South Alabama enters preseason football practice with a starting quarterback already decided, but the No. 2 role remains up for grabs after a week of camp.
Sophomore Desmond Trotter and redshirt freshman Tanner McGee are in competition for the backup spot behind “super” senior Jake Bentley, and the two have been splitting reps with the No. 2 offense thus far. They are doing so in a non-tradition fashion, however, with McGee taking all the second-team reps Tuesday, then Trotter doing so on Wednesday, then McGee again Thursday, and so on.
“The challenge for both those guys is to be consistent in executing our offense and also taking care of the football,” head coach Kane Wommack said. “And I think that is what we’re starting to see from both of them. We have really been pleased with both of their production over the first 5-6 days here. And so we just want to continue to see who separates themselves. Dez made some really good throws yesterday operating with the 2s, Tanner got a two-minute situation, a couple other things today that I thought he made some really good decisions with the ball. Both of their arm strength is getting better and better. To me, it’s that fine line of creating explosive plays for our offense in the passing game and yet at the same time, managing us and taking care of the football. Both those guys are doing a good job of that.”
Trotter (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) was the Jaguars’ regular starter in 2020, completing 160 of 248 passes for 1,917 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. McGee (6-4, 210) appeared in two games, completing 6 of 8 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Bentley started parts of four seasons at South Carolina then most of 2020 at Utah before joining the South Alabama program in January as a graduate transfer, and was named the Jaguars’ started quarterback following spring practice. In 39 career games with the Gamecocks and Utes, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bentley has thrown for 8,409 yards and 61 touchdowns and 39 interceptions.
• South Alabama had what Wommack described as the most challenging day of camp thus far on Thursday, working for two-plus hours in full pads at the Jaguar Training Center.
The Jaguars worked through various team and individual drills, and also had periods focused on red-zone and two-minute offense. Friday is the final practice day prior to the first of two preseason scrimmages, which takes place Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
“There’s days where as the head coach, you want to try to create some adversity,” Wommack said. “These guys have been doing well, they’ve been pushing through. But as we head into that first scrimmage, I let them know ‘hey, today’s going to be a hard day.’ I’m going to be a little bit harder on them. And I thought they handled it really well. It was tough. It was physical. We created some adversity for them just to see and prove that they need to go overcome some things. Regardless of success or adversity, if we can keep a neutral mindset and move forward as a team, we’re going to be successful in that. That’s what I thought I saw from our guys today.”
One first-team player returned to practice Thursday after sitting out of most drills on Wednesday. Junior Kent Foster stepped back in at right guard after ceding time to North Texas transfer Anterrious Gray the previous day.
• South Alabama continues to rotate running backs, with junior Terrion Avery thus far taking most of the first-team reps. Sophomore Jared Wilson, redshirt freshman AJ Phillips, sophomore Tank Miller and a pair of transfers — Kareem Walker (Mississippi State) and Bryan Hill (Tuskegee) — have also gotten their opportunities in camp.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Walker got an opportunity to work during two-minute drills on Thursday, giving him a chance to utilize his size and pass-catching ability. Wommack said Walker could be a difference-maker for the Jags in hurry-up situations.
“He’s a bigger back and has an ability to (pass) protect, which obviously you have to do in two minutes situations,” Wommack said. “But he’s also pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands out of the backfield. He’s got a nice pair of hands he does a good job of stemming some of his routes. I think those are the things that you look for. You have to have a complete back when you get into those situational downs. And I think he has the capability of being one of those guys.”
Walker signed with Michigan out of high school in New Jersey, then played some for the Wolverines as a freshman before transferring to junior college. He spent two seasons at Mississippi State, totaling just two carries in the Bulldogs’ pass-happy offense.
• Bentley and wide receiver Jalen Tolbert were named Thursday to the 250-player watch list for the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl, which takes place Feb. 5 at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
Tolbert (6-3, 190) is a candidate for various national and conference honors after posting 64 receptions for 1,085 yards and eight touchdowns in 2020. The Mobile native has a chance to set nearly every program record for pass-receiving by the end of the coming season.
South Alabama has had seven players participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in the last decade, the most recent being linebacker Riley Cole last year. Cole signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs after going undrafted in April.