For the second straight season, Virginia Tech is holding a quarterback battle between three players. And for the second straight season, you likely won’t know who the starter is for quite some time.
Redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson, JUCO-transfer AJ Bush and true-freshman Hendon Hooker are all battling it out for the starting job, although the battle seems to be quite friendly. The three signal callers all willingly help one another, especially as neither of the three is particularly experienced.
“I think we all have a great relationship,” Bush said. “We’ve all been pushing each other, trying to be better, so we all feed off each other. Like, I tell (Jackson) things I learned at Nebraska, he tells me things to know about this offense. It’s all just working hand-in-hand and we’re all a great group of guys.”
“I try to help them out as much as I can because I know if I don’t, Coach (Brad Cornelsen) or (Justin) Fuente will get on them,” Jackson said. “I try to help the guys out, if they don’t know a play or a signal, something like that.”
At this point, neither of the three have really stood out over the others. The three are still getting equal reps and should get roughly the same number of reps in Virginia Tech’s Spring Game on April 22.
“We always give them feedback, in terms of how they’re playing,” said Head Coach Justin Fuente. “We continue to manipulate the reps, but they’re still basically even. We’re only operating two huddles right now, there’s not a third huddle out there taking reps, just because of our numbers. We give them constant feedback. I don’t know that we continue to rank them, we just give continued feedback on what they need to do individually to continue to improve to give themselves a chance.”
Fortunately for Fuente and Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen, the three quarterbacks are roughly the same when it comes to their skill sets. This allows the offense to run the same schemes and plays, and keeps the coaches from having to tailor their installations for each passer.
“Obviously they’re not identical, but it’s much like last year,” Fuente said. “I never felt like last year we were repping one offense with one quarterback and another offense with another quarterback. I feel the same way right now. We’re kind of running our base stuff with those guys.”
If you were to handicap the quarterback race, Jackson would be a slight odds-on favorite. He enrolled early for last spring, giving him now an entire year in the Virginia Tech offense. Jackson entered the starting quarterback battle for last season late in the fall, and ended up redshirting behind Jerod Evans and Brenden Motley.
“I’d say I’ve progressed well,” Jackson said. “I got to watch Jerod play, and that really helped me out, learning and being able to see college football live, and being able to do his reads while on the sideline. Just being able to take it all in was a good learning experience for me.”
This spring, the coaches are continuing to work with Jackson on his throwing mechanics, hoping to speed up his release.
“He’s continued to improve that part of it. He has a good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish, and that’s improved. He’s no longer the wide-eyed freshman in there,” Fuente said.
Bush, who transferred in January after Evans announced his decision to leave early for the NFL, didn’t put up big numbers at the JUCO level. After not playing at Nebraska, Bush scored just eight total touchdowns and threw eight interceptions last season at Iowa Western Community College, all the while completing 45.6 percent of his passes.
Despite the lack of success at the JUCO level, Fuente sees a lot of potential in Bush.
“We talked with his coaches, some guys who are pretty respected in the business,” Fuente said. “We felt like he had a skill set that fit what we could do, if that’s what we wanted to do offensively. I didn’t get too hung up in the numbers and that sort of stuff, I never really have.”
For Hooker, it’s all about adapting to the college game. Hooker was a 4-star recruit coming out of Greensboro, NC., and Virginia Tech is very high on his ceiling. However, they aren’t rushing him to be the man this season.
“I’ve been pleased with his progress,” Fuente said of Hooker. “I think he has a lot of talent. He’s a pleasure to be around and it’s important to him. It is a big jump though.”
Virginia Tech will hold an open scrimmage for students and for media members on Tuesday, April 18. Depending on the structure of practice, it could give the media its first look at each of the quarterbacks going up against live defenses. Still, that scrimmage and the Spring Game will be just a part of what is expected to be a long evaluation process.
“I don’t ever set a timeframe to make a decision,” Fuente said. “Obviously, some decisions you have, you have deadlines you have to meet and you have to make a decision. There’s only one deadline, and that’s by the time the first huddle trots out there in the first game. Whenever it happens, it will happen. I don’t know when that will be. We’ll continue to evaluate it.”