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Virginia Tech football 2023 preview: Quarterbacks

Some new additions increase the upside for 2023.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Virginia Tech at Liberty Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies were a mess offensively in 2022. In Brent Pry’s first season as head coach, the Hokies ranked No. 120 in total offense in the FBS — out of 131 teams. Boston College was the only ACC team below the Hokies in total offense.

To make matters worse, the Tennessee Volunteers were No. 1 in total offense, led by former Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker. Hooker spent four years in Blacksburg, transferred to Tennessee, although he would’ve preferred to remain with the Hokies then, and became an NFL draft pick.

Hooker’s success elsewhere and Tech’s fall from grace [they were 3-8 in 2022] were the final remnants of Justin Fuente’s disastrous tenure as head coach of the Hokies.

Tech’s struggles in Pry’s first season could be blamed on a new coaching staff finding its way and a lack of talent. The lack of talent was evident throughout the roster and Tech was aggressive this offseason in reshaping the roster, beginning with the quarterback position.

Next up in our 2023 season preview series is a look at the quarterback position:

The quarterbacks

  • Grant Wells, 6-foot-2, 212, R-Sr., Charleston, W.V.
  • Kyron Drones, 6-foot-2, 231, R-So., Pearland, Texas
  • William “Pop” Watson, 5-foot-11, 176, Fr., Springfield, Mass.
  • Dylan Wittke, 6-foot-1, 195, Fr., Buford, Ga.
  • Jackson Sigler, 6-foot-0, 197, Fr., Stafford, Va.
  • Ben Locklear, 6-foot-5, 241, R-So., Fredericksburg, Va.

Projected starter

Wells is the returning starter and is competing with Drones — a highly-coveted Baylor transfer — for the starting position. There have been positive reports on both players from the spring and into fall camp. While Wells once had a sizeable lead, Drones has closed the gap. If the season began tomorrow, we believe Wells would be the guy. However, Drones is a legitimate option to start in 2023.

Watson is a true freshman, and while he isn’t in the running to start, there is a ton of excitement surrounding him. Watson was electric at times in the spring. It was clear he was still a freshman, and while he is smaller, he has a strong arm. He has a future at Virginia Tech.

But, for now, we think Wells is the guy who starts the opener against Old Dominion.

How long does Wells get if he’s the starter?

Make no mistake, Wells’ leash isn’t as long as it was one year ago. Jason Brown wasn’t really a legitimate option to replace Wells. Drones is. The good news is Wells has legitimately improved. How much he has improved is to be determined.

The key here is Drones’ development. The former four-star prospect is a dual-threat prospect. Offensive coordinator — and QBs coach — Tyler Bowen wanted Drones badly in the offseason, traveling to Texas once Drones was in the transfer portal and ensuring his commitment to the Hokies. Drones didn’t play a lot for Baylor last season. He appeared in five games and completed 14 of 21 passing attempts for 219 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Drones also carried the football eight times for 49 yards and two touchdowns.

Drones is the perfect quarterback for the offense that Bowen plans to run. So, even if Wells wins the starting job, Drones will play. With Baylor, Drones played in specific packages, something he could do for the Hokies. Of course, Drones didn’t come to Virginia Tech to be a “package-play” QB. However, that could be his role early if he doesn’t win the job, just to get him some action.

Best-case scenario

The best-case scenario is Wells starts and is flawless, or Drones or Watson have the chance to play and never leave the lineup. A lot would have to occur for Watson to receive his shot in 2023. VT’s offensive line is a question mark for the upcoming season. It’s not that Tech’s OL will be bad; there are so many unknowns. If the offensive line turns into a team strength, the running game will be better; therefore, the quarterback position should be, too.

Tech improved the wide receiver room this offseason. That position should be a team strength. The Hokies added players like Ali Jennings and Jaylin Lane, in addition to the freshmen class, who can take short throws and turn them into big gains.

Pry, and his staff have done things in the offseason to help the quarterback position. The hope is Wells is better in his second season in Blacksburg, and Drones proves to be the player many envisioned. If both things happen — or one of those things — the Hokies will be much better on offense in 2023.

Realistic outlook

How can the Hokies be worse in 2023? If you just look at them on the practice field, just briefly, it’s clear there are much better athletes in place than there were in each of the last couple of years. That alone should be worth a win or two more.

Wells should be better in 2023 just because the talent around him is better. Much is made over Wells’ penchant for turnovers. And, in three seasons of college football, he does have 31 interceptions. You can’t get away from those numbers. However, of his nine interceptions for the Hokies last season, four of them came in the opener. So, in 10 other starts, he had just five interceptions.

If Wells has multiple turnovers in the opener, the Hokies are more comfortable turning to Drones than they were to Brown one year ago.

It’s reasonable to expect the Hokies will have more production from the quarterback position in 2023, whether it’s from Wells or Drones, or a combination of both. No one should be expecting an All-ACC campaign from any VT quarterback this season, but that doesn’t mean a bad season is on the horizon.

The Hokies will be better in 2023. How much better? Enough to get them to at least six wins, which would be considered good progress.