BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring was spending time with his family at the beach this summer when he first realized the sort of spotlight his quarterback, Logan Thomas, would be under this season.
Watching ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Stinespring heard analysts anoint the redshirt junior as a potential top five pick in next year’s NFL draft and immediately grimaced. He joked with reporters in August that the mere mention of Thomas leaving school early had ruined his vacation.
What he knew, and what Virginia Tech’s coaches have acknowledged this week, was that implementing eight new starters on offense would present an entirely new challenge for the Hokies’ quarterback. After setting school records in his first year under center, Thomas has started slowly in 2012 partly because everything is “magnified” this year, according to play-caller Mike O’Cain.
“Right now, Logan has to be very good because we have to be, I don’t want to use the word perfect on offense, but we have to be pretty, pretty close to perfect on offense for things to work well,” he said.
“It puts more of a burden on him. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
So far, Thomas has looked uncomfortable assuming that role, completing just 54.2 percent of his passes. He also threw a career-worst three interceptions in the first half of a dispiriting loss at Pittsburgh last Saturday, part of a disastrous weekend that saw Virginia Tech (2-1) lose for the first time this season and fall out of the national rankings for the first time since losing to James Madison two years ago.
Thomas has reacted by seeking guidance from others ahead of Virginia Tech’s game against Bowling Green (1-2) on Saturday. O’Cain has reminded his pupil this week that “the best in the business, the guys that play on Sundays” go through rough patches. Thomas has also had a one-on-one conversation with Coach Frank Beamer, who insists “Logan is gonna be fine.”
In addition, Thomas sought advice from quarterback guru George Whitfield, whom he worked out with during spring break. Whitfield, who has previously trained Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that he reminded Thomas this week about footwork the two worked on in San Diego in April.
Nobody has panicked yet, either. After all, Thomas’s first five games last year were underwhelming but he still ended the season with 30 total touchdowns and 3,482 yards of total offense.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. At the same time, I have to let some of that pressure go because it’s not always my fault,” Thomas said. “Honestly, I think I had a little pressure on me just because it’s up to me to put the pieces together, I guess, and get everybody flowing in the right direction.”
Though Thomas has shown a penchant for overthrowing his receivers this year, he can’t be blamed for all of that. Gone are ACC player of the year David Wilson; record-setting wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale; and four fifth-year senior offensive linemen. The Hokies have yet to figure out where their replacements excel.
In particular, Virginia Tech’s revamped offensive line has struggled to push back opposing defensive lines or open running lanes for the Hokies committee of tailbacks, and it has left Thomas under duress.
He said this week he took two of the biggest hits of his career at Pittsburgh, and O’Cain insisted that two of Thomas’s three interceptions were the result of a strong pass rush. He called the experience “as tough a game . . . from a physical standpoint as he’s had since he’s been here.”
“There is more pressure because when you lose the production that we lost you have to shift it around,” O’Cain added. “It has to go to different places, and we haven’t had any one person or two people or three people or five people step up and take control of it.”
The good news is that the expectations haven’t changed Thomas much. Described as laid-back and goofy by teammates, Thomas is a homebody who has had the same girlfriend since high school. He talks openly about how hesitant he is to embrace the attention that has come his way since the offseason began.
But he can’t avoid it. After a lackluster showing through three quarters in Virginia Tech’s season-opening win over Georgia Tech, Thomas got on the sideline phone with Stinespring up in the coach’s box.
The offensive coordinator thought Thomas was trying to do too much, and attempted to lighten the mood. But even then, just before Thomas would lead the Hokies on a game-tying drive at the end of regulation, there was no getting around the weight Thomas now shoulders whenever he steps on the field.
“You don’t have to be Superman,” Stinespring told him. “You just have to know where the cape is and be close to a telephone booth.”