SAN JOSE -- San Jose State is settling in behind Blake Jurich after he won the starting quarterback job over Joe Gray in a competition coaches say was almost too close to call.
"We chart their numbers every single day, and Joe's numbers are almost identical to Blake's," offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty said. "We feel we have two really good, solid quarterbacks."
The battle was so tight that it will not be surprising if Gray eventually gets a crack, even as early as the season opener Aug. 28 against North Dakota.
"You go into it thinking, 'I hope Blake has an all-conference type of year,' " Dougherty said. "But with what they've done, it would not shock me at all. I have the utmost confidence in Joe."
Gray, a junior who will serve as the backup, is unwavering in his support for his coaches or his belief in his own abilities.
"I stand behind my coaches 110 percent, no matter what decision they make. I just want to let that be known," he said. "I'm as optimistic as ever -- as I was in the spring and when I had the opportunity to compete against (David Fales in 2012). I'm still as optimistic as ever."
Jurich, a fifth-year senior from Santa Cruz, is in charge for now, and that's allowing the Spartans to accelerate the process of developing chemistry on offense now that Jurich will get the majority of the No. 1 repetitions in practice.
"I think it just gives everyone a chance to calm down and get to work," wide receiver Tyler Winston said.
Jurich has a reputation as a running quarterback and was dubbed the "Blakedozer" two years ago by then coach Mike MacIntyre, who used him as a change-of-pace signal-caller for read-option plays. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he can be a load to bring down. But since spring, he's developed into a capable pocket passer and shown that off this month.
"A lot of people think he's just a runner," Winston said. "But he's definitely improving in the pocket, especially where his legs come in and he can extend the play and not just pull the ball down and run."
That's the biggest area in which coaches wanted to see him grow. With weapons such as Winston, the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year, veteran receiver Jabari Carr, tight end Billy Freeman and the explosive Tyler Ervin, SJSU wants to utilize the passing game.
"He's a weapon when he takes off and runs," Dougherty said of Jurich. "But if we call a drop-back pass, we want him to work the pocket and find the spot in the pocket to get the ball off and throw it. We've got some good guys on the edge, and we want to get them the ball."
Jurich said he's also made strides in his mental preparation. He's been the No. 2 quarterback the past two years, always having to be available to play at a moment's notice.
"The mental side is the biggest part for quarterbacks because you've got to know everything that's going on," Jurich said. "That's what I've been doing these last two years, even the last four years. I always try to mentally prepare and get ready just in case."
Now he has the unenviable task of being first up to take the spot once occupied by Fales, the record-setting quarterback now with the Chicago Bears. Coach Ron Caragher has repeatedly warned not to compare the next quarterback with Fales' excellence, but that can be tough to avoid after two years of being spoiled.
But with the appearance of a strong running game, SJSU may be less reliant on its passer than in years past.
"He doesn't have to be Superman," Caragher said. "He doesn't have to play spectacular, All-American type play. He just has to be a good player. Make good decisions with his throws and throw accurate, catchable passes."
Jurich echoed those thoughts.
"We have a lot of playmakers on offense. I'm just driving the car," he said. "Just give them the ball, they'll do the work."
Follow Jimmy Durkin on Twitter at Twitter.com/Jimmy_Durkin.
AUG. 28 OPENER
North Dakota at San Jose State, 7 p.m.