Dave Patenaude, Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator, had been out of the office for a few days this summer. Upon his return, he noticed there was someone watching tape in the video room.
It was Tobias Oliver.
Oliver was intently running plays backward and forward on the monitor, trying to hone his understanding of the new spread offense that had been installed in the spring. Oliver was digging in, working overtime, in his quest to earn the job as starting quarterback.
The former Northside product may not start for the Yellow Jackets this year, but it won’t be for lack of effort. The redshirt sophomore, who was profiled as an “triple-option quarterback” because of his success in former coach Paul Johnson’s option offense, is in the thick of the chase for the open position.
The tenacity that Oliver has shown in learning the new scheme mirrors the intensity he brings to the practice field. And Oliver has wasted no opportunity to soak up the new playbook — one that includes countless combinations and permutations — that Patenaude brought with him.
“I came in the office and he was hanging out, looking at film,” Patenaude said.
So, the master teacher sat down with his student and began a pop quiz.
“I’m asking him, ‘OK, what do you do here?’” Patenaude said. “And he doesn’t look at me like, ‘uh …’ He doesn’t look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. He looks at me says, we’ll have to do this and that. I’m not worried about him. He could teach it.”
Oliver is one of four primary candidates for the job. The front-runner is Lucas Sims, who played well in the spring and has the best arm of the group. Redshirt freshman James Graham has regained his eligibility and is ranked as the best pure athlete among the competitors.
The wild card is incoming freshman Tyler Yates, who led Milton High School to a state football championship in 2018. Yates has impressed the staff with his football IQ and his ability understand the plays in a short time period.
“They’ve all been great,” Patenaude said. “Those three (returners) are really good players. We’ve got some good dual quarterbacks that can run and throw. That’s what we’re going to see.”
Oliver must still prove he can be an effective passer in the new offense, which will likely throw more passes in the first two games than the team tried all last season. Oliver attempted only 16 passes a year ago, completing seven with two interceptions, for 167 yards.
There’s no question he can run the ball. He played 12 games last season and rushed for 876 yards, second on the team, 10th in the ACC and 75th in the nation. He ran for 215 yards at Virginia Tech and was ACC Rookie of the Week. He rushed for 12 touchdowns.
Oliver still has plenty of work to do. Because of Georgia Tech’s frenetic pace in practice — the Yellow Jackets get 150-175 reps in a typical session — the rate of improvement for all the quarterbacks. has been accelerated.
“We have a pretty good idea of what the skill set is,” Patenaude said. “We’re looking for overall development. We’re still seeing things that were so much better than what we did in the spring, because they understand more. It’s a total work in progress, but I like where we’re going.”