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Top underclassmen: Logan Thomas highlights quarterbacks
By Chad Reuter
Published: Aug. 26, 2012 at 05:44 p.m.
Updated: Aug. 30, 2012 at 04:00 p.m.
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Dave Martin / Associated Press
Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is the sort of multi-threat QB who can make defensive coordinators cringe.
» Offense: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers/tight ends | Linemen
» Defense: Linemen/linebackers | Defensive backs
College: Virginia Tech
Height: 6-6 Weight: 262
Most recruiting services identified Thomas as a tight end prospect when he was coming out of high school because of his size and athleticism; he even caught a two-yard touchdown pass as a receiver against Wake Forest in 2010. But he showed so much promise as a sophomore passer that he'll never play any other position at Virginia Tech -- or anywhere else, for that matter.
He redshirted his freshman season, then threw just 26 passes in 2010 as the backup to Tyrod Taylor. Once Taylor moved on to the Baltimore Ravens, Thomas took control of the offense. The 2011 second-team All-ACC pick completed just short of 60 percent of his passes (59.8) for more than 3,000 yards and 19 scores. He also ran for 11 touchdowns while starting all 14 of the Hokies' contests. Though Thomas couldn't break former NFL quarterback Don Strock's single-season passing records at the school, he did eclipse Taylor's Va. Tech record for total offense. Thomas' best game last season came in a win over Miami; he earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors by completing 23 of his 25 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns.
Strengths: Has prototype size for the position, which helps him see the field well. Operates from under center and out of the shotgun formation. Gets the ball out of his hand quickly, whether snapping off a slant or throwing into the teeth of the blitz. Even when his feet are not set, he can unload accurately. Changes arm slots to deliver when needed. Flashes excellent accuracy and good anticipation to lead his receiver before he makes his break. He has very good arm strength and can throw out routes effectively across the field. Sails the ball 40 yards down the field without a lot of effort and with enough touch that receivers can run underneath it. Resets his feet and delivers strikes on roll-out plays; he can also pull the ball down after pumping to one or two targets. A very good athlete who can adjust to poor shotgun snaps and run the read option (as a quick yet punishing ball carrier); he also bootlegs effectively. Makes some calls at the line to change protection scheme. Willing to throw the ball in the stands or on the ground instead of turning it over.
Weaknesses: Believes in his arm too much at times. Tries to fit in passes where better defenders would be able to make a play. Will tuck-and-run quickly if his initial target is covered, even in long-yardage situations; needs to find secondary options and check-downs when possible. A bit of a strider running in the open field and in bootlegs, he would be tracked down more easily by elite-level defenders. He must carry out handoffs from under center with consistent urgency.
NFL comparison: Cam Newton
Bottom line: Thomas is a big-bodied physical specimen with the arm strength to stretch defenses vertically and the running ability to make defensive coordinators cringe. Those who thought 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton had to get much better as a passer might think the same about Thomas, but his ability to make throws to all levels of a defense and his potential as a pass-run playmaker are too strong to ignore.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 211
Many high school quarterbacks become top college recruits by throwing for tons of yards and leading their teams to state championships. But few overcome a broken leg to win the semifinal and championship games -- in the talent-rich state of Florida, no less. Murray did just that, helping Plant High School (where he teamed up with former Bulldog tight end and current Cincinnati Bengals rookie Orson Charles) win that coveted title by beating the odds and rehabbing his broken left fibula.
He graduated from Plant a semester early to join the Bulldogs for spring 2009 practices, then redshirted for that season -- a decision that paid dividends the following year. Murray earned numerous freshman honors and was the team's MVP after starting all 13 games and throwing for 3,049 yards and 24 touchdowns (while tossing just eight interceptions). However, the team had a disappointing 6-7 finish (which included a bowl loss to Central Florida). In Murray's second year at the helm, the Bulldogs went 10-4, helping him garner second-team All-SEC honors after racking up 3,149 passing yards and 35 TDs to 14 picks. Murray did have a relatively high interception total and coughed up eight fumbles, and Georgia had a hard time beating better teams in 2011 (their losses came to Boise State, South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State), so Murray still has plenty to improve on.
