Breaking Down Virginia Tech's 2017 Starting Quarterback Competition

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Mar 22, 2017
[caption id="attachment_5930" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Who will replace Jerod Evans as the Hokies' starting QB? [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]When Jerod Evans surprised everybody by declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft, it immediately set the stage for Virginia Tech to have a competition for the starting quarterback job for the second-straight year with Hendon Hooker choosing to enroll in the spring and JUCO QB AJ Bush committing to Virginia Tech after Evans's decision to go pro. Justin Fuente said Monday that this is a "completely open" QB competition though Fuente also said that Jackson, Bush, and Hooker will "get the lion's share of the work" which isn't a surprise. Walk-ons Jack Click and Chase Mummau will likely get a few reps but based on Fuente's comments, it appears that they likely will be phased out of the competition quickly along with Kansas transfer Ryan Willis who can't play next fall anyway. This quarterback competition has some similarities to last year's one with Josh Jackson being the only quarterback with time spent with Justin Fuente and this offense while Hendon Hooker and AJ Bush are both new to the program whereas Jackson and Jerod Evans were new last year and Brenden Motley was the one returning QB in the QB battle. Unlike last year, the returning guy is the favorite this year in Josh Jackson but it's clear that for now, Bush and Hooker have just as good of a shot as Jackson. Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen do plan to take the same approach that they took to last year's quarterback competition which definitely seemed to work out for the Hokies with Jerod Evans breaking records, and the Hokies winning the ACC Coastal and at least 10 games for the first time since 2012. With that said, let's take a look at the three quarterbacks who are battling for the starting quarterback job at least this spring.

AJ Bush

In some ways, AJ Bush may be the most raw quarterback of this trio as Bush definitely is a talented athlete that could projects as a dual-threat quarterback with good mobility. Bush also shows in JUCO that he has good arm strength and plenty of upside to develop into a dangerous quarterback for someone down the road. However, the thing is for Bush is that he is a junior and has a lot of developing to do though early indications seem to be that Bush has made a lot of strides this spring. Bush does has spent some time in a Division I program at Nebraska before going to JUCO for a year and then heading to Blacksburg, but Bush definitely has a lot of work ahead of him to win the starting job. One of the biggest concerns with Bush is the fact that he had 3 passing touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his 8 JUCO games last year while also only having a 50% completion percentage in one of five games in which he threw more than 10 passes. Those stats alone make you question Bush's decision-making and accuracy especially with JUCO definitely not being at the same level as Division I football. Bush is an intriguing prospect with lots of raw talent, but it's hard to think that Bush is more than someone brought in to the push the competition and be the backup if Jackson wins the job to allow Hooker to redshirt. However, you definitely can't rule out Bush for sure.

Current Odds: 5%

Hendon Hooker

Hendon Hooker was planning on enrolling over the summer, but Jerod Evans's decision to leave for the NFL opened up the opportunity for Hooker to be the starting QB next fall and pushed him to enrolling early at Virginia Tech. Now, Hooker enters this spring as a quarterback of the future for the Hokies, but the biggest question is whether he can move ahead of Josh Jackson and take the starting QB job now. There is no doubt that Hooker will have a learning curve coming from high school to college, but it's very beneficial for him to be here now to learn the playbook and get plenty of reps under the guidance Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen along with getting to be in a collegiate weight room. Hooker is a great athlete and more of a mobile threat than Josh Jackson, something that could be to his advantage after how much the Hokies used Jerod Evans as a runner. Hooker is also Justin Fuente's first high school QB that he recruited and signed, and while Fuente will say that isn't beneficial, it is an indirect advantage as Hooker likely fits more with the style of quarterback that Fuente likes having. The big challenge for Hooker will be the fact that he is a true freshman going against a capable redshirt freshman that has had a year in Justin Fuente's system and pushed for the starting job last fall. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if Hooker earned the starting job but he definitely has a lot of work ahead of him. However, Hooker has given himself a chance by enrolling early instead of waiting till the fall where a redshirt would have been basically certain.

Current Odds: 15%

Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson is the one on-scholarship quarterback in this battle that has been in Justin Fuente's for more than a few weeks and while he's only just starting his second spring in Blacksburg, Jackson enters this spring as the favorite to be the Hokies' starting quarterback after surprisingly breaking into the quarterback battle last fall before Evans won it only a couple of weeks before the season started. Now, Jackson seems like the next man up for the future coming in with the advantage of not only knowing Justin Fuente's offense but also having plenty a lot of reps with the Hokies' receiving corps including Cam Phillips from last fall's QB battle and some of the younger guys who he likely worked with on the second and third team offenses. Last spring, Jackson showed lots of potential and while he may not be a great mobile threat, he showed he can make plays outside the pocket while also displaying some great accuracy that gives him a high ceiling. On top of that, there was some talk that Jackson was the Hokies' second best QB over backup Brenden Motley but wasn't officially the backup due to Jackson redshirting and Motley being good enough to be a solid backup. Jackson doesn't have the biggest arm which could hurt him some in this competition, but Jackson has plenty of comfort in the pocket and seems to be a good decision maker based on his limited reps last spring. At this point, it's hard to see anybody other than Jackson winning the starting job with there definitely being a reasonable chance that Jackson can win the job by the end of spring practice.

Current Odds: 80%