The transition from the Logan Thomas era has been a roller coaster ride, with many twists and turns, and those aboard don't know how it'll end. Tech's quarterback derby, already consisting of redshirt senior Mark Leal, redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley, three 2014 signees, Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin, and Travon McMillian, will feature another new face.
Where does Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer fit into Virginia Tech's quarterback competition? Even though he's transferring, Brewer will graduate in May, making him immediately eligible to play in the fall with two years of eligibility remaining. Loeffler's comments regarding Leal's preparation and performance in the Sun Bowl did not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Each of the three freshmen challengers have terrific upside, but it is rare that a true freshman can step in and effectively lead an offense against BCS competition.
Brewer played under current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris at Lake Travis High School in Texas. At Lake Travis he was part of four consecutive state championship teams. As a junior starter, Brewer threw for 4,437 yards along with 41 touchdown passes. He missed some games due to injury as a senior, but he still managed to throw for 2,865 yards and 26 TDs. He also ran for 593 yards as a junior and 743 yards as a senior. At 6-1, 185 pounds, Brewer was not only was an effective downfield thrower, but he also executed quarterback leads, draws, inverted veer, and read option plays that have become staples for quarterbacks in spread offenses. His high school film tells the story of an undersized kid, with a great arm, playing in a system where his scheme and surrounding talent generally exceeded the opposition. He also had excellent quickness, and was very effective throwing from a moving pocket and running on set offensive plays.
Coming out of high school, Brewer, who was rated as a three-star quarterback by Rivals.com, chose to go to Texas Tech, where Tommy Tuberville was running his own version of the Air Raid. After Tuberville left Lubbock for Cincinnati, it was assumed by many pundits that Brewer would be the starter under quarterback guru Kliff Kingsbury. However, a back injury through summer and part of fall left Brewer as the third option behind freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb. When Brewer announced his intention to transfer, Klingsbury prevented him from leaving for a Big 12 school. After a brief recruitment and a visit to Blacksburg, he chose the Hokies. For his career in Lubbock, Brewer tallied 440 yards (41 for 58) with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
I was able to track down film of Brewer's play against a poor Northwestern State team in 2012, down late against Texas last season, and in Texas Tech's 2013 spring game. The film painted an interesting picture. First and foremost, he has a very good arm. His wind up and delivery is elongated and very strenuous. Every pass looks like he is trying to throw it through a barn wall. Despite his small stature, he loves to stretch the field. He gets the ball into a tight spot in a hurry, and he is accurate throwing deep intermediate throws where safeties loom for interceptions. Here was his most impressive throw on film. The Red Raiders, down by a large margin, go for it on fourth down in the red zone.
Brewer reads his tight end, 6-5 260 pound Jace Amaro, on a quick square in. He has the second linebacker coming over the top to bracket the corner. Brewer throws a laser into a very tight spot here for an impressive touchdown. If this throw is a half-second later, it's an interception.
Next, Brewer's again looking at his tight end out of the spread. This time it's a Four Verticals concept, with the Amaro flexed out to the slot, and bending the route off to the inside.
Notice how Brewer looks left to get the deep safety help to break away from his intended target, afterwhich he looks back right to the tight end. Again, his target isn't wide open. His mechanics set up the safety, and he has the confidence to fire the ball into a tight window and the arm strength to get it there.
Here's a similar throw on a slant for a touchdown against I-AA competition. Again, before the snap he identifies the receiver who has the favorable match up.
Pre-snap, Brewer identifies that the safety who can provide help on the slant route to the corner is going to come on the blitz. If you listen closely, he hesitates on the snap count, and that causes the safety to show his blitz early, then pause so he doesn't jump offside. The receiver makes the sight adjustment, and even though the Northwestern State corner is in man coverage and taking away the inside, he bites on a stutter fake, freeing up the inside. Brewer makes the correct read and gets the throw into the perfect spot before the blitz can get to him. This is a great demonstration of good smarts and the arm to get the football into the correct spot.
I also watched Brewer utilize the Y-stick route concept.
As Smart Football describes it, the stick route is "basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or 'sticks it' at five to six yards." This route is critical for any future Hokie quarterback. In the spring and fall camp, Loeffler heavily featured stick routes with Ryan Malleck, and it appeared that stick routes would be a core component of the offense. With Malleck returning, and rumors abounding of Bucky Hodges doing a pretty good Eric Ebron impersonation on the scout team, throwing to the tight end on stick routes and stick-and-go concepts will be critically important. As I noted above, Brewer's best throws were to his tight end. Brewer loves targeting his tight ends on both vertical and short routes. Jace Amaro shows up time and time again as the target on Brewer's most impressive throws, especially critical plays like this 3rd-and-14 touchdown in the spring game.
Most of Texas Tech's Air Raid offense features short, quick throws using space to give the quarterback quick decisive reads. Brewer showed solid accuracy and gets the ball out quickly. While Brewer didn't get much experience, out of his 58 throws in real games, he didn't throw an interception. As I watched replays of Brewer in the pocket, most of his downfield throws were either to his initial read or to his second read (usually a back on a swing pass). If one of the two isn't open, he will try to run.
In the spring game, Brewer had a couple of opportunities to stretch the field. Here Texas Tech goes into a five-wide formation, with four receivers to the wide side, and Brewer finds the one-on-one match up to the boundary.
Brewer fakes left and then looks back at his boundary receiver. The receiver beats with corner with a double move, and Brewer hits the receiver in stride. If Brewer can win the job, Coach Loeffler will expect him to throw deep off play-action.
Brewer does appear to be comfortable throwing from a moving pocket. This is critical for a Hokie quarterback, as Loeffler loves to use waggle and bootleg action off of his zone stretch running game.
Despite his ability as a runner, his legs were not utilized in his limited action at Texas Tech. I like how he carries out his fakes. He bootlegs out hard. He gives on the dive and attacks the end. This forces the defense to respect the threat he presents, which opens up the middle on dive plays.
However, I wasn't impressed with his pocket presence. During the first three series of in-game action that I watched, Brewer was sacked four times. Three of those sacks came against Texas, who was presumably using backups against Brewer and his starting offensive line group. Two of the sacks were plays where he had plenty of time to get the ball out. Here's an example where he eludes the initial rush, but doesn't feel the secondary rush when he steps up in the pocket.
This happened several times. Even though he is elusive, he becomes indecisive when facing pressure. If that first read isn't open, he is hesitant about abandoning the pocket. Of the four sacks, three were completely avoidable. This observation carried over to the spring game, where Brewer again took a sack when he had time in the pocket to get rid of the ball.
My other worry about Brewer is his stature in the pocket. He throws with a 3/4 motion, so as a shorter quarterback throwing almost sidearm, it is much easier for defensive linemen to deflect passes.
Brewer completed a high volume of passes (mostly screens and quick slant and stick routes). However, when that quick throw isn't there, Brewer has a penchant for holding on to the football in the pocket. He isn't a big guy, and given his injury history, durability could be a big question mark.
There was some acrimony directed towards Klingsbury and his staff following Brewer's decision to transfer. Going into a new situation, far from home (which matters given his interest in transferring to Texas and TCU) is going to be tough. Brewer also has to beat out two veteran players with a year in Loeffler's system, and three talented freshmen without the benefit of spring football. It is far from a lock that Brewer will be the starter, and the only person who may have a good feel for the depth chart is Loeffler. As I have written before, the starter will not be determined by age, experience, or expectations. If Brewer is the best player every day in practice and in the film room, he will be the starter when William & Mary visits Lane Stadium. If he isn't, he picked a terrific place to go to graduate school.