During the middle of the 2020 Virginia Tech football season, the Hokies had three quarterbacks on their roster who had started a game in the maroon and orange. It was nearly a given that all three signal callers would not return to Blacksburg in 2021.
In fact, Quincy Patterson entered his name in the transfer portal before the end of the season, and Hendon Hooker followed suit at the conclusion of the 2020 campaign before the duo ended up at North Dakota State and Tennessee, respectively.
“Going into the season knowing that we had three capable guys, probably what would happen is we would retain one and two guys would go somewhere else,” offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said during Wednesday’s media availability. “That was definitely not a surprise to me at all.”
It’s part of the changing nature in college football where the transfer portal has essentially created free agency in the sport. No position has become more impactful in the portal than quarterback.
“I certainly would love to have everybody that we signed to come in here and stay for five years,” Cornelsen said. “I think every coach would say that about every position. That’s just not realistic anymore for us or anyone at any spot.
“There’s a three-year, a guy being here for three years as a quarterback. I talk openly to recruits about this. You need to commit somewhere for three years you need to go be in the same system as a quarterback for three years. That’s how you develop as a quarterback. Both of those guys [Hooker and Patterson] did that. You saw both of those guys continue to take those steps as third- or fourth-year guys in the same system. It’s alarming to me to see young quarterbacks commit somewhere, go somewhere and in their first or second year leave, that to me is what’s troubling. It’s just really hard to develop in your position if you’re doing that.”
With the subtraction of Hooker and Patterson, it allowed room for the Hokies to bring in Connor Blumrick from Texas A&M. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback never established himself at the position in College Station, but displayed his versatility by finding reps at h-back and on special teams. Cornelsen and Co. expect to keep him strictly at quarterback.
“Ultimately you know [Blumrick] wanted to play quarterback and got his degree and wants to go make a run and go finish up playing quarterback here for his last two years,” Cornelsen said. “Excited about him. He’s here working out and is going to be a good fit for this team.”
Cornelsen also noted that this will likely be the entire quarterback room for the 2021 season with Braxton Burmeister, Blumrick, Knox Kadum, and Tahj Bullock. It was a good fit age-wise for separation within those four quarterback, with Burmeister and Blumrick as upperclassmen, Kadum in the middle, and Bullock coming in as a freshman.
It also establishes Burmeister as the expected starter heading into spring ball. It will be the redshirt junior’s job to lose.
“If we went out there and played right now, certainly Braxton would be the clear-cut guy,” Cornelsen said. “Connor’s got a lot of catching up to do, and you know I love really the attitude of not just him but that whole room going into it.”
Last year Burmeister went 3-1 as a starter and played in seven contests. He finished the season 48-of-84 (57.1 percent) passing for 687 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder also accounted for 182 rushing yards and two more touchdowns with his legs.
The expectation of him being the guy has already instilled more confidence in Burmeister moving forward according to the coaching staff.
“He came back from break already in that type of [leadership] mindset,” Cornelsen said. “It’s always easier when the picture is a little bit more clear when you’re coming back as the guy that has the most experience in that room. I think both of those factors have resulted in already early in this semester of what he’s shown, which has been fantastic from just what he’s doing in the weight room and in conditioning coupled with the leadership that he’s already shown.”
Now where does Burmeister need to improve the most going forward? Cornelsen pointed to an issue last year where he took too much off of shorter, routine throws. It’s a fix that the staff and Burmeister have already addressed and are working on. Beyond that, it’s about getting Burmeister ready to compete for a full season after he was banged up with some injuries last year.
“Him having a full offseason in the weight room and becoming a durable, thick, strong [player],” Cornelsen said. “You know he’s had the athleticism and the quickness and the speed and just putting it all together now. That’s what we’ve talked about that he already had on his mind before we even talked about it.”
Other Offensive Notes
One of the more anticipated players for Virginia Tech last year was wide receiver Jaden Payoute. Justin Fuente and the rest of the coaching staff sang the praises of him all offseason, but Payoute missed the entire season with a leg injury that required surgery in September. All indications are that his recovery is on track and he will be a full go in the upcoming season.
“We expect big things out of him,” Cornelsen said. “We’re really excited about him. Hated to see that happen to him during fall camp. He’s just been a guy who has continually progressed more than most guys would day to day as young players. He’s in good shape, and he’s on track to do a little bit this spring hopefully. We don’t anticipate him not being ready to go for fall.”
Following the 2020 season, there were a number of players that sought advice and evaluations for the NFL. One of the players was James Mitchell, but the Big Stone Gap native ultimately decided to return to Blacksburg as a key cog for the offense.
“It’s like signing a new player almost,” Cornelsen said. “That was huge for us as a team, certainly offensively. He knows what he means to this team, what we have coming back.
“He’s one of the best players we have, not only on the offense, but the team. He’s got experience and respect from his teammates. He checks all the boxes.”
The position group that will be the most intriguing to watch develop is the offensive line. While the departures of Christian Darrisaw, Doug Nester, and Bryan Hudson hurt, Virginia Tech still has tons of experience on the line with Brock Hoffman, Lecitus Smith, Luke Tenuta and Silas Dzansi. Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan is expected to come and fit right in at the center position.
“Our inside guys are capable of moving outside if we need them to,” Cornelsen said. “From Hoffman to Lecitus, of course Silas has played both inside and out. We have some flexibility there with old, experienced, good football players that have practiced and played a little bit on the edge.
“Ultimately up front, it comes down to who are our five best football players and what’s the combination to get those guys on that field.”