Some may see it differently but heading into spring the depth chart for quarterback appears to be pretty clear. When healthy, Josh Nesbitt is the best QB on the team and probably the most dynamic player on the field. Jaybo Shaw showed last year that even as a true freshman, he could handle the backup role respectably. Though he still has a lot of room to improve, having a year of experience under his belt will give him more confidence next season and so will an improved physique. Jaybo's experience in a similar offense in high school gave him a leg up last year on Tevin Washington, who was the other freshman QB on campus for the 2008 season. This spring we will get to see what kinds of strides Tevin has made since last fall when we last saw him in practice.
The quarterback position stands out as the main position fans will tend to quickly fall in love with the backup. That should not be the case with Nesbitt. He has demonstrated what he's capable of on the field and his performance can be stacked up against any quarterback Tech has trotted out in years. Though there is room for improvement in his passing game, Josh is a super general in Coach Paul Johnson's offense. He runs with authority and makes great decisions with the ball – decisions that have led to many long plays.
Despite missing two games in 2008 with a hamstring injury, Nesbitt turned in the second most rushing yards in a season by a GT quarterback. His 693 yards is eclipsed only by Joe Hamilton's 734 yards in 1999. His seven rushing touchdowns put him in a tie for second all-time for Tech quarterbacks. Though Jonathan Dwyer led the ACC with his 110.7 yards per game, Nesbitt was eighth with 63.0 yards per game.
Nesbitt broke Reggie Ball's single game rushing record last season. Reggie rolled up 130 yards against Troy in 2006. Not only was Josh's 151 yards enough to jump over the Tech record, it was done against Virginia Tech.
Should Nesbitt, a rising junior, have two more seasons similar to last season then he'll become the Tech career leading quarterback in both rushing yards and touchdowns – knocking off some names Tech fans are very fond of. Josh is currently 726 yards rushing behind Joe Hamilton and 12 touchdowns behind Shawn Jones.
Before being put in the same breath as those two legendary Tech quarterbacks though, Josh will likely have to figure out how to improve on his performances in the passing game. In nearly 100 fewer passing attempts last year, Jaybo threw for the same number of touchdowns as did Nesbitt – 2. Additionally, a 43.9 completion percentage is not going to cause teams to fear the passing game. Tech opponents' completion percentage against GT was 59.3% just to give sense for how it needs to improve. If teams cannot stop the run, then fine, Tech coaches will continue to run and run. At some point, in order to be a championship team though, I get the sense that the passing game will need improvement and that starts with Nesbitt. So spring will be interesting in terms of tracking his progress through the air. If Josh can make big strides there, the potential for this offense is to be one of, if not the, best in the country.
As for the backups, though Shaw is not the runner Nesbitt is, he has shown some ability in the passing game. It's a small sample size but Jaybo is 15-for-24 (62.5 completion percentage) with two touchdowns on the year. College football uses the Passing Efficiency rating as a metric. Shaw's rating is 194.0 versus Josh's 96.3.
Shaw wasn't the official starter for the Mississippi game last season but when Nesbitt injured his hamstring in the first series, Shaw played the rest of that game and started the Duke game after that. With Shaw at the helm, Tech finished with decisive victories over both teams. Tech won 38-7 against MSU and 27-0 versus Duke. Shaw ran for 61 and a score against MSU and threw for just 43 yards but tacked on another TD in the air to Demaryius Thomas. Against Duke Jaybo threw for 230 yards (a GT record for a QB in his first official start) and rushed for 13 – again scoring one on the ground and one in the air (an 88-yarder to Thomas). The 230 yard passing performance was easily tops for the Yellow Jackets last season. The next most was Booker's 120 yards against Gardner-Webb. Bebe did very well with Jaybo at the helm. All 230 of Shaw's passing yards in the Duke game were to Thomas (He had 627 total receiving yards on the year). And Bebe scored 2 of his season total 3 receiving TDs from the hand of Shaw in that 2-game stretch.
Thanks to a head injury and the return of a healthy Josh Nesbitt, Shaw was back to the bench. He did not play in the next three games and struggled at times when he did see game action. His one pass against Florida State was an interception. He also had trouble moving the ball on the ground averaging 2.8 yards per carry on 75 rushes. In a key moment from the Tech-Georgia game, Nesbitt had to leave the game briefly with a 38-35 lead due to an injury. Tech seemed to tighten up and Georgia defenders appeared to see the injury as an opportunity to turn the momentum back their way. Jaybo was stopped on a couple of one yard runs but did manage to make a few good choices running the option. He moved the chains once and gave Josh enough time to return to the game. Nesbitt answered with a sweep right to Roddy Jones that went for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Tevin Washington is the third quarterback to watch this coming spring. We really don't know much about what he's going to bring. He didn't standout well initially and many fans suspected he was heading for a position change before next season. It's still a possibility but not at this time. Not only does it make sense to keep three quarterbacks on the roster for spring, the coaches on signing day were very positive about his abilities in this offense and stated that he had made a lot of progress. They suggested he was very capable of pushing his way up the depth chart in spring. Despite the praise from coaches, it will be an important few weeks of practice for Tevin. He needs to demonstrate that he can be part of the future plans at quarterback. With two other highly-touted athletic quarterbacks entering in fall, he'll soon have challenges to his place on the depth chart as he's attempting to do to Nesbitt and Shaw this spring. Tevin is a good enough athlete to find a role elsewhere on the field but it would be beneficial for Tech if he could claim one of the top three QB spots by game one next season so that Luallen and Sims can be redshirted and given time to grow and learn the offense. This spring will be as important to Washington's future as just about any other Tech offensive player.
