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Virginia Tech Hokies Spring Roster Preview: Quarterbacks

Hokie Nation is going to see no one new at the helm for the 2019 Spring Practice session. The three guys are still the three guys, and the “competition” is “open”. Let’s see what we might or might not get in the way of clues.

Ryan Willis with his pivotal UVA performance
John Schneider - SB Nation

Virgingina Tech Hokie Spring 2019 Quarterback Roster

Number Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Class
Number Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Class
5 Ryan Willis QB 6-4 223 R-Sr.
2 Hendon Hooker QB 6-4 225 R-So.
4 Quincy Patterson II QB 6-4 236 R-Fr.
The sum total of the Quarterbacks on the Spring Roster Roster Courtesy of Hokie Sports

That’s it. It really isn’t all that bad, most pro teams only have three quarterbacks (sometime only two) on their rosters. Well, college isn’t the pros, and in school there are a range of jobs that quarterbacks do besides start. The backups are often critical to the offensive play calling, operating the scout team, and doping out coverages for their starting QB.

Suffice it to say they aren’t really cheerleaders and there is the oft possibility that ready or not, they’ll be stuffed into a hole presented by an injury to the starter. Who hasn’t seen the one play panic attack happen when the starter blows a shoe, or loses a helmet and needs to sit out a play? “Oh SNAP! There goes a series... DANGNABIT!” (Language not heard on the sideline I assure you.)

The Hokies enter Spring 2019 with a very much expected departure. After the leg break, and his graduation expected in the Spring, Josh Jackson Jr. has decided to move to College Park and dip his toe in the B1G. There were lots of folks who were upset by the move. I can tell you for most of the GC Staff at the time, it was neither a surprise, nor particularly disappointing. We wish JJ all the best. He’s graduating with a Hokie Sheepskin and that makes him all Hokie Nation, but he never really fit into Justin Fuente’s offensive scheme. He was too slow running. He dithered in the pocket and because he was on the short side never really learned to move around enough to find good throwing lanes. He needed some advice from Drew Brees not Tom Brady. Jackson just didn’t have the arm strength and the willingness to fit the ball into a zone that allowed his big receivers to go up and get the ball. He was more prone to throwing it away to avoid the sack. That was fine as a surrender of a down for 0 yards... and an eventual punt. Well the ODU fiasco ended the worries of Hokie Nation in one area, and presented another conundrum named Ryan Willis.

Willis the transfer from Kansas possessed the physical size, speed, arm strength, and quick decision making necessary to run Fuente’s RPO and Read-Option packages. He just didn’t possess the experience at running the offense on a day to day basis. The offensive coaching staff just never seemed to grab the ring and pull hard. The confidence in Willis’s ability to run the team just never bubbled to the surface. Play calling and execution would be bold and dynamic in the first half, and then crash to a grinding halt in the 3rd quarter. It was almost like Cornelsen and Fuente had been shoved out on a narrow ledge on a tall building, blindfolded, and then when it was pulled off after the half they panicked and shut down. At least until too late in the game to effect a comeback, or in some cases score points to stay ahead. Whatever the emotional or real reasons for the choices, it wasn’t until the UVA and Marshall games that we saw Willis get a chance to stretch out, and even in the UVA game and the Military Bowl, there still was the tendency to jump off the accelerator and try to grind clock and yards... even with a struggling defense.

So that was the impression that the fans were left with at the end of the 2018 season. Ryan Willis was “The Man” but NOT.

Then near disaster struck as the transfer portal began to eat away at unhappy players. At some point in the play (a tragedy in the making) the Hokies looked like they only had two possible starting quality QB’s and Quincy Patterson II had yet to do more than run a bit.

Hendon Hooker thought better of his transfer plans, and withdrew his name from the portal, just around the time that Deshawn McClease did. Hooker hasn’t figured much in the mix since the Marshall game. He wasn’t even dressed out for the Military Bowl, Patterson was the backup. So, I imagine that there was a very interesting conversation going on in the offices of the offensive coaching staff when he changed his mind.

Quincy Patterson has been a studious methodical freshman backup. It seems that he is more than willing to do anything that the coaches hand to him. He’s all in with the program, and looks like he’s really getting ready to take over the #1 position in the QB depth chart whenever that happens.

This Spring, we are unlikely to see much that will point to who will be taking the starting snaps and bulk of the work in the 2019 season. Everyone needs to look at the stat lines for the Hokie QB crew. They are all nearly the same size, with Patterson netting out about 10 pounds more on the scale. We all know how Willis can run, he surprised most of everyone with a couple of really nice runs a game. We also know how fast Hooker is, with his long TD run last season. We haven’t seen Patterson stretch out much. His limited snaps were mostly predictable runs that netted modest yardage. What we haven’t seen from either of the backups (or supposed backups) is passing skill. In fact we’ve seen almost no passing from either one. Spring practice and the game is really a great opportunity for them to demonstrate that their basic passing skills are pushing into starter territory.

So, the “who’s the starter” question will remain begged at the end of Spring practice. I seriously doubt that Justin Fuente will name a starting QB out of Spring, unless it is unequivocally Ryan Willis. There are some new faces heading to town for August practice, but we anticipate the depth chart coming out of Spring 2019 to look like (in pencil):

#1 Ryan Willis

#2 Quincy Patterson

#3 Hendon Hooker

Who knows maybe we’ll see Hooker and Patterson get some Wild Turkey sort of offensive plays to chew on. Patterson still needs work, and Hooker needs consistency. Ryan Willis needs to learn to get past his second receiver in the progression, and he also needs to do a better job of reading the RPO. Everyone needs work, and that’s what Hokie Nation should be looking for this Spring. All three QBs need quality reps, and to work on what masteries they haven’t demonstrated.

Look for good work from the QBs and nothing more.