R emember watching Billy Ragone and Ryan Becker play quarterback for Penn football? What about a time when everyone knew the starting quarterback before the season even began?
Well, the times are certainly changing for the Red and Blue, as Saturday’s Spring Game gave us a look into a different version of Penn football, one that features a five-man race to be the Quakers’ starter at quarterback.
After an era where Billy Ragone reigned supreme and a few other QBs came along for the ride, the 2014 Quakers will have an entirely new look under center.
“We’ve had essentially two fifth-year seniors since I’ve been here, so there’s a huge power void at the top,” said junior quarterback Patton Chillura , one of the leading candidates to take over at QB. “The five quarterbacks here have been working our asses off all spring.”
On Saturday, the signal-callers had their first audition in game action, dealing with strong winds while throwing passes in the Spring Game, which amounted to a live-action practice for the Quakers.
And when the dust (and wind) cleared, there wasn’t a clear cut winner to the quarterback battle.
Chillura and freshman Alek Torgersen each threw touchdowns, but also dealt with waves of incompletions. Sophomores Andrew Lisa and Alex Matthews saw limited reps. And coach Al Bagnoli admitted that the team is still trying to define freshman Adam Strouss’ role after he continued to run Wildcat-esque run plays like he did all season.
Overall, Bagnoli seemed satisfied with each of the five QBs’ performances.
“They are very talented kids,” he said. “They’ll learn from this. They’ve got to grow from this. They’ve got to progress from this. We’ll go as far as they allow us to go but the good news is that they’re pretty talented so we’ll just keep working with them.”
The 2013 Ivy League season displayed how important the quarterback position is, as Princeton thrived with the stability of Quinn Epperly at the helm, while Penn struggled in large part due to Ragone’s injuries.
Yet while 2013 retaught everyone the importance of the QB, Penn’s quarterbacks were teaching their successors a few things about what it’s like as the man under center.
“You learn two different things from those guys,” Chillura said. “Billy will make a mistake here or there but he’ll never let it show. Billy could throw eight interceptions in a game and win it on a last-second drive. Becker was very much into preparation, very much into knowing exactly what was going on.
“If you take both those things, you know exactly what is going on ... and [when] you’re cold-blooded ‘Iceman Billy Ragone,’ you can’t go wrong.”
That preparation and poise will help these five quarterbacks come September, but more important than any lesson, whoever takes the job will have weapons at his disposal.
Whether it is junior Kyle Wilcox as the incumbent at running back or fellow junior Spencer Kulcsar transitioning to a role as a wide receiver, the Quakers will have an experienced backfield for 2014. Add to that seniors Conner Scott and Ty Taylor at wide receiver, as well as a group of tall and talented tight ends that were on display throughout the Spring Game.
Penn’s current stable of QBs threw a total of just 11 passes last season. And when the Red and Blue take the field next year, there will be a few kinks to work out in what Chillura said was a more up-tempo offense.
Yet, while next year will feature the changing of the guard at quarterback, Penn’s veterans surrounding the QB as well as a spring full of practice will put the Quakers in a good position this fall.