Projecting Tajh Bullock: What to Expect at Virginia Tech

Breaking down the film of the Hokies' 2021 quarterback commitment.

With the commitment of Tajh Bullock on Tuesday, Virginia Tech picked up an intriguing quarterback prospect. In his initial season as starter, Bullock threw for 2,274 yards, 28 touchdowns, and led St. Peter's Prep to the Non-Public Group 4 title, their first state championship in 5 years. Listed at 6-4, 223 pounds, Bullock garnered a three-star rating per the 247Sports Composite (0.8638) and held offers from Rutgers, UCLA, Duke, Temple, Syracuse, and others before selecting the Hokies.

Going back to his days as a position coach at TCU, quarterbacks under Justin Fuente have a really unique history. While his signal callers have consistently been leaned upon as primary ball carriers, the Andy Dalton and Josh Jackson's of the world won't jump out as dynamic runners. At the same time, Fuente's passing attack features the same structure while leveraging every imaginable arm type.

The current quarterback room demonstrates that variation. Hendon Hooker has a good arm and is very athletic, but has some limitations with his timing and accuracy in the drop back passing game. Quincy Patterson is the Earl Campbell of quarterbacks, but is even more stymied by inaccuracy. Braxton Burmeister is elusive and does an excellent job of reading options, but has limited arm strength. Former Hokie starter Ryan Willis had all the arm talent in the world and solid athleticism, but was inept with options and reads.

With all this variation, this offense ultimately takes on the identity, strengths, and weaknesses of the quarterback who wins the job. What can the Hokies expect if Bullock wins the job in the future?

Bullock's biggest strength is arm talent. Once Bullock commits to his throw, he has a naturally strong arm that places the football with touch.

Virginia Tech's passing game is built around three pass concepts against man coverage. Outside leverage man triggers slants. Press man, particularly with inside leverage, calls for a fade route. Soft man-to-man with the corner playing several steps off the receiver opens up quick curl routes. A handful of misses on these quick throws (see the bowl game against Kentucky) can derail a drive.

Bullock, who often worked with 2020 Holy Cross signee Byron Shipman (No. 11), looked very comfortable with the quick read and accurate throw required for the quick curl.

As Shipman plants his right foot to lean back for the football, Bullock releases the ball. The throw was sharp and perfectly placed over Shipman's left shoulder. The ball placement places Shipman's body in between the corner and the football, and it also allows Shipman to pivot off his left foot and push up the field for extra yardage. Those quick throws, and the extra couple of yards that the receiver can get after, produces a ton of great down and distance situations. Second-and-shorts facilitate excellent play-action opportunities for big plays.

While Bullock has a strong arm with good touch, he struggles with accuracy. There were a couple of throws on film where Bullock made the quick and correct read that should have produced decent gains. The throw wasn't always well placed to help his receiver catch the ball in stride.

On this next play from the state championship game, Bullock's left slot receiver (No. 1) had a favorable matchup against the outside linebacker.

The receiver runs a quick out to the flat. The outside linebacker (No. 5) closes well on an average route. However, Bullock's throw should lead the receiver. The aiming point should be the receiver's right elbow to the right shoulder pad. Instead, the throw arrives high and inside near the point of the left shoulder. Instead of leading the receiver, the receiver has to stop his feet and twist back to the inside to catch the football. While he makes the catch, the poor ball placement negates what should have been a relatively easy touchdown.

Most of Bullock's inaccuracy stems from issues with his mechanics. On many throws he sets his feet very wide. I believe this hurts his balance and ability to push off his back foot. He also has a tendency to "bail out on his throws" by rotating his left (plant) foot to the outside and fall to the side as he releases the football.

Bullock made one heck of a play on this throw. However, it was endemic of some of the problems with his mechanics.

Bullock drops back off the snap and holds the ball below shoulder-level as he scans the field. As the play progresses, he climbs the pocket. When he does, Bullock's right foot that he pushes off with doesn't close the gap with his left foot. This increases the gap between his feet and throws off his balance. His push-off leg almost buckles as he tries to generate the power to propel the ball down the field. When he releases, his weight moves towards the sideline at the bottom of the screen instead of at his receiver.

