Virginia Tech wrapped up spring practice on April 20, although questions remain heading into the summer that won’t have a more definitive answer until fall camp. Nevertheless, the spring cleared up some things. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at what the Hokies figured out and what remains a work in progress. Today, the quarterbacks are up.
– Logan Thomas, Sr. (starter); Mark Leal, Jr.
Virginia Tech got to work on the mechanical issues that plagued Thomas during his junior season. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler got Thomas’ upper and lower body working in concert, something that didn’t happen last year and resulted in high and low throws. The result was better zip on his passes and a renewed confidence in the quarterback that when he threw it, it’d at least get to the receiver on a rope. It was a learning spring for the quarterbacks, getting used to Loeffler’s style — he’s intense — and the way he wants to do things in the huddle, from the volume of the cadence to the tempo getting to the line of scrimmage. Leal got some decent work in this spring too after suffering from an illness last year and having to sit out for a good chunk of it. His spring game touchdown pass to Ryan Malleck was the only offensive score of the game.
It’s hardly a finished product, although it wasn’t expected to be. Still, fans were hoping for a little bit better showing in the spring game to reassure them that progress was being made on the offensive side. Thomas’ three picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns, didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, particularly after his 16-interception season last year. In other scrimmages, Thomas wasn’t as accurate as he’d like, his completion percentage still in the range that it was last year, slightly over (and sometimes under) 50 percent, although a variety of factors played into that, from drops to the offensive playbook still being so limited. What could have been a big spring for redshirt freshman Brenden Motley was cut short by a knee injury.
HELP ON THE WAY
Carlis Parker and Bucky Hodges signed in February, although neither is expected to make a huge impact. The athletic Parker worked mostly as a receiver in the spring and there’s been talk about him assuming a Wildcat role. That might just be the start of his transition away from quarterback. Hodges isn’t expected to arrive until the summer. He’ll definitely redshirt and enter the competition once Thomas finishes his eligibility. Either way, they’re long-term prospects.
It really comes down to Thomas. Will he regain the form that made him a top quarterback prospect in 2011 or will he continue down the path of 2012 that led to his stock dropping in the draft so much that he chose to return for his senior season? Loeffler has had a good track record of getting his quarterbacks to produce. He’ll only have one spring and one fall with Thomas, so time is limited, but if they can get to the core of his mechanical issues, it could mean a big senior season.
BATTLE TO WATCH
The real battle is shaping up for 2014. Leal, who will be a senior then, is the presumed frontrunner to replace Thomas. After that, there is a lot of youth. Walk-on Brian Rody showed some things this spring. Motley, Parker and Hodges could be in the mix. Loeffler will finally be able to put his stamp on the team through the recruiting process this year. So far, it sounds like he’s hot after David Cornwell or Jacob Park. If he could land one, that could be the kind of quarterback he’s talked about finding and molding for four years.
THEY SAID IT
“He always says he’s on a mission from God to make me the best quarterback in the nation, not just in the ACC.” — Thomas, about Loeffler
The off-kilter spring game was a somewhat misleading conclusion for Thomas, who was named the spring offensive MVP, a designation the coaches don’t throw around lightly. From all indications, he made giant strides with his mechanics, throwing the ball where he wants to. Now it’s just a matter of making the right reads while learning all of Loeffler’s offense. The summer, when he’ll be in charge of organizing workouts, will be key for him getting on the same page with the receivers. It’s always difficult to sift through the coachspeak and automatic heaping of praise, but Loeffler seems genuinely pleased with the kind of progress Thomas made and has raved about not only his skills but his work ethic. There’s plenty of work to do, but it seems like Thomas is on the right track to have the kind of senior season he wants.