Three quarterbacks compete for coveted starting job

Left to right: Sophomore quarterback Damarcus Smith, sophomore quarterback James Mauro and junior quarterback Brandon Doughty all look to replace graduated senior Kawaun Jakes as the starting quarterback for the Toppers next year.

Elliott Pratt

The quarterback is a coveted position to own in a Bobby Petrino offense. The coach is known for developing quarterbacks that can fire the ball up and down the field efficiently.

With last season’s quarterback Kawaun Jakes graduating, that leaves three quarterbacks on the roster to compete for the starting job next fall.

Two of them — junior Brandon Doughty and redshirt sophomore James Mauro — combined to throw 21 passes during 2012, while redshirt sophomore Demarcus Smith is in his first year with WKU.

Smith, Mauro and Doughty are in a three-way battle for the top position on the offense.

Coach Petrino said the job was wide open when he arrived at WKU, and that he is in no hurry to make a decision.

“The one thing that I want to make sure is we don’t make any decisions until we have to,” Petrino said. “We keep giving them reps and see who is going to continue to get better. If you cut somebody’s reps, the other one gets better and he gets worse and there’s a huge separation.”

Of those three quarterbacks, Mauro saw the most snaps as Jakes’ backup. Mauro helped lead WKU from a 13-0 halftime deficit at Arkansas State to come back with 104 yards passing and two scores as the Toppers scored 26 unanswered points to defeat the Red Wolves on Sept. 29.

Doughty saw action late in games last year versus Austin Peay and Southern Mississippi.

Petrino said he had a chance to evaluate the two veterans while the team was nearing season’s end.

“I did get to watch Doughty and Mauro practice in a couple of the practices before the bowl game,” Petrino said. “I did get a chance to go back and watch last year and the second half of the Arkansas State game and (Mauro) did a really nice job executing and making a couple throws for big plays and touchdowns.”

“But it is just completely wide open and they have a little different strengths and different weaknesses.”

Mauro said the addition of Petrino as coach adds pressure to the quarterbacks to perform well early in camp.

“(Petrino) is around us a lot,” Mauro said. “He’s critiquing everything, which I want to be the best player I can be, so anything I need to improve on that he can help me with is good.”

Practice with Petrino is more business-like than the laid back style of former coach Willie Taggart. Brandon Doughty said Petrino’s system requires much more concentration from everyone, but especially the quarterbacks.

“Petrino has different schemes and stuff,” Doughty said. “Learning a new offense is hard. It’s hard work. You have to get in there and do extra stuff and do extra time. But the transition’s been all right, it’s going good.”

Damarcus Smith will finally have a chance to catch some playing time on the field after sitting out last year due to his transferring from Central Florida.

He is no stranger to the Commonwealth, however. Smith was a four-star recruit out of Louisville’s Seneca High School in 2011 and had committed to Louisville before heading to Central Florida.

Smith said it’s taken a lot for him to get back to his old ways on the field after sitting out for an entire year.

“I’ve been away from the game, so I have to try a little harder,” Smith said. “Everybody else has had experience at this. At the same time it’s also been a positive for me and keeps me motivated. Being able to have this opportunity again, I know I have to go out and get better am.”

Smith, just like his cohorts, is learning a new system, but says it’s great to have veterans on the field that can help him.

“I get to listen to them every day and they teach me little things,” Smith said. “As a player and as a quarterback you can still learn a lot from the players, rather than the coaches, just because they actually have that game experience of being in the game.”

Offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm specializes in working with quarterbacks and previously held the same title under Petrino at Louisville from 2003-06.

In the scrimmage on Saturday, Doughty and Mauro each threw a pick-six. Brohm said the biggest thing for the guys to work on is making smart decisions quickly.

“At times we made plays,” Brohm said. “I think the key is we have to find ways to take care of the ball, not throw it to the other team.  And we have to also find ways to get completions and move the chains.”

“We also want to analyze them when their throwing routes, the accuracy, their precision, the technique, the fundamentals they have, the leadership skills – all those things factor in to it and we’re going to continue to evaluate.”