South Alabama Maj. Applewhite in no rush to cut quarterback run
Shortly after spring training ended in 2021, South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack and offensive coordinator Maj. Applewhite named Jake Bentley the Jaguars starting quarterback.
That may not necessarily be the case this spring, Applewhite said Friday. Quarterback continues to be a three-way battle between junior Desmond Trotter, second Tanner McGee and Toledo transfer Carter Bradley, with redshirt rookie Eli Gainey out for the spring after back surgery.
“We’ve been focused on improving as a team right now,” Applewhite said. “We understand that September is a long way off. … We want the best quarterback room we can get, because we played several last year in college football. You’ll probably play a save at some point, unfortunately. So we want to build a big quarterback room, let those guys get into it this spring, let them through June, July and their OTAs. And then we’ll go back to fall camp and go from there.
Trotter has the most South Alabama experience of the three, having started 16 games over the past three seasons. Trotter replaced the injured Bentley in two season-ending games in 2021, passing for 596 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.
And it was Trotter who won most of the No. 1 repeats this spring. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound Birmingham native said he’s comfortable ahead of his second season in charge of Applewhite’s offense.
“This year I’m a lot more comfortable and I’m very confident right now,” Trotter said. “Just being able to see things differently and see the ‘why’ when we’re right. With Tanner and I, it’s our second year on offense, so we’ve both matured with that. And Carter came in and played really well. We all help each other. It’s a great competition. »
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound McGee saw no action last season after appearing in two games as a rookie in 2020. McGee replaced the injured Trotter late in a November game at Arkansas State , passing for 145 yards and two touchdowns. .
McGee shared second-team reps with Bradley during the first week of spring camp. The North Carolina native said he was able to learn a lot by watching and learning in 2021, but was happy to be involved in some real competition this spring.
“It was a good opportunity last year to get into the playbook and see how Coach Applewhite handled the stuff of the season,” McGee said. “I got to see the game plan every week and learn from it week after week. … It’s a small quarterback room this spring, but we’re pushing ourselves every day to improve.
Bradley is the intriguing newcomer, having passed for 2,377 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 22 career games at Toledo. He is also the son of a coach, Gus Bradley, defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.
The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Bradley probably has the strongest arm of the three, but he’s also mobile enough. He said he was referred to the South Alabama program after seeing what fellow Jacksonville native (and current New England Patriots quarterback) Mac Jones accomplished in Alabama, where Applewhite was a part. staff before joining the Jaguars – and bringing elements of the Crimson Tide offense – in 2021.
“When I first spoke to Coach Applewhite, he showed me a lot of videos of what they did with Mac Jones in Alabama,” Bradley said. “I feel like my style with Mac is pretty similar. We’re both from Jacksonville so we’re talking. I already knew what style of play was going to be. So I feel like I’m well connected on offense – the return play and the action play, the outfield reads and stuff like that. That’s more my comfort zone.
As with Applewhite, Wommack didn’t hint at which quarterback might have the advantage in the early spring. He said he’s seen good things from all three this spring.
“Desmond has really taken steps in the right direction,” Wommack said. “He’s learning to use his feet the right way. I think he has become more precise in the passing game, which is exciting. … He needs to become a more consistent player across the board to establish he’s the guy.
“Tanner McGee has taken a big step in the right direction. He is certainly from an athletic point of view, what you are looking for. And then Carter Bradley, to come in five days, to be where he is at this point, I think he had a real urgency to understand our system. Major did a good job with him. And then obviously, his arm talent is quite huge.
• Training 5 took place on Friday, putting the Jaguars one third into spring training. Wommack said he “likes the direction” the team is moving in from a physical standpoint.
“We are becoming a more physical football team at all levels,” Wommack said. “It starts with the offensive and defensive lines. Our coaches have done a lot to challenge our players; our players challenge and challenge each other. There’s more accountability built into the team and that obviously helps us move forward at an efficient pace. Some of these young people are doing very good things. Some of these new guys that we bring into the program are doing what we expected of them as older transfers.
“So I think we’re going in the right direction, but there’s so much work to do.”
Southern Alabama will host scrimmages April 1-9, with the annual red-blue spring game scheduled for April 16 at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
• Wommack noted three players who were particularly impressive, running back La’Damian Webb, receiver Allen Dailey and offensive lineman Trey Simpson. He also highlighted the performance of the entire group of wide receivers, as well as the defense as a whole.
“La’Damian Webb continues to stand out for the way he operates and does things,” Wommack said. “I think Allen Dailey did a terrific job. Away from an offensive standpoint, Trey Simpson has been doing some really good things, just improving his game – a guy who continues to improve in our program. I am really impressed with our large reception room. I think they are just in competition. They do a great job of knowing what to do on a much higher level, understanding the little nuances of our passing game, which is really complex. Uh, and then from a defensive perspective, I think there’s just an overall relentless retail culture and a “Swarm D” mentality that everyone is starting to embody there.
Webb transferred from Jones College and had many big plays in every practice, while Dailey returned to the team this spring after leaving at the start of last season. Veteran Simpson has worked at both center and guard this spring.
• Simpson isn’t the only offensive lineman to ‘train all-round’ this spring, as Anterrious Gray, a starting guard last season, has been mostly tackling. Applewhite said it was partly out of necessity due to multiple injured players (he’s tackling Antawn Lewis, Adrein Strickland and Josh McCulloch and keeping Kent Foster among them), but also in preparation for the 2022 season.
“Now is the time to do it,” Applewhite said. “We have to find the top five. And we’re limited with a few injuries and some guys healing through rehab, but it’s time to see ‘Can your center play tackle? Can your guard play tackle? Can this guard break the ball? … We must be able to have these things in mind. When things change in the middle of the season, we have a guy who can slip there.
The first-team offensive line most days this spring has been Reggie Smith at left tackle, Simpson at left guard, James Jackson at center, Reid Gavin at right guard and Gray at right tackle. The second team was Wyatt Green at left tackle, Dontae Lucas at left guard, Simpson or Sam Williams at center, Kenton Jerido at right guard and Tyler Jernigan at right tackle.
• South Alabama takes the weekend off before returning to practice on Monday morning.