Rhule waiting to name starting QB
When North Carolina State graduate transfer Jalan McClendon arrived at Baylor this summer, coach Matt Rhule hoped that he would propel the quarterback competition to a higher level.
McClendon hasn’t just jumped in and challenged returning sophomore starter Charlie Brewer, he’s made it difficult for Rhule to choose a starter with the season opener against Abilene Christian approaching Saturday at 7 p.m. at McLane Stadium.
Rhule said he won’t likely decide who will start at quarterback until Friday night. Both Brewer and McClendon could play in the opener.
“Both Charlie and Jalan are playing well,” Rhule said. “For me to say somebody is starting this week might make them feel good, but it won’t give us the best week (of practice). It’s not like I go back and forth on these things a lot, but if I have two guys playing well that doesn’t mean that only one will get to play.”
Playing in 20 games with no starts for North Carolina State, McClendon’s passing statistics in three seasons weren’t impressive as he hit 26 of 47 for 262 yards and a touchdown with four interceptions. However, he ran the ball well as he picked up 223 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries.
But McClendon has shown he can throw every kind of pass during Baylor’s preseason camp, and is so eager to watch film that he often beats the coaches to the office in the morning.
“I’ll say this, Jalan has come in here as a guy that has all the tools,” Rhule said. “He sat behind Jacoby Brissett (at North Carolina State), who’s an NFL starter, and he played a little bit here and there. He sat behind (Ryan) Finley, who they project to be an NFL guy. And he’s done nothing but work. He’s in there at 6 o’clock in the morning, he’s in there at 11 o’clock at night. He’s a grinder.”
But Rhule has been equally impressed with Brewer’s maturity during camp after he started the last four games in 2017 as a true freshman.
In his first collegiate start, Brewer led the Bears to their only win last season over Kansas, and finished the season hitting 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He came back this summer with a stronger arm, which should allow the Bears to hit more deep passes to a talented group of receivers.
“Sometimes coming into their second year, quarterbacks can hit a little bit of a slump because they try to do too much,” Rhule said. “They try to be perfect, and Charlie’s greatest quality is he just plays free. About halfway through camp, I saw Charlie just say, ‘You know what, I’m just going to go be me.’ And his level of play (went up).”
Rhule has also been impressed with the development of freshman quarterback Gerry Bohanon, but he clearly has a big learning curve ahead.
The competition between McClendon and Brewer has similarities to last year when graduate transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona and sophomore Zach Smith were locked in a heated competition throughout preseason.
Rhule elected to go with the more experienced Solomon, but the Bears lost his only starts against Liberty and UTSA. Solomon suffered a concussion and eventually withdrew from school.
“I certainly can see why people would think there would be similarities when an older guy comes in,” Rhule said. “Charlie has played for us and Zach had played. I’ve seen Charlie play and I have seen the things that he can do.”
Rhule said the depth chart that Baylor released Sunday won’t necessarily reflect who will start against Abilene Christian, a Football Championship Subdivision Division I school that’s coming off a 2-9 season.
Sophomore cornerback Harrison Hand isn’t listed on the two-deep even though he’s a returning starter. But Rhule said Monday that Hand, who has missed practice time with a pulled muscle, will play against ACU. Rhule also said offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen and middle linebacker Clay Johnston will practice this week after missing practice time with injuries, and could play in the opener.
“Harrison is full go,” Rhule said. “He had a pulled a muscle in the summer and has just been slow to come back. We have had a lot of other guys practicing at camp, so they are just ahead of him but Harrison will play. Clay (Johnston) and Jake (Fruhmorgen) should be available this week, but it just depends on how practice goes this week.”
Several Baylor true freshmen will play, especially since the new NCAA rule allows players to participate in up to four games and still retain their redshirt.
Freshman Christoph Henle will start at tight end, a position that lacks experienced players. Rhule said senior Jamie Jacobs, who had converted from defensive end to tight end, will no longer play due to a back injury.
Offensive lineman Connor Galvin, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, safeties JT Woods and Christian Morgan, and cornerback Kalon Barnes have all been impressive as freshmen throughout the summer. Barnes came to Baylor as a wide receiver, but has also played cornerback to take advantage of his remarkable speed.
“He’s looked fantastic,” Rhule said. “It kind of pains me because I really wanted him to play offense and Fran (Brown) wanted him to play corner, so I said he could do both. He’s just so fast. I think the biggest thing about Kalon is how competitive he is. He just loves to play and get coached and he brings world class speed. He’ll also help us on offense, he’ll return kicks.”
Rhule has enjoyed seeing the development of junior wide receiver Marques Jones, who been put on scholarship after coming to Baylor as a walk-on.
“Marques Jones has had an amazing camp,” Rhule said. “Marques is a starter for us when we go to four-wide, so he will go and he’ll play a ton at wideout. He is a guy that runs 4.38 at 6-1 and has a 4.0 GPA, and he is something beyond me. He allows our receivers to focus at a high level because he will do anything.”