Spring Recap: Quarterback Battle

Heading into the spring practice, there were several important personnel questions that the Hokies were hoping to answer. Would any running backs emerge to push incumbent starter Trey Edmunds for playing time? How would new offensive line coach Stacy Searels affect the run blocking scheme? Just how good was Bucky Hodges? Of course, all these questions were secondary to the granddaddy of them all... Who is going to be the starting quarterback?

Mark Leal, Brenden Motley, and Andrew Ford were the main candidates for the starting job at the beginning of spring. Early enrollee Andrew Ford showed flashes of why coaches were happy he choose to play ball at Tech, but still looked at least one year away from pushing for playing time. Mark Leal was leading the pack when practice started. Leal had been the backup for years and had the benefit of taking what little second string reps were available during the Logan Thomas era. Brenden Motley was the dark horse, a candidate that had all the physical tools to start but needed to show he had the ability to run the offense.

Motley got most of the first team reps in the second scrimmage because of an injury to Mark Leal, and he made the most of his opportunity. Brenden had a big day, completing several long passes while also doing a good job at protecting the football when throwing short. Surprisingly, Motley looked more comfortable running the offense than Leal did despite Leal's longer tenure as quarterback. With the arrival of Michael Brewer and Chris Durkin in the summer, Frank Beamer wanted to start to narrow his list of potential starters. The spring game was probably the final opportunity for Leal or Motley to state their case to be one of the final candidates for the starting gig.

Motley's Mobility

Despite the quarterbacks not having a real chance to show off their athleticism (due to Beamer reversing his decision to have live quarterbacks during the spring game), Motley's ability to affect the game with his feet was on display. The second play from scrimmage showed why a mobile quarterback can cause a defensive coordinator nightmares.

00:00:18–00:00:28

This is a bootleg play designed to take advantage of the aggressiveness with which Foster's defense attacks the run. Bucky Hodges is the tight end on the right side of the formation and the play wants to attack Derek Di Nardo, the whip linebacker lined outside of Hodges right shoulder. The offense wants Derek to attack down the line of scrimmage towards the fake ball carrier, freeing up Hodges to slip unguarded in the flat. Derek does a great job at recognizing the fake and an even better job at getting his body into Hodges to prevent the flat route.

At this point, all of the eligible receivers are accounted for. The defense would have been in a position to stop the handoff, and it has covered everyone that's gone out for a pass. Pretty impressive. The defense's discipline is all for naught though, as Motley quickly recognizes that his main receiving threats are covered and goes to Plan B: attack the edge with his feet. With Derek focused on preventing Hodges from getting to the flat and the other secondary players turning and running with their receivers, there's no one left to hold the edge and Motley confidently strolls for a first down.

Last season, Loeffler's offense struggled most when the defense was able to pin its ears back and attack the run while playing aggressive coverage in the secondary. Logan Thomas was mobile, but he was best utilized as a power runner. Having a quarterback who can create chaos with his feet might be exactly the spark Loeffler's offense needs.

Later on in the scrimmage we saw another example of Motley deciding to take matters into his own hands.

00:07:55–00:08:04

Yes, there was a holding call, and yes, if the quarterbacks were live Motley probably would have been tackled by the defensive linemen who blew into the backfield. However, this play still shows that Motley is capable of making something happen when a passing play breaks down. Whether it's because of a missed blocking assignment or great coverage, there will be times when the quarterback simply won't have anywhere to go with the football. It's those moments when having a player that can escape the pocket and go get what he can is so important. Good offenses are able to be productive even when the offensive coordinator's plans doesn't call the perfect play to get a player wide open. I haven't seen a lot out of Leal this spring to suggest he has the athleticism to create something out of nothing, but I have from Motley.

Big Time Throws

Mobility is a nice skill for a quarterback to have, but in today's game a signal caller has to be able to sling the rock. Both starting candidates impressed me with throws down the field during the spring game. If Leal or Motley is going to be the guy come spring, they'll have to be able to stretch the field vertically.

00:05:05–00:05:14

Maybe the most exciting play of the scrimmage, Leal found Willie Byrn down the sideline for a long completion against single coverage. This is exactly the type of throw and catch that the offense wasn't able to complete last year and it really held the offense back at times. Seeing a receiver go up and make a great catch on a well thrown ball was a breath of fresh air. If the next starting quarterback gets a good rapport with his receiving corp to start hitting this throw against single coverage, Loeffler's offense will be a real issue for defenses to defend.

