HOOVER, Ala. — In 2013 The Wynfrey hotel was host to some of the best quarterbacks in the country. Bo Wallace, Jeff Driskel, Connor Shaw, Johnny Manziel, Tyler Russell, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron all descended upon SEC Media days to much fanfare.
It seemed that most — if not every team — had an established quarterback, a starter named, a leader and face of the program.
Two years later, the narrative couldn’t be more different.
Only three teams (Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas) brought quarterback to SEC Media Days and less than half of the teams in the SEC have a solid grasp on who will be their signal caller come fall.
That means going through the offseason with two or more quarterbacks and without a true face of the program at the most important, most scrutinized position on the field.
“I feel like teams are better with one guy,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “I haven’t seen many successful two quarterback operations.”
Hargreaves will make a living dissecting quarterbacks and making their lives difficult but he and many others in the SEC are going into this season not knowing which quarterbacks they will face on a weekly basis or who will be quarterbacking their own teams.
It’s a distraction and a quarterback competition — more so than any other position –can divide a team. Florida fans need only to look back at how the competition between Driskel and Jacoby Brissett divided the locker room to see the potential pitfalls. Georgia is going through a similar situation as Florida and their players are trying not to think about the quarterback situation, rather focusing on what they can control.
“For me, personally, it doesn’t affect me,” Georgia offensive tackle John Theus said. “I think I speak for everybody, we’re going to go out there and work every day, being the best we can be and that will take care of itself. They’ll compete and whatever happens, happens. We’re not in control, we can only control being the best we can be.”
A first year head coach, McElwain has dealt with a lot in his first offseason. He’s rebuilt an offensive line from six players to more than 20. He’s handled off the field issues swiftly and with a hard stance, but he’s in no rush to name a starting quarterback.
“I don’t really want to pin it down yet because I don’t think that’s fair to the guys in the competition,” McElwain said.
He does know what he’s looking for. McElwain often jokes that the first thing he looks for at the position is a guy who can “throw it to players in the same color jersey” but it’s more than just that, really.
“Hopefully when we get out there in August I think that will really tell which one of those guys has elevated not only their play but more so how the people respond to them when they’re moving the team on the field, in drills and that kind of stuff,” he said. “As a quarterback that is huge. You can have a ton of talent and this and that but if the guys around you aren’t willing to have your back, well then it ain’t going to work real good.”
The Gators likely won’t have a starting quarterback named by the time they kick off the season in September but they won’t be the only team in the SEC still searching for a quarterback. More important than naming a guy is naming the right guy. McElwain knows that his first season will be scrutinized and he’s right to hold on to making a decision as long as he can.