And UCF’s break-glass-if-necessary, emergency third quarterback is … the same player expected to start at tailback for the Knights.
UCF has spent much of the past week trying to find a third quarterback behind Jeff Godfrey and Blake Bortles following another season-ending injury to senior Rob Calabrese and the announcement that elite recruit DaMarcus Smith wouldn’t be eligible. So in the unlikely event of injuries to Godfrey and Bortles, it’s senior Ronnie Weaver – who seems to have won the hotly contested battle for the starting tailback job – who would operate as the third quarterback in “Wild Knight” formations.
“I’ve made the running backs the third quarterback. Weaver throws it extremely well. Weaver doesn’t do anything great, but he does a lot of things good,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “He’s taking snaps at quarterback running the `Knight’ plays and there are some throwing plays that he can make in case there’s an emergency there.
“That’s the only choice we had right now,” O’Leary continued. “You don’t count on Calabrese getting hurt and you count on DaMarcus (Smith) being here. But we’ll just go with what we have. We’ve worked on some of that stuff this week.”
O’Leary also made it official that standout freshman Leilon Willingham has earned a starting position at outside linebacker for the season-opener on Sept. 3 against Charleston Southern at Bright House Networks Stadium. Willingham, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder, was regarded as an upper-tier recruit for UCF and he has been impressive enough in training camp to earn a starting nod.
“He’ll be able to perform and do what he has to do. Freshmen play because they don’t act like freshmen and have some strength. He’s 6-2 and 240 pounds and he’s a good-looking player,” O’Leary said of Willingham, a four-star recruit by several national publications. “He’s earned the right to take the first-string snaps and we’ll see what he can do.”
UCF wrapped up the training camp portion of its practices on Tuesday. The team will take Wednesday off from practice and will begin preparations for the Charleston Southern opener on Thursday. Kickoff for the opener is at 7 p.m.
Calabrese was the backup quarterback to Godfrey last season, but tore a ligament in his left knee while scoring a touchdown against Marshall. He returned in the spring and split time between receiver and quarterback. The promising rise of Bortles, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman from Oviedo, allowed Calabrese to spend more time at receiver. But a second knee injury came last week on another noncontact play, leaving the Knights with just two scholarship quarterbacks.
O’Leary tinkered with the idea of using senior wide receiver A.J. Guyton as the third quarterback because of his experience at the position in high school. But he ultimately settled on Weaver because of the lack of depth at receiver and Weaver’s ability to handle and throw the football.
Weaver, a Wabasso native, emerged as the starting tailback midway through last season and ran for 890 yards and 11 touchdowns. He entered this training camp the likely third choice at tailback behind Latavius Murray – the MVP of the C-USA title game and the Liberty Bowl – and Brynn Harvey – the 2009 standout who missed all of last season with a knee injury. But Weaver impressed O’Leary and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe with his tough running and ability to pass protect and won the starting job at tailback.
Prior to this week, Weaver said he had no quarterback experience, having played tailback and safety at Vero Beach High School. But after spending the previous four years in the UCF offense, he feels he could run the team in a pinch.
“It’ll be a tad bit of an adjustment, but I understand the concepts and I’m getting the hang of it pretty smoothly,” Weaver said. “I’m left-handed, so I guess it brings another dimension with me rolling out the other way. I’ll just try to get the ball out the best I can to the receivers. The package is just designed to help our offense out and give us another dimension as far as the running game goes.”
Weaver hopes that UCF gets efficient enough at the “Wild Knight” package that the team will be able to utilize it in the heart of games. It could be another way for the Knights to take advantage of their stable of running backs and get Weaver on the field with Murray and Harvey.
“That’s completely up to coach. The more comfortable I get with it, the more comfortable coach would be with it and try to implement it in,” Weaver said. “Right now, we’re really big in the trial phase of it. I’m not sure how it’ll go implementing it in the game plan, but I’m practicing hard at it and hopefully they’ll have confidence in me.”