Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback has yet to be identified. When that decision is made, it can be reasonably assumed that that player – most likely Zach Pyron, Zach Gibson or Haynes King – will have revealed a high degree of toughness in the process.
Since becoming the interim coach four games into the 2022 season and in the months since becoming the full-time coach, coach Brent Key has made no secret of the importance he places on the trait. Further, not only did Key bring it up regarding the quarterback group in his remarks after the first day of spring practice March 13, but in the first days of spring practice so did new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.
“We start every meeting with that word,” said Weinke, the word being toughness. “I think a lot of people don’t relate toughness to the quarterback position. Since my playing days and since I started coaching, it’s always been the first word. I want smart, tough quarterbacks. Those guys show that every day.”
Said Faulkner, “The beautiful thing is coach Weinke and I agree on the same thing when you’re looking for a quarterback. You’re looking for a guy that’s the toughest guy on the field. Bottom line. He’s got to be extremely tough, got to be a great leader, all the intangibles.”
To Key, it is a term that covers a lot of ground, more than perhaps the most obvious concept of being physically durable. Toughness, for example, is not somebody that gets into fights, according to Key.
“Toughness is how you run to the football, how you carry out a fake on a (bootleg),” he said. “What are you doing on the sideline after you just went six plays – what are you doing with your teammates? What type of leadership are you showing around those guys? Do you have the ability to sustain through not just a practice but an entire spring?”
Perhaps no additional confirmation was needed regarding the value that Key has put on perseverance and diligence. But the fact that he is demanding toughness (in all its forms) out of the primary leadership position on the team is another signal of its priority and the identity that Key is trying to create for his team.
All three of the quarterbacks on the roster have demonstrated it in various ways. Pyron showed a willingness to run for tough yards on scrambles. After suffering a broken clavicle against Miami on such a run, he stayed in for one more play before giving way to Gibson. At Texas A&M, King revealed his endurance by playing through a shoulder injury suffered during the 2022 season and by earning honors from the team for his attitude, toughness and performance in the weight room.
Gibson demonstrated his mettle last year as he rebounded from underwhelming performances against Virginia and Florida State that led to him lose his spot to Pyron. In the game after Pyron’s season-ending injury, Gibson led the Jackets to their biggest win of the season, a road upset of then-No. 13 North Carolina.
While the Jackets are unusual in having three scholarship quarterbacks, their quarterback group is also unlike most in that Pyron (two career starts), Gibson (17, including 14 at Akron) and King (seven, all at Texas A&M) all have started at the FBS level. Key called it a blessing in disguise to have three quarterbacks and not more, as it can be difficult to run more than three offenses in a practice. (It’s possible that Tech could add a fourth quarterback after spring practice, although Key said “it’s got to be a good fit.”)
As he teaches his offensive scheme, Faulkner has made it easier for the quarterbacks and the rest of the offense by retaining much of the terminology that former coordinator Chip Long had used.
“We’ll carry over whatever makes sense, and then we’ll create new things,” Weinke said. “Obviously, Buster will have the final say in all of that, but I think the ability to be able to carry over some of those things – we all understand this offense is going to run through the quarterback, and the better understanding he has and his functional ability to be able to process information will be crucial in terms of our success in this offense.”
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Weinke said that he gives the three equal amounts of practice time. (Faulkner said that “I don’t see that changing anytime at all in the near future.”)
“The way I do it is, I don’t let them know when they’re getting the reps,” he said. “Each of them will get reps with the 1′s and the 2′s, and I want them to be able to come off the sideline and go in and operate a play.”
King, the transfer from Texas A&M, has picked up the offense quickly, Weinke said. The two had an existing relationship, as Weinke had recruited King out of high school when he was an assistant coach at Tennessee. Weinke, in fact, was the first coach that King’s father reached out to as his son was making plans to go into the transfer portal.
“He’s the son of a coach, so I think we always like those kids that are sons of coaches,” Weinke said. “He’s been around football his whole life. His football knowledge is really, really good. Obviously, (he has) been a starter in the SEC, he understands it. He’s really competitive. He’s athletic.”
Pyron perhaps made the biggest impression of the three with Tech fans by leading the Jackets to a 28-27 win at Virginia Tech, a game that the Jackets trailed 27-16 after three quarters. Pyron led the Jackets to fourth-quarter touchdowns on drives of 90 and 73 yards, finishing the second drive with a nine-yard scramble for a touchdown.
“Zach Pyron has come off of his surgery very nicely,” Weinke said.
With the institute on spring break this week, spring practice will resume next Monday, and the competition at quarterback with it.
“We have to set the expectation for the football team. We’ve got to show great leadership,” Weinke said. “We’ve got to be functional thinking but above all else, we’ve got to be mentally and physically tough.”