The Valdosta Daily Times
More than 5,100 yards, 46 touchdowns, and a 60 percent completion rating during the span of 30 games in three years; Valdosta State has some big shoes to fill at the most important position heading into the 2014-15 season.
Cayden Cochran guided VSU to its third national championship two years ago, but now the Blazers must find a way to replace one of its most decorated passers in order to get back to the promised land.
Despite the departure of a quarterback ranking just outside of VSU's overall top five in all of the major career passing records, the Blazers' offensive scheme will look similar to that of years past.
"The scheme we're not going to change a whole bunch, we're always going to do what our players can do best," said Valdosta State head coach David Dean. "From a standpoint of what we've recruited and brought into this program, it's very similar to what Cayden can do, so we're not going to change the scheme up that much."
While Dean and his staff don't have to make a decision on a starter yet, there have been two clear candidates to emerge: Kaleb Nobles and Jake Medlock.
"As far as the competition, and what I see with our quarterbacks, I really like the direction we're going in," said Dean. "We've got two guys who have kind of stepped forward to compete for the job and everyday they're battling each other and they're making each other better. The exciting thing that I see about those two guys is that even though they're in a competition with each other, they're coaching each other up, and that's always a positive."
Nobles heads into his sophomore season at VSU looking to build on a strong performance replacing an injured Cochran a year ago. When Cochran went down with an injury midway through a game against West Georgia, Nobles threw a Valdosta State record four touchdowns in the second half to rally the team back from a 17-point deficit.
Nobles showed that his performance against the Wolves was no flash in the pan when he got his first career start two games later against Delta State; he threw for six touchdowns — one shy of tying the VSU record — in a loss.
Overall, Nobles saw time in 10 games last season and it's that experience that's given Nobles an edge in the competition.
"Right now, Kaleb knows the offense a little bit better because he's been in it for about two years, so from that stand point he's a little ahead of (Medlock)," said Dean. "He throws the ball extremely quick, he can make quick reads and again, a lot of that has to do with knowing the offense."
Even though he may be behind Nobles in VSU's playbook, Medlock has experience; the Florida International transfer has appeared in 23 games during three seasons with the Golden Panthers.
Medlock experienced something of a down year last season; he lost and regained his starting spot while completing just 47 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and six picks. However, two seasons ago, Medlock looked like an up-and-coming young quarterback.
In 2012, Medlock threw for 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions while completing his passes at a 57 percent clip.
Dean can still see that potential and it has shown through the first two weeks of practice.
"Jake, on the other hand, is a playmaker. He's very good in the pocket," said Dean. "He's been able to make some plays in the scrimmages we've had by moving around in the pocket and delivering the football. He's got a strong arm.
"He's made a lot of plays down the field off of some scramble situations. Kaleb is doing a good job of that as well, but it's not the deeper ones, it's finding the open receiver and giving us a chance on third down."
Whomever wins, replacing Cochran will not be easy, but luckily the Blazers' potent ground game should make the transition easier on the winner.
"We've got two really good running backs with Austin (Scott) and Cedric O'Neil," said Dean. "We feel like we put a load on those guys and they're willing to accept it.
"We rotate them ... a bit so I feel like our run game is something we're going to have to lean heavily on next year, but in order to do that our offensive line has to get a lot better. We're opening up some holes, but we're not doing it on a consistent basis."
With just three practices remaining until Saturday's spring game, Dean is looking for consistency in his offense.
"Right now that's what we've got to finish in this last week is consistency," said Dean. "That's what we're lacking on offense. We make some plays and then they'll be two plays that we don't perform well. We can't get all 11 guys on the same page and doing the right thing and then four or five plays we'll do that. We're just not being consistent right now and we need that."