UAlbany football still sorting out retooled offense, quarterback situation

UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso, right, speaks with players and assistant coaches on the sideline during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in Albany.

UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso, right, speaks with players and assistant coaches on the sideline during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in Albany.

ALBANY — In its first day practicing with full pads on, the UAlbany football team spent the final hour or so of Wednesday morning’s workout at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium going through what head coach Greg Gattuso termed a “partial” scrimmage.

For the first half of it, at least, it was all defense, to the point that Gattuso threw a flag on linebacker AJ Mistler — who wasn’t even practicing during the scrimmage — just to leave the offensive group that was on the field out there to get a few more plays after another drive had stalled.

The flag thrown on Mistler is a long-running joke by the head coach — “I throw one on him every scrimmage, just for fun,” Gattuso said. “He wasn’t even out there.” — but the need to see offensive improvement was genuine.

The Great Danes are holding a four-man competition for the starting quarterback job, and as the team moves into its second full week of practice, Gattuso is hoping to see signs of separation and hierarchy between the quartet, which includes returners Joey Carino and Tyler Szalkowski, as well as transfers Matt Valecce and Reese Poffenbarger.

The four spent the first week working in pairs that switched on a daily basis between getting snaps with the first and second teams. Wednesday, all four rotated with both the starters and backups.

“We sped up our timetable a little bit,” Gattuso said. “We want to make some decisions today and get out of our pairs and start ranking them.”

Gattuso said that ranking would come out of post-practice film evaluation, though he’s seen encouraging signs from a few of his prospective signal-callers.

With only 25 preseason practices, Gattuso wants to start narrowing the field to get a potential starter maximum snaps with the first team in advance of UAlbany’s Sept. 3 opener against a Baylor team that’s ranked 10th in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.

“You only have 25 practices. Ten years ago, we probably would’ve had 25 practices by now,” he said. “The hard part is getting the reps for them. We have to speed our timetable up a little bit to get guys to fit into where we think they fit. They’re pretty close, a couple of these guys, and I don’t see that were necessarily be a clear-cut one, but I think we’re going to get to a good place.”

There were a few standout moments, but for much of the scrimmage, the offense either struggled to string plays together or bogged down in critical situations.

That, Gattuso said, was a change from the opening week of practice, where the offense largely outshined the defense for several days. 

Things improved on offense in the second half of the scrimmage, with Gattuso praising running backs Jose Lopez-Quinones and Landon Alexander, both of whom got extended looks with the first unit as graduate student Todd Sibley was held out of the full-contact portion of practice.

“This is a four-quarter game,” Sibley said. “Even if you start practicing a little slow, you can always pick it up.”

That depth in the backfield could lead to a more balanced approach than the last several seasons as the Great Danes seek to replace Karl Mofor, who spent the last two seasons essentially as the team’s sole running back option.

“We’re a little bit deeper at running back since we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Gattuso said, “and that’s comforting.”

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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