Current Depth Chart:
Review, Preview, and Predictions:
Overall spring results left the pecking order at quarterback much as it was going into the camp. Nesbitt maintained his death grip on the starting role while Shaw held serve in regards to Washington despite some pretty good flashes from Tevin.
The conversation going into spring was how would Nesbitt improve his passing game and would the team install more passing into the offense versus their propensity to run all of the time.
The short answer to both is no. But it's not to say that Nesbitt didn't work on his game or the team didn't pass the ball around some, but I think what you saw last year is what you're getting – no bones about it. Instead of trying to improve aspects of the offense, like passing, Coach Johnson is hoping to improve the overall offensive efficiency and limit bad plays. Johnson said last week, "I'm hoping we'll have a much better understanding and get ourselves in better plays."
My pre-spring concerns over Nesbitt's completion percentages weren't dispelled by further comments from the coach. We'll remain a running offense and passing will mostly be a function of keeping the defense honest. So that will mean less of a short-game and more shots down the field to keep tacklers away from the line of scrimmage.
Coach Johnson explained when asked what he did to improve the short passing game, "The same thing we worked on last year. I didn't notice it being a whole lot better. We'll see this fall. We're not going to win throwing the ball three yards. If I want to gain three yards, I'll give it to the running back. If we throw it we'll try for big plays and getting it downfield. Therefore, you're probably not going to complete 65 or 70% of your throws. The number I'm more inclined to look at is the passing efficiency numbers. If we throw the ball for 140-150 yards per game, we'll be pretty good."
My first prediction is that Nesbitt will improve on his 43.9 completion percentage from last season but that he'll still end the season under 50 percent. Coach Johnson wants to see a better passing efficiency and I think he'll get his wish there. As good as Nesbitt can be, there really is a lot of room for that metric to improve. Passing efficiency considers completion percentage – which I don't think will appreciably improve, but it also factors yards, touchdowns and interceptions. I'm doubtful that we'll average the 150 yards in the air per game but Nesbitt should be able to improve on his 808 yards in 2008. The two touchdowns to five interceptions from 2008 are likely to improve as well. I'm thinking opposing defenses will cause Tech to attempt more passes in the coming season. A more efficient Josh could see the picks stay around five with the increased attempts but I think he'll throw several more into the end zone as well. The team threw only five touchdowns all last year, I say Josh bests that and gets six this year. Josh will continue to showcase his value though by his decision-making in this offense and his super skills in the ground game.
Jaybo Shaw is what I like to see in a backup in this offense. He's familiar with the offense, tough and fearless and will give the team a chance to win. Tevin Washington also proved that he could be a productive quarterback. He was a pleasant surprise this spring after not getting to see much of him last fall. Washington is one of the smoothest open field runners on the team and he has good straight ahead speed. If not for the redshirt, Tevin would have seen the field some last season. When Coach Johnson was asked about redshirt players he may have been tempted to use last year he said, "We could probably use Tevin [Washington] after the first two quarterbacks got hurt, but it wasn't fair to him."
Shaw and Washington saw nearly all of the action at quarterback in the spring game. Nesbitt was out as a precaution with a minor injury, so the two backups ran the white and gold offenses. Tevin's Gold squad pulled out the win despite a late rally from Shaw's White squad. Each QBs was responsible for three touchdowns. Tevin had the only one through the air. In fact, he stepped up with some pretty good numbers through the air: 7-for-10 for 167 yards, to go along with 43 yards on the ground. Shaw moved the ball well too with 263 yards of total offense.
Overall the coaches were impressed with Washington this spring. The biggest concern is not his passing game – he made good strides there, it's his excessive fumbles. Shaw needs to keep an eye on that as well and both need to make sure they continue to improve on all of the exchanges in the running game. The spring game ended with a combined eight fumbles, which is not going to be acceptable for the coaching staff.
Having two backups this coming season shouldn't be an issue now. I predict Shaw and Washington will serve those roles this coming season. The incoming QBs will have a tough time earning their way up the depth chart in such a short time – as was the case with Washington last year. David Sims is thought to be the rawer of the two incoming guys, so he'll most surely need a year in the system. Jordan Luallen could present more of a challenge he even understands that nothing is promised – even from top prospects – and that he'll really have to earn it.
Jordan told Rod Mackenzie last week, "Coach Johnson and Coach Bohannon have both told me that it's up to me. It's about what I do when I get out on the field. They're not going to promise anything and I don't expect them to at all. I wouldn't want to come to a place where they did. I want to work my hardest and earn what I get. They told me they're going to play the best players so if I happen to be one of those and I come out and do something good during camp and do better than one of the other quarterbacks then I will. They haven't indicated whether they'll redshirt me or not. It's up to how I do in training camp to see where I go."
Overall I see the depth chart looking the same as it is now with Nesbitt starting followed by Shaw and Washington. Coaches will be much more comfortable trotting out those two as backups versus some of the issue Tech ran up against last year when the injury bug hit and they had to lean on Bryce Dykes and Calvin Booker. I think we'll see much of the same for this offense – a heavy dose of running with a vertical passing game to keep defenses honest. Nesbitt won't all of a sudden be Matt Ryan but with a year under his belt in this system, he'll be more efficient. Signs seem to point to an even more positive outlook for this position versus last season and that may not be good for the rest of the ACC.