Signs of life: QB Carter Stanley exhibits dual-threat ability within Air Raid
In 2016, a rebuilding Kansas football team put a far more sound defense on the field than it did the year before, in head coach David Beaty’s first season. Still, KU’s offense couldn’t produce enough first downs or scoring drives to keep the Jayhawks competitive for much of the season. This coming fall, the Kansas offense will look a lot different. And it should be far more productive.
Over the next several days at KUsports.com, we will highlight some of the spring indications that signal better days ahead for the KU offense.
One of two Kansas football players will be in position this fall to establish himself as the program’s first functional, Big 12-level quarterback since Todd Reesing took his final snap in 2009.
It could be Peyton Bender. Or it could be Carter Stanley. The incumbent starter, thanks to a late-2016 shakeup at QB by head coach David Beaty, Stanley helped orchestrate the program’s first Big 12 victory in two years and showed flashes of promise with his arm, toughness and leadership.
In the offseason months since the conclusion of his redshirt freshman season, the sophomore QB from Vero Beach, Fla., has continued on the upward trajectory that earned Stanley his first three college starts.
This spring, while competing with Bender, a junior transfer who studied the Air Raid under guru Mike Leach at Washington State, Stanley drew praise from coaches and teammates for his performances at practices. During the spring game at Memorial Stadium, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound QB showed — with his arm and his legs — why the competition has been too close for Beaty and new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to decide upon a starter.
Stanley got to play a part in a little trickeration early on during the open scrimmage. After handing the ball off to running back Taylor Martin, who headed right and gave it up to receiver Kerr Johnson Jr., coming on a reverse, a flick back to Stanley set the quarterback up for a throw down the right side to an open Ben Johnson, who finished off the 27-yard gain.
Entering his third year with the program, Stanley looked poised then and at other times during the exhibition. He displayed no panic whatsoever when a snap out of the shotgun was off the mark and bounced off his left hand, landing on the turf in front of him. Stanley just picked up the ball and completed a quick pass over the middle to an open Kerr Johnson Jr.
The unrelated targets with the same last name, Ben and Kerr Johnson proved to be two of Stanley’s favorites throughout the intrasquad practice, as the QB didn’t have the luxury to throwing to frontline receivers Daylon Charlot, Steven Sims Jr. and LaQuvionte Gonzalez. Senior tight end Ben Johnson, who should get more opportunities this fall than he did as a junior, lined up in the slot on the right side within a four-receiver formation. After the snap, Ben Johsnon split defenders Derrick Neal and Keith Loneker Jr. to get open behind them and Stanley put the ball on the money, allowing Johnson to turn up field for a gain of 20 yards.
Beaty and Meacham will tell you Stanley and Bender are different types of quarterbacks, and examples to back that up their statements popped up during the scrimmage, when Stanley showed his ability to make plays with his feet.
On a few occasions he looked very comfortable utilizing option reads. Once, out of the pistol formation, Stanley put the ball out for Martin for a potential hand-off, then kept it when he could see defensive linemen collapsing toward the middle of the play, leaving an open lane on the right side for the quarterback. He took off for a 6-yard gain and the play was blown dead (you know, the whole “Let’s not maim our QB” aspect of the spring game), but Stanley ran and shifted so smoothly in the open field it looked as if it would have been a much larger gain in a live game situation.
Later, Stanley made another good read out of a three-WR set, with Martin behind him. The QB put the ball on Martin’s waist, saw Josh Ehambe make a break for the running back and took off right for an 8-yard pick-up.
The lengthiest Stanley rush came via smart improvisation. He dropped back to survey the field as four receivers ran their routes. No one got open enough for the QB to convert a 3rd-and-9, so he made a quick decision to run straight ahead, through a gap that had formed in the middle of the O-line. Stanley out-ran defensive linemen Kellen Ash and Ehambe to get to the second level of the defense. Again, it looked like more yardage would’ve been attainable in a live situation, but the run was blown dead after 11 yards.
Stanley’s passing totals in the scrimmage — 13-for-24, 114 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions — weren’t as good as Bender’s. But Stanley gained 25 yards via rushes and could have matched his counterpart’s throwing production if he had been working with the same skill players.
The redshirt sophomore won’t win the starting job just because he’s an effective runner, but that wrinkle does make him a different overall weapon as a quarterback than Bender, and Stanley’s coaches certainly won’t hold that against him while deciding on the team’s QB1.
Now that Stanley has a little Big 12 experience and growing confidence to go with increasing competence in the Air Raid system, he is on track to give Kansas a legitimate QB in 2017, should he win the job.
The best news for Beaty and the Jayhawks is both Bender and Stanley look capable of breathing life into a long dormant offense.