BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The transformation of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas literally began from the ground up.
It started this past spring, with a focus on his legs, especially his footwork. Next was his upper body, then his throwing motion, and, finally, his eyes and how he read defenses. There was an emphasis on taking the proper drop with the proper rhythm to improve his accuracy. They were subtle changes -- like correcting a golf swing -- so that his upper and lower body are coordinated in one fluid motion.
"If you saw Logan earlier, he just was all off -- not using his legs to throw the ball," receiver D.J. Coles said. "Now, he's using his whole body. He's got more velocity."
They were small changes with the hope of one drastic result: reducing last season's 16 interceptions -- a number that has come to define Thomas' 2012 season, fair or not.
"I used to step away from my target, and that would cause my ball to float or dive into the dirt," Thomas said. "We've cleaned it up to where I step to my target, through my target, and everything is driven and way more accurate now. All of my receivers who were here before can definitely tell a difference. In the past three days of practice, they've said, 'You've been as accurate, and your ball has been as hard as it ever has before.' It's nice to go out there and just do what you want with the ball and not worry about where it's going to end up."
Like in the hands of Alabama's defense.
Virginia Tech's embattled quarterback, who, just a year ago, was projected by many to be a first-round NFL draft pick, is trying to make a comeback in his final season. After receiving a third-round grade from the NFL's advisory board, Thomas decided to return to school -- not only to improve his draft stock, but to win. Those within the program ooze in confidence when talking about Thomas, who is entering his third season as a starter. Thomas himself is confident. He's stronger. He's in the best condition of his career, and he is a better quarterback than he was a year ago.
There's only one problem: In order to prove it, Thomas needs more help.
"Logan will be as good as the people around him let him be," coach Frank Beamer said.
Virginia Tech's offense was so stagnant and predictable last season that Beamer finally relented and hired a new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler. While Thomas shouldered much of the blame for last season's offensive woes -- at times, deservedly so -- there was certainly enough to go around.
The Hokies couldn't get their ground game going and sorely missed departed running back David Wilson. The offense was stuck in too many long-yardage situations and didn't have a dependable defense in the first half of the season to rely on. Tough, big-play receivers like Danny Coale never emerged, and the offensive linemen weren't physical enough.
People said he came back because of his draft status and all of that stuff, but, at the end of the day, Logan Thomas came back because he didn't want to leave Virginia Tech as a 7-6 quarterback. Period. End of story. He's a competitor.
--Virginia Tech associate head coach Shane Beamer
The improvement of Thomas' supporting cast will be critical to his comeback, but Virginia Tech will line up against the defending national champs without any experienced tackles, a deep-threat receiver and with a stable of running backs that has been plagued by injuries and off-field incidents.
Despite all of the criticism he has faced, Thomas is the best thing Virginia Tech's offense has going for it right now. Whatever happens on Saturday against Alabama is not going to define his season, or his career at Virginia Tech. It's how the Hokies finish the ACC race and rebound from what was the worst season in 20 years in Blacksburg that will determine his legacy.
"People said he came back because of his draft status and all of that stuff, but, at the end of the day, Logan Thomas came back because he didn't want to leave Virginia Tech as a 7-6 quarterback," said associated head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer. "Period. End of story. He's a competitor."
And he hates to lose.
Nobody knows this more than tight end Zack McCray, Thomas' cousin and roommate. McCray says that the longest they've ever been apart from each other is about two weeks. The two of them were "raised like brothers," sometimes even in the same house, and have played on the same team since their days in Little League. Of all those years together, McCray said they never came as close to a losing season as the Hokies did last fall.
"That was just surreal for us, especially with him being the starting quarterback," McCray said. "He takes everything on his shoulders and he feels that, regardless of what happens, he needs to be the best player on the field."
McCray and Coles, two of Thomas' best friends on the team, were on call for their quarterback this summer, as he would often text them to see if they'd show up around 6 a.m. and catch some balls.
"I'd be like, 'Alright, man. I'll be there,'" McCray said.
This was the first summer that Thomas didn't leave campus. He stuck around to study Loeffler's playbook, organize seven-on-sevens and get in extra work with his receivers. They needed it. Coles, Virginia Tech's most-experienced receiver, sat out last season with a knee injury. He's the only senior among the receivers and tight ends. Thomas said he felt an obligation to stay on campus this summer and help usher the younger players along.
"We don't have a big, strong receiver who can go downfield and get the ball," Thomas said. "We have to be a team that takes what the defense gives us. We're going to have to work for our yardage and our points, but it's completely doable. Hopefully, we can make somebody miss and get a big gain. That's just who we're going to be. It's how we're going to have to play with our personnel."
The task for Thomas is not to force things when they're not there this season.
"I think that was a big problem for me last year -- I was trying to do too much instead of trusting my guys," he said. "Those guys are on scholarship, too,. They've got to make their own plays. That's another thing Coach Loeffler is trying to teach me: 'Logan, just do your part. Keep being aggressive. If they don't make the plays, that's our job. We've got to go find you another one.' That's just how it is."
Thomas' season was hardly a bust last fall. He became the first Hokies quarterback since Bobby Owens in 1965 to lead the Hokies in rushing, running for 524 yards and nine touchdowns (another indictment, though, on the Hokies' running game). Thomas broke his own school record for total offense with 3,500 yards. At 6-foot-6, 254 pounds, he's tough to tackle, and his physical attributes and upside are a major reason he was so highly regarded by NFL analysts.
But is he a first-round pick?
"I don't know," Loeffler said. "I hope he is. He's got to play well. If he plays well, we're going to win. And if we win, there's enough for everybody. Good things will happen to him when that day does come, but the draft is in [May]. We've got to worry about the daily grind here. If he plays well, everything else will fall into place."
"He's already something special," Loeffler said. "I'm just here to make him a little bit better. I wish I had him for four years. He's a guy I like. I think he has the intangibles. He's a grinder; he wants to be great. He's got a competitive nature I like, and he's a very unselfish guy. What's out there is that he came back to get his draft status higher. Well, that's not the reason. He didn't have a very good year. And he really likes this place a lot. He feels obligated to make sure that whenever he leaves here, he at least left Virginia Tech the way he wanted to leave it."
Which is not 7-6.
"I wanted to come back and prove a point," Thomas said. "7-6 is mediocre. That's not what I wanted to leave my legacy as."
He has one more season to shape his legacy -- one small change at a time.