Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech''s focus? Bettering its new quarterback, not selecting him

BLACKSBURG -- The central focus of Virginia Tech's spring practice, as it should be, is how much the new quarterback needs to learn. How well he can handle the pressure. How consistent he can become during a 25-day span that began with an indoor practice Monday night.

Without question, Logan Thomas has a tremendous opportunity and challenge here. But so do coach Frank Beamer and his offensive staff.

The difference between breaking in this new signal caller and so many others before him is the sense of certainty. Thomas is the guy. He's not neck-and-neck with one or two others, playing leapfrog on the depth chart.

This spring, like every spring, is about evaluation. But this time, at the team's most vital position, it's not about selection. It's about preparation, grooming the fledgling for months instead of weeks.

"I think that's good," Beamer said after the opening workout. "The quicker you can settle things and say this is how it's going to be as a team, the better off you are. And right now, Logan should be the quarterback, and we all think he will be the quarterback."

As important as it is for Thomas to improve on a daily basis, it's equally as vital for the coaches to soak up the nuances of their new quarterback. Some are obvious. Although Thomas has some running ability, he's not a shake-and-bake, dash-around-defenders type like Tyrod Taylor was. He's also 5 inches taller than the 6-foot-1, All-ACC man he replaced, increasing the likelihood that he'll hang in the pocket longer.

Nobody at Tech is expecting the offensive MO to change dramatically this fall. The Hokies still want to pound the ball on the ground. But the strategy will change some, and those tweaks will come into focus this spring as the coaches experiment with play calls and determine Thomas' aptitude.

"We'll ask him to do a lot of things," said quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain, who will also serve as the play-caller this fall. "We'll ask him to do this more this spring than we will in August or probably September when we play Appalachian State. Because he has been exposed to a lot of things over the past two years, I want to throw a lot at him and then begin to reel back in what you need for a game plan.

"Until you ask a young man to do it, you don't know. So I will ask him how he feels about certain things -- 'Do you like this throw?' 'Do you like that throw?' -- then he and I will discuss what's best-suited for him."

Beamer already can predict one tweak.

"I think it's easier for Logan to throw a screen pass" than it was for Taylor, he said. "And I think any time you get the ball to David Wilson in the open field, you've got an advantage. Any time you get the ball to our wide receivers behind the line of scrimmage and get those linemen upfield blocking, you've got an advantage."

So they'll run some of that today, and they'll run it in the scrimmages, and they'll take mental notes -- not on which quarterback can do it better, but what the chosen one can do best. And as much as Thomas is embracing this opportunity, the staff is, too.

"It's fun," O'Cain said of breaking in a new QB. "It can be nerve-racking. I hope this one is not, but it can be. But it's interesting. It's a challenge to step up and take a young man and see him develop over the years, much like Tyrod. As a freshman, Tyrod was just OK. As a sophomore, he was a little better. Then he got a lot better over his last two years. That's what you want to see. That's the fun of coaching."

And the focus of this spring.

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