Monday Thoughts: Quarterbacks and Basketball

Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, on March 3, 2014
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Brewer’s transfer helps solidify the quarterback depth chart

There’s going to be a lot of debate from now through August on who will be Tech’s starting quarterback in 2014.  I’m on record as saying that I believe more than one quarterback will start for the Hokies this season.  I don’t know whether that will be because of injury, poor play, or whatever, but I think two different players will start under center for Tech this fall.

I actually said that before Michael Brewer made his decision to transfer to Virginia Tech, and now that Tech will have a second quarterback with some experience, I think it has an even greater chance of happening.

I touched on this on Friday, and I want to say it again for those who didn’t ready Friday’s Q&A: even if Michael Brewer doesn’t play for the Hokies, his mere presence on the depth chart will allow Tech to redshirt Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin.  That’s important.  Ju-Ju Clayton never played a meaningful down for Tech, but had he not been on the roster in 2009, the Hokies would have been forced to play Logan Thomas in a backup role as a true freshman, and thus his career would have ended following the 2012 season.

I’m always in favor of redshirting quarterbacks if possible, or unless they are just so good that you can’t keep them off the field.  Remember, as good as Tyrod Taylor was, the coaching staff tried to redshirt him twice.  Ultimately they weren’t able to do so, but the point still stands that 5-star quarterback Tyrod Taylor ideally should have been redshirted.  Do you think 3-star quarterbacks Andrew Ford and Chris Durkin will be any different?

Mark Leal will enter the spring as the #1 guy on the depth chart, and I think it’s very likely that he’s still there at the conclusion of Spring Practice.  If anybody is going to challenge him, it’s going to be Michael Brewer, who won’t arrive until the summer.  Brenden Motley will have a shot this spring and in August, and I’m not counting him out, but I do think it’s unlikely because he just doesn’t have the experience in a passing offense (Wing-T in high school).

Mark Leal will have the advantage of being a r-senior who will have gone through two springs under Scot Loeffler.  Michael Brewer’s first practice will be in August, and he’ll have just a month to learn the system and prove that he can execute it at a higher level than Leal.  That’s not going to be easy, though Brewer is obviously a sharp guy who will graduate from Texas Tech at the conclusion of his r-sophomore season.

One important thing to remember is this: the competition won’t necessarily be over when practice ends in August.  It’s my opinion that Mark Leal will start Tech’s season opener against William & Mary.  However, Michael Brewer will still be practicing and getting a lot of reps, and if he continues to progress throughout the first month of the season and Leal doesn’t play well in early season tests against Ohio State, ECU and Georgia Tech, then I think Brewer will be close enough at that point in time to give the coaching staff something to think about.

I think Mark Leal is better than he showed in the Sun Bowl, but I also think that Michael Brewer will start at some point in 2014.  I don’t know why he’ll start.  It could be because of injury, not-so-good play by Leal, or maybe because Brewer just beats him out in practice.  I don’t know if it will be at the beginning of the season, the middle, or the end.  But my opinion is that Tech will start two guys at quarterback this year.

Regardless of who starts and when, Brewer’s presence makes me feel better about quarterback for both 2014 and 2015.  Here’s how I think the depth chart will look coming out of August of 2014:

1: Mark Leal (r-Sr.)
2: Michael Brewer (r-Jr.)
3: Brenden Motley (r-So.)
4: Andrew Ford (Fr.)
5: Chris Durkin (Fr.)

With that amount of depth at the first three spots, then it appears that there will be no need to play Andrew Ford or Chris Durkin unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I think there’s a very strong chance that both of those guys redshirt this season.

Moving forward to 2015, Brewer would have seniority, and it would be up to the younger guys to challenge him for the starting job.  If they aren’t quite ready, that’s fine.  Most quarterbacks don’t play a lot before their r-sophomore years anyway, and though I feel that Ford and Durkin are good prospects, there is no reason at this point in time to view them as something “special.”  I think the presence of Michael Brewer affords them the opportunity for a regular development, rather than being thrown into the fire way too early.

