Obviously, I wasn’t surprised when jeff Tedford named Kevin Riley his starting quarterback today. But the way the news came down was a little odd.
Tedford walked over to us as he normally does at the end of practice. But right when he arrived, he asked us to hang on for a moment and went back on to the field where the quarterbacks were meeting (Players break into position groups for short meetings immediately following practice). He spoke with them for a few minutes then returned to take our questions.
While we were waiting for him to return, I jokingly suggested to my fellow reporters that he was probably telling Riley that he is the starting quarterback.
It wasn’t a joke.
Turns out, Tedford decided that if he waited until Wednesday to name his starter, as was the plan initially, he thought it would provide too much of a distraction on the first day the team is to start game planning for Maryland. But he wanted to make sure the quarterbacks heard the decision from him, not in the newspaper. He had his hand on Brock Mansion’s shoulder as he spoke to the quarterbacks, telling Riley that he had the job.
“It was a little different,” Riley said.
it was much different than last year, when Tedford called both Riley and Nate Longshore into his office for private meetings to tell them of his decision. Of course, the competition was much closer and much more suspenseful last year. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Mansion afterward, but I imagine he can’t be very surprised by the decision.
I asked Tedford a couple of times when he made the decision, and he kept telling me “right now” because that’s when he told the quarterbacks. When I clarified that’s just when you told them, not necessarily when you made the decision, he basically said “that doesn’t matter.”
I asked because, as I’ve said all along, it seemed pretty clear that Riley had the job. He has taken the overwhelming majority of first team snaps, has looked the best, and is the only one with any significant measure of experience.
The bottom line is it was fairly anticlimactic when he finally named Riley, other than the fact that it came two days before it was expected.
Talking to Riley afterward, I sensed relief more than anything. He said he had a pretty good idea he had the job based on the first team reps he was getting, but didn’t know for sure.
“It definitely feels good,” he said. “Taking the one reps lately, I thought it was me. I just didn’t know for sure.”
There is a real sense that this is Riley’s team. Even though he started nine games last year, you never got that feeling because of the presence of Longshore. This year, since the end of spring, several players have praised Riley’s leadership and the seriousness with which he wanted to nail down the job and lead the team. He’s the only quarterback the Bears have to take a meaningful snap in a game, and is practicing with confidence and a comfort level that wasn’t there as much last year.
“He’s just comfortable in what he’s doing,” wide receiver Marvin Jones said. “He’s very well-liked. He’s a guy you can hang out with off the football field. He has a character to him. He is that guy that people will just rally behind. We have that trust.”
Since the end of spring practice, Riley has been reaching out to his teammates, especially his receivers, imploring to put in the extra work and earning their respect as a team leader. He’s made an effort to get on the same page as his receivers, both on and off the field.
“I’m happy for him,” Jones said. “He’s put in a lot of work this summer, just trying to get us all together in the same boat. He’s been doing a fairly good job of doing that. I take my hat off to him. He deserves it.”
More from Riley:
–On the difference being named starter between last year and this year: “Last year I was named starter but told at the same time that Nate would also play in the first game so it was still kind of open really. Now they are telling me that I’m the guy, and to just go with it.”
(I confirmed with Tedford after practice that there is no plan to play Mansion at this time)
–On his confidence that he does’t have to look over his shoulder: “I’m going to make it that way by playing well. I’m just going to try to make this team the best possible. We have weapons on offense and we’re going to be a tough team to guard. Hopefully, I am going to run the offense as best possible.”
–On the differences in his game from last year: “Not only am I just a better player than I was, but I thought about it too much. You can’t play that way. If you play that way, you’re not going to be confident. You’re not going to throw the ball well. Mistakes happen, and Coach knows that. You just go out there and improve.
“I’m quicker with my reads. I’m not holding on to the ball as long. I know where I’m going with the ball. I’m getting the ball there quicker and I’m putting it in better spots for my receivers to make plays.”
–On the difficulty of being a leader last season: “Nate was a senior last year. It was kind of hard. You didn’t want to be bumping heads with him, like talking over him or something like that. I feel this year I’m one of the leaders of the team and people look up to me.”
More from Tedford:
–On the quarterback competition in general: “They’ve all played really well. We feel very fortunate that we’re in a position that we have three quality quarterbacks. They all have the ability. We could play any one of them and feel good about winning football games. There’s not a deep separation there. We feel very comfortable and confident with all three quarterbacks.”
–On what has improved Riley’s accuracy: “The mechanics are No. 1. He’s worked hard with his mechanics. Feet are another thing. His feet are better. He’s worked really hard at it. ”
–On Mansion’s camp: “He’s much more accurate throwing the football. He’s a big-time player. He looks great in the pocket throwing and he has elusiveness. He has all the skills. For him, it’s a matter of continuing to learn the offense and continuing to understand game situations. Brock has a bright future ahead.”
–On all the quarterbacks: “We have 100 percent trust in Brock and in Beau. I wouldn’t lose any sleep whatsoever if we were playing a game with any of the three quarterbacks. I feel really comfortable and confident with all three.”
More from Jones:
–On Riley’s improvement: “You can tell he’s worked really hard in the offseason with his throwing motion. We as receivers see that. It’s remarkable how good he’s become in one year.