Replacing one of the best quarterbacks in the history of San Jose State's program will be no easy task. Fact is, you can't; San Jose State most definitely won't fully replace him, nor will Spartan fans soon forget #10. But as David Fales competes for a roster spot with the Chicago Bears, San Jose State has a fourth year junior and fifth year senior looking to take the reigns and lead a talent-laden Spartan team to a bowl game, a goal Fales was unable to attain in 2013.
Junior Joseph Gray and senior Blake Jurich have been patiently awaiting their respective opportunities. 6'2" 200lb Gray appears to be the more accurate passer, while Jurich, 6'4" 235lbs, who ran the read option package for Mike MacIntyre's 2012, 11-2 Spartans, is the stronger runner. Gray more resembles Fales in that he's the more prototypical pocket passer, but with more elusiveness and a stronger arm than Fales. Jurich appears to be more comfortable running the veer/read option type offense, and at a 'slimmed down' 235lbs with speed, when he gets going he can scare defensive backs and will not hesitate to knock heads with linebackers. But, to be fair, truly defining either's true abilities on game day is not possible today; Gray's thrown just four passes in two years and Jurich 20 in his three.
Gray, a Dorsey High School (Inglewood, CA - career - 5,022 yards/49tds) product, was a highly touted, three star QB who had a late change of heart, decommiting from the University of Washington and signing with MacIntyre's Spartans in 2011. Following a redshirt year, Gray saw action in two games in 2012, going 3/4 for 22 yards. While he competed for the starting position in 2012, along with Jurich and Fales, it was Fales who seized the position and never relinquished it, putting up Spartan career passing records and leading SJS to one of their best season's ever in '12. But Gray didn't go unnoticed on the practice field, as he showed the most powerful arm of the three, accuracy, and poise in his very small game sample. Gray was last year's David Carr, giving the starting Spartan defense a look at the vaunted Bulldog attack, and simulating 2nd rounder Carr and his strong arm in the week leading up to the rivalry game. Fifth round NFL draft pick cornerback Bene Benwikere commented that the arm strength realism that Gray was able to replicate leading up to their bout with Carr and the Dogs contributed to the Spartan defense putting the clamps on Carr and company in the 2nd half of last year's epic, 62-52 Spartans' win.
Jurich, (Scotts Valley High School/Santa Cruz County - senior yr - 2,360/20) was recruited by former Spartan coach Dick Tomey, who saw a physical, tall, raw athlete in Jurich. When Tomey resigned in late 2009, MacIntyre honored his verbal commit and used Jurich in his sophomore year (2012) as the short yardage, goal line QB. Jurich ran for 143 yards and a touchdown, and was 5/11 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown. Last year, as the primary backup, he played sparingly in mop up duty, throwing for just 22 yards and rushing for just 12. Head Coach Ron Caragher and offensive coordinator Jimmy Dougherty, did not utilize Jurich the way that MacIntyre did. This was not looked at by the Spartan faithful as a bad thing, as Spartan fans would often cringe in 2012 when Fales was removed and Jurich inserted to run the somewhat predictable read option. It didn't seem to catch the defense off guard often and would take the rhythm from Fales and the offense. In any event, Jurich showed he was a strong and powerful runner with speed, but the arm appeared somewhat erratic.
Spring 2014 was where both showed their respective skills, as each took the bulk of the snaps truly vying for the starting position. Caragher lauded both for having great moments in the spring, but it was evident that Gray was the spring game winner going 17/20, while Jurich was just 4/9. Still, Caragher would not name a starter and called the position up for grabs as the Spartans opened fall camp. He has stated he would like to name a starter following the scrimmage scheduled for August 16th.
Whoever the starter is, he no doubt has big shoes to fill; let's say impossible shoes to completely fill. However, Coach Caragher tailored his offense last year to his strengths, and that was the arm of David Fales. While he prefers running a west coastish, pro set/ball control offense, which he ran as the head coach of the University of San Diego, he appears willing and ready to adjust the offense based on his talent. It would appear Jurich would require some offensive tweaking, while Gray appears to be more fit to pick up where last year's offense left off. Caragher wants to run the ball and likes a high percentage passing game, so his QB can be more game manager if the offensive line can create space for diminutive, but very talented and capable, returning sophomore running backs, Jarrod Lawson and Thomas Tucker.
While Caragher keeps tight lipped and wants to continue to breed competition, most believe that Joe Gray will be the opening day starter. He seems to more resemble what Caragher envisions at QB. That said, if the offensive line's not creating running lanes it will spell trouble for whomever the new QB is, and in that case, both would most likely be seeing action during the year in hopes of finding answers. That would be a losing scenario for the Spartans. San Jose State fans will know more August 16th (starter to be announced); even more August 28th (North Dakota); and probably all Spartan fans need to know by late September.
Other Quarterback notables:
Contra Costa Junior College transfer Malik Watson (6'3" 200) passed for 2,623 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. He showed promise with the Spartans in the spring, but also needs some seasoning, as he's adjusting to FBS football and the new offense. This mental aspect is also what Mission Viejo recruit, Ian Fieber (5,394/49 - two seasons) faces, and surely the speed of the game will be eye opening for him. Fieber arrived on campus for the start of fall camp a few days ago. Both look to have the physical skills, but mentally it will take some time. Look for both to redshirt, but if one or the other "wows" coaches, or Gray/Jurich suffer injury or flat out can't get it done, one of these guys may make their debut earlier than wanted or expected.