Backup quarterback battle heating up
By David Merrill
MARSHALL- As long as Southwest Minnesota State’s Charlie Kern can stay healthy, the starting quarterback job is in pretty safe hands.
That’s why the Mustangs training camp drills feature a more intense battle: the fight for the backup job.
Redshirt freshman Blake Gimbel and junior Chris Stemen saw most of the reps after Kern in fall camp Tuesday, but coach Cory Sauter isn’t making too much of that yet.
“I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions that way,” Sauter said. “Sometimes they’re going to get some reps with the ones, sometimes we’ll rotate in (senior Cody) McCleve. We always want to keep them on their toes.
“I don’t want them to ever feel like they are in a comfort zone where they know they’re going to be the backup or the starter. We want to keep them hungry.”
While the first time around was just installing the plays and packages and getting the quarterbacks comfortable, they are now getting through their second time in the situations.
This allows the coaches to further evaluate the quarterbacks in a number of areas.
“We need to see how they react in each of those situations,” Sauter said. “Not just on 1st and 10 and 2nd and 6. We need to look at how they perform in the red zone and on 3rd and 7 when you have to get a first down.”
The main goal with the drills in practice is making sure the quarterbacks understand the bigger picture. Sauter wants them to understand where the defenders and the receivers are going to be.
The drills toward the end of the practice don’t feature a defensive and offensive line, so the younger quarterbacks can get a better grasp of what they need to do.
“It’s a chance for the other guys to see it all and take it all in under a less stressful situation,” Sauter said. “It’s just a progression. I think that’s a good way for us to end practice.”
For Gimbel, the biggest thing his discussions with Sauter have been about are repititions and staying persistent.
“He’s been talking to me about just being consistent,” Gimbel said. “You set the tone in practice every day and the other guys are going to follow that. If you stay consistent, the other guys are going to follow that.”
Gimbel, a Marshalltown, Iowa, native, is coming into his freshman season with a list of things to improve upon.
One of the biggest things is learning how each play progresses.
“My reads were the biggest thing I needed to work on coming in here,” Gimbel said. “Guys are faster than you would expect. You have to be quick with your thoughts and quick with the ball.”
For Stemen, a Marshfield, Wisconsin, native, correcting the mistakes he has made so far in training camp has been at the top of his list with Sauter.
Not repeating mistakes is something Sauter preaches every day.
“It’s not making the same mistakes twice,” Stemen said. “Mistakes are fine the first time, but every time we’ll have a practice and then we’ll go back and review film. He (Sauter) will give us notes about everything that we do and we’ll go back and correct it. He expects that we’ll never make the same mistake twice.”
The passing and receiving drills in practice have also gave Stemen newfound confidence in a receiving corps that returns just one starter, Jordan Cross, from last year’s 7-5 team that averaged just under 41 points per game.
“Over the summer, I wasn’t sure how they were going to be able to handle the role,” Stemen said. “Our receivers have really stepped up. They’ve jumped to the learning curve really quickly, which is really nice to know.”
While the stable of quarterbacks will continue to battle it out for the backup spot the rest of camp, the feud for the positing isn’t going to die down anytime soon.
That’s all part of the lack of comfortability Sauter has created for the spot.
“It’s really intense,” Stemen said. “Every day, you have to work and get better, otherwise you are going to give somebody the spot that you want. When you’re in there, you have to give your whole team the right rep. It’s really a great opportunity to get yourself and your team better.”