WILLIAMSBURG — William and Mary players on the receiving end of handoffs and passes say that offensive progress continues apace, despite what's become a nearly annual exercise in identifying and grooming a quarterback.
"I feel confident because, at the least, it's not the pool of potential starters that it has been," all-conference wide receiver Tre McBride said. "We're looking at two or maybe three guys. We have one who's getting most of the reps. So as of right now, I'm not worried about who's going to be the quarterback."
Coach Jimmye Laycock hasn't named a starter for the Aug. 30 opener at Virginia Tech, but sophomore Steve Cluley got most of the snaps with the first-team offense through the first part of preseason camp. Junior Christian Brumbaugh ran mostly with the second team, while promising redshirt freshman Jhalil Mosley was limited as he recovers from a foot and ankle injury.
Cluley is the only one of the three who's played in a college game — a handful of snaps in a loss at Villanova last season. But the inexperience is offset a bit by the fact that they're in the second year under quarterbacks coach and play caller Kevin Rogers.
Last year, the Tribe had a pair of upperclassmen with game experience in Brent Caprio and Michael Graham, though all of the quarterbacks essentially started at square one in Rogers' system.
"It doesn't feel like we're behind at all," running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor said. "(The quarterbacks are) adapting at a pretty quick pace. Coach Rogers is doing a great job of getting them ready in their meetings and when they come out here, they know what to do."
The quarterbacks, indeed the entire offense, has had a full year and a spring in the offense, which is similar to the pro-style scheme the Tribe has run for years under Laycock. The primary difference is terminology and the adjustments players must make, depending on what they see from defenses.
"The offense is progressing steadily, but surely," McBride said. "Coach Rogers is trying to expand the offense, open it up, where we're making use of everybody. We've got some young guys and we're trying to get the best players on the field. We're trying to create opportunities that we didn't necessarily create last year."
The Tribe's offensive struggles, particularly in the passing game, were well chronicled. W&M was 96th nationally in pass offense (170 ypg) and 101st in total offense (318.9). Quarterbacks completed just 53.5 percent of their passes, and W&M was 83rd in pass efficiency.
None of the quarterbacks separated himself in spring practice, but groundwork laid carried over to summer workouts and camp.
"I think we're improved in practice situations," Laycock said. "I think we're much better than we were in the spring. I don't know if we're good enough yet or not."
Laycock pointed out that the Tribe's offensive line is relatively inexperienced, as well. Only one senior is listed on the preseason two-deep, and it's likely that two redshirt freshmen and two sophomores will draw heavy playing time.
That doesn't concern Abdul-Saboor, the leading rusher (824 yards) and most consistently productive of a deep group of running backs. He said that the line is improving rapidly. He believes that the running game will shoulder the offensive load, particularly early in the season, while the quarterbacks and passing game gain footing.
Abdul-Saboor is completely recovered from a knee sprain that sidelined him three games last season. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound junior is eight pounds lighter than last year and said he feels quicker, faster and more explosive.
"Better than ever," he said.
He and McBride like what they see from the Tribe quarterbacks.
"They've all stepped up, as far as a leadership role," Abdul-Saboor said. "They're taking command of the huddle on the field. They're holding guys accountable when we're making mistakes, which is big to see from younger guys. You don't always see that."
McBride, last year's leading receiver with 63 catches and five touchdowns, said he and his mates on the perimeter are increasingly comfortable.
"I think everybody in the receiving corps right now has good chemistry with the two quarterbacks that have been getting the reps so far. I'm optimistic about Aug. 30. I'm optimistic. I think once the time comes, we'll shine."
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