By Andrew Houghton
POCATELLO — Gunnar Amos and Matt Struck know they’re competing, but they’re reluctant to talk about it.
“Ultimately, the coaches are trying to find out who’s better for the team,” Struck said. “And I can’t sit here and say I’m better or not better for the team. That’s their decision based on performance day in and day out between me and Gunnar.”
That’s been the party line for both Idaho State quarterbacks, and instead of focusing on the outcome of the competition, both have set their sights on day-to-day improvement early in fall camp.
Amos, a 6-foot-1 senior, and Struck, a 6-foot-3 junior, have been the presumed competitors for the starting job since departed senior Tanner Gueller threw his last pass for the Bengals against Weber State last November.
Amos has the most experience, backing up Gueller for the last two seasons after transferring from Idaho. Struck, meanwhile, transferred to ISU from Riverside Community College for the 2018 season, but didn’t play.
Eight of the other 10 starters on offense are coming back from a unit that put up nearly 500 yards per game, which will help the eventual winner.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of us, as the quarterback, not having to worry so much about getting the wide receivers lined up in the right formation,” Amos said.
“Our centers and our O-line are great at seeing pressures, so for me, I don’t always have to see every single pressure. If I don’t see something, our offensive line can sort that out and pick it up, which makes our job a lot easier, we can focus more on what we have to do and not focus as much on what other players are doing.”
So far in fall camp, both have thrown the ball well, drawing praise from players and coaches.
“I thought their reads were pretty good today on some of the stuff,” head coach Rob Phenicie said Monday. “They’re coming along, the defense is throwing a lot at us, and they’ve got to see their protection and all that. So, they’re progressing good and they’re both making some good throws.”
With the team in full pads for the first time Monday, the Bengals practiced a steady diet of runs, screens and short passes.
In that environment, Amos looked a little more consistent, getting the ball out accurately and on time — but, as it’s been all fall, it was very close between him and Struck.
Both pointed to a throw from the day as emblematic of the progress they’ve made thus far.
“There was a throw today on a four verticals (play) to one of our tight ends, Jake Johnson,” Amos said. “Earlier in the week, we had put in that play and both Matt and I had missed the tight ends on that play. We had known the day before that it was going to be open, and we both missed it. So to come back today and read it right and hit it and get a good play on it, it was good.”
For Struck, it was redeeming one of his interceptions from Saturday’s practice.
“I threw a pick (Saturday) on one of the new plays that we installed, on one of our primary reads,” Struck said, “and then today I saw it and came back to the secondary read and I hit that to (Isaiah Walter) for a pretty good gain, so that was good to come back the next day and correct my mistake.”
Phenicie and the coaching staff have played things close to the vest, alternating the two quarterbacks’ reps with the first string and not offering a date for when they expect to make a decision.
It’s possible the Bengals could go into the season still undecided and play two quarterbacks for the first couple games, against Division-II Western Colorado and FBS Utah.
But until that verdict comes, it’ll be business as usual for the two players in the eye of the storm.
“(I’m) just taking it day by day and not focusing on the outcome. That will come September 5,” Struck said, referencing the date of the Bengals’ season opener. “Just every day, making myself better to put myself in position to help the team and put myself in a position to achieve whatever I’m trying to achieve.”
- Five days into fall camp, Phenicie said that play installation was probably 90 percent done for both the offense and the defense. With that mostly done, the players can switch to fine-tuning the concepts they already have down.
“We have some scoring zone and some goal line to put in, but other than that, we’re going to start fine-tuning things,” Phenicie said. “You can’t get to your goal-line, short-yardage stuff until you get in full pads, because you have to more or less do it live.”
- A days of screens and sweeps Monday “put a lot of strain on the linebackers,” as Phenicie said, and they responded well. Right now, the first-string group has consistently been Oshea Trujillo and Luke Holloway on the outside, with Kody Graves and Kennon Smith filling the two middle linebacker spots. That’s a good amount of athleticism to put on the field, and the backers earned a shoutout from Amos as well.
“They’re awesome,” Amos said. “You’ve got some really good athletes out there and they’re all playing really hard. Oshea, those guys, we’re reading them in a lot of our (run-pass options), and they know how to play those RPOs. They’ve seen them a lot, and so it makes it difficult on us. ... They’re really good at playing our RPOs and that just makes us better, our reads have to be crisper and our throws have to be better.”
- Kickers Kevin Ryan and David Allish struggled early in the field-goal portion of practice before turning it around a little bit to close the session. The entire field-goal unit is still working out some kinks — cornerback Caleb Brown could have had a highlight, rushing untouched from the edge for what would have been a easy blocked kick if play was live.
“We’re working through those things,” Phenicie said. “We’ve had two good snappers here the last four years, and we’ve got a new snapper (Zach Wallace), and we have to get some timing down. Kevin Ryan is very capable, we think he’ll be okay. David Allish, I said in the spring, is a competitor and you like a competitive kicker. So, we’ll take it.”
- Terron Carey continued to see reps over Dallen Collins as the first-string center.