Courtesy of Yale Athletics

The Yale football team is familiar with a dynamic quarterback space. You can look back almost three years to see this game on October 19, 2018 when the Bulldogs found themselves in an uphill battle against Penn.

Star quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 took 10 yards to secure a first down and scrambled elusive towards the right sideline. Before he could leave the premises, Rawlings was met by an attacking Quaker who awkwardly knocked the Maryland natives to the ground. The Yale quarterback had just sustained a leg injury at the end of the season.

The next man in the Bulldog mindset, which had already kept the blues and whites afloat before Rawlings sidelined with Zane Dudek’s early elimination in ’22, would come to the fore in the games to come. After experimenting with quarterback Jimmy Check ’21 and Patrick Conte ’22, head coach Tony Reno decided to hand the reins of offense to then-rookie caller Griffin O’Connor ’23 for the final three games of the season.

O’Connor accumulated 1,229 yards and eight touchdowns, breaking a Yale school record with 465 passing yards in a matchup against the undefeated Princeton. For this, the native Californian was named Rookie of the Year in the Ivy League. Despite O’Connor’s herculean efforts, the Bulldogs only went 1-2 in their three games and finished the year 3-4 against Ancient Eight opponents.

After a successful off-season rehab after his previous leg injury, Rawlings stepped into 2019 as the team’s undisputed starter, where he rewrote the Yale record books on his way to his second Ivy League title in three years.

“Kurt has been such a good role model and friend to me over the past few years,” said O’Connor. “Especially during my second year of study in 2019, I felt that the competition in this regard [quarterback] Zimmer served the team very well. … I think you saw that in my first year when I was promoted to Kurt after his injury, and I still have the same attitude and ambition to start this year. “

That year, O’Connor made his highly anticipated debut as the full-time quarterback for Team 148 against Holy Cross. However, Reno had something new up his sleeve. Backup quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 saw extended game action and led a field goal drive to a draw in the third quarter. Grooms finished the game with three attempts to pass, six rushes and a number of other snaps on the field, including one on the wide receiver.

The following week against Cornell, Grooms appeared in just four games throughout the game. All of his snaps came within the first couple of offensive possession of the ball in the first quarter, and only one was a passing game. After O’Connor seemingly settled into the game in the second quarter, Grooms never reentered.

“If I look at the quarterback room now, we have some great players like Nolan Grooms that you will see on the field a lot this year,” said O’Connor. “I think it will prepare us to always have a man ready.”

A dual quarterback program is relatively new to the NFL, but it has clearly piqued the interest of the Bulldogs coaching staff. An apt comparison first drawn by Coach Reno in a post-Holy Cross press conference is the New Orleans Saints’ package with Taysom Hill and the now-retired Drew Brees, which took shape in the 2018 NFL season.

“We looked at our roster and said, ‘What’s the best way to showcase the guys we have who we think can really help the team thrive?'” Said Reno. “We looked at Brees and Hill and said, ‘Okay, it’s pretty interesting to see what the Saints are doing to these guys where they’re not doing quarterbacks but using them in situations where they think their skills are Team can best help. ” . “

To this end, the elis have made sure that their pass catchers are exposed to both quarterbacks.

“In practice, we can feel comfortable with both quarterbacks,” said wide receiver Mason Tipton ’24. “We get a lot of reps with these two guys. Both guys are incredibly talented to be on the field. I think it actually helps the flow of the offense considering what both of them can do. Especially as a recipient, I know that both of them can really get the job done. I think it will look a lot better over time as both of them get more experience just because they’re out there. I think in time it will work very well for our offensive. “

Hill first signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2017 as an undrafted free agent from Brigham Young University. He couldn’t stay at Green Bay and was cut on September 2 when the Packers reduced their roster to 53 players. The Saints demanded waivers from Hill the next day.

Over the next few seasons, the Saints began to cast Hill in a variety of unique roles. He played special teams, blocked a punt in 2019, got a touchdown from Brees as a tight end and got some chances as a passer.

The most unique part of what Yale has shown so far is the lack of time the quarterbacks shared on the field. In two games, Grooms and O’Connor rarely fielded together, but the Bulldogs had one play in the Holy Cross game, where Grooms was widely split and O’Connor was in the middle.

The Elis have two quarterbacks together on the field, with Nolan Grooms lined up as a slot receiver on the left.

The Saints started the trend, but the rest of the league started catching up quickly. Comparisons could be better made to the Eagles’ 2020 streak of Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz, which this year expanded to include the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears.

The Eagles controversially drafted Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The team had just pledged Wentz $ 128 million, which they had drafted five years earlier as runner-up in the overall standings.

“With Jalen Hurts he has unique skills,” said former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson after the selection. “You see what Taysom Hill did in New Orleans, and now he and Drew Brees have a connection and a connection there, and you even see when … [Joe] Flacco and Lamar [Jackson] in Baltimore in a short time – how they grew together. It’s just something we’re going to explore. “

Pederson and the Eagles’ coaching staff slowly began to turn hurts into games, eventually giving him no-wentz action on the field. As the season progressed and Wentz’s game waned, Hurts began to see more game action and eventually took on the starting job. Wentz called for a deal the following off-season and the Eagles sold him to the Indianapolis Colts.

Hurts played nine of 12 games before taking over Wentz full-time, but only threw the ball three times. The Eagles preferred to take advantage of his ability to run with football, which gave him 12 opportunities to do so while he was still the backup, and aim him through the air once. Grooms, like Hurts in 2020, have more chances of running the ball this year than of causing damage to their arm.

That year, other NFL teams followed the Eagles’ lead and began switching backup quarterbacks into game action. Namely the 49ers with Trey Lance.

The Niners drafted Lance from the state of North Dakota with the fourth overall selection in last year’s NFL draft. In an almost identical situation to the Bulldogs’ use of grooms, the 49ers put Lance on their offensive in the first quarter of the season opener. Lance had three riotous carries and had his team’s first touchdown in 2021. The 49ers kept him off the field the following week.

After the Niners’ first game, former NFL quarterback and Fox Sports color commentator Mark Sanchez felt his way into 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo. “That’s one of the hardest things to do for a quarterback, I have to say. If you convert a first down and the replacement comes, you don’t get into a rhythm. ”That was Lance’s only pass of the game.

“It’s always an option throughout the game,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan after the second week. “It’s been two games and I’ve never had it in the opening games and I’ve never had it at any point. I plan to do this from week to week and whenever I feel like using it. You saw when I did it the first week, and I never had that urge the second week. “

Reno gave a similar rationale for her dual quarterback scheme after Elis beat Cornell.

“There are a lot of things at play, a lot of situational things,” said Reno. “If you find yourself in any of these situations where we can really take advantage of Nolan’s advantages in the field, we will. If we don’t get into these situations, we won’t force them. So, in some games you could see more of him, in some games you could see less. Nolan’s a damn player and made a huge contribution to the team and these opportunities and situations will come. We just accept it. “

O’Connor, Grooms and the Bulldogs will face Lehigh this Saturday at 12 p.m. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.


JARED FEL

Jared Fel currently works as a sports reporter for football, baseball, and hockey for the Yale Daily News. Originally from Ossining, New York, he is an aspiring junior at Saybrook College majoring in Cognitive Science.


NADER GRANMAYEH

Nader Granmayeh is a soccer and softball writer for the Yale Daily News. Originally from New York City, he is studying political science.