00:07:32–00:07:39

Here's Motley showing off his arm strength and accuracy with a deep throw down the field. Motley has had success attacking this flag route all spring. With the current receiving group becoming more experienced and the incoming group being more athletic, this route should be open more often this year compared to last. On this pattern, it's important for Motley to recognize the receiver is open and get the ball to him quickly or risk allowing the corner/safety to close the space created by the receiving and make a play on the ball. He also has to make sure he's accurate with his throw, as the window to throw through is surprisingly small. Motley is able to check all of these todos off and pick up a chunk of yardage.

Missed Opportunities

Both quarterbacks struggled to get the offense going at times during the spring game, hence the 7-3 score. Obviously a lot of this has to do with Foster's defense destroying anything going down on the ground, but both quarterbacks also missed their fair share of throws. A play that stood out to me was this miss down in the red zone.

00:08:18–00:08:24

Hodges absolutely eats the linebacker up on a route straight down the middle of the field. A lot has been said about Hodges ability to run past linebackers and safeties this spring, and deservedly so. If a defense wants to play aggressively like Foster's does, then it's going to need to rely on single coverage against a tight end at times. Early in the spring game, Loeffler attacked that single coverage with stick routes and crossing routes to get the linebacker thinking about Hodges attacking him horizontally. This time, Hodges runs right at the linebacker and blows past him before the backer realizes it's a vertical route. This is exactly the opportunity that an ACC championship offense must seize and score a touchdown on.

Motley unfortunately misses the throw on what should be a walk-in touchdown. Loeffler couldn't have been happy. This offense will struggle enough in the red zone as it is, it can't afford to be giving away prime opportunities like this. I've seen Motley overthrow this exact route a few times in scrimmages which is a concern, because with the emergence of Hodges as a legitimate game breaker this exact route should be open several times throughout the season. I've seen enough of Motley to believe he has enough touch to complete this throw, however he'll need reps to get the muscle memory down. If Motley is going to emerge victorious from the summer competition with Brewer and Durkin, this throw is the type he'll have to work on in the following months.

Spring Leader

If it feels like I've spent most of this article on the quarterback battle talking about Motley, it's because I did. After attending every spring scrimmage and the spring game, in my mind there's little doubt that if the fall starter is already on campus it's Brenden Motley. The local kid has looked more polished and confident than anyone else in town and shows a higher ceiling. His arm strength is impressive (not Logan Thomas impressive, but impressive) and his accuracy was surprising. Motley is still a little rough around the edges and will need to continue to get better at touch throws while under pressure, but I feel he's more than capable at rounding into a good ACC quarterback.

His biggest asset is his ability to get outside of the pocket and pick up free yardage. Considering the problems that the offense has had running the ball the last two years, any help that a mobile quarterback can provide to the ground game is welcome. When that yellow jersey comes off, defenses won't be able to sell out against the run without risking Motley breaking contain like he did on that early play-action pass. The backside linebackers will have to stay conservative with their pursuit down the line or suffer the pain of seeing Motley roll out around them and either throw down the field or take the yardage himself.

Bootlegs aren't the only play design where the offense can use their quarterback's mobility to help the ground game. The modern spread rushing attack is entirely based on the concept of threatening the edge of a defense with a speedy QB. Loeffler showed how deep his quarterback rushing playbook is last season, and I'm sure he's prepared to break it out again if the ground game struggles from under center this year like last.

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Comments

Excellent stuff, Mason. Although I'm much less concerned about our QB situation than I was 2 months ago (not necessarily happy, but definitely less concerned), I'm still very interested to see what Brewer can do when he gets here. A big part of that is the simple fact that his favorite throw seems to be the exact throw that Motley has consistently missed all spring. However, I find myself at a point where I won't be upset in the least if either one of those guys wins the job. Should be a fun fall camp to watch for sure.

If I had to put money on it, I think Brewer is the starter against William and Mary. He'll almost certainly be the most polished passer when he arrives in town, and I think he's more mobile than people think. If the running game struggles to get anything going under center (like it has most of the spring) than Loeffler won't have much of a choice but to try and spread defenses out like he did last year. From the spread, Brewer will be right at home.

