Senior John Navarre knows that his job as starting quarterback is safe, but even he had to be happy with what he saw from fifth-year senior Spencer Brinton and redshirt freshman Matt Gutierrez on the last day of spring practices.
In the final drill of the season, each quarterback had a chance to run a two-minute drill.
Brinton’s group had problems moving the ball at first, but with an across-the-body 25-yard completion to wide receiver Tyrece Butler, the senior had his team moving. Brinton connected with Butler twice more, including hitting the fifth-year senior in stride into the endzone.
In fact, Brinton was solid all day, completing a high percentage of short and that long passes. This was a good sign given a shoulder injury from last year had thrown off his accuracy going into this spring – the senior had problems with touch passes into the flats on the first day of spring practices, but was near perfect on Saturday.
“Mentally, I would make the right reads, but when I’d go to throw it, the ball would sail,” Brinton said.
Gutierrez picked up right where Brinton left off, hitting all his receivers – his only incompletion on the touchdown drive was when one of his receivers caught the ball out of the back of the endzone. Gutierrez threw a strike for a score on the next play to senior Calvin Bell. And while Brinton was using the red-hot Butler to his advantage, Gutierrez spread the ball around to his group of receivers – including two straight completions to tight end Tim Massaquoi.
“The way our system works, it’s pretty much equal opportunity for everybody,” Gutierrez said. “We (the quarterbacks) just go through our progressions and hit the first guy that’s open.”
The only main flaw – and it’s tough to call it a flaw – in Gutierrez’s game is his use of his legs over his pocket presence. While the freshman’s mobility may become his most powerful attribute, similar to a Michael Vick-type quarterback, in drills he was much quicker to abort the play than Navarre or Brinton.
“That’s something I’m going to have to learn as a young guy – I try to make the play all the time,” Gutierrez said. “If I can’t do it with my arm, then I try to do it with my feet. Sometimes, that’s not possible, and it gets you into trouble, so I need to work and mature in that way. But I think eventually down the line, it could be a big factor in my game.”
One thing that may help improve Gutierrez’s pocket presence is to fill out his 6-foot-4 frame, as he’s 10 pounds lighter than his two older counterparts.
“He’s got a ways to go physically, but the thing about Matt is that he’s a student of the game,” Navarre said. “He’s going the right places with the ball, making good decisions – and that’s the positive thing. The physical thing’s going to come, he’s going to develop. He’s got a lot of time to do that.”
One part of the team that has developed – at least in the eyes of the quarterbacks – is the defensive backs. All three were excited about what they were throwing against in practice everyday. Brinton went as far to say that he loves throwing at all the defensive backs, as each one brings a different challenge to him – which, in turn, makes him a better quarterback.
“They’ve always had the athleticism, but the one thing I’ve noticed was, when they get in a different type of defense, how they can play their technique (to their advantage),” Brinton said. “They do receive a lot of criticism, but I think they’re going to come out and do really well next year.”
For Navarre, he faces the first string defensive backs the most, and he’s noticed that his job of throwing in practice has gotten tougher for the better.
“They’re doing a good job taking some things away and they’ve adjusted well throughout the spring to what we’ve been running,” Navarre said.
And even though the defense has improved, it has become “a game of cat and mouse” according to Navarre, each side of the ball getting the best of one another at times.
“It’s fun,” Gutierrez said. “With the complexities of the offense, you have answers for the defense.”