The kickoff of the 2015 season for the Elon University football team will happen at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3 (weather permitting). With less than ten days until the Phoenix battles with Wake Forest University, the starting quarterback spot is still up for grabs.
For head coach Rich Skrosky, the decision was not any more clear after the third scrimmage on Saturday than it was beforehand.
“We’ve got to go in and watch the tape,” Skrosky said. “It’s been a good camp, though. They’ve both grown a lot, I think, in a lot of areas. I think it’s going to be close.”
With three scrimmages complete and one more to be played at Rhodes Stadium, Skrosky does not feel any pressure to name the quarterback now.
“I don’t have a date on it,” he said. “I’ve said that for a year now. Basically, I’m not going to rush into a wrong decision. [There’s] really no timetable.”
The two quarterbacks who have been splitting time with the first team offense are redshirt freshman Connor Christiansen and true freshman Daniel Thompson.
“[Skrosky] has not said a word,” Thompson said. “I think he’s just taking his time to fill out who is going to make our team better, and that’s all me and Connor want in the end. We want Elon to be great, and we want our team to win games.”
Thompson enrolled at Elon in the spring semester last year, and he and Christiansen have been battling for the starting spot since the start of spring practice.
“I’ve never really been a part of anything like this,” Christiansen said. ”But you look for the positives in this kind of situation. Daniel is obviously good, and he makes me a lot better.”
Thompson comes from a strong football family pedigree, as his brother Dylan was the starting quarterback at the University of South Carolina. After leading the Southeastern Conference in passing yards and completions, Dylan was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers, and is listed as third-string on the depth chart.
Christiansen readily admits he doesn’t have the same background.
“He’s very good in the classroom, and his family is all football,” Christiansen said after the third scrimmage. “My brother did fencing, and [Thompson’s] is an NFL quarterback.”
Even when competing against each other, Christiansen and Thompson readily help each other out.
“We’re good friends, and we’re both young,” Thomspon said. “We struggle with seeing a lot of stuff because we both haven’t been here long … When we see something, we go, ‘Hey, what did you see on that?’ We can help each other out, and with two brains, we can see everything a little bit better.”
The two quarterbacks have some noticeable differences: Christiansen is left-handed, Thompson is right-handed and Christiansen is more of a scrambling quarterback, Thompson is more of a pocket passer. With these distinctions, a two-quarterback system could be an option, which was used most prominently at Ohio State in 1997 (Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson split time) and at Florida in 2006 (Chris Leak was the main quarterback, but Tim Tebow got prominent time as a scrambling quarterback).
“I never have considered [the two-quarterback system], but never say never,” Skrosky said. “There’s no question that Connor brings an athletic element that Daniel doesn’t. But the difference isn’t as traumatic as Leak and Tebow were.
“It’s mostly about what they do in the pocket. Daniel is one of those guys that will stay in pocket and let the pass play develop a little longer. Whereas Connor, I think, adds that element that, if he sees everything dropping off, he’s not afraid to run, and he does. He covers a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
Even as the playing styles differ between the quarterbacks, the results from camp have made them tough to tell apart.
“Whether we go with playing both of them, the interesting thing from our standpoint as a staff, we have every statistic possible,” Skrosky said. “When you look at the empirical data, it’s pretty close. When you look at their percentage, productivity, yards per attempt … it’s a tough decision, which is a good thing.”
As the quarterbacks alternate between the first and the second teams, they get less time to work with their teammates on those teams, potentially not getting the same level of connection and cohesion as they could if the position was set.
For Skrosky, though, this issue hasn’t been a big problem.
“The great thing about it, and what makes it enjoyable for me, is that both kids have the credibility of their teammates,” he said. “They both have unbelievable character, they are two of the hardest workers on the team, they both are vocal and are able to interact with their teammates as a leader.
“All the intangible stuff that you want in a quarterback, they both have. They both have built up their credibility with the team, and whatever decision we end up making, both of them will be embraced by their teammates.”
With both quarterbacks being freshmen, as well as many other freshmen around the offensive side of the ball, Elon projects to start multiple players who will be in their first college games.
“It’s awesome,” said Skrosky, with a smile. “I think we got good, young talent. There’s no question about it. We feel like we’re moving forward. The question is, ‘How are they gonna respond next Thursday night?’ Nobody knows.
“You hope that, when the lights go on, they do what they do. And we hope we put them in enough stressful situations in practice that, when the lights come on at Wake Thursday night, and the consecutive Saturdays thereafter, they are ready to go.
“[We hope] they’ve done enough and they just go out and have fun.”