[Note: TSL’s positional previews will take a different form this year. David Cunningham will write a traditional preview of each position, and Chris Coleman will follow up later with a more analytical and opinionated column for TSL Pass subscribers.]
Virginia Tech entered the 2020 season with a trio of quarterbacks with starting experience at the Power 5 level. After this offseason, just one of the three remains. Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) and Quincy Patterson (North Dakota State) transferred out of the program, meaning the offense is entirely in Braxton Burmeister’s hands in 2021.
While the confidence in Burmeister’s knowledge of the offense and ability to execute are extremely high, with head coach Justin Fuente saying, “I feel better about us throwing the ball right now [than at any point] since I’ve been here,” the depth behind Burmeister is concerning.
What will this offense look like under Braxton Burmeister, Virginia Tech’s fifth different starting quarterback in Fuente’s sixth season in Blacksburg? How does the depth shake out? Let’s answer those questions and more about Tech’s quarterback room.
La Jolla, Calif.
Years at Virginia Tech: 3
2020 Stats: 48-of-84 (57%), 1 INT, 687 yds, 2 TD; 46 rush att., 182 yds, 2 TD
For the first time since Josh Jackson entered the 2018 season as the entrenched starter, Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen know who their guy under center is entering fall camp. However, Jackson was injured and knocked out for the remainder of the season in the third game in 2018, and Burmeister will be looking to avoid a similar fate.
Burmeister has been in Blacksburg since 2019, when he sat out a season after transferring from Oregon. He participated in the three-man QB battle last year with Hooker and Patterson, ultimately winding up No. 2 on the depth chart.
Because of COVID-19, Burmeister started the first two games of the 2020 season for the Hokies against NC State and Duke, resulting in two wins. He entered the game against the Wolfpack with minimal knowledge of the offense and little practice time, as he didn’t start practicing until mid-week that week due to COVID. Then, in an October practice, 377-pound offensive lineman T.J. Jackson stepped on Burmeister’s foot, breaking three toes.
Forced to watch from the sidelines, Burmeister finally had time to learn the playbook. He digested it in its entirety and, when healthy again in December, came back a more confident quarterback. When Hooker exited the Dec. 12 game vs. No. 4 Clemson, Burmeister stepped in – and he was up to the challenge.
He competed 10-of-12 (83%) passes for 127 yards against the Tigers, and he performed well in Tech’s win over Virginia to win the Commonwealth Cup a week later: 15-0f-22 (68%), 212 yards and a 60-yard touchdown to Tayvion Robinson.
If you watch Burmeister in the first two games of last season and then watch the games against Clemson and Virginia, he looks significantly more comfortable. That’s something his teammate, tight end James Mitchell, mentioned at ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte.
“I think he’s just a lot more calm,” Mitchell said. “When he steps in the huddle, he knows he has control over it and guys respect that and it’s easier to get behind him and play for him. He’s just very calm and confident.”
Burmeister clocked the fasted speed on the team over the summer at 22.53 mph. Fuente called him “an elite athlete” and said “he looks like the people I’m watching on television in the Olympics.”
“He’s ripped to shreds, has veins in his abs and jumps out of the gym,” Fuente said. “I think you can see it when he’s moving with the ball in terms of keeping plays alive with his eyes downfield and eluding rushers. I think he’s got an opportunity because of his athleticism to make more plays throwing the ball, either move-the-pocket plays, throwing plays, or extended plays.”
Burmeister seems like the prototype of a quarterback in Fuente’s offense: Smart, quick, agile and mobile with a good knowledge of the game. It seems like the perfect offense for him as a QB.
In the past, Tech’s starting quarterbacks have been Jerod Evans, Josh Jackson, Ryan Willis and Hendon Hooker. That’s not to forget Quincy Patterson, though he only attempted 22 passes and 74 rushes in eight games (and one start at Notre Dame). Here’s a look at each quarterback’s stats at Virginia Tech:
The biggest takeaway from these numbers is that Burmeister is the best mix of the passing side (Jackson, Willis) and the running side (Evans, Hooker). He’s very mobile (he has the third-best yards per carry out of the five) but is also a competent quarterback in the passing game.
Burmeister said he really learned to own the offense this offseason, something he didn’t get to experience with a quarterback competition previously.
“I think I have a deeper understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Burmeister said. “Also, when a play is called, knowing where to go. I feel like during the spring, I got better at being on time and throwing routes on time and kind of trusting it more so I’m able to throw with more anticipation and put some more zip on the ball because I know what’s going to happen.”
Burmeister is the guy moving forward, and the coaching staff and players have confidence in him. But what about the battle behind him?
Years at Virginia Tech: 3
2020 Stats (All vs. Clemson): 4-of-6 (66.7%), 68 yds; 6 rush att., 24 yds
Entering fall camp, Fuente and Cornelsen have pinned Kadum as the guy who knows the offense. Unlike Blumrick and Bullock, Kadum is entering his third year in Tech’s offensive system. To his credit, he was pretty impressive when he was thrown into the game against Clemson in December. On his second drive, he led Tech 66 yards to the Clemson five-yard line before Jalen Holston fumbled.
Kadum has a leg up on Blumrick and Bullock because of his experience in the system, but it’ll be interesting to see how the depth chart plays out once Blumrick and Bullock have ample time to learn the playbook.
Either way, Kadum is a backup with some, though limited, experience under center in a Virginia Tech uniform, should something happen to Burmeister.
The Texas A&M transfer was listed as a running back on the Aggies’ roster and played multiple positions in College Station, from quarterback and tight end to running back and special teams.
An Elite 11 quarterback, Blumrick suffered a Lisfranc injury in the first game of his senior season of high school, which knocked him out for the season. That impeded his development, and he eventually moved to running back and tight end. He was recommended to Justin Fuente by Darrell Dickey, Fuente’s former offensive coordinator at Memphis, now the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M.
The first thing I noticed from watching Blumrick at open practice, besides his flowing locks, was his height. He’s huge, and pretty athletic, too. Fuente called him “a guy that might find a way to carve out a role on this team from week-to-week.”
“He’s that type of athlete, a big, strong kid who ran the ball really well in the spring,” Fuente said. “Connor’s got to keep coming in terms of understanding the entire package and being able to execute the entire package on a consistent basis.”
I think Kadum has a leg up on Blumrick at the moment, but once the Texan gets the playbook down, I think he’ll be the guy to back up Burmeister thanks to his athleticism. I’m not sure if they’d use him in a Wild Turkey-esque formation, something similar to how Tech used Patterson, but with his size, it might be a possibility. We’ll find out more about him as fall camp rolls along.
Jersey City, N.J.
A true freshman who just started practice last week, Bullock picked the Hokies over Rutgers and UCLA while also holding offers from Boston College, Syracuse and Duke.
A three-star recruit and the No. 16 prospect in The Garden State, Bullock has a solid build. He almost looks like a mini version of Quincy Patterson, though he’s not the 245-pounder that Patterson was.
He’s a speedy and built prospect who really caught my eye in open practice on Aug. 5 and 6. Bullock is behind the curve because he didn’t arrive in Blacksburg until this summer, whereas Burmeister and Kadum are third-year residents and Blumrick enrolled in the spring.
I’m curious to see where he shakes out in the depth chart at the end of fall camp because he’s talented, though he has the least amount of Power 5 football experience and the most to pick up on in the QB room.