All of them have at least thought about what they’re going to do at this point, although none of the three was ready to make a definitive statement Thursday.
Thomas, who despite a down year statistically, remains in the first-round discussion because of his physical tools, making his decision all the harder. Does he think he’s NFL ready?
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Thomas said. “There’s no doubt about it. Consistency is a big thing for me. I wasn’t consistent throughout the year and that’s where, when you go to the next level, you’ve got to be consistent at all times, and experience will be a lot as well.
“More time to be able to play some more games isn’t always a bad thing. I don’t think I could go in and start an NFL game right now and be fine and come out with a win, so I think I need some work to be done, but that comes with practice.”
But NFL teams don’t always draft finished products, frequently choosing players with potential to develop at the next level. That’s why draft analysts like ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. don’t close the door on Thomas being a first-rounder.
If he’s projected to go that high — and he’ll get an evaluation back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board soon — Thomas, who has said before that he’s coming back, would have a tough decision.
“I think it’d still be up in the air for me simply because I love the university, I love the people here, all my friends are still here,” he said, although it should be noted that he’s graduating with a degree in human development this semester. “I think I need some work to do. There’s a lot of things that will go into the decision for me, but as of right now, I’m still doing what I’ve said the entire year.”
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said he would have a tough time telling Thomas not to go to the draft if he was projected as a first-rounder.
“When you’re a first-round draft pick in that league, that’s a pretty good deal,” he said. “I think when you look at the future of what a first-round draft pick means — security, it brings that part to your life, and there are some other elements that comes into your life — I think that’s pretty difficult to encourage a guy not to take that opportunity.
“Because we’re all about what’s best for our players, what’s best for our team. Ultimately when you have that opportunity, I think it’s something that you’ve got to look at very seriously, weigh the pros and cons back and forth. But to sit here and tell a young man that that’s not your best option, that’s hard.”
Head coach Frank Beamer thinks Thomas can succeed at the next level, although he didn’t say when.
“I think he’s definitely an NFL quarterback,” Beamer said. “I think, again, you see where your status is with the NFL people and then make the best decision for yourself. But I think what he’s got, I definitely think he’s an NFL quarterback. And not just his physical skills, but how he is as a person and how his leadership is and how he is as a teammate and all those other things, too.”
Exum might have made the most definitive statement of the three, saying, “I’m coming back, as of now.” He too submitted his paperwork for the NFL Draft Advisory Board “just to see what was out there,” adding that he’ll think about it more after the bowl game.
Gayle, who wasn’t at the media availability Thursday but told the Daily Press he will weigh his options after getting his NFL evaluation back, and Exum are in the me boat. Naturally, they’ve bounced thoughts off of each other.
“We haven’t been through it before,” Exum said. “This isn’t our first time dealing with something like this. But like I said, we’re just kind of worried about the bowl game right now, and I think that will be more of a topic after we get this opportunity.”
Exum’s versatility would be a boost to his draft stock, but he noted that he’s never played the same position in consecutive years at Tech. He was a nickelback mostly his first year, a free safety/rover the next and a cornerback this season.
“That’s definitely something that’s on my mind and an advantage of coming back next year,” Exum said.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, for his part, thinks both would benefit from another year of college.
“I think both those kids need to grow in a lot of areas,” Foster said. “And I think it would benefit them to stay. But I’m sure they’re both going to check what their options are, what their draft status is, and if that’s what their decision is, then we’re going to support them 100 percent.
“But I think both of them have room to grow, and I’d like to see them become leaders of our defense. I think they can be outstanding leaders for us.”
I’ll have plenty more over the next week from today’s media day. Here are a few extras today, though:
- Beamer said some of the early practices were set aside for the younger players to scrimmage. Once again, he singled out running back Trey Edmunds as catching his eye. He broke a long run and held his own in middle drill.
- You get the sense from the players that the Russell Athletic Bowl isn’t meaningless to them, like it seems to be to many fans. Linebacker Bruce Taylor, a senior who won’t be around next year, said this: “It’s very important, just looking forward to the future. We did have a disappointing year with our record-wise, but I just feel like it’s a chance to build and going to next year for the guys that are taking over for next year. … Because what we had this year was unacceptable in my eyes. We did finish strong, won three of our last four or whatever and got to the bowl, but we know what we’ve got to do better, so this bowl game, I feel like this can be the first step for the team.”
- A couple of injury notes from today: OG David Wang (knee/ankle) and C Caleb Farris (ankle) were in blue, limited contact jerseys. So was DT Antoine Hopkins. It sounds like all are finally getting a chance to get healthy. Stinespring said Michael Holmes (thigh) is finally healthy.
- Football Scoop is reporting that it expects Scott Satterfield to be named the head coach at Appalachian State soon. Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain‘s name had been mentioned for that job, although it’s unclear how serious his candidacy was.
- Is Orlando the bowl the players wanted? Taylor just wanted to go somewhere warm. He was OK with Orlando and El Paso (until reporters told him El Paso wasn’t warm this time of year). Exum wanted USC in the Sun Bowl, presumably because of the name recognition.