After a crushing defeat in the Sun Bowl, head coach Frank Beamer alluded that soon to be redshirt senior Mark Leal was the quarterback of the future for Tech. Such displays of loyalty from Beamer are nothing new. He likes continuity, and in his eyes, Leal has earned the spot due to his experience and familiarity within the program. That's fine, I understand where he's coming from, but I have to voice my disagreement. It is my opinion that Beamer needs to start putting the success of the football program first, instead of shirking the hard choices that might upset his relationship with the players or his fellow coaches. He does nobody any favors by deciding to continually value experience over talent. We've seen this before. Doesn't anybody remember 2001? When Beamer started the infamous Grant Noel, and Bryan Randall watched from the sidelines. Certainly, Randall could have used the experience. Imagine the 2004 season, but a year earlier while we still had Kevin Jones. Who knows what could have happened. I admire Beamer's steadfast loyalty to his players, but if he wants to go out with a bang, he needs to start coaching like it's Alabama, where nobody's job is safe. Let Loeffler have a bigger say in the pick too. I highly doubt he would choose Leal if one of his hand picked freshmen is ready to go.
Mark Leal is by all accounts a wonderful young man. His interviews give us the insight of someone who has patiently waited for his turn. He's earned the right to be the front-runner for the job as the only returning QB with game experience. Nonetheless, Beamer declaring him the man to beat is premature. What Tech needs is an open quarterback competition. We have two highly touted recruits in this year's class in Andrew Ford (Elite 11) and Chris Durkin (Michigan State de-commit). I feel that on the initial depth chart, Loeffler should start fall practice with everyone being listed on the fourth string. If Leal emerges as the best candidate, great, we can then know that he truly is the best that we have, and the fans will be more at ease. If he doesn't, that's great too, either way we will know the most talented QB is the one who is on the field. An open competition would either boost Leal's confidence, because he'd be forced to compete for the job and win.
We know Leal's skill set. Though we've only really seen one half of football from him, it was enough to assess him. He is shifty, he throws a decent ball, he probably has a bit more touch on his passes than Thomas, and he's not going to be much of a runner. He's a little raw and he's going to make mistakes, but he shows the potential for consistency. All in all, if Leal is at QB a lot of our success would depend on the ability of the play makers around him. I think Mark would be decent, but he isn't the next Tyrod, at least from what we've seen. The coaching staff knows who Mark Leal is, and they know what they can expect from him. That's probably why they went ahead and gave him the crown.
What the staff doesn't know, at least not yet, is how much potential our incoming freshmen have. If they truly knew, then Beamer might not have handed the reigns to Leal without a second thought. The first of these freshman is Andrew Ford, the 6'3 dual-threat QB out of Cedar Cliff high school in Pennsylvania. Even though he flew under the radar, this guy is the real deal. His mechanics are excellent. He moves well in the pocket, his throws are on time and on target, he's very smart and goes throw his progressions smoothly. Just this season he threw for almost 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. He was invited to the Elite 11 QB competition, where only the best go to show off their skills. He was also named Pennsylvania's Gatorade player of the year. Top that with a 3.80 GPA and you've got the makings of a solid QB and citizen. He's only listed as a three-star player, but that is mostly due to the fact that he is a tad underweight at 200 pounds. It's nothing that a few months with the strength and conditioning program can't fix. The fact that he enrolled this January gives him some extra time to adapt to the college game.
Though a little less ballyhooed for some odd reason, Chris Durkin probably has just as good a shot as Ford. If for no other reason, than Durkin at 6'4", 230 pounds is an absolute monster. The four-star Durkin originally committed to Michigan State, but recently flipped his verbal to the Hokies due to the "opportunity to play early." Don't let his 230 pound frame fool you, Durkin can run. I've watched plenty of film of him demolishing every thing in his path. He has all the intangibles too. The only thing questionable is his consistency. Though after seeing what Michigan State did this year in football, it's hard not to feel good about obtaining talent that Mark Dantonio and his Rose Bowl champion staff coveted as well.
Editor's Note: Upon reviewing game tape of Durkin, his style of play resembles Jake Locker. I am also reminded of Brandon Barden, who was a former VT recruit at TE, though he played QB in GA. Barden was always a threat to run over linebackers. Barden of course, transferred to Vanderbilt where he had a fine career.
There are some other names in the mix, but I think we'll quickly find out that they aren't challengers to the crown.
- Travon Mcmillian, a 6'0 QB out of Woodbridge is also inbound, but rumor has it that he will not suit up at the QB position.
- Bucky Hodges has already been in Blacksburg for a year, but all indications seem to imply that he has been moved to tight end.
- Brendan Motley, the third stringer from Christiansburg who has surprised a lot of people. He has shown he came to play, but whether or not he can compete for the top spot remains to be seen.
Logan Thomas is gone, for better or for worse, and if ever there was an ideal opportunity to have a QB competition, this is it. Let's find out who truly has what it takes out of the group mentioned above. Starting a true freshman is often frowned upon, but if Ford or Durkin is talented enough, let's get through the growing pains now rather than later. Leal may make some drastic improvements by the time fall practice rolls around, but for the time being I am just not convinced that he can be the type of leader we need on the field. There are two young men up north who saw the Sun Bowl post-game press conference, and they just might be able to prove Beamer's findings were premature when they get on the practice field this fall.