Harris Named Starting QB for Opener; Lawson Expected to See Time

Harris Named Starting QB for Opener; Lawson Expected to See Time

KINGSTON, R.I. – Junior Tyler Harris has been named as Rhode Island's starting quarterback, head coach Jim Fleming announced Thursday morning.

Throughout training camp, the quarterback spot has been a hotly contested three-man battle between Harris, fellow junior transfer JaJuan Lawson and redshirt freshman Vito Priore. All three had very productive camps, giving the team its best quarterback depth since Fleming arrived.

"After a lot of deliberation discussion with the staff, we made the decision to go with Tyler as the starter, with JaJuan very close behind him," Fleming said. "We had unbelievable competition at quarterback during camp, with three players who performed very well."

Harris – who was 10-of-15 with three touchdown passes in the final scrimmage of camp – transferred to Rhode Island from UCF over the summer. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he is a traditional pocket passer with a strong, accurate arm.

"Tyler came in with a very mature mentality. He has been through three years at an FBS program at UCF, so he knows how to compete and assert leadership," said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Will Fleming. "That's the biggest thing he has shown, the leadership in all areas. On the field he has picked up the offense quickly. In meetings, he is constantly taking notes and applying what he is learning on the field. He has been strong in first- and second-down situations, as well as must-pass situations."

While Harris will start, Lawson is expected to see the field for several series in the season opener as well. The New Mexico transfer – who also came in over the summer – proved to be extremely accurate, completing 27-of-33 for 328 yards and two touchdowns combined over two scrimmages. The 6-0, 203-pound Lawson is a more mobile quarterback capable of making plays in and out of the pocket.

"JaJuan has earned the chance to play, and we will have a significant package of plays ready for him," Jim Fleming said. "Tyler and JaJuan give us different looks, but both styles have proved effective throughout camp."

While Harris and Lawson play different styles, the offense does not necessarily need to be overhauled depending on who is in the game.

"With JaJuan coming from a triple-option offense, it was impressive to see his skillset as a passer on first and second down," Will Fleming said. "He is able to execute the offense with the same schematics as Tyler, so it's not like we have to run two completely different offenses. We can, but JaJuan does a great job getting the ball out quickly and accurately. He has the ability to move the chains with his legs, which allows us to mix in some quarterback runs. He is another very mature kid with three years at an FBS program. Those two came in, really competed and made each other better while building a very good relationship throughout camp."

Not lost in the battle was the continued development of Priore, who came to Rhode Island as a midyear prep school transfer in the spring of 2016. After redshirting last season, Priore will open the season as the No. 3 quarterback. Fleming rewarded Priore's hard work over the last year plus by making him a full-scholarship player during training camp, a clear indication of the staff's confidence in the 6-2, 187-pounder.

"Vito competed with Tyler and JaJuan and really asserted himself in a very positive way," Will Fleming said. "I think everyone – coaches and players alike – are confident that Vito can step in and move the offense effectively. His best asset is as a true passer. He's very accurate with the football, he reads the defense well and he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. We feel very good about his future given the way he continues to get better and better day-by-day."

"We are set up very nicely at quarterback for the present and the future," Jim Fleming said. "Vito had an excellent camp, and he is still a redshirt freshman. With Tyler and JaJuan as juniors, Vito as a redshirt freshman and Jahkari Grant as a good looking true freshman, the position is very well stocked."

Rhode Island and Central Michigan kick off Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.