James Johnson was all smiles after the Miami win, but there's a lot of work to be done.

James Johnson was all smiles after the Miami win, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

A few notes on basketball

Now that the home schedule is in the rear view mirror, I was going to take some time today to address basketball attendance.  I should have known that Niemo over at TechHoops.com would beat me to the punch on his favorite subject (thanks Niemo!), so there’s no reason to waste a lot of space in this column covering the same information twice.  Instead, I’ll just link the article and make a few general comments.

First off, where is the floor for Tech basketball attendance?  We know the ceiling.  Cassell routinely sold out when the Hokies were winning and either in the NCAA Tournament or on the bubble.  Just looking at past history, we have to assume that the floor for Tech basketball attendance was the Rickey Stokes era.  Take a look at these numbers from the Stokes era and compare it to this season:

1999-00: 4,042 (A10)
2000-01: 4,508 (Big East)
2001-02: 3,501 (Big East)
2002-03: 4,211 (Big East)
2013-14: 4,812 (ACC)

Considering the Hokies played WVU, UVA, Syracuse, NC State, UNC, Maryland, etc. at home this season, and played teams such as UConn, Villanova, Pitt, Notre Dame, etc. back in the Big East days, I’d argue that the most impressive attendance numbers of those five seasons listed above came in Stokes’ lone season as an A-10 coach.  Almost as many people were showing up to watch the Hokies play Fordham and Duquesne as they are to watch Tech play UVA and Syracuse!

The Hokies sold 3,400 season tickets this past season.  I think that will drop some next year.  What’s the floor for season tickets sold?  3,000?  2,500?  2,000?  I have no idea.  I think we’re scratching that surface, but we haven’t quite gotten there yet.  It wouldn’t shock me a bit if Tech’s average attendance figures dropped to around 4,000 next year.

We can talk about putting the students courtside and improving the Cassell atmosphere all we want, but the fact of the matter is that attendance won’t improve one iota without a better product on the court.  Win, and they’ll come.  Lose, and they won’t.  It’s as simple as that.

So that begs the question: exactly how much winning can we do under the current coaching staff?  Next year’s team will be better.  I don’t know their ceiling, but they will have more experience and (hopefully) fewer injuries.  The Hokies will win more games next season than they will end up winning this year, no matter who is coaching them.

But that’s not what the argument is about.  The argument is about whether James Johnson is the guy we need going head-to-head with Coach K, Roy Williams, Tony Bennett, Jamie Dixon, Jim Boeheim, etc.  This league is deep in coaching talent.  Even the guys who aren’t making the NCAA Tournament this year are good coaches (Mike Brey, Mark Turgeon, Brad Brownell, etc.).

As I’ve said before, I really wish I believed that James Johnson was that guy.  However, a few things hold me back, and I’m not even talking about the team’s record, though that certainly has something to do with it.

1: It took too long to figure out that the Hokies needed to take the air out of the ball to compete.  That should have been evident early on.

2: Lack of a halfcourt offense.  I’m not talking about slowing the ball down.  I’m talking about what the Hokies do after they initiate their offense when the shot clock reaches around 20 seconds.  The screening is poor, and it just doesn’t look like that JJ’s X’s and O’s ever get his team an open shot.  It looks like street ball, with Devin Wilson trying to drive and create a shot for himself or a teammate on every single possession.

3: A couple of plays out of timeouts have really bothered me this year.  Tech failed to get off a shot before halftime at Pitt, despite inbounding the ball in the halfcourt with five seconds left. That’s unacceptable out of a timeout.  Against UNC, Tech inbounded in front of their own bench with 20 seconds left.  Just one second into the possession, Jarell Eddie took an ill-advised three-pointer from at least 25 feet away that had no chance to go in.

