Saturday’s Cal Poly quarterback showdown won’t be in ideal conditions, but it has nothing to do with the weather.
Forecasts are calling for moderate temperatures and partly cloudy skies for the Mustangs football team’s training camp scrimmage at the upper fields of the Sports Complex.
Scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. and last for at least 80 plays, the scrimmage is a chance for Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh to cut a group of four candidates to one starter.
But the quarterbacks — junior Vince Moraga, sophomore Chris Brown, redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin and sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves — will not have their full complement of weapons or protection as preseason injuries are beginning to pile up.
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Among those on the mend are leading receiver Willie Tucker (foot) and starting slotback Cole Stanford (ankle). Senior offensive linemen Lefi Letuligasenoa, Mike Freeman and Giovanni Sani are still rehabbing various offseason surgeries and will be held out of the scrimmage.
And sophomore Kyle Zottneck, a returning starter at guard, was lost for the season when it was determined in camp that he needed a second shoulder surgery.
Most of those hurt are expected to be ready for the Aug. 31 season opener against visiting San Diego.
Walsh said Tucker could play a handful of snaps, but the quarterbacks, who are expected to see equal repetitions with the first-team offense and against the first-team defense, will already start with a competitive disadvantage against a mostly healthy and experienced defense.
“Lot of times you can play well and something bad happens and you don’t handle that well,” Walsh said. “It’s as much about playing the position as it is how much we execute.
“There’s a lot of things we’ll find out Saturday,” Walsh added. In a way, the injuries are “good because that’s adversity, and you have to find out how you deal with it.”
Walsh said the script of plays for each quarterback will attack each one’s weaknesses as much as it will highlight their strengths.
Walsh has said he wants to see improvement in weak areas from each of the quarterbacks, who have been battling evenly since the start of spring drills.
In Moraga’s mind, it’s to “score points,” the junior said, “sustain drives, show that I’m the guy that can put points on the board, whether it be in the pass game or the run game.”
Moraga was the primary backup to Andre Broadous last season and is looking at the scrimmage as a “big opportunity. We’re going to have a lot of plays. As far as bodies being down, our o-linemen are really going to have to pick it up. We really only have two sets of them.”
Brown, who has been healthy after missing much of the spring with an injury in his non-throwing wrist, is trying to dial down the pressure.
“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Brown said. “I’m not trying to think outside of the box and think about it too hard because that’s when mistakes happen.
“I’ve just got to control what I can control, just go out there and play every down play-by-play and down- by-down, move the chains and basically try to control the game.”
After showing off his passing skills against the defense with the scout team last season, Trosin is focused on his decision-making and execution in the running portion of Cal Poly’s triple-option offense.
He needs to “just go out there, get the guys going, keep the tempo up,” Trosin said.
“It’s an opportunity to get better fundamentally and work on the things that I need to work on and get the balls to the playmakers and get better as a team.”
Graves also acknowledged the mounting injuries and looks at them as a chance to showcase poise.
“We’re low on bodies,” Graves said. “My ability to show if things aren’t going well to stay composed and show my maturity. But really, when it comes down to it, just make all the right decisions.”
The defense has not gotten away completely unscathed on the injury front.
Redshirt freshman safety B.J. Nard, a competitor for playing time, was lost to a knee injury, and though complete test results have yet to come back, Walsh feared Nard could be lost for the season.
Junior safety Dave Douglas is also rehabbing offseason hip surgery and is being held out from practice until it sees significant improvement, and former Nipomo High standout Kevin Britt is back on the sideline, too.
The sophomore cornerback is battling a hamstring injury related to the back trouble that has kept him off the field most of the past two seasons, Walsh said.
“We’d like to see him play, and he wants to, too,” Walsh said. “But he’s not firing like we think he can fire every day, and we just don’t think he can last every day. It would be better to get him out for a while and see if he can come back a little better, too.”
The secondary did get some relief with the return of senior cornerback Bijon Samoodi. The former starter was waiting on a summer school grade to clear and has rejoined the team this week after missing all of last season following hip surgery.
Samoodi has to play into shape and get readjusted to game speed.
“He hasn’t played in a year and a half,” Walsh said, “but we expect him at some point in time to bet he Bijon of old. But there’s Vante Smith-Johnson, Karlton Dennis and Chris Fletcher, and Dom Love has improved tremendously. Fernando Cabico. We’re good at corner.”