BLACKSBURG, Va. -- It was third-and-16 against Miami last season when backup Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas had his one and only snap in a moment of consequence.
He didn’t flinch.
With starter Tyrod Taylor feeling woozy on the sideline, Thomas completed a 24-yard pass to Danny Coale for the first down and sustained what would be an eventual scoring drive against Miami in late November.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer exhaled.
“I remember thinking, ‘whew,’” Beamer said. “A lot of good thoughts went through your head quickly. That said a lot. You’re under the gun, just come in, make a throw like that when we needed it. That said a lot.”
The Hokies are going to need Thomas to make an even bigger statement this fall if they’re going to defend their ACC title. The Tyrod Taylor era is officially over in Blacksburg, and Thomas is preparing this spring for his first season as a full-time starter in the shadow of his predecessor while also carrying the lofty expectations and physique of former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Truth is, Thomas might just be the best mix of both.
Thomas has the leadership skills and composure of Taylor, and at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, he also has the height, weight and arm strength of Newton. What he doesn’t have yet is experience or consistency. Over the past two years, Thomas has watched and learned as a redshirt and backup to Taylor. His accuracy has improved, along with the mental aspect of his game, but there’s still a learning curve involved, as Thomas only played two years of quarterback in high school and was recruited as a tight end/receiver.
“Some days, he’d just take your breath with the throws he’s making: ‘Gee wiz, look at that one, and look at that one,’” Beamer said. “And then he’d get out there another day and wouldn’t be quite as accurate, just a little bit off. I really think it gets down to concentration and him being the guy. I’m looking forward to it.”
So is Thomas.
Virginia Tech isn’t going to change the offense drastically to suit him, but the staff might put the ball in his hands more because of his size and strength. He’s more of a pocket passer than Taylor was, but when he does leave the pocket, Thomas can run. He’s not shifty, but he’s fast, and his strength will make him difficult to tackle. Where Taylor had to move his feet to see, Thomas is about six inches taller to see over the action.
Defenders will be forced to tackle Thomas around his waist, giving him time to get the ball out. Taylor was usually tackled on his upper body, making it harder for him to throw under pressure. Thomas will be less likely to pull the ball down and scramble, but he’ll make throws Taylor might not have been able to because of his height.
“I’m not the type of scrambler Ty was,” Thomas said. “He’s the most elusive person I’ve ever seen.”
Thomas has an experienced offensive line and group of receivers to work with, though, so there’s potential for the Hokies’ passing game to flourish more than it did under Taylor. That depends, of course, on Thomas’ accuracy. His range is about 60-75 yards -- compared to about 75 or 80 in high school, when he said his “mechanics were really bad,” and he would just heave it.
“I was really bad when I first got here,” Thomas said. “I was throwing high, low, skipping it across the ground. Now they’re a little bit more in the strike zone.”
O'Cain said Thomas has made “tremendous improvement in all areas” since his first week at the position and the end of this past season.
“He was just wild,” O’Cain said, “like a fastball pitcher that sails into the upper backstop every now and then. He’s really improved that. He’ll still miss one occasionally, but they’re close misses. Three yards, or four yards … you just say to yourself, where in the heck did that come from?”
“We can’t ask him to do all of the things we asked Tyrod to do,” O’Cain said. “He’s not at that level mentally yet. We’ve got to be careful we don’t overload him, allow him to go out and play. But at the same time this spring, I’m not going to spoon feed him. We’re going to throw things at him and let’s see what sticks and what he can handle. I’d rather throw things at him, see what he can handle, and then take away, as opposed to being too cautious because he’s had two years.”
Virginia Tech offered Thomas a scholarship when he was a sophomore in high school, and he had prepared for his freshman year expecting to play immediately as a tight end or receiver. On the first day of spring ball, though, O’Cain approached Thomas and asked if he would be interested in trying to play quarterback.
Thomas agreed to try it, but it took about three weeks for it to agree with him.
“I was hating life for the first two weeks, hating it,” he said. “I had prepared that whole summer to play tight end, h-back, and so I had thrown zero balls until camp started. It was really that third or fourth week that I said, ‘just throw it all out the window, get a new mindset, and I really started enjoying it. A lot of it was because of coach O’Cain and Tyrod as well. They helped me along with the process and trusted me at a young age.”
O’Cain said he saw enough promise after just a few days watching Thomas at the position that he told Thomas he could be a three-year starter.
“I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over his eyes,” O’Cain said. “I felt like he could be a good quarterback, a very good quarterback.”
It’s time to find out if O’Cain was right.