Football

Signal change: Syracuse searches for its next quarterback in spring practice

Charley Loeb has sat patiently for four years. For four seasons, he waited and watched as Ryan Nassib, a surefire NFL Draft pick, established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Syracuse history.

For more than half of his college career, Loeb has known his role as the clear-cut backup to the dependable Nassib. After years of waiting for the chance, the starting quarterback role is within reach, but not yet achieved.

Three players vie for the starting quarterback job this spring, arguably the largest vacancy on the team. Loeb provides experience — the fifth-year senior has learned behind Nassib for three seasons, developing into a complete pocket passer. But quarterbacks John Kinder and Terrel Hunt provide explosiveness — both have the ability to break the pocket and create plays with their legs.

Kinder has been outgoing since the first day he visited campus. His personality suits him well for a job he hopes will be his when the season opens in August.

Hunt has waited a lifetime for that same opportunity.

“Being able to actually – not actually touch it, but be there reaching for it, it’s the best feeling ever,” Hunt said.

The competition is truly open. Entering last Saturday’s scrimmage, the number of reps each quarterback has taken with the first team differs by just two. No quarterback has taken more than 65, and none fewer than 63.

Two weeks into practice, the Orange isn’t any closer to choosing a starter for SU’s opener with Penn State on Aug. 31 in East Rutherford, N.J. As quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said, it is all “a process.”

“It’s early to tell, though naturally, you’d like to do that,” Lester said, “but the numbers have been telling us that it’s going to be a fun next about two or three weeks.”

Though the process is underway, a decision is still far. The competition breaks into two parts. The first, Lester said, involves learning.

Then, a decision will come. Once everyone’s playing field is even, Lester and the Syracuse coaching staff will be able to determine who can execute best and be the ideal fit for the program. Just because someone picks the system up fastest, doesn’t mean he can execute it best, Lester said.

For now, the quarterbacks are most concerned with figuring out the “verbage” of the offense, Kinder said.
And that’s all part of the process — even for Lester.

Several times during Saturday’s practice, a play would be called and he would need to stop and think.

“I’d be like, ‘What’s the signal for that?’” Lester said. “And they’d look at me and I’m processing through what’s the signal for that.”

Loeb entered the spring as the presumed favorite to succeed Nassib. When former SU wide receiver Alec Lemon lived with Loeb last season, almost every conversation revolved around football. Though Lemon was a starter and Loeb just a backup, the wide receiver often leaned on Loeb whenever he had questions about the playbook or simply wanted to talk football.

Even when Lemon returns to his old apartment, where Loeb still lives, the quarterback always has a playbook open, scribbling away with some new idea.

“Where the game slows down most now is pre-snap because of the information I’ve gotten over the years,” Loeb said. “It’s how much you can think and make as many critical decisions before the ball’s snapped.

Though Loeb brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, Kinder and Hunt have their strengths, too.

Lemon knew about Kinder’s outgoing personality before the quarterback joined the Orange. Lemon hosted him on his first recruiting visit, and right away he could tell what type of person he was.

“One talent that most people don’t know about Kinder is he can sing and dance pretty good,” Lemon said.

Though teammates chide him for it in the locker room, it’s the extroverted personality he carries everywhere — he sings in the locker room, walking to class, anywhere — that helps him be a vocal leader.

On the field, he’s similar to Hunt. Both of their arsenals already include speed and athleticism, but they’re working to improve their arms, as well. Lemon has never seen Hunt on the basketball court, but he’s heard stories of Hunt’s prowess and athleticism.

Hunt struggled with his accuracy on deep balls during the first practice of the spring, but in the few weeks since, Lester has seen a world of change.

All it took for him was resetting his lower body. A light bulb went on.

All of the quarterback candidates are focusing on making small tweaks. Loeb needed to bend his knees more. Hunt said he needs to be a bit more vocal. Everyone needs to become more familiar with the vocabulary of the offense. Once the little things click, the competition will really begin.

“It’s kind of a learning curve,” Lester said, “so as they all learn what they’re doing, then we’re really going to see who can execute.”

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