Throughout the week, we have taken a look at the biggest position battles but today, we reach the one position battle that is extremely well-known and definitely the most important one, the quarterback competition.
Last year’s three-man QB battle went deep into fall camp with Jerod Evans winning the job less than two weeks before the Hokies’ season opener against Liberty. This year’s battle has the potential to not be decided till the Hokies take the field against West Virginia with Josh Jackson, the one QB returning from last year’s battle, entering camp as the favorite against true freshman Hendon Hooker and former Nebraska backup AJ Bush.
The Favorite: Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson entered this spring as the favorite to win the job and while he didn’t win it this spring, Jackson remains the heavy favorite to start against West Virginia. Jackson may be the only on-scholarship quarterback not recruited by Justin Fuente, but that hasn’t stopped him from being the favorite for the job.
One significant advantage that Jackson has is the fact that he has been with the Hokies since the spring of 2016 while also having competed for the job last year along with getting to work with some of the younger receivers last season which should help his chemistry with them. While both Hendon Hooker and AJ Bush were here this spring, Jackson should have greater knowledge of the offense and comfort working in it.
Jackson doesn’t have a great arm, but he has very good accuracy and great poise with his arm reminding me some of Chad Pennington. Now the Pennington comparison may make you not feel great but while Jackson doesn’t have great arm strength, he is quite accurate and should be able to execute the offense well and be able to go from receiver to receiver when his primary target isn’t open.
One thing that may hurt Jackson’s chances is that he is not a big threat to make plays with his legs. Jackson is a solid scrambler and can make things happen outside the pocket with his arm, but he isn’t a guy that can escape the pocket and scramble for a 15+ yard run. Jackson is mobile, but he’s not a dual-threat quarterback and that could be what hurts Jackson’s chances especially going against two dual-threat guys.
There’s also talk of Jackson being at a disadvantage because he wasn’t recruited by Justin Fuente while both Hendon Hooker and AJ Bush were. While this could be a possible issue, Fuente doesn’t seem to be someone who is too concerned about who he recruited and who he didn’t, and will go with whoever is the best quarterback.
Josh Jackson is the experienced favorite to win the job as a poised, accurate passer that can do big things in Justin Fuente’s offense this year, but it isn’t certain that he’ll be the starter.
The True Freshman: Hendon Hooker
There may be no position that is more difficult to earn the starting job for as a true freshman than quarterback given how a player not only needs to be talented, but also needs to be able to grasp the offense and build chemistry with his new teammates. That makes it 99.9% impossible for anyone that doesn’t arrive before the fall to earn the job, but Hendon Hooker arrived this past spring and enters the fall still in the competition for the starting job.
In the Spring Game, Hooker took almost all of his reps with the second team offense but even while facing the second team defense, Hooker was still very good going 10-for-11 for 113 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Hooker’s strong Spring Game performance made it clear that he could be the top challenger to Josh Jackson this fall and that the Hokies are building great depth at QB especially with Elite 11 QB Quincy Patterson committed in the 2018 class.
Hooker isn’t as refined of a quarterback as Josh Jackson and doesn’t have the same grasp of the offense as a guy who has been in Blacksburg for a year longer than Hooker, but Hooker does have some advantages over Jackson.
One thing that stands out with Hooker is that he is a very mobile quarterback that should be able to be a true dual-threat playmaker just like the Hokies have had with plenty of past star quarterbacks including Tyrod Taylor and Jerod Evans. Secondly, Hooker also has great arm strength that will allow him to push the ball down the field quite well and gives him huge upside as he continues to develop his accuracy.
Hooker is the top challenger to Jackson entering this fall quarterback competition despite being a true freshman that just arrived this past spring. Whether Hooker starts this fall or not, it’s clear that he has a bright future in Blacksburg and will be a starting QB for the Hokies someday.
The New JUCO QB: AJ Bush
After Jerod Evans went from JUCO to starting QB for Virginia Tech last year, AJ Bush arrived this spring hoping to follow the footsteps of Evans. Going into fall camp, Bush is the long shot of the trio, but the former Nebraska QB will be ready to give it his all in pursuit of the job.
Bush is probably the most mobile quarterback of the three with a great scrambling ability that makes him a big threat as a scrambler or even on option and QB runs. That type of scrambling ability is an advantage for Bush that can give him a great opportunity to win the starting job. Bush also has experience at being in a power 5 program while at Nebraska that definitely should help him to some extent.
However, Bush is the longshot of the 3 as he is still fairly raw as a quarterback with not as big of an arm as Hooker or as accurate of an arm as Jackson. Bush is a solid player and could be a very good backup QB for VT this fall, but it’s definitely hard to see Bush earning the starting job for the Hokies. Bush also didn’t look as good as Jackson didn’t in the Hokies’ Spring Game and purely by the eye test, it’s clear that there’s a gap between Bush, and Jackson and Hooker.
AJ Bush can’t be ruled out and will be ready to give it all to win the starting job, but he has a lot of work ahead to be the second-straight JUCO QB to start for Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Josh Jackson
Hendon Hooker is quite talented and has a bright future in Blacksburg, but Josh Jackson’s time has arrived and after nearly surprising everybody in winning the job last fall; Jackson will seize the job this fall whether that comes weeks or hours before the Hokies kick off the season against West Virginia.
Jackson may not be as athletic as the other guys in this competition, but Jackson is much more refined as a quarterback with the accuracy and poise to be quite productive while also being able to advance through his reads and find his second and third options. Jackson also knows when to simply throw the ball away instead of putting his head down and maybe getting a yard or two while taking a significant hit.
Hendon Hooker definitely has a chance at pushing Jackson this fall but if Hooker doesn’t win the starting QB job as we predict, it would make the most sense for the Hokies to redshirt the North Carolina native and use AJ Bush as the backup QB this fall, giving Jackson and Hooker a year of separation.
Fall camp starts tomorrow as Virginia Tech is five weeks from kicking off the second year of the Justin Fuente era with a Black Diamond Trophy showdown at FedEx Field against West Virginia. Before then, Fuente and his staff have plenty of decisions to make over who starts for VT this fall.