Who’s the man? Four players competing to be the Apollos QB
By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter
SAN ANTONIO — Orlando Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. He was a good enough one in college to win a Heisman Trophy, and spent nearly a decade playing the position in the NFL. He’s also coached a Heisman-winning quarterback in Danny Wuerffel. Right now, the “Head Ball Coach” is trying to figure out which one will be running his offense when The Apollos take the field on February 9 against the Atlanta Legends in the inaugural season opener.
The Apollos selected four quarterbacks in The Alliance of American Football’s “Protect or Pick” QB Draft in the fall: Garrett Gilbert, Stephen Morris, Austin Appleby and Kevin Anderson. All four are in training camp in San Antonio, each vying for one of what will likely be three quarterback spots on the final, 52-man roster.
To many outside observers, Gilbert is the favorite to be the starter. The Apollos chose the 6’4” tall, 230-pound Southern Methodist University product in the first round of the QB Draft, followed by Morris, Appleby and Anderson. Gilbert recently spent one game as a member of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, completing two of the three passes he threw in the only action he saw.
But, Spurrier said before the start of camp that it’s open competition for the starting job.
“We are going to try to give them all a chance to throw as many passes as they can, especially early,” Spurrier said. He went on to say that one will likely be let go after the first couple of weeks.
All four quarterbacks have received their share of reps in camp so far. At this point in training camp, they’re all still learning the system and how to execute it.
“It’s a little different scheme for them, a little different throwing motion. Not motion, but head position and all of that kind of stuff,” Spurrier said.
The first week of training camp is almost over, but it looks like the offense is still finding its stride in practice, with the defense performing at a slightly higher level to this point. Gilbert says he’s confident the unit will get where it wants to be.
“We’ve got a chance to be really good. We’ve kind of … put those first few pieces together. We’ve certainly got a long way to go, a lot of strides to make, but I’m excited about where we’re at,” Gilbert said.
To a man, the quarterbacks have all expressed excitement and appreciation for Spurrier’s offense.
“There’s a lot of room to make it right,” said Appleby, a 6-4, 225-pound product of the University of Florida who had a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys. “He’s giving you tools to put in your tool kit. If things aren’t right, you have the ability as a quarterback to be empowered to get us into the right play, and that’s awesome for a quarterback. You don’t want to feel paralyzed or stuck like you’re in a box.
Kevin Anderson, the 6-2, 215-pound passer from Fordham University, is also a fan of Spurrier’s scheme.
“It’s what every good offense wants to do. If you can throw the ball down the field, we have the speed to do that — we’ve got a lot of fast guys and we definitely have the quarterbacks to throw it down the field,” Anderson said.
Quarterback Stephen Morris has the most NFL experience of the four quarterbacks. The 6-2, 218-pound Miami (FL) product has spent time with six NFL teams, most recently with the Houston Texans. Morris says he’s most excited about the speed the Apollos have on offense.
“We’ve got a lot of speed here so we want to attack the field vertically. A lot of things that we do here are similar. It’s an exciting offense and we should be able to put up a lot of points,” Morris said.
Each quarterback has a lot in common. All four are mobile and all four have good arm strength. Anderson looks to be the leader in the mobility department. He’s shown his scrambling ability in practice more than once during training camp, making plays with his legs several times. But Spurrier’s scheme requires that quarterbacks make the majority of their plays in the passing game. Anderson is capable of that, but Gilbert has shown to have the most accurate arm of the group to this point.
That doesn’t mean that Appleby and Morris haven’t made their share of plays, either. At times, each has exhibited the talents and raw tools that got them here. In fact, there have been days where each has looked like the sharpest of the bunch. That’s made this position battle a difficult one to handicap so far.
One thing is certain: no matter which one of the four is under center when The Apollos host The Atlanta Legends on February 9, he’ll be a playmaker with a whole lot of offensive tools at his disposal.