WINSTON-SALEM — Dave Clawson has a stock answer whenever anyone asks him about Wake Forest’s uncertain quarterback situation.
“When we play Tulane,” the Deacons coach says, referring to his team’s season opener in New Orleans on Aug. 30, “we’ll have a starting quarterback.”
About the only other certainty is that Kendall Hinton won’t be the one taking the first snap against the Green Wave. The redshirt junior, who was presumed to be the heir apparent to graduated four-year starter John Wolford, is suspended for the first three games because of an unspecified violation of team rules.
Judging from the events of the past week, there’s a realistic chance that Hinton won’t be the quarterback even after he’s reinstated. Instead of wearing a green quarterback’s jersey and working with the other passers at practice, Hinton has been in white and running with the wide receivers since last Thursday.
“We decided that we wanted to get through the base install, leave him at quarterback and as we got into Week 2, start repping him a little bit at receiver and allow him to return kicks and punts,” Clawson said. “So we’re prepared to go either way with it.”
Hinton is by far the most experienced quarterback in the program, having started four games since 2015 and engineering a comeback that led to a victory against Duke before being injured two seasons ago. According to star wide receiver Greg Dortch, Hinton is embracing the possibility of a permanent move to another position.
While Hinton’s dual-threat ability is among the reasons he is currently being worked at wide receiver, an even bigger factor could be the faith Clawson has in the two young players currently battling to take his place on that rapidly approaching Thursday night in New Orleans.
Sophomore Jamie Newman and true freshman Sam Hartman have both been solid thus far in camp, and from the sound of things, the Wake coach won’t have any hesitation using either — or both — once the regular season begins.
“They’re both getting better. They’re both making progress,” Clawson said last week. “We’re just going to keep repping them and repping them, but we haven’t even gotten through all the field situations or the clock situations.
“A big part of playing quarterback is going out there in a scrimmage and managing those things as they occur and not as they’re programmed in a practice.”
Newman and Hartman got their first opportunity to face those game situations this summer in the Deacons’ first live preseason scrimmage Saturday. Judging strictly from their numbers on the stat sheet, there still isn’t much separation between the two.
Hartman, who enrolled in January and went through spring practice, completed 16 of 25 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. Newman was 13-of-17 for 70 yards. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Neither turned the ball over.
“In our practices, we don’t always go all tempo and today was all tempo,” Clawson said. “The challenge of playing quarterback in our offense is the ability to do that for 60 minutes, 80 to 90 plays, and make all those decisions as quick as you have to make them in our offense. I think they both did some good things.”
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Newman is a solidly built athlete with a strong arm, but he is equally adept at running the ball. He saw brief action in a mop-up role during last year’s opener against Presbyterian, completing 2 of 4 passes for eight yards with an interception.
Although Clawson has aggressively downplayed the comparison, the 6-1, 185-pound Hartman shares many of the same qualities as the now-graduated Wolford. He even wears Wolford’s old No. 10.
“Sam is a pocket passer who trusts his arm a lot, and I love that from the receiver’s spot because I know he’ll get it to me,” Dortch said. “Jamie is a big, prototype quarterback who sits in the pocket and can also scramble because of his big body. They’re both really different, but I love them both.”
Given their contrasting styles and a new NCAA rule that allows freshmen to play as many as four games without losing a year of eligibility, it’s a virtual lock that both Newman and Hartman will see significant action at least through the first few weeks of the season.
“It’s going to be hard to keep one of us on the sideline,” Newman said. “I think those game reps will be very valuable for both of us. The competition between Sam and myself is really good. As we push each other, it’s going to make both of us better and the football team a lot better.”