If the running game does start to gel and Loeffler can focus on protecting his quarterback and limit the amount of risks he has to take, Motley could be in a position to take the spot though. The quarterback battle may very well be decided by how well the offensive line takes to Searel's coaching.

That last line is a little frightening. That's not how I would prefer this decision be made.

Me either.

However, "Who is the best quarterback?" and "Which quarterback gives us the best opportunity to win?" are two separate questions.

Bingo, Like Alabama I think our QB1 is not on campus yet.

"Sure, I've been called a xenophobe, but the truth is, I'm not. I honestly just feel that America is the best country and the other countries aren't as good. That used to be called patriotism." Kenny Powers

I agree 100%. Motely and Leal may be just about tied in terms of where they're at right now, but Motely seems to have a much higher ceiling where it seems Leal is just stuck in neutral. Really looking forward to seeing what happens when Brewer gets in town, but I wouldn't be surprised if Motely wins it. It's going to be an interesting year...

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

Good read. That missed pass to Bucky is a throw I would like to see the qb drive onto the receiver; he has the defender pinned behind him and the off corner has his back completely turned to the middle of the field at the snap and is no threat to the play.

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@pbowman6

In general, all of the quarterbacks mostly looked at their first read, got the ball out quick, and for the most part didn't move the chains (the big 0fer on 3rd down included several completions short of the sticks.) While playing conservatively fits into having a strong defense, you don't want to leave opportunities by the wayside, and the quarterback has to recognize those match ups.

I didn't include this play in my review of Bucky Hodges, but it is a good way to highlight both his potential and build on Mason's Missed Opportunities theme.

The white team has a third down. They need 8 yards for a first. To the boundary, the split end runs a short crossing route. Bucky, at tight end on the boundary, runs a deep corner route. The safety has Bucky in man and is well off the ball. Once Motley recognizes man coverage, he should lock right on to that match up. On the field side, the two receivers run double skinny posts.

Here is the play. If Motley is checking with Hodges and is patient, he has open space to throw the ball into. Instead, he throws the inside post short of the sticks.

00:04:15–00:04:22

Until we know the running game will be good and the defense will be dominant, this just isn't a starter quality play by Motley. Unfortunately, outside of the Byrn catch, there wasn't anything Leal did that would suggest he would be better. The most impressive throws of the day came from Ford, and we have a pretty good idea at this point that he isn't an option.

Viva El Guapo

I saw it the same way. I'm hopeful that Motley kills it during the summer working with his receivers and studying film.

If he can improve on reading the defenses and making those throws down the middle to his TE's, we'll be in good shape.

But I agree - The passes that impressed me the most were Ford's. If the O-line weren't such a question mark right now, I can't help but wonder if he might have gotten more of a shot at starting.

I'm actually going to have to disagree here French, I think that Motley makes the correct decision on where to throw the ball but throws it just behind the receiver (although the receiver still HAS to make that catch). Yes Hodges breaks open on his mismatch, but Loeffler is a west coast guy and the double slants are about as west coast as you can get.

The slant should be open (and is) because Dinardo is conceding the inside. His only hope to stop the slant is if the safety breaks up the play. The reason I think Motley is coached to attack the slot slant is because for his first step he is eyeing the safety to try and freeze him, then quickly plants, looks, and fires at the slant. If Motley waited to see if Hodges breaks open and he doesn't, the first down opportunity is wasted. On 3rd down, all that matters is picking up the first.

This should be a high percentage play. However, with the throw not exactly on target and with the receiver not catching the ball, it falls to the turf. If the receiver holds on though, his momentum should carry him for a first. In my mind this isn't a case of Motley throwing to the wrong guy, but a case of Loeffler's west coast offense not being properly executed. As the recruiting continues to improve, I think we'll see our Hokies back on the top of the ACC.

Edit

BTW if anyone wants to read an article on my favorite short pass combination check this one out.

http://coachhoover.blogspot.com/2011/02/double-slant.html

Everything I've ever learned from football I've read from online articles. There's an insane amount of resources on the web right now about football tactics. It's a beautiful game.

