Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Fall camp position battle series - No. 1 quarterback

Injuries forced Kendall Hinton and John Wolford to split time at quarterback for the Deacs last season. Wake coach Dave Clawson will now have to evaluate those two in addition to redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns through fall camp to pick a starter for the Sept. 1 kickoff against Tulane.

There are tons of battles up and down the field this fall for the Deacs, and all are vitally important as the Deacs move forward to field a squad that can compete in the ACC.

But this is the one of which I know you’re going to want daily updates.

I get that, and we’ll put a good amount of focus on this competition for sure, and it very well may be the most important battle of the fall, but the rest are not that far behind.

We all know how last year turned out. Returning starter John Wolford suffered a high ankle sprain early in the season and was hobbled the rest of the year, making him effectively immobile in the pocket.

Meanwhile, North Carolina native Kendall Hinton added a jolt of energy with some electrifying explosive plays. . . until he got banged up the the comeback-that-fell-short against Florida State.

From that point forward, Hinton couldn’t get his shoulder loose, and what was already considered a weak link for him - his accuracy - got that much worse.

Given the circumstances they played through last year, and knowing the capabilities of both players first-hand, Wake coach Dave Clawson bristles when people try to describe this battle as a running quarterback vs. a throwing quarterback.

“People try to describe those guys as two different guys, but they’re not that much different. John Wolford is a 4.6 40-yard dash, and everybody looks at him last year and says his immobile because he played with a high ankle sprain,” Clawson said at ACC Kickoff. “People say Kendall can’t throw the ball because he played the last eight games last year with a bruise on his back that wouldn’t even allow him to warm up and throw the ball. When those two are healthy, their skill sets are more similar than different. All the questions I get are ‘well you have a thrower and you have a runner.’ But when they’re healthy, they are much more in the middle than people see.

“Now if you just watched the games last year, it’s fair to say that, but I think when people watch us (practice) they realize Kendall is a much better passer and John is a much better runner.”

Wolford, a junior who started all 12 games as a freshman in 2014, completed 142-of-233 passes last year for 1,791 yards. He threw nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 273 yards. He was sacked or took losses for -206 yards, to put his net rushing yardage at 67.

Hinton, a sophomore who started two games for the Deacs last season, completed 93-of-179 passes for 929 yards. He tossed four touchdown passes and threw five picks. He added a net 390 yards rushing, gaining 504 on 93 carries and losing 114 on sacks and other negative yardage plays.

Both Hinton and Wolford had their share of highs and lows through spring practice, but neither emerged as the clear starter.

“I think they both had good springs. I think probably earlier in the spring probably Kendall was ahead, and I think John finished stronger. The bottom line is at the quarterback position we have to take care of the football,” Clawson said at the end of spring camp. “The numbers to be down next year have to be turnovers and sacks. That isn’t all on the quarterback position, but a lot of it is. The bottom line is, everyone is going to want to know who the starter is, and I look at it those guys and neither of them are 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. I don’t want to be a two-quarterback system.

“I want to have a starter. I just don’t imagine that either of those guys will stay healthy for 12 games. So the reality is, we’ll need both of them and we’ll probably need Kyle Kearns. I think a positive of the spring is that Kyle Kearns got a lot better. At the beginning of spring, he was struggling to run base plays. At the end, he was really starting to make some throws and some plays.”

Redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns did take some lumps early in spring camp, but really rounded into shape in the final two weeks, showing coaches why he was such a highly-regarded recruit.

Because of scheduling, Kearns was one of the last players to arrive prior to 2015 fall camp, and didn’t get many reps last season, ultimately redshirting as expected. As his share of the work has increased, so has his comfort level.

Though he’s not expected to be even in the starting job competition to start fall camp, he will definitely contribute this season for the Deacs. Kearns threw for more than 6,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in high school, and has a cannon arm with great accuracy.

True freshman Jamie Newman enrolled early and competed in spring camp, but is still expected to redshirt this season, barring catastrophe. At 6-foot-4, he’s the tallest quarterback on the roster, and is a huge Cam Newton fan, for what it’s worth.

Expect the quarterback battle to rage late into fall camp, with Clawson likely not divulging who will start against Tulane until game week, if then.

Previous installments of this series:

No. 2 Linebacker

No. 3 Running Back

No. 4 Safety 

No. 5 Wide Receiver

No. 6 Cornerback 

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