Johnson says MSU quarterback battle still tight

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

Mississippi State’s quarterback room now contains a reality show star in the form of former Louisville and East Mississippi Community College signal caller Wyatt Roberts, who recently rose to national fame courtesy of his role on the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U”.

Ironically, MSU’s quarterbacking situation might serve as a high-quality television drama in its own right as the stable of athletes continue to compete to win the starting job.

Less than three weeks remain before the Bulldogs kick off the 2016 season on Sept. 3 against South Alabama. Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said on Monday that MSU hasn’t gotten much closer in recent days to figuring out exactly who’ll be taking the first snaps of the year.

“The status quo remains currently in the evaluation process,” Johnson said. “We’re continuing to get guys the reps that we need to get a great evaluation. We’ve just got to keep competing at a high level and find a way to perform.”

Some clarity came about for Johnson and head coach Dan Mullen late last week. Elijah Staley, once a part of the race to take over the quarterback job along with Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams and Nick Tiano, decided it was in his best interests to transfer.

Johnson said he was “pretty involved” in Staley’s decision to leave Starkville. He noted he’s been in constant contact with him since.

“I wish him the best obviously,” Johnson said of Staley. ”He’s a great young man that has a really bright future ahead of him. He’s got such a great personality. These deals with us aren’t just a about football. Getting the chance to be around him for three years, hopefully I’ve had an impact on his life in a positive way. I know that he has on mine.

“I’ll always be an Elijah Staley fan.”

With Staley leaving, a door opened for Roberts to walk on. It’s highly unlikely Roberts is given much consideration for the starting job. He’s only had about 72 hours to learn the MSU offense. Fitzgerald and Williams have been around since 2013. Tiano is in his second year with the team.

Still, Roberts may be a factor in the race. He has a reputation as a player that is a positive locker room presence, in addition to boasting skills that should push the other quarterbacks on the roster.

“It’s good to have him around,” Johnson said of Roberts. “We had a little fun in the meeting room because I had just finished watching the deal on Netflix. So it’s good. He’s a great kid.”

Roberts, currently a junior, could end up redshirting. That’s still up in the air at this point. Also still up in the air is which of the threesome of Fitzgerald, Williams and Tiano is actually the frontrunner in the race to be the starter.

“It’s been up and down,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of similar to how it was in the spring. We see a guy play well one day and then the next guy perform well the next day. We’ll just continue to keep going throughout the evaluation process and see if things clear up here pretty soon.”

Mullen has stated in the past he’d like to have the job settled by game week, even if it’s on a temporary basis. The man it ends up being will be the quarterback that delivers the most consistent performances over the next couple of weeks says Johnson.

“Consistency is still what this whole thing boils down to,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to put them in as many game-like situations that we can possibly get them in before game time. It’s just the continual development at the position and understanding different looks and different defenses and (last Thursday’s scrimmage) was a great test to get them in game situations where they have to manage the offense, down and distance and situations and different opportunities with risk versus reward and things of that nature.”

If any one of Fitzgerald, Williams or Tiano is starting to separate himself, Johnson isn’t tipping his hand. It doesn’t appear to be an act either.

That means, with the Bulldogs getting ever so close to the season opener, every rep is of the utmost importance.

“I think in a perfect world, you’d probably have liked (the starting quarterback) defined in the spring, but it’s not a perfect world,” Johnson said. “You play the hand that you’re dealt and keep working and striving to give yourself the best opportunity.”

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