There's a quarterback competition underway in Blacksburg. To make a timely Master's reference, it's become "a tradition unlike any other," Yes, to be fair, it's only spring time, hardly the time when depth charts are sharpied in. However, with the Virginia Tech spring game on deck Saturday, three guys still taking first team reps might make for an anxious off-season, but that's not how Justin Fuente sees it.
"When you know, you know, you make the decision and you move forward," said Fuente. "I've never really believed in delaying a decision or delaying that position for other reasons other than when we know, we put it out there."
It's quite the unique situation that Fuente has found himself in. It's his fourth year at the helm of the Hokies, and the only two-year starter at QB he's had at Tech (Josh Jackson), suffered a season-ending injury in game three last season. But having three guys who can compete for the job is certainly one of those good problems to have.
Just heed his warning and, "don't read too much into" their spring game performance for who might take the first snap against Boston College.
Contrary to years past, the spring game may be treated more like an actual game of football, as opposed to a glorified, running clock practice. Although the exact format is still to be determined, it potentially might even include some live quarterback play. That environment should garner a better determinant of where Ryan Willis, Quincy Patterson II, and Hendon Hooker stand in their development.
"We'll make a final decision after practice on Thursday when I see the injury report. That's the sole determining factor of how we do this," said Fuente. "But, I'm leaning towards maybe creating a situation where we do a little bit more on the field than we have in the last couple years. Maybe we're not being as tied into a clock as much as being tied into good reps, creating some situational work with the offense and defense.
"It'll be good for our young to team to get in front of people and play a few more snaps than they've played in the past. Maybe make it looks a little bit more like a traditional scrimmage for us."
One player certainly looking forward to live action is Patterson.
"I like to talk mess to my teammates," joked Patterson. "It'd definitely be fun trying to back up the offense and rather than just getting tagged off actually getting taken to the ground, it's a little more realistic I guess you could say."
It's also an opportunity for Patterson to demonstrate he's grasped the playbook. Last season, he featured mostly in short-yardage runs. That's a role he thrives in as a bigger runner, but admittedly wants to expand.
"I'm a quick learner," said Patterson. "Coming from the high school that I came from, the offense wasn't as complicated as it is here. But, I think I've gotten a pretty good grasp on it."
Willis' plethora of reps via starts last season certainly afforded him a solid grasp of the offense.
"I know what I'm doing," said Willis. "I know our offense pretty well. It's not so much like what our guys are doing, it's more so I'm looking [at] what the defense's doing. That's what I'm trying to improve on."
Spring football, in reality, is mostly about development. Depth chart competition is a thing for fall camp, no matter how much Twitter wants to think otherwise. As a guy head into his fourth college camp, Willis understands that.
"Springtime's just about getting better," said Willis. "Getting some timing down with your receivers, working on your personal game. Competition's great. We're pushing each other every day, but I don't see this spring as any different [than] any spring before."
What Willis possesses in experience and, at the moment at least, arm talent is what Patterson knew he needed to work on this spring.
"You come to play college quarterback to kind of be that all-around quarterback, not just do kinda what I did last year," said the former engineering recently turned business major. "But, even if my role stayed the same this year I'd just be happy to be on the field. But being able to do everything is a plus and I'd be happy to do that as well.
"I've had countless training hours, a bunch of film, workouts and stuff like that. I've done the things outside of my school to make sure that I'm good enough to [pass the ball] on this level."
Fuente understands that learning process. It's tough, but it's just part of college football.
"Some guys are ahead mentally but far behind physically; some guys are flip-flopped," said Fuente. "They're very developed physically but are learning to catch up to the speed of the game and the intricacies of playing ball. On a whole, I think he's done a tremendous job of not getting impatient but also having urgency to improve. To me, that's the balance. Guys want to get better, they have an urgency to be good right now, but also they're not impatient in understanding that there's a little bit of a process that comes with this. I think he's done a good job of this."
Don't overlook that aforementioned injury report. Both Patterson and Hooker have had some injury hurdles this spring. Patterson got a nasty gash on his finger, which prevented a decent grip on the ball while throwing.
"Went to throw the ball, hit one of my tackles in the back of the head, just kind of gashed my finger," said Patterson. "I still practiced for the most part. It limited my throwing ability and stuff like that, but for the most part I was still there. The mental reps were still there. So, I didn't miss much."
Hooker has been dealing with a twisted ankle, which has kept him from some of the more live contact parts of practice, but has still been able to compete reps for the most part.
Spring standout tight end James Mitchell, who Dax Hollifield lauded, suffered a broken finger which required surgery. His level of participation Saturday is still to be determined.
Regardless of injuries, the spring game should be a good glimpse into a Hokies squad that benefits from a bevy of snaps under its belt. For a Virginia Tech program that's left the outside world in the dark during the longer April days, a full-on scrimmage shapes up as quite the event.