(Nick Fitzgerald) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Off-Season Crucial in Developing the New Leader of Bulldog Offense

He knew numbers were close. But even Brian Johnson was surprised just how equally his four quarterbacks were worked.

“If you really look at the reps after spring ball, everybody is within seven or eight reps. Total.” the quarterbacks coach said. “And that’s scrimmage reps, 7-on-7 reps, inside-run reps.

“So we were very, very detailed in making sure everybody got a realistic evaluation, of putting them in adverse situations and making them live and trying to present as many challenges as possible to see how they responded.”

The twist to this equality is obvious. Three months after camp ended and now into summer sweating…the 2016 quarterback position remains officially Equal. Whatever the un-reported finishing order of spring football, all candidates are considered equal come August.

At least that’s Johnson and head coach Dan Mullen present the summer situation. If it keeps the quarterbacks on their toes, and fans on edge, it does guarantee camp battles to come.

“Eventually you’ve got to start paring it down,” Johnson agrees. “But I think going through the spring it’s excellent for their development, for the competition. You’d like to see some natural separation take place before going into fall camp. But we’ll evaluate as much as we need to figure out who gives us the best chance to be successful.”

Meanwhile this quarterback quartet is supposed to stay busy improving their own individual skills in summer. They, nor any Bulldog, can be hands-on coached in June and July. So what?

They are quarterbacks. If any position is expected to ‘coach’ itself along with the rest of the offense, it’s these four—for now--guys who want to run the show come September. As Johnson, who knows the drill very well himself after his own college career, said this is when quarterbacks must really prove themselves to the judges who matters most.

“That’s an opportunity for them to really showcase their leadership opportunities in the summer when we’re not around,” said Johnson. “So it will be more so for their teammates than us as a coaching staff. We’re not really able to evaluate much in the summer.

“But what they do out on the field and in the weightroom over the summer, that will dictate a ton going into fall camp with their teammates.” Because hey, if a blocker or back isn’t sold that his quarterback is doing extra film-work in June will they trust his live reads in the September huddle? If he isn’t busting it 100% on the bench press in July, can they count on him coming off the bench in a November crisis?

This is what summer football is really about, at least and especially for quarterbacks. What they do, or don’t do, today can count more towards who takes the first snap on opening day than spring statistics or preseason scrimmaging. Put another way, if the quarterback doesn’t win over the locker room it won’t matter how he impresses his coaches.

“Absolutely,” said Johnson. “Chemistry wins in college football. And I’ve never been part of a great team that didn’t have great leadership. And as you all know quarterback is an inherent position of leadership. And there’s different styles of leadership.

“The biggest thing for those guys is to lead to their personality. Because all four of them have different personalities. Not to try to be someone else or act like someone else. But just perform at a high level and do your job and get their teammates to respect them. And just go from there.”

So. For junior Damian Williams, third-fall sophomores Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley, and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano, the off-season heat isn’t just coming from the summer sun. When the quarterback quartet are working weights or throwing passes they are under the hottest of spotlights.

It’s coming from every runner, catcher, and blocker, all looking and evaluating who they want reading the South Alabama defense and calling cadence come 11:00am September 3.

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