Is Change Afoot for the Hokie Offense?
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 2/21/02
In the recruitment of QB Marcus Vick, the Hokies came out of nowhere to take the checkered flag late. Vick signed with the Hokies because he saw changes in the program, specifically in the offense. The only question that remains is how extensive those changes are going to be.
By now, those of you who follow Hokie football recruiting know the story: Vick was not seriously considering the Hokies until offensive coordinator and QB coach Rickey Bustle departed and was replaced by Bryan Stinespring (at OC) and Kevin Rogers (at QB coach).
"I wasn't even considering Tech when (Rickey) Bustle was there because with him as a quarterback coach he really doesn't spread the offense like I like to," Vick told the Washington Post on February 5th, the day that he verballed to Virginia Tech. "But now with Coach Rogers there and I know he's got a lot of experience with several other quarterbacks that are in the NFL now, so I think he'll do a great job with me."
That quote sums up what got Vick into Tech's corner and eventually got him to sign with the Hokies: Bustle out, Rogers in.
But that quote, and other quotes that Vick gave to the press at that time, does not answer other questions. Namely, was the "problem" as perceived by Vick and his high school coach, Tommy Reamon, the job that Rickey Bustle was doing as a quarterbacks coach, or as an offensive coordinator? Or both?
In reading quotes from Vick and Reamon, who guided Vick's recruitment, it's hard to tell, and the lines are often blurred.
Witness another quote that Vick gave the Roanoke Times on January 5th, very similar to the one he gave the Post: "I wasn't even considering Tech when Bustle was there," Vick said. "Now with Coach Rogers there, he has experience with several quarterbacks who are in the pros now. I think he'll add the style to the offense that was missing. Coach Bustle was too conservative."
That makes it sound as if the Tech offense was the problem, not necessarily the quarterback coaching, and it appears that Vick feels that the hiring of Rogers appeased his concerns.
There's just one problem with that: Rogers isn't the offensive coordinator. Bryan Stinespring is. As an offensive coordinator, Stinespring could be as conservative (using Vick's word) or even more conservative than Bustle, and the "style of offense" wouldn't change at all, or might even get more conservative.
The Word, from the Men They Coached
In last week's Kroger Roth Report on hokiesportsinfo.com, one eye-opening anecdote was passed along by Roth:
Now you know where Marcus Vick and Tommy Reamon's opinion that Tech's QB development was unsatisfactory came from: straight from the mouth of Michael Vick. Straight from the mouth of a player who was in the Tech system for three years.
But still, that story does not clear up what the problem was -- QB coaching, or the Tech offensive system, or both? -- although the specific mention of multiple-receiver sets and the spread offense points towards the offense, not the QB coaching.
Contrast Vick's comments to those made by Donovan McNabb, whom Rogers coached at Syracuse. Again, from the Kroger Roth Report (and noted in numerous other places, as well) comes a quote from Tech head coach Frank Beamer:
There you have it, in direct contrast: Michael Vick voiced regret that his QB coach and offensive coordinator didn't prepare him better for the NFL, and Donovan McNabb raved about how his did.
We will put aside the fact that Michael Vick was only at Tech for three years, and McNabb was at Syracuse for five years. That may have been a major factor. Perhaps things would have "clicked" for Michael Vick had he stayed longer. We'll never know. The important point was the impression Michael gave his younger brother, namely that Virginia Tech didn't do a good job preparing their quarterbacks for the NFL.
Note that according to Roth, Reamon and Marcus Vick think highly of Tech's general player development. The strength, size, and speed that Michael added in his short tenure at Tech speak for themselves. "The offensive situation there was the issue, nothing else," Reamon told Roth.
Which makes it sound, once again, as if the offensive scheme, not the quarterback coaching was the "problem."
What Does it Matter?
At this point, you may be asking yourself, who cares? The Hokies got Marcus Vick. What does it matter if it was Rogers' prowess as a quarterbacks coach or the promise of a new, improved offense, plus Rogers' coaching, that got him on board?
The question matters because this isn't just about Marcus Vick: it's about the Hokie football program. The ramifications of how that question get answered will impact the entire Hokie football program for years.
Scenario number one: the Hokie offense changes very little from the Bustle days, but with Kevin Rogers concentrating solely on QB coaching, Vick and the other QB's get the attention they need and develop into fine quarterbacks.
Scenario number two: under Bryan Stinespring, the Hokies go to a more balanced offense, featuring a more complex passing game, and with Rogers coaching the QB's, the Tech QB's blossom into well-trained quarterbacks who are better prepared for the NFL, if that option presents itself.
