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Pioneers search for signal caller
Bryson Elrod.jpg
CJ Taylor.jpg

It’s becoming the easiest predictor of success in football. Find the team with the best quarterback and pick it to win the game. Most nights, it’s the right call.

Right now, the Pioneers are looking to find the best quarterback for their own team.

New coach Matt Turner figures to have two options to run the Pistol Wing offense, which will feature multiple runners flanking the quarterback. The contenders are juniors Bryson Elrod and CJ Taylor.

Incumbent starter Clay Thompson would’ve made it a three-person race, but the junior is likely to miss the entire season with a hip injury.

Elrod started three games last year, including the 33-7 victory over Fayetteville. He threw two touchdowns in limited time, while Taylor is making a switch to the position after being a jack-of-all trades last year.

No matter who gets the call, quarterback coach Donnie Harris is looking for ball security.

“First thing for us is taking care of the ball. The next is making reads,” said Harris. “The read game was a big reason for us going to this look. It’s multiple and modular enough to accommodate whoever takes the snaps. There are packages available to fit each player.”

Both bring strengths, which have already flashed during summer workouts.

“CJ has all the athletic ability. He’s learning the position, but he has all the tools to do it,” said Harris. “Bryson has experience – he’s been a QB for a while. He’s comfortable with what we’re doing.” 

Here’s a 3-2-1 breakdown of the Pioneer quarterback situation: 

Three observations

Elrod can sling it to any part of the field. The junior signal caller has a big arm and isn’t afraid to show it off. During Thursday’s practice, Elrod threaded a heater through two defenders and hit a receiver in the chest – a throw he wasn’t expecting due to the close coverage. Elrod easily flicks the ball 40-50 yards downfield.

A run-heavy offense, which the Pioneers look to employ this fall, seems to favor Taylor. Although he’d be just as good getting hand-offs (5.3 yards per carry in 2018), high school football is often won by which team has the best athlete doing the most. Taylor is going to be the best athlete on the field at least a couple times this season.

Harris and Turner are very comfortable calling an offense which thrives on multiple options out of the same looks. The quarterbacks are going to have to make good reads. If they do, the Pioneers will catch a lot of teams out of position.

Two questions

Who takes the first snap against DeKalb County? – Coach Turner probably won’t show his hand early. Naming a starting quarterback in the summer likely won’t happen. There’s a chance it may not happen until Aug. 23 when the Pioneer roll on the field against the DeKalb County Tigers. 

Elrod likely holds a slight edge currently due to his experience. He ended last year with a touchdown pass on the team’s final play. It may be the reason he’s behind center on the first play this year.

Will there be a platoon? – It may not matter who takes the first snap. There’s a good chance both Elrod and Taylor see significant snaps at quarterback this season. They offer different skill sets, with Taylor having the edge on the ground and Elrod through the air. 

Add in the fact both can, and probably will, play other positions, a rotation seems likely.

One prediction

The Pioneers had only a few passing plays over 20 yards last year, including one on the final play of the season. Expect that number to reach double figures this season. 

Although the offense is built to maximize the running game, plays will be available down field when teams begin to load the box. Elrod and Taylor will have their chances to throw over the top this fall.

This is part one of a 10-part breakdown of the Pioneer football program. Running backs will follow on Wednesday, July 24.