Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerFootball
Syracuse’s Spring Game to give quarterbacks last pre-training camp audition
The quarterback picture is becoming a bit clearer for quarterbacks coach Tim Lester. He and head coach Scott Shafer are still far from a decision, but some separation is starting to be made.
The starter will get 85-90 percent of the reps in practice. The leader in the clubhouse, Terrel Hunt, currently gets 40 percent. But it’s still progress.
“We’ve had pretty good repetitions with all three of those kids,” Shafer said. “I think Terrel and Charley (Loeb) have kind of been battling the last few days and doing some good things, so it’s good to see that the competition’s kind of on the rise. But we have a lot of time.”
On Saturday, though, Shafer will essentially be forced into naming a favorite when the Orange plays its annual Spring Game at noon in the Carrier Dome. Hunt has taken the most snaps with the first team in each of the last two open practices and appears to be the favorite to do the same Saturday. But Loeb and John Kinder don’t sit far behind. Both have taken about 30 percent of the first-team snaps.
For three quarterbacks who have extremely limited game experience — or none at all — the Spring Game gives them their first test of real game-style action.
“It’s good to see the live game,” Shafer said.
For now, Lester tries to simulate live action.
On Sunday, he gave his quarterbacks reps in the red zone. Some throws were bad — Hunt threw his first few into coverage — but they improved. Hunt eventually threw a touchdown to fullback Clay Cleveland on a swing pattern and Kinder hit a man for a touchdown on a crossing route.
“None of them have any game experience, so they can’t be in those situations enough,” Lester said. “So they were really bad the first time, they were a little bit better the second time and the third time, they were better.”
But it was a throw Loeb made that stood out the most to Lester.
Two days before, Syracuse brought a blitz at Loeb. The quarterback tried to throw over the pass rush. His pass got batted and picked off. On Sunday, he recognized the blitz and hit a man in the flat.
“I just like watching them make decisions under pressure, and when the defense brings pressure, are they working away from the pressure?” Lester said. “Do they have answers? You really never have enough of those situations.”
At this point, naming a quarterback for the spring seems a mere formality. No matter who gets the call Saturday, the other two won’t be far behind.
And there’s the transfer waiting in the wings. It’s entirely possible that the starter when the Orange opens its season against Penn State won’t be any of the three on the roster but Drew Allen, a transfer from Oklahoma. Normally, naming a starter for the Spring Game is a telling sign of what’s to come, but for SU this year, it’s difficult to read much into it.
“If they name a guy – that’s the guy they name coming out of spring, doesn’t mean they can’t name a new guy out in fall, I know how it works,” Loeb said. “It’s always competitive.”
Still, Saturday represents a step. Lester said he gives the player who looks the best the most reps to challenge him and see how he performs with extra scrutiny.
The format of the Spring Game has yet to be entirely determined, Shafer said, but “it’s going to be some sort of a game.” The first team will get some reps together, but players fighting for a job on the first team will get a chance, too. Whoever gets the call to run the first team will be under a bit of extra pressure, but it’s still a better place to be than chasing, like the other two.
“It’s been a good competition. I wish we could do this a lot longer,” Lester said. “Spring ball’s just flying.”
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