Eastern Illinois head football coach Kim Dameron has a clear philosophy when it comes to who plays quarterback for the Panthers this season – two is better than one.
In the Panthers’ season opener Thursday at Minnesota, Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow and New Mexico State transfer from a year ago Andrew Manley will both be in at quarterback.
Dameron deflects any criticism tossed his way for not having one set starter.
“I don’t look at this as a negative I look at it as a positive,” Dameron said. “Defensive coordinators are going to have a hard time getting ready for one much less two.”
Both quarterbacks have similar experience, as Manley has started 19 games compared to 15 for Whitlow. The statistics show that Manley has been the more active passer, throwing for 4,268 yards, while Whitlow has 1,384 passing yards in 22 games.
Whitlow on the other hand has shown that he has the ability to escape pressure and scramble out of the pocket. At Kentucky, he rushed for 663 yards, scoring nine rushing touchdowns. Manley finished with negative rushing yards at New Mexico State, as he was sacked 62 times.
Yet, both quarterbacks know all of Eastern’s offensive coordinator Greg Stevens’ playbook. No special packages for either quarterback, Dameron said.
“It gives us a great sense of security going through the entire season with quarterback play at a high level,” Dameron said. “I really feel like either guy that is in there gives us a chance to play at a high level offensively.”
Manley was the No. 3 quarterback last season for Eastern, but he has one unique experience that Whitlow does not – going to Minnesota and winning.
In 2011, as a sophomore at New Mexico State, Manley led his Aggies to a 28-21 over the Golden Gophers.
That win has given Manley poise heading into not just the season opener, but the entire season as well, Dameron said.
“It plays a big role in (Manley’s) confidence to go in there because he’s been there before and done that and he’s seen this stadium and knows that when you go in their student section down toward that end zone it’s going to get louder,” he said.
Both quarterbacks head into the start of the season with solid performances in camp, Dameron added.
Whitlow transferred in late May, but with help from Manley and familiarity with Stevens’ system he has learned quickly to catch up on missed time.
The junior quarterback is not concerned about sharing playing time Manley after coming to Eastern when Kentucky wanted to move Whitlow to wide receiver.
“I don’t really have any feeling about us two playing,” Whitlow said. “We’re just looking to get the best product out on the field. If it comes out of both of us – whatever the team needs to be successful we’ll do it. I’m not worried about it. I’m just trying to hone in on Minnesota.”
Whitlow is concerned with the end result.
“I came here to get some Ws,” he said.
Manley, who left spring practice as the starter, believes in his coaching staff no matter what.
“They know what they’re doing,” Manley said. “Jalen is a great athlete. He’s had a good camp, so have I. I trust the coaches’ decision to take us in and out. If that’s the best thing for the team, then I’m all for it.”
Dameron’s plan is to have both quarterbacks play in the first quarter and then whoever gets off the better start should see more action the rest of the game.
Who goes in first against Minnesota is still an unanswered question, though.
“You’ll figure it out when he runs onto the field,” Dameron said. “I expect both of them to play very well.”