Syracuse University Quarterbacks coach Tim Lester watches closely as Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt make their read steps in warm ups, gradually making their way across the field. Hunt, Allen and the rest of the quarterbacks ask questions from time to time during this drill, with Lester sometimes demonstrating the proper technique and movement of the hips or shoulders. He looks from their feet up to their hips, higher to their shoulders, from their arms to their hands and finally up
their eyes...and this is just one drill.
Lester has already seen this drill hundreds of times this preseason, but his philosophy that 'every play is its own entity' applies here as well, as in this position battle for the starting quarterback spot, every detail is under a microscope.
"We've gone as far as to audio them in the huddle," Lester, who is in his first season as the SU quarterbacks coach, says. "Just to see who's better calling the play...who has more confidence, that's how close it is."
In the team's first intra-squad scrimmage on Fort Drum on Thursday, the two quarterbacks had nearly the same completion percentage, with both Hunt and Allen continuing to trade repetitions with the first and second team, depending on the day.
Other than the game-like atmosphere numbers, Lester gives each quarterback a grade after evaluating practice film every day. He grades their feet, their timing when their feet are in the right spot, their completion percentage when their timing is right, their completion percentage when their timing is off...just to name a few.
Those numbers then go to Offensive Coordinator George McDonald and Head Coach Scott Shafer, with the numbers coming out nearly even after each practice.
Beyond the numbers are the players themselves, and what they bring to the table. The fans have had little opportunity to see either quarterback in a game-like situation, and with limited opportunities, the media hasn't seen much either.
Lester has seen every drill and every snap, and broke down what each quarterback looks like on Tuesday.
"The thing about Terrel Hunt that's special is that he knows what he's doing, he's smart, he's been around here the longest amount of time," Lester says. "He has a phenomenal pocket presence, what he can do in the pocket and buy time is pretty special. I haven't seen a QB like him that have the ability to just find pockets, and create another second and a half of a play."
That second and half gives the receivers time to gain separation from the defensive backs, opening up bigger plays down the field, which also means Hunt can avoid getting sacked by using his athleticism to find space in the pocket.
Then Lester addressed Oklahoma transfer quarterback Drew Allen:
"Drew just has a really, really strong arm, and when we run things that we've run a lot, he's got great anticipation
. Good feet and a cannon...he can sling the rock," Lester says.
After the team's scrimmage, Shafer said the quarterbacks, which included Terrel Hunt, needed to get the ball out quicker, and avoid more sacks. Lester says Allen needs to improve on his pocket presence, which could be a product of still learning the SU offense. Allen says he's comfortable with the verbiage and concepts, but Lester admits there's times when Allen thinks, instead of reacts.
"He looks like a different person when he's trying to think, compared to when he's trying to play," Lester says.
The coaches and players say the competition is a positive one, with a lot of support coming from teammates as well as the quarterbacks involved. Every snap Allen and Hunt takes in the preseason has a considerable amount of pressure, especially considering the tight competition. The coaches say it's not battle of mediocrity, and that each athlete is playing at a high level, a luxury to have in case one goes down with an injury.
As for how each fits into the offense, McDonald says because his scheme is based on distributing the ball to the Orange's athletes, both Hunt and Allen have the attributes to do that effectively, and have done that in the preseason.
"I know they're both great athletes, they can throw the ball well and maintain the offense," McDonald says. "The biggest thing about the offense is that we want to give everybody an opportunity to make plays...it's been a great battle."
With playmakers in the backfield like Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, and receivers like Jarrod West and Adrian Flemming, the cards are on the table for the SU offense to have a productive season, if the right signal-caller is in place. Coach Shafer has said he prefers going with one quarterback, but McDonald and Lester did not rule out having both take snaps in a game this season.
Regardless, those detailed notes and grades by Lester will come to fruition on the 31st, when the Orange plays it's first game against Penn State, and when Shafer says the final decision will be made on the starting quarterback.
Until then, the drills will continue, and the rest of the world will guess who has the upper hand, with Tim Lester getting the best seat in the house.