It’s better to have too many quarterbacks than to get caught not having enough.
East Carolina fans are all too familiar with that football fact of life after spending the past two seasons watching their team struggle with limited options at the most important position on the field because of injury, transfer and ineffectiveness.
That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Although it’s yet to be seen how good the candidates turn out to be, the Pirates currently have three viable quarterbacks on their roster for 2017 with another highly-rated prospect already committed to join the mix the following season.
The improved numbers will give coach Scottie Montgomery more flexibility than he had in his first year on the job. But it also means he’ll have more decisions to make, both for the short term and the future.
As Montgomery and quarterbacks Gardner Minshew, Reid Herring and early arrival Kingsley Ifedi begin the process of sorting the situation out, here’s a look at how things stand with the start of spring practice only a few weeks away:
■ The frontrunner: Although not technically the incumbent, Minshew enters the competition with the advantage of being the only contender with actual college game experience. The junior college transfer saw action in seven games last season, including a pair of starts.
Though Minshew compiled some respectable stats — completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,347 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions while often having to run for his life behind a porous offensive line — the sample size of his body of work is just too small to simply concede the starting job to him.
But at least he’s somewhat of a known quantity.
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Minshew is a traditional dropback passer with a strong arm and an ability to make plays downfield. His decision-making skills, however, still need work as does his penchant for committing game-changing turnovers such as his pick-six against Central Florida and lost fumble in the season finale at Temple.
■ The heir apparent: The fact that Montgomery stayed committed to Herring’s redshirt rather than pressing him into action after starter Philip Nelson began dealing with his concussion and shoulder issues speaks volumes about how much the staff feels about the former three-star prospect.
Herring has a strong arm, but it’s his quick release that might serve him best unless the Pirates can significantly upgrade their offensive line. Like Minshew, he’s primarily a pocket passer who can also run the ball if necessary — though he probably needs to add a little more bulk to his 6-3 frame to stand up to the physical rigors of a 12-game season at this level.
From all accounts, Montgomery and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tony Peterson are happy with the progress Herring made both physically and in learning their system during his redshirt year. Now it’s up to him at spring practice and into the fall to show them that it’s his time to step in and be the Pirates’ offensive leader for the next four years.
■ The wild card: By all accounts, Ifedi is the most athletic and physically talented of the three quarterback candidates. He’s also the first one recruited and signed by the current staff, which leads to the assumption that he’s Montgomery’s “guy.”
The dual threat talent has inspired favorable comparisons to Clemson’s two-time Heisman Trophy runnerup Deshaun Watson and has the numbers to back up his hype. He passed for 4,052 yards, the fourth-highest total in state history, and 47 touchdowns at Charlotte’s Vance High last season while adding another 1,092 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. At 6-3, 210, he’s still a little slender for his build, but that’s likely to change once strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors is finished with him.
The biggest question with Ifedi is how long it’s going to take before he’s ready to play?
The wait might not be long.
As an early enrollee, Ifedi is already in class, already going through the Pirates’ offseason training program and in a few weeks will get the benefit of a full spring practice to help prepare him for fall camp. A strong performance could potentially catapult him to the top of the depth chart and into the mix for the starting job.
In some ways, ECU’s impending quarterback battle is reminiscent of the one it faced heading into the 2012 season.
That year, Rio Johnson, Shane Carden and Cody Keith, along with walkon Brad Wornick, went head-to-head for the starting job. Johnson was the only one of the group that had seen any game action. Carden was the more experienced newcomer while Keith was a redshirt freshman at the time.
Johnson ended up winning the job, but was replaced by Carden midway through the second game.
Though it’s still early, there’s a good chance that this year’s competition will play out to a similar script with Minshew getting the first crack at the job and Herring waiting in the wings for the first sign of trouble. Ifdei would then be held back as a redshirt.
That all could change depending on how quickly Ifedi progresses.
There’s incentive for Montgomery to throw Ifedi right into the fray if he has a strong spring. Not only is the true freshman “his guy,” but with another highly-rated quarterback already committed for next year in Greenville native Holton Ahlers, it might be beneficial to see what the kid can do before the next candidate arrives.
It’s a complicated situation, for sure.
But if nothing else, Montgomery at least has options, which is a lot better than the alternative of not having enough quarterbacks to go around.