Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 26, 2014

Column: Hokies' QB guessing game will continue

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Who the starting quarterback will be at Virginia Tech in the fall is still a mystery.

Four months remain until the the Hokies open the season against William & Mary. That gives all five of the candidates time to improve and put themselves in position to earn the job.

“Spring might be over, but our work is not finished,” Virginia Tech redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley said. “We are going to have to compete every week and every day and come out here and grind and try to make each other better, but the only thing we can do really is control what we can control.”

Motley, senior Mark Leal and true freshman Andrew Ford put their skills on display during Virginia Tech’s Orange and White game on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

None separated themselves from the pack, with the Virginia Tech offense managing a touchdown and field goal in the first quarter, but never scored again.

All three made positive plays on Saturday, but Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn has no idea which way the coaching staff is leaning. That trio will be joined by true freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer during the first semester of summer school.

"It is exciting, right now I am thinking let’s get this decision down, but we can’t do that,” Byrn said. “I have to understand that, and I have talked to the coaches about it and I have faith in our coaches that they are going to give us plenty of time to dwindle down on the depth chart and who is going to play and who isn’t.”

Leal was the primary backup to Logan Thomas last season, even replacing him following an injury in the Alamo Bowl loss last December to UCLA. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 90 yards, an interception and was sacked once.

He started fast, completing 8-of-10 passes and 75 yards in the first half.

“I think the spring went OK. I was battling a bit of an injury, but I tried to fight through it and did the best I could,” said the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Leal, who is recovering from an knee injury. “I think today went well.

“During the spring we started off really strong, the past couple of weeks we kind of took a couple of steps back, but I think today we went out there and executed well. There are some things we could have did a little bit better, but overall I think it was a good performance.”

Motley, a product of Christiansburg High School, completed 6-of-11 passes for 72 yards and was sacked four times. He had a 19-yard scoring run nullifed by penalty. The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Motley was raised to first string late in spring practice.

"For me in the spring, I feel like I made a jump,” Motley said. “I feel confident about how I played. I am not where I want to be yet, of course, but I feel as if I did some good things and today we executed pretty well.

“I think there were plays that we left out there. I left some plays out there that should have been made, but today I feel as if I did pretty good.”

While Leal was considered the front-runner heading into the spring, Motley may have surprised some with his development, but feels ready for the position.

“I feel like I made a step in that direction, I am confident, but I might not be fully confident,” Motley said. “I still have some room for improvement. This was my first spring, it was fun, I had a lot of fun , it was interesting, but I am feeling pretty confident with the offense.”

Ford, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw, didn’t see the field until the second half, completing 3-of-5 passes for 17 yards and lost a fumble.

“Every day is pressure, we really push each other as a quarterback group to get the best out of each other every single day,” Ford said. “Today was lot of fun for us, we had a great spring and we got better every single day.

“There were a lot of learning things that we had today, but overall I am pretty happy with the strides we made this spring.”

Ford enrolled early at Virginia Tech, which definitely helped him being able to compete in spring practice.

“Just being here early has helped me, I made a lot of strides just every single day and I can’t really control what happens outside of what I can do,” Ford said. “What we are going to do as a group is just push each other to get better every single day and everything will work out the way it is supposed to.”

All three will continue to compete for the spot, and will be joined by Durkin and Brewer soon.

“I think just competing all spring just brings out the best of us and the pressure is always on us to make plays and do our best,” Leal said. “The guys coming in, we are just going to accept the competition and the decision probably won’t be made until the end of camp, but we have got to keep getting better every day.”

Byrn, and all the Hokies will be working with the quarterbacks, helping to get them be ready to take over the position.

“Once we get into camp, that is when the decision we will be made and we will be fine with it because we trust our coaches,” Byrn said. “This summer in the meantime we are going to work with evey single one of them and we are going to get comfortable with all of them.”

The quarterbacks are looking for the same comfort zone with the supporting cast, including a veteran offensive line and receiving corps. Running back is another position that will be wide open heading into the fall.

"I think (the offensive line) are great group of guys, they are a smart group of guys, they are picking up on it pretty well,” Motley said. “Most of the time there are a lot of plays being made because of them, I think they are a great group of guys and they will be even better in the fall.”

“We have pretty much all of our receivers back, they have had a whole year in the offense, and they have been getting a lot better since last year,” added Leal. “This spring they did really well, and we have got a pretty veteran offensive line who knows our blocking schemes.

“I think we just have to keep getting better going into camp and in the offseason we have just got to keep putting in a lot of work.”

Part of the reason Virginia Tech’s offense struggled to move the ball and produce points on Saturday was the Hokies’ defense, which shows the potential to be quite stingy in the season ahead.

“There is always room for improvement, but our defense is really, really good every year and that really helps us because we know we are going to get the best every single day at practice,” Ford said. “We are going against a defense that not a lot of teams see in practice so every single day we are getting pushed from every aspect.

“From the pass rush and the secondary, everywhere you look on our defense, there is NFL talent on our defense and you can’t replace that in practice and that definitely makes us better every day.”

Beamer did say during his press conference that he would like a decision on a starter and second string signal-caller to be made early in fall camp, with an Aug. 30 game with William & Mary, followed the next week by a visit to Ohio State.

Knowing that presents a sense of urgency to all the candidates at quarterback.

“It means everything for us, it is a heavy competition right now,” Leal said. “Nobody has really separated himself, they haven’t made a decision so starting next week, spring is over, but our work and our grind is not anywhere close to being over yet.

“We have just got to keep getting better and putting in a lot of work on our own, getting with the receivers, the o-line, the running backs, and getting our chemistry down and just keep grinding.”

*****

Brian Woodson is sports editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com and on Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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