Just how important is the quarterback position to the Tribe? Lang Campbell, ’05, led the College to an Atlantic Ten conference championship in 2004, averaging 285 yards per game passing and throwing for 30 touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, senior Mike Potts and junior Jake Phillips have taken over quarterbacking duties and have gone on to average 218 and 212 yards per game in 2005 and 2006, respectively, while the two have combined to toss only 35 touchdowns over the two-year stretch. Despite boasting Elijah Brooks, one of the most prolific runners in College history, in the backfield, the Tribe has suffered back-to-back losing seasons since Campbell’s departure.
p. As Potts enters his final season and Phillips his fourth, the questions at quarterback still remain. Heading into Saturday’s Green-Gold scrimmage, which signifies the end of spring workouts, not only has neither quarterback emerged as Head Coach Jimmye Laycock’s choice to head the offense come August, but another player has entered the fray. Sophomore R.J. Archer, who materialized into one of the Tribe’s biggest receiving threats last season, has donned a red jersey this spring, testing his luck as a signal caller. The result is a Tribe offense that now sports three quarterbacks all capable of starting.
p. “It’s difficult in the spring to get the number of scrimmage or team type of situations to fully develop the quarterbacks and evaluate them,” Laycock said. “But right now, I couldn’t pick one of the three, but I’m not displeased with any of the three. I feel like all of them are doing well and are improving.”
In 2005, Potts began the season as the Tribe’s starter, but suffered some setbacks that caused Laycock to insert Phillips, whose play earned him the starting role to open the 2006 campaign. However, Phillips struggled last season, and Potts found himself once again starting games for the College. Yet because of problems throughout the offense, both were seeing extensive action under center by the end of the year, and the Tribe closed their disappointing season without a clear-cut starting quarterback.
p. Now fast forward to this spring, where Potts and Phillips continue to share snaps and Archer is proving he merits consideration at quarterback. Laycock and his staff are faced with the difficult task of choosing the starter, a dilemma with no clear answer in the immediate future.
p. “I don’t know [when I would name a starting quarterback]. I really don’t know,” Laycock said. “I would hope at least 10 days prior to the [Delaware] game that we are there. I’ve been there a few times before and you would like to get a starter as soon as possible, but I don’t want to set a date.”
p. While the uncertainty might bother some, Potts, Phillips and Archer all understand the importance of showing up each day motivated to work hard and to get better, both as a team and individually.
p. “We pretty much know we need to be more consistent,” Potts said. “On a day in and day out basis, we are working hard to focus on every single rep and be consistent every day in practice. It’s on us to step up and make that happen.”
p. Each has had a similar spring, at times looking extremely sharp and at times struggling with bad decisions. Regardless, all three have shown the talent necessary to lead the College next year.
“I feel like all three of us could play,” Archer said. “It’s kind of a rare situation to have a team where there are three quarterbacks that could be on the field.”
p. The onus will be on the quarterback even more this season, as all-conference assets Brooks, Cody Morris and Matt Trinkle have all exhausted their eligibility.
p. “All those guys were rocks on our offense, guys you could definitely count on,” Phillips said. “It is going to be tough to replace those guys, but right now we are excited because we have a lot of guys stepping up.”
p. Having spent two seasons platooning under center, Phillips is aware of what is expected of him and the veteran is forcing the looming quarterback controversy to the back of his mind.
p. “I’m just trying to take it one practice at a time, just trying to help and put the team in the best position to win and be successful,” Phillips said. “I’m just trying to find that unity in the offense, to mesh, and to get better and better … what happens happens, and everything will unfold itself.”
p. Potts understands the possibilities as well, but he is also mature enough to realize that each quarterback must step up and work to improve in his own way.
p. “I can’t compete against one guy, I’ve just got to compete against myself and try to be the best that I can every day,” Potts said. “I’d like to say ‘yeah, I’ll step up and be the guy,’ but I mean you never know because that’s not my decision to make.”
p. Archer’s foray into the quarterback position has been a successful one so far, as the former wide out has quickly adjusted to his new role on the team.
p. “I think it’s coming back to me,” Archer said. “I’m not completely pleased. There is definitely stuff I can improve on. I’m definitely my toughest critic so I feel like there is always something I can do better.”
p. Because of each quarterback’s strong performances this spring, don’t expect Laycock to force the role of starter onto only one player. Last year the coach shuffled through Potts and Phillips often, and he is not ruling out the option again this season, as long as the results are successful.
p. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do in order to move the ball and get a chance to win,” Laycock said.
p. All three quarterbacks are determined to propel the Tribe to a winning season this year, as last year’s disappointing season has so far provided added incentive to perform.
p. “The players on this team are extra motivated to play next season and to rebound from last year,” Phillips said. “We know we can do a lot better and we are excited to get the season started.”