“The competition in our room has been phenomenal. It may be the best thing that’s happened to our quarterback room. In the three years that I was here previously, we never really had competition like this at quarterback and I think that was a little bit of a detriment to the guys in the room. They didn’t get pushed and weren’t able to grow as much as they probably could have if somebody was breathing down their neck. The competition has brought out the best in both of them because it’s forced both of them to not be able to take a day off.
"They both have got to come out here and give it everything they’ve got. When they get into the meeting room, they’ve got to be locked in. Going into the summer, we said, ‘Hey, this competition is wide open - what you do these next three months is going to determine who our starting quarterback is.’ And they both took that to heart and put in a tremendous amount of hours studying defensive football, defensive recognition, our offense and how we can attack defenses with our offenses.
"When they came out here for this fall camp, it was like a completely different set of guys in the room. Caleb Pressley, who wasn’t with us in the spring and who came back this fall, he’s been here with Marquise since the beginning. And I think he would attest that he said to me, ‘Marquise is a different guy, he’s a completely different guy.’ He has taken the competition to heart and applied it to his game and worked on the things he knew he needed to work on and make them his strengths.
"We’ve got two guys right now that can go out and win us football games and we feel really, really good about that. Mitch and Marquise have both done everything I’ve asked. Towards the latter part of camp when things got tough, I kept pushing them. And there were some days they didn’t want to respond, and if there wasn’t that competition, they probably wouldn’t have. But all they had to do was look over and see the other guy respond and then, all of a sudden, boom, they’re going. They jumped right back in line and they continued to battle and do everything we’ve asked. So it’s been really good for our football team.”
Marquise has talked a lot about working on his mechanics during the offseason by going to George Whitfield’s camp and the Manning Passing Academy. Have you seen improvement in his mechanics since training camp started?
“Yeah, that’s been a focus of his ever since last season ended. When we went back and looked at the tape and looked at some of the throws he made and some of the throws that he missed. And he realized watching that film that ‘I’ve got to be a better passer.’ We’re obviously limited with the number of hours we can spend with them in the offseason, so he looked for other avenues for ways that he could continue to progress his game.
"George Whitfield is a guy that I’ve known for years and he’s done a good job with him. He spent a week out there in California and it wasn’t so much what he did there, I think it was the confirmation of what we’ve been doing here. Sometimes you hear it from someone else and it’s like, ‘Okay, that makes sense, now I know why they’re telling me what they’re telling me.’ Sometimes you hear it from somebody else and it clicks and makes sense. I’ll use any avenue out there for our kids to get better. If there’s a way for them to improve, if there’s somebody that they can talk to in the offseason, if there’s somebody that can work with them when we can’t that’s going to help their game, we’re all going to benefit from that. So I think it’s been great.
"But more than even his mechanics, I think just being around other quarterbacks… He goes out there to California at the Whitfield camp and he’s around the guy from Baylor who’s up for the Heisman. He’s around other starting quarterbacks across the country and he sees how they carry themselves and how professional they are and how they act and how they prepare and how they structure their day and how they get ready to do what they need to do. And I think that’s rubbed off on him. He’s matured a lot from last season and his preparation is completely different now than it was then.”
Mitch has not played yet, so he’s got an added obstacle in the competition to overcome since Marquise has a year under his belt with six starts. How do you go about separating the two quarterbacks when there’s such a divide with regard to experience?
“You try to expose both of them to as many scenarios as possible. People forget that Marquise really only played a small amount of football last year in comparison to his whole career, so he’s got a lot of scenarios that he hasn’t seen as well. But with both of those guys, the more times we can put them into the two-minute drill, the more times we can put them in the red zone, the more times we can put them in situational football experiences, they’re going to learn and grow from them.
"The thing I always tell them is that if Mitch is in there for his rep, and he makes a mistake or he does something good, Marquise, you better learn from Mitch’s rep. And it’s the same thing if Marquise is in there. If Marquise is going, Mitch better learn from his scenario because we can’t run enough scenarios for both of them to get every single scenario possible in every single play in every single offense against every single defense.
"We call it getting mental reps. It’s something we’ve done in the past and we’re going to continue to do moving forward. If the other guy’s going, you better be seeing what he’s seeing so that you can make decisions in your head to prepare you so that when you’re behind there and you’re making the decision, you’ve seen it, you’ve done it and you know what the answer is.”
Larry Fedora has said anything is possible with regard to splitting reps once the games arrive. Do you need to have a starter for the opener that receives the bulk of the reps or are you willing to let these two split reps just to get experience and then see how it goes from there? Does it matter which approach you take?
“It doesn’t matter as long as our team has success. If our team is comfortable with either guy in there, we’re going to continue to roll them. If one guy gives our team the advantage, obviously we’re going to do what’s best for this football team. Right now, we switch them off every day. One is in there one day with the ones and sometimes, depending on the rotation, the other one will end up with the ones halfway through the drill. So this team has gotten so used to the going back and forth that sometimes I don’t think the other guys on the team know who’s back there. That’s just the way we’ve done it through spring ball and through all of fall camp.
"It’s been very fluid. They both have very similar styles. They’ve done a good job of communicating. They both communicate very similarly out on the field, so you don’t notice the difference in the snap count or cadence or things of that nature that could cause some teams problems if you have one guy that does it one way and another guy that does it a completely different way. They’ve both gotten on the same page. Probably the most gratifying thing through this competition has been those two coming together and pushing each other. I think they both now realize that this competition has helped them both...
“Right now, they’re both preparing like they’re going to start this ball game. And that’s the mindset we want them to have. They’re both going to start studying Liberty once we break camp and that’s where their focus is going to be. They both need to prepare like they’re going to take that first snap. One of them will, one of them won’t, but the other one has got to be ready to go in at some point in that ball game and do exactly what he was preparing to do as if he was the starter.”