Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente, as well as the members of the three-man quarterback race, Josh Jackson, Hendon Hooker, and A.J. Bush, spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the progress made this spring, as well as how each player feels about the starting quarterback race with five months remaining until the opener against West Virginia.
How’s the race going between the three quarterbacks? While no direct answer was going to be given by Fuente, he and his offensive coaching staff are pleased with the progress made by the guys in the room so far.
"“We always give them feedback in terms of how they are playing and we continue to manipulate the reps. They are still basically even. We are only operating two huddles right now. There’s not a third huddle out there taking reps just because of our numbers, so we give them constant feedback. I don’t know that we continue to rank them. We just continue feedback on what they need to do individually to continue to improve and give themselves a chance.”"
With all three quarterbacks battling for snaps, none of which have any starting quarterback experience at the FBS level, and only one of which having experience in the system (Josh Jackson), there has been quite the learning curve in the offense so far. Coach Fuente expressed his encouragement by the progress made despite behind the 8-ball in that regard.
"“It’s been good. Obviously the more time you have in any subject, whether it’s learning to speak another language or trying to play quarterback, it helps. But I have been pleased with them.”—Justin Fuente"
With that being said, there is no shortage of confidence from any of the three players, especially redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson, who is the presumed favorite to ultimately win the starting job this fall.
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Jackson talked to the media about how comfortable he’s feeling in his second season in the offense, and if the experience of taking snaps in practices last year is helping him make better reads this spring.
"“I think that helps me a lot because obviously I’ve seen the outcomes and I’ve seen the reads and how the plays should be carried out and everything. I think that helps me having a year in the offense and I think that helps me with the other guys but they are learning fast and doing a great job with it.”—Josh Jackson"
While many who are handicapping the starting quarterback job view Jackson as the individual most likely to win it, the coaching staff was looking to breed competition at the position in the months leading up to the season with the early enrollment of Hendon Hooker, along with the transfer of A.J. Bush from Iowa Western Community College.
Hooker was given a heads up soon after he arrived on campus that he would be competing for the starting quarterback job.
"“He (Coach Fuente) kind of gave me a heads up that I would be battling for the position, but I feel like that is a given in any position. Nothing is given to you, you have to earn it. It’s really a huge advantage (getting on campus early). Once you get up here, you have to get used to something that you are going to be doing for the next four to five years, so getting up here early and adjusting before my other classmates has been pretty good for me; getting a playbook and getting used to the speed of the game. It’s been good for me.”—Hendon Hooker"
As for Bush, it has been a long road to get to this point, bouncing from Nebraska to Iowa Western Community College, before now ultimately making a play in Blacksburg for the starting quarterback job with the Hokies. After an up-and-down year on the field at the junior college level, Bush had a tough decision to make regarding his next FBS program. Needless to say, he seems happy with his choice thus far.
"“It’s a blessing. Of course, I came here to play. I wouldn’t be at this level if I wasn’t trying to play. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s an opportunity to go get it. There is no time to waste.I saw what Coach Fuente and his staff did … with Paxton Lynch. I didn’t even really realize it was him until he called me. I was like ‘man; this is kind of special. I saw what you did with Paxton Lynch. He really flourished and thrived in his offense.’ Plus, obviously with Jerod (Evans) leaving, it was a great opportunity for me to step in and compete.”—A.J. Bush"
As for a decision on the starter for next season, it is safe to say that Fuente is in no rush whatsoever to make a decision. As far as he’s concerned, only one deadline matters.
"“I don’t ever set a time frame to make a decision. Obviously some decisions you have deadlines you have to meet, you have to make a decision. There is only one deadline and that’s by the time the first huddle trots out there in the first game.Whenever it happens it’ll happen, I don’t know when that will be. We will continue to evaluate it. Same thing as last year, it was not a decision where we made a decision months and months ago and then let it draw all the way out to whenever it was we announced Jerod was starting last year. It will be the same thing. When we know who that guy is going to be then we will let them know and everyone else know and kind of go forward.”—Justin Fuente"
While Fuente and his staff are keeping their decision close to the vest, fans and the media should be able to gain a much better picture of how the battle is progressing over the next couple of weeks. The Hokies will hold a practice open to both the fans and the media next Tuesday, April 18th ahead of the spring game on April 22nd.
Perhaps by then we can all begin to draw some better conclusions on the race, but for now, the process and development of all involved continues to move forward with no end in sight.