I do agree that the double skinny post/slant is the primary read on the play as designed. But, I want a quarterback who can come to the line of scrimmage and recognize favorable matchups. Once man was identified to the boundary, either check Bucky to a shorter route given how far the safety was off, or at least be aware that he has the best match up on the field and weigh that in the decision makings. Case in point from the Sun Bowl. Leal threw a 3rd down ball to Knowles on a key 3rd down where Knowles was the primary receiver, but Byrn had linebacker Jordan Zumwalt on him in man coverage without inside help. You have to take advantage of those opportunities.

Viva El Guapo

Once man was identified to the boundary, either check Bucky to a shorter route given how far the safety was off, or at least be aware that he has the best match up on the field and weigh that in the decision makings.

Fair enough, although if Motley makes a better throw (or the WR catches the ball) we'd probably be talking about how Motley did a good job at reading the defense and making a timely throw. To me, the read isn't the concerning thing about the play. I'm fine with Motley making that decision on 3rd down, although on 2nd or 1st I'd like to see Loeffler come back to that formation and see if he gets the same match up.

The thing which would prevent Motley from being an ACC quarterback is the poor throw. If he gets the necessary reps in over the summer to get this throw down pat, he has a chance at being the starter. If not, Brewer will be the front runner.

This is why I think Brewer is the likely starter. His experience and training at making pre-snaps reads and quick decisions is going to be much higher than the others. And given VT's lack of big-play receivers, making these reads will be critical to getting the most out of a vertically challenged offense.

It looks like Ford will be a redshirt. If the depth chart then consists of Motley, Brewer and Leal (no order), does Durkin get redshirted as well?

RealDiehl

You have to think of Durkin as totally separate from the starting quarterback battle. There's practically no chance he starts, I just don't think he'll be ready as a true freshmen without the benefit enrolling early.

Regardless of the starter is or what the depth chart looks like, I've thought (and wrote http://www.thekeyplay.com/content/2014/april/10/return-wild-turkey ) that Durkin would get an opportunity to be the Wild Turkey quarterback this year. That's a role that he may be perfect for, depending on how physically gifted he actually is.

I apologize for my ignorance but why does everyone think Durkin won't redshirt this year? Why can't Bucky be the "Wildcat QB" this year? I don't see the point of burning a redshirt for a QB that won't even start.

I'd argue that playing Bucky at QB would be a waste. He can be a gamebreaker on the edge. Use him on the edge until he proves he isn't a gamebreaker instead of grinding him into the line for 3.4 yards.

Viva El Guapo

Well Durkin could redshirt, that's definitely a possibility. I just think he'll absolutely be given a shot at the Wild Turkey role. It's a cheap way to both add variety to the offense and get a young quarterback experience. Plus, Ford is almost certainly going to redshirt this year. If Durkin can help the team win games by being the change-of-pace quarterback, it will allow Tech to stagger it's quarterback years.

As far as Hodges being the Wildcat QB... I just don't see it being that big a benefit. I'd much rather see him go out for a pass then fake a hand off and run it up the middle. The guy has the talent to be a great receiving threat at TE, let's focus on that. Motley could be the Wild Turkey guy just as easily as Bucky, I don't see the need to bring Bucky in for that package.

Another reason:
Durkin will be throwing the ball everyday during drills. Hodges will be working on blocking, receiving, and route running. Durkin would provide a more dual threat, much like Connette for Duke last year.

Practice makes perfect.

Which would you rather have? A guy with TE size running the wildcat game and throwing to Redman or a guy with TE size potentially throwing to Hodges? Think about if Duke had had Ebron when Connette came in as a short-yardage specialist. A player that was already difficult to defend just became downright terrifying because of the monster of a weapon lined up on the edge of his line.

It's be awesome to see the hometown kid be the starting QB, cheering for Motley unless it's clear Brewer is going to be a lot better.

I agree with a lot of these comments and think Motley has the higher ceiling and seems to get things fast. The one thing that I don't quite understand is Brewer. Yes he's been a QB with a little experience and has had 3 coaches in 3 years, has a big arm, throws accurate ect ect.

My only thought is we are again hoping/praying/ drinking in anticipation that he learns the playbook in 1 summer, grasps the playbook in 1 summer and then can replicate the playbook in 1 summer.. Not to mention he would have to learn 6 new WR's 4 TE's 18 RB's and then try to not shit himself when he see's a Bud Foster D come after him.

