to develop.”
— Sanford does not expect to use Finley for a spot series here and there to get him experience. “Grant is our starter,” he said. “He’s going to be the guy.”
— Sanford on Hedrick: “He’s done a great job going about his business in a way that a starting quarterback at a major program would do. I’ve been very impressed with him. That position group, I’ve really enjoyed working with them. They’re all about ball. They love football. They love the meeting room atmosphere. They love understanding the whys of what we do and Grant really spearheads that group.”
— Sanford on Hedrick: “The biggest growth that he will have is just his overall understanding of what we’re doing. Grant has the ability to get through his reads, through his entire progression. We had as many reps at practice as I’ve ever been around. It was a tough camp, a good camp. The biggest byproduct that you get out of that is the quarterbacks just get tons of work and different looks. I feel confident in Grant not trying to force (option) No. 1.”
— Sanford on using Hedrick’s running ability: “When you look at the Russell Wilsons, even the Johnny Manziels, you look at a lot of those guys and a lot of that stuff isn’t necessarily designed. You’re excited as a coordinator and obviously as his position coach on game day you actually get to see that come to fruition because now you get to take off and run. He’s been practicing that, but you don’t see that in a practice environment. It seems like the defense got you. You might still have 15 to 20 yards on the end of that play.”
— Harsin on Stuart, who has a redshirt year available: “We won’t try to redshirt him right now and that remains to be seen. He’s been practicing. He’s been taking second-string reps. He may have a role — that’s to be determined.”
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