With one week of training camp in the books at Rutgers, the crowded quarterback race begins to thin out. A day after Saturday’s open scrimmage, head coach Chris Ash pointed to two signal callers in particular who stand out with two weeks to go.
“When you look at the individuals at the quarterback position, again, it’s an open competition that we’re continuing to evaluate,” he said. “I would say right now that Chris Laviano and Zach Allen have probably gained a slight edge over the other ones and will probably receive more of the reps with the ones and twos throughout this next week of practice.”
The pair of juniors entered August as co-starters at the top of the depth chart. The first sample of week one reaffirmed that, but Ash said he isn’t close to naming either as the starter.
“In terms of the quarterback position, when we hope to determine who will be the starter, I doubt it is this week,” he said. “We’ll probably go through this week and through another scrimmage next Saturday, and hopefully coming out of that scrimmage, we’ll have a clearer picture of who’s going to be our starter. I’d like to get a starter named, where we’ve got a couple weeks out from the game where we’re getting some consistency with the first group.”
Offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer agreed with Ash’s assessment of the quarterbacks.
Mehringer went a step further to single out what Laviano and Allen did to deserve more work with the ones.
“I think Laviano and Allen have taken a step forward,” said Mehringer, who doubles his play-calling duties as quarterbacks coach. “… We’re going to get those guys more reps because if you look at it and evaluate it across the landscape of college football, they’ve taken half as many reps as those other guys against teams that we played, so we have to find a way to make sure we continue to improve.”
As the kinks of the new spread offense work themselves out, both Laviano and Allen said they felt progression with each day.
Laviano and Allen continue to split the reps with the first team. Each provided a glimpse at how they run the tempo of Mehringer’s scheme in the scrimmage.
“I think we had a decent day (Saturday), definitely getting better across the course of camp,” Laviano said. “I think we need to make a lot of improvements, a lot of strides the next two weeks before the first game. But things are looking good for us right now. We definitely have a lot of work to do — quarterbacks included in that, especially — but as long as keep progressing moving forward, I think we’ll be all right for the first game.”
Laviano’s growth on and off the field was well documented when he met with the media after Rutgers’ first practice last Monday. But beyond the progress, he feels as if he still has plenty of room to improve.
“Aside from the technicalities a quarterback takes — the physical aspect of quarterback — I think the mental part is huge,” Laviano said. “Just recognizing defenses, learning
more about the offense and stuff like that. Definitely need to stay confident going into the season.”
At the top of the depth chart to start camp, Allen said he and Laviano feed off each other. The result, he said, brings out the best version of the two.
“It’s a good competition between Chris and I and the rest of the QBs,” Allen said. “Everyone’s doing well. We’re doing our best, trying to run the offense and trying to get the offense in the best position we can to be successful. Lav and I have split the ones so far and really enjoyed just competing with him and learning from him and just going through the practice.”
Brought in to throw a bomb in the quarterback room, as Ash previously described it during Big Ten Media Days, Allen caught on quick. Ash pointed to who Allen is as a person and mentioned that his previous exposure to a spread offense in the Big 12 Conference helped.
As the quarterback competition runs its course over training camp, who pulls ahead and eventually becomes the starter for the opener remains to be seen. But for both quarterbacks, they said the progress is there.
“I think I’m catching on well,” Allen said. “Kind of being out of the system for the year, there’s a lot of catching up to do. I feel like I put myself in a good position with all of the stuff I needed to do before camp started, with throwing to receivers, learning the playbook, getting everything done — it’s just about doing it on the field. I’m excited where this team is so far. We have a lot of room to improve. But so far, I think we’re all excited with the opportunities that we have to be in the Big Ten, to go and really shock some people.”