JSU wants QB choice to be a surprise for opener
by Al Muskewitz
Aug 16, 2013 | 2315 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State quarterback Max Shortell completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Goffigan on a flea-flicker play. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State quarterback Max Shortell completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Goffigan on a flea-flicker play. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE — Even if he wasn’t a good friend of the head coach and one of his most trusted assistant coaches, John Grass would be in full-on agreement that Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark’s choice for an opening-day starting quarterback be a closely guarded state secret.

Clark has said his choice to start under center against Alabama State would know his role in the week before the game, but he wouldn't announce it publicly. In fact, it might not be until the first snap before anybody outside of the Gamecocks' closed practices knows.

As a former high school head coach, Grass, the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator, knows all about the importance of gaining any edge you can. And keeping a decision like the winner of a tight quarterback race quiet for as long as possible is a big advantage.

“If we approached it any other way it would not be very smart on our part,” Grass said. “It’s intelligent to do what we’re doing and approaching it that way. I think that helps us.

“We’re a new staff in, first year, it’s the first game. There are a lot of advantages from an opponent’s standpoint if they know that, as far as game planning goes. I think not announcing that is definitely an advantage for us.”

Grass said he doesn’t even know who will get the call, because the competition has been that keen.

It’s not as if the Gamecocks don’t have choices. Minnesota transfer Max Shortell and redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins appear to have separated themselves, but there are indications redshirt sophomore Kyle West has rejoined the fray.

Shortell is a big-bodied strong-armed passer and, with Steven Coates gone, the only quarterback in camp with any significant Division I playing time — just not with the Gamecocks. Jenkins is an athlete who makes plays with his legs and proved himself as a passer in the spring game. West is the most heady and consistent.

The competition will gain even more separation in Saturday’s final scrimmage of preseason camp. As high a level at which the three quarterbacks are playing in practice, Grass said there is still “a lot of inconsistency” in all of their play.

The Gamecocks will play two quarterbacks in the game, but probably not all three.

“All those guys are capable of taking it,” junior receiver Gabe Chambers said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in, I know they’re going to get the job done.”

If Clark does pick his starter the week before the game, he has to find a way to keep it under wraps. That’s seven days of worrying somebody doesn’t spill the beans to a parent or a friend. That’s seven days of hoping something doesn’t show up on the Internet.

Grass is confident that won’t be a problem.

“Our guys have been doing a good job of whatever we’ve got in the family that is not supposed to be shared with others we don’t do that,” he said. “There’s a code of ethics we have on our team that I feel like we’re going to live by and I don’t think we have anybody on our team that will break that code of ethics.

“They’re going to be loyal to our football team and whatever is best for us we’re going to do. I think coach Clark has demanded that from us as a staff and support staff and players and when you do it that way everybody’s bought in. I think all our guys are bought in. I’m not saying it couldn’t leak, but I’d be very surprised if it did.”

The quarterback spot is the most-talked-about battle in camp, but there has been competition throughout the roster.

While the first scrimmage was all about discovering who could bring the right approach to a game, Saturday’s scrimmage will be about determining the depth chart.

Collectively, most of the first and second teams are fairly well defined, but now it’s a matter of determining the opening-day starter.

“Coming out of Saturday you’ll have an idea of the 1s and 2s, but that could change during the week,” Grass said. “It’s going to be a big day for everybody because there are some spots that definitely are not sewed up.

“I talk all the time that your stock will either go up or down today. If it goes up, the next week in practice you’ve got to keep that stock. It’s all about performance and to play at the high level we decided we want to play you’ve got to have that performance on a daily basis. It’s not a thing where you can wait and play on Saturday and be a gamer — that’s not what we’re about.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.

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