Virginia Tech Football: Handicapping the Hokies' QB Competition

Alex Koma@AlexKomaVTContributor IIIMarch 4, 2014

Virginia Tech's Mark Leal drops back to hand off during the second  quarter of the NCAA college football Sun Bowl game Tuesday Dec. 31, 2013 in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Victor Calzada)
Victor Calzada/Associated Press

With the news that Virginia Tech has enticed former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer to transfer to Blacksburg, the Hokies’ QB competition just got a lot more complicated.

Redshirt senior Mark Leal has the most experience in the program, but his poor performance in the Sun Bowl in relief of Logan Thomas don't make his prospects for 2014 seem particularly exciting.

Accordingly, the staff searched for someone to provide veteran competition for Leal, and they seem to have found what they were looking for in Brewer.

The Hokies will be bringing in a trio of talented quarterback prospects in the 2014 class, but now the staff has a chance to redshirt some—or all—of the incoming freshmen should they need time to develop.

Andrew Ford will be the first prospect in camp, as he’s already enrolled and will participate in spring practice, but the learning curve for true freshmen is notoriously steep, according to offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who spoke on the subject to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times.

Chad [Henne] walked in in July into Ann Arbor and the fact of the matter, talent-wise, he’s either a first- or second-round draft pick, talent-wise. That guy was. He was super talented. But he also walked into a situation, I believe, don’t quote me, six or seven NFL football players on offense alone around him, and an older group on top of it. So they were able to help and aid for whenever he did make mistakes. ... And when you look back at it, he did great things, but he was also able to be aided and helped with a bunch of older guys that were … his receiving corps alone, my gosh, they were all great players. It was a perfect situation for him to walk into. Is it hard for a true freshman? It is ridiculously tough.

So while Ford could certainly make a big impact early on and become part of the quarterback competition, it seems as if the real battle will be between Leal and Brewer.

Neither is perfect—after all, both have been passed over for starting jobs several times at this point—but evaluating their separate skills can reveal which one might be better suited for Loeffler’s offense.

Mark Leal

Apr 20, 2013; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Mark Leal (6) throws a pass during the Virginia Tech Hokies spring game at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Although Leal has been on the roster for five years, he got his first real shot when Thomas got knocked out of the Sun Bowl. The results weren’t pretty.

Leal went just 12 for 25 for 130 yards and two very costly interceptions in his only real experience on the big stage.

But that doesn’t mean he’s out of the running for the Hokies’ top quarterback spot. Frank Beamer has always trusted his veterans, and Leal has benefited from many years in the system (even if he’s had only one year with Loeffler).

And there’s no doubt that he does possess some skills that would make him uniquely suited for the job.

First and foremost, he’s got a big arm. Leal can wing it when he wants to, as French of notes.

I have often compared him to the legendary Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica, whose love of throwing deep balls resulted in his nickname of "The Mad Bomber." For much of 2011 and 2012, it was rare that posted a practice or scrimmage video that did not include a beautiful deep pass. As Leal has matured, he has demonstrated fantastic touch on his passes at all depths when he is not pressured.

He hasn’t gotten a lot of chances to flash his arm during the season, but he has in some of the team’s early scrimmages, like this one. 

Considering that Loeffler has said he wants to stretch the defense with the deep ball—and the staff recruited a pair of receivers that could help do that in Cameron Phillips and Isaiah Ford—Leal’s arm strength could be a big asset for the offense.

However, the problem becomes when he gets pressured. The second interception he threw against UCLA was a direct result of him making a poor decision as the pocket collapsed.

His arm strength is certainly on display on the throw, but he made a poor decision to overlook linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and it led to the ugly interception.

Leal’s worst decision of the day also came when he was under pressure.

It’s one thing to get pressured, hold the ball too long and take a sack, but throwing the ball right into the arms of a defender while falling backwards is inexcusable, no matter the experience level. 

The biggest mark against Leal is how uncomfortable he’s seemed in the pocket. Tech’s offensive line is improving, but he still will have to learn to deal with some pressure as the line adds a new starter.

His arm strength is a big point in his favor, as is his experience, but he certainly has plenty to work on.

Michael Brewer 

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Brewer is a similarly unknown quantity.

At Lake Travis High in Austin, Texas, he put up stellar numbers largely due to the presence of current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, formerly the head coach at Lake Travis. But Brewer never did much with Texas Tech. 

He attempted only 48 passes with the Red Raiders, redshirting his first year, playing sparingly his second year and languishing on the bench in 2013. 

However, he fell down the depth chart last year largely due to a back injury he suffered in June, which Brewer claims was misdiagnosed.

“It was only supposed to be about a two-month injury, and it ended up being about a 4 1/2-month injury,” Brewer told Texas Tech’s athletic website. “From the beginning of June until I got cleared the week that we played Kansas (Oct. 5).”

Both the extended injury and the clash with the training staff seem like red flags, but a change of scenery could certainly help Brewer.

He certainly has talent that could make him a major contender for the starting spot.

Brewer was a 3-star prospect coming out of high school, and he displayed plenty of mobility at Lake Travis—he ran a 4.70 40-yard dash at the time.

In his junior year of high school, he ran for 615 yards on 114 attempts and 23 touchdowns, so he certainly can make plays with his legs.

But his diminutive, 6’1”, 185 pound frame means he likely won’t spend too much time running the ball at Tech. Instead, his mobility will be best served in helping him move the pocket on plays like this one.

However, in his limited time in the college ranks, this same mobility tended to get him into trouble.

He often got indecisive if he was forced out of the pocket, and that led to big sacks like this one.

So it’s clear that both quarterbacks have issues with pressure, which shouldn’t come as terribly surprising considering their lack of experience facing college pass rushers. 

Both will have to make some big changes to be ready for the starting role, but there is still time for them to make that happen. 

Handicapping the competition seems difficult, since the two seem very even, as Bitter details.

Brewer will have an entire summer to digest the playbook before hoping to make an impression come August. It's a small time frame, but he said he's up to the task of learning a new system (he already learned two in his brief time at Texas Tech). ... Handicapping the field, I'll put it a 45 percent shot for Leal, a 45 percent shot for Brewer and a 10 percent shot at someone else entering the picture. With 40-some practices and a summer's worth of 7-on-7 drills and workouts between now and the season opener, however, the job is open for whoever wants to seize it.

It all really comes down to the kind of skill set Loeffler is looking for.

If he wants his quarterback to drop back and wing the ball around, Leal might be the choice. But if he’d like to move the pocket, run some option plays and spread the field, Brewer seems like a better option. 

Leal has the advantage heading into the spring given his experience, and going through spring practice with the first team will help. But if he falters, Loeffler won’t be afraid to turn to Brewer.

This quarterback competition is far from over, and it should be fascinating to watch to its conclusion. 

Alex Koma is a B/R featured columnist and a member of the Breaking News Team. You can find his B/R archive here, follow him on Twitter @AlexKomaVT and visit his personal website.


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