On Wednesday morning, Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall ended weeks of speculation by naming Kurt Benkert his starting quarterback. Benkert, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, won the job over incumbent Matt Johns and last year’s back-up Connor Brewer.
As a Pirate at ECU, Benkert completed 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards with an interception—all in 2014. He also rushed 5 times for 23 yards and two touchdowns. All of this action came as a backup under the prolific Shane Carden. Kurt Benkert was slated to take over during the 2015 season following the graduation of Carden. However, his season ended before it even started, as he suffered a knee injury and missed the entire year.
At the conclusion of the spring, returners Matt Johns and Connor Brewer were in a deadlock for the starting job. Benkert joined the team this summer for camp and entered the competition. Benkert was given a majority of the reps to provide a larger sample size to compare to Johns and Brewer, who had already been evaluated throughout the spring.
Mendenhall said that ultimately, Benkert’s ability to drive the team down the field gave him the edge. In a press conference on Wednesday, Coach Mendenhall said, “I’ve really been impressed with how he’s moved the team. When I look at a quarterback, what I look first and foremost for is, ‘Do they move the team into the end zone?’ And Kurt has been the one who has consistently and can continue to be consistent in terms of moving our team regardless of the type and caliber of opponent we play. He’s a good decision-maker, has a very strong arm, and he has natural leadership skills.”
Throughout the summer and fall, Coach Mendenhall made clear the traits he looks for in a quarterback. He strongly prefers a dual-threat option and quick decision-making. He also prefers leadership and arm strength to throw the deep ball. Such traits match well with the air raid offense implemented by offensive coordinator Robert Anae. This style of offense runs the hurry-up, trying to tire opponents and call snaps as quickly as possible.
Whereas Johns and Brewer are more traditional pro-style options, Benkert has been commended for his mobility, arm strength and leadership.
Coach Mendenhall said, “He’s not a run first player currently, but he can allude pressure. He makes good decisions when to pull it down and run. He avoids contact when necessary. So he runs heady and he runs crafty, but that isn’t the first thing his skillset allows.”
Mendenhall also announced that Johns and Brewer are co-No. 2’s at the position and are still instrumental to the team’s success. He emphasized that very few quarterbacks make it through an entire season without injury and that he also expects them to continue to push Benkert in practice. Mendenhall made it clear that Benkert will have to perform at a high level to keep his job.
Mendenhall told reporters that the team has ended camp and is now beginning to prepare for their game against Richmond on September 3.
He praised his team’s effort, “As I’ve said before, this team is united, they work very hard. They’re adapting to situations. They’re adapting to the work capacity and they keep coming back eager to learn.”
Mendenhall said that the first depth chart will be released on Monday, where will you find Kurt Benkert listed as the team’s starting quarterback.