Modest QB group sees plenty of reps
JONESBORO — While Arkansas State University’s scarce collection of 17 offensive linemen has been a limiting factor in spring camp, less is proving more for the Red Wolves’ quarterbacks.
ASU has only three quarterbacks on its spring roster in redshirt junior Layne Hatcher, sophomore transfer Brady Martin and freshman spring enrollee Wyatt Begeal. Hatcher is expected to step into the starting role full time in 2021 after sharing snaps with Logan Bonner last fall, and behind him are a pair of signal callers with zero snaps between them at the college level.
ASU plans to add to its quarterback room before fall camp begins in late summer, but for now, the thin position group is a benefit as the Red Wolves’ quarterbacks settle a changed offense under firstyear Coach Butch Jones.
“Three quarterbacks is actually good in terms of maximizing their opportunities and maximizing their repetitions,” Jones said. “You’d like a couple more, but on the positive side of it, they’re able to maximize their opportunities.”
Hatcher threw 19 touchdowns to two interceptions in 2020 when ASU finished second in the nation in passing yards per game (364.4), and the 6-0 quarterback from Pulaski Academy is adjusting to new duties in 2021.
The expanded playbook introduced this offseason by Jones and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf includes pre-snap motions, shifts and checks at the line of scrimmage that Red Wolves quarterbacks were not responsible for under Blake Anderson. Stepping into the role of the lone starter this spring, Hatcher is now also tasked with learning to make on-field adjustments, diagnosing defenses and searching for holes before the ball is snapped.
“We’re going to ask more of [Layne] than he’s ever been asked before in terms of protections and calling protections at the line of scrimmage, and run checks, as well,” Jones said. “”We all know he’s a very intelligent young man. We’re asking more of him in the cerebral aspect of getting us into the proper plays at the line of scrimmage.”
Hatcher has more to think about this spring and is gradually adapting to his new responsibilities by transferring work off the field onto it when he’s away from the Centennial Bank Stadium turf.
Hatcher has three different strategies for learning to read the game the way that Jones and Heckendorf need. On film, he studies the tendencies and ticks of opposing defenses. In the diagrams he scribbles down, he looks for holes and advantages to exploit. And at home each night, he walks through and visualizes different reads and checks that might emerge.
“I try to go through every possible situation,” Hatcher. “I feel like that gives me a pretty good chance of getting it right on the field.
The new approach has changed Hatcher’s outlook on the quarterback position. Previously, he focused on conceptual advantages such as route running and play calling to attack defenses. Now, he’s developing an eye for finding space in an opposing defense and diagnosing advantages from the line of scrimmage.
“It’s just a new perspective for me,” Hatcher said. “We’re taking it to another level with space and presnap alignment. It’s about seeing a yard here or there that’s going to give you an advantage and getting a better idea about what they’re doing defensively.”
Begeal joined the Red Wolves as an early enrollee and is already flashing his potential this spring. Jones cited Begeal’s maturity and “leadership capability” as qualities that have shined through despite him missing a week of camp due to covid-19.
Begeal’s arm strength is among the attributes that made him a three-star recruit per 247Sports. com, and he’s used his opportunities this spring to flash his deep ball ability as well as the speed he brings as a dual-threat quarterback.
“He’s a really talented guy,” Hatcher said. “A really athletic guy. There’s always going to be ups and downs to fight. He’s got all the talent. Just give him time and I think he’ll be something special.”
Jones said earlier this month that the Red Wolves could add as many as five players to their roster before fall camp, and expected among the additions is Florida State transfer James Blackman.
Blackman, 6-5, from South Bay, Fla. threw for 5,445 yards with 43 touchdowns and 26 interceptions across four seasons with the Seminoles. He entered the transfer portal in November before announcing his commitment to ASU on Jan. 29, but has yet to join the program.
Arriving in the summer will offer him a short window to grasp the Red Wolves’ offense, but with Power 5 experience and two years of eligibility remaining, Blackman may challenge the starting job in ASU’s new-look offense come the fall.