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Baylor QBs still have plenty to learn in new-look offense exiting spring

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Longtime Baylor fan gets chance to score in spring game (0:50)

Clint Lewis was born with Down syndrome and has led Baylor out of the tunnel for years, but got a shot to score a touchdown in this year's spring game. (0:50)

WACO, Texas -- When Zach Smith and Anu Solomon exited the locker room Saturday afternoon following their spring game, both Baylor quarterbacks carried their homework.

They held thick black binders crammed full of schemes with "OFFENSIVE INSTALL BOOK" printed on the front. Believe it or not, Baylor hasn't had an actual, physical playbook like this since 2007. Former coach Art Briles didn't use them, preferring to teach with video and whiteboards.

That new playbook of theirs actually asks Baylor quarterbacks to occasionally line up under center in the I-formation. New coach Matt Rhule admits that alignment makes him quite happy, but it must've befuddled the McLane Stadium crowd accustomed to watching high-speed spread ball.

"The first few weeks were really hard, coming in and trying to learn all this offense," Smith said. "It's completely new."

The challenging nature of Baylor's pivot in offensive philosophy showed in the play of its top quarterbacks Saturday. Smith, a sophomore who started four games last season, went 17-of-30 for 162 yards and led one touchdown drive at the end of the scrimmage. Solomon, the Arizona graduate transfer, went 7-of-14 for 85 yards and no scores.

Neither had the kind of exemplary performance that declared a clear and obvious starter has been found. And they knew it.

"We all missed a lot of things today," Solomon said, "and I just don't want everyone to define our performance today as what we did in the spring. We did a lot of great things in the spring."

True freshman Charlie Brewer had a better outing, going 8-of-12 for 103 yards and two TDs plus 44 rushing yards, though he did most of his damage against backups. Rhule likes to say Brewer has plenty of "it" factor, and it showed.

So where do they all stand after 15 practices? Smith and Solomon are "slightly ahead" in the race, according to Rhule, but he offered no hints on a frontrunner. He wants to let this play out over the summer and into fall practice in August.

Naming a No. 1 guy right now doesn't make much sense.

"It's just not fair to them," Rhule said. "If they'd been in the system for several years, I could say, 'OK, this is where you are, let's establish a leader.' But I want to see who makes the gains in the summer and who makes the gains into the fall camp. I want to see what Zach's like when his ankle is healthy. I want to see what Anu's like when he has some time with us in the offseason."

A truly wide-open quarterback competition is about as rare at Baylor as playbooks and fullbacks. The succession plan was almost always clear under Briles, from Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence to Bryce Petty to Seth Russell. The next guy was supposed to be Jarrett Stidham, but he's instead thriving at Auburn this spring.

Smith had to grow up quickly as a true freshman last season after Russell's season-ending injury. He's trying to be a more vocal leader this spring while keeping up embracing the big change.

"It's a lot different. But it's new, so it's fun," Smith said. "Learning this whole new offense and really learning every single coverage and knowing what happens on every play, I think it's going to help me a whole lot as a quarterback."

When Rhule got to Waco, Smith was the only scholarship QB on campus. He convinced Brewer to flip from SMU and persuaded Solomon to transfer in and battle for the job. This required a sizeable leap of faith, since neither of them actually met Rhule in person until they enrolled.

"I just knew I wanted to play Big 12 football, and that was really it," Brewer said. "I liked Coach Rhule and thought I couldn't pass this up."

Solomon joked that Rhule spoke so fast when they chatted over the phone, he could barely understand his new coach. He was attracted to Baylor because of their brand of explosive offenses. He likes the new brand, too, and the skill players they have to execute it.

"I'm competing against great quarterbacks in Charlie and Zach, and we're going to compete our butts off and see what happens," he said.

The more multiple offensive system co-coordinators Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas are installing is a lot to digest in just 15 practices. The passers will have to master the NFL-sized playbook they're carrying around these days, but fortunately they've got plenty of time.

Sure, Rhule would prefer some QB clarity. But he knows not to rush this decision.

"The good thing is we have three good quarterbacks," Rhule said. "That's what I know and I really believe it."