University at Buffalo football coach Jeff Quinn has one strict rule for quarterback Alex Zordich from here on out:
"When there's one guy he doesn't have to slide," Quinn said. "When there's two, you go down."
Schooling Zordich on self-preservation techniques became a priority after the true freshman, a talented runner, suffered broken ribs against Ball State that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Zordich took over at quarterback for Jerry Davis seven games into the season and was making his third start when he took a solid hit while stretching a center-of-the-field run.
"I've never been used to [surrendering] but you have to learn new things all the time," Zordich said. "I can adjust to that. It'll be something I have to do for the good of the team."
Zordich was back behind center Wednesday as the Bulls took cover at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse for the first of their 15 spring practices. Quinn insisted the quarterback competition remains open, with Zordich, Davis and red-shirt freshman Rudy Johnson all in the mix. But last season's unraveling would seem to indicate that Zordich rates an edge. Davis had the better passing statistics (47.7 percent, 16 TDs and 16 INTs versus Zordich's 41.6-1-6) but the no-huddle spread offense hit a wall under his leadership. And Zordich also had the disadvantage of being thrown into the fray as a true freshman. Davis is a sophomore. Johnson, a red-shirt freshman, didn't play.
Quarterback recruits Tony Daniel (Hiram, Ga.) and Joe Licata (Williamsville South) will join UB at summer training camp. The Bulls are high on both but it's unlikely either will shoot to the forefront. Quinn's more inclined to go with someone who's had an opportunity to absorb and conduct the fast-paced system introduced last year in his first season as coach.
"Absolutely," Quinn said. "I think experience always reigns superior when it comes to doing the things we ask them to do. They understand the calls, they understand the signals, they understand the system a lot better than somebody that hasn't been doing it, like an incoming freshman. We're going to stay on the same mentality and philosophy and that is to be a no-huddle, high-tempo, multiple offense."
Zordich had the typical freshman ups-and-downs in the two games he started and finished. He was 16 of 33 for 210 yards and ran for 64 yards against Miami. The following week against Ohio he struggled through the air (8 of 26, two INTs) but ran for 105 yards on 20 attempts. He sees that time at the helm, however brief, as a springboard into his three remaining seasons of eligibility.
"Experience is the best medicine," Zordich said. "You can practice and look at film all you want but there's nothing like that game speed. I think that was best for me, really getting used to that speed of the game and the decision you have to make in split seconds. I definitely feel more confident, that's the biggest thing. There's always more to learn. I know that I'm not anywhere near where I can say I know pretty much everything. There's something new to learn every day. I'm always asking questions because there's always something to ask. I'm feeling good right now but I know there's a lot of work to be done."
"Alex has had a very solid winter conditioning effort," Quinn said. "I felt that his knowledge of the game and what we want to do offensively and becoming the leader that I know he's capable of being is evident by the way he went out there and performed. Kids respect him. I respect him. That's what's exciting about him, to see his development and his growth and really to see how well he's able to take this offense and take it to another level and take full command of it."
Offensive tackle Matt Ostrowski, tight end Jake Reeder, linebacker Mark Richardson and defensive back Adam Redden (St. Francis) are recovering from injuries and probably will be limited to non-contact drills if they participate in the spring practices. Running back Josh Fuller (Mayville), offensive lineman Gokhan Ozkan and defensive lineman Terry Peden are practicing on a limited basis. The annual Blue-White Spring Game will be April 16 at UB Stadium.