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Virginia Tech takeaways: Why Grant Wells won the QB job, injury updates and more

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Grant Wells built up a spring lead in Virginia Tech’s quarterback battle that he did not relinquish, as he was officially tabbed the Hokies’ starter Wednesday. Head coach Brent Pry made the announcement after practice, designating Jason Brown as the backup and praising Wells’ performance in the early portion of August camp.

“(He’s) had an exceptional camp, very accurate, great ball placement,” Pry said. “Just makes plays, big body, really was much better throwing the football this camp. … Puts in the extra, he’s a very coachable, a great student of the game, he’s getting better all the time. I’m just so impressed with the ball he throws. It makes it tough on the defense.”

Wells, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound redshirt junior, transferred in the offseason from Marshall, where he threw for 5,623 yards and 34 touchdowns with 23 interceptions in two years as a starter. He was the frontrunner from nearly the beginning at Tech, solidifying his standing with a strong spring in which he passed for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

Though the South Carolina transfer Brown closed the gap over the summer, he never surpassed Wells in any of the things the Hokies were looking for in a starter.

“At the end of the day, even though Jason was catching him and having a great summer and a great camp, Grant was a little bit ahead in all aspects of just overall command of the offense, understanding the offense,” quarterbacks coach Brad Glenn said. “Quick, intermediate and deep ball accuracy. He was just ahead of him in all of those. But like Coach said, us as a staff and our locker room, we feel good that we’ve got two really good quarterbacks.”

The coaches told the contenders for the job their decision earlier this week. Wells said he called his entire family together — including his father, a Virginia Tech graduate — in a group chat to break the news to them.

“It’s wild,” said Wells, whose dad has been his only personal quarterback coach in life. “I’ve only had two days to really think about that, but I’m sure that’ll sink in at some point. I don’t really know how to put that into words.”

Starting is nothing new for Wells, a Charleston, West Virginia, native who did it for two years at Marshall, earning first-team All-Conference USA honors as a freshman in 2020. He threw for 3,532 yards last year as a sophomore. Among his goals? Forcing the ball less. His 13 interceptions last year were tied for the most in Conference USA.

Grant Wells threw 34 TDs and 22 INTs at Marshall. (Stephen Lew / USA Today)

“That’s one thing come out of last year I knew I had to focus on in the offseason,” Wells said. “And just getting completions. Coach says it all the time: You never go broke making a profit. And whether it’s a 3-yard gain or a 60-yard gain, completions are really all that matters.”

To Glenn, Wells more than offsets that with everything he brings to the table, including a big arm and some accuracy on those deep throws that could well force Tech to alter its game planning.

“I think his No. 1 asset is his deep-ball accuracy,” Glenn said. “It’s nothing really that I’ve taught him. He came here with really good feel for throwing a deep ball, and when you’ve got a guy like that that you’ve got confidence in, you can take more shots.

“Usually it’s a really good rule of thumb, you like to take two or three deep shots a quarter. But with him it might be even more. And then we’ve got some guys outside we’re confident in throwing it to, and they’ve got good chemistry and that was built over the summer, so we feel good about our shots.”

Glenn called Wells the most accurate quarterback he’s coached, impressed by the placement of his passes. And while Wells wasn’t asked to run very much at Marshall, he possesses an understanding of the pocket that jumped out.

“He just has a knack, a sense of when to move and how to move and not bail too quick,” Glenn said. “A lot of guys that’s got decent running skills, they want to bail immediately. Well, he does a good job of that and hanging in the pocket and knowing when and when not to get out and then having little efficient movements with his feet. Those are the first two things that pop out when I think of comparing him to others.”

A native of Fredericksburg, Brown joined the Hokies at the same time as Wells. He spent one season with South Carolina, where he began as the third-team quarterback but started the final four games of the regular season. He led the Gamecocks to wins against Auburn and Florida and finished with 721 passing yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. He started his college career at Saint Francis (Pa.), an FCS school.

“It’s always tough when you’ve got to tell a guy who’s worked as hard as Jason has worked that he’s the backup,” Glenn said. “We did it a couple of days ago. We called Jason in first and he took the news like I thought he would. He was disappointed but he handled it like a pro, because he treats it like he’s a pro. Really proud of him from that standpoint. And there’s no doubt in my mind that he will help Grant.”

