BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead gazed across the Lane Stadium concourse earlier this month, his attention piqued by the laughter coming from offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
Last season, Moorehead’s first as a full-time college assistant, also was his first experience working alongside Loeffler. And he constantly worried about him.
Loeffler seemed incapable of a good night’s sleep, the proof coming in frequent 3 a.m. text messages and e-mails staff members would have waiting for them upon waking up.
The long hours, Loeffler decided, were the only solution for an offensive predicament he now describes as a “mind-boggling state of challenge.”
So to see Loeffler smiling and joking a year later put Moorehead at ease.
“He’s got to figure out the QB situation, which has stressed him out a little, but he’s not as crazy,” Moorehead said. “This second year has allowed Scot to just relax a little. We all know he needs that and he knows he needs that.”
On Saturday, Loeffler cleared the last major hurdle of his second preseason at Virginia Tech when Coach Frank Beamer announced redshirt junior Michael Brewer would be the starting quarterback against William and Mary in the season opener next Saturday.
The decision ended a longer-than-expected battle between redshirt senior Mark Leal and Brewer, who transfered to Virginia Tech from Texas Tech in June because Loeffler sought more competition and more options than last season.
In a statement, Beamer called it “a very difficult choice” after he hoped to name a starter early in training camp.
Loeffler added that “both guys are going to be needed during the season.”
Regardless of who lines up under center, Loeffler’s reputation will depend on whether he can fix Virginia Tech’s dormant offense, the primary culprit behind the end of the program’s eight-year run of winning 10 or more games.
The Hokies are 15-11 the past two seasons despite fielding a top 20 defense both years.
Recently, Loeffler looked at tape from his initial practices in Blacksburg and said he “fell down and laughed.”
Last year, Loeffler set out to do several things: Re-establish Virginia Tech’s power rushing identity, develop then-senior Logan Thomas’s decision making as a passer and turn to his tight ends more.
Except all three principles fell by the wayside for various reasons throughout an 8-5 campaign. Among the reasons was a litany of training camp injuries, and Loeffler altered his entire scheme on the fly to utilize the available personnel.
“We relied so heavily on Logan last year,” Moorehead said. “If he played well, we won. If he didn’t play well, we didn’t.”
Virginia Tech finished the year ranked No. 101 in the country in total offense, a decline from the 2012 season.
Loeffler’s defense mechanism is to brush off the ups and downs of his career — he has tutored future NFL quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Chad Henne and Tim Tebow but is on his fourth job in five years — as part of coaching.
And yet he is quick to bring up the circumstances that were beyond his control, a response that also reveals how Loeffler dealt with them.
“Put your head down, grind it and good things will happen to people who do it right, I think,” Loeffler said earlier this month. “I think that’s how it works.”
But even with a quarterback battle brewing, Loeffler seemed more at peace speaking with reporters throughout August.
“I feel very comfortable systematically where we’re at,” Loeffler said.
Though Brewer will be making his first career college start next Saturday, training camp has proven he “has pieces Logan didn’t have last year,” Moorehead said.
There will be a cadre of talented tights ends to throw to, including junior Ryan Malleck and converted quarterback Bucky Hodges.
The wide receivers are more seasoned, with two players back who had more than 600 yards receiving last year — senior Willie Byrn and sophomore Josh Stanford — and a third (Demitri Knowles) who might be forced to an ancillary role with the emergence of freshmen Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips (DeMatha) over the past month.
The tailback rotation remains a mystery, but there are more options and more experience along the offensive line than the previous two seasons.
It’s no wonder that Loeffler is finally in a good mood again.
“You see us making plays in practice,” he said Saturday, “and that wasn’t necessarily the case last year at this time.”