Zach Collaros put up impressive numbers in 2010, but struggled with turnovers. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian believes there's little reason to be concerned about his senior quarterback this fall.
[Click here for a conversation between Tommy G and Collaros from GoBearcats.com]
CINCINNATI -- Hard not to laugh when message board threads show up with the headline: Concerned about Zach Collaros.
It requires a special brand of pessimism to point at the unanimous first-team All Big East quarterback returning for his senior season, and utter the word "concerned."
A few stats to digest from 2010:
Yards per game: 263.8 (1st BE, 20th country)
Rating: 137.49 (2nd BE, 39th country)
Touchdowns: 26 (1st BE, 19th country)
Yards/attempt: 7.6 (1st BE, 33rd country)
Collaros may not have delivered on the lofty expectations many bestowed upon him when extrapolating his 2009 numbers out over a complete season. Many within the program expected Collaros to jump into Butch Jones' system and play even better than he did as a fill-in starter during the perfect regular season. In retrospect, those expectations were probably unfair.
The junior was forced to adjust to far too many new variables all at once. Playing from behind much of the time didn't help, either.
As Collaros progressed through a spring season where his position as the No. 1 quarterback was never in question, the next step in his development has been clear for offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. One scroll through the stat sheet makes it obvious.
"Looking at the numbers, Zach was the most productive quarterback in the conference," Bajakian said. "The one thing we focused on this offseason as an offense was the turnovers. I think making that number go down both in the way of interceptions and fumbles will be a critical indicator of the success we can have offensively."
If you break the season down into conference play, Collaros' rating was fourth in the conference despite throwing for far more yards per game (287) and touchdowns (14) than anybody else. Collaros' 14 touchdowns were offset by 13 interceptions in conference.
A small piece of the turnovers can be attributed to dealing with more pressure than he's used to, but Bajakian pointed toward challenging situations and the decision-making within those.
"We spent a lot of time this offseason talking about situational football, what it means to protect the football in situations. If it is third-and-18, we talk abot the chances of converting the first down is less than five percent. Don't make a bad thing worse by forcing the ball into coverage. Let's get a completion, add 10 yards to the punt and let our defense play the field-position game."
Under this pretense, expect more checkdowns and throwing the ball away in the red zone this fall from the senior QB. The fine line for his offensive coordinator has been measuring Collaros' play-making instincts against conservative, veteran decisions.
"One of the things he does very well is his improvisational skills," Bajakian said. "He can scramble and make a play as well as any quarterback I have ever seen, so you don't want to coach that out of him. We don't, and he does that great, at the same time as an offense as a whole we want to make sure we protect the football better."
What would be the most optimistic statistic to ponder when analyzing the potential of Collaros in 2011? That would be the number he refers to whenver asked to evaluate his performance last season: 4-8.
Collaros views quarterback through the lens of wins and losses and little else. His relentless pursuit of knowledge regarding the game and leading his team to victory is unparalleled among the Bearcats. That's why anybody stressing about Collaros this year needs to pay closer attention.
"He's a football junkie," Bajakian said. "He approaches the game mentally and physically exactly like you want a quarterback to do. He is sharp, he processes information quickly. He understands the offense in and out, he understands protections inside and out. For him this spring is just a matter of timing with all the different receivers."