“It’s still competition. We’re all just going and doing our thing. And whatever happens, happens.”
Fitzgerald and his fellow Mississippi State quarterbacks will keep going into this summer and doing things to improve their pre-season potential. If not before, then certainly by September 3 it will happen.
Coach Dan Mullen and quarterbacks Coach Brian Johnson will pick who calls first cadence of the 2016 season. Neither is saying where the four, all-underclassmen triggermen stand today.
Nor for that matter is third-fall sophomore Fitzgerald tempted to declare himself top Dog.
“I think I had a solid spring. I think I put myself in a good position going into the summer, going into fall camp. I just have to keep it up.”
Outside observers came away from camp with their own impressions. Consensus? If not #1 then Fitzgerald has a perceived lead.
To be clear much of this is based on Fitzgerald’s #2 status all 2015. As Dak Prescott’s backup he was 11-of-14 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover. Fitzgerald played in eight games including a single snap in the Belk Bowl. That was after Prescott was given a career curtain call at 0:30. It was tempting to watch the two quarterbacks hug as Fitzgerald came on-field and think of it as some sort of torch-passing.
Mullen nixed that notion for spring. The initial quarterback chart was set by grade averages. Even in the spring game no hands were tipped as Fitzgerald and redshirted junior Damian Williams took first turns. And, rotated with soph Elijah Staley and redshirt frosh Nick Tiano.
Thing is, everyone seemed satisfied. Sure, Fitzgerald said post-spring, “It’s definitely something different” being in a four-quarterback battle for most of eight months from bowl game to opening day. “You’re competing against three other good guys. It’s a little tough.”
But, “Competition breeds the best you can be. You’re straining as hard as you can to beat out three other guys and I think it makes us better in the end.”
The spring ended with a Scott Field show where Fitzgerald flashed most of the same skills seen in fall relief opportunities. He was 10-of-20 in the spring game for 127 yards and directed multiple touchdown drives while throwing one scoring pass. That was the positives.
Negatives? “Two interceptions, that wasn’t the best.” Perspective on the picks helps as deflected passes were caught on the bounce by defenders…still turnovers but not necessarily mistakes.
“There’s always room for improvement no matter how good I play,” Fitzgerald said. At the same time, “There’s some good plays made, no doubt. Receivers made some good catches for me, I had great blocking, the running backs running hard helped me to make plays.”
The whole quarterback corps made other plays of their own. The spring game itself might not have been the best indicator compared to, say, the pair of Scott Field scrimmages. Then again intrasquad games had their own twists as each quarterback took turns running the first, second, and even third offenses against comparable defenses.
So it’s risky reading too much into spring statistics. Unofficially Fitzgerald in these three settings was 33-of-65 for 390 yards and three touchdowns. Some had better averages or total yards or fewer interceptions. No one separated himself from the pack per the head coach. Which is not exactly concerning.
“All of them have the ability to make things happen,” Mullen said post-spring. “Extend plays, run the ball, scramble, make some great throws. But they’re learning it’s what you do on a consistent basis. Every single snap is the most important thing.”
No coach will be watching every summer snap State quarterbacks take in unsupervised workouts. In the coming months Fitzgerald, Williams, Staley, Tiano must be their own coaches…of themselves and even of each other.
“It’s all about development, my personal development. I think getting out there with the entire offense as a whole unit. Work combos with our route-runners, make sure the offensive line is out there working steps.
Oh, about those route-runners… Spring 2016 was notable for a negative reason as two of the best weren’t around long or at all. Top returning receiver Fred Ross sat out all camp after preemptive groin surgery. Donald Gray went to the sideline in week-two with a nagging knee hyperextension.
Both are supposed to be running routes sometime in summer, fortunately for all pass-throwers. “I can’t wait for them to get back,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, your top wide receivers. It hurts that they were out. But I’m very glad they’re going to be back here soon.”
As will the four Dogs who want to toss them the ball come 2016 kickoff. The spring school semester ends soon but it doesn’t sound as if Fitzgerald plans much of an ‘off’ season for himself.
“Personally, just go watch film as much as possible, focus on the weightroom and conditioning when we run and work out. And overall just study the game.”