'They're not backing down from each other': Updates from Central Michigan's fierce quarterback battle
Jim McElwain and Kevin Barbay have made it clear.
There's no guesswork surrounding what's expected of Central Michigan's quarterbacks. They have to be better.
McElwain and Barbay, the Chippewas' head coach and offensive coordinator, have both expressed the urgency surrounding improving at the position heading into 2021. There may be a plethora of playmakers returning at skill positions, the success of the offense could come down to who is getting them the ball.
The consensus is that the job is up for grabs between Jacob Sirmon, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Washington, and incumbent third-year pandemic redshirt freshman Daniel Richardson. Outside of those two, only Tyler Pape was around for spring ball with Jase Bauer and Bailey Smith entering the program in fall camp.
According to Barbay, the competition itself is progressing well and believes will go down to the wire.
"They're not backing down from each other," Barbay said. "It is a fierce competition, every rep. And they're watching what each other does. They're also learning from what the others mistakes are."
Sirmon was the class of 2018's top quarterback recruit in Washington, staying in state to play for the Huskies. He backed up future NFL quarterback Jacob Eason for two seasons and Dylan Morris for another before entering the portal and choosing CMU in December.
"At this stage in my career, I've seen a lot and I've been around a lot of coaching staffs and players," Sirmon said. "And I'm really impressed with what coach (McElwain)'s done, with his history, his philosophy, what they're doing with the offense. The opportunities here that are available for me and this team, I'm really excited about being a part of this team and seeing where we can go."
With Richardson, the Chippewas have the quarterback recruit from McElwain's first recruiting class. The Miami, Florida native enrolled in the spring of 2019 and saw action in three games as a true freshman before stepping in for David Moore and starting four games in 2020.
The experience Richardson gained in 2020 was valuable, and his time in McElwain's offensive system may give him a leg up. In four games last year, Richardson was 63-for-99 for 714 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It's much faster than high school," Richardson said. "I only played three games my freshman year, coming in. It's really much faster, that's pretty much what I can say. The guys are much bigger, and just the competition level."
Speaking with the media at the start of fall camp, both Barbay and McElwain outlined their expectations for the eventual starting quarterback. Among the traits required are not turning the ball over and moving it down the field.
"When it comes to watch video of practice, this sounds pretty simplistic but it's the truth, can they throw completions to our guys and not the other team," McElwain said. "To me, at that position, know where you're going with (the ball) and be accurate where you're going with it."
In the case of Pape, there's plenty of potential. However, the 2020 signee missed all of fall camp last season as one of the greyshirted freshmen. He impressed McElwain in spring ball but may be set back a bit as a result of his relative inexperience.
At Parma Western High School, Pape was a second team all-state selection as a senior and holds several school records. At 6-foot-4, he has good size and could potentially see time as the season goes on.
"He's done a great job through the first couple practices," Barbay said. "He's very talented, a good athlete, strong arm. (He's) starting to pick up the speed of the game and doing a really good job for a young quarterback."
Bauer spent his summer finishing his high school baseball season. With his help, the Ankeny High School Hawks made it to the Iowa Class 4A state semifinals. Smith is coming to CMU after a three-and-a-half year stint as an army ranger.
Just three days into camp, things are far from settled. All indications show that the opening day starting job is currently up for grabs between Sirmon and Richardson, though Pape could throw his hat into the ring with a strong camp.
Yet, so much could change by the beginning of the season given the nature of the position.
"Right now, I don't have any way to say that's the one," McElwain said. "And yet, I feel like we're a lot stronger than we have been at that position."