Strengths: Murray is a pro-style quarterback who regularly throws from the shotgun, but also excels on movement plays from under center. He uses a solid setup and active -- not happy -- feet when in the pocket to stay in rhythm. Steps up into the pocket to unload downfield. Snaps off throws to any part of the field with a very quick over-the-top delivery. Already has the back-shoulder throw down, which is tough for defenders to stop when receivers are on their game. Looks off linebackers and safeties before throwing to his primary read. Recognizes blitzes well. Directs receivers on broken plays and when he knows the defense has bitten on play action; shows the touch to hit receivers behind defenders off his back foot. Possesses patience, anticipation and plenty of arm strength to hit open receivers in tight windows over the middle. Flashes a pretty deep ball that leads the receiver in stride, with deft touch and a tight spiral. Shows presence of mind and athleticism to spin away from trouble in the pocket and unload the ball to a target while being brought down in the backfield. Able to throw short and intermediate routes on the run, whether on a bootleg or when scrambling. Excellent play-fake sells stun defenses and open up the secondary. He tests man defenses with his feet, and can run for a first down when defenders are staring at their receivers.
Weaknesses: Below-average height and overall strength for the position sometimes prevent him from finding receivers in collapsing pockets or escaping strong rushers in the backfield. He lacks the elite arm to put the deep ball on the sideline, and he trusts his receivers to win jump balls downfield more than he should. Pass velocity falls off when his feet are not set; throws on the run can come up well short. Ball security an issue; Murray fails to tuck the ball away (or simply lacks the strength to hang on) when running in the open field or scrambling out of the pocket.
NFL comparison: Tony Romo
Bottom line: Murray's less-than-ideal size might worry some, and he must reduce his turnovers to become an elite prospect. But when he and his receivers are on the same page, he displays the intelligence and agility to run an efficient movement offense, and enough arm strength to hit targets all over the field. Add in the toughness that allowed Murray to bounce back from the broken leg, and you've got a quarterback with great potential.
Height: 6-6 Weight: 213
Bray left his California high school halfway through his senior season as an early graduate, but was only in Knoxville for a short time before head coach Lane Kiffin decided to head west for USC. Despite the sudden change, he stuck it out under new coach Derek Dooley -- and made an immediate impact. After receiving a bit of playing time in blowouts (in either direction) over the first two months of his freshman year, Bray took over for Matt Simms during the team's loss to South Carolina. He led the team to a 4-1 record in the remaining five games (with four 300-yard passing performances) and to an unexpected Music City Bowl berth against North Carolina.
Bray looked to be building upon that success early in 2011. Tennessee won three of its first four games with him at the helm, including a 45-23 victory over Cincinnati that saw him throw for 405 yards and score four touchdowns. Bray set the school record for touchdown passes in the first four games of the year with 14, breaking Peyton Manning's mark of 12. But he fractured his right thumb against Georgia and missed five games. Bray made it back for the season's final two contests, but wasn't quite the same, completing just 31 of his 71 passes (44 percent) with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Strengths: A great pocket passer in the making, he should only get better with experience. Uses his height to survey the field effectively, yet easily handles low shotgun snaps. Possesses elite arm strength, makes every throw and can beat even the most aware defenders to the spot with a tight spiral. Even if leaning backward, he can fling the ball accurately to spots where his receivers can make a play. Very accurate to either side of the field on out or seam routes, Bray can lead receivers and shows some anticipation to throw them open. Flashes the ability to step into the pocket to avoid outside rushers. He can change his arm slot when needed to deliver the ball accurately and on time.
Weaknesses: Lean build and only average athleticism for the position; he has enough mobility to move outside the pocket but won't pick up a ton of yards when plays break down. Accuracy is inconsistent on the move; he hits shorter passes between the hashes, but on other throws, he sails the ball or throws behind his man if he's unable to reset his feet. A bit leggy due to his height, he has a long drop; his footwork within the pocket and after taking the snap from center could be tightened up. Trusting his arm (and his receivers) too much at times, he will throw into coverage with unnecessary risk. Did not stay healthy in his only season as a starter.
NFL comparison: Kyle Orton
Bottom line: Despite missing half of 2011 with a broken right (throwing) thumb, Bray showed potential as a tall and lean distributor of the ball from the pocket who will challenge even the tightest coverage from cornerbacks. He is not a great athlete, even for a quarterback, but his rocket arm should endear him to coaches who favor the quick-strike passing game. If he's healthy enough, Bray could team up with his group of talented receivers for a big season in 2012.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter.