UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — It isn’t surprising that SMU head coach Sonny Dykes hasn’t pinpointed a timeline for naming a starting quarterback.
It also isn’t surprising that the two names dominating the spring quarterback battle are four-star recruit Preston Stone and grad-transfer Tanner Mordecai.
But what is surprising about SMU’s push to replace two-year starter Shane Buechele is there is a third name popping into the discussion that just won’t seem to go away.
“Derek Green has done a good job just taking the reins a little bit,” offensive coordinator Garrett Riley said on Tuesday. “He has been in a backup role since he has been here. He has learned a lot from a pretty good player in front of him. It is his turn now to really get more reps.”
“He’s becoming a leader… He knows it is his time and he stepping up and competing,” wide receiver Danny Gray added.
In a quarterback battle between SMU’s highest-rated recruit since the Death Penalty and a transfer from Oklahoma, Green is the outlier of the group attempting to win the starting job. Yet, he is also the name that continues to emerge as the leader of the early quarterback race.
Even if most of the comments coming out of spring camp are starkly noncommittal when it comes to the position, it’s Green who has routinely come away with the most glowing reviews.
“I thought he probably had his best practice I’ve ever seen him have today. I was encouraged by that,” Dykes said after the team’s fourth practice. “The other guys, we’ve got to look at the film and see, but I really liked what Derek did today. Like I said, it was his best day that I’ve seen him certainty since he’s been here.”
Green is the underdog for the position battle for a number of reasons — not including the fact that he has more career rushing attempts, 13, than passing attempts, three. He is the quarterback who comes into the spring with the least cachet.
Stone is the early-enrollee from the Dallas-area who picked SMU over Alabama, LSU and just about every other Power Five school in the country. Dykes, the day he signed with the program, called him the “future” of SMU football and the “poster child” for the recruiting class.
Mordecai is the third-year transfer from powerhouse Oklahoma. He had spent the last two years backing up Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jalen Hurts and then Spencer Rattler. He is also the beneficiary of the Lincoln and Garrett Riley connection in terms of offense and scheme.
“There wasn’t much of an adjustment for Tanner,” Riley said. “He walked into the door in Dallas and knew 80% of the offense day one.”
And then there is Green, who is best known for being the lone backup to Buechele last year after Terrance Gipson transferred midseason. Even then, more attention was given to the possibility of wide receiver Tyler Page moonlighting at quarterback then Green getting a chance.
Green also had a calling card for holding kicks. He saved the game against Tulane last year, scrambling to hold a poor snap on the final play of a walk-off win from Chris Naggar.
Either way Green’s two claims to relevance have nothing to do with throwing the ball. Really what he is best known for is being the only link left in the quarterback room to Buechele. Yet here he is, one week into spring practice, taking up an unexpected amount of room.
“Yes, you’d be surprised,” Dykes said when asked if Green was a real option to win the starting role. “Guys can grow and make a jump. He was going to have to improve to warrant getting reps and he has. He’s made a big jump.”
Of course, at this point in spring practice, there are few tangible things to point to that would show Green really is the frontrunner. With career numbers since coming out of high school of 1-for-3 passing with an interception, there is really nothing to compare it to.
It is also unclear where Green fits in as far what traits the coaching staff values most in the eventual starter. Riley was relatively evasive when asked about it. He said it was just “all the normal things you would think of.”
So, at this point, it is mostly just talk, and will likely be that way for some time. Dykes noted that picking a starter is an inexact science. It will come the day when “everyone just knows.”
In reality, the competition will most likely drag on. For now, though, it looks like Green, ever unlikely, may have a real chance in the race.
“There are no favorites. I think we all as coaches and fans and people who follow the program, you kind of make assumptions on this is going to happen, that’s going to happen,” Dykes said. “Quite a bit of the time, that doesn’t happen that way so we don’t really have a preconceived notion.”