April 9, 2012

QB race going down to the wire

As the Southern Miss football team embarked on its final week of spring practice Monday afternoon at M.M. Roberts Stadium, first-year head coach Ellis Johnson was paying some extra attention to his three quarterbacks.

The trio of red-shirt sophomore Chris Campbell, red-shirt freshman Ricky Lloyd and red-shirt freshman Cole Weeks haven't done anything to separate themselves from each other in the first three weeks of spring ball, and now it looks more than ever like the competition will continue deep into fall camp.

"I think 'important' is a fair word," Johnson said. "I think its 'important' that we know who is number one, or at least know who is capable of doing what. It's not 'critical' to know who is number one, because we do have the preseason and we have two more players coming in who we think can compete.

"I think it's safe to say everyone would love to know their quarterback situation is settled, and sooner rather than later. We just don't have that luxury. We lost a four-year starter and we don't have a quarterback on the roster who has taken significant snaps at the college level. When you have a situation like that, this is what you get."

The talk of the camp has been the evenness of the position battle, and the two scrimmages open to the media have done little to expand on what coaches and teammates have said all along: Campbell makes the better reads, Lloyd has the bigger arm and Weeks has that Austin Davis underdog-mentality.

Even the receivers, who work more closely with the quarterbacks than anyone, can't make a call on who has the edge headed into Saturday's spring game.

"Its back-and-forth day by day," sophomore receiver Chris Briggs said. "Because everyone has something they bring to the table that the other guys don't have. For example, Chris has experience and makes better decisions and Ricky is a little faster and has a big arm. But when you balance it out, they are all pretty equal. All three are capable of throwing pretty balls though. I feel like I can connect with any of the three."

Off the field, the trio are friends. But that hasn't watered down the competition.

Weeks and Lloyd both said Monday they expect the battle for the number one spot to extend all the way until the week before the season opener at Nebraska on Sept. 1. Lloyd said it could extend beyond that, especially if he still finds himself at No. 2 on the depth chart, as he is right now behind Campbell.

"I believe it's going to be a competition throughout the season," he said. "I have a lot of respect for Chris as a person and as a player, but he knows we're competing for the same job. I know it's going to be a good competition to watch, because I know how hard we're both working right now."

While the staff is happy with the effort they've received from all three quarterbacks, Johnson said he hopes adding Petal star Anthony Alford and Mt. Pisgah Christian quarterback Kyle Sloter to the mix in the fall will light a fire under the other three's rear ends.

"Frankly, I'm sort of glad and I'm not surprised that they are all so equal right now." Johnson said. "It doesn't make my decision-making any easier, but it's good to know they are all competing and pushing each other."

Weeks' story

It can be argued that one of those three quarterbacks took significant snaps last season.

Weeks helped Southern Miss by running the scout-team offense, and apparently USM was lucky to have him.

The Freeport, Fla. native signed with Brevard College, a small division II school in North Carolina out of high school. The Brevard coaching staff, under head coach Paul Hamilton, had led him to believe they were going to tweak their strict triple-option offense to include more passing.

That didn't turn out to be the case.

"I was a little disappointed," Weeks said. "Spring came around and I got my release for contact with other schools. I talked to (former tight ends/recruiting coordinator Robert Matthews), and he told me they would give me a shot down here. I jumped on the opportunity."

And that decision has paid off for him. He's made fast friends around the football program and has the respect of his teammates for how hard he's worked.

Weeks said looking back, he wouldn't change his decision and can't think of a better situation than the one he's in now, competing for the number one spot at the FBS level.

"I absolutely love it here in Hattiesburg," he said. "I love the area and the people. I've made so many friends, and that was big because I literally didn't know anyone when I first got here."

Looking for another corner

Junior Deron Wilson still has a lock on one cornerback position, but who will man other spot is apparently a long way from settled.

With senior Marcal Robinson missing nearly 85 percent of practice time this spring due to injury, it's opened the door for guys like junior Alex Walters and sophomore Tray Becton-Martin.

Walters has been running with the first string since Robinson went down, but Johnson said the position is still likely Robinson's to win.

"Alex's practice last Wednesday was a little inconsistent." Johnson said. "We had a little mini-scrimmage and we graded it like a regular scrimmage. The two safeties had good days.

"I just looked down at the depth chart and we have four other guys competing for that other corner spot opposite Wilson. Deron has had a great camp, but the other guys are still competing for that other spot. I would compare it to our quarterback situation, where nobody has stood out compared to the other guys."

With Robinson two practices into his return, it will be interesting to see which corner draws the start in Saturday's spring game.

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