South Alabama quarterback competition heats up again this spring

For what seems like every fall or spring since the program launched in 2009, South Alabama once again has an open competition at quarterback.

The Jaguars entered the first spring under new coach Steve Campbell with four scholarship quarterbacks: seniors Dallas Davis, Cole Garvin and Evan Orth, plus redshirt freshman Cephus Johnson. Davis and Garvin split time in 2017 under the old coaching staff, but Campbell has insisted that the job under center remains open indefinitely.

"I think they’re understanding the offense," Campbell said Saturday. "We’ve thrown a lot at them — we’re going no-huddle, we’ve got a lot of tempo stuff in. We’re playing fast, a lot of different units, formations, tempo packages, RPO stuff. I like the way they’ve been able to handle it so far. Now, we haven’t gone with any ‘live bullets’ so far. It will definitely pick up when we get in pads."

Davis (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is healthy at the beginning of practice for the first time since the fall of 2016, having undergone shoulder surgery at the end of that season. He missed all of last spring and was still suffering lingering effects as fall camp began in 2017.

The fifth-year senior from Panama City, Fla., played in nine games last season, completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 1,355 yards and eight touchdowns with seven interceptions. He said he and his quarterback cohorts are adjusting well to the new offense.

"It feels good," Davis said. "It’s a whole new system, but after the first couple of days, I think we’re real happy with it. You can never be satisfied, but every day keeps getting better and better. … Terminology has been the biggest challenge, because it’s a whole new offense."

Garvin won the starting job in fall camp last year, only to suffer a sprained ankle in Week 2 of the season and missing three games. He eventually won the job back from Davis, and started each of the season’s last four games.

In eight games, Garvin (6-1, 205) completed 52.9 percent of his passes for 1,490 yards, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. The fifth-year senior from Newnan, Ga., said he and his fellow veteran quarterbacks are used to the competition.

"It’s a different offense, but it’s still the same competition," Garvin said. "I feel like all of us have done good. None of us has had a bad day so far. We’ve all made really good decision with ours throws."

Orth, also a fifth-year senior, played sparingly last season as the third-stringer. He got into just two games and attempted one pass, but added a 41-yard run against Idaho that ended up being the Jaguars’ second-longest of the season.

Orth (6-2, 205) had played his entire college career in an offense designed by former USA coordinator Bryant Vincent, who also coached Orth as a freshman at UAB. He said the new offense is a change from previous years.

"It’s a whole new playbook," Orth said. "I’d been with coach Vincent my whole career, so that’s been different. But it’s going well. We’re taking it slow and getting more installed every day."

Johnson, a redshirt freshman, is the lone scholarship quarterback without any college experience. But at 6-5 and 210 pounds, he’s easily the most imposing physically among the group.

Johnson was a star at Davidson High School, and spent the 2017 season watching and learning. He’s had to largely start over with the installation of a new offense this spring.

"I feel like either way it would have been a fair (competition)," Johnson said. "But this offense, it seems like it’s coming to me a lot quicker. It’s been going pretty well."

Campbell has said the competition at quarterback will extend into the fall, and hasn’t ruled out the possibility that more than one could play in a given game. He pointed out prior to the spring that his teams at Delta State and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College won national championship while playing more than one quarterback.

New offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kenny Edenfield will also have input in the decision and to which quarterback or quarterbacks get on the field in 2018. He said the Jaguars would ideally have a general idea of the pecking order at the position by the end of spring.

"I think they’ve done a really nice job of having an idea of what we’re trying to install," Edenfield said. "In the long run, we’ll have to work on details, but I think they’ve done a nice job of knowing where to go with the football. … I think they’ve been studying on their own, working on learning our system. I’m excited about it."

* South Alabama practiced in shorts and helmets for the second straight time on Saturday, and will take the next two days off. The Jaguars will make the transition to full pads on Tuesday.

The first group on the offensive line during team drills Saturday was Noah Fisher at left tackle, Roy Albritton at left guard, Zach Davis at center, Nelson Santiago at right guard and Ryan Alexander at right tackle. The second group consisted of Zeke Powell at left tackle, Brian Ankerson at left guard, Hadon Merchant at center, Rowan Godwin at right guard and Troy Thingstad at right tackle. (Senior Tyler Grimsley, a returning starter at guard, remains sidelined while recovering from knee surgery).

On defense, all three new junior-college transfers — tackle Jordon Beaton, linebacker Roy Yancey and cornerback Travis Reed — were working with the first team on Saturday. Beaton, Yancey and Reed all signed with the Jaguars in December and enrolled in school in January.

(Standard disclaimer that all lineups and playing rotations are subject to daily change, particularly this early in spring camp).

Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabriel celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Alabama in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament Saturday, March 10, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Mark Fox is out after nine seasons as head basketball coach at Georgia. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta-Journal Constitution via AP)

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