The 2017 Spring Game has come and gone, with many players having experienced their first “real” dose of collegiate football. Not least among them were several W&M quarterbacks looking to take the reigns from graduating senior QB Steve Cluley and become next year’s starter under center. This year’s game provided Tribe fans a glimpse into the future of the Green and Gold passing game for years to come, as several underclassmen were given a chance to impress at Zable Stadium on Saturday.
Throughout the game, playing time was split between five quarterbacks who were given multiple drives each. As an interesting side note, with last year’s Offensive Coordinator Kevin Rogers having retired, Quarterbacks Coach D.J. Mangas was calling the plays. And while this may have been a trial run, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if Mangas were given the opportunity to call plays this season. A young coach with some fire and a new spin on the offense might be just what this unit needs to hit the ground running in 2017.
So with Head Coach Jimmye Laycock literally standing intently behind the quarterbacks during each and every play, tryouts officially began, and the pressure was on. The five QBs that received snaps were Shon Mitchell (Fr.), Ted Hefter (RFr.), Dean Rotger (RFr.), Brandon Battle (So.), and Tommy McKee (Jr.). And while there were many things we learned about our quarterbacks this Spring Game, it’s important to remember that we are still very early in the process. There is a lot of football to be played, including Summer Training Camp, but so far so good. We like what we see from this unit, and thoroughly believe that whoever finds themselves under center for the Season Opener at UVA will be in good hands behind a strong offensive line, deep receiving corps, and stellar coaching staff. So how did each QB do on Saturday, you ask?
QB Analysis: How They Fared
With so many young QBs who have yet to see any collegiate action on this year’s roster, Laycock elected to throw the ball, and throw it a lot during the Spring Game. The more live throws these guys can get in the better, and that was Jimmye and Mangas’ play-calling logic on Saturday — to the delight of Tribe fans in attendance. In fact, of the 67 offensive plays run, 44 of them were through the air (about 66%, in case you were wondering). That’s a lot of passes. This strategy allowed each of the five QBs a fair shot to test their arms and show the coaches what they’re made of. Here’s how each QB finished in the stats column:
(Fr.) Shon Mitchell: 7 of 14 for 86 yards, 0 TD
(RFr.) Ted Hefter: 10 of 13 for 132 yards, 2 TDs
(RFr.) Dean Rotger: 2 of 6 for 12 yards, 0 TD
(So.) Brandon Battle: 2 of 6 for 61 yards, 1 TD
(Jr.) Tommy McKee: 3 of 5 for 21 yards, 0 TD
Let’s start with the QB that everyone has been talking about. As many of you know by now, Shon Mitchell comes to W&M as one of the school’s most highly touted recruits at the QB position in quite some time. With several offers from FBS schools such as Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Navy, and strong interest from Nebraska, Shon shocked the recruiting world by signing with W&M last year. A scholar athlete (4.3 high school GPA), with serious Russell Wilson-like intangibles and personality traits, Shon has many in Williamsburg excited at the potential for a strong four year starter under the helm for the Green and Gold — beginning this year. Knowing that he has a chance to compete for the position right away, Shon impressively graduated high school early (Oscar Smith, Chesapeake, VA) to enroll early at W&M and participate in Spring practice.
But don’t make the mistake that this is going to be given to him; he is going to have to earn it, and nothing will be given on a silver platter. He, like the rest of the QBs, face strong competition from the very talented bunch that Jimmye Laycock’s staff has recruited over the past several seasons. On Saturday, Shon received his first taste of college football, going 7 of 14 for 86 yards, 0 TD. Though listed as the 19th best dual-threat QB in the 2017 recruiting class, Laycock and Mangas wanted to test Shon throwing the ball, finishing with the most pass attempts on the team (14). His first pass, a short completion to #1 WR DeVonte Dedmon went for 25+ yards, showing what could be a strong connection for the Green and Gold this season, if Mitchell is in fact given the start.
