The Hokies enter the 2017 season looking for a new starting quarterback, as Jerod Evans declared for the NFL Draft after a highly successful junior season in Blacksburg. It was quite the surprise when Evans announced that he was making the jump to the next level, even though he enjoyed a very accomplished season in Blacksburg. Evans finished the year completing 63.5% of his throws for 3,552 yards and 29 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. He was also the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball for 846 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year.
Sure, the stats looked fantastic, and Evans was leader both on the field and off. But NFL prospect already?
Far from it.
Despite all of his contributions to the Hokies, he is not nearly as polished of a passer, especially with the deep ball, as his statistics may suggest. As a result, he is projected as a late-round pick at best in this weekend’s NFL Draft, with a strong chance that he could even go undrafted.
Nevertheless, the Hokies needed to act quickly to replace their starting quarterback, and Justin Fuente and his staff were quick to handicap which players would be in contention to become the successor to Jerod Evans.
Coach Fuente announced early in spring ball that it would be a three-man quarterback race, with the newly minted “veteran”, redshirt-freshman Josh Jackson, joining true freshman Hendon Hooker and junior transfer A.J. Bush for snaps in practice. None of the three quarterbacks have any game experience at the FBS-level, but all have considerable talent that projects to being successful in the ACC.
In Saturday afternoon’s spring game in Blacksburg, all three quarterbacks split reps, with Josh Jackson being the first quarterback out on the field with the offense. When Jackson took the field, his poise and command of the offense was evident, as he barked out the signals from the line and was seen frequently discussing pass protections with his offensive line between snaps.
In addition, he threw a consistently accurate deep ball, a facet of the game which was missing from predecessor Jerod Evans a year ago. Jackson finished 4-for-8 for 67 yards on the afternoon.
While the offense exhibited more of a spread passing attack with Jackson on the field, Hendon Hooker’s reps put on display a spread option rushing base, with short to intermediate passes mixed into the play selection. Much like Jackson, Hooker displayed his poise, going 10-for-11 passing for 115 yards, including a touchdown pass to Dalton Keene on a seam route from inside the 30.
The lone blemish on Hooker’s line was due to miscommunication with wide receiver Phil Patterson, who broke outside after faking an in-route, leading to Hooker leaving the ball on the inside of the route to be intercepted by Brandon Facyson. Despite the interception, the coaching staff and fans alike left pleased by Hooker’s performance in his first collegiate appearance.
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Finally, A.J. Bush received his fair share of reps as well, looking about as comfortable as anyone could expect a transfer quarterback to look in his first appearance with his new time. Bush labored through a sub-50% passing mark at the junior college level a year ago, but showed better accuracy in his snaps on Saturday due to much improved footwork.
It was very apparent that he was more structured in his base as a passer, leading to a more accurate short and intermediate passing attack with him at the helm. Bush finished 3-for-5 passing for 60 yards on the day going against the first team defense.
What was once considered a position of vulnerability now has all the makings of a position of strength. Sure, we can’t put too much stock into the spring game, but the command of the offense by each of these three quarterbacks was apparent on Saturday, which at the very least, is a promising sign heading into next fall.
There is no end in sight to this three-man battle, which in all likelihood will come right down to game week for West Virginia in early September. For now though, fans can come away from Saturday’s spring game with heightened expectations for the youthful position heading into the fall.