Making the case
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
If a scrimmage decided who will start at quarterback, the Garden City Community College's starting signal caller would be freshman Akeem Jones.
Jones, who was 4-for-6 for 79 yards and a pin-point 16-yard touchdown pass to the back shoulder of sophomore receiver Nile Daniel on his first drive of Friday night's Broncbusters football scrimmage at Buffalo Stadium, looked comfortable in new head coach Matt Miller's offensive system.
Sophomore Jake Curran, on the other hand, had to bounce back from a rough first series. He missed several open receivers, according to Miller, and then put an end to a rocky drive with an interception in the end zone.
"If anyone got an edge tonight, it would be Akeem," said Miller. "But we'll see how it goes."
It helps that Jones' top target at Miami Carol City High School, Brandon Snell, is also at Garden City playing receiver. And it also helps that Miller's system is similar to the system Jones ran at Miami Carol with different terminology, according to Jones.
Jones played out of the shotgun for much of the scrimmage and used his athletic ability to evade rushers to turn potential sacks into positive gains, including a 50-yard strike in the face of a free rusher. He also rushed for nine yards on three carries.
Curran did bounce back during his next drive, though, going 2-for-3 for 22 yards after the 1-for-5 and an interception start to the scrimmage.
"I feel like I could have played better to start off with," said Curran, noting the defenses' improvement.
It seemed both quarterbacks favorite target was Daniel, who had three receptions for 31 yards. No other receiver had more than one catch.
Curran and Jones were both helped by a bevy of running backs — 12 different running backs rushed the ball at least once, accumulating 80 yards. Sophomore stand out Tyreek Hill carried the ball three times for 16 yards. But it was sophomore Roshard Burney who had the best run of the day, taking a hand off from freshman quarterback Patrick Hoard up the middle for 22 yards. He finished the day with 30 yards on six carries.
Hoard — who came into the scrimmage behind Curran and Jones in the quarterback battle — came close to a second touchdown for the offense. Going against the second- and third-unit defenses, Hoard went 2-for-5 for 53 yards and utilized Burney's run during a 68-yard drive down to the 2-yard line. However, Burney was stuffed two times at the goal line, turning the ball over on downs.
It was just one of several sequences during the scrimmage where the defense shined.
Last season, the Busters' offense was the better unit. By far.
The Busters scored over 37.7 points per game and gave up nearly 40 points per game on defense. But if Friday night's scrimmage was any indication, it's the defense that might be better this season. At the very least, they should be much improved.
"We played well," said defensive coordinator Jeff Kelly, noting that the play calls for the new 3-4 defense were basic. "We just wanted to see how our kids would do, because we had some competition battles, who will step up — who wanted their spots and who didn't want it."
With over 90 players still vying to be included on the regular-season roster, there are still plenty of spots open with one week to go before the season opener. However, Kelly noted several freshmen made impact plays when given the chance.
"What I noticed, the younger guys stepping up and making plays," he said. "Our in-state guys made a lot of plays. They showed me something today."
The defense was "as bland as they could be" according to Miller, yet showed flashes of the athleticism and aggressiveness that could turn a sub-par unit into a very good unit this season. Defensive backs Tim Hill and Sam Green seemed to live up to their lofty billing and the front seven held their own against a stout offensive line featuring at least two future NCAA Division I players.
The second and third units played well, too, making Kelly and his defensive staff's job that much harder heading into the first week of the season where they will be forced to select the 20 out-of-state players they are allowed to keep on the roster and trim to the 63 players on the full roster.
"I don't think anybody hurt their chances because everybody played well," said Kelly.
Miller said the decisions would be made on Sunday.
"The hardest part as a coach is telling that guy that is talented and can play here, that there's just not a spot for him on this team. And for a lot of guys, it won't have anything to do with their talent. It will be what we need at certain positions."
The Busters open the season at 7 p.m. on Aug. 24 at Buffalo Stadium against the Independence Pirates and it also will be their first Jayhawk Conference game.