YOUNGSTOWN - The good news is the defense played well during Youngstown State's first scrimmage of training camp.
The bad news is the quarterback competition remains as murky as the Mahoning River.
It took more than an hour for the first-team offense to score a touchdown against the first-team defense, with redshirt freshman Ricky Davis lobbing a 16-yard pass to a wide-open Andrew Williams midway through the scrimmage.
That was one of the few highlights for the three contenders (Davis, junior Dante Nania and true freshman Hunter Wells) battling at quarterback. YSU coach Eric Wolford seemed a bit frustrated that no one has stepped up and made it clear they deserve to be the starter.
"Hopefully we can sort through this quarterback situation and kind of get the numbers down a little bit so we don't have to spread it out as much," he said. "Going into today, it was getting muddier and muddier. We'll go back and look at the film and really sit down, sleep on it and try to get (the competition) down a little bit going into Monday's practice. It's just too hard to split up three guys getting reps with the ones and twos. Originally, it wasn't supposed to be that way, but Hunter Wells came in and did some really good things early on in practice that you just couldn't deny the guy."
The quarterbacks were at a slight disadvantage because of several minor injuries to receivers. Starter Andre Stubbs was hit hard by 300-pound defensive lineman Octavius Brown after he ran out of bounds. Brown was flagged for a late hit, and Stubbs didn't return for precautionary reasons. Wide receiver Christian Bryan, a three-year starter, didn't play (hamstring) and starter Andrew Williams is coming off an injury, as is part-time starter Michael Wheary, although both played on Saturday.
The lack of separation from the defensive backs was obvious. That left the quarterbacks throwing short, check-down passes - for the most part. Wells finished 5 of 8 for 50 yards. Davis was 1 of 6 with the TD, and Nania was 6 of 8 for 46 yards, but one of his misses was an overthrown pass to Jelani Berassa, who was streaking down the field wide open on a seam route.
"They probably didn't really get the opportunity to do that," said Wolford when asked if any QB separated himself from the group. "We're down a couple receivers. You have a couple young guys in there, and it's just not the same threat."
On the flip side, the defense looked significantly better than it did during its last showing, a horrid performance at the Spring Game. This time around the Penguins forced two fumbles, with freshman safety Kevin Wilson returning the second 101 yards for a touchdown.
"I was wiggling," laughed Wilson, who zigged and zagged to avoid tackling attempts from Nania and Wheary, one of the fastest players on the team. "(Wheary) was on me. I saw him coming."
Sophomore Jameel Smith, the returning starter at free safety, made the second best defensive play of the day when he met powerful running back Ryan Moore head on in the secondary. Not only did he stand up Moore, who made an impressive 70-yard TD run a few minutes earlier, but Smith was able to rip the ball out as he finished the tackle.
Smith is part of a young-but-talented secondary, one that had its share of struggles last season but has blanketed receivers throughout training camp.
"We're coming together as a unit," he said. "Everyone's doing their job and relying on the person next to them."
The offense admittedly needs some work, and it starts with the man under center. The coaches said last week they planned on making a decision on a starter after the second week (a week from today), so this week will be crucial for each one. Center Stephen Page isn't sure who the right man for the job is, but he provided a little laughter with his assessment of which quarterback takes the best snaps.
"Under center, everyone has a different feel," said Page, a Newton Falls graduate. "Dante, he's a little bit more experienced, so he knows how to get up in there."
That's half the battle.