The expectations for Will Gardner skyrocketed following a spring that saw him cap it off with a near perfect performance in the spring game, completing 32 of 37 for 542 yards and 4 touchdowns. While head coach Bobby Petrino didn't label Gardner the starting quarterback, he praised the redshirt sophomore enough to make it clear that he was he was the heavy favorite to earn the spot during fall camp.
With all eyes on him as fall camp opened on Tuesday, Gardner struggled. The accurate touch wasn't the same. On day one he seemed hesitant. It was a day that he wants to forget. His first two hours of work included three interceptions and even more missed throws.
“Will showed a lot of good things, but he wasn't as consistent and accurate as he was at the end of spring ball,” Bobby Petrino said following the first day of practice. “I think offensively, our timing is a little bit off right now, and our throwing and catching, but we'll get there.”
While better, day two did little to ease nerves.
Following Wednesday's afternoon session, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Gardner was clearly not pleased with his performance following two days of work.
“It gets frustrating at times, but I have to trust my coaches,” he told Cardinal Authority. “I have guys around me that are awesome and who help me out, so I got to believe in them. When things get tough, lean on them. When times get tough, listen to my coaches and put the past behind you and move on forward.”
A noticeable move forward occurred on Thursday.
When the day began, the storylines focused on his unusual inaccuracy the first two days and Thursday morning news about fellow quarterback movement. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon moved from the being part of the morning group to participating in the veteran-dominated afternoon workout on Thursday, while redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin switched to the morning session.
The story was different by end of day three, as Gardner's timing with the receivers was more reminiscent of that spring game performance. He wasn't error free, but his throws were hitting receivers in stride, both in short and deep passing routes, and he ended the day with a string of completions.
”It's much better,” senior receiver Matt Milton said of the timing with Gardner. “The first couple days you are getting your legs under you, you're tired and stuff like that, but today was a lot better.”
Senior tight end Gerald Christian, who says that Gardner is even “more comfortable in the offense” now then he was in the spring, agrees that the first few days can be a little tough with the timing in the passing game.
”The first two days I feel were rough for everybody, just being back out there and everything moving faster,” he said. “It doesn't take much time to get into it.”
If day three is an indicator, Gardner has likely shaken the rust and has found the rhythm that he developed with the Cardinals dangerous receiving unit throughout spring ball.
As the team nears its first scrimmage of fall camp this weekend, the quarterback situation remains a fluid one. However, when discussing the current status of the positions depth chart, offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was only certain of one.
“Right now you would say that Will is the leader in the position,” said McGee. “After that there is a lot of competition.”
The Cardinals return to practice on Friday morning at 8:50 a.m. The veterans group will practice at 4:20 p.m. The weeks final open practice is Saturday at 3:00 p.m.