If you missed it last night, Virginia Tech got a 2014 commitment from quarterback Chris Durkin, who flipped from Michigan State. This was something of a surprise for a couple reasons:
1. Durkin had long been a Spartans commitment who hadn’t really wavered.
2. The Hokies seemed to be set at quarterback in the 2014 class with Andrew Ford.
It’s on that second point that I thought I’d opine a bit today. One of Durkin’s primary reasons for deciding to switch his commitment, in addition to working with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, was a “chance to play early.” Note that he didn’t say “a guarantee to play early,” which is what I think a lot of the interpretations that I’ve seen out there have been.
Michigan State had a more stable quarterback situation in its upper classes. Virginia Tech has Mark Leal, who will be a senior next year, with soon-to-be redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley as the next most experienced player. That’s what I think Durkin means about getting a chance to play early. Early in his career, but not necessarily immediately.
So what does Virginia Tech’s quarterback situation look like in a post-Logan Thomas world? Leal will be a senior and the odds-on favorite to win the job, just based on experience. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d guess that Leal will win the starting job.
But the competition will be on. Motley is the current third-stringer who seems to exceed expectations every time he’s given a chance. Many didn’t think the Christiansburg product would stick at quarterback, yet he’s proven everyone wrong at every opportunity. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds., he’s got good size too.
Bucky Hodges, the quarterback jewel in the 2013 class, will be a redshirt freshman, although I’m not wholly convinced his dabbling at tight end on scout team won’t become something more permanent come spring. We shall see.
Of the scholarship quarterbacks, the two incoming freshmen — Ford and Durkin – would be next. (Travon McMillian is also a QB, although I’d guess this latest news all but assures he’ll play a different position once he gets to Tech.)
Ford plans to enroll early. That’s still up in the air for Durkin. Regardless, I think it would be tough for a true freshman to either A) win the starting job, or B) play a significant role right off the bat. There’s a reason guys practice so much: it takes time to learn how to play quarterback effectively in college. (The biggest concern for Hokies fans might be that they won’t know which backup they should be calling for to start.)
I’ve seen a few questions about what this latest commitment for Durkin means, so I thought I’d try to address them as best as I can:
1. Does this affect anything with Ford?
I don’t think so. The Elite 11 finalist was in Blacksburg last weekend, at Loeffler’s side the entire time at practice. I can’t imagine he was kept in the dark about another quarterback coming in the same class. I think they’ll both get a chance to compete for the job in upcoming years, and that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing you can do is not have enough quarterback depth. One bad stretch of attrition or injuries and all of a sudden you’ve got nothing.
I’ll relate a similar situation from my time in Auburn. When he was being forced out of N.C. State, Russell Wilson was down to Wisconsin and Auburn as possible transfers. This was the year after the Tigers won the national championship with Cam Newton.
They had what turned out to be a motley crew of quarterbacks in Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and highly-touted incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier. I even went as far as writing a column saying Auburn shouldn’t go after a one-year guy like Wilson, since it would upset the team chemistry and presumed fair line of succession at the position. In hindsight, it is among the dumbest things I’ve ever written.
Trotter was serviceable. Moseley was OK but hurt his arm. And Frazier turned out to be a bust. And all of this was under the tutelage of Gus Malzahn in 2011, when Auburn struggled offensively, foreshadowing Loeffler’s regrettable year there in 2012 with nearly the same cast of quarterbacks (minus Trotter). Meanwhile, Wilson led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. The lesson is: you can never have enough quarterbacks competing for the job.
A more local example about how fickle quarterback depth can be is just up the road in Charlottesville. How quickly did the Cavaliers go from having too many quarterbacks to not enough? It can happen fast and submarine a team’s season, so keeping a full roster is probably a good idea.
The Hokies have been fortunate lately to have a mostly neat quarterback succession: Tyrod Taylor started for three-plus years, then handed the baton to Thomas. It doesn’t always work that seamlessly, though.
2. What does this mean for the type of offense Loeffler would like to run?
Durkin is listed a pro-style quarterback, although his size (6-4, 220) and ability to run (based on his high school film) make him much more of a dual threat than what the more pocket-oriented Ford appears to be.
I’ve seen concerns out there that having two somewhat different quarterbacks won’t give Hokies fans a clear idea of what a true Loeffler offense will look like years down the line.
To that I say: so what? Good offensive coordinators can adapt to what kind of players they have. I think Loeffler adapted his offense this year to try to minimize the team’s weaknesses (straight-up blocking, a lack of a running game, inexperienced tight ends) as much as possible, and I’d imagine he’d do the same down the line based on personnel.
He’s already worked with true pro-style guys before (all the Michigan ones), a true dual threat (Tim Tebow at Florida) and one that I’d suggest he begrudgingly had to use more as a dual threat than he would have liked (Thomas). That’s a variety right there, so he’s shown a willingness to adapt.
I don’t know if you can pigeonhole him to having only one type of quarterback he can work with. Let me put it this way: I think personnel matters much more for what Loeffler would like to do offensively than being confined to a specific, unchanging system.
3. What does this mean for the rest of the recruiting class in terms of numbers?
Virginia Tech currently has 25 commitment for 2014. Schools are allowed to enroll a maximum of 25 players every August. But there are ways to make the numbers work, even if you sign more than 25 in February, which it appears the Hokies will do (Tennessee has 34 commitments for 2014, for instance).
Three of the Hokies’ 25 commitments for ’14 are Fork Union Military Academy guys who, if they make the grade, will enroll in school in January. I believe those can count on last year’s class, since the Hokies did not take the full 25 this August.
Further, there are always players who will have to go to prep school next fall, delaying their initial enrollment (and opening up possibilities for Tech to either count them against that year’s class or the next). The Hokies have also had plenty of players who have had chosen to delay enrollments (grayshirting) to start the following January instead of the fall. That could provide more numbers flexibility.
Given the departing seniors and how much attrition the Hokies had over the summer, Tech should be able to take a full class of 25 next August, with a few this January that can count back to a previous class, and still be under the NCAA’s 85-scholarship limit. I’ll have a better sense of the count once the season is over, but the Hokies were under the number this year by quite a bit.