No, a weird spring game performance shouldn't give you pause with Haynes King being QB1 at Texas A&M
Haynes King’s Saturday could’ve easily ended with an interception and a limp to the injury tent.
If that were to describe a Saturday in October, King would be facing a good amount of heat. It wasn’t. King, in a non-contact green No. 13 uniform, was somehow banged up twice during Texas A&M’s spring game on Saturday. It was by no means an “I’m the man, let’s go” type of performance for King.
And by the way, Fisher made sure King’s day didn’t end that way. King, after shaking off a knee injury when a defensive lineman fell into him, got 1 last series so that his day didn’t end on that bitter note, and it instead ended with him finding a wide open Reese Mason for a walk-in touchdown.
Still, though. The first glimpse into the post-Kellen Mond era in College Station was telling.
It was full of reminders that a quarterback who throws 3 interceptions and takes 7 total sacks in a season is a luxury. It was also full of reminders that the pieces surrounding the A&M quarterbacks look a bit different than last year when the program earned its best AP Top 25 finish in 81 years. The offensive line play was subpar (it’s a depleted late-spring group), the receivers struggled with drops (Jalen Wydermyer and Caleb Chapman weren’t out there) and there were more highlights from the kicking game than the quarterbacks.
I mean, Fisher said A&M had 15 guys on the 2-deep who weren’t in action on Saturday. That’s not normal, obviously.
Saturday was, in many ways, weird for King. There were highs like a beautiful ball to Smith on a wheel route, and there were lows like a botched RPO and that led to a fumble that King tried to dive on … which led to an earful from Fisher.
To a certain extent, “weird” is to be expected in April.
But don’t let Saturday’s developments scare you off from King being the man in College Station come fall.
That’s no shot at Zach Calzada, who had moments of brilliance on Saturday. That included the game’s first touchdown pass to Ainias Smith, who got an earful himself from a mic’d up Fisher at a variety of points earlier in the day for his routes. Greg McElroy said on the broadcast that he wouldn’t be surprised if the quarterback battle went into the season, and that he thought Calzada bridged the gap between himself and King on Saturday.
With all due respect to McElroy, I’m not buying that.
I’m buying Fisher selling that message in hopes to keep the elder Calzada in maroon and white. Lord knows the former Elite 11 star would have a market if Fisher were to come out and announce tomorrow that King is undoubtedly QB1.
Fisher did give Calzada some late reps with the first-teamers, which was when he threw that lone touchdown pass. That was the plan all along.
But some of the mistakes Calzada made should’ve shed some light on why King was Mond’s backup as a true freshman last year. Calzada had a botched exchange, which Fisher said wasn’t his fault. There was also a late throw on a long pass to right sideline that veteran Demani Richardson stepped in front of and took for a pick-6 (Fisher took the score off the board to run situational stuff with King). Timing is everything at this level.
Calzada also doesn’t have the mobility that King has. It’s tough to show off that mobility in a spring game setting with quarterbacks as 1-hand touch. You can’t really do designed runs for the quarterback, though Fisher did dial up an option keeper on 4th and 1 to King.
Here’s also the other thing worth remembering — A&M is going to need a mobile quarterback behind this offensive line. To be clear, yes, I believe the offensive line will improve from what it was on Saturday. It still likely won’t be as dominant as it was last year.
Losing 4 of the Maroon Goons from 2020 hurts, but on Saturday, the Aggies were without Luke Matthews, who will be the starting center when healthy. A&M also lacked likely right tackle starter Jahmir Johnson, who will enroll at A&M this summer after transferring from Tennessee. And A&M’s only returning starter on the offensive line, Kenyon Green, is still transitioning to left tackle (that’s a work in progress.)
Fisher called Calzada “more athletic than he gets credit for.” That’s all well and good. He’s not on King’s level there.
King has the full arsenal needed to run Fisher’s system. It wasn’t on display Saturday. Fisher, by the way, said that everyone talks about King’s athleticism, “but man, he’s accurate.”
Yeah, the stat line on Saturday suggest King is all the way there in that department yet. Completing just shy of 52% won’t cut it for a top-10 team. Some of those were drops and poor protection, though, and King looked plenty comfortable throwing in and out of the pocket. The same could be said for Calzada, who completed 19 of 40 passes for 253 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
Fisher maintained after Saturday’s scrimmage that even though everyone is talking about the quarterbacks, he said “I’m not worried about the quarterbacks. I’m worried about the guys around them.” Fisher added that he thought both King and Calzada both had “good, solid days.”
Solid? I doubt Fisher would call 6.8 yards per attempt “solid” in the fall. That was King’s line. Calzada was down at 6.3 yards per attempt. I’ll still default to Fisher when it comes to evaluating his quarterback play. There’s a bit of “building up confidence” and not looking like the guy who puts his quarterbacks on blast while mic’d up on a live broadcast.
I’d instead call King’s day a bit weird. A bit herky jerky. A bit to be expected for a redshirt freshman in his first full fall camp.
A&M might have weird games in the fall with King, too. The depth is at a better place than it was at a couple years ago, but Saturday showed why it’s tough to overcome basic things like poor offensive line play and pass-catchers who don’t make life easier on their young quarterbacks. Fisher is right. If that stuff continues in the fall, it won’t matter who is starting under center.
There still shouldn’t be any doubt that King will be that guy, though, weird Saturday or not.