It's Saturday and Vanderbilt is holding its final scrimmage before the annual Black and Gold Game. Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers drops back and delivers a tight spiral to redshirt freshman Kris Kentera just as he is coming out of his 10-yard hitch route. A few plays later, Rodgers drops back and fires the ball horizontally across the field to redshirt freshman Josh Grady, who has slid quietly out of the slot and positioned himself behind the line of scrimmage.
To a casual observer, the two plays look very similar to many other plays that are run on this day. But there is a difference, and the difference is in the personnel on the receiving end of both plays.
When Grady and Kentera arrived on campus as part of Head Coach James Franklin's first signing class in 2011, many envisioned the two, along with fellow QB signee Lafonte Thourogood, would be vying for the starting quarterback job in 2012. It is true that Grady and Kentera are now battling for a starting spot, but just not at the position anyone expected.
Both were signed as quarterbacks out of high school and spent their first season on campus working with the quarterbacks.
But the two shed their quarterback practice jerseys this spring for new positions. Kentera (right) has been transitioning to H-back and Grady is working as a slot wide receiver. Thourogood was the first of three former quarterbacks to move positions when he switched to running back in the fall.
The reason for each position change boiled down to one common denominator: playing time.
Simply, each wanted to find a way onto the field as quickly as possible. With a quarterback position backlogged with talented players in returning starter Jordan Rodgers, Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels and incoming freshman Patton Robinette, there was little opportunity for playing time in the coming year.
Grady spoke with Franklin in February about switching positions and Kentera made his decision to try a new position just before spring break.
"I actually went up to Coach Franklin and talked to him about making the switch in February and we just figured me playing wide receiver would get me on the field as soon as possible," Grady said.
Kentera recalled a similar conversation he had with Coach Franklin.
"I talked to Coach and he said it would be a great way to get onto the field, and I just want to play and help out this team however I can," Kentera said. "We had a good discussion and we figured this was the best for me and best for the team and we just went with it."
The transition for Kentera and Grady has come with some bumps and bruises, but in just a few short weeks, the two have already made an impact despite never playing either position before 2012.
"I've loved it," Kentera said of his new position. "Going out there and being able to perform well is a plus too. Seeing Grady out there performing well; it is good to see a fellow quarterback move to another position and do well."
Before this spring, the two had never played their current positions before making the shift ... not even in youth football. In addition to quarterback, Kentera played scout team wide receiver in the fall and had some experience in high school playing wide receiver, but it was in a triple-option offense. Grady played quarterback and running back in high school, and some linebacker before that.
One significant change from their previous position has been the added contact they have come face-to-face with on the field, but instead of shying away from it, they've embraced it. "It is always fun to get in the trenches and actually hit somebody for once," Kentera said.
The transition, while similar, has still been different for each. As an H-back, Kentera is being asked to block more, while Grady (right) is focusing more on route running and improving his hands.
"Blocking has been the hardest adjustment," Kentera said. Last year I did scout team wide receiver so I had a little bit of an idea about what it was like running routes on Division I athletes in the SEC, but there wasn't much contact on scout team and I was always split out wide. So bringing me in and being in a three-point stance has been something I've needed to work on and hopefully it can improve in the future."
Thankfully for Kentera, he hasn't had to look very far for assistance. His roommate Steven Scheu, also a redshirt freshman, plays tight end and has been there to help Kentera along the way.
"He is a good run blocker; he knows what he is doing," Kentera said. "He's had a whole year at it and he's helped me out. I'll go back to the dorm and I'll ask him about a certain play and he'll walk me through it and show me what to run."
Becoming a better run blocker will also be a focus of Grady's development at wide receiver, but his largest challenge thus far has been getting used to catching the football downfield.
"By far the hardest thing is just using your hands and getting your hands extended and not trying to catch the ball with your body," Grady said. "Because (defensive backs) nowadays are really fast, especially in the SEC; if you let a ball come into your body, they will come knock it down so you want to extend your arms and catch the ball with your hands."
The two are battling challenges that are unique to each position, but they both agree that the transition has been made easier based on their past history as a quarterback.
"It has definitely helped based on seeing coverages and knowing what the quarterback is trying to look at and finding different holes in the zone," Grady remarked.
"It has helped so much," Kentera said. "It is so much easier coming from quarterback to H-back and being able to read coverages and understand where you've got to run your routes to. Rather than having to read all the field and know four routes as a quarterback, it makes everything so much easier now just learning my route."
The two have a long road ahead to fully grasp their new positions and every day is a "learning experience," but the progress they have made in a short time is a sign that their goal to find playing time sooner rather than later, is right on schedule.
And even before they reach the field for their first game, you can guarantee they have already envisioned ways their days as a quarterback can add a new chapter to Coach Franklin's bottomless list of trick plays.
"It's gone through my mind," Kentera said. "Josh is getting all the quarterback options for now (in practice), but maybe one day I'll be able to get a few of those."
One of those opportunities Kentera is alluding to came on Saturday.
By ducking behind the line of scrimmage to receive a lateral throw from Rodgers, Grady was setting the stage for one of Franklin's signature gadget plays (think Larry Smith at Wake Forest). But before Grady could toss the ball down the field, the pass from Rodgers was not muffed and the defensive team recovered the fumble. The chance at a trick play was squashed ... at least for one day.
"I dropped it today, but I'll get another chance, and I won't drop it when I do," Grady said.