The Gamecocks went through their first scrimmage of preseason practice in the stadium, and that meant the first chance for new coach Bill Clark and his staff to see the quarterbacks — all unproven by JSU standards — under game-like conditions.
By all accounts from within, it will be at least another week before separation is made. The goal is to trim down the picture to two quarterbacks who will get the most reps in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 31 opener at Alabama State and the one who will start the game. The second scrimmage and final scrimmage of camp is this coming Saturday.
“Honestly, I think we saw what we’ve been seeing this past week,” Clark said. “I think we saw Eli (Jenkins) make good throws. I think we saw him make a ton of plays with his legs — and that’s what we’ve seen the first week.
“Max (Shortell), I thought did a lot of good things. He made a mistake on a quick screen, and it got picked and went the other way, but made a ton of good throws. And then, (Kyle) West, who kind of fell down, came back and did a good job.”
The two-hour scrimmage, a mix of game conditions and situations, was closed to outsiders save for a handful of parents who observed from the stands under the strictest of conditions — no phones, no pictures until after the exercise and, absolutely, positively no video. The coaches charted every snap — one of the tools to determine ultimately the quarterback of choice — but statistic were not provided afterwards. During the 7-on-7 segments open to reporters before the actual scrimmage, all three quarterbacks had their share of completions.
“I would be disappointed if this wasn’t going to be tough (to decide)," Clark said. "Not that you don’t want one guy to be great, but that means your other two aren’t really good, and I thnk everybody’s doing a lot of good things.”
The race may look close at the quarter pole, but there does appear to be a slight separation between Shortell and Jenkins and West and Jayce Barber. Steven Coates, the only quarterback to have thrown a pass in a real game in a JSU uniform, still hasn't practiced.
Don't tell that to Shortell, the big-bodied Minnesota transfer, and Jenkins, the star of the spring game.
Shortell, the only quarterback with any appreciable Division I playing experience, said it's "usually pretty clear" when the real separation occurs, and he hasn't seen it yet.
"I just feel like we're pretty much right where we started," Shortell said. "We're all competing trying to get the job."
Added Jenkins: "I don't think it's changed. We're just all still competing and we're going to continue to compete until the end of camp. When they name the starter, they name the starter. Whoever it is we're going to win games with them."
Clark said before camp opened all the quarterbacks would get a chance to occupy the top spot on the depth chart. While they all bring something different to the offense, the deciding factor likely will be who makes fewer turnovers.
Both Shortell and Jenkins gave mixed reviews on their performances.
For Shortell, it was a timing issue. His missed some open throws, had some miscommunication with his receivers and got caught on a few sacks.
"I didn't feel I did very well at all," he said. "I've done well (in camp), but didn't feel like I showed my stuff today."
Jenkins thought his day went "OK, probably 50-50." He was pleased to have thrown a touchdown pass and made a "couple" good plays getting out of the pocket, but was kicking himself over missing a post late in the scrimmage.
"You can't let your guard down," he said. "You've got to play every day. It brings the best out of you."
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.