Backups step in to fill voids left by injury

The quarterback competition gets the most attention, but the Florida A&M University football team currently houses competitions for nearly every position. No spot is guaranteed and every player is fighting for each minute of playing time.

Saturday’s Orange and Green game was not just about the Martin Ukpai versus Eddie Battle match up for starting quarterback. Injuries at other positions left plenty of chances for young and returning talent to step up and fill voids.

Head coach Joe Taylor said he was pleased with the level of intensity his players showed in the face of the competition.

“I feel like at this point, we’re better as a team than we were last year,” Taylor said. “We need to see, in this team, and I think I see it, the competitive spirit has to improve. We’re not talking about winning games; we’re talking about winning plays.”

Taylor is faced with choosing between talented players at key positions. The quarterback battle between redshirt sophomore Ukpai and redshirt senior Battle is only part of the equation. True freshman Austin Trainer is also looking to make his mark on the team at quarterback.

Trainer’s performance against Florida A&M’s first team defense was shaky, but the freshman has time to make up for the interceptions he threw during Saturday’s scrimmage.

There are also choices to be made outside of the pocket. Taylor must evaluate senior veteran running back Philip Sylvester, redshirt sophomore running back Lavante Page, and sophomore running back Eddie Battle. The three backs split time Saturday and Taylor implemented a formation to give all three backs a chance to shine.

“The speed is there,” Taylor said. “We put a few things in, it’s called a Pistol offense where instead of the halfback lining up beside the quarterback he is behind him. It gives the back a chance to have a little better vision.”

The unit Taylor praised the most was the defense. The first team defense shut out the orange team, forced turnovers inside the red zone and scored the first touchdown of the game. The secondary was particularly effective, picking off Trainer three times, once for a touchdown.

Redshirt sophomore Anthony Shutt recorded a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown and redshirt sophomore Alexander Ajayi picked off two passes. The secondary did not pick off its first pass until the fifth game of the season against Miami last year.

Shutt said, “We’re all competing at that level. Right now our starting safety, Greg Harvey is hurt, so now we’re all competing for that first spot. We just want to keep in intensity up.”

Taylor hopes to be able to name his starters by the end of spring practice.