Justin Fuente has deservedly earned a reputation as something of a quarterback guru, grooming the likes of Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch before getting the head coaching job at Virginia Tech.
But as Fuente prepares for his second season with the Hokies, he may face his biggest challenge at the quarterback position. Jerod Evans, who guided the Hokies to 10 victories and the ACC Coastal Division title in his only season in Blacksburg, somewhat unexpectedly entered the NFL Draft, leaving a huge question as to who will take snaps for the Hokies in 2017. Virginia Tech fans can only hope Fuente is as successful with a new quarterback as he was integrating Evans into his system.
In many ways it was Evans who carried Virginia Tech back to prominence in its first post-Frank Beamer season. Evans had one of, if not the best, season ever for a Virginia Tech quarterback that in many ways turned out to be a poor man’s version of what Cam Newton once did for Auburn.
As a junior college transfer who played just one season at Virginia Tech before bolting for the pros, Evans didn’t win a national title and won’t go first in the NFL Draft. But it’s not a stretch to say the Hokies may not have even been a bowl team without Evans, who threw for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for more than 800.
Top receivers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges are also off to the NFL, meaning Fuente will earn his $3.2 million salary if he can ignite more magic in the Hokies’ passing game.
Of course it all starts with finding a new quarterback.
Josh Jackson, a former four-star recruit who redshirted as a freshman last season, is the only returning quarterback on the Hokies’ roster. As such, he likely enters spring practice with something of a leg up in the competition for the starting job. Like Evans, he’s as effective rushing as passing and could make plays behind an offensive line that must replace both blockers on the right side. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Fuente eventually decides to lean on a player with a background similar to Evans’.
Entering the program is junior college transfer, A.J. Bush. Like Evans, Bush began his college career at another FBS school, Nebraska before heading to Iowa Western Community College. Bush proved to be an effective passer at Iowa Western, and at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds has a physical resemblance to some of Fuente’s previous QB protégés.
While Jackson already has a year of learning the system under his belt, Bush stands to benefit from being one of nine Virginia Tech signees enrolling early enough to participate in spring drills.
Another early enrollee is freshman Hendon Hooker, who should also factor into the quarterback competition this fall. Hooker is a four-star prospect from Greensboro, N.C., who was skilled enough for Virginia Tech coaches to encourage him to graduate early and join the competition this spring.
But at 6-foot-4 and just a little more than 200 pounds, it would likely benefit both player and program if Jackson and/or Bush solidify the depth chart enough for Hooker to redshirt next fall.