In scenario number one, the Virginia Tech football team can be successful. Although the Hokie offense is often criticized (in my opinion, rightly so) for being overly conservative, too run-oriented, and too simple in the passing game, a good Tech QB like Jim Druckenmiller or Michael Vick can make it hum.
Bustle's teams set scoring records year after year at Tech. In eight years as VT offensive coordinator, Bustle's teams produced eight of the top nine Virginia Tech scoring offenses of all time. His teams never averaged less than 29 points a game, with 41.4 points per game (in 1999) ranking as the all-time high.
But in scenario number one, even with improved QB coaching, the quarterback is limited. The Hokie offense, in recent years, has suffered from a lack of "hot reads" on blitzes, few spread formations with multiple wideouts, few passes to the tight end (just 26 catches by TE's in the last two seasons combined), and few passes to the middle of the field.
No matter how good a QB becomes in the current style of Tech offense, he doesn't experience the whole spectrum like he will in the NFL.
In scenario number two, however, it's obvious that the Tech QB, be it Vick or someone else, will be better prepared for the NFL. And college quarterbacks who are better prepared for the NFL will by extension be better college players.
It Goes Beyond the QB's
But outside of QB development, there is another major issue here.
In my opinion, as shown by their run-ins with Florida State in 1999 and 2001, the Hokies may be encountering their glass ceiling in terms of achievement. Tech is a very, very good football team, but in order to compete consistently with the FSU's and yes, Miami's of the nation for that elusive national championship, the Hokies are going to have to implement a more balanced offense.
The Hokie coaches are fond of holding up Nebraska as an example of a program that does very well with (a) recruiting classes that aren't highly rated; and (b) a run-oriented offense.
But last I checked, Nebraska was vastly outnumbered among the nation's elite by programs with balanced pro-style offenses. Recent national championship winners Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State, Tennessee, Michigan, and Florida all have more balanced offenses.
It's not so much the offensive system -- again, Tech's works well when it's properly run, and a few plays here and there would have brought a championship to the Hokies in 1999 -- as it is the ability to attract top-notch players at all positions, that will help bring a national championship to the Hokies.
In short, when the Hokies encounter FSU and Miami, they look across the field at wide receiver corps that go six-to-eight players deep with all-star talent. The Hokies only go 1-2 deep with all-star talent at wideout any given time, at best. In any given year, once you get beyond Tech's #1 and #2 receivers, things get thin.
A more balanced offense that features the passing game a little more and puts receivers in the spotlight will help the Hokies recruit the types of players they need to push them over the hump and into the elite. They are already well-stocked with tailbacks, offensive linemen, and blocking tight ends. Some five-star (pardon the expression) receivers and pass-catching tight ends would give the Hokies everything they need offensively.
Virginia Tech has elevated its program to a level where they can compete with, and beat, the bottom 100 teams in Division 1-A regularly. But the top 15, in particular talent machines like the three Florida schools, all feature balanced offensive attacks that attract -- and here's the main point -- the best talent in the country.
Was It Bustle … or Beamer?
Ah, the million-dollar question: Was Tech's offense, which was labeled "too conservative" by Vick, the product of offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle, or was Bustle limited by Frank Beamer's innate conservatism?
Beamer is a product of his college coach, Jerry Claiborne, who stressed strong defensive, strong special teams, and an offense that (repeat after me) "doesn't turn the ball over." Beamer carries that legacy with him -- he admits it himself -- and has made it the cornerstone of his program.
But does that philosophy limit him? He has now seen first-hand that promises of better QB development and a more wide-open offense can land him one of the top QB prospects in the country, a player the Tech coaches really wanted.
One of two things is going on here. Either Beamer feels that hiring a full-time QB coach in Rogers can solve the QB development problem, assuming there is one (and Michael Vick seems to think there is); or Beamer feels that hiring a full-time QB coach and updating the offense behind him and a new offensive coordinator (Bryan Stinespring) is what is needed.
One thing about Frank Beamer: he has shown a remarkable ability to adjust the way he does things to eliminate past mistakes. The changes after the disastrous 1992 season are evidence of that, and his hiring of Kevin Rogers is evidence of that, as well. We'll find out in the coming months and years how extensive the changes are that Beamer might be implementing in his offense.
We won’t know Frank Beamer's full intentions until the 2002 version of the Hokies are rolled out, and we might not even know then. One key will be to watch what Rickey Bustle does down at Louisiana-Lafayette. If Bustle installs a pro-style offense with multiple wide receiver sets and spread formations, then you'll know where his heart is, and you'll know that Beamer set the tone for the Hokie offense during Bustle's tenure, not Bustle.
Keep a close watch, Hokies, to find out if change is afoot for the Virginia Tech offense.
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