As Wake Forest quarterbacks coach Tom Elrod ventures into the 2010 season without graduated veteran Riley Skinner, the winningest quarterback in school history, he does so seeking one half-joking requirement for the next man up: “Somebody who won’t hyperventilate when they get out there.”
It’s a characteristic that not even spring or summer camp might reveal, as none of the coaches have seen any of this year’s quarterbacks in a relevant game situation. Ted Stachitas has the most experience to offer, and that was one series against Elon last year.
“I don’t know that we feel good about them until they get a good, for-real game under their belt,” said coach Jim Grobe. “I like what we’ve got -- I like the kids who are playing quarterback for us, but even in practices, even in scrimmages, it’s just really hard to tell who the guys are until they get in a game that really means something.”
The good news for Grobe and his staff is that there isn’t a shortage of candidates, despite the departure of Skinner and his backup, Ryan McManus.
Stachitas, who succeeded Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback at Nease High School, threw for more than 5,000 yards in two seasons as the starter. He has since had two surgeries on his right shoulder, though, for a torn labrum he suffered his senior year. The first game during his senior year in high school, the second was to clean it out as a freshman at Wake.
Stachitas said it’s “pretty much 100 percent,” and he’s gotten most of his strength back.
“I definitely have a lot to work on,” Stachitas said. “I can get the plays down better, and my pocket presence, leadership, throwing on the run. Nobody’s perfect. I can improve on everything.”
Skylar Jones, a redshirt sophomore, was moved to wide receiver last year. He’s probably the fastest athlete on the team, but Elrod said Jones also throws the ball better than a lot of people realize. He just wasn’t asked to do much of that at Middletown High in Ohio.
At 6-foot-2, Brendan Cross is biggest of the three, and he is the strongest in the weight room, which the coaches like in terms of durability. He’s not as fast as Jones or Stachitas, but is the best pure thrower of the three, according to Elrod. Turner Faulk, a walk-on, is also a dual-threat, and incoming freshman Tanner Price will be given a chance to compete as well. Price compares more to Cross in size and strength.
“I am confident one of those guys will step forward,” Elrod said. “I think they all have a chance. We recruited them thinking they were good players and haven’t been surprised since any of them got here. We’ve got to be really smart as coaches. ... We can’t put as much on the quarterback as we did on a fifth-year senior. We’re confident one of them will step forward. I honestly don’t know which one will because none of them have had a lot of opportunities to do so.”
By necessity, that will change this year.
While the staff will have to be careful with how much they ask of their new starter, the number of dual-threat quarterbacks they have to choose from could also open up their playbook a bit.
“Previous to Riley, we were able to run the quarterback a bit,” Elrod said. “Riley was a better runner than people think, but he wasn’t a pure runner. ... The guys we have now give us another dimension where we’ll be able to carry some quarterback runs, and that’s put stress on the defense because at times you can block the ball when the quarterback is carrying the football. It gives you an extra person to block, on the perimeter or the interior, and we’ll look at that. It’s part of our job to fit personnel to your scheme and then also to say, ‘Hey, let’s make this thing fit who our quarterback is.’”
First, though, they have to figure out exactly who that is.