Competition to replace Luck heats up
STANFORD, Calif. (AP)
They've never really had the chance before.
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So when Stanford returned to the field this week for the first time in four years without Andrew Luck zipping passes, the competition to replace No. 12 turned from friendly to fiery in an instant. Suddenly, sharing snaps is no longer casual.
''When we get out there for route timing and stuff and the tight ends are up and there's a special route, something deep that they want to throw, some guy will step up there and be like, `Ah, no, I'm pretty sure it's my turn,''' Nottingham said. ''I know I'm one of the guys that do that. I know I can be annoying for the other guys, I'm not going to lie.''
This is not a time to be polite on The Farm.
Luck, the NFL draft's likely No. 1 overall pick, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and the school record-setter in almost every major passing category, is gone. For the first time since 2008, there's a real competition for the quarterback spot and no guarantee another chance will come anytime soon.
While five quarterbacks are vying for the unenviable spot of following Luck's legacy, the two who separated themselves a year ago stand the best shot to lead the Cardinal when they run out of the tunnel at Stanford Stadium against San Jose State on Sept. 1.
Nottingham, a strong-armed redshirt sophomore, impressed coaches serving as Luck's backup last season and began spring practice Monday night as the frontrunner. Nunes challenged Nottingham last spring, but the junior was hurt in the third practice of fall camp when he stepped on a running back's foot, missing most of the season with a right turf toe injury.
Fellow junior Robbie Picazo and freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan are also taking snaps. And another quarterback, Dallas Lloyd, who deferred his enrollment to go on a two-year mission with the Mormon church, will enter school in August.
That nobody can lean on Luck anymore is, as second-year Stanford coach David Shaw surmised, ''different.''
''The guy has missed one practice in four years. It's not the same. It's uneasy,'' Shaw said. ''But at the same time, there's a little excitement mixed in there, because there's a battle. And when there's a battle, you bring out the best and the worst in everybody.''
Stanford's complex offense and dictionary-size playbook doesn't make the transition any easier.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has preached for the quarterbacks to be competitive but not combative, something each admits is a challenge during every workout. Nottingham and Nunes, in particular, have spent countless hours together - whether in the weight room, film room or on the field as Luck's understudies - and formed a friendship that goes beyond teammates.
The unspoken truth about the inevitable competition has loomed for two years, producing a few awkward moments, but never ones they couldn't laugh off. Now? All that has faded.
''As a quarterback and a competitor, you know it's always in the back of your head, `One day Andrew is going to leave, and we're going to be fighting for this next spot,''' said Nunes, a 6-foot-4, 211-pounder from the Los Angeles suburb of Upland. ''I think it creates a great competitive atmosphere.''
Nottingham grew up in the Bay Area and starred at Monte Vista High School in Danville. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has dazzled with pro-style throws and has a stronger arm than Luck's, but his sample size at Stanford is small.
He played only six games last year, completed five of eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown (He actually had a 185.6 efficiency rate, higher than Luck's 169.7). Nottingham showed so much promise that by the time Nunes returned halfway through the year, the backup spot was cemented.
Not that it was anywhere close to Luck's standard.
Nottingham and Nunes still said that the wisdom Luck shared the last few years rubbed off on them, especially the countless hours of preparation Luck engaged in, everything from taking video of opposing teams to his dorm room to weight-lifting routines to working with receivers after practice and during down time.
The two still communicate with Luck often, mostly via text messages that usually having nothing to do with the vacant quarterback job; Nottingham, for instance, congratulated Luck on his combine workouts last weekend, and Luck wished him well in spring practice and asked what's been happening on campus since he left.
Noting prepared either for that first snap without Luck around.
''You realize No. 12's not out here and someone has to go under center and start making plays and controlling the offense and getting the respect of teammates,'' Nottingham said. ''It's the opportunity of a lifetime and I'm looking forward to competing in it.''
The contest is expected to play out until the fall.
Shaw wants to give the quarterbacks equal repetitions in the spring, see how each handles the first-team offense and the slew of fresh faces at other positions. After all, several other starters are gone, notably right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin - both projected high first-round picks- and tight end Coby Fleener, who is rising into the late first round on most draft boards.
Shaw prefers to carry a competition into the fall to keep the quarterbacks sharp. While he joked that the frontrunner at quarterback ''changes every 15 minutes,'' he wouldn't mind if one took control and made his decision easier - but he's not in any hurry.
''If nobody separates themselves,'' Shaw said, ''we'll take it up to pregame warm-ups if we have to.''