On Monday, Colwell was playing a new position for the Aggie football team: wide receiver.
The NMSU coaching staff elected to make the move after Saturday’s scrimmage, placing McDonald as the first-string quarterback; King Davis III, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound true freshman from Mesquite, Texas, as No. 2; and Colwell – one of the team’s top athletes – at wide receiver and No. 3 on the QB depth chart.
Heading into August practices, head coach Doug Martin said Colwell had a slight edge in the quarterback competition.
But the junior didn’t establish himself in the early going, and McDonald came on strong during Saturday’s scrimmage.
The Aggies need help at wide receiver, particularly with top player Austin Franklin ruled academically ineligible for the 2013 season.
And, Martin made it a point to single out Davis, a January enrollee who participated in spring practice, as a primary reason for the move.
“What we looked at was what quarterback had the most upside. How far they can go,” Martin said. “We really feel like McDonald is really steady right now. But King has a lot of upside between he and Tra. As young as he is, we think he can develop into a really special quarterback. Both those guys can’t be on the sideline. They’re too good of athletes.”
Martin said when he approached Colwell about the move, the junior was receptive to the idea.
“Tra is all about team. That’s the best thing about him,” Martin said.
Colwell said the coaching staff told him: ” ‘We need help at that position, at the wideout.’ … I guess I fit the position more than anybody else.”
When asked how he took the news, Colwell said: “It was probably rough on me for about 30 seconds. I wanted to play quarterback; I’ve always wanted to play quarterback. But I don’t think it’ll take me long to be a good receiver. Whatever it takes.”
In terms of Colwell’s playing experience, he’s under his third offensive coordinator in three years, and last season was essentially a lost one for him and the entire Aggie offense. Colwell played only in spot duty, used mainly as a runner and seldom as a passer for an ineffective unit.
After Saturday’s scrimmage, Colwell said he needed to improve elements of his passing game. Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon echoed similar sentiments.
McDonald, on the other hand, is a savvy,veteran player who’s adequate to solid in most facets of the position and can effectively manage the team’s offense.
“He’s very smart, understands how to play in the system,” Martin said. “We feel real comfortable with where he is.”
As a receiver Colwell could be a good fit. Listed at 6-3 and just more than 200 pounds, he’s displayed a nice pair of hands as one of the Aggies’ top athletes.
“The best thing Tra does right now is when he has the ball in his hands and he’s running,” Martin said.
When asked whether the move was further necessitated by Franklin’s absence, Martin said: “Certainly. … We want to build depth at the wide receiver position.”
The switch also signifies a more flexible Aggie offensive coaching staff in 2013, one that’s willing to adjust personnel to maximize the team’s potential.
Martin said the possibility of having multiple quarterbacks on the field at once will give the Aggies “the ability to run a lot more option plays, which are really effective. A heavy dosage of that will be coming this week.”
He added: “We want to take the 22 best athletes on our football team and make sure they’re all playing. Offense, defense, it doesn’t matter. The best 22 athletes have got to be out on the field.”
When asked about the timing of the move – a week into fall camp – Martin said there’s been an evaluation process at the respective positions.
“We had all spring to watch the guys, too. It’s not just (one) practice,” he said. “It’s watching them through the spring, talking things through the summer, seeing how they’ve matured, how they’ve grown and where they are. We’ve got 20 days before we play Texas, a long time until we play UTEP. The key is to be ready at that time.”