Austin Howard and Deonte Shorts battled for the starting quarterback position during Southern’s preseason camp last year.
Shorts was the starter at the beginning of the season and Howard played part-time before supplanting an injured Shorts and becoming Southwestern Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year after helping lead the Jaguars into the SWAC title game.
So it was clear heading into this year’s camp that Howard is the starter, but that doesn’t mean the competition is over. Southern is still likely to utilize a package that takes advantage of Shorts’ running ability or perhaps those of Jarrad Hayes, who redshirted as a freshman last season and is pushing Shorts.
“I would love for all those guys to get some game-day reps,” coach Dawson Odums said. “Shorts and Austin have had theirs and it would be good to get Jarrad some of those reps also.”
The Howard-Shorts combination gave Southern a complete package last season. Howard has a stronger arm and Shorts is a more skillful runner, though neither is a one-dimensional quarterback.
As for Hayes, he said, “I don’t have the blazing speed of Deonte and I don’t throw the long balls that Austin throws, so I’m somewhere in between.”
As a result, Hayes said his two biggest areas of improvement during the offseason were arm strength and speed.
In the early days of camp, Howard, who played at West St. John High School, Shorts, who played at Southern Lab, and Hayes, who played at Central, are taking turns with all four teams.
“When everybody has a chance to go with the ones,” quarterbacks coach Chad Germany said, “you have a chance to really evaluate the quarterbacks.”
Shorts started the first three games last season before sitting out the conference opener at Prairie View to rest a sore elbow. Howard played an efficient game and helped the Jaguars to a 34-24 victory. He started the rest of the way except for a victory at Jackson State in which he didn’t play in the first half as punishment for missing curfew.
Howard and Shorts said they’re treating this camp as another competition even though Howard is the incumbent starter.
“Right now I’m the starter,” Howard said, “but I know the two guys that are behind me are working to get my spot. I’m just working to keep my spot but we don’t look at it like that. We look at it like we’re brothers. We’re going to help each other out and whoever is the best one will be first string.”
Even though running is a strength for Shorts, he said he’s working on being more patient with his scrambles, learning to continue with his progressions while buying time before committing to run.
“I’ve got the same mindset as last year,” Shorts said. “Nothing has changed. We don’t really look at it like one is the starter even though there is the one starter. We help each other with whatever we see.”
Hayes said he benefited from being able to watch Shorts and Howard play last season.
“They were in the line of fire,” he said. “They didn’t have as much time to think as I did so I was just sitting back, thinking about it putting myself in their shoes and deciding what I would do in their situation. That really helped me out a lot.
“I learned from their mistakes, seeing what they did right, what they did wrong. If they did something right that I didn’t necessarily know I implemented that into my game. If I saw them mess up on something I’d just make sure I didn’t make that mistake. That’s how I looked at it.”
Odums said he’s stressing to all the quarterbacks that the Jaguars’ abundance of talent at the skill positions means they just need to “make the safe throw, make the safe read and put us in the right situation to be successful.”
“They all have similar skill sets and they all have something a little different,” Germany said. “That adds a little different twist to the offense.
“Some time throughout a game or throughout the season I think we’ll definitely be able to take advantage of that and that will give other teams something else that they need to prepare for. We can use the additional talents as an additional weapon in the offense.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.