Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Winds of change: Delaware commences spring football practice, quarterback competition

SportsFootballWinds of change: Delaware commences spring football practice, quarterback competition

BY
Staff Reporter

Ryan Carty has seen a college football practice on a blustery and overcast day go in one of two ways: downhill, with balls off the mark and gone awry, or defiantly steady, with the squad’s energy maintained amidst the battery of winds.

In his comments Saturday following Delaware’s first spring practice of 2023, the second-year head coach affirmed that the Blue Hens conformed to the latter of these on a relentlessly windy morning, giving him a positive first impression with ample new faces across the roster.

“I’m pleasantly surprised with everything I saw out there,” Carty said.

One new face sure to draw attention through Delaware’s final spring scrimmage is quarterback Zach Marker, a native of Norwalk, Iowa and a mid-year transfer from Iowa Central Community College.

Marker is a symbol of Carty’s concerted effort to produce a quarterback competition this offseason as the Hens navigate life after Nolan Henderson, the All-Colonial Athletic Association passer and three-and-a-half-year starter who is now preparing for the NFL draft.

Delaware searched far and wide for an immediate addition to rising junior quarterback Ryan O’Connor, who relieved an injured Henderson and backup Zach Gwynn in the Blue Hens’ second round Football Championship Subdivision playoff loss at South Dakota State last fall.

“We evaluated hundreds,” Carty said of scouting prospective junior-college quarterbacks after noting that he and his staff “decided that we needed to maybe widen our scope of things that we needed to see in that position.”

In Marker, Carty sees a player sharpened by the individually competitive environment of junior college (JUCO), an arrangement that often includes large depth charts comprising players of various geographic and playing-career backgrounds.

“He’s a[n] Iowa kid, qualifier out of high school who went there [JUCO] because he bet on himself and thought he should have, probably, gotten some things that he didn’t get out of high school and wanted to go prove that he could,” Carty said in describing Marker. “Obviously, he did.”

Marker, naturally, trails O’Connor in game experience in a Delaware uniform and in beginning to execute the Hens’ voluminous playbook at the outset of spring ball. However, the Iowan fits the mobile-thrower mold that Carty pursues at signal-caller, one that was on display with O’Connor’s 2022 flashes in the regular season and at South Dakota State.

“We’re looking for, in this offense, a passer who can run,” Carty said. “I don’t look for runners who can chuck it a little bit. It’s guys who are drop-back passers. We do that most of the time. All of our run plays have some sort of attachment [such] that they [quarterbacks] can throw and all that stuff.”

While acknowledging his priority of passing ability, Carty recognizes the balancing act at hand in his ideal quarterback’s game.

“We need people who can pass, but we also need people who, when those things are covered down and when people decide to say, ‘We’re gonna make them run it,’ we can use an extra hat in the run game, we can make plays with our feet when things break down,” Carty said. “When they’re playing man coverage, can we make a play if we don’t have the match-up that we’re looking for? Can we do it with our feet? Can we extend the play?” 

Carty believes that these requirements of the quarterback are emblematic of the modern trends of the sport.  

“And we’ve seen that over the course of time, that’s what football has become,” Carty said. “It’s become more match-up-based and it’s become more man-to-man-based and aggressive on defense. So we need people that can go make things happen when stuff might break down.”

Carty called the challenge of Delaware’s volume of plays on offense “extreme,” emphasizing the bevy of responsibilities that the quarterback can have on even designed running plays, which can include “access plays,” “perimeter attachments” and RPOs (run-pass options).

This mental workload is a factor in the spring’s evaluation of O’Connor and Marker. It is set to play a role in the rest of the quarterback room to be rounded out over the summer, as Daniel Lipovski and Nick Minicucci are incoming freshmen at the position who will debut in fall camp. Before their arrival, rising sophomore quarterback Noah Sanders will continue to push O’Connor and Marker as spring drills progress.

“There’s things like accuracy and intelligence and processing speed as you’re installing something,” Carty said. “And then the installs get higher and higher and now, it’s not just day 1, not just day 2, now all of a sudden, [it’s] day 4, day 5, and we do run a lot of plays here in our offense.”

The steady additions to the quarterback’s plate create many coaching points.

“And so, how do we continue to get better and can we stay consistent,” Carty asked, “and can we handle all that mental stuff and still be accurate and still move our feet the right way and still have the right consistency out there?”

That question of handling the cumulative nature of the playbook is one O’Connor and Marker will strive to answer this spring and beyond. Each, alongside Sanders, will have the time to do so, Carty assured when asked about a possible timeline of the competition and its conclusion.

“There’s no way we’re making this decision this fast,” Carty said, making it clear that his team is not yet complete. “We have to sort this out. We’ve got a lot of time at every position, not just the quarterback position. There’s also 14 kids that we signed that aren’t even here right now, they’re not coming till the summer. And then I’m sure there’ll be more.”

In the meantime, the start of spring practice affords Carty the duel between presumptive starting quarterback contenders with true freshmen on the way.

He foresees cream rising to the top.

“That’s the thing that you’re gonna get from a situation like this,” Carty said. “The more people we bring in that are talented, the better we’re going to be because we’re going to compete at that level. There’s always going to be somebody pushing us.”

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