In the FCS Huddle: 'Mike and Mike' show airing at Richmond

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Updated: 5/23 1:00 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Richmond quarterback Michael Strauss could very well be a candidate for the Walter Payton Award this year - the top individual honor in the FCS.

On the other hand, he will be pressed to keep his starting job.

Richmond's quarterback situation is one of the more unique - and talented - at an FCS school. Strauss, who became the starter late in the 2012 season and followed up with a banner junior campaign a year ago, faces stiff competition from Michael Rocco.

At the majority of FCS schools, Rocco would be the starting quarterback. He's a transfer from Virginia who made 21 starts with the Cavaliers. He's also the nephew of Richmond head coach Danny Rocco.

But there isn't much reason to take the starter's role away from Strauss. He's been too good since he also transferred in from Virginia - one year prior to Michael Rocco.

Somehow, the Spiders are going to try to make it work for everybody. There's potential for a terrific 2014 season, just two years removed from them being one of four teams to tie for the CAA Football championship.

"I think overall we've got a really good situation at quarterback. We've got two guys who are very capable," Danny Rocco said. "I think as we ended up spring (practice), I thought Mike Rocco made some real progress there down the stretch when he was kind of the guy who was getting most of the reps when Strauss was out for a bit (with a shoulder injury).

"The thought is we're heading into the summer camp with Strauss as our starting quarterback and we're going to continue to install our offense and evaluate our circumstances and make the best decisions to give us the opportunity to win the most football games that we can win. From afar, it's a good situation to have. The two kids are really neat to have."

Strauss and Rocco are both fifth-year seniors, part of a 22-player senior class that dwarfs the 12 and then 13 that Danny Rocco had the last two seasons after he was hired away from Liberty.

Rocco had to sit out the 2013 season because NCAA bylaws stipulate that a transfer from an FBS school can play immediately at an FCS school only if he has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He had one season of eligibility at the time of his transfer.

With Strauss entrenched as Richmond's starter last year, he built on his strong finish in 2012 by rewriting the school's single-season record book. He completed 333-of-509 pass attempts (65.4 percent) for 3,808 yards and 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He ranked fourth in the FCS in completions and fifth in passing yards.

Despite the slight shoulder injury during spring practice, Strauss returned to play in the Spiders' intrasquad game. He and Rocco had similar performances.

The two 6-foot-3 signal callers are good friends, having spent two years together at Virginia and the past one at Richmond, even while Rocco tries to unseat Strauss. Or at least cut into his playing time.

While at Virginia, Rocco threw for 4,731 yards and 27 touchdowns with 24 interceptions.

"They just come and they compete every single day," Danny Rocco said. "They make each other better. They both recognize the importance of every practice session, every meeting session. You talk about being sharp and sharpening the sword and having heightened awareness, these two guys are bringing that into our building every day. There's a little sense of urgency (for players), which obviously comes from their head football coach, but they see these quarterbacks out there working and working and working and everybody kind of understands the significance of every day's opportunity."

Danny Rocco has utilized more than one quarterback in a season going back to his six campaigns at Liberty, so he will develop packages involving Michael Rocco.

Richmond, 8-3 in Danny Rocco's first season in 2012 but only 6-6 a year ago, made solidifying both the offensive and defensive lines as its goal during the spring.

On offense, they didn't rush the ball well last season and top rushers Jacobi Green and Seth Fisher, a fullback, missed spring practice with injuries. The return of All-CAA center Austin Gund as well as tackles Nick Ritcher and Jacob Ruby will solve a lot. Plus, the Spiders will open it up with the return of last year's leading receiver, Stephen Barnette.

Up front defensively, end Kerry Wynn was one of the team's big losses, but Evan Kelly returns as one of the better nose tackles in the FCS. At linebacker, Aaron Roane and Eric Wright return as senior leaders.

"I've got a really deep group of seniors," Danny Rocco said. "I'm really excited about that. I thought they demonstrated real good leadership here in the spring and it's going to carry over and improve this summer. I also think that probably overall this is the deepest team I've had. You always have an area or two that you're a little bit more concerned about than others, but I've got more guys that I think can go into a game, play, make a contribution and help us win than I've had before."

Still, as Richmond heads toward its season, the overwhelming story line is its strength at quarterback, where the "Mike and Mike" show will air daily - at least competition-wise.

Strauss has led 4-0 finishes in each of the last two seasons - and Rocco- coached teams have always been strong in November - but the Spiders need more consistency early in the season.

Danny Rocco has learned under such coaches as Tom Coughlin, John Mackovic, Bill Parcells and Al Groh, so he will adapt to his talent, and that starts with his quarterbacks.

"I do think mature depth and talent at the quarterback position can be a good formula for (winning)," he said.

"I think they are both capable of running the offense in its entirely - both Mike and Mike. ... I think Strauss has a little better upside in some areas of our offense and I think Mike Rocco has a little more upside in other areas of our offense. So I do think that at a moment's notice, they could be doing some things somewhat unique to their skill set. But I don't think that either one of them forces us to have to get away from some facet of our offense because they both have the ability to handle all facets of our offense."

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