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CSU football spring notebook: Practice 2

Conner Smith

March 27, 2013

by Stuart Buchanan
Athletic Media Relations

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Rams concluded their second of 15 spring practices Wednesday night and the quarterback group stood out the most.

For the second straight spring camp the Rams are featuring a battle for the quarterback position and it doesn’t appear it will be decided before the fall.

Although it is early in spring ball, the quarterbacks appear to have shown the most improvement thus far. Garrett Grayson, who broke his clavicle against Air Force last September, appears to be fully recovered and has noticeably more zip on his passes this spring. Conner Smith, who was named the Rams starter for the final four games of 2012, has improved his intermediate passing game.

The QB battle is considered to be between Grayson and Smith but there is one player who fans haven’t had many opportunities to see. Redshirt-freshman Craig Leonard, who on Monday McElwain called a “wildcard” in the competition at quarterback, has put together two solid practices.

In practice he has been getting nearly as many reps as Grayson and Smith. Leonard demonstrates proper quarterback mechanics; most impressively he has a high release, which will prevent balls being tipped at the line-of-scrimmage.

“C.J. is just as capable otherwise he wouldn’t be here,” Smith said of Leonard. 

Head Coach Jim McElwain touched briefly on the quarterback race but he was more impressed by players stepping up as leaders.

“I’ve seen it from some young guys that I’m really happy to see step up and say, ‘you know what, I can go ahead and be a leader. I can go ahead and do it. It is cool to work hard.’”



The Rams don’t have practice Thursday but will be back on the practice fields south of Moby Arena Friday evening.

Respite Care: After practice the team hung around to sign autographs and play catch with a group of kids from Respite Care, a nonprofit organization that provides short-term care for children with developmental disabilities.

Jasen Oden: Sophomore Jasen Oden, who finished the 2012 campaign with 25 tackles and one interception, which he returned 40 yards for a score, is making the move to safety. Last year he played in 11 games at cornerback but didn’t record a start.

Depth at running back: After practice on Wednesday, McElwain spoke about his stable of running backs and how he’d like to use them. After the injury bug ran through the Rams last season, the second-year coach understands the importance of depth.

“I don’t think you ever want to take a guy and beat the heck out of him, be a 35-carry a game guy. I think the importance is keeping them fresh and they’re going to be that much better in the fourth quarter.” 

(on the system McElwain uses)
“The system I’m used to, we roll the backs pretty darn good and we wore on people in the fourth quarter and that’s kind of what we want to do.” 

Familiar name: Colorado State added a new graduate assistant whose name might sound familiar. Brian Hendricks will be working with the defensive unit for the upcoming season. Hendricks’ father, Mike, was a fullback for the Rams from 1978-81 and his grandfather, John, also played in Fort Collins in the 1950s.

Hendricks, a native of Burlington, Colo., was a four-year linebacker at the University of Wyoming and graduated in 2011.

Other quotes from practice:

Quarterback Garrett Grayson 

(on the beginning of spring camp)
“I just had to get the rust off and start playing.” 

(on interactions with Conner Smith)
“There are no hard feelings between us. If he has a question I’ll answer it and if I got one I’ll go to him. We treat each other well.”

“There are no hard feelings. We’ve been friends since he got here. We’ve always been joking around about where each other is from.” 

(on his strengths)
“Just knowing the offense. I know it pretty well, like the back of my hand I guess.” 

(on what he needs to improve on)
“Just being the leader. Coach Mac obviously isn’t very happy with that. I just want to step up and be that guy and show Mac I can step up and be the leader.”

Quarterback Conner Smith 

(on his offseason)
“Just been working real hard on footwork and getting stronger. I’ve definitely come a long way from last year.” 

(on spring camp)
“I know last year, getting another win gave us some hope and we’re heading in the right direction. We came into the offseason with the right mindset. Everybody out here is doing 100-times better compared to last year on the second day of spring.”

(on why he deserves to be the starter)
“I feel like, as far as ability goes, I feel like I have what it takes. It’s just more of a leadership standpoint and a mental standpoint.” 

(on what he brings to the position)
“Each of us are better here and there. Personally I’ve been known to have a strong arm so I guess that is what I bring to the table.”

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