Spring Football 2001: the Quarterbacks
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 3/23/01
At this time last year, Virginia Tech had an embarrassment of quarterback riches. In addition to returning superstar Michael Vick, the Hokies had rising redshirt senior Dave Meyer, rising redshirt sophomore Grant Noel, and highly-touted true freshman Jason Davis in their QB stable.
One year later, the Hokies are perilously thin at the most important position on the field. Meyer has played out his eligibility, Vick declared early for the draft, and only Noel and Davis remain to fight it out for what has surprisingly become one of the highest-profile positions in college football: quarterback of the Virginia Tech Hokies.
This fall, three true freshmen -- Bryan Randall, Will Hunt, and Chris Clifton -- will arrive to bolster the ranks, but for now, Noel and Davis are it. Grant Noel is the odds-on favorite to be Virginia Tech's starting quarterback heading into the fall, and Davis is not being given much of a chance at all to win the job. Here's a breakdown of each candidate and their outlook for spring football (class indicates what class they will be in next year):
Grant Noel (redshirt-junior, 6-1, 224): after three years in the program, Grant Noel still remains an unknown quantity. In two full seasons as a non-redshirt, Noel has played in 6 games and is 5-12 for 59 yards, no TD's, and no interceptions. He has not been given an opportunity to do much of anything -- in last year's Central Florida game, for example, when Dave Meyer went out with bruised ribs in the third quarter, Noel played 24 downs and was not allowed to throw a single pass.
When he was in high school, Noel committed to Virginia Tech on January 5th, 1997, just a month after his junior season had ended. The problem for Noel was that a guy named Michael Vick committed to Tech 13 months later, and thus Noel's fate as a backup, banished to the very bottom of the depth chart, was sealed. He was facing an entire career as Vick's backup, with very little opportunity for playing time.
And so it went for the last two years, but now, Noel is suddenly "the man" at quarterback -- for the time being, anyway. Being thrust into the limelight has had a profound effect on him. He told Bill Roth in a recent hokiesportsinfo.com interview that he lies in bed "thinking about pass routes and where everyone is … I wake up and I am thinking about pass rushes and protections."
It's very doubtful that pass routes, pass rushes and protections occupied Noel's mind all that much prior to January 12th, 2001, when Michael Vick announced he was going to go pro. His opportunities for playing time were minimal, and all he was allowed to do when he made it into a game was hand off to whatever tailback was lined up behind him. But now all eyes are on Noel.
Is he ready for it? It's questionable that anyone with so little game experience can be "ready" in the manner that Hokie fans define it. Noel has a tough act to follow, not just because of Vick, but because of Jim Druckenmiller, too. Both Vick and Druckenmiller played well in their first years as starters, carrying the team to new heights as first-time starters, and in 1997, Al Clark had a decent first year statistically.
Like Vick and Druckenmiller in their first years, Noel will have the benefit of strong Hokie defense and special teams, and like Vick and Druckenmiller, job one for him will be to not screw up. From that standpoint, Noel needs to work on the simple things this spring, and prepare to be a bare-bones first-year quarterback.
Noel does compare favorably to Vick in two ways: he is fifteen days older and five to ten pounds heavier. He says that he has been working on his strength, his arm strength, and his footwork, and he is ready to take on the job of starting quarterback.
Speaking of his footwork, that is an obvious area for improvement, and Noel has improved his 40 time from 4.88 as a freshman to 4.69 this spring. But his arm strength definitely needs to improve. Noel has shown some deep-ball capability in past spring and fall scrimmages, but his performance in last year's Spring Game was a clinic in how to underthrow passes. He was 3-11 for 44 yards that day and appeared as if he needed more oomph on the ball.
Much like the Tech quarterbacks before him, Noel's primary mission will be to protect the ball, don't to anything stupid with it, and don't turn it over. He would be well-advised to work on those things this spring. He'll get plenty of practice in those areas, because he will no doubt receive a lot of pressure from Tech's defensive line, which returns all 8 players from the two-deep and will frequently get the better of Tech's relatively inexperienced (when compared with the DL) offensive line.
Jason Davis (redshirt-freshman, 6-0, 197): if Grant Noel is a mystery, then Jason Davis is the invisible man. He came out of Seymour High School in Sevierville, Tennessee rated fairly high for a quarterback -- the number 12 prospect in Tennessee according to SuperPrep, a USA Today honorable mention All-American, and the top QB in Tennessee as rated by The News Sentinel in Knoxville.
He made a name for himself in high school when he went to a football camp at the University of Kentucky and won the long-ball contest with a 76-yard pass, breaking Tim Couch's old record of 74 yards. Yes, that Tim Couch. Davis's high school coach, Gary Householder, raved about him, saying, "I think his arm sets him apart from others. He's got a quick release and a strong arm. Mechanically and physically, he's very sound. He's a good athlete." In addition to being a good quarterback, Davis was a good punter and placekicker in high school, as well.
Davis graduated from high school a semester early, in December of 1999, and enrolled at Tech in January of 2000, before he had even signed his letter of intent to play football at Virginia Tech. He signed his LOI that February, participated in spring football last year … and promptly disappeared from the Tech football landscape.
When Virginia Tech quarterbacks of the future are discussed, Jason Davis's name rarely comes up, if ever. Fans bring him up on the message board from time to time, but the coaches rarely talk about him beyond generalities, and all the buzz centers around Noel and the incoming freshmen, not Davis. Those close to the program, when asked, say that Davis is "not getting it done" and then quickly move on to the next topic.
To say that this spring is critical for Jason Davis is understating it by a mile. If he wants to be in the mix from this moment forward, it's time for him to make his presence known. He will get a lot of work this spring, mainly because there are no other options beyond him and Grant Noel (at this point, the coaches would love to avoid putting Eric Green and Richard Johnson at quarterback this spring), and they'll both get a lot of throws and a lot of time under center.
If Jason Davis disappoints the coaches and doesn't perform this spring, he will more than likely be permanently buried on the depth chart when Randall, Hunt, and Clifton show up in the fall. It's do or die time for the young QB from Tennessee (he just turned 19 in February) with the strong arm.
Next: the Running Backs