Jake Bentley watches young quarterbacks Dakereon Joyner and Ryan Hilinski and it reminds him of his freshman year, when he battled senior Perry Ortho and freshman Brandon McIlwain for the starting job.
“It’s really cool. It reminds me a lot of when I got here and every single day they are locked in,” Bentley said Friday. “It’s fun for me to see how much they want it and makes me want it even more too and have that same energy they are bringing. It’s really fun.”
Joyner, a redshirt freshman, and Hilinski, a true freshman, are battling for the No. 2 job backing up Bentley. So far, quarterbacks coach Dan Werner has been pleased with what he has seen from the two young players.
“I’ve been pleased with all three of my guys but those two are competing for a job,” he said. “Both of them have played really hard and are protecting the football and doing everything we asked.”
Joyner said Friday he is “very confident” he can win the backup role after working with the scout team last year and having an impressive spring camp.
“Everything is going well. We are all competing, I think we are all doing a good job,” he said. “My biggest thing is being more confident and knowing the offense in and out and being coachable.”
Hilinski, a four-star recruit from Orange, Calif., enrolled in school in January and participated in spring practice. Both he and Joyner looked good in the Garnet & Black Spring Game and carried their battle into preseason camp.
“I think he’s coming along great for a guy who just stepped on campus less than a year ago and they are battling. I’m proud of him,” Werner said of Hilinski.
“I think the fact that, first of all, he has changed his body. Coming out of high school, he probably didn’t lift a whole lot compared to what he is doing here. He has lost weight and gained a lot of muscle mass. Football-wise, you can tell he has a much better grasp. He knows it inside and out, just like the other guys do. For a younger guy, its always translating from the meeting room to the field, and I’ve been very pleased with how that has happened.”
Joyner, South Carolina’s “Mr. Football” in 2017, came to South Carolina as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. A dangerous threat running the ball, he has had to work on his passing accuracy and Werner said Friday he is making strides.
“His throwing has gotten a lot better, his accuracy. That’s something he has worked really hard on,” he said. “After spring, we talked about all the things each guy had to do individually and they have all done exactly what I have asked.”
“That’s one of the things I worked on in the offseason and I have to continue to progress,” Joyner said. “Just throwing every single day, not changing up too many things, just knowing what you do well and going out and doing it.”
“He has [come a long way], most definitely,” Bentley said. “It’s come from getting stronger in the weight room, upper-body-wise and core-wise and implementing his core more when he throws. And mechanically, he has gotten a lot more sound, and that was something that was really important to him. He knew he had to improve on that to have a chance to take that backup role. I think he’s done a great job improving on that and just looks a lot better.”
While fans continue to wonder if Joyner will be used in special packages to take advantage of his running ability, Joyner said he has not had that conversation with coaches. There also have been no discussions about moving him to another position.
“He’s a quarterback in my mind,” Werner said. “If coach decided we’ve got another plan for whatever reason, I don’t know that. In my mind, he’s a quarterback.”
Meanwhile, the two young quarterbacks will continue their battle during two weekend practices and prepare for a key scrimmage at the stadium Monday afternoon. Head coach Will Muschamp said he won’t name a backup QB until after the two scrimmages on Monday and Saturday, Aug. 17.
Joyner is not worried about winning the job. He’s just enjoying the competition.
“Everybody likes competition, it makes you better,” he said. “I think we are all doing a good job, holding each other accountable and helping each other as much as possible.”
“They are doing great,” Bentley said. “Ryan and Dakereon are both doing well. Both have made some mistakes but have made some really good plays too. They are getting better everyday.”