There hasn’t been a decision yet on the third-team quarterback, with Tahj Bullock and Devin Farrell still getting equal reps there.

Here are some more notes and quotes from Wednesday’s practice:

Malachi Thomas rushed for 440 yards as a freshman. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

1. The injury bug has hit the Hokies.

Pry is not one to be too open about injuries, but he gave some updates Wednesday:

• Wide receiver Dallan Wright is out for the year with an unspecified injury. Wright posted Tuesday on his Instagram a picture of himself from a hospital either just before or after surgery.

“We wish him the best,” Pry said. “He was really having a nice camp. I’m excited about his future. He’s in great spirits.”

Wright was expected to be among the players competing for snaps on the second team behind Kaleb Smith, Da’Wain Lofton and Jadan Blue. Pry mentioned UNC transfer Stephen Gosnell and Christian Moss as receivers who have stepped up from that second group.

• Running back Malachi Thomas suffered an unspecified injury that’s left him “week-by-week,” Pry said. The sophomore has been absent from the past three open practices the media has seen, dating back eight days.

“He’s in meetings, he’s in camp, he’s very involved, he’s getting treatment and rehab,” Pry said. “And I’m excited about the year Malachi could still have.”

Asked if that means Thomas could be ready for the Old Dominion opener, Pry said he wasn’t sure.

“We’ve got a couple weeks left,” Pry said. “Obviously we hope he could, but I’ll leave that up to the docs.”

• Pry said linebacker Keli Lawson is “unavailable right now.” Lawson was not at practice Wednesday.

• Blue is still out with what appears to be an ankle injury, though he was at practice Wednesday as an observer.

“He is getting better, he is on the mend, he’s receiving good treatment and I expect him back sooner than later,” Pry said.

2. The linebacker pairings lately seem to be trending toward Jaden Keller having a prominent role.

It was only one period Wednesday (and Lawson, who’s worked some at will, was out), but the mike-will linebacker pairings were as follows:

  • Dax Hollifield/Keller
  • Keshon Artis/Alan Tisdale
  • Will Johnson and Matt Johnson/Dean Ferguson

That’s several practices in a row where Keller, a redshirt freshman, has gotten plenty of looks at the will spot next to Hollifield. Pry even said Tisdale might get some looks at mike.

“I’m very impressed and development at the position,” Pry said. “I think Jadan Keller and Keli Lawson have both done a great job. They are making us feel better and better all the time about what we can put out at that spot. Alan Tisdale is obviously in the mix, we got Tisdale playing some will, we may start looking at him at mike a little bit. As I’ve mentioned before, these guys learning two spots to create depth and flexibility.”

3. There’s a competition going on at one of the offensive guard spots.

Pry said he’s shooting to at least go six- or seven-deep on the offensive line, adding that he feels good about a starting five while nothing that there’s a “good competition” at one of the guard positions.

That’s likely the left guard spot because Kaden Moore is among the Hokies’ best players on the right side. Fourth-year player Jesse Hanson has worked with the first team at left guard since the spring, but the Hokies moved true freshman Braelin Moore (Kaden’s younger brother) to the offensive line after spring ball.

“He’s smart for a young guy,” Pry said. “He’s mature, he’s talented. I think it was absolutely the right thing moving him over to the offensive line. He’s got traits that say D-tackle, but he’s positioned himself. He’s in the conversation for playing time.”

4. Tech will get more into Old Dominion prep next week.

The Hokies have a full scrimmage Saturday that will be more situational than anything. Pry said he’ll see where the team is before deciding if it’s full-contact or more “tag off.”

There will be a portion of it that’s live in good situations that we need,” he said. “We will start to pull back a little back on some guys that are a little more proven and get some of these other guys that we are talking about, these depth guys that are coming on, get them some substantial reps.”

Next Tuesday, game prep for the team’s Sept. 2 opener at ODU will start.

We are really concentrating on us right now,” Pry said. “Some of the analysts and GAs have taken on some projects related to Old Dominion and to really across the board our opponents in the first half of the season, some offseason projects they are finishing up. But as far as our players and main focus, it’s all about us right now.”

(Top photo: Courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)

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