At the same time, the throw highlights the arm talent he possesses. Despite a shaky base, Bullock throws the ball with tremendous zip, hitting Shipman right in the hands on a line 30 yards away.

Here's another example of Bullock's mechanics breaking down, especially when he doesn't square his shoulders. On this quick screen, he targeted the left slot receiver.

His forward momentum falls off and to the left on his release. This causes inconsistency in his accuracy and zip. Because it's a quick hitting pass, Bullock should rotate his left foot out (like he is creating a mesh point with the tailback to his left side), firmly plant his right foot, and drive the ball in front of the receiver. Instead, he doesn't turn his hips in time and pulls his body hard to the left to try and get momentum on the throw. The effect of driving away from the receiver causes the ball to tail. The outside linebacker has time to close and make a play on the football.

Bullock has to be more consistent squaring his shoulders and driving through the football. The mechanical issues are correctable as Bullock works on setting his feet properly and pushing his weight through his front foot with his shoulders square.

Throws on the run also appeared on Bullock's film as an area for improvement. Despite his arm strength, that can mitigate some of his effectiveness in the bootleg and screen game which found a niche in Virginia Tech's offense last season.

On this play, Bullock's initial read was the running back in the left flat.

The defensive end sinks along with the back to take away the throw. As the play breaks down, Bullock rolls to his right. The field-side split end breaks open deep. Bullock has time to anticipate the break and set his feet. Instead, he reacts late and attempts to throw on the run.

Bullock underthrows the football, which allows the corner to close the gap and make a play on the ball. An ACC-caliber corner intercepts that pass. Bullock has a good arm, but it's not strong enough to stretch the field while throwing on the run without good mechanics.

Fortunately, Bullock is actively working on his mechanics to improve his power and accuracy as noted in an interview with The Key Play.

"I'm trying to emphasize standing tall in the pocket, not getting too wide [of a base]," said Bullock. "On those out of pocket improvised type throws when I'm on the move, make sure I square my shoulders, get down hill. That's what I'm really trying to emphasize, standing tall in the pocket, squaring my shoulders down to my target on the run."

As a runner, Bullock won't be a dynamic game breaking threat like some of the quarterbacks currently on Virginia Tech's roster. Bullock rushed for 480 yards last season, but was not the primary rusher in the St. Peter's offense. At the same time, he has good instincts and is very quick to read the option. On this inverted veer, both the outside linebacker and the left inside linebacker keyed on the halfback sweep.

Bullock pulls the ball from the mesh point and slides between the tackles for the nice gain.

Bullock isn't a sledgehammer runner, nor is he particularly elusive. However, once he commits to the run, he is patient, has a long stride so he gains yards while not seemingly being very fast, and seems to slide out of tackles.

The quarterback power and draw are both heavily utilized by the Hokies. Watch this RPO β€” a quarterback power with a screen look to the boundary.

The right guard was supposed to pull and lead ahead of Bullock off left tackle. The left tackle gets pushed backwards on his down block, which forces the guard to give some ground and slows down the play. Bullock doesn't panic. He waits for the guard to clear the left tackle before he follows him into the hole. Once Bullock commits to the run, he leans inside to set up the guard's block and then bounces slightly back to the outside, placing the guard in between himself and the fitting linebacker. Bullock's size and strength gives him enough power to pick up a handful of extra yards after initial contact.

Bullock is a quarterback prospect that matches Virginia Tech's need well. With three talented, relatively young quarterbacks already in the room, there is little opportunity in Blacksburg for early playing time. Bullock has a solid upside though. With a deep depth chart, Bullock will have the time to work on his passing mechanics before he has an opportunity to win playing time. And even if he isn't destined to become a high-volume runner, his ability to execute the option, make quick decisions, and his natural running ability, make him a good fit for the Hokies' running game. Bullock projects similarly to Josh Jackson, but with much better arm talent.

Comments

French, this is great. You say he compares to Jackson, but with a better arm. Also, do you think that he's a better fit for the option reads as well?

From what I have seen, I think he is pretty good at making the reads. I tried to find full game footage with an overhead view, but couldn't find any. That would give me a better field.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Great write up. Bullock definitely seems like a fit; to my very untrained eye, and based only on the embedded clips, it looks like Bullock's high school runs a very similar offense to Fuente.

