Editor's Note: For National Signing Day, we have split up the breakdowns as follows: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Line, Defensive Front Seven, and Secondary/Athletes. We begin today with a look at the quarterbacks.
It all boils down to your team's offensive identity. Well, really it's all about scoring points, but establishing an offensive identity is essential to that end. As it stands today, Virginia Tech football is in the midst of an identity crisis. The identity for the past four seasons has revolved around three year starter, Logan Thomas. Before that it revolved around Tyrod Taylor for the better part of three seasons. For an offense that has had well-publicized struggles going back to 2002, that's still a remarkable run of consistency at the quarterback position.
Yet even with the familiar faces in Blacksburg, the team has fallen short of it's goal to be become a more balanced team on offense. Formerly a run-heavy team that liked to feature a vertical passing game out of play-action, the Hokies borrowed too many looks from too many summer coaching sleep-away camps, which has resulted in a playbook that resembles The Cheesecake Factory Menu; which happens to be filled with pages of good ideas that often result in mediocre cuisine.
We can be counted on here as advocates of VT simplifying things, perfecting those things they are good at, and exhibiting the confidence to execute those strengths against any opponent. But with the identity crisis, giving advice to someone to just do what they do best is impossible, if THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW what they do best. Hopefully, Coach Frank Beamer and his staff will enter this fall with a little clarity in vision and mission, because they will have some new athletes to fill some very big shoes. Seriously, Logan Thomas wore a size 18 or 19 shoe.
HE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW MUCH OFFENSE? THEN WHERE WERE THE POINTS?
Logan Thomas holds all of Virginia Tech's career passing records. But this doesn't impress us, he attempted more throws than other QB in VT history. The fact that he led the team in rushing attempts his final two seasons, and rushed the ball almost 500 times for his career (488) is both impressive and ridiculous at the same time.
Here are Logan's usage stats:
- 2011: 544 total plays, 23rd nationally. And this was with David Wilson breaking the VT all-time single-season rushing record
- 2012: 602 total plays, 9th nationally. The less we talk about 2012 the better.
- 2013: 550 total plays, 11th nationally going into UCLA, and likely to have finished 8th or 9th had he completed the game.
Furthermore, Logan got the lion's share of the running plays his final two years. Here is the distribution of carries:
- 2011: 590 VT rushing attempts, Logan with 153, for just under 26%, behind David Wilson who had 52% of carries.
- 2012: 507 VT rushing attempts, Logan with 173, for about 34%, way ahead of JC Coleman with 109
- 2013: 494 VT rushing attempts, Logan with 162, for again about 33%, and neck and neck with Trey Edmunds.
Each year, Logan's passing efficiency and yard's per carry went down. As did the Hokie scoring attack, as outlined below:
- 2011: 57th nationally in scoring with 27.9 ppg. On a loaded, veteran offense with the top WRs in school history (statistically), and the single-season rushing record broken during the same campaign. That #57 ranking is an indictment on the coaching staff by itself. Inexcusable output and such a waste of resources.
- 2012: 83rd nationally in scoring at 25.1 ppg.
- 2013: 100th!!!!! You simply cannot be taken seriously with a scoring offense that generates just 22.5 ppg.
The more VT committed to Logan and the idea of creating a first round NFL QB from scratch, the more production sank. The idea was just too tantalizing for the Cerberus of Frank Beamer, Bryan Stinespring and Mike O' Cain to resist. VT finished Logan's tenure by going just 15-13 over his final 28 games.
We will never be sure why Coach Beamer decided that VT was never going to take the next step by building on the foundation that took them to such dizzying heights as the century turned. But we do recognize that a new day is here, and with it the opportunity to turn a new page. Or will the VT fan base be stuck waiting one more year? Let's examine:
"MARK'S THE NEXT GUY IN LINE HERE....I'VE SEEN HIM PRACTICE TOO MANY TIMES. I HAVE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE GUY."
