Vanderbilt’s first-year football coach James Franklin is hesitant to name a starting quarterback.
Two-year starter Larry Smith is cautious to say he is out in front, especially just five practices into spring football. Those chasing him are not.
“Larry definitely has the advantage seeing how he started the past two years,” redshirt sophomore Charlie Goro said. “With how we compete, it makes it better. It makes it more fun. It makes everything a competition and that is what we all like. We are all competitors out here.”
Only one, however, will get the nod as starting quarterback when the season opener rolls around in the fall. Right now, Smith seems to have the edge on the others — Goro, junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers and walk-on redshirt sophomore John Townsley — as he has received most of the repetitions during practice.
That quartet is at Vanderbilt this spring but will be joined by incoming freshmen Lafonte Thourogood (a four-star quarterback who de-committed from Virginia Tech), Josh Grady and Kris Kentera over the summer.
But Smith (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) is the only quarterback who has played in a collegiate game. He and outgoing senior Jared Funk took all the game snaps in 2010.
Goro (6-2, 202) redshirted his freshman campaign but did not play last fall. Rodgers (6-2, 205) sat out last season because of a shoulder injury. He underwent surgery in November and his participation has been limited. Townsley (6-4, 200) was one of six new players to come out of an open student tryout Franklin held in February.
“I know you guys want me to say who the frontrunner is,” Franklin said. “Larry has a lot of skills. Obviously he has played in games before, so he has got some experience to work with. But we’ll just kind of see how this plays out.”
Smith, who was named Alabama’s Mr. Football in 2006, has started 20 games in the last two seasons. Last fall he completed 47.4 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
He struggled at times with accuracy and consistency. An ankle injury kept him out of the regular-season finale.
“I can never be satisfied with my game,” said Smith, who, along with Goro, scored a touchdown during Saturday’s scrimmage. “There is always something I can improve on. So I am just trying to work on each and every little detail within my game right now and trying to get better. ... Trying to work on the things I can control: my mechanics, as far as studying the film, studying the playbook. That is all I can focus on right now. ... I’m not really focused on the starting job right now.”
He also has to learn a new offense under Franklin and his first-year coaching staff.
During practice on Thursday, Smith and Goro took snaps under center, from the shotgun, with two wide receiver sets and three wide receiver sets. The mix-and-match offenses will be a constant during practices this spring as Franklin tries to find the right fit for the Commodores.
Franklin says he has received suggestions from offensive line coach Herb Hand, who was re-hired when Franklin took over in December. Franklin has also picked up schemes from what worked for offensive coordinator John Donovan (Maryland), wide receivers coach Chris Beatty (West Virginia) and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne (Kansas State) at their previous schools.
“We have a base of who we are but then we are taking some things we feel like fit and adding to it,” Franklin said. “We want to be as multiple as we possibly can. ... Right now we are just trying to lay the foundation, get a better feel for who we are and then we can focus on those things the second half of spring ball, really for the summer.”
By that time — or perhaps sooner — Vanderbilt could have a starting quarterback named.
Franklin, however, isn’t going to rush that process.
“These guys got a lot of things going through their heads,” Franklin said. “Plus, now they are starting to see multiple looks on defense and blitzing and things like that. I’ll have a much better idea after the spring but their attitudes have been great. They do have some skills to work with so we’ll see how it goes.”