CEDAR FALLS – Shawn Watson needed 12 months to do a complete analysis of Northern Iowa’s quarterback room.
Now weeks away from his second season as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, Watson says his breakdown of the room was in-depth.
Watson likes what two-year starter Will McElvain brings to the table. He likes redshirt freshmen Justin Fomby and Nate Martens.
Talent was not missing in the Panther quarterback room, but one big thing could be better, according to Watson.
“When I came here to help (UNI head coach Mark Farley) I asked him to give me a chance to get to know the room, see the skill set and see where we needed to go,” said Watson, who tutored NFL quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. “Long story short, all the great rooms I’ve been part of is because we have had great competition. The most competitive room on a football team has to be the quarterback room.”
Just a few hours after being named UNI's starting quarterback Friday, Will McElvain was back in Des Moines offering encouragement to players at his alma mater.
With that being said, Watson told Farley the quarterback room needed more competition.
Therefore, UNI landed Michigan State transfer Theo Day and Trinity Valley Community College transfer Matt Morrissey in the offseason. They also signed Dubuque Hempstead’s Aidan Dunne in February.
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Day and Morrissey are both pro-style quarterbacks and each are listed at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds.
Day was a three-star recruit from Canton, Michigan, when he was an early enrollee at MSU. He played in two games in 2019 for the Spartans. Morrissey, a native of Elmhurst, Illinois, passed for 1,523 yards and 13 touchdowns against two interceptions in eight games last season with Trinity Valley, a community college located in Athens, Texas.
“After a short practice period we have been through I knew we did the right thing because all three of those guys are better,” Watson said. “When those two dudes walked in that have the skill sets those guys have, it gets everybody’s attention. I think our team is better because of what we have in the quarterback room.”
Farley would not name his No. 1 quarterback Tuesday, agreeing with Watson in the fact he wants the competition to fuel better quarterback play.
“If it is competitive, it will be close and that means there will be back and forth going on and that creates even a better opportunity to raise the bar,” Farley said. “We have a first group, a second group and a third group. Today, tomorrow…that will change many times throughout the coming weeks.”
McElvain has started 21 of UNI’s last 23 games. He threw 20 touchdown passes and 2,778 yards as a freshman in 2019. He nearly led the Panthers to an upset at Iowa State. In the COVID spring season, McElvain passed for just under 1,000 yards and only one touchdown pass.
McElvain said the competition so far has been good.
“I feel good. I tried to make some big mental leaps this offseason and tried to get more comfortable with the offense,” McElvain said. “I think it is coming together well. We still have a lot of time to get better before the first game even though it doesn’t feel like a lot of time.
“You definitely always want to try to have competition. We’ve competed and we’ve helped each other out. It has been good.”
Day agrees with McElvain’s assessment of the quarterback competition.
“It has been good,” Day said. “I like all the guys. All of them have been encouraging and helpful. They have been helping me out and helping Matt out.”