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Could IU QB battle lead to rotation?

Coaches have no timeline to decide who will start.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 10:02 am

BLOOMINGTON — Rod Smith had seen enough. Passes zipped wide, long and short. Too many hit the ground rather than receivers' hands, and that left Indiana's quarterbacks coach pacing the practice field.

“That's ridiculous,” he shouted. “Come on, pick it up!”

Yes, it was just the Hoosiers' second preseason practice, and you wouldn't expect to see midseason sharpness, but when quarterbacks can't complete passes to undefended receivers (defensive backs were on another field), that's a problem. Smith's job is to fix it.

So he focused on every throw Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker, Adam Follett, Teddy Schell and Tre Roberson made Tuesday evening, pushing when necessary, praising when prudent.

Want clarity in the quarterback situation? Wait your turn. All options are open in Kevin Wilson's head coaching debut football season.

Yes, that might even mean a quarterback rotation.

“I'm not averse to playing two quarterbacks,” Wilson said.

Maybe Kiel starts. Maybe it's Wright-Baker. The redshirt sophomores are the only ones with college experience, which makes them slight favorites. Roberson, the heralded freshman, has a shot if he can master the offense and read college defenses. Wilson insists Follett and Schell are still in the mix, although their prospects appear as bleak as Greece's economy.

The Hoosiers are gearing up for the season opener vs. Ball State on Sept. 3. Two-a-days are looming, scrimmages are coming and competition makes every snap count in this quarterback battle royale.

“We don't have a timeline,” Wilson said at Tuesday's media day. “We'll go through the first week and as a staff discuss where we think they are. I don't anticipate having a daily update.”

Smith, who is also the co-offensive coordinator, said there's no rush to name a starter.

“It's after you start getting through some scrimmages, toward the end of camp and see who's separated himself,” he said. “Who can make plays and take care of the football. Who's got the positive energy going and who can be a driving force. Whoever is doing that; we're going to know. It's going to take some live situations. Whether it's after the first scrimmage, I can't tell you that. It might be the day before the first game. We'll know as a staff and make a decision then.

“In the end, I don't think you have to say, this is our guy. They have to earn that. They've got to go through camp and earn it.”

Wilson has always been a one-quarterback coach, but he's always had one player emerge. This situation could be different. Kiel's college stats (4-for-17 for 71 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions) are comparable to Wright-Baker's (5-for-12 for 80 yards, one touchdown, one interception). Kiel seemed to have a slight edge coming out of spring practice, but no one earned a No. 1 status.

“I've always been of the mindset if you have two quarterbacks it means you don't have one,” Wilson said, “but I don't know if that means anything here. Sometimes you have two good ones. I don't want a guy looking over his shoulder so one bad practice or game and he's worried somebody will take his spot.”

Wilson said the difficulty with a rotation comes if one quarterback is more of a thrower and one more of a runner, so you use two different offensive styles.

“We want to philosophically stay similar.”

Smith has dealt with QB rotations in the past, most recently at Michigan where Denard Robinson and Tage Forcier battled. Robinson eventually won and is a Heisman Trophy candidate as a dual-threat player.

“You can do it,” Smith said, “but it's got to fit the right situation at the right time with the right game plan. Would you like to have one guy separate himself? Yeah, obviously. But if you have a couple of guys who are good enough to play, you have a great situation. If a guy gets dinged up, the other guy goes in and you don't miss a beat. We're in a good situation.”

As far as Roberson, the Indiana Mr. Football from Indianapolis Lawrence Central spent the second half of the summer working with his teammates. He looked solid in the brief period the media was allowed to see practice Tuesday.

While Roberson has a lot to learn, Smith said, talent is there.

“He was swimming a little bit out there, but I tell you what, the kid can make some plays.”

Senior receiver Damarlo Belcher said all the quarterbacks have worked hard and looked good. The ex-North Side standout said there isn't any friction between them despite competition.

“I don't care who gets the job. As long as they can throw the ball to us, it's fine. Coach has made a big deal about it that we won't be good if they're not good.”