My question: Bullock is obviously a project, but how much of a project is he compared to QP?

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I think Bullock has much more upside as a passer than Patterson. I think he has good arm talent. I don't envision Bullock being a game changing runner, which Patterson could be (and has shown evidence of being.)

To me, Hooker has been my favorite QB recruit under Fuente. I think Hooker has the tools to take a big step forward even from what we saw last year. Because of Hooker, Patterson, and Burmeister, the QB room wasn't positioned in a way where a top-end QB who wanted to play right away was going to find VT to be a good fit. I think Bullock has the upside and a situation where he can grow into the role which made VT an ideal fit for his skill set.

I am still a little baffled as to how his best WR's best offer was Holy Cross? That kid looked like he could be something.

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I haven't looked closely at the footage, but the WR jumped out to me too. There must be something missing there.

For those looking for #11 here he is. Class of 2020 commit to Holy Cross.

Awesome read! thanks for the insight. Dude looks like a VT QB! We are lucky to get a very good prospect for 2021. It looks like some drills can fix his inaccuracy issues, and he seems very adept at a similar offense to ours. Way to go Fuente! I am happy that our coaching staff is winning lately. They need some good news, as do the fans.

Biggest piece of work- the footwork associated with the quick inside read, set the feet, and throw the accurate slant or fade.

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French, awesome write-up. Thanks for the great work.

It's good that he recognizes that he needs to improve his footwork, lower body control, etc. (I could never write a breakdown like this, but even I can see where he struggles) How has the Fuente coaching staff done in fixing these kinds of mechanics in the past?

I know Tajh Boyd talked about how Hooker's feet are holding him back a little, and I don't remember Jackson or Willis being particularly great. And even then, they all looked better than Paxton Lynch did. More importantly, how much does it matter for Bullock if he can run the offense correctly?

Thanks for the write up being free as well. I hope I can get a job soon, because I'd definitely consider joining TKPC if I had steady income.

Good luck with the job hunt.

As for footwork- I think the biggest damning factor is that Fuente hasn't had a QB play two consecutive years yet, which hurts comfort level. Muscle memory is everything, especially at game speed. The big difference is that Hooker and Patterson are so athletic they can get the ball where they need to while on the move. I don't think Bullock is going to be as proficient throwing on the move, which could be limiting with some of the mobile screen stuff that was added to the offense last year.

I really struggled with comparisons for Bullock that would be topical. To me, he kind of reminds me of Andrew Zow, a solid quarterback at Alabama back when the Alabama program wasn't in great shape. He has some athleticism, but isn't going to win games with his feet. Good arm strength, with some shaky mechanics.

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Thanks French! You remain the best.

@Fightin_Gobbler

Go Hokies

Go Falcons

I appreciate it.

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Another great piece of work!

I think I'm most excited about what he might be able to do in the passing game. He regularly fits the ball into tight spaces, and that only stands to get better as his mechanics develop. I also love how he stands in the pocket, albeit with a slightly impatient look about him, and moves to his second read if the #1 option isn't available.

With that in mind my question is, based on what you see in the film do you see him as a guy who can easily get to a place where he is working through his progressions?

Is coronavirus over yet?

I think he is appropriately assertive, which is a good sign. VT's offense doesn't have a whole lot of getting to the second read. I think getting his pocket movement and mechanics will help speed up his progressions if he has to make them. He does have good pocket feel, but his feet don't always go where he wants to go. I don't know this to be sure, but he looks like a kid who hasn't quite become comfortable with a recent growth spurt. He also looked like he was growing into the quarterback role. He has time to grow a lot more.

This isn't a "savior recruit." He is a developmental guy. He could be a two year starter. He could be the safe reliable backup quarterback. He could wash out. Who knows for sure? But, I think he has the tool to be a good prospect to work with in the expectation that he will be a starter as an upperclassman.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

This isn't a "savior recruit." He is a developmental guy. He could be a two year starter. He could be the safe reliable backup quarterback. He could wash out. Who knows for sure?

Not to get way off topic here, but it seems like we are putting together another entire class of this type of prospect (no offense in any way to this particular recruit as I'm very happy he's on board).

