CHARLESTON — Neither Eastern Illinois coach Kim Dameron nor EIU offensive coordinator Scott Parr are tipping their hands at who is winning the quarterback competition during spring practice. So far, each quarterback is getting an equal amount to prove their worth.
Mitch Kimble was scheduled to be the Panthers' starting quarterback last year but suffered an injury early in the third game of the season, and it was musical chairs at quarterback since. Scotty Gilkey Jr., who will be a redshirt sophomore, saw the most time with Kimble out. He played in nine games and while he shined at times, he only completed 44.9 percent of his passes for 606 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. He rushed for 274 yards and six touchdowns. Bud Martin, who played in six games and threw eight interceptions, transferred and is currently a junior college quarterback coach in Florida.
Gilkey Jr. returns along with freshman Jaylon Banks, who redshirted this past season. They are joined by Tulane transfer Johnathan Brantley, who has two years of eligibility remaining, and Navarro Junior College transfer Harry Woodbery, who has three years of eligibility remaining.
During the first scrimmage last Saturday, the Panthers went through 64 plays. All four quarterbacks played an equal number of snaps – 16 – which has been normal for all of spring camp with all four quarterbacks getting the same amount of reps. So all four are getting an equal opportunity to compete for the starting spot, which probably won't be determined until camp in August.
"We are just continuing to compile as much information as we can and give all four of them the best chance to compete with the ones and the twos. We may start making decisions, but I am not in a hurry," Dameron said. "They are all competing very well, and I am very happy with their progress."
The group gets bigger in the summer when Qua Gray, an incoming freshman from Texas who threw 60 touchdowns passes, joins the group.
Parr said the quarterback battle is going "good," but wouldn't tip his hand on if anyone has an edge so far.
"We've got four guys that can all operate our offense. They all have different strengths and all have weaknesses that they can improve on. They are all competitors and will all make each other better, which will, in turn, make our team better," Parr said. "The leader is going to be the guy that improves himself through the rest of these practices and into the summer. It's going to be a long evaluation period. Choosing the right guy is probably more important than choosing the guy."
For Gilkey Jr. and Banks, it's a whole new system for the two. Gilkey Jr. played under Greg Stevens' offense the past two seasons and now is learning the Air Raid offense along with Banks, who threw for 1,983 yards and 22 touchdowns at Oswego East High School as a senior.
Parr said both quarterbacks are "on point" in terms of learning the offense.
"I am anticipating a big jump from them after we get done with these practices," Parr said. "They get to go home in May and process the information and rep it some more in the summer. I anticipate a big jump from both of them in the summer."
Brantley may be a transfer, but Parr is familiar with the Tulane transfer. He had his eye on Brantley when he played at CE King High School in Houston. Brantley played in six games at Tulane last season and started against Oklahoma. In high school, he passed for 5,539 yards and 55 touchdowns in his career and rushed for 2,159 yards and 32 touchdowns.
"He's doing a good job and he's got the mobility factor. That's his biggest strength. He can extend plays and has really good speed and change of direction," Parr said. "He's a sponge, committed to the game and he's doing a good job."
Both Brantley and Woodbery were on campus back in January. Woodbery transferred in from the school where Parr was the offensive coordinator before, Navarro, before being named EIU's new offensive coordinator this past winter. Woodbery redshirted his freshman season and played 10 games under Parr this past year, throwing for 2,131 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He's the one who knows Parr's system and has helped others pick up on the Air Raid offense.
"He's done a good job of teaching the quarterbacks and the entire offense. We were ahead in installing the offense from day one because of him and Matt Reyna (Navarro wide receiver transfer)," Parr said. "That's probably a big reason why I am pleased with where we are at now."
All four quarterbacks will have the chance to make their case for the starting spot in the fall during EIU's spring game, which is at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at O'Brien Field. There will also be a free kids camp at 2:30 p.m. before the spring game for all kids in eighth grade or under.