Blacksburg is currently covered in a few inches of snow, meaning it’s about that time for spring football to start at Virginia Tech.
Head coach Justin Fuente addressed several questions regarding his team at his press conference on Monday. Few were more important than his plan at quarterback.
Fuente was guarded, as usual, but admitted that incumbent starter Josh Jackson currently has a leg up on everyone else at the position.
“The bottom line is, succinctly, sure, if we played tomorrow Josh would be our starter,” Fuente said. “But quarterback, like every position, we have very few guys that are above or beyond reproach, in terms of competing for their jobs. So we’ll go out there and divide up those reps with those other two guys in Willis and Hendon, and let Josh work in there as well, obviously.”
Jackson showed certain things in his freshman season, where he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He hasn’t locked down the position by any means, but Jackson was able to prove to the coaches that he has the toughness necessary to play the position.
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“There are some things that we already know about Josh that we don’t know about the other two that we’ll need to try and simulate,” Fuente said. “When we scrimmage, we’ll have to do some live work with Willis and Hooker that we will not do with Josh. Josh has more than proved his ability to handle the toughness it takes and running the ball, and that sort of stuff.”
This is the first time that Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen have had an incumbent starter at quarterback in their time at Virginia Tech. Prior to 2016, Fuente had to choose between JUCO-transfer Jerod Evans, redshirt senior Brenden Motley and Jackson as a true freshman. In 2017, the choice was between Jackson, JUCO-transfer AJ Bush and then-freshman Hendon Hooker.
Now, as a redshirt freshman, Hooker will compete for the starting role with Jackson and Kansas transfer Ryan Willis. Hooker, who was close to winning the job last season, has impressed the coaches with his talent and ability to pick up the offense quickly.
“Hendon’s a guy we’ve been excited about since we’ve been here,” Cornselsen said. “Came in as an early grad, high school kid, and pushed for the job. Showed that he’s got the talent that we thought he did have. He’s still learning the game, learning what to do, fine-tuning his game, but he’s going to be in the mix.”
“Hendon doesn’t have game experience, but has some talent,” Fuente said. “The one thing that he did do during fall, when we would practice on Thursdays, even though he got very few reps throughout the week, he seemed to get in there and things moved smoothly. That was a good sign. He could kind of process and communicate in our game simulations.”
Willis, who played in 16 games over two seasons at Kansas, transferred prior to last spring, but was forced to sit out due to transfer rules. Willis put up underwhelming numbers with the Jayhawks, completing 54.6 percent of his passes for 2,530 yards, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. However, the Virginia Tech coaches like Willis’ arm talent and believe he can compete for the starting job this season.
“Ryan’s a kid that got a lot of time early as a true freshman and a true sophomore at Kansas,” Cornelsen said. “He’s been in the fire. Had the chance to step back for a year and see it from that angle, which I think is always good for those guys. He’s matured, he’s bigger, stronger, faster, hopefully understands the game, another year seeing it from a different angle. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s got a lot of arm talent, smart, knows the game.”
One thing for sure is that Virginia Tech will have plenty of options at quarterback, something the fan base is just getting used to.
“It’s going to be a fun spring,” Cornelsen said.
Several players out for spring, Farley moving to defensive back
While Virginia Tech holds another quarterback competition, they’ll be missing several key starters and other players this spring. The Hokies announced on Monday that wide receiver Damon Hazelton, defensive linemen Vinny Mihota and Robert Porcher IV and defensive backs Mook Reynolds and Devante Smith will all be out for spring practices, while defensive back Caleb Farley, defensive end Trevon Hill, running back Jalen Holston and receivers Eric Kumah and Tre Turner will all be limited.
In case you were reading quickly, Caleb Farley has switched positions yet again. Farley started out at defensive back last spring, and then moved to wide receiver before injuring his knee and missing the entire 2017 season. Now, Farley is back on defense.
“We’re going to start him at defensive back. He is going to be limited, so he won’t do much,” Fuente said. “I’m still not ruling out that he could play offense. I would like to play him on offense as much as anybody, but the bottom line is, where we’re at in the secondary right now, between our youth and between — we do have some older players that have been less than consistent for us. So between our youth and our lack of accountability/consistency with some of our older guys in the secondary, we felt like in the long run, that’s his best spot. That doesn’t mean it won’t change.”
While Virginia Tech loses Farley’s explosiveness at receiver, they gain a long, athletic player at a thin position. The Hokies have to replace two starters at cornerback from last season and if he can get back to being 100 percent, Farley could contribute.
“I celebrated quietly,” Foster said. “I think Caleb’s an extremely talented athlete. He wants to help this team. He’s a team-first guy. Obviously, he’s going to be limited this spring. But having him back, having a guy that has some length and speed, some competitiveness — I like what I saw last spring. Obviously, you saw some abilities as a receiver, but that was just to go deep and go catch the football, and you saw his ability to have a great skill set and great hand-eye coordination, and those are qualities you look for in a defensive back. He’s long, he’s physical, he can run and those are all things that have been traits for us at our corner spot.”
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