At the beginning of practices this spring, Terrel Hunt has been the man under center. The junior QB, the Texas Bowl MVP last December, has proven himself to be the clear front-runner for the starting job. But QB coach Tim Lester often reminds him to take a look over his shoulder at the competition.
"I always tell him that I'm going to get these young guys right," Lester said. "When I do, you better be ready. That's my best way as a coach to push him further. And that's our goal."
On Saturday at the Spring Game, a crowd of 4,071 got the chance to see what Hunt and Lester have seen over the past month. The passing attack led the offense to a 34-27 scrimmage win over the defense. In addition to Hunt, AJ Long, Mitch Kimble and Austin Wilson all had strong performances. All had touchdowns. That is, except for Hunt.
"It's a good problem to have," Lester said. "To have three guys that are all playing well enough that you get to throw them in there and see what they can do."
The quarterback rotation was the story of the day at the Carrier Dome. Whether it was Hunt, Long, Kimble, or Wilson, the result was the same – an onslaught of quick passes and big plays. Hunt started the game and had a stat line of 12-15 for 95 yards. After the game, he let his completion percentage do all the talking.
"12-15. That sounds pretty good to me," Hunt said.
But it was Kimble who threw, perhaps, the prettiest pass of the day. Kimble released the ball just as Jeremiah Kobena made his cut off a wheel route. The result? A perfectly timed pass that Kobena snatched in the end zone for a 15-yard catch.
"Mentally, he knows the offense," Lester said about Kimble. "He can go through the progressions. He's coming back off the back injury and had no ill effects the second half of the spring."
Kimble’s only weakness may be his long throwing motion. The coaching staff says it’s a byproduct of the back injury he is recovering from.
Austin Wilson came in during the second half and threw a pair of touchdowns. However, both scores were the result of great plays by the receivers rather than great throws. Ashton Broyld and Kobena took screen passes at the line of scrimmage and went 54 and 18 yards, respectively.
"I tell them all the time, you make us look good," Hunt said on his receivers. "We’re just giving you guys the ball."
Broyld dominated throughout the scrimmage. He also had a 64-yard catch from Kimble and a six-yard touchdown from Long.
"I like the way they take control of the huddle," Broyld said on the rotation of quarterbacks. "They really improved a lot over spring."
Right now, Kimble and Long are the two favorites for the backup position. Long completed a high percentage of his passes, but still needs work on his longer throws. Many of his passes weren’t clean spirals. On screen passes, he can get away with it. But on intermediate throws, it’s dangerous.
Although Hunt is projected to be the starter, Lester said that he won't be guaranteed the position.
"I would never say an absolute lock," Lester said. "You never know. Summer can change everything. An off-season can change everything, depending on how he comes in mentally."
Lester recalled his playing days as a quarterback at Western Michigan. When he was injured, his backup would fill in and win games. He didn’t want to stay out for very long and risk the possibility of being benched. In many ways, Lester uses his own personal experience to motivate Hunt.
"You're doing a good job," Lester said. "But can you be great? We're going to need somebody to be great to play in our league. He just needs to work on his consistency. If one of these other guys starts being consistent, it could be a heck of a battle."