CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois is one week away from playing its season opener. Game preparation for the Aug. 29 visit to Chattanooga has begun and snaps in practice are being allocated to the players who will see the field the most.
That includes narrowing down the quarterback competition. EIU coach Adam Cushing has not named a starter or resolved it, but he has two finalists.
“We’re starting to hone in on it,” Cushing said Wednesday. “We have Harry Woodbery and Johnathan Brantley both rising up in the competition at quarterback. Both have an opportunity to influence the game in a positive way. The best problem to have is that you trust two quarterbacks to do all the things right. I think we’re in a good place there.”
Earlier in camp, Cushing left open the possibility of an offense that features roles for two quarterbacks. He’s still open to going that route and is still giving both Brantley and Woodbery snaps with the starting unit. Neither has decidedly surpassed the other.
"It’s just their consistency,” Cushing said. “Moving the ball down the field is the job of the quarterback, however you do it. It doesn’t always have to be with a flashy throw. Those guys have been really consistent with their decisions and their effort.”
Cushing’s refrain for all of camp has focused on finding EIU’s best 15 to 16 offensive players and ensuring they see the field in some noteworthy way. Unless one position is a quagmire of mediocrity where someone has to play, eleven of those are presumably going to be starters. That leaves about five spots for other guys who may not start, but the coaching staff still feels can make a positive impact.
“If one of your best 15 happens to back up one of those other guys, he still needs an opportunity to influence the game,” Cushing said. “You find a way to get him on the field, mix things in. What we’re working on right now is how we make sure our best football players, the guys that have been the most consistent, can impact the game.”
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Those impactful reserves are usually running backs, wide receivers or tight ends that have differing skill sets than the starter, but can complement the starter’s ability. EIU’s case, though, has a twist. Each quarterback has unique, exclusive traits that offer something to the offense and complements the other, with Brantley’s athleticism and running ability the obvious one.
Does that mean two of EIU’s best 15 or 16 offensive players are, in fact, quarterbacks?
“Absolutely,” Cushing said. “Without question.”
All that’s left is to see the plan he unveils to stick with his training camp mantra.
Offensive lineman Travis Buckwalter was not at practice Wednesday and is no longer listed on EIU’s online roster. Cushing confirmed Buckwalter has left the team.
Buckwalter started 10 games (nine at guard) in 2018, the most career starts of any returning offensive lineman. That did not lock him into any assurances of playing time under Cushing and staff, though. He had been competing with the other nine returners and eight freshmen.
Aaron Miller is now EIU’s most experienced lineman, with nine career starts. All of those came in 2017. He missed the 2018 season due to injury, but has been healthy all camp and projects to be in EIU’s offensive line rotation.