Quoth Frank Beamer about the prospects of rising redshirt senior QB Mark Leal after the Hokie's destruction in the Sun Bowl this past New Year's Eve. After throwing just 23 passes in five career appearances before entering the Sun Bowl vs UCLA after Thomas was injured, forgive us if we find this confidence remark to be disingenuous. Had Coach Beamer been exercising even the slightest bit of forethought (and confidence) there were multiple other opportunities to get Leal some snaps over the last three seasons.
After all he's been the PRIMARY backup each year. We haven't signed a QB since 2010! If we're coaching, we want to know what our backup is capable of. The fact that Leal had never taken a snap during a game still in question is very instructive. It says, "If we put this guy in during a game which we hold a narrow lead, or are tied, the potential is there for him to blow it for us."
Keeping in mind that Logan Thomas was an absolute hoss, who only ever came out of a game because he opened up his Death Star portal (about as wide as a womprat) to a vicious dirty blow against UCLA, the fact that Leal didn't get even a sniff of playing time is a troubling sign for his impending candidacy. All we ever heard, even in the leanest of Logan's era, was "Logan gives us the best chance to win." We happen to think that the Sun Bowl quote was just CountryFrank speak for "I'm tired right now, how the he-double hockeysticks am I supposed to know who will win the job a mere two minutes after yet another devastating national TV embarrassment."
Leal's performance vs UCLA was shaky, but truth be told, the injury to Thomas was deflating, and the Hokies were clearly outmatched speed and talent-wise and already down a couple of key defensive players. Leal wasn't getting our squad's best foot forward that afternoon. He wasn't blessed with good blind side blocking, and it led to some ugly unforced errors. An underthrown ball, a comical attempt to avoid a sack by playing hot potato that led to a defensive TD. As always, it's a combination within the comedy of errors that undoes the Hokies, and it'd be nice to know that our QB would know to take the sack or throw the ball away rather than willingly submit as Leal did against UCLA.
Right now the job is Leal's to lose, and goodness knows that if the VT coaching staff can't count on a 5th year senior to outplay a pair of true freshmen, then it's an indictment on their teaching abilities. Usually, those without the physical talent to play the position wash out far before their fifth year. But the fact that he's in the running indicates he can compete physically. So what would hold him back this time? If anything, we hope that it's because one of the two freshman QB recruits we are about to profile is too good to pass up, not just because Leal is the least bad choice of the group.
VT hasn't had a 5th year SR QB since Sean Glennon, and before that, Grant Noel in 2001. In his final season, Glennon had a brief moment of redemption, replacing the injured Tyrod Taylor and leading VT to an ACC title game win over BC in 2008, but he mostly sat his 5th year. Noel started all season over Bryan Randall and did OK....for a guy as limited as Grant Noel was. We are hoping here that Leal can provide us with a better opportunity to win than Grant Noel. Is that too much to ask? If it is, then the next question is who will burn his shirt to step in and save the day.
ANOTHER LEFTY #7?
Before you get excited those are the only two similarities between incoming freshman Andrew Ford and Mike Vick. Unless Andrew happens to be a dog lover too. He has already signed his letter of intent and has enrolled as of this January. Here are his vitals:
Cedar Cliff High School (Camp Hill, PA)
Rivals: 3 Star, #26 Nationally
24/7: 3 Star, #35 Nationally
Other Offers: VT, PITT, UMass, Temple
Accolades: Regional Elite 11, Gatorade State Player of the Year
Watching Ford play you aren't blown away by any one thing he does. He doesn't have a laser for an arm, and he isn't the fleetest signal-caller we'll see this year. What he appears to be as a player who has a very good idea of what he can and can't do on a football field. In the high school footage we've seen, he appears to be very aware in the pocket, and makes good decisions with the ball. He plays within himself and takes whatever the opposing defense will give him.
He has good footwork, which is essential for a left-handed quarterback. When the world is right-oriented, it's sometimes a difficult transition turning your team around to protect the opposite back-side. He has the elusiveness required in a quarterback to preserve himself and pick up yards when a play breaks down, though we aren't predicting he's going to beat too many OLBs to the corner and get deep into the secondary.
