In 2011, quarterback Logan Thomas put together one of the best seasons for a quarterback in recent memory. He shook off a poor start to perform nearly flawlessly down the stretch while leading the Hokies to the Sugar Bowl.
Last season, everything fell off a cliff. Thomas lost his confidence and his accuracy and the Hokies lost six games because of it. Can he regain that 2011 form in his senior season? If only we could say for sure.
Just by watching Thomas last season, you tell he wasn't playing up to expectations. The statistics backed it up across the board. Last season, compared to 2011, Thomas completed just 51.2% of his passes (compared to 59.8%), threw for 37 less yards, threw one less touchdown, six more interceptions, and was sacked eight more times.
After a year of regression like that, coach Frank Beamer did the most sensible thing - he went out and hired a quarterback guru to take over the reigns. Scot Loeffler, who was unsuccessful in one season at teetering-on-the-edge-of-destruction Auburn, was hired to turn things around. You can safely throw out the season on the Plains, as Gene Chizik and the rest of the program were floundering from day one.
Aside from that, Loeffler has been very successful in stops at Temple, Florida, and Michigan. He's been endorsed by nearly everyone who has ever played for him, including Thomas, who reportedly told recent QB commit Andrew Ford he has learned more in three months under Loeffler than he did in the previous three years, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times. If that's the case, things must be looking up for Thomas.
Throughout spring practice, Thomas learned the playbook, worked on his technique, and grew comfortable with Loeffler. We may not know how Thomas will play in 2013, but we know Loeffler is demanding exactly what it takes to be successful.
Everyone has circled the season opener against Alabama as the biggest game of Thomas' senior season. That game will be a key indicator in what we can expect the rest of the season from Thomas. I disagree. The Alabama game is merely a stiff test to gauge progress early in the season. Thomas could play well against that defense of future first round NFL Draft picks and his confidence will soar.
However, Thomas could also play poorly there and recover against the weaker competition the Hokies face the rest of the year. Let's take a look at the key defensive statistics from last season for weeks following the 'Bama game.
Alabama: No. 1 total defense, No. 7 pass defense, No. 28 sacks Western Carolina: FCS East Carolina: No. 87 total defense, No. 107 pass defense, No. 59 sacks Marshall: No. 101 total defense, No. 91 pass defense, No. 87 sacks Georgia Tech: No. 43 total defense, No. 58 pass defense, No. 59 sacks
So maybe Thomas plays poorly against the top program of the last decade and the Hokies lose 34-10, but with four generally weak defenses following, Thomas could regain his confidence. You can bet Thomas is preparing to play well against the Crimson Tide, but it will likely be how he responds afterwards that decides his performance in 2013.
The other thing that will decide how he performs in 2013 may not be directly related to himself either. Loeffler will fix Thomas' technique and fundamentals and make him into a better quarterback. I am confident in that. However, it's the talent surrounding him that may eventually hold him back.
Between 2011 and 2012, Thomas lost the top two statistical receivers in school history and one of the all-time great running backs. Losing that much production is going to cause a drop-off in performance at just about every school in the country. The key is to get it back as soon as possible, which for the Hokies is early in 2013. Thomas needs a running game to take the pressure off of him and receivers like D.J. Coles, Demitri Knowles, and Joshua Stanford to step out and make plays downfield.
In short, the play of Thomas in 2013 will depend more on the development of the players around him offensively than on his ability to plant his foot correctly or throw from a balanced base. I'll have more on those players around him later, but the potential is certainly there for Thomas to make the leap back to 2011 form.
If he does that, look for the draft experts to shoot him back into the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.