Carson Strong has missed back-to-back practices and is expected to miss a few more, but Nevada football coach Jay Norvell isn't overly concerned about his star quarterback's availability for the season opener at Cal just yet.
Strong has had three surgeries on his right knee, including two in the last few months. Irritation in that knee led to him being removed from action midway through Monday's practice. He didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday and isn't expected to practice in the upcoming days. Strong had major surgery on his knee in 2017, which cost him his entire senior season of high school. He had surgery after the 2020 season on the same knee and arthroscopic surgery a few weeks before fall camp started to clear out scar tissue.
"His knee is fine," Norvell said after Wednesday's practice. "He had a surgery and structurally it's all fine. He had a little procedure done before camp just to take a look at it, a scope. That just kind of irritated it a little bit. He has a little swelling, but we're excited. He just had it checked again, and it's fine. He'll be out here in a couple of days."
Strong has had his knee drained in recent days, and Norvell said the Wolf Pack won't rush him back considering Strong's experience. Strong, a potential early-round selection in the 2022 draft, is entering this third season as a starter for the Wolf Pack. So while it's not ideal that he missed all of spring camp and the early part of fall camp, Nevada is not sounding alarm bells on his availability when games begin.
"Carson has a lot of experience," Norvell said. "It just is what it is. He's not quite healthy, and when he is, we'll put him out here. It happens sometimes. There are a lot of guys you listen on the radio in the NFL and they're not quite ready to play yet. At least Carson has a lot of experience under his belt, so when he does start practice he has that to lean on. We have a long season. Even this first game is not the only important game we'll play. The most important thing is we get him back for the bulk of the season."
After the Wolf Pack's first fall camp practice last Friday, Strong said managing his knee issue is something he's used to dealing with.
“My knee problem is something I’ve been dealing with for a while," Strong said. "You just kind of get used to it at some point, and it kind of gets dull. It wasn’t really holding me back or anything. Just a little here and there. It’s more mental than anything. It’s all in your head.”
Strong being unavailable to practice in recent days has allowed more reps for his backups. The majority of those have been split between Nate Cox, who ran the first-team offense in the spring and is in his fifth season of college, and Clay Millen, a true freshman and the highest-rated quarterback Nevada has ever signed out of high school. Rookie Drew Scolari out of Bishop Manogue High also has taken some reps.
"It's really good work for our young guys," Norvell said. "We're seeing our freshmen quarterbacks in there, Clay Millen and Drew Scolari, and Nate is getting a bunch of reps. It's really good for them because we have to get our backups ready behind Carson."
Norvell said it's too early to tell who Strong's backup will be this season, although Millen has impressed in his early work despite being new to the offense.
"We're just starting camp," Norvell said after Wednesday night's practice in regard to the backup. "This was a big deal tonight to see them under the lights, get a little crowd noise going. We had a lot of situations tonight. Short-yardage, goal line, but I was really happy. Clay did a lot of good things. He's a really talented quarterback. He has a great mind, and these kids have been doing a great job in the meetings, which is a big part of who's going to end up being the player back there."
The Wolf Pack was scheduled to hold its first scrimmage Wednesday night at Mackay Stadium but switched that out in lieu of a traditional practice. Norvell said that was a result of the team's uneven practice schedule so far, which has been caused by poor air quality that led Nevada to move two practices into Lawlor Events Center and scrap its plan to practice the first and third strings together and second and fourth strings together separately, which allowed Nevada to have longer practices with more reps per player.
"We've had to adjust this camp with the air quality, and it's affected three days of our practice," Norvell said. "We only got half of our practice the first day and then we were inside for two days. And we just can't practice inside. We're on concrete. It's basically a walkthrough. We decided that we needed the fundamental work of a full practice. We did that. We got a long practice in. We had 40 plays of skelly. I think we had 60-85 plays of team with 2-minute. That was great at the end. The 2-minute drill was good. We're still evaluating a lot of the young players, a lot of the transfer players, and we'll do that even more this next week. We really need a clean practice this week where we get all of our work and all of our practices in."
Nevada's last fall camp practice is scheduled for Aug. 21 before the team shifts to game prep for the season opener against Cal. Norvell said his focus to finish fall camp is simple.
"We just have to really get our fundamentals dialed in," Norvell said. "It's going to be a long, physical season and we just have to rely on our fundamentals to block and tackle, and we had officials here tonight. This was a long day. We met with the officials for over an hour asking them what they look for in games to try and build the knowledge of this team. All the little things that really add up to big things in the end."