One of the early praises of Ford is that he puts the ball up (lofts it with touch) so his WRs can run under it. That may have worked in high school with his arm strength, but unless he adds significant zip there isn't a ball he could loft right now that a FBS cornerback couldn't catch up to. Also, having watched such a big strong QB in Logan Thomas struggle so heavily with the medium out patterns to the long side of the field, we have to question a lefty throwing back across his body outside of the hashes to the right side until we see him do it consistently.
We remember new WR coach Aaron Moorehead taking criticism from Beamer on the ESPN Inside Access special on VT football last preseason. Moorehead was being instructed by Beamer to tell his WRs to catch the ball higher to their chest. Moorehead pushed back a bit, saying well, if the QB could get the ball up (i.e STOP BOUNCING THE DAMN OUTS!) then he would do his level-best to make sure his WRs followed technique. Will we finally have a QB who can make ALL the throws? We had heard Logan could, but we are still waiting to see it.
Here's the requisite YouTube video breakdown of some of Ford's highlights:
Andrew Ford 2013 Highlight Reel (via QBCampetition)
As you can see he is tall, but has a slight frame. He probably needs to find 15 pounds of muscle somewhere if he is to compete for the job this season. If he can't compete physically for the job this season, and it's not reasonable for us to expect him to be ready at 18 to handle the physical load, then it would be wise to red-shirt him.
Being physically ready isn't a problem facing our other incoming freshman Chris Durkin, who is already 6'4", 225 lbs. And he has already stated that he's only coming to Blacksburg to play some football early and kick some a**. And well, he's almost done kicking a**....so that leaves playing football early.
"A chance to play early," Durkin said by phone Monday night. "At the other place I was looking at a two- to three-year wait before I really got a shot. And coach [Scot] Loeffler said he wants me to play early."
(Courtesy Andy Bitter, Roanoke Times)
Durkin was a Michigan State commit. But like he said above, with the situation the Spartans currently enjoy, he might have been buried on the depth chart. Upon first impression he resembles NFL QB Jake Locker, big, surprisingly elusive, and willing to absorb the contact. Obviously, at VT we just got finished watching another giant, "mobile" quarterback who could absorb and deliver punishment, and that wasn't the happiest of marriages.
While Durkin, along with Ford, is listed as a pro-style QB, we have trouble visualizing any QB that can run well joining VT and becoming a pro-style pocket passer at the expense of the dual-threat they pose. Here is Durkin's set of vitals:
Ursuline (Youngstown, OH)
Rivals: 3 Star, #16 Nationally
24/7: 4 Star, #18 Nationally
Offers: VT, Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Cal, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan St., Nevada, Northwestern, Toledo, W. Michigan
Michigan State may not wind up missing him, but Ohio State, who is admittedly a little gun-shy about heading back into Youngstown for a ton of recruits after the Jim Tressel/Maurice Clarett era, may wind up regretting letting him slip through. If Urban Meyer liked Tim Tebow, who was a big, gritty leader who overcame questionable passing mechanics, then chances are he might have really liked having Durkin in Columbus. We can be quite certain that a heavily traveled dream of Durkin's is to win the VT QB job and return home to Ohio in the second week of the 2014 season and vanquish An Ohio State University. Shoot, that's our dream too. It's just that we can't quite make out who the quarterback is in the dream.
Durkin if not a classic QB, is certainly a football player. He has enough speed and size to run over college defenders right now. But when we watch the video on him (below), we see that most of his throws are designed roll-outs usually to the right. This is indicative of his coaches playing to his strong suits. His ability to throw from a 5 step drop or a 7 step drop, with a setup and throw are just not able to be assessed by virtue of the offense his high school ran. All the highlights have him on the move getting a running start on his throws. He is definitely not as polished as Ford as a passer. His arm strength doesn't look to be a problem, but his mechanics look like he might still be a bit of a scattershot. He flies wide open and that causes the ball to rise on a few of his throws. See for yourself in the video below.
