After weeks of rumors that Virginia Tech’s coaching staff was pursuing some transfer quarterbacks to beef up the team's depth chart, the Hokies made a splash by securing the services of former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer.
Brewer announced the decision via Twitter on March 2 after visiting Blacksburg, and he clearly liked what he saw:
As a redshirt sophomore in Lubbock, Brewer will graduate from Texas Tech in May, allowing him to use his two remaining years of eligibility at Virginia Tech.
Coming out of high school in Austin, Texas, Brewer was rated as a 3-star prospect, per 247Sports, but he never really got into a groove with the Red Raiders. He redshirted in 2011 and played sparingly in 2012, completing 34-of-48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns in the nine games he played in.
Brewer was expected to compete for the starting spot this past summer, but a back injury that he claims Tech misdiagnosed hampered his chances. Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield passed him by on the depth chart, throwing for a combined 5,033 yards and 32 touchdowns in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s system.
For the Hokies, Brewer comes as a salve for what seems to be a tough quarterback situation. Redshirt senior Mark Leal has plenty of years on the team and was widely viewed as the presumptive starter for next season. However, his poor performance in relief of Logan Thomas in the Sun Bowl didn’t do a lot to boost the team’s confidence in him.
In fact, in a surprisingly candid interview with the Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was non-committal about Leal’s prospects instead of simply stating that he’d be the guy:
I think because of age, you would say from an outsider and I think it’s only natural that because of age, a guy that’s been around. But to be quite honest with you, we’re going to find out who our quarterback is. Period, end. He knows that. I know that. We’ve had the discussion. Obviously with age, you are the frontrunner. You should be, just because you’ve been around, an older guy. But he’s got to prove that he’s a starting quarterback. Whoever it is has got to prove and have the trust that they’re the guy.
That sure sounds like someone looking for options at the team’s most important position, and Brewer should be able to provide some competition, at the very least.
But what can he actually bring to the Hokies?
Brewer might be only 6’1” and 185 pounds, but he makes up for his lack of size with his mobility in the pocket.
He ran a system at Lake Travis High School that gave him plenty of opportunities to run the read option, and he used his legs to great effect in many games. In fact, during his junior year, he ran for 615 yards on 116 attempts while compiling 23 touchdowns.
While Loeffler has shown a predisposition for running some option plays with Thomas, the outgoing veteran was never particularly good at executing them. Brewer might give Loeffler the ability to add that element to the playbook.
But his mobility’s real value comes in the pocket. His diminutive size makes it unlikely that the team can run him too often—as they did with Thomas—but his quickness should help him move around the pocket and confuse the defense.
Just watch the way he’s able to use his legs on this throw:
In the above clip, he’s able to bootleg left, make the defense think for a second and then set his feet and nail a throw down the sideline.
If he can bring that mentality to Tech, he’ll be very valuable to Loeffler indeed.
While Brewer is mobile, he’s also got the arm strength to complete tough throws on the run and when sitting in the pocket.
In a seperate interview with Bitter, Loeffler talked about looking for ways to stretch the defense by both taking advantage of the team’s veteran receivers and their incoming freshman, and Brewer certainly seems to have the arm strength to help do so.
In fact, his high school highlight reels are full of throws like this one:
In the above clip, not only does he sit in the pocket calmly and make a good read, but he also nails the throw to the right sideline—exactly the type of throw he’ll need to make at Tech.
But unlike Thomas, it seems like he can also adjust his arm strength in each situation. Watch as he floats a perfect pass to the back corner of the end zone on this throw for the Red Raiders:
On passes like this, Thomas tended to rifle the ball to the very back pylon, making it a nearly impossible for the receiver to make a play. By contrast, Brewer puts enough on the ball to place it away from the defender but gives it enough touch to let his man make a play on the ball.
If he can continue to put heat on the ball when he needs it but hold back when it’s warranted, he’ll be well suited for Loeffler’s offense.
Grasping the Offense
Beyond his obvious physical gifts, Brewer’s greatest challenge in competing for the starting job will be picking up Loeffler’s offense quickly.
Since he graduates from Texas Tech on May 17, he won’t be able to join the Hokies until their first summer session on May 27. As a result, he won’t have the benefit of spring practice to adjust to his new team's scheme.
However, his time in Lake Travis’ complex offense combined with his work in Kingsbury’s high-octane scheme should prepare him well to adjust to Loeffler’s more conservative offense. In fact, Loeffler told Bitter:
I think it’s a lot easier to transition from what I came from to what I’m going to now, rather than the other way around. Because I’m used to throwing it anywhere from 40 to 50 times a game, sometimes even more than that. So I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp of anything that’s going to be thrown my way as far as the passing game is concerned. There are things that I need to learn, certain protections and run game stuff, but I feel confident that coach Loeffler will get me ready for that and just continue to move forward and learn the offense.
Watching his film from his high school days does seem to indicate that he should be comfortable with Loeffler’s sets. This play in particular—a run/pass option—shows that he does have good comprehension of a complex concept:
The reason he had to deal with so many innovative sets in high school had something to do with his coaches, as Bitter explains:
I know he put up big numbers in Austin, Texas, at Lake Travis High School, playing for current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris at one point. Texas high school football is no joke, so being successful at a place like that probably tells you something about his skill level. And to be a quarterback at Texas Tech, you'd got to chuck it around, so having an understanding of passing concepts is a must. The unknown comes from the fact that he's thrown 58 passes in actual games in the last three years. But again, it's not like the Hokies' roster is any more experienced.
He’ll only have a few weeks to adjust to Tech’s sets if he wants to really compete for the starting job, but if he can grasp plays like this one, he should be able to handle Loeffler’s scheme.
He may be at a disadvantage when it comes to the time he has to adjust to the offense, but his physical abilities, combined with his capacity for understanding complex schemes, should put him on more equal footing with Leal.
Leal could easily come into spring practice and blow everyone away with how much he’s improved, but if he shows any weakness, Brewer will be ready to step up.
Given the wide variety of quarterbacks on Tech’s roster, it’s impossible to grasp exactly how Brewer might fit in, but it seems like there’s a decent chance that he will be able to compete immediately.