It doesn’t appear as if a starting quarterback will be named in the aftermath of Saturday’s scrimmage.
The scrimmage, the first of fall camp, was the first look Joker Phillips and his coaching staff had at the four quarterbacks in the midst of the newly minted position battle. Senior Morgan Newton, sophomore Maxwell Smith, and true freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow are all being given their fair shake to earn the starter’s job, and Phillips has said since camp opened that the competition would remain open until one proved himself to be substantially separated from the pack.
Phillips said he would review the film from Saturday’s scrimmage, but no significant separation was apparent watching from the field.
“I think there was more good than bad, but the difference between quarterback play and offensive line or receiver, if you make a couple of bad plays then it really shows, and it's the only thing people usually remember,” Phillips said. “We have to make sure we're playing clean all the time at that position. We'll watch the film and see if it's a big enough separation to make a decision.”
The scrimmage, like regular practices this fall, was closed to the public and the media, and stats of Saturday’s scrimmage were not available. As such, the only evaluations of the four quarterbacks’ day at Commonwealth Stadium were from the coaches in interviews afterward. Phillips abstained from mentioning any of the quarterbacks by name. He instead spoke in generalities. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders did not.
If the following is heavy on quotes, it’s because quotes are the only information available.
Sanders said Smith has likely been the most consistent in fall camp so far and has “really done a nice job.” Newton has worked hard in practices so far, but Sanders said he’s still recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum.
“Labrum surgery for a quarterback is like Tommy John surgery for a pitcher or ACL surgery for a running back,” Sanders said. “It’s not something that the doctors just one day say you’re better, and you go out there and you’re where you were before. It takes time to build up the strength, the muscle memory and a little bit just to get confidence in it that everything’s OK.”
Sanders can evaluate the aforementioned two candidates because he’s been around them for a while now, and he knows each player’s capabilities and tendencies. Assessing Towles and Whitlow, then, is a bit more difficult. The freshmen will alternate promising plays with pain-inducing ones, Sanders said. “Boy, it’s amazing,” he said. “Sometimes they revert back to things they did as a sophomore in high school. You wonder, ‘What is that?’”
As such, Sanders said “it’s pretty easy to see” that Smith and Newton are in first and second in the quarterback race in no particular order, if only because of the time they’ve spent learning and practicing the offense as opposed to the two rookies. That doesn’t mean the newcomers couldn’t theoretically win the job, but through nine practices, Sanders said he wouldn’t expect much more.
When asked of Towles’ progress, and specifically what the highly touted recruit had done so far in camp that made him look like a freshman, Sanders described how steep the learning curve is for an incoming quarterback.
“He’s learning a new offense,” Sanders said. “It’s a lot like learning a new language. He’s got a really good start on that. The biggest thing is the sheer volume of defenses he’s facing. He’s saw more defense in the plays he got today than he probably saw in the last four years of high school. Just trying to see all those things, digest them and then learn how to react with the new language he’s speaking, it takes a little time.”
Towles could still win the job because of his talent, Sanders said. But then again, anybody could. Based on how Phillips and Sanders spoke Saturday, the competition still seemed wide open.
“He can obviously throw the football. Sometimes he’s looking one way and throwing it to somebody when his whole progression is on the other side of the field and he should be working there,” Sanders said of Towles. “He, I think, can get there. Whether it happens in the next month or whether it happens in the next three months or whether it happens in the next two years, I don’t know. But he can get there. I can see that ability.”