With players reporting today and training camp opening Monday, the Cal Poly football team will not be in full pads until Friday.
But even though the action won’t be full contact, the four quarterbacks still battling to start the season opener against San Diego on Aug. 31 can’t afford to relax.
The every move of junior Vince Moraga, sophomores Chris Brown and Dano Graves and redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin will be evaluated from Day 1 with head coach Tim Walsh looking to pare the group down by at least one each week. Walsh wants to name a starter by Aug. 18.
Even though the first week of any training camp hardly resembles the football played on Saturdays, Cal Poly doesn’t have long to make a decision.
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First-team quarterback repetitions can only be split equally four ways before it gets in the way of preparation for following up on last season’s 9-3 record, share of the Big Sky Conference title and the first FCS playoff berth since 2008.
“Any time you don’t have a quarterback that everybody knows is the guy,” Walsh said, “you’re still looking for the leadership portion of that position, and that will be an important component.”
As in the spring — when several projected starters were either held out to nurse injuries or limited to ensure they remained healthy — the Mustangs offense will likely be without its full complement of players early on.
Senior tackle Giovanni Sani is still recovering from offseason foot surgery, and senior guard Lefi Letuligasenoa is doing the same from offseason shoulder surgery.
Walsh said each offensive lineman will likely be limited in practice until preparations begin in earnest to play the visiting Toreros a week before the opener.
Walsh also revealed that redshirt freshman slotback Elias Stokes, who had been pegged as a primary backup coming into camp, will be out until the start of October after undergoing hip surgery.
Stokes, a former Tribune County Player of the Year from Paso Robles High, would have been in line to back up senior Cole Stanford at a spot that’s been a hybrid receiver-running back position in recent years.
Though Stokes was hurt shortly after training camp last fall and spent most of the season watching from the sideline, Walsh remains high on the former Bearcat.
“That’s a big loss because we were really excited for him to compete to be the guy right behind Cole Stanford,” Walsh said, “and we really think he could be the guy of the future.”
The guy of the present could be junior receiver Willie Tucker, who led the Mustangs with 28 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns last season, including a thrilling 53-yard catch and run in a loss at Sacramento State.
Walsh said in addition to having Tucker out wide, he will also experiment with lining him up in the slot to get him more opportunities.
After Stanford, senior Akaninyene Umoh and Tucker could rotate in that position with Kristaan Ivory (728 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2012) attempting to replace 1,500-yard rusher Deonte Williams on the other side of the line.
The Mustangs will also carry tight ends for the first time since before adopting the triple option in 2007.
Walsh said the deployment of the tight ends depends on how quickly junior college transfers Brendan Quinn and Austin Albison can handle blocking within the offense.
With so much still up in the air offensively, Walsh is glad to have an experienced defense back.
The Mustangs lost just two starters from last year’s unit, which ranked third in the Big Sky in scoring defense (23.7 points per game) and yards allowed per game (374.7).
Led by honors candidate and third-year starting senior defense tackle Sullivan Grosz, hard-hitting senior safety Alex Hubbard and four-year starting outside linebacker Johnny Millard, players said during the spring that they expected to be one of the best units in the country.
“The expectation isn’t just to be pretty good,” Walsh said. With all of the changeover offensively with the departure of Williams and quarterback Andre Broadous, the defense “might need to carry us for three or four weeks.”