It's all teed up for Kellen Mond, but can he connect as Jimbo Fisher's first QB at Texas A&M?
He looked like a deer in headlights.
Kellen Mond’s college debut was one that he probably wishes he could forget, but won’t. He likely would’ve moved past the paltry stat line (3-for-17 for 27 yards) had Texas A&M held on to win its 2017 season opener. Instead, he was part of the reason that the Aggies coughed up a 44-10 lead with 19 minutes to play, which allowed UCLA to complete the biggest FBS comeback in 11 seasons.
IMG Academy quarterbacks coach Adam Behrends (he coached the safeties when Mond attended in 2016) remembered the roller-coaster that was Mond’s night. From watching him enter the game in the second quarter for the injured Nick Starkel to watching his scramble attempt come up short in the final seconds, Mond’s college debut triggered a wide range of emotions from his support group.
“It’s an exciting moment, but then you’re also aware that like, ‘Hey, he should’ve been going to the prom 6 months ago,’” Behrends said.
That game was the beginning of the end for the Kevin Sumlin era in College Station. Only a year later, everything is different for Mond.
Thursday night will mark the beginning of the Jimbo Fisher era when the Aggies host Northwestern State. Unlike last year when Mond was thrust into the spotlight at UCLA, he enters 2018 with a year of college experience under his belt. More important, he’s had 8 months to learn Fisher’s system.
It’s Mond and not Starkel who will get the start tonight in Week 1. He didn’t get the opportunity last year or in his lone season at IMG in 2016. The question is, is Mond ready this time?
There’s not much of a doubt in Fisher’s mind that Mond is ready.
“He’s been very consistent with how he’s played,” Fisher said. “I’ve been very happy with (Mond and Starkel), both guys have played very well. I thought (Mond) played very well in the pocket, made great decisions, led our team, played with great poise and composure, great knowledge of our offense, creating plays, our team followed him very well. And not that they didn’t with (Starkel), but I thought (Mond) had a little better camp overall and he’s our starter.”
The hope is that Mond will follow in the footsteps of some of the prolific quarterbacks that Fisher coached at Florida State. The last quarterback to start in Week 1 for Fisher was, of course, Deondre Francois. A fellow IMG graduate, Francois got the benefit of a redshirt year before he won ACC Rookie of the Year honors as a redshirt freshman in 2016.
Mond, on the other hand, had to step in for the injured Starkel. There were ups — his scramble and touchdown pass in the Alabama game was Johnny Manziel-esque — and plenty of downs. The flashes were there but the consistency wasn’t.
In 7 games vs. Power 5 teams, Mond had just 3 touchdown passes and he completed only 47 percent of his passes for 5.5 yards per attempt. He did add 353 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns (yes, he was also robbed on that long run against Arkansas when he definitely never stepped out of bounds).
But what’s to say Mond can’t have a breakout second season like Francois? It’s a natural comparison to make given the Fisher and IMG connections.
“I never really thought about that,” Fisher admitted. “They’re both very talented guys. Both are athletic, both have good arms … I don’t like to compare players, but I think they have a great mindset and the fact that they both want to win, they’re both very competitive, they both lead their teams very well and they work at the game very, very hard. From that respect, I think both guys are similar.
“But there are some similarities as far as their athleticism and arm talent.”
Mond’s physical attributes, we know aren’t lacking. The raw ability is certainly there. Fisher said Mond “runs like a deer.” And despite his season-long accuracy issues — Fisher won’t stand for a a 52-percent completion rate — it’s not that he’s incapable of cleaning that up.
“One thing Kellen does really well is if you take away the pads and put him in shorts and a T-shirt, and say, ‘Hey, I want you to throw the football and hit this apple off this guy’s head,’ he can do that with anybody,” Behrends said.
Fisher will obviously demand more than that from Mond.
The verbiage for Fisher’s system will be more complex than Sumlin’s up-tempo offense. Instead of a call like “Tiger Right Alpha” that he would have had in Sumlin’s system, the calls with Fisher could be more like “Zero Split Wide 56 Hut Straight Circle.”
Mond will be tasked with knowing different protections, moving guys around at the line of scrimmage and making even quicker reads. Mond admitted that after an entire offseason under Fisher, he has a better understanding of why he needs to deliver the ball sooner. That’s key for someone who took 19 sacks in somewhat limited action last year.
Since Fisher arrived, he noticed the mental strides that Mond made to become an expert on the new offense.
“I think he’s worked very hard. I think he’s been a student of the game and he understands not only what we’re doing on offense, but he understands the defense now with protections and things a lot better. You do when you grow older and you get your maturity as a player,” Fisher said. “It’s allowed him to think faster, react faster and make better decisions on top of that. When you’re making quick decisions, you can work on the fundamentals with throwing accuracy and things like that. He’s done a great job in that regard.
“But he has improved and I’m very proud of the work he’s done.”
We’re going to find out just how much Mond improved in a hurry. After the opener against Northwestern State, the Aggies will face both No. 2 Clemson and No. 1 Alabama in the month of September.
Who knows how different he and Texas A&M will look. Fisher already referenced utilizing a fullback, which excited A&M tailback Trayveon Williams. Will we see Mond execute more pro-style play-action to take advantage of his big arm? It certainly seems possible.
Mond has already improved enough to pass Starkel on the depth chart. When the latter took over down the stretch in 2017, it seemed like he had the clear advantage.
But now, it’s Mond who will get the keys to Fisher’s quarterback express.
“I told him ‘You earned it,’” Behrends said. “(Mond) said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been working really hard. It’s gonna be a really fun season.’”