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April 14, 2014

Spring Q&A with quarterback Mark Leal

By: Jimmy Robertson

After backing up Logan Thomas for the past three years, Mark Leal has enjoyed the competition for the No. 1 spot at quarterback this spring.

After backing up Logan Thomas for four years, Mark Leal is excited about the possibilities of winning the starting job. He sat down and talked about that, about putting his Sun Bowl performance behind him, about the areas where he wants to improve as a player and about Tech’s offense this spring.

Q: Talk a little bit about the first practice this spring. What did it feel like to be in the saddle as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart for the first time?

ML:It felt really good. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and it’s finally here. I’m out there just trying to have fun and lead and compete. The first practice went well. I was a little rusty, just trying to get back into the swing of things and doing things at game speed. But other than that, the first day went really well.”

Q: How excited were you to get back on the field considering what happened to you in the Sun Bowl (12 of 25, 130 yards, two interceptions)?

ML:I was very excited. I think about that every day when I wake up. That’s what drives me to work harder and get better and work on every aspect of my game to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Q: Did you feel like that first practice was the first step toward putting that behind you?

ML:Yes, of course. Something like that is always going to linger around until your next game, so I’m just trying to get better and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Q: We understand that you watched the Sun Bowl film and critiqued yourself. What do you think needs to happen for you to take that next step as a quarterback?

ML:Just watching the bowl game, my feet were slow. I was really slow. I was indecisive. That’s what I’ve really tried to work on in the offseason. I’ve worked with Coach [Scot Loeffler, Tech’s offensive coordinator] on my pre-snap reads, so that I can be more decisive, and I’ve worked on getting my feet quicker and getting the ball out quicker. It’s all about knowing the playbook inside and out and watching film every day. It’s about breaking down your play and trying to understand defenses better. It’s a little of everything.”

Q: After the bowl game, you took it upon yourself to own how you played and use the offseason to get better. You’re competing with two guys now for the starting job, and two more candidates are coming this summer. Talk a little bit about what the competition has been like and will be like.

ML:Competition is good. It keeps pressure on you at all times, and it brings out the best in you, so the more competition we have, the better. It’s going to make all of us better as quarterbacks.”

Q: Andrew Ford, the freshman who came in back in January, received a lot of accolades as a high school player. What’s your take on him just from competing with him?

ML:Andrew’s a really smart kid. He knows football. He came from a really good high school, and his football coach is really good. He’s picking up everything pretty well. He’s just got to get used to the game speed and that type of stuff.”

Mark Leal has spent this spring practice working on his footwork, learning defenses and on making quicker decisions.

Q: Coach Beamer said the top priority this spring was finding the starting quarterback, whomever it might be. How much pressure has that put on you and the other guys to perform?

ML: “It does put pressure on us. Every day counts. Every rep counts. Nothing is set in stone. All of us are going out there and trying to make statements and trying to separate ourselves from everyone else. I’m a fifth-year senior. I’m the oldest guy. I’m listed as the No. 1 quarterback, but that doesn’t matter. Nothing is set in stone. I’ve still got to work every day to get better and keep separating myself from the pack.”

Q: What do you feel like you need to improve on to show everyone you deserve the starting position?

ML:Really, everything. You can never be too good at your game. I’m just trying to improve on my leadership skills and learning to read the defense and understanding defenses better in general. I’m working on my tempo and getting my drops right, those types of things. I’m really working on everything. I want to be better in everything I do.”

Q: How confident are you in holding on to the No. 1 spot going into the fall?

ML:I’m confident. I like to go out there and compete. [Brenden] Motley and Ford are going to push me to get better, and I’m going to push them to get better, so the more competition, the better.”

Q: You’ve been the backup for a few years now and have had time to learn, even last year with Coach Loeffler. Is it a lot different now?

ML:It is a little bit different being the driver of everything and leading everybody. But I’m excited, and I’m ready to take on the challenge.”

Q: You’ve been in Coach Loeffler’s system for a year now. What is clearer to you now than it was a year ago?

ML:It’s everything. Our playbook is extensive. We have a lot of verbiage. Things are changing week in and week out. Being with Coach and working with him, and having Logan help me last year, I’ve really got the offense down now.”

Q: Do you feel like you’re on page with your receivers at this point?

ML:Yes, I think so. We had a lot of work in the offseason. I’ve been throwing to those same guys for a couple of years now. As far as our chemistry, it’s pretty good, but it can always be better.”

Q: How far along is this offense compared to last spring?

ML:It’s really night and day, to be honest. Last year at this time, we were all over the place. Everyone was trying to learn the offense because it was brand new. But we’ve got a lot of our older veterans back, so everything is able to run a lot smoother. Everything is more fluid. We’re not out there just installing things, but we’re out there moving quicker because people have a better understanding of the offense.”

Q: How much do you think the offense will change? Logan was a 6-foot-6 dual threat. How does your game suit the offense, and what do you think will be different from last year?

ML:With Logan, we relied on him a lot to carry the offense, probably more than we should have. We had a lot of designed runs for him and those types of things. But with me, we’re really trying to focus on establishing the run game. That’s the most important thing for us right now. We need to get that run game down, and that will make things a lot easier in the pass game. I don’t think Coach will have me running a lot of designed runs. I’m not as big as Logan. I’m more of a pocket passer. But our big focus has been on the run game.”

Q: For so long, the defense has carried things around here, but this spring, the defense is rebuilding a little bit. How important is it for the offense to have more weapons this year and put up more points?

ML:We’ve talked about that a lot. When you hear media and read newspapers, it’s always about the defense. The past couple of years, we haven’t gotten any credit. We were considered the weakest link, and that is true. We have been the past couple of years. We’ve really tried to put an emphasis on either matching the defense, or we’re going to be the ones carrying things and leading everything. We don’t want to rely so much on the defense, but rather play off each other more.”