Of course, there were times when he looked like a rookie, throwing the balls where the receivers were not — likely a product of him still learning the playbook this early in the offseason. But there were also times where he drove the ball into tight windows, reminding us why he was a highly sought after recruit we’ve heard so much about. Again, nothing will be given to Shon, and he’ll have to earn it. With more time to get into the playbook in the coming months, look for him to make a strong push for the starting position this Summer. Stay tuned.
But let’s not make this all about Shon — there were 4 other QBs who played on Saturday, all of them flashing different tools and abilities that they bring to the table. Redshirt freshman Ted Hefter turned a lot of heads by connecting on 10 of 13 passes for 132 yards and 2 TDs — basically finishing as the MVP of the Spring Game, along with his running mate TE Josh Stallings (RFr.), who hauled in Hefter’s two touchdown passes, finishing with 4 catches, 79 yards, 2 TD. The #7 Hefter, a walk-on who quite literally knocked on the coaches’ door for a tryout, certainly made a statement with his play on the field. He was decisive and consistent, showing a strong command and knowledge of the offense and its playbook.
The only potential knock on Hefter would be that many of his plays came against the “backup” defensive unit, so that inflated his stats some. Even still, there were snaps that Hefter took against the #1 defensive unit, in which he still performed well. Moving forward, Hefter can be considered a darkhorse candidate for the starting position this offseason, with big upside. Another QB who had an impressive showing was Sophomore Brandon Battle. Battle connected on two passes in the Spring Game, including a long 31-yard touchdown pass to WR Anthony Mague (RFr.). It was a bit of a 50/50 ball that allowed the 6’3″ Mague to go up and make a play, but boy was it impressive. Battle flashed his big arm and dual threat ability in limited playing time, and we think that it is safe to say that he has fully entrenched himself as one of the front runners for the starting job this offseason.
Junior Tommy McKee, this year finding himself the most senior guy in the quarterbacks room, reminded everyone of his ability to tuck and run the football on Saturday. Sporting a big frame at 6’2″ 205 lb, Tommy is built like a running back. But despite having served as Steve Cluley’s primary backup the past two seasons, McKee only has 5 pass attempts and 50 career passing yards to his name. Established as a smart QB, a two-time CAA Academic All-Conference Team selection in fact, McKee’s primary advantage is his knowledge of the playbook and having been in the system for several years. His head start on the aforementioned playbook will need to stand out vs. the much younger underclassmen if he is to win the starting job this Fall.
Another QB we were excited to see on Saturday was another young stud in redshirt freshman Dean Rotger. Following his redshirt year last season, Rotger was named the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year for his stellar play in practice week in and week out. This wasn’t a big surprise for us, as he came out of high school (Our Lady of Lourdes, Poughkeepsie, NY) as a four-year letterwinner who set school records for career passing yards (6,827) and touchdowns (83), as well as the single-season mark for passing yards (3,029). He also finished his high school career with 1,216 rushing yards.
As you can tell, he is known as a very good athlete with excellent running ability and a strong arm. However, Rotger’s play during the Spring Game left us wanting for more, finishing just 2 of 6 for 12 yards, 0 TD. However, it wasn’t completely his fault, as penalties disrupted at least one of the drives that Rotgers led, stalling the unit with a difficult down and distance. We would have loved to see more of Rotgers; he is definitely one of the front runners for the starting job. But don’t count him out yet — as we’ve already stated multiple times, the offseason is young, and there is plenty of football to be played. Last season’s Scout Team Offensive POY is hungry and ready to go.
We at the W&M Sports Blog will continue to keep our ears to the ground, keeping you up to date on this offseason’s biggest training camp battle. In the coming months, the QBs will continue to study the playbook, looking to regroup before an all-important 2017 Summer Training camp. It’ll be important for these QBs to not only learn more of the playbook, but to also ensure that they are healthy and ready to go. The last thing anyone wants to see is an offseason injury. But again, one thing is for certain: talent abounds at the quarterback position, and Head Coach Jimmye Laycock will have to make a tough decision in the near future. We’re as excited as any to see who comes out on top, and will be cheering them all on for a strong and competitive offseason. Tribe fans should be very excited.
LET’S GO TRIBE!!!