Countdown to Kickoff: 56 Days
As the 100 Days to Kickoff series nears the midway point, this week will feature a series of position previews across the roster. These articles will go position-by-position to look at players that have departed, players that return from a year ago, new faces at the position, and the overall outlook for the 2017 season. The overall goal is to examine what the depth chart will look like next season and look at realistic expectations for each position group.
The post-Justin Thomas era is well underway, but seven months in, his successor has yet to be named. That’s not necessarily surprising—replacing one of the best quarterbacks in team history is hardly a simple task for any school. On the bright side, a fierce offseason competition has left Tech with multiple players who seem capable of taking the reins in the season opener.
Some little guy named Justin is gone. How hard could it be to replace him?
Five quarterbacks return from a year ago. The only one on the roster with any significant experience is Matthew Jordan, a redshirt junior who has been Thomas’s primary backup for the past two seasons. During that span, Jordan has primarily served as the short-yardage quarterback, but he has also seen heavy action in two games: the 2015 contest at Miami, where he (understandably) struggled in a rain-soaked 38-21 loss, and the 2016 game at then-No. 18 Virginia Tech, where he racked up 121 yards and two scores on the ground as he guided the Jackets to a surprising 30-20 victory. Jordan is the biggest of the quarterbacks and is well-suited for gaining tough yards inside, but he has work to do in the passing game and the perimeter option game.
Junior TaQuon Marshall served as the third-string quarterback last season after lining up at A-back in 2015. He only saw action in garbage time early in the season, but while he remains fairly untested in game situations, he has a year of practice at quarterback under his belt (plus this year’s spring camp). In terms of size and skillset, Marshall is the closest thing to Thomas on the roster, but he still has to improve his decision-making on option reads.
The other two returning scholarship quarterbacks are redshirt freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones. Both sat out last season and saw action in the April spring game, in which both broke off long runs early in the game. Johnson’s main edge is his passing ability—he has the most accurate arm of the bunch and good throwing power as well—but Jones has a cannon of his own.
The last player in the mix is redshirt junior Chase Martenson, a former walk-on. Martenson is the most seasoned quarterback on the roster; this is his fourth season practicing at quarterback, while his classmate Jordan spent the spring and summer of 2015 at A-back before returning to QB after Tim Byerly’s injury. It’s unlikely that Martenson will move ahead of the other four players, but he’ll get a chance to compete.
The lone new quarterback on the roster is Tobias Oliver, a true freshman and three-star signee from Northside High in Warner Robins, GA. Oliver is all but guaranteed to redshirt this season; setting aside the current depth at the position, the only true freshman to line up at quarterback for Tech under Paul Johnson was Jaybo Shaw in 2008, Johnson’s first season.
What to Expect
Two weeks ago, From the Rumble Seat presented separate cases for the top four quarterbacks to start. In summary:
- Jordan brings the most experience and would open up the midline option game, something that was missing under Thomas;
- Marshall is a quick, agile runner who has had plenty of reps with the first-team offense this spring;
- Johnson is a gifted passer with great open-field speed who has already shown an aptitude for making option reads;
- and Jones is the biggest home run threat on the ground, flashing game-breaking speed in the spring game while playing on an injured ankle.
Midway through spring practice, the job appeared to be Jordan’s to lose, but the redshirt junior suffered a foot injury that could keep him out past the start of fall camp. If he’s healthy by mid-August and shows little or no rust, expect him to start in the season opener on Labor Day as planned.
If not... things become more complicated. Marshall held the No. 1 quarterback job for the latter part of spring practice, but Jones outperformed him in the spring game and Johnson had a strong performance for the opposite squad. At this stage, it may well be a virtual tie between the three of them.
How the offense looks will depend on who is at the helm. A Jordan-led offense would focus heavily on B-back runs, QB keepers, and midline option plays—in essence, it would be a throwback to the Josh Nesbitt era. If Marshall or Jones wins out, the offense would be a somewhat simpler version of what the team has run for the past three seasons with Justin Thomas. If Johnson takes the helm, expect something more balanced, with a perimeter-heavy playbook that sprinkles in some midline option plays.
What seems almost inevitable is that either this season or next season, one of the four candidates will move to a new position. Guessing who will move where is largely speculation, but if Paul Johnson feels confident in the two redshirt freshmen as backups—which seems to be the case—then Marshall could return to A-back, the position he played as a true freshman. Given his experience, he could jump into the primary A-back rotation right away. If Marshall pulls comfortably ahead of the freshmen in fall camp and Oliver shows promise, either Jones or Lucas Johnson could end up moving.
Projected Depth Chart
Assuming all four players remain at quarterback this season:
1. Matthew Jordan (RS Jr.)
2. TaQuon Marshall (Jr.)
3A. Lucas Johnson (RS Fr.)
3B. Jay Jones (RS Fr.)