A classic quarterback battle brews down at Edberg-Olson Hall during the football team’s spring practices.
Redshirt junior Vaughn Charlton, though listed first on the depth chart, splits his reps 50-50 with redshirt sophomore Chester Stewart. Redshirt sophomore Mike Gerardi also sees some action, while incoming freshman Chris Coyer watches from the sidelines on Saturdays, when he often drives up from Virginia to acclimate himself with his teammates, the campus and the offense.
And that’s the way it will stay for the foreseeable future, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Rhule said.
“I really don’t know when the decision will be made. I really don’t,” Rhule said. “That’s the head coach’s call. It’s my job to get all the quarterbacks ready. It’s their job to win the job.”
Charlton, who redshirted in 2008 so he could have two full years of eligibility with Adam DiMichele set to graduate, played in seven games his sophomore season, starting four of them when DiMichele went down with a season-ending injury. He completed 78 of his 137 attempted passes for 808 yards and three touchdowns. In 2006, as a freshman, Charlton made three starts, again for an injured DiMichele, throwing for 417 yards and two touchdowns.
Stewart replaced DiMichele last season when the senior quarterback hurt his right throwing shoulder against Penn State and missed three games. He played in 11 games, starting three and completing 53 passes for 524 yards and four touchdowns.
“The first six practices we’re installing our offense, so there’s a lot of mistakes that everyone makes, including the quarterbacks,” Rhule said. “But I think they both really want to play, so they’ve really studied. They’ve worked hard. They’ve all played pretty well. What’s going to be the key for me is who really accelerates their development now that the installation’s done, and they’re not out there saying what do I have. They know what they’re doing. We’ll see over the next seven practices who can really play. If you repeatedly make plays, we don’t care what you did. We care what you do.”
Neither quarterback was available for comment on the issue, per coach Al Golden’s policy that places them off-limits to the media throughout spring practice.
Golden was also unavailable to answer questions.
Senior wide receivers Dy’Onne Crudup and Jason Harper have worked with Charlton and Stewart in the past when DiMichele was out and now practice with both on the first-team offense. Both said leadership will be a determining factor in the battle.
“Both quarterbacks are doing really well right now, but I think what’s going to take over between the two of them is whoever can lead the team down the field better,” Harper said. “They’re both pretty much the same. They both got good arms and size [Charlton’s listed at 6-feet-4-inches and 235 pounds, Stewart at 6-feet-3-inches and 225.].”
Crudup agreed with Harper.
“It’s just a toss-up,” he said. “One day, one’s having a good day, and the other’s not. It’s back-and-forth. Either-or is fine with me. Coach will probably make the decision when we get to camp [in August].”
Two years ago, Golden had to make a similar decision between Charlton and DiMichele.
Now, DiMichele roams the sidelines at Edberg-Olson Hall, serving as Rhule’s eyes and ears with the quarterbacks when the coordinator is busy directing the entire offense.
“Adam’s really serving two functions,” Rhule said. “When the quarterback is not playing, he’s going through the plays with them and making sure they know what’s their footwork, what’s their progression, what should their eyes be seeing. It’s sort of one-on-one tutoring. And then he’s also really helping them develop their leadership skills because Adam was a tremendous leader. He’s kind of stepped back and been kind of a coach and tutor.”
All that’s left now is for Golden to determine which quarterback leads the Owls into the 2009 season.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.