Dave Doeren has more of a comfort level with his quarterback situation after one practice in pads than he did a week ago, if only because the first-year N.C. State coach had almost no comfort level with contender Brandon Mitchell coming into his first training camp with the team.
“I didn’t even know if Brandon could throw a week ago,” Doeren said. “I hadn’t seen him play yet.”
Speaking after Wednesday’s practice, Doeren made it abundantly clear that what was once a five-player mish-mash of contenders is now a two-horse race between Pete Thomas, the former Colorado State starter who transferred to play in Tom O’Brien’s offense, and Mitchell, the Arkansas transfer who played wide receiver for the Razorbacks last season.
There may not be enough practices left to make a decision between the two, so the choice may simply come down to which unique asset Doeren values more: Thomas’ experience or Mitchell’s athleticism.
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Otherwise, there’s nothing now to separate the two of them.
“Today, both Pete and Brandon played better,” Doeren said after Wednesday’s practice. “Yesterday, Pete played maybe better than Brandon. Today, they both made a lot of plays. It seemed like we settled down a little bit over there with the quarterbacks. Both of them had some nice plays.”
Meanwhile, another transfer is lurking in the background -- Jacoby Brissett, who is sitting out this season after coming in from Florida.
N.C. State stands out in the ACC, where it’s a quiet year for quarterback controversies. Bryn Renner and Tanner Price return at North Carolina and Wake Forest respectively, and Anthony Boone was long ago groomed to be Sean Renfree’s replacement at Duke.
Elsewhere, there are returning veterans -- Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas, Stephen Morris, C.J. O’Brien, Chase Rettig -- as well as a few clear-cut successors like Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee.
There are jobs open at ACC newcomers Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and Virginia has to sort things out with presumed starter Philip Sims gone to Winston-Salem State, but there isn’t much more you can toss into the mix at N.C. State: New coach, new system, new quarterback who is likely to not have taken a snap in a Wolfpack uniform, even a new center.
“It’s way different than everything I ran, but I like it a lot,” Thomas said. “It’s going to help us as an offense in the pass game, in the run game. We just have to keep working and we have to get a lot better.”
Despite all those variables, Doeren has only three weeks to figure it out before the opener against Louisiana Tech, and no timetable for making that decision. He hasn’t seen nearly enough of either quarterback to have a feel for what they can do.
“I wish I could tell you that,” Doeren said. “We’re going to have to play enough snaps so it’s obvious to me, and we haven’t gotten there yet.”
With everything else going on, there may not be enough snaps in camp to figure it out. The quarterback decision may not be made until right before the Louisiana Tech game, maybe not until after that game.
At this point, it’s down to two guys. Beyond that, it’s far from obvious to anyone.