I’d like to go into a little more detail on #3.  James Johnson said after the game that it would have been better for Eddie to drive inside and try to get a better shot on that play.  Perhaps he told Eddie to do so, but Eddie didn’t listen?  Apparently not, according to Eddie…

“Coach told me after that, drive the ball to the basket, try to get a quick two,” Eddie said. “So that probably would’ve been the better play to make. But I thought I could make it.”

So according to Eddie, Johnson didn’t tell him until AFTER the play was over that he should have driven it to the basket.  Which leads me to ask this question: did Tech actually have a real play drawn up out of the timeout?  Or did they just draw out a play to get the ball inbounded, but not actually draw up a play to score?  Was the plan the entire time to let the players improvise and create their own shot?

If so, that’s not acceptable.  I’m not a basketball X’s and O’s guys by any stretch, but it seems to me that the plan right there should have been for Devin Wilson to drive to the basket with Will Johnston and Eddie spotting up outside the three-point line, and Tech’s two inside players crashing the boards.  Putting the ball in Jarell Eddie‘s hands and letting him do whatever he wants isn’t the right call in any situation.  You can get away with that with Erick Green, but not Jarell Eddie.

Some players have a natural basketball lQ, and they don’t need to be told what to do.  Some guys, on the other hand, need to be told what to do.  And that’s not a knock on Eddie at all.  All it means is that he needs to be coached properly, like most guys.  For Eddie, I always go back to his shot selection.  He just doesn’t seem to know himself as a player very well.

Eddie can make shots.  He’s a better shooter than most of his games show.  His shot selection is his biggest issue.  When he catches the ball already squared up to the basket, he can make outside jumpers as well as almost anybody in the league.  What he can’t do is shoot while turning his body coming off a screen.  He can’t put the ball on the floor and then stop and pop.  He needs to be squared up and facing the basket, ready to shoot.

Over the past two seasons, it’s almost as if Eddie has never realized that about himself.  We’ve had numerous wasted possessions simply because he’s tried to do things that he’s not capable of doing.  And again, I’m not mad at Eddie for that.  He’s the type of player who needs to be told what to do.  If he’s being told and he’s still not doing it, then that’s on him.  But if Johnson is just giving him the green light no matter what, then it’s the wrong decision.  I don’t know which is accurate, but judging from the freedom JJ apparently gave him on that play against UNC, it’s probably the latter.

Tech is in last place in the ACC, which is exactly where everybody thought they would be.  They’ll most likely be better next season, but I still don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.  The reason I don’t see the light is not because we’re losing a lot of games right now.  It’s because of the examples I gave above about our offensive “sets,” and how Jarell Eddie has no idea who he is as a player.  That’s a coaching issue, in my opinion, though I’d love to be proved wrong long-term.

Hokies offer LB from Florida

Some of you have been asking for some 2015 recruiting info.  I still haven’t finished my 2014 scouting reports yet (that will be finished over the next two weeks), but here’s a little 2015 tidbit for you.  Carson Lydon, a LB from Florida, visited Virginia Tech over the weekend and came away with a scholarship offer.

Here’s a look at Lydon’s highlights, via Hudl.  As you can see, he runs extremely well and he is quite fond of hitting people…hard.  Bud Foster was not only impressed with is film, but he was also impressed with Lydon personally.  Foster feels like he is a great fit for Virginia Tech.

I’ve got a little bit of an inside source with Lydon.  Even though he lives in Florida now, he is originally from North Carolina.  He would prefer to play for a defensive-focused program, he loves cold weather, and he wants to be in an area where there is a lot of outdoors stuff to do.  Sounds like a perfect fit for Blacksburg, doesn’t he?  Somebody take this guy smallmouth fishing on the New River ASAP!

Lydon had 159 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 3 interceptions and four forced fumbles last season against Florida competition.  I know many of you are focused on in-state recruiting first and foremost, but this is the #1 linebacker to follow this year, in my opinion.  He’s a great fit for Tech from everything I’ve heard.  Right now he looks like a backer prospect, though mike is also a possibility.


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