By the end of spring practice, Cal Poly head football coach Tim Walsh said he would like to have an established hierarchy at the quarterback position, including a starter going into the fall.
There’s some sorting that will have to take place first — all while the offensive staff transitions from the loss of its playcaller.
With four strong contenders for the quarterback job vacated by the graduation of two-year starter Andre Broadous, the challenge will be allowing them all enough opportunities to win the job in just 15 practices.
“We would like to say you’re one, two, three and four,” Walsh said after the first practice at the Upper Sports Complex on Wednesday morning. “I really think that there’s some talent there, and we’ve got to make sure it’s clear-cut if we’re going to make that decision.”
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Walsh has always said he shies away from a dual quarterback system, and Wednesday was no different, but the coach said if the spring contest is too close to call, the Mustangs will go into fall camp letting the top two compete for the starting spot at that point.
At Wednesday’s practice, each of the four candidates — junior Vince Moraga, sophomore Chris Brown, redshirt freshman Tanner Trosin and sophomore Air Force transfer Dano Graves — split snaps with the first team.
In all, Walsh said each player had close to 30 repetitions to evaluate over the course of the practice, and the plan is to continue splitting the time equally.
“When we get through to that position at the end of spring,” Walsh said, “when we look at everything, the number of snaps will be pretty similar so all four guys know that they really got the opportunity.
“They’ve been told it’s going to be close. Who knows the reason we’re going to pick that guy because it probably isn’t going to be that big of a margin.”
Coaches have more than a dozen defined qualities that they’ll measure for each player, some empirical and some intangible.
Moraga is the most seasoned quarterback, having served last year as the primary backup to Broadous when the second unit came on in blowout games.
Playing in five games, Moraga was just 1-for-2 passing for 16 yards, but he ran 10 times for 76 yards while guiding Cal Poly’s triple option.
Moraga’s consistency in the run game is what earned him the playing time.
“Getting used to the speed, being in different environments, traveling to away games and playing a pretty good amount” were the benefits, Moraga said. “I’ve seen enough to where I can build on that and take it to another level. It doesn’t put me as the frontrunner. I still have a lot to prove, but I’m definitely considered the veteran.”
Brown played in the season opener, throwing an incomplete deep pass in his only action of the year. Trosin was on the scout team.
Both said they understand the value of making the most of their limited opportunities to make an impact in the spring.
Graves played at the Air Force Academy Prep School in 2011 and on the Falcons junior varsity team last year. He arrived on campus in San Luis Obispo little more than a week ago, and his biggest challenge is catching up to the other quarterbacks.
“The No. 1 thing for me is knowledge and learning the basics of the offense,” Graves said, “and learning all the hand signals, the motions and getting to that point where I’m no longer thinking and just playing.
“Mostly everything is new. We ran a lot of similar things at the Air Force Academy, but the terminology and the language is just different.”
And while the team gets to know each quarterback better, it’s also getting accustomed to a new coaching structure.
Former co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bryan Cook left for Georgia Tech last week. Walsh handed co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Saga Tuitele the full reins to the offense, and moved receivers coach Juston Wood, a former Arena League quarterback, to quarterbacks coach.
While both Tuitele and Wood have been at Cal Poly since Walsh arrived as head coach in 2009, there is still a transition period.
“There’s some newness for everybody,” Walsh said. “That’s just the nature of the deal, and I probably took more notes on the offensive side today than I did all of last year.
“Because of that, we understood the first two or three days, we’re going to go through a couple days of learning each other, but it’s going to get better. Coach Tuitele’s ready, but the difference is coach Tuitele has to make sure he maintains the success of the offensive line.”