WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary's gaggle of quarterbacks graded well in the meeting room this spring. They recognized defenses, understood adjustments and appreciated the value of technique.
"Tremendous improvement," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said.
If only that progress translated to the field. If only all of the quarterbacks were on the field.
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Zable Stadium, Williamsburg, VA
Such has been Rogers' lot during spring practice, which concluded with a Saturday scrimmage at Zable Stadium.
"It's still a highly competitive situation," Rogers said. "I'm not being evasive, or anything else. But really, no decision can be made until we get the full group of them out there. …
"I don't think anybody at this point and time has risen to the top where you're going to say, 'Hey, this is the guy.' … We've just got to be more consistent on the field. At times we do things pretty well, and then all of a sudden that clunker comes up."
Clunkers such as quarterback Christian Brumbaugh and tailback Mikal Abdul-Saboor botching a handoff exchange on Saturday's second snap. Clunkers such as Steve Cluley, another quarterback candidate, throwing two interceptions.
"They all have a long way to go," head coach Jimmye Laycock said after Saturday's proceedings.
Adding to the coaching staff's angst: With seasoned receivers and an established defense, quality quarterback play may be all that separates the Tribe from ending a three-season playoff drought.
"What I try to emphasize is, 'Hey men, we don't have to do anything special. Just make the routine plays routinely,' " Rogers said. "And most of the time they do, just not consistently enough for me.
"We have the luxury of having a great defense. Let's not put the defense in a bad situation, and let's just do the things we can do. And the quarterback, he's going to dictate how many pages you can open in the playbook. It's great when you get a guy where the world is your oyster. Just open a page and pick a play, and that's what we hope we can get to."
Brumbaugh and Cluley, a junior and sophomore, respectively, split time with the first-team offense Saturday, while sophomore Frank Brown from Bethel High and walk-on Mike Yankovich shared time with the second unit.
Brown posted the best stats, competing 7 of 9 passes for 82 yards, 21 coming on a scoring toss to Flynn Heald in the right corner of the end zone. Brumbaugh (6-for-8, 38 yards) was most effective in a two-minute drill to close the scrimmage, playing to his strengths: command of the offense and huddle.
"We need to clean some things up," Brumbaugh said. "We did some good things. We did some bad things. Overall, it was a successful day."
Yet a rough day against a defense that includes established performers such as linebackers Airek Green and Luke Rhodes, linemen Mike Reilly and Stephen Sinnott, and backs Ivan Tagoe and DeAndre Houston-Carson.
"Where else would you want to be than against one of the best, if not the best, defense in the CAA?" Brumbaugh said. "It challenges us every day. It forces us to get better."
Brown was simply thrilled to be back at quarterback after spending last season as a scout-team receiver. His arm is plenty strong, but Rogers calls him "raw."
"I'm blessed that Coach Laycock and the other coaches (moved) me back because I didn't know where I was going to be," Brown said. "I'm just very thankful for this opportunity."
In uniform but unable to play Saturday were senior Raphael Ortiz and redshirt freshman Jhalil Mosley.
Ortiz is the only quarterback in the program to have played significant snaps in college, but his five starts came in 2012, before shoulder surgery shelved him for 2013 and this spring. Nursing a foot injury, Mosley is the most intriguing prospect, given this Rogers description:
"He has a gifted arm, and I'm talking 40 years of experience. You know what he reminds you of, mark my words, he throws the ball like Michael Vick, except he's right-handed. He's got that whip, comes out quick."
Ortiz has been part of a revolving door under center that has plagued the Tribe since 2009, when R.J. Archer started every game and the team reached the national semifinals. Injuries and tepid performance have prompted Laycock to use multiple quarterbacks each of the past four seasons, and only in 2010, when Mike Callahan emerged, did that translate to a playoff berth.
By any measure, William and Mary's offense the past three years has been anemic, ranking 106th, 89th and 95th nationally in scoring, 93rd, 77th and 96th in passing yards. By Laycock's standards — offense has been his calling card for three-plus decades — that's more maddening than a four-putt green.
Consider last season. At 7-3 and riding a three-game winning streak, the Tribe was nationally ranked and poised to make the playoffs. But in season-ending losses to Towson and Richmond, William and Mary scored one offensive touchdown, that a meaningless quarterback sneak by Brent Caprio in the final 30 seconds of an 11-point setback at UR.
"I didn't think our offense looked very good today," Laycock said. "Part of it was quarterback and part of it was other things. … We've got some good running backs. We've got some good receivers. We're pretty solid on the offensive line. … It's really, really imperative … we have somebody at quarterback. He doesn't have to be a world-beater. But he has to be consistent."
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