Nearly two weeks of Portland State Viking football preseason practice are in the books, and some decisions have been made at quarterback and running back. In the process, first-year Head Coach Bruce Barnum has even created a new position. But more on that in a moment…
The much-followed and much-discussed four-man quarterback battle became a little clearer on Thursday and revealed itself in Friday morning’s practice. Barnum and offensive coordinator Steve Cooper have named senior Kieran McDonagh and junior transfer Alex Kuresa as the Vikings’ top two quarterbacks. Those two will now get the bulk of the reps behind center as the Vikings begin refining their offense and eventually start preparation for the season opener at Washington State on Sept. 5.
McDonagh’s resume includes 29 career starts in 31 games at Portland State, 5,865 career passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. The 6-2, 230-pounder also has 1,029 rushing yards and 17 more scores on the ground in his three-year career.
Kuresa, at 6-foot, 190-pounds, comes to Portland State from Snow Junior College where he completed 185-295 passes for 2,374 yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 99 carries for 592 yards and eight rushing TDs. Kuresa was able to participate in PSU’s spring practice and has had a lot of time to grasp the Viking offense.
Those two will continue competition to see who will be the Vikings’ opening day starter. Barnum says that decision will be made some time after next Wednesday’s full scrimmage.
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Paris Penn and sophomore quarterback Josh Kraght now look ahead to different roles with the Vikings.
“Kraght has been moved to slot receiver and he will get a chance to play there,” said Barnum. “He’s appropriately named, because he is a crafty football player, and he is going to help us there.”
Kraght showed clear excitement, receiving numerous high fives from teammates, when he came in during live plays in Friday morning’s practice. Kraght wasn’t targeted but he did hold off a block in the defensive backfield, allowing for a big gain, as the Viking offense ran to his side on the first play. Kraght, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore, started three games at quarterback last season, throwing for 521 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 165 yards and a TD.
Perhaps the most interesting news from Barnum was his creation of a new position; the “UQ” – as in utility quarterback. His new UQ is Paris Penn, a dynamic athlete who has shown flashes of his ability at quarterback while battling numerous injuries the previous two seasons. The highlight of Penn’s career was a 112-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance at Oregon State last season. Though he has not started, Penn has played in 11 games the past two seasons, throwing for 196 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 54 times for 383 yards and four scores.
“We have a number one UQ,” said Barnum. “It’s Paris. He is first on the depth chart and there is nobody at number two. He will play any position on offense except offensive line. He will be used in many facets, and we will strategically place him wherever it takes to help us win games.”
No doubt Penn, at 6-1, 215 pounds, will see plays behind center this season, as well as at running back, in the slot and split wide. His great athleticism makes him a valuable commodity and should allow him to excel in that role for the Vikings. Barnum and Cooper will be charged with finding creative ways and creative plays to get Penn on the field.
It is not uncommon for football teams to used their most talented athletes in a variety of roles. In the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers used Kordell Stewart during his career (1995-2005) in a similar role, earning him the nickname “Slash” – as in QB/WR/RB.
On the running back front, Barnum expects to start the season with a “by committee” running game. It will be similar to last year when no Viking rushed for more than 700 yards, but the team amassed 2,500 rushing yards for the season – third-most in school history.
Senior David Jones (6-1, 205), junior Nate Tago (5-11, 215) and sophomore Steven Long (5-7, 180) should provide a three-headed monster in the backfield for the Vikings. “We’ve got three there that we really like,” said Barnum. “Whoever the best two are week to week (in practice) will get the bulk of the carries on Saturday.”
Along with UQ Paris Penn, and the running abilities of both McDonagh and Kuresa, the Vikings should have no problem eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards for the sixth year in a row under Barnum.