Quarterback Gage Gubrud was the first one out of the Eastern Washington lockerroom Monday morning.
All the better to stay ahead of the pack.
“Actually, I’m just trying to get better every day and make every minute count,” Gubrud said.
Then again, so are Reilly Hennessey and Jordan West, who were on Gubrud’s heels a few seconds later. In fact, they figure to be right behind him all the way to the season opener at Washington State on Sept. 3.
The Eagles are no strangers to quarterback controversies. Four years ago, coach Beau Baldwin juggled the varied talents of Kyle Padron and Vernon Adams Jr. all the way to a Big Sky Conference title and within three points of a berth in the national title game.
However, this year’s three-headed affair has Eagle fans looking on with keen interest. They’ll get an up-close look during Saturday’s scrimmage at Roos Field, which coach Beau Baldwin promises to “pit the best against the best.”
At the same time, Baldwin said the scrimmage “won’t be the sole determinant” of the starter on Sept. 3. As Baldwin has said since the end of spring, Gubrud would start if the season began today.
But the WSU game is 17 days away, leaving the door ajar for West and Hennessey. In fact, the current depth chart lists all three as equals.
“Every day they continue to compete,” Baldwin said. “We’re going with the player who gives us the best chance to win. We can win games with any one of those guys, and I’ve had that situation very seldom.”
The situation has changed dramatically in less than a year. West took the reins last fall following the early departure of Adams, and for almost half of the season was one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the Football Championship Subdivision.
However, the Eagle offense stagnated late in the season, culminating in the 57-16 disaster at Montana in which all three saw action.
The competition was rejoined last spring. Gubrud, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound redshirt sophomore from McMinnville, Oregon, moved to the fore because of his mobility. Indeed, Gubrud’s speed seemed to keep the Eagle defense off-balance on many occasions.
However, Gubrud lacks game experience. His stat line last year: 7-for-13 for 66 yards. That’s one reason he’s getting most of the first-unit reps at practice.
“I’m getting a good command of what’s going on,” said Gubrud, who admits that he still needs to work on staying put in the pocket.
“It’s always good to get more reps, but it’s second-nature now … I don’t have to think as much,” Gubrud said.
That’s partly attributable to the streamlined system installed last spring by Baldwin and new passing game coordinator Troy Taylor.
Says Baldwin: “It’s less about what we’re doing and more about how we operate between plays that takes things off the QB and allows him to do less communication.”
For Hennessey, that means more time on fundamentals and “using good technique and being good with our eys and quick with our feet.”
Hennessey, a 6-3, 200-pound sophomore from Camas, Washington, showed promise in relief of West in the season-opening loss at Oregon.
However, an ankle injury the next week at Northern Iowa cost him half the season. He finished 59-for-91 for 773 yards, four TDs and three picks.
Meanwhile, West is trying to reclaim the spot he held a year ago. His final stats (230-for-356, for 3,002 yards, 30 TDs and just eight picks), were impressive, but opposing defenses seemed to confuse West late in the season: he was 39 for 84 in his last three games and didn’t play in the season-ending loss to Portland State.
West, a 6-4 senior from Maple Valley, Washington, got the message from watching Gubrud. He lost 10 pounds in the off-season and said he’s more mobile than ever.
Notes: EWU will practice beginning Wednesday at Roos Field. Saturday’s scrimmage will begin at about 9:45 a.m.
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