Is coronavirus over yet?

I think that is a fair critique. I would like to see a player with a more exciting skill set, particularly at outside LB, corner, DL, and WR in this class.

I also think there is going to be a ton of turmoil in the coming weeks and months in the recruiting world. At this point nothing would shock me as far as flips, commits, or decommits with any program.

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This is the information on Bullock I had no idea I needed. Thanks as always French.

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I think JJ would have been great if he had either a better arm or better legs. He had it upstairs. So hearing Bullock being a better JJ is encouraging. Like so many qb prospects, it will all come down to how he develops at the collegiate level. I dont think the staff gets enough credit for how productive the qb position has been with very different styles behind center.

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

I probably had a lower opinion of Jackson's ability to read the passing game than any commenter here. I thought he did a terrible job of managing the passing game (making bad reads/missing open targets). But, he was risk adverse, which often resulted in him making an inaccurate and non-interceptable throw. He left a lot of yards out there.

He was excellent reading the running game most of the time, but didn't always have enough athleticism to make defenses pay for mistakes when those defenses weren't West Virginia level terrible.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

If the 2001 miami team taught me anything is you don't need the best QB if you have the best WRs/RBs. Ken Dorsey could read a defense and execute the play, he wasnt very athletic, he didnt have a great arm. But you don't need that we a 5 yard pass to Andre Johnson turns into a 40 yard gain and then the next play McGahee rushes 32 yards for a TD.

Chad Pennington showed you can do that with even less talent around you.

1) Chad Pennington was a terrific QB. And he sustained NFL success with a shoulder that was held together with spit and duct tape.

2) Ken Dorsey couldn't run this offense. There has to be a quarterback option/credible run threat component for Fuente's offense to work. But, it doesn't require terrific athleticism. Willis would have been a great fit- IF HE HAD LEARNED HOW TO READ THE PLAY. He didn't.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

100% agree on Dorsey, wasnt suggesting he could. My point was more QBs that can read a defense dont need a strong arm.

Some people will probably argue over this but your description reminds me of Tua in many of the games I saw. Admittedly I didn't watch enough over his career to get a sense of his talent but Alabama's WRs were ridiculous and could routinely turn a simple route into an 80 yard TD.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

Bullock is nowhere near as good a runner. Tua was a very unique player before his injury. Hooker is more like Tua than any of the other QBs on the roster or commitment list.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Oh I did not intend to compare Bullock to Tua. It was simply an observation that Tua frequently had to execute a very simple play for a massive gain or touchdown because of the talent around him. It's certainly not his fault that he was surrounded by elite playmakers and I know he made some excellent throws as well. Against a lot of the completion though, including in SEC play, it was pitch and catch and the receiver was off to the races.

Honestly one of the biggest things I've noticed with VT offenses over the last 7-8 years is the lack of big plays. We grind out seemingly every drive to the point that one missed block, drop, or errant pass becomes a fatal mistake. Going back as far as I can remember, the best college teams have a quick strike threat that can change the entire complexion of the game in an instant. Dalton Keene and Sam Rogers are great Hokies but it's not a good sign that they were two of the most prominent big play guys in recent years.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

Oh that play to win the NC was amazing for a freshman, looking off the safety and delivering it perfectly.

Was amazing for lots of QBs.

Great read as always, be interesting to see if he stick with his commitment with so many QB'a ahead of him or if he looks elsewhere for earlier playtime.

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β€œI served in the United States Navy"

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Others who have talked with him or his coaches may have more insight, but to me, VT was an ideal landing spot. He has good skill sets for the offense, and he has time to work on the weak points in his game.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Your professional opinion gives me hope...

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
β€œI served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Reading about Bullock's mechanics reminded me of Beamer talking about Tyrod's hitch in his throwing motion. If Bullock is willing to put in the work, I can envision him rewriting the record books.

