With Hutchinson out, what does EMU's QB room look like?
Ben Bryant won the starting position in 2021 and will lead the team again in 2022. Preston Hutchinson, the starting QB in 2020, hit the transfer portal earlier this week.
When Mike Glass III graduated after the 2019 season, Eastern Michigan knew that it was time to figure out how to best roll out a new starting quarterback in 2020 without a lot of experience. The QB with the most returning experience not he team that year would be Preston Hutchinson, who played in seven career games up to that point — including a 34-27 win over Western Michigan, who didn’t have a great response for the QB’s surprise spot start.
Jairus Grissom was an option, but he’s been in and out of the QB room (to running back, wide receiver), and ultimately ended up transferring to Morgan State before the 2020 season. Aaron Jackson moved from QB to tight end before the spring, Isaac Steibeling left the team after he earned his degree, Baron May had just signed to join the team (didn’t enroll in spring), and walk-on Christopher Kaminski was still competing for playing time too. Chris Helbig, a grad transfer (Southern Utah) with two years of eligibility, didn’t play out at EMU in 2020 like originally planned, so Hutchinson would end up being the team’s new starting QB through the pandemic-laden season.
With Hutchinson named the starter for the 2020 season, Eastern got to a 2-4 record with wins over Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. On 87 total rush attempts, Hutchinson was second in the league with 8 rush TDs behind Jaret Patterson’s 19. Throwing, Hutchinson was a 63.6% passer at an 8.4 yards/attempt clip, with 12 TD, 6 INT. Even though Hutchinson was the most productive rushing QB in the league that year, head coach Chris Creighton continued his usual ways of adding another quarterback via transfer over the offseason. This time, things stuck with the transfer quarterback it targeted and landed Ben Bryant from Cincinnati.
With the Bearcats, Bryant’s experience was limited, but was stuck behind Desmond Ridder on the depth chart, so he was itching for his first starting opportunity. Bryant’s deep passing attack and passing velocity was missing with Glass’ departure, and this QB had a skillset that needed to quickly get peppered into EMU’s system for the team to have a turnaround.
It wasn’t clear who would be the team’s real QB1 of the 2021 season would be until Week 3 after Hutchinson and Bryant split time in the first two games. Hutchinson’s running ability is nice, but Bryant’s arm talent was too good to pass on. After starting all six games in 2020, Hutchinson started in just two of the eight games played in 2021.
On Tuesday, Hutchinson announced that he entered the transfer portal with one year of eligibility remaining.
With Bryant, EMU’s back to leading the MAC in passing attempts per game like it has in 2016 (39.9 att./game), 2017 (36.3), and 2019 (35.0), but it didn’t move the ball with the kind of consistency to keep itself out of third and fourth-down trouble throughout the season.
Bryant came into the program with two years of eligibility remaining, and Eastern Michigan didn’t sign any quarterbacks during the early signing period. Bryant won the QB1 title during the season and played well enough to keep that status all year long, so as of now it’s going to be his offense heading into the spring and fall.
What does EMU’s QB rooms look like now?
Ben Bryant, like I said, is still the QB1 of this football team. His short-to-intermediate throws come with some mustard on them, and his passing game gets pretty fearless by throwing deep heaters to receivers in coverage — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In his debut year: Bryant was 279/408 passing (68.4%), for 3,121 yards (7.6 Y/A), 14 TD and 7 INT.
Austin Smith has been third on the team’s depth chart this season, so one would think that he’s the early favorite to be the team’s QB2 at this moment. Smith signed with EMU in 2021 and joined the team early, so 2022 will be his second go-round of spring practices. Smith was a dual-threat QB coming out of high school in Georgia (Cedar Grove). Smith appeared in one game for EMU in 2021 (vs. Texas State) and completed his lone pass attempt for 16 yards.
Baron May is a 2020 signee that, unlike Smith, didn’t enroll at EMU early, so he’s also going into his second spring season with the team. May, from Ohio (New Philadelphia), has not seen game action in his first two years but will have redshirt-freshman status in 2022.
Christopher Kaminski joined the team as a walk-on in 2019, and is an in-state addition from South Lyon.
Could EMU add anybody else?
EMU hasn’t gone after any QBs in the transfer market, or at least it didn’t in the early signing period. Creighton might be happy with what he’s got at this position right now, and is banking on Smith or May to succeed Bryant in 2023, but now there’s more or less an empty spot on the roster that could at least be filled with more talent.
If EMU did decide to look into a transfer QB, my hope is that they wouldn’t settle for somebody who would just be battling for the QB3 position on the depth chart. If EMU decided to add a quarterback to the team via transfer portal, I don’t think it should add somebody who would only be the team’s QB3 right away. If there’s a transfer QB out there/not out there yet that could challenge Bryant for the starting job right away just like he did last year, then by all means please try and add the guy who will make this team better. But any transfer with more of a longer-term development plan might as well have been another high school player that eventually signs with the team in the regular signing period.
In any case, I do think it’d be very unlike this coaching staff to not add *somebody* new to this position group. One thing Creighton’s known for is always adding new faces to the QB room to spice things up at both ends of the depth chart. So to see no new QBs come to EMU during the early signing period means, to me, is a little bit of a surprise. But it also means, to me, that Creighton thinks highly enough of his QB room right now to not slam his hand on the emergency button.
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