Virginia Tech Football: Quarterback Competition, Depth Worries And More

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Is Grant Wells going to start at quarterback for Virginia Tech? We’ll know soon enough. (Jon Fleming)

Virginia Tech football held its inaugural media day under head coach Brent Pry on Wednesday, and a few topics stood out.

The quarterback competition in Blacksburg headlined the discussion. Worries about depth at certain positions (or how comfortable it is for one group) and some special teams notes made up the other notables.

QB Competition Likely Decided Next Week

Pry was asked directly by Andy Bitter of The Athletic about a timeline for naming a starting quarterback, and his answer was sometime next week.

Marshall transfer Grant Wells and South Carolina transfer Jason Brown are the two frontrunners. The Hokies scrimmaged Wednesday and another is planned for Saturday. As offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen put it, those kind of situations are perfect opportunities for the two to showcase their skills.

“The thing you get in scrimmages that you don’t get in practice is those ‘move the ball’ situations,” Bowen told the media on Wednesday at Tech’s media day. “The true flow of a drive or situations happen organically. That’s what we’ll get here over the next few practices.

“When you’re in practice, you’re in a team period, you’re scripting, you’re working on situational work. … I think just seeing the quarterback move the ball, take available grass to play a 10-yard game and move the ball down the field. I think that’s what you get to see in those scrimmage situations, which helps you make a decision.”

Bowen said Wells and Brown both show a sense of maturity and understand how to put the team first. Wells seems to be the No. 1 option, and he threw for over 3,500 yards with the Thundering Herd last fall. He also has three years of eligibility remaining, so him winning the job could be the beginning of a long-term deal.

Lack Of Depth In Certain Spots

“We’re still a work in progress, it doesn’t matter what unit.”

That’s Pry’s largest observation through the first few months on the job, and he brought up depth issues at a few spots: wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

“We need a couple more wide receivers to step up to the plate that we feel like we can win with,” Pry said. “We need to establish depth, and to be honest, nail down the starter at the linebacker position. … I feel pretty good about where we are from an installation standpoint, … but there are some key areas that we hope to see some strides.”

At wide receiver, Kaleb Smith and Temple transfer Jadan Blue are the lone veterans. Da’Wain Lofton has received high praise, but he is one of eight scholarship wideouts that are unproven. It’s a similar situation in some other areas.

Jaden Keller and Alan Tisdale are battling for the starting Will linebacker role. Keonta Jenkins and Keli Lawson appear to be the top two at Sam linebacker. 

“Depth to me isn’t just about somebody emerging,” Pry said. “It’s playing those guys in two spots, I’ve always done that. You teach them one position, and when they’re ready, teach them a second one. It creates depth at the position.”

Up front offensively, Virginia Tech has an experienced group, headlined by Silas Dzansi and Johnny Jordan. But outside the starting five, no other offensive lineman has collegiate experience.

Pry also mentioned the secondary, but that’s a more veteran-laden group. Dorian Strong, Brion Murray and Armani Chatman have played snaps at corner, while Chamarri Conner and Nasir Peoples have the safety spots locked down. But just like wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker, would the coaching staff be comfortable with playing any of the backups in an emergency?

“We all know we’ve got to create depth, and I think that’s happening,” Bowen said of the offensive line unit. “You’re slowly but surely seeing guys come along, show signs of life that they didn’t have before. I’ve been really impressed with how Coach Rudolph handles that group, … but for sure, we’ve certainly got to create some depth there.”

Comfortable At Defensive End

An area that Pry said he feels really good about at this point in August is the defensive end room.

TyJuan Garbutt and Jaylen Griffin are redshirt seniors using their COVID year, while CJ McCray is a redshirt sophomore (though because of his COVID year, he still has four years of eligibility. Cole Nelson is also really talented, and he’s only been in Blacksburg for a season.

C.J. McCray has impressed this offseason, and he’s a reason why Pry feels comfortable with the defensive end depth. (Jon Fleming)

“Maybe that’s the greatest depth we have in any unit right now,” Pry said of the defensive ends. “Just those four guys, I feel by the end of camp we should really feel good about the group we can put out there. … Eli Adams is still in the loop there. And our young defensive ends that we signed, those guys have shown flashes already.”

Mattheus Carroll and Jorden McDonald are redshirt freshmen, while Lakeem Rudolph is a redshirt sophomore. The two true freshmen are Keyshawn Burgos and Kyree Moyston, and both received early praise. Starting center Johnny Jordan even told Tech Sideline that Burgos is a “tall, long guy” who has been playing pretty well through fall camp.

There’s some depth at tackle, too. The trio of Josh Fuga, Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard is dangerous, while Wilfried Pene and a trio of freshmen are close behind.

“They’re just hungry,” Pollard said of the young players in the room. “They’re not soft, which is a great thing. You can coach them back a little bit if they’re going over, but you can’t coach to have that aggression and that hunger, so that’s what I’ve seen in the young o-linemen, that hunger and that aggressiveness.”

Special Teams Battles

Once upon a time, Stu Holt used to come to Frank Beamer’s special teams clinics in Blacksburg. Now, he’s the special teams coordinator at Virginia Tech, and he still has the notes he took all those many years ago. Holt addressed the media after Bowen and defensive coordinator Chris Marve on Wednesday, and he said there’s a good placekicking competition right now.

William Ross, a redshirt junior formerly of Coastal Carolina, has been repping with the No. 1 unit; true freshman John Love is with the twos. Joey Slye, Brian Johnson and John Parker Romo were staples of the program from 2014-2021, so this is the first time Virginia Tech has really had a completely open contest in close to a decade.

The same can’t be said for punter, where Freshman All-American Peter Moore resides. Holt said Moore’s had a really good fall so far, much improved from the spring, but he also praised walk-on Nick Veltsistas. 

“Nick’s come out and hit the ball very well, but Pete’s ahead right now,” Holt said.

In the return game, Keshawn King and Chance Black are the first two names when it comes to kickoffs. Jalen Holston and Cole Beck have also worked there too. DJ Harvey and Da’Wain Lofton are competing for the punt return job, along with a handful of other players.

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. u can bet he won’t receive many if he is back there. The whole acc knows the track achievements of Cole.

    1. There’s a lot more to football – even returning kickoffs – than north/south speed.

  2. Loved Frank, but never understood why he felt compelled to conduct the special teams clinic. In all probability the opposition would eventually figure it out, but why give up our advantage when we didn’t have to.

  3. If Beck makes the return team expect to hear “he could go all the way…touchdown tech” several times this year. He has the speed that we have lacked recently.

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