β€œBut do kind of enjoy reading this thread, it's really nice because Auburn can't swoop in and take our juicy ripe tomatoes.” ~ lewiswb

Thanks for the write-up, French. The thing that concerns me is, yes mechanics can be improved/corrected. That certainly helps accuracy, but I tend to hold the opinion that throwing accuracy is not so much a teachable skill, but more of an innate ability. I hope that Bullock has that ability, because correcting his mechanics would lead to a superior QB.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

Ah, but throwing accuracy is optimized through good mechanics. And, mechanics don't just facilitate accurate passing. Good footwork allows your head to be in the proper position to see the field. Good footwork makes for the most fluid mesh points. A train doesn't move without tracks. Your feet being in the proper place, without thinking about getting them in the proper place, is the foundation to throwing the ball well. Some players have a gift to throw the ball without that foundation (see Jurgenson, Sonny), but the vast majority of quarterbacks don't have Nolan Ryan arms. They work on and create good mechanics and then have enough arm talent to make the ball get where it needs to go. Bullock has the arm talent and the smarts. He just needs to untangle his feet, and I think he will get there.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Similarly, I look at offensive line having *must have* skills and *nice to have* skills. When I see that an OL runs through contact, there is something that can be worked with to create a good player. I can overlook false steps or bad fundamentals because it will be my job as a coach to coach those habits out of the players game.

For quarterback- I am looking for arm talent, a quick mind with good decision making, and leadership qualities. The coach then has to build the mechanics and fundamentals. I think Bullock has the arm talent and the decision-making to make him a worthwhile project. While measuring his leadership ability is impossible based on a highlight reel and no inside knowledge about the player, he won a state championship in an incredibly competitive level of football without a team that overwhelmed opponents with pure talent. That level of New Jersey HS football produces a lot of very good college football players.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I do like the fact that the kid is a fight-through-the-adversity winner. That speaks to his character. I would love to see him develop into a top notch QB.

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

So if Patterson is a bust after Hooker&Co are gone, does Fuente buy some wiggle into the future having a guy like Bullock on the sidelines who "just needs another year to get it" or will he have used up all his cred making that excuse for Patterson?

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

Burmeister...then Bullock, possibly Kadum if he's still around. Kadum ran a similar offense all the way to the GA state title.

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Kadum remains intriguing to me. Still might be growing physically, has all the intangibles of being a winner/multiple big pressure comebacks, played top competition in HS, but doesn't have top arm strength, etc. I think his ceiling could be a late career one year starter if things fall his way and he develops. However, I think his floor is a backup who if he has to come into a game has enough of those intangibles I mentioned above to where he might be able to win us a game or two a la Chase Brice against Cuse.

This is just my uninformed opinion, but IF Patterson doesn't work out at QB, then for his and everyone else's benefit on the team we need to find a way to keep him on the field. His combination of height, weight, and speed could be used at a couple other positions on offense, and if his future isn't at QB then I would rather seem him make the move now than wait it out.

All that said, QP against UNC last year was a beautiful thing and he certainly looked the part of QB in that game.

Boy, this sure is a promising analysis.

Great read, and leaves a lot of room for optimism.

Thanks as always for a great write-up French. Even behind the work firewalls with all the video blocked, this article is written well enough so that I can 'see' what you are describing and follow your commentary. I look forward to reading it again once I'm outside the firewall.

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Darryl Tapp

Definitely a great athlete with great upside but we should probably take another QB in the class imo. He's big and strong and his throwing motion is kind of wild in some of those videos. He might be a hell of a tight end or jump ball receiver.

Can we give him a shot at QB first?

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

For sure and he may be great but let's look at our QB depth chart when he comes in:

r-SR Hendon Hooker
r-JR QP
r-SO Knox Kadum
Fr Tajh Bullock

I like Kadum but he was never meant to be a starter on a good ACC team, he was a low 3 star with a winning attitude but he was never meant to be the guy long term. QP still has passing issues and there's also the question of whether he'll stay behind Hooker to just get one year as the starter. The depth after Hooker graduates is pretty awful:

r-SR QP (assuming he stays)
r-JR Kadum
r-FR Bullock

Thats a starter with passing issues, a backup who may not be P5 caliber, and a raw freshman with mechanics issues.

What I'm getting at is we need another QB in this class and probably a transfer as well otherwise we have almost no depth going forward.

Fully agree, was just making a joke. Or trying to.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

What about Burmeister?

Go Hokies!!

Sr the same year as Hooker, doesn't really factor into the post 2021 depth issues