The quarterback of the second worst offense in college football last season thinks he’s smart enough to keep his job.
“I would say mentally understanding the game has always been one of my strong points,” FAU quarterback Graham Wilbert said. He had three games with at least three interceptions last season.
Under Wilbert, the Owls averaged 12.9 points per game, second fewest out of the 120 teams in college football.
New head coach Carl Pelini gave Wilbert no assurances of keeping his spot after last year’s 1-11 season and said before training camp the starting quarterback position would be an open competition.
Backup David Kooi, the starter for the Owls 20-0 loss to Western Kentucky in the inaugural game at FAU Football Stadium, transferred in the summer.
And at the start of training camp, Wilbert, last season’s third stringer Stephen Curtis, and JUCO newcomer Melvin German were the three competitors for the job. The Sun-Sentinel reported German was out of the race after three weeks because only Wilbert and Curtis were taking first team snaps. Three days later, Owl Access reported that German wasn’t out of the hunt, according to Pelini, and that a fourth quarterback, Nick Bracewell, is a candidate as well.
“Those two [Wilbert and Curtis] are battling each other, but the quarterback race is still open,” Pelini said. “In fact, it’s really open to four. They are all in it. They are all doing good things – including Bracewell.”
German was not with the team in the spring and is still adjusting to the playbook.
“Melvin is a good passer and a really good runner,” new offensive coordinator Brian Wright said. “He’s just trying to learn the offense but has a little ways to go, though.”
German missed summer school and the process to get enrolled at FAU is still ongoing. Pelini is confident the decision will come in the next couple of weeks.
“It has to go through the university, and I would say 48 to 72 hours for the final answers,” Pelini said.
Pelini hired new offensive coordinator Brian Wright to improve last season’s stagnant offense. The biggest difference the casual observer will notice about this year’s offense is the tempo.
The prodding pro-style offense is gone. Last season the longest pass play from scrimmage was a Marcus Cunningham 37-yard catch. In its place is the no-huddle spread formation, a system designed around stretching the field with a balance of running and passing the ball to open up multiple vertical seams.
The starter for the season opener against Wagner has not been announced yet, but Wright already knows what he expects from whoever is under center on Aug. 31.
“The number one thing is for them to take care of the ball and make great decisions to lead our group,” Wright said. “Manage the offense and distribute the ball to different positions as the defense dictates.”
Quick decisions and reads are crucial to the success of the new offense.
“That’s all part of being a great quarterback, understanding where to go with the football based on certain looks that you get,” Wright said.
With 15 interceptions last season, Wilbert was far from a great quarterback, but Wright still views him as the number one guy for now.
“Graham has experience. He has an understanding, really better than any of them, of the offense,” Wright said. “He’s really understanding when and who to throw it to. He’s doing a good job of that, managing the game.”
Wilbert is excited for the possibility to redeem himself, believing Wright’s system could re-energize his career.
“We’re going to be able to attack defenses and just keep them on their heels,” Wilbert said.
Curtis started last season as the third string quarterback but eventually worked his way into the back up role, getting playing time in five games. He’s already made strides to jump another notch in 2012.
“Stephen has showed a lot of improvement on some of those aspects. Stephen can use his feet,” Wright said. “Stephen is 230 pounds so he can bring a little bit of physicality to the quarterback position as he runs the football.”
Curtis agreed that his size could be his greatest asset.
“I mean, I’m a little bigger than other quarterbacks,” Curtis said, before giving the politically correct response. “But we all have our pros and cons.”
An advantage for Curtis is the fact he’s run this style of offense before. In high school, Curtis passed for 25 touchdowns his senior year at Sumter High School in the spread offense.
“It’s the exact same offense,” Curtis noted. “So I’m pretty comfortable with it.”
In practice, Curtis already sees a different offensive mentality from last season, something which would help ensure there’s not another 1-11 season in 2012.
“We attack people a lot more and take more shots down the field,” Curtis said. “A lot more aggressive. I’m very excited.”
Mohamed Abdihakim contributed reporting.