The most scrutinized position in William and Mary's preseason camp will be long on competition and short on controversy.
First, quarterbacks Brent Caprio, Michael Graham, Raphael Ortiz and Christian Brumbaugh are more likely to do four-part harmony on karaoke night than to kneecap one another over playing time. They genuinely like and support each other.
Second, given the Tribe's recent history, any of them could play at any point during the season. Whoever starts the opener Sept. 1 at Maryland could last a quarter, a season, or anything therein.
"You never know what's going to happen," Caprio said Monday at football media day, "so you have to prepare like you're going to be the starter every week, no matter if you're the second- or third-string guy. I think that all the quarterbacks do a good job of that, and Coach (David) Corley does a good job of getting us to think that way."
"We're just trying to get each other better," Graham said.
Three quarterbacks started, and four played, during a 5-6 season marked by inconsistency in the passing game. William and Mary finished ninth of 11 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association in passing (168.5 ypg), with more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (12). The Tribe was 10th in scoring (18.4 ppg), its 202 points the fewest since 1981, head coach Jimmye Laycock's second season.
The Tribe started three different quarterbacks in 2010, as well, when it tied for the CAA title and went to the playoffs.
Caprio and Graham, both redshirt juniors, started games last season. Though they have more experience than the other two, none of the four separated himself from the pack during spring practice, which makes preseason camp critical.
Laycock said Monday that there isn't sufficient practice time to properly evaluate four quarterbacks. The plan is to divide evenly practice repetitions among the three most experienced quarterbacks — Graham, Caprio and Ortiz, a redshirt sophomore — for a week-to-10 days.
The staff then will choose two who will receive the bulk of the snaps with the first unit leading up to the final preseason scrimmage and game week. The staff will pick a starter, or perhaps he will emerge. Laycock would prefer the latter.
"They all know the offense," he said. "It's a matter of who goes out and makes plays and is the most consistent. It's about playing now."
Of the four, Caprio probably has the best grasp of the offense. Graham, 6-4 and 225 pounds, is a gamer who made the most of a battlefield promotion last season. He, too, is far more comfortable heading into this season than last.
Ortiz, 6-3 and 220 pounds, is probably the most athletic and is able to extend plays. But he is also more erratic, to use Laycock's term, than the other two. Laycock said that Brumbaugh, a redshirt freshman, is an excellent prospect who simply has an experience gap and begins camp as something of the odd man out.
However, all of that could change. Last year, Graham began the season as the No. 3 quarterback. But he was given a chance when Mike Paulus and Caprio were unable to move the team consistently. He established himself as the starter, until he broke the index finger on his right (throwing) hand late in the Towson game, shelving him for the remainder of the season. Caprio then started the final three games and was far more comfortable and productive than earlier in the season.
"You're always one play away from getting in," said Corley, the Tribe's quarterbacks coach. "Our guys have certainly seen that. Some of the guys have even seen their number called more than once in the same season. That keeps everybody engaged."
Offensive coordinator Zbig Kepa said the evaluation process also takes into consideration less tangible elements such as a player's "ceiling" — to what extent and how quickly can the staff open the playbook and expand gameplans?
"I wish there was like a formula, but I don't think there is," Kepa said.
All four worked hard over the summer. Caprio studied film of NFL stars Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, as well as draft picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, seeking things to incorporate into his game. All worked on details such as footwork and delivery, and they tried to build rapport with their receivers in informal workouts.
"Now I feel like I have a great understanding of the offense going into camp," Ortiz said. "I feel like I can really just play football and not have to think as much as I did my first two years here. I'm really looking forward to it."
All four yearn to start. None will go so far as to say publicly that he will be the starter in week one. That's to be determined.
"Whoever starts, we're a team," Caprio said. "I just hope that we're winning on Sept. 1. That's what I want."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun