By Dave Fairbank, email@example.com | 757-247-4637
4:41 PM EDT, August 5, 2013
WILLIAMSBURG — One was unable to participate in spring football after shoulder surgery. One spent most of the summer in a walking boot following foot surgery. The self-described "healthy one" works to grasp the new system, as do all of his mates on offense.
Welcome to the William and Mary Quarterback Derby, which began in earnest Monday as preseason camp opened at Tribe World Football Headquarters.
W&M has three quarterbacks with at least five starts over the past two seasons, which is nice for depth and experience, but lousy for continuity.
Raphael Ortiz, Michael Graham and Brent Caprio return after being part of last year's revolving door, with Graham the last one standing in a frustrating 2-9 season marked by offensive inconsistency.
"I think it affects the offense, with timing and cadences," Ortiz said of the position shuffle. "Linemen have to get used to my dropback and Graham's dropback and Caprio's dropback, and we're all different. We all do things a little differently. I think it's tough to have someone new every other game or every two games. But the biggest thing is trying to last the season with one quarterback, I think would improve the offense dramatically."
Ortiz started five games, Caprio and Graham three apiece. The Tribe played two quarterbacks in five of the first nine games, due to injury and poor play. Graham went the distance in the final two games after injuries sidelined the other two.
W&M uncharacteristically finished near the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association in scoring, total offense and pass offense for the second consecutive season. The resulting staff shake up brought in well-traveled, highly-credentialed Kevin Rogers as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Injuries have made the accompanying learning curve and evaluation process that much more difficult. Ortiz's participation in spring practice was limited to meetings and film study as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
He ramped up physical conditioning over the past three months and rehabbed his arm strength. He said that he is close to 100 percent and has spent weeks throwing to and developing a rapport with W&M's receivers.
"It was definitely difficult, seeing everyone out there playing and practicing, not being able to be out there and learning the new offense or getting with receivers," Ortiz said. "I think my timing is pretty much down. It's just game situations now and we'll see how that goes. That just comes with a lot of repetition. But last spring I was able to focus on the playbook and watch film. I think that was definitely helpful from a mental aspect."
Caprio, who has the most game experience of the three, hurt his left foot during the spring game and underwent surgery. He has been out of a walking boot for only the past three weeks, and will be limited at least through the first part of preseason practice.
"It's disappointing," Caprio said. "Senior year, senior summer, you want to do everything you can to make your last year worthwhile. When that happened to me, it was disappointing. But you know what, you learn from everything. Everything happens for a reason. I'm growing as a person because of it."
In jest, Graham referred to himself as "the healthy one," but with a caveat.
"I'm healthy in the winter and spring and summer," he said. "It's during the season that stuff happens."
Indeed, Graham was injured before the 2012 season opener at Maryland and aggravated the injury against Lafayette. The year before, he broke the index finger on his throwing hand versus Towson.
He has spent months studying video and attempting to get up to speed in Rogers' offense.
"I just go out and do my best every day," he said. "I don't really worry about whether there's a battle. All you do is the best you can do. We're all still friends and cheer each other on, but if you do the best you can do, everything will work out."
With Ortiz likely on a "pitch count" in order not to stress his arm early in camp and Caprio limited physically, underclassmen Christian Brumbaugh and Steve Cluley figure to get plenty of work, as well.
Ortiz is the most physically gifted of the three main candidates, largely because he is more mobile and able to extend and make plays on the run. However, he must be smarter about taking on defenders, because he absorbed more punishment than necessary.
"I was pretty stupid," Ortiz said, "going up against Stephon Robertson from JMU, Towson's linebackers and people like that. Getting down, sliding, getting out of bounds will be big this year, just trying to protect my body and stay healthy all 12 games."
For Tribe quarterbacks, that would be a novelty.
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