Zack Greenlee, Kilton Anderson and Chason Virgil, the three young quarterbacks vying to start for Fresno State this season, ended the spring on parallel tracks, all doing some good things Saturday in the last of 15 practices and all within a few short passes of one another at the end.
But what comes next and how they enter fall camp five months forward is now up to them — with the Bulldogs’ strength and conditioning program ahead but also the standard NCAA rules that limit contact with coaches. Answers will depend on how much work they get in on their own in the film room and on the field.
The summer, and how they handle it, will be key in getting ahead.
“We’re hands off, we can’t really do anything with them until fall camp,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said. “Now they have to do a great job of running the summer throwing program. That’s something that they have to do. They have to demand and command the offense and make sure guys are running routes at the right depth and make sure that guys are running the routes hard, all of those things. It’s one of those deals — have to trust that they’re going to go do what they’re supposed to do. We have no control over that stuff, and then when we come back in August we hit the ground running.”
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The quarterbacks will be in an unusual situation, with three of them taking the competition for the starting job into the summer.
Organization and leadership in those sessions usually fall to one or maybe two quarterbacks — a returning starter, a leader at the position coming out of the spring or maybe the most veteran player in the group. Last year it was Brian Burrell, who had the most experience and had emerged from spring ball atop the quarterback competition. He led the summer workouts, even after the Bulldogs added graduate transfer Brandon Connette.
Coach Tim DeRuyter said that this year it probably falls to Greenlee, the oldest in the group as a third-year sophomore. Anderson is a redshirt freshman and Virgil a true freshman. But all three will have to make the most of their opportunities on the field in summer 7 on 7s and throwing sessions.
“All three of those guys have to develop a rapport with our receivers,” DeRuyter said. “I don’t know that it complicates it, but what it tells each one of them is that nothing is settled, they all have to complete and they all have to develop a rapport.
“Now, is it less reps? Yes. But there’s a lot of time between now and August and it’s on them. It’s nothing we can orchestrate and say, ‘Hey, I want you to get X number of reps.’ They have to get it done. We talk to them about the concepts that need to be understood, but they have to go out and do it.”
On Saturday, coaches were there for their last chance until the fall to get the mistakes cleaned up. There were a few, though not many, and nowhere near the number there were last spring. But the 50-play scrimmage just marked a new starting point for Greenlee, Anderson and Virgil.
Greenlee completed 5 of 7 passes for 56 yards and one touchdown, a nice shot from 18 yards out to redshirt freshman Keyan Williams.
“He’s seeing it (better),” Schramm said. “When you don’t have to deal with (graduated defensive stars) Tyeler Davison and Derron Smith it becomes a little bit easier, right, but that’s all part of your growing process. Initially, he’s big-eyed. But you learn to get better and better and as you grow, you’re understanding why we do the things in protections and all that stuff and so he’s starting to get it. He had more confidence and when you have more confidence and you’re the one running the show, guys will have a tendency to follow you, so that was good.”
Anderson hit 4 of 6 passes for 36 yards, including a 15-yard play to redshirt freshman Justin Allen on a first-down play in the red zone.
“He’s just a real athletic guy. He does some real good things,” Schramm said. “He has to learn how to control his competitiveness a little bit, but he’s extremely athletic, has a tremendous release. He has a lot to work on this summer just mechanically with his footwork, getting them faster and throwing in rhythm.”
Virgil was 8 of 13 for 64 yards and one touchdown with one interception, the score coming from 13 yards out on a screen to Williams, who got a block from Michael Martens to get up the sideline. “He has some things to do release mechanics-wise and getting on the film and understanding protections and understanding what we do, understanding when to flip the protection and when to not.”
When the Bulldogs return from spring break, play time really begins.
“It has to be all of them,” Schramm said.
“Now, we’re going to lean on Mice (Malique Micenheimer) and Tez (Marteze Waller) and Aaron Peck and J.J. (Justin Johnson),” the coordinator said of other key offensive players, “but the quarterback has got to be the guy that takes charge of all of those drills. Collectively, the goal is that we all get it done together. But they have to have want-to. If they don’t have want-to we’re not going to be very good.
“The issue comes, OK, when the guy is not running the route at the right depth or he’s lined up wrong. How do we handle that? Are we just going to let it go or are we going to say, ‘Hey, I need you to do it this way,’ like Derek (Carr) used to. He’d tell them, ‘I need you to do it like this for a reason.’ The last thing we want is for them to go all summer long through a throwing program practicing bad habits because all you’re doing is practicing the wrong thing.”