MOBILE, Ala. - The fan who sat on the 40-yard line at Lane Stadium with a rum and coke and a critical eye prepared Logan Thomas for the scout who stood on the 40-yard line at Ladd-Peebles Stadium with a clipboard and a critical eye this week.
The Virginia Tech fan was amazed, then dismayed, exhilarated, then disgusted by the 6-foot-6 quarterback. The scouts here this week for The Senior Bowl have had the same run of emotions about Thomas.
Who are you, man? Pretender or contender?
“The scouts tell me I am very frustrating to watch,” Thomas said.
This is a make or break week for Thomas, who has been labeled as an inconsistent quarterback, but too athletic and skilled to be brushed off. He is confident he can be the next EJ Manuel, the Florida State quarterback who showed up here at the Senior Bowl in 2013 as a late second- or third-round pick, and performed so well he was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills.
There are plenty of doubts about Thomas, especially after two disjointed showings in practice this week.
In Monday’s workout, Thomas zipped passes on time and on target. He kept the ball high and used his superior height to thread balls into the hands of receivers. He is a drop-back passer, but Thomas showed he can escape the rush with his feet and still keep his eyes downfield.
On Tuesday, Thomas succumbed to a fierce wind. He tried to muscle balls through the gusts and his throws sailed or fluttered. He lost all the rhythm of Monday’s workout.
The draft explainers have no solution for the continued quandary over Thomas. A second-round steal or a guy that should be banished to the seventh round?
For many scouts, Thomas is worth a high-round risk. Just look at him. He measured in just a shade under 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. He can fling passes all over the field. He has an easy smile. He’s likable. If Thomas is the quarterback of your team, it is easy to see how players would rally around him.
But the balky mechanics give scouts pause. There are plays where Thomas drops back to pass and he holds the ball just above his hip, instead of keeping it shoulder high. The extra time to bring the ball up means a defensive back can jump his throws, or a charging defensive lineman can swipe a paw at the ball and knock it loose.
“The scouts say I do a lot of good things and then I come back and do some bad things,” Thomas said. “Maybe people say it is an excuse, but I think I am still very raw. The big thing I have been trying to fix is keeping the ball high and having a good lead leg. Those are the big things.”
Thomas came to Virginia Tech from Lynchburg, Va., as a tight end. He did not attend all the quarterback camps that high school players are sent to so he did not have that extra polish. Then again, he set a Virginia Tech record with 40 consecutive starts over his last three years in college. NFL personnel men insist a quarterback should not come to them without having started at least 30 college games.
The one thing Thomas does not need to fix is his presence in the huddle. Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach, whose staff is coaching the North squad, said he noticed Thomas’ huddle presence right away in the workouts.
There are some other strengths. Thomas played in various offensive systems at Virginia Tech and was exposed to the spread, west coach, and pro-style. He also seems to have a good feel for the body type of receivers and who can catch a quick slant on third-and-short, and who can’t.
But that bugaboo about consistency with his accuracy drags him down.
“I’ve got to stay accurate and throw good balls,” Thomas said after Tuesday’s workout. “Today I was throwing into that wind and it was just taking it. I couldn’t get adjusted to it and I was missing two feet long.”
Gil Brandt, the NFL draft analyst, has his doubts that Thomas will discover the consistency.
“I saw him two years ago against Georgia Tech in their opening game and he threw a ball into the end zone that a fan had more chance of catching,” Brandt said. “His completion percentage had dropped from his sophomore season to around 51 percent.
“You read all the time about how baseball coaches say they can take a guy with a good arm and wild and fix his mechanics. This is not the same. I think you are born with some degree of accuracy. You can’t take a quarterback who is not accurate and drastically change him.”
Brandt said the wind in Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice should not have been such a deterrent to Thomas’ accuracy.
“His hands are 10 ¾, the ball should spin out of their OK,” Brandt said.
Thomas, nevertheless, envisions himself as an NFL quarterback who will someday make consistent plays. He is working with a veteran quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield, and his confidence is soaring.
“I’m confident,” he said. “I understand how important this week is. It is more important than what I do at the Combine because they get to see you in the pocket, they get to see you in drills, and be a leader around the teammates.”
He thought back to his career at Virginia Tech and the calls for him to be benched. The impatient fan on the 40-yard line has become his ally, not his enemy.
“What I heard at Virginia Tech has prepared me for what I’m going to hear in the NFL,” Thomas said. “I got thrown under the bus some. Sometimes it wasn’t solely my fault, other times maybe it was. Ever since my sophomore year I have understood how it works around this position. People were asking for me to benched after my sophomore year.”