Blue Hen QB competition: Walker, Caruso battle for starting job

NEWARK — Joe Walker knows better than to go near any fan message boards.

Quarterbacks, like Walker, always end up as the target of heated online debate among their school’s most passionate fans.

“I stay away but my family doesn’t stay away,” the Delaware QB said with a smile after practice on Saturday.

“They read it all, I don’t read any of it. They won’t even tell me what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter to me … My mom will be like, ‘Oh, I hear you had a good practice today.’ Or, ‘I hear you need to pick it up a little bit.’”

Without question, Walker has had his ups and downs in his two seasons as the Blue Hens’ starting quarterback.

But, even with a new coaching staff and a transfer to compete against, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior is still the frontrunner to be Delaware’s starter when it hosts Delaware State in its season opener on Aug. 31.

Joe Walker (UD sports information photos)

J.P. Caruso

However, that doesn’t mean Appalachian State transfer J.P. Caruso won’t see his share of playing time, too.

First-year Delaware coach Danny Rocco is leaning toward using both quarterbacks early on. The Hens don’t play their first Colonial Athletic Association game until the fourth week of the season.

“Yesterday, I kind of felt that either Joe or Caruso could find themselves out there on the field,” Rocco said after the Hens scrimmaged on Saturday morning in Delaware Stadium. “And I still feel that way. In the moment, I think that Joe is our starting quarterback.

“But I don’t think there’s any scenario that would not have me playing both of them — at least for the first three weeks. It gives the truest assessment of what a kid can do.”

That’s fine with both Walker and Caruso.

They say competition for the starting job has brought out the best in them,

“He’s a guy who comes ready to play every day,” Walker said about Caruso. “He studies the game. It doesn’t really change anything that I do but, having competition, it just brings your ‘A’ game every day,

“I’m pretty sure he’s not ready to come relaxed to any practice. I’m trying to be the guy, he’s trying to be the guy. I’ve got to respect that.

“We want to have the two best quarterbacks in the CAA,” Walker added later.

After Saturday’s scrimmage, Caruso was literally the last person off the field. He threw to a couple freshman receivers for a while before even tossing the ball to a couple managers after the wideouts left.

Caruso, who didn’t transfer until the summer, said he’s getting a little more comfortable with the offense every day.

“We’re both just trying to go out there and perform the best we can,” said Caruso, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior. “It’s not something that you don’t like a kid because you’re competing against him. I love Joe.

“We’re just trying to bring the best out of each other and bring the best out of the offense. We’re teammates first and, of course, we want to be on the field — a guy who plays a big role in helping this team win games.”

Delaware’s passing game as a whole has been woefully ineffective the last two seasons — for a number of reasons.

But after playing in 21 games, Walker has thrown for just four touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He has run for 811 yards with five TDs.

After playing in 21 games, Joe Walker has thrown for just four touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He has run for 811 yards with five TDs.

Two years ago, the Hens were ranked last out of the 123 teams in NCAA Division I FCS at 67.1 passing yards per game. Last fall, they only made it up to 120th (97.2 yards per game).

Walker believes he’s learned from his mistakes.

“Me, improving, I would just say I’m being smarter to the game — knowing what I’m getting and just taking the checkdowns,” he said. “The little things get us more yards than just trying to force the ball downfield. I’d have to say I’ve improved a lot in that part of the game.”

Walker also said he feels more at home in Delaware’s new offense. Matt Simon, who spent the last six seasons at Buffalo, is now the Hens’ offensive coordinator.
“I feel way more comfortable than I have before,” said Walker.

“If I get that chance to play. … I’m basically going to be the leader out there — the captain, the guy in charge. I want to move the ball downfield no matter where we get the ball. I want to put points on the board every drive. I’ll look at it as a disappointment if we don’t.”

Running back woes

Rocco left Saturday’s scrimmage worried about the health of Delaware’s running game.

Junior Kareem Williams, who just returned from a hand injury, left the field after hurting his hand again.

The Hens already lost senior standout Wes Hills for the season due to academic ineligibility while junior Thomas Jefferson is practicing but also dealing with a knee injury.

On top of that, Army transfer DeJoun Lee won’t be eligible this fall.

Kani Kane, the former Sussex Tech High standout, did draw some ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs,’ when he ran through a would-be tackler on Saturday. But Rocco knows the Hens’ backfield can’t take any more losses.

“We’re just paper thin,” he said. “We came into the thing thinking that we had three of the best backs in the league. But right we’re sitting there trying to figure out who can carry the ball.”

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