2014 Christopher Durkin - Ursuline - QB13 - Jr yr - PROMO (via ScoutingOhio)
So, the first video was a compilation from Durkin's junior year. Below is another look at him in the Elite11 regional camp, before his senior season. They are drilling him on more of what we were talking about from a drop-back standpoint. He looks improved, but the questions will remain until he gets some college coaching under his belt.
Chris Durkin 2013 Highlight Reel (via QBCampetition)
Scott Loeffler Will Most Likely Have To Choose A Favorite Child
Offensive Coordinator Scott Loeffler was the lead recruiter for both of these young men. They were his only two recruits, and it netted him the mantle of 45th best recruiting job (by a coach) in the country by 24/7 recruiting service. We've seen it a couple times now under Beamer when we bring in several QBs at the same time as opposed to staggering them. Beamer will pick his favorite, and the others will be buried.
For reference, see Sean Glennon/Cory Holt/Ike Whitaker/Greg Boone in the mid-00s, and also see the cognitive dissonance that the Bryan Randall/Marcus Vick situation created for our coaching staff in 2003. We think it's why Beamer has been so reluctant to create any further controversies since, and has considered himself fortunate to have the unassailable Tryod Taylor, and the perpetual talent tease of Logan Thomas to showcase as centerpieces. The fewer decisions Beamer has to make regarding the QB position, the more relieved he is. He'd rather answer questions about an under-performing incumbent than make a switch and deal with the second-guessing from that end also.
Since this is Loeffler's rodeo, he should have heavy input into the situation, but before he makes it there are a few critical questions that bear answering:
- What about Brendan Motley? Is he equipped to handle the backup job in the event that it would benefit both of these incoming freshmen to red-shirt? The rising red-shirt sophomore, and local Christiansburg High School product was a standout, not just locally but state-wide for his play at the small AA school. If he is capable, then this might be perhaps the most important development of all coming out of spring practice.
- Bucky Hodges has moved to Tight End. If Motley and the freshmen aren't ready, do they rush him into emergency backup duty?
- What happens if Motley gets beat out for the back-up job in the fall by one of the freshmen, because the freshman candidate earned it? It appears that the coaching staff isn't going to let both of these kids burn their shirt, because one will almost assuredly be wasting a year of eligibility in doing so.
Question three raises a few flags. We believe that there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on the player who gets red-shirted, particularly if the freshman who "makes" the team winds up starting some games. In most scenarios starting a true freshman wouldn't bode well for VT, unless the talent was undeniable . But in the event that one of them is a standout, and can be trusted, how can we ever expect the other player, "the loser", to stick around Blacksburg?
Knowing Frank Beamer's tendencies to ride horses until they die, the red-shirt quarterback would probably be smart to "get his agent to start exploring transfers." This spring and summer is going to be a delicate juggling act for the coaches to massage egos and build confidence, because we are going to have to find some contributors immediately.
The fact that the QB spot isn't more well-stocked is a complete mystery to us, and one we will explore in our signing-day wrap-up.
- Why is it that when VT has a need, they go get half a dozen at the same position (or in this case, two evenly matched QBs)?
- Why is it that VT seems allergic to staggering their classes? We are aware things don't always work out perfectly in recruiting, and holes sometimes can't be filled, or there are fickle children out there making make or break decisions for the future of the program, but it appears that the same mistakes are being made in recruiting regardless of who coordinates the effort, or how well the team performs on the field.
As it stands, it appears VT has multiple options at QB this coming season. But the solution may only be temporary, as Leal will exhaust his eligibility next spring. And if Durkin or Ford were to start, whoever is the incumbent may have to fend for his job against a new batch of challengers next year anyhow. It's all very unsettling to us, and it's undoubtedly causing Beamer much consternation, as we know he'd love to find himself a three year starter following this season. Once again, as always, even when things are changing in Blacksburg, the more they remain the same.
Check back with us a little later this evening when we post our breakdown on the running backs. Cheers!
--Flyers13 and Ricky the Dragon