I would almost wonder if he were to be the starter would SL have to dumb the playbook down just like he had to once Malleck went down? I guess all of these questions will be answered in fall but its still a tough situation for sure.

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

He'll either play with the full playbook or he'll signal in calls from the sideline. I'd be shocked if he didn't have a playbook in hand since he committed to VT. And I'm sure he's been working out with some WRs to get some of the passing concepts down before he gets here. He won't come in clueless, that's for sure.

"Air Raid" spread offenses are mentally easier than Pro-Style offenses. Brewer will not enter with any advantage in the "making reads and making progressions" deapartments.

He threw the ball 50 times a game at TT, but he did not have to observe defenses and quickly process information like Loefller will ask his QBs to do.

Air Raid offenses aren't as complex as pro-style, but their quarterbacks have to make just as many (often more) reads. A lot of Air Raid passing concepts will determine the primary read based on the alignment of the defense, so the quarterback has to be able to identify the defense before he snaps the ball. Also modern Air Raid offenses ask their WR's and QB's to do a lot of post-snap reads, meaning the quarterback and wide receiver have to recognize what coverage the defense is in, adjust their routes accordingly, and they all have to be on the same page.

Air Raid systems put a premium on the intelligence of their quarterback to find open players and Pro-style offense put a premium on arm strength to fit the ball into spaces created by personnel mismatches (this is a gross oversimplification, but a fair one I think). Brewer might not come into camp knowing the playbook as well as Motley currently does, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't more comfortable reading a defense and recognizing holes in coverages.

thank you for clarifying. I've heard this sentiment a lot this spring, and your explanation why this is not the case is the best I've seen so far.

I just want to say what a relief it is that the new staff has stocked the roster with plenty of options to take snaps. My thoughts echo the belief that the battle for QB1 will come down to Motley and Brewer, but this staff seems quite capable of developing them into greats.

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Motley at 6'4" and 220 looked very impressive running he got to the end zone fast on the one play and had some great moves on another . He ran the option and seems to have the feel for the pocket . He seems much quicker than I thought and could be 225-230 come fall . So what does Durkin bring more than Motley in a wild turkey set. As for Brewer he is only 6"1" about 185 unless he has gotten bigger but he is smaller than Ford . Using him to attack the edge could get him banged up so the run game would not be as potent with him as with Motley . I just don't see the Durkin thing with both Motley and Hodges working that in the spring and both can throw and know the playbook . As for Ford I like what I see and think in the start of fall he will improve fairly quickly and would not count him out just yet . Brewer may be good but he has only 20 practices to get past the others and would need to be superior passer to get the job .

Coastal 1

Durkin's thighs are similar in size to Motley's waist.

Sort of what I was thinking. The difference between Durkin and Motley on a handful of Wild Turkey plays is not as valuable as giving Durkin a redshirt year.

As someone wrote on here a few weeks ago, the question for Ford and Durkin was not, "are you good enough for us to consider?" It was "are you so good we HAVE to play you?" Ford has answered that he's good enough to compete, but he's not the second coming of Tyrod Taylor, so he gets a red shirt. Durkin will get a shot to prove that he simply MUST be the starter this year. If he doesn't rise to that challenge, he gets a red shirt.

Motley has already used his redshirt year, so he gets to run the Wild Turkey.

Can we even call it the Wild Turkey if it's our QB taking the snap? I always thought the idea of the Wildcat/Wild Turkey was that the ball was a direct snap to a running threat. Now we've thrown a spin on it by having our running threat have the ability to throw the ball. In my opinion, the benefit of Durkin is that he is a bit more of a bruiser in that he has almost 20 pounds on Motley (at least comparing Durkin's 247 profile and Motley's Hokiesports profile). He has the threat of a long ball, but he's more used to taking the ball and running with it based upon his high school film. The whole idea is that it causes the other team to think and adjust.

Good point. But if we do, indeed, go with the six-TE set, and the snap goes directly to one of them, you could still call that a Wild Turkey.

It is very to say the Brewer is going to be the starter , not having ever seen him play. I do think he did his homework when looking to transfer and I am sure Coach L did his homework also. I have a feeling and it is just a feeling, that this decision will not be made until right before the W&M game and there will be stiff competition. I just hope we don't go with a 2 QB system because it never works. Asl LOLUVA. Great article Mason.