Amid the chattering fans, bellowing bullhorns and wafting smell of food, the football team took the field at Edberg-Olson Hall Saturday afternoon, breaking into two squads – Cherry and White.
The White squad may have won the game, 10-0, but the performances by both offenses clouded an otherwise clear, sunny day.
“We’ve got to start playing the guys who make the best decisions,” coach Al Golden said. “That’s not acceptable, especially in the realm of penalties and decision-making.”
And for the offense, that might not necessarily mean those who currently top the depth chart.
The biggest question mark entering the spring and, now, the summer, lies at the quarterback position, which Golden said will be decided about 10 days into training camp in August. Redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton did himself no favors Saturday afternoon, throwing three interceptions for the Cherry squad, and allowing counterpart redshirt sophomore Chester Stewart to gain ground in the all-important competition.
“Oh, yeah, I thought Chester helped himself today,” Golden said. “The lights came on. He did a good job. He didn’t have the first-team line in front of him. I thought he did a good job of commanding the offense. But it can all be washed down the drain when he takes a personal foul on the 5-yard line. And that’s the bottom line.”
Both quarterbacks completed 14 passes in the scrimmage for 125 yards and 197 yards, respectively, but Stewart won the touchdown-to-turnover battle, leading the White team down the field at the start of the fourth quarter for its lone endzone score.
But he wasn’t without his own on-the-field blunder, committing a 15-yard personal foul at the Cherry 5-yard line that ultimately cost his team another scoring opportunity.
“I thought I played well, but the penalty really killed my day,” Stewart said. “It was a stupid penalty that took us out of scoring range. It ended that drive. Coach said something about it during the game, but I still expect to hear about it. He was just letting me know that I have to be a leader on this team, and that was a selfish, immature play.”
Former starting quarterback Adam DiMichele, set to graduate in May, said he thinks the determining factor in who wins the starting spot will come down to minimizing those mistakes.
“I think both of them played well today. Obviously, Chester has the more gaudy stats and made some deeper throws, but I don’t think coaches really judge who won the game,” he said. “It’s been pretty even in my eyes. But [redshirt sophomore Mike] Gerardi’s got a really good arm and is a pretty good athlete. He’s just looking for that one opportunity.”
And that seems to be the prevailing theme entering training camp.
Senior wide receivers Jason Harper and Dy’Onne Crudup seem fairly entrenched in their starting positions but didn’t do much to fill up the stat sheet or make their presence felt during the game.
Instead, that belonged to junior wide receiver Delano Green and freshman wide receiver Matt Brown.
Green spent most of last season on special teams returning punts. Saturday afternoon, he caught eight passes from Stewart for 102 yards.
“I’ve been preparing for this day, and I came out today and just told myself I would work extremely hard,” Green said. “The receivers aren’t where we need to be, but we continue to work hard and get better every day. I definitely feel like there are receivers on this team who can fill Bruce [Francis’] shoes.”
One of those receivers could be Brown.
The 5-foot-5-inch, 160-pound freshman caught five passes for 48 yards and showed his quickness on the rushing end, exploding for 36 yards on a reverse.
“Height is not any reason on our team not to play,” Golden said. “He’s competitive. He still has some mental errors, but the bottom line is he’s learned the whole offense here in four months and performed very well today. So, I’m encouraged by him.”
Brown could see time on special teams or in the backfield, though he’ll have to get past sophomore Kee-ayre Griffin, redshirt senior Lamar McPherson and sophomore Ahkeem Smith first.
Of those three, Griffin had the most balanced day running and receiving, though Smith racked up the most total yardage on the ground, gaining 78 yards on 22 carries.
“Ahkeem’s had a good spring. I think he helped himself,” Golden said. “We hope he can give us the power running game that we need. He’s got good vision and gets downhill.”
With the last of the 15 spring practices ending with Cherry and White Day, Smith and the other players on the offense now must wait until August to make further impressions on the coaching staff.
“I was happy with the attitude and effort all spring, but I was just disappointed in our discipline today,” Golden said. “We have no excuses come August. It’